#manbookerprize Elmet – Fiona Mozley

“The dawn erupted from a bud of mauve half-light and bloomed bloody as I woke.”

Elmet is told from the point of view of Danny, the youngest sibling and it revolves around his sister Cathy and their life with Daddy in rural Yorkshire. Billed as contemporary noir  & it’s easy to see why: stripped to it’s bones Elmet is a good vs evil story with an underdog who’s morals are skewed enough to have you thinking is he not the evil himself.

Mozley’s characters are three dimensional and I found myself connecting easily with our protagonist trio and itching to find out more about them. I was also much intrigued by Vivien and would have loved a further exploration of his relationship with both Daddy and Danny.

“Nerves treated people differently. Our anxieties were focussed on the same target but each from a different angle and with their own tints.”

The novel is preceded with what appears at first to be verse – but we soon learn that this is our narrator, Danny, in the present time, after the story has taken place. A clever narrative structure and one I’m always happy to endure.

“Sometimes I thought I could sleep for ever. Sometimes, pulling myself out of a dream to be awake and alive in the world was like pulling myself out of my own skin and facing the wind and the rain in my own ripped-raw flesh.”

Mozley’s prose is fresh, lyrical, vivid and gritty. Setting is key in this story (as one can imagine from the beautiful image on it’s cover) and Mozley sets her scene exquisitely. Reminiscent at times of Sarah Perry’s prose in The Essex Serpent, Mozley’s novel has  many similarities with Fridlund’s History of Wolves which are both debut novels. Both texts are similar in tone and evocation of setting and with child protagonists but somehow Elmet felt more real to me; less of a mystery and straight up grittiness. Kind of like the adult version of History of Wolves – can I say this? Well, I did :’)

“We all grow into our coffins, Danny. And I saw myself growing into mine.”

Elmet is a dark, gritty tale which doesn’t shy away from the violent side of life, that being said it’s a quiet one. Quiet and with an ending that doesn’t tie up neatly, but sort of lingers ever afterwards in your mind.

A chilling, haunting debut well worth it’s place on the shortlist. 4 out of 5 stars.

 

Advertisements

#manbooker Shortlist predictions!

The time comes around far too quickly. October. Halloween. Christmas. I’m loving all your autumnal posts – being in the southern hemisphere is great – except for this time of year :’) I get all listless and begin wishing I could experience Halloween in autumn & Christmas in snowstorms & hot toddy’s instead of humid crowded beaches. I’ve never even had a hot toddy. Not even sure what one is. What I am sure of is how difficult it will be to pick this years Man Booker Prize winner.

I’ve read almost 5 out of the 6 shortlisted titles. I’ve begun the sixth, and yep you guess it, it just happens to be Auster’s 4 3 2 1 so it won’t be finished in two days :’) let me tell you however, the first ninety or so pages I read last week I read in one sitting I absolutely adored so I’m eager to pick it up again soon!

Of course I have ideas about who should and shouldn’t win but alas, this is the man Booker & as we know… truly anything goes. I’ve not specifically rated the books on any kind of official scale, merely out of five stars on goodreads, in conjunction with my overall enjoyment, the novel’s originality & accessiblity.

History of Wolves – Emily Fridlund | frankly I’m still baffled by it’s longlisting, let alone shortlisting. Both original and accessible but it made no sense to me. It felt not wholly finished and basically reads like a YA version of Elmet. I think I generously rounded up the 2.5 stars on this one.

Exit West – Mohsin Hamid | entertaining, original, current & relatively accessible. I still think it read a little bit YA to me but perhaps this would be in it’s favour for reaching a wider audience. Deserving but not mind-blowing. 3 stars for me.

 4 3 2 1 – Paul Auster | I’ve only read 90 pages but those 90 pages were eloquent in themselves. I really don’t know much about it & this will be first Auster but I could see it winning, and that would be okay, I think? :’)

Elmet – Fiona Mozley | I’m very close finishing this one but I’m already contemplating 3.5 – 4 stars (out of 5). Definitely original, Mozley’s prose is brilliantly wonderful and though it’s possibly not as accessible as the other nominees I can see it’s length  working in it’s favour.

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders | the most original of the lot and probably the most hilarious while still accessible. A born winner, I’m surprised it hasn’t won anything else yet. 4.5 stars which I ought to round up to 5.

Autumn – Ali Smith | just as original and well written as the Saunders’ entry, however possibly more elitist than accessible. It’s themes are definitely universal and incredibly current: 4.95/5 stars for me.  Also, I am still thinking about it which normally doesn’t happen to me with a Smith novel.

So who will win? I feel Autumn  could, should, must win, but I’d be happy with either Saunders or Elmet. I say I don’t think History of Wolves is deserving but a debut female author? It could be worse.

What does the Man Booker mean to you? To me it means a celebration of language, for books to be original yet accessible; to encourage & foster new, not so literary, readers into the wonderful world of reading.

Who is your pick to win??? Which of these have you enjoyed the most? Who do you want to see win this year’s prize? Let’s chat about it!

The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

“Freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with the trees up close but from the outside, from the empty meadow, you see its true limits.”

The latest slavery narrative to win all the awards. You’ve all heard about, but is it worth the hype? I didn’t think so. I have not read many slavery novels at all, and I had to Google, yes Google, the term ‘underground railroad’. So knowing what that is I thought ‘Oh great this will be an insane read – a literal interpretation of such a thing – sadly not quite. I truly did try to have little-no expectations, as I had heard such mixed reviews, but alas I had expected more literal railroad with a bit of magical realism thrown in. What I got was characters who I couldn’t connect with and structure that didn’t make much sense.

The Underground Railroad is gruesome and gritty, horrible and heartbreaking – everything one would expect from a slave narrative. I felt sick to my stomach reading scenes and as much as I had hoped it would be a quick read I felt it dragging on and on. I wasn’t wanting to pick it back up. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can see it’s importance but  quite frankly I’m rather astonished at it’s having received so much praise, while Homegoing didn’t seem to have half as much in comparison.

“All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man.”

About three quarters into The Underground Railroad I found myself the most intrigued I had felt since upon starting and couldn’t put it down – but then it ended. Not abruptly but it felt so to me as I had finally gotten into the novel. I really struggled to connect with characters – I wanted to – but something held me back. Our main character, Cora, experiences atrocity after atrocity and yet I didn’t feel connected at all. Instead I found myself rather passive to all her misfortunes, as if watching from a safe distance; a train window. Whitehead’s writing really didn’t strike me as anything particularly wonderful or beautiful either. I underlined perhaps a line or two. A marmite book indeed. Could someone help me understand it’s overwhelming list of accolades? Yes it’s themes are an integral part of history but I see nothing outstanding about the novel’s structure, characters, or writing style. Tell me again why Homegoing wasn’t longlisted instead. I connected more with the characters in Gyasi’s novel who’s appearances were minuscule compared with that of Cora and Caesar.

Funnily enough, I had expected to see this one shortlisted – after having read it I’m kind of pleased it wasn’t. It won the Pulitzer – what more could one expect? I didn’t hate it but neither did I adore it. An important book of historical fiction, something everybody ought to read, but not necessarily something to be loved.

3 out of 5 stars.

Can you convince me to pick up another Whitehead novel? Is this typical of his style? How did you get along with this one?

“And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes—believes with all its heart—that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn’t exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are.”

Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie

Let’s face it, this one was a cover buy, how could you not! Don’t like colour? The Bloomsbury edition is just as gorgeous. A contemporary retelling of Antigone, to which I am none the wiser – I had hoped to get my hands on a copy of it before I picked up this one but alas, the man booker waits for no-one.

“I’m driving at the fact that habits of secrecy are damaging things,” Hira said in her most professional voice. “And they underestimate other people’s willingness to accept the complicated truths of your life.”

Shasmie’s writing is plain, simple, but striking. Read Hamid? Kind of similar I thought. As is it’s subject matter. Two Bookers dealing with the immigrant experience from the East predominately centred in the UK. Home Fire tells the story of Isma and her twin siblings Aneeka & Parvaiz. If you know the story of Antigone, you might have an inkling of what is to come, if not, even better!

“For girls, becoming women was inevitablity; for boys, becoming men was ambition.”

Isma raised her siblings after their mother and grandmother died – their father you will learn about in time. The novel opens with Isma who has decided to return to the US to begin her masters, Aneeka, still in London & Parvaiz…? In America, Isma meets Eamonn and so our story is born. To tell you anymore would be to spoil this heartbreaking book.

“What would you stop at to help the people you love most? Well, you obviously don’t love anyone very much if your love is contingent on them always staying the same.”

So, style wise? Simple and lucid but well worth your time. Shasmie creates characters alive and human – characters who are still swimming in my veins days after finishing this one. The novel is very plot driven and broken into parts allocated to each character; a personal favourite device of mine. Each part has it’s own time frame but on the whole the novel is chronological.

I found Shamsie’s writing subtle and well crafted. It filled the air around me with tension, I lived in a bubble as I finished this one in two sittings. It’s themes are also favourites of mine – love, grief, what constitutes a family, the immigrant experience, terrorism, what it’s like to be an outsider on the inside etc.

“Everything else you can live around, but not death. Death you have to live through.”

I think you will enjoy Home Fire if you’ve enjoyed such books as:

  • Exit West – Mohsin Hamid, or his works in general…
  • The Mothers – Brit Bennett (another gorgeous Riverhead publication!)
  • Stay With Me – Ayobami Adebayo (pacing and structure wise it’s kind of similar – it also left me awestruck & shaking upon finishing)
  • Mao II – Don DeLillo (themes of terror and isolation)

Five stars for me, a new author to discover & definitely one I hope to make the shortlist. Have you read any Kamila Shamsie? Which of her works do you recommend?


Who do you think will make the shortlist? Have you seen my MB predictions post? Less than 24 hours to go! Oh, the excitement!

 

#ManBooker shortlist predictions

Straight up, where does the year go?! Honestly, it felt like last week I was thinking about the #manbookerinternational shortlist – yes us, bookworms remember the passage of time via bookish events and books we’ve read… (surely i’m not the only one…) so without further ado, let us begin! *party popper emoji*

Expectations aka. What I would like to see on the shortlist

  • Autumn (Ali Smith) — Possibly her best work to date. See my review here.
  • Home Fire (Kamila Shamsie) — This is was downright amazing. Review to come. Also I think if this one doesn’t make it that Exit West may take it’s place…
  • Reservoir 13 (Jon McGregor) — Like nothing I’ve ever read and so very very clever. Review here.
  • Elmet (Fiona Mozley) — I know next to nothing about this one – but there’s always got to be an underdog yeah? Also I didn’t get on so well with History of Wolves which could be the ‘other’ underdog.

VS

Reality aka. What I think will appear on the shortlist

  • Solar Bones (Mike McCormack) — Wasn’t for me, but can definitely see it’s appeal and brilliance. Review here.
  • The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead) — Currently reading at time of posting. It won the Pulitzer so anything goes.
  • Days Without End (Sebastian Barry) — I have absolutely no desire to read this one, but it seems to be getting all the praise.
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Arundhati Roy) — Lots of hype. Probably worth it. Yet to read it.

The others?

Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders) — Okay so it’s basically impossible to predict the shortlist and there are far too many good books to choose from.

4,3,2,1 (Paul Auster) — it’s a chunker, let’s face it. It may be amazing, I could still be persuaded…

Swing Time (Zadie Smith) — You all know my thoughts by now. However, if Whitehead doesn’t make I suppose this would fit in it’s place nicely…


 

Who do you think will make the shortlist? Keen to hear your thoughts!

-xx

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

bardo [bahr-doh]
(noun, pl. bardos) In Tibetan Buddhism a state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth.

“It had the face of a worm
A worm, I say!     A worm the size of a boy     Wearing my suit
Horrors.”

So you’ve heard the hype!? Is it worth it? Yes, yes I think it is.

  • Unlike anything you’ve read before? ✓
  • Captivating and enthralling? ✓
  • Hilarious whilst affecting? ✓

Saunders takes the genre of a novel and turns it upside down, but don’t let that put you off, it’s insanely readable just the same, and so I have heard – brilliant in it’s audio form – all one hundred and sixty-six voices! (Yes, you read that right!) Such people as Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Miranda July, Lena Dunham, Ben Stiller, Saunders himself and m o r e ! Now I want to go and download my *first ever* audiobook to listen to it all over again, ha!

So, our novel is about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his son Willie Lincoln. Saunders uses real life texts dispersed throughout his chapters – which read like that of a play script without the stage directions and punctuation. Scared, yet?

“A warm breeze arose, fragrant with all manner of things that give comfort: grass, sun, beer, bread, quilts, cream – this list being different for each of us, each being differently comforted.”

Willie dies at the very beginning (not a spoiler) and according to some seeds of historical truth his father spent the night in the crypt holding his beloved’s body. Cue Saunders. A world of spirits, the un-dead and angels abound.

“Who knew Edenston to be a tiny man in green, wig askew? Who knew Cravwell to be a giraffe-like woman in spectacles, holding a book of light verse she had written?”

His characters are brilliant, and though there are so many – you don’t need to know them all – they work as a backdrop – much like the chorus groups in a theatre production.  His descriptions are marvellously clever, hilarious and at times endearing.

“Strange, isn’t it? To have dedicated one’s life to a certain venture, neglecting other aspects of one’s life, only to have that venture, in the end, amount to nothing at all, the products of one’s labors utterly forgotten?”

While this didn’t blow me away, perhaps my expectations were blown out of proportions (as they tend to be with literary prize listings), I am indeed keen to pick up more from Saunders. A most affective musing on both life, death and what it means to be human. 4.5 stars.

“What I mean to say is, we had been considerable. Had been loved.  Not lonely, not lost, not freakish, but wise, each in his or her own way.”

 


How did you get on with Lincoln in the Bardo? Are you a Saunders fan? Where to next from here…

for now,

do svidaniya fellow bookworms

xx

Exit West – Mohsin Hamid

“When he prayed he touched his parents, who could not otherwise be touched, and he touched a feeling that we are all children who lose our parents, all of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in one another, and out of this Saeed felt it might be possible, in the face of death, to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world, and so he prayed as a lament, as a consolation, and as a hope.”

This was my first Mohsin Hamid, shortly followed by The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which I think in all honesty I preferred more, or at least it’s stayed with me longer and stronger. I read this one back in May, before it’s shortlisting and initially thought “woah five stars, I hope Nadia & Saeed stay with me for a long time”. Unfortunately, they didn’t. Flipping through the novel, pieces are coming back slowly but not as strongly as I had hoped. Perhaps this is a good thing, it makes me want to re-live the journey…

Exit West is fast paced, magical and a little bit soul-destroying. It follows the story of two young lovers Nadia and Saeed, who meet when their country is on the brink of war. The story progresses as doors are found throughout the city; doors which take people to the western world. A whimsical kind of take on the refugee crisis, Hamid has concocted a poignant work of fiction, but is it man-booker worthy…?

“And so their memories took on potential, which is of course how our greatest nostalgias are born.”

I really enjoyed Hamid’s literal take on the doors. The novel is highly fable-esque and dreamy at times, yet doesn’t shy away from the darker side of love; love for one’s country, oneself, each other.  I read it quickly in 1-2 sittings, it’s bittersweet, heartbreaking and all too human. I think I nearly cried at the time. It all seemed so fleeting too: time, life, the doors opening and closing.

“What do you think happens when you die?”
Nadia asked him.
“You mean the afterlife?”
“No, not after. When. In the moment. Do things just go black, like a phone screen turning off? Or do you slip into something strange in the middle, like when you’re falling asleep, and you’re both here and there?”

Definitely a very current novel in today’s world, I can’t help but think it seemed a bit (forgive me) ‘young-adultish’ for the Man Booker. It’s a quick read, Hamid’s prose is wonderful and while his themes are important, I’m not sure how innovative (besides the doors) this one really is. Upon it’s disappearing from my mind, I’ve given it a 3.5 star rating, but it’s one can see myself picking up again when I feel I need a palate cleanser.

Overall: a highly addictive read, a timely love story, for fans of Hamid & those who like to dabble in speculative fiction. Also, if you enjoyed Home Fire you will probably enjoy this one.

For now my reader chums,

do svidaniya x