Book awards + hiatus

Hello, ello, she’s back. What’s that you say?

I can never help myself when it comes to book awards.

I’ve been in a weird place of late. Great start to the year I know, I know. Life, well, it goes on. And so do the book awards.

This year – I’m really keen to focus on the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist and, well, the Booker International longlist was released a few days ago – and oh, the nostalgia. I have to read some of them – I just do!

So, back to the Women’s Prize.

It’s a great list in my humble opinion. I possibly may have predicted a few – there’s always so many wonderful women to choose from! I’m excited by the list and there’s a few I hadn’t heard of too which always an intrigue.

So – what have I read?

  • Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie
  • Elmet – Fiona Mozley
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman – review to come
  • Three Things About Elsie – Joanna Cannon – review to come

Which am I most excited to get to?

  • The Idiot – Elif Batuman
  • The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock – Imogen Hermes Gowar
  • Sight – Jessie Greengrass
  • See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward

I’m also rather intrigued by: Miss Burma (Charmaine Craig), H(A)PPY (Nicola Barker) and When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife (Meena Kandasamy).

…I still have The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Arhundati Roy) on my shelves from last year’s Booker but well… I’ll need a lot of convincing – I’ve not yet finished Auster’s behemoth.. sshhhh.


Man Booker International

I’m not overly excited – but I’m also trying not to go overboard as I’m easily overwhelmed these days. It looks to me, a more exciting list than last year, with plenty of books I’ve never heard of, and definitely a list that blurs the lines between fiction and non-fiction.

At this current stage I am most excited to pick up:

  • The White Book by Han Kang (South Korea), tr. Deborah Smith

I enjoyed The Vegetarian but for some reason or another I’ve been hesitant to pick up Human Acts. However, The White Book, sounds like my kind of book – and I’ve heard it being compared to Maggie Nelson’s Bluets – which I *still* haven’t read but which I just know  I will love :’)

  • The World Goes On by László Krasznahorkai (Hungary), tr. John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet & George Szirtes.

I’ve heard Sophie (Portal in the Pages) absolutely rave about this author, and while the book of hers she’s loved the most doesn’t completely grab me – this one is billed as 21 short stories – and we all know much short stories are my jam.

I could also be persuaded to pick up:

  •  Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq), tr. Jonathan Wright
  •  Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (Poland), tr. Jennifer Croft
  •  The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-Yi (Taiwan), tr. Darryl Sterk

What are your thoughts on these two lists??? Which ones are you excited to pick up? Are you going to try and read each longlist?? (Why, oh why do they happen at the same time haha)

It’s good to be back, friends.


note: my Instagram has changed, you can now find me @ryzhik.reads (a place purely for bookish related stuff) – come on over and give me some love ❤

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Confessions & predictions – #MBI17

I’ve listened to some brilliant stories read by their authors on the newest NY’er podcast (the writer’s voice). I’ve showered and powdered mid-afternoon for ultimate cosy feelings. I’ve left the washing in the rain for days to harden and sparkle with the first of the year’s frosts. And, I abandoned the Man Booker International project I had embarked on with such excitement, well kind of, not quite.

There’s a couple of reasons why:

  • Conveniently I started a new job around the time of the longlist announcements. So I was busy adjusting to a new-ish lifestyle /and/ kind of poor. Most of the MBI listed books are hard to get and I didn’t have the foresight or funds to order ahead of time. (My library had a few, but not many. Funny story – I’m still waiting for the copy of Compass to arrive to the library!)
  • The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. Same time-ish! (Who does that? ha!) I couldn’t decide so I went with the MBI, I knew I couldn’t do both. And while I was surprised by the winner this year (gobsmacked more like it) in hindsight I have an inkling I may have enjoyed the Bailey’s more than I have the MBI.
  • Anxiety. I love reading but sometimes restrictive lists leave me feverish and not in a good Samanta Schweblin way. My anxiety has manifested physically these last few months and so I’m slowly embarking on a calmer and more purpose-driven life. Slowly being the key phrase.

 

The winner of the Man Booker International award is announced on 14th June. 

Here are the MBI long and shortlisted books I got to:*

*I DNF’d The Explosions Chronicles by Yan Lianke (China), Translated by Carlos Rojas

Okay so. The winner?

I feel like the winner of such an award ought to be both daringly original and accessible. Yes, the man booker is an especially literary prize, however, I’m sure the aim of any book award is to encourage people to read. So accessibility is kind of key.

My personal favourite is Judas but I’m not sure how original it is.

Compass I haven’t read, and am not sure I will. (At least not at this point in time). From what I’ve read *about* it, it could be too literary to win – if that makes any sense?!

The two Nordic entries are beautiful, quiet reads. I adored them almost equally but they’re an acquired taste and not necessarily original in their scope. I didn’t have a problem with the dialect in The Unseen, however, I imagine it hinders accessibility.

My winner prediction?

Fever Dream is incredibly original as is David Grossman’s A Horse Walks into a Bar. I found both highly accessible and engaging in current events, climate change/our effect on the landscape and the Israel/Palestine conflict plus the role of grief in society respectively. I would be happy if either of these won, and super happy if my *personal fave* won!

Food for thought ~

  • Have you kept up with the literary awards these last few months??!
  • What’s your favourite of the MBI shortlist?
  • Who do you think will win? (And what did you think of the Bailey’s winner?!)
  • Does anxiety affect your reading habits?

 

Do Svidaniya for now my chickens

xx

 

The Unseen – Roy Jacobsen

(Tr. by Don Bartlett & Don Shaw)

“On rare occasions they find a message in a bottle, a mixture of longing and personal confidences intended for others than the finders […] and then they put the letters in a chest reserved for objects which can neither be possessed or discarded, and [they] boil the bottles and fill them with redcurrant juice, or else simply place them on the windowsill in the barn as a kind of proof of their own emptiness, leaving sunbeams to shine through them and turn green before refracting downwards and settling in the dry straw littering the floor.”

This is a novel of island life, the other, unseen kind of island life. There are no palm trees and sunbathers, no coral reefs and piña coladas. This life is a quiet one; an everlasting exchange with the land and the sea. It’s about the unseen effects of modernity and globalization on the inhabitants of a tiny island off the coast of Norway.

“Everything of value on an island comes from outside, except for the earth, but the islanders are not here because of the earth, of this they are painfully aware.”

With breathtaking images we follow the story of Ingrid Barrøy and her family on their island of Barrøy.  There is limited plot and the reader becomes an observer of life; a life overwhelming to the senses in it’s sheer beauty and harshness. The weather becomes a character too, the main character if you like, as it determines everything; it’s actions absolute. Our characters of Barrøy are reserved, somewhat reticent creatures and the novel becomes a stream of fleeting images rather than dialogue – of which I am thankful – because the dialect Jacobsen uses is a little odd. After the first third of the book I found it rather seamless, although I’m not entirely convinced it is needed. I could see it being jarring to some readers whilst deterring others altogether. At times it even seemed to nearly mock rather enhance the characters lives. (Though I’m sure this is unintended).

Jacobsen’s novel creeps up on you, steals your time and transports you to a place utterly unimaginable to a land dweller of the twenty first century. I even found it suspenseful at times as it veered off into mystery novel territory (the frequent storms and the scene with the intruder) only to tease the reader and slow back to its original pace. In it’s simplest form The Unseen is a daily chronicle of life in the arctic climate. It really is a visual pleasure.

“When the sun goes down in a sea of flames out there they can see the ram silhouetted against the red horizon, a tiny insect on a rocky raft afloat the sea.”

I enjoyed Ingrid’s coming-of-age plight and her trip over to Havstein was one chapter I couldn’t put down. In such a tiny corner of the world and her experience as outwardly different as it is is still inwardly universal. I also found myself loving Barbro the most. Two strong, enigmatic women steadfastly loyal to their little island.

“Ingrid can do almost anything. She can card eider down, arrange nets neatly in the tubs, bait lines, split fish – all men’s work – tie fish in pairs for drying – at a pinch women’s work – collect gull eggs, pick berries and lift potatoes, strangely enough both men’s and women’s work.”

Man Booker wise, Jacobsen’s novel, was effectively what I had hoped Fish Have No Feet would have been. We have strong women, portrayed excellently as both independent and endearing in their own ways. They are neither mad nor raging alcoholics. Granted we see some madness but it is neither limited to gender nor completely insatiable. The Unseen is a stunner of a story but definitely not for everyone. I’ve yet to read Compass (Mathias Enard) but with such beauties as Amos Oz, Samanta Schweblin and David Grossman, I’m glad I’m not deciding the winner.

“There isn’t a twelve-year-old in this world who can do more than Ingrid, she is a daughter of the sea, who doesn’t view the crashing waves as a danger or a threat, but as a means and a solution, for most things.”

The Unseen is a slow, quiet story, but nonetheless remarkable. 4/5 stars.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal – Dorthe Nors

(Tr. Misha Hoesktra)

“How do you hide from people who make themselves angry just to feel alive? They’re everywhere, and it’s tricky making yourself invisible in a world that’s flat as a pancake.”

A slow burner which I came to enjoy more as it progressed, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal tells the story Sonja and her somewhat slow life in Denmark, a life I would like to lead and scarily probably already do. I didn’t like the novel as much as I’d anticipated however Dorthe Nors has me intrigued. I want to read more of her work.

I found Sonja to be a humorous and somewhat soothing character and eerily relatable. She reminded me a bit of Miranda Hart: the chess player a ‘modern man’ grabbing the runaway stroller whilst still keeping his grip on Sonja. I actually snorted out loud. It’s basically a scene from Miranda. Yes, I am Sonja, and she is my spirit animal. I ride a bicycle and do not drive, have not ever had a driving lessons and now I don’t know why. I often call myself a nostalgic dreamer because that’s what I am. I don’t live in the past per se but good gosh I adore it and find myself in the middle of childhood reveries when I should be elsewhere, or so society says.

The scene where Sonja is terrified of a confrontation with Jytte? Yep, me again. In fact, a day before reading this scene I had a situation of my own. A vehicle with owners I long to avoid for at least the next ten years was right in my path. Luckily the owners weren’t in sight, but I have never unlocked a bicycle so fast. Adrenaline kicked in and my large size 42 pedaled as fast as they could go.

“Something in the situation makes her seize up completely that she splits in two. She’s someone who knows that the right thing would be to act like a grown-up, but she’s also someone who would not for all the tea in China want to be confronted by her own treachery.”

On the flipside? I  also see myself in the character of Jytte. Talking away like nobody’s business. It makes me feel safe. I want people to know things about me so I don’t feel I have to constantly explain my quirks, yep, I’m a revealer.

However, as much as I came to enjoy Sonja, I’m not sure why this has been shortlisted. It just doesn’t read man-bookery (new adjective) at least to me. (Have you read it?? Did it read MB’y to you?) I also didn’t much understand the paragraphs about Gösta. Am I missing something here? Yet, the ending, those last few pages had me tearing right up.

“It’s the small margins that decide the outcome, and there’s got to be struggle if your life’s going to grow, and your life should grow, thinks Sonja, though ideally not inward.”

Nors’ text is crisp and precise; her clarity a rye field of calm. If you don’t like slow burners, that classic ‘what-did-I-just-read-nothing-happened’ then steer well left of this one, (ha! driving pun). 3.5 stars and if you are Dorthe Nors fan, please do tell me which one to pick up next.

For now,

Do Svidaniya chickens xx

Judas – Amos Oz

(Tr. Nicholas de Lange)

“In many flats in Jerusalem you might find van Gogh’s starry whirlpool skies or his shimmering cypresses on the living room wall, rush mats on the floors of the small rooms, and Doctor Zhivago or Yizhar’s Days of Ziklag lying open, face down, on a foam sofa-bed that was covered with a length of Middle-Eastern cloth and piled with embroidered cushions.”

Dear Mr. Oz, you had me at van Gogh.

I can hear you now, ‘but you vehemently dislike novels centered around religious content’ and yes, yes, yes you would be right. But, we all know that people only grow with trying new things and getting out of their comfort zone. So here we are. I’m out on a limb. I have zero (absolute zilch) knowledge about Christianity, the Bible, Jesus and religion in general. So, let’s talk about why I adored this novel and wished I had bought it so I could’ve underlined the crap out of it because I’m sure the library frowns upon such methods.

  • The writing style. Oz’s characterizations. His subtle warmth, delicate humour, absolutely vivid and stunning scene setting.

“Professor Eisenschloss was a small, compact man with thick beer-bottle lenses in his spectacles, and movements that reminded you of a cuckoo darting busily out of a clock.”

  • Short chapters. C’mon now, who doesn’t love a short, sweet chapter? Much like those who dislike cheese, prefer vanilla to chocolate and wear underwear in their own homes – untrustworthy I tell ye.

“Anyone willing to change, will always be considered a traitor by those who cannot change.”

  • Shmuel Ash.  How can you not love the guy?

“He suddenly wanted very much to live in that attic, to curl up inside it with a pile of books, a bottle of red wine, a stove, a quilt, a gramophone and some records, and not go outside, for lectures, debates or love affairs. To stay there and never leave, at least while it was cold outside.”

Something tells me that Shmuel and I are the same person, maybe not all the time, but definitely at times – we have our moments. Disclaimer: I have worked as a carer looking after the elderly for over five years, so I may be a tad biased.

I also adored Atalia. I would like to talk more about her, but I can’t find the words at present.

“And on the ceiling of your attic room, directly over your bed, oceans and continents take shape in the cracking plaster: you lie on your back for hours on end gazing at the archipelago of peeling plaster, islands, reefs, gulfs, volcanoes, fjords.”

Basically, if Amos Oz doesn’t win the MBI I’m not sure what I will do. That being said, I’ve only read half the shortlist, but if a compassionate, soft-spoken, affecting story that can entertain a self confessed agnostic/atheist cannot win a major literary prize, then what can?

“A slanting beam of sunlight filtered through the slats of the shutters, and innumerable tiny specks of dust whirled in it, like so many brightly-lit worlds in a shining milky way.”

This was my first Amos Oz, and it definitely won’t be my last.

A Horse Walks into a Bar – David Grossman

(Tr. Jessica Cohen)

“How inadequate are the expressions our faces offer us.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or do both simultaneously with this one. A novel I would have probably never looked twice at otherwise, A Horse Walks into a Bar is a hilarious, yet poigant novel which addresses grief and the question of how we use art in our lives: be it, words, music, painting or in this case, stand up comedy. Do we use it to escape or enrich, augment or avoid, to harmonize or hightail out of our own little hell.

A Horse Walks into a Bar is set in one room on one evening in Israel and follows a stand-up comedian essentially breaking down on stage. The novel is narrated by an old childhood friend of our comedian, Dovaleh G, who has been summoned to the show and sitting in the back of the room we too are thrust into a show that wasn’t quite what we had expected. As our protagonist, Dovaleh, disintegrates before his audience, many audience members get up and leave, hurl abuse as others support and encourage him prompting us as readers to ask ourselves, what would we do in the same situation.

“He is out on a limb that is getting heavier than the whole tree. The crowd can feel it too. People look at each other and shift restlessly. They understand less and less what it is that they have unwillingly become partners to. I have no doubt they would have got up and left long ago, or even booed him off stage, if not for the temptation that is so hard to resist – the temptation to look into another man’s hell.”

The novel also focuses on the link between the private and public. Dovaleh’s life has been torn apart by grief and as he exposes this wound that he’s lived with he crumbles in the most public of places. As the evening progresses it is easier to differentiate where the acting gives way to real life and the audience’s reactions become divided.

“[…] sometimes I think that the most cunning form of cruelty is indifference.” *

As well as grief and its’ role in society, Grossman uses the novel as a metaphor for the Israel / Palestine conflict, however, don’t let this put you off as it’s so much more than politics. The writing is also astounding: mixing Dovaleh’s crass/hilarious stand-up with an imbued beauty and subtleness.

“We covered birthdays, which as you know are a day of reckoning, of soul-searching, at least for those who have a soul, and I’ll tell you that personally, in my state, I just don’t have the resources to maintain one. Seriously, souls demand non-stop upkeep, don’t they? It never ends! Every single day, all day long, you gotta haul it in for servicing. Am I right or am I right?”

Grossman’s novel is emotional and unsettling and by the halfway point, I struggled to put it down, even just to breathe. While it hasn’t been a 5 star read, upon reflection it is a steady 4 and I can wholeheartedly see it’s merit. (I found it’s writing style reminded me a little of last year’s MB longlisted Coetzee novel, The Schooldays of Jesus, although more memorable.) And after reading an interview with Grossman I am definitely adding him to my never-ending TBR pile of translated fiction, (he has quite an extensive back-list to look forward to!)

“I think that being a writer brings you into contact with the endless options of every human situation, in every human situation there is an enormous arsenal of options, of potential, of passions, of energies.” *

A Horse Walks into a Bar is brave, unrelenting and brutally human, and even if you don’t think it’s your ‘thing’ please do pick it up and give it a try. I have a sneaky suspicion that you may not be disappointed.

     *  from, DAVID GROSSMAN: ISRAELIS ‘MORE PRONE TO FANATICISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM’ – an interview with euronews.

Fish Have No Feet – Jón Kalman Stefánsson

(Tr. Philip Roughton)

“Music can dispel the darkness, rip us out of melancholy, anxiety, negativity, and swing us over to joy, exuberance at being alive, at existing here and now; without it, the human heart would be a lifeless planet.”

I’m not sure I fully understood this one. I really wanted to adore it and carry it with me on dark days but I didn’t connect quite as much as I’d hoped too. It started out brilliantly I must say, and if you take a look at my copy you would wonder why I’ve underlined so many passages if I didn’t adore it.

Fish Have No Feet and you don’t need any either in this novel. Stefánsson’s lyrical prose sweeps you along, no navigation needed, but let me tell you now that if bleak poetry isn’t your slice of pie this novel will drown you and drown you good. Fish Have No Feet is reflective, nostalgic, depressive; filled with rhetorical questions and existentialist musings.

“I’m not so sure we seriously try to understand other people – do we really give it our full attention? Don’t we actually do the opposite, and constantly try, all our lives, to make others see the world as we see it? Isn’t that our great misfortune?

I can definitely see why this one has been nominated for the Man Booker International and good pickings, for it has everything I love. Iceland, bleak weather, bleak landscapes, bleak meandering questions about what it is to be alive, lyrical prose, and did I mention it’s a bleak novel? It’s translation is definitely beautiful and muted and I can only imagine how stunning it is in its original language, but in spite of all this, something still doesn’t sit right with me. A definite A++ for Stefánsson’s writing and use of the passive narrator (which is done so well – and I also enjoyed the footnotes) but I can’t help but think that this has all been done before.

“Can happiness be luck, a lottery win, or does it come, on the contrary, only to those who have worked for it, with their diligence and way of looking at things? Life, writes Margrét in her diary, is nothing but a senseless beast if happiness is just luck.”

Basically, in the end Margrét was all I was reading it for. The passages of her story were my favourite and even though I still adore Iceland (as I write this I’m listening to sigur rós and wishing our rain would turn to snow) there was just too much penis for my liking. Now, not to sound like a raging feminist, but I’m sure the penis thing has been done before. And that’s great it still continues as I’m sure there are many men who still read books and will have enjoyed this novel. But, like I said, it’s been done before. Imagine if this was filled vagina imagery. Would it have the same reception?

“It’s raining and ten years have passed. You blink and you’re older, the darkness of death hangs over the mountains. Time passes so swiftly, yet sometimes so slowly that we nearly suffocate.”

Fish Have No Feet is a great book and I don’t doubt it’s literary success of which it deserves but in the end I got annoyed with the philosophical meanderings of the penis while the women filled themselves with drink or attempted suicide on account of their “excessive imaginations.”  2.5 stars – which would’ve been one if it wasn’t set in my dream country.