My favourite book award, The Man Booker International Prize, announced their long-list today and it is, as usual, an incredibly diverse list, geographically and thematically. We have books from Iceland to China, Argentina to Albania. I remember loving Albanian Ismail Kadare’s psychological thriller The Successor when it came out 10 years ago, so I’ll start with his new book The Traitor’s Niche. A pretty dark book by the sounds of it telling the story of a courtier in the Ottoman Empire responsible for transporting the severed heads of the Sultan’s enemies. Nice to see Roy Jacobsen, one of Norway’s most revered authors, on the list, although The Unseen is not considered to be his best, that accolade goes to Child Wonder. I was disappointed that The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis didn’t make it. Wonder why… In any case, there’s plenty to choose from here. Which one would you like to read?
I’m absolutely thrilled to tell you that Kirstin has joined Bookstoker as a childrens’ book reviewer. Kirstin worked for many years as a children’s bookseller in a large bookshop in Notting Hill and now works for an Oxfam Bookshop. She has a contagious enthusiasm for children’s books and knows what she’s talking about, helped by advice from her two children who are also avid readers. Kirstin has already written some reviews for us which you can find in our Young Readers Section.
What better day to publish The Bailey’s Women Prize for fiction long-list than today, International Women’s Day. With a list of 16 books by established authors and a few newcomers there’s plenty of choice. But which one to choose? I enjoyed Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, a love story set in Victorian England which is beautifully written, but at times a bit slow. Perry is definitively an author to look out for, though. I was less keen on Rose Tremain’s The Gustav Sonata, a post-WW2 story about a boy growing up in Switzerland which seemed to have too many loose threads at the end. I’m quite curious about The Power, especially on a day like today, which presents an alternative world where women have all the power…
I’ve always been curious about the concept of The Great American Novel. What is it? Who made it up? Which ones are they? There’s something sweeping, weighty, grand about this notion, isn’t there? I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that it helps to be a white, male to make into this category. Looking at Literary Hub’s excellent article confirms my suspicion. Let’s hope that will change in the future.
Of the books on the list, I’ve read The Great Gatsby (one of my favourites, ever), To Kill a Mocking Bird (wonderful), Underworld (that 50 page baseball game did me in), Beloved (great), Freedom (fabulous), Rabbit Run (gave up…) and The Flame Throwers (good, but not sure it belongs here). And this article makes we want to read more of them, Mason & Dixon and Grapes of Wrath have joined my reading list as of now. I’m surprised Philip Roth didn’t make it. But, hey, arguing about which ones belong there or not is half the fun, no? Which ones would you add?
Austrian short-story maestro Stefan Zweig (Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman, Chess, Letter From an Unknown Woman and Fear) also wrote two novels: The Post Office Girl and Beware of Pity. Beware of Pity has now been made into a play by Simon McBurney, creative genius and head of the experimental theatre company Theatre de Complicite, which is showing at the Barbican in London 9-12 February. I cannot recommend Simon McBurney’s productions highly enough. They are without doubt amongst the most original, intelligent and spectacular theatre you will see. If you can’t get tickets the play is available on live streaming from the Barbican. I’ll certainly watch it.
James Wood’s annual list of new book discoveries seems shorter this year but his description of Joy Williams’ Ninety-Nine Stories of God made even me (not usually a short story fan) want to pick it up. Perhaps you too will find something here?
President Obama, interviewed by chief book critic of The New York Times Michiko Kakutani, talks about books and how they help ‘exercise the muscles’ that allow us to imagine what’s going on in the lives of other people. An interview worth reading.