A few years after being accused of dumbing down in its selection of books, the Booker Prize is back and kicking! Expanding the prize from British and Commonwealth writers to include all fiction written in English and published in the U.K. was a stroke of genius (courtesy of the Folio Prize, I might add), and has made the list that much more adventurous.
Haven’t heard of her either? At least this year, there might be a reason for it. Unusually, the winner is a writer of mostly non-fiction. Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich has documented the life stories of suffering in the Second World War, during and in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster and the Soviet War in Afghanistan. Her books are based on interviews with thousands of people who have lived through these events as explained by Alexievich herself:
Who’d have thought that this book would show up in British bookshops?! I’d heard of it’s huge success in my native Norway and Sweden (200,000+ copies sold), but thought for sure that’s where it would remain. Norwegian Wood is a non-fiction book about chopping firewood. Stacking firewood. Drying firewood. But more importantly, it’s about nature, patience, persistence and appreciating the small things in life. Norwegian Wood is a cross between the Cohen brothers’ film Fargo and the cult book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and predicted by my bookseller to become this year’s surprise Christmas bestseller.
It’s here! Genius declared ‘Great American Novelist’ Jonathan Franzen’s much anticipated new book Purity. In terms of compulsively readable, contemporary fiction with depth and humour, his last book Freedom was up there amongst the very best for me. Perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps Purity is not as good as his two previous best-sellers The Corrections and Freedom, or perhaps you will disagree with me, but despite moments of brilliance, I found Purity to be an uneven book, oscillating between Franzen-esque genius and rushed, flat, even – dare I say it – boring writing.
Intensely gory and plot driven, this is nevertheless a psychological thriller. Despite knowing “who dunnit” within the first 5 chapters, the anxiety the author winds about the reader is suffocating and convincing. Kirino delves into the psyche of the lead characters, four factory women struggling with personal hardships, and uncovers a simmering power behind the drab mundanity of their lives. Their situation subsequently intertwines with the seedier and rougher side of Tokyo life, and they soon find themselves in a, very tight, proverbial corner. Thriller extraordinaire.
This rather triste novella based on true events, is a poignant story of isolation in a modern world. Through a mild sense of dread, Faye manages to simultaneously capture the flavour(less) world of the monotony and prescribed particularities of a Japanese ‘salaryman’ and the subsequent disruption based on the simple observation he makes one morning that someone seems to have drunk his juice. A uniquely gentle tale that takes on a thought-provoking exploration of the thin fabric separating the accepted world with the unacknowledged people on the fridges of society. Highly recommended.
Perhaps Icelandic women are more forward thinking than the rest of us… or maybe they just aren’t?! Droll re-evaluations of what it means to be a woman, and an independent woman at that, in this quirky narrative of a road trip ‘into the wilderness’ after being simultaneously dumped by both lover and husband. Local insight: the irony being that there is only one road in Iceland, and it loops back on itself. Brilliant circular little adventure, full of the unnamed heroine’s sardonic wit and incongruous, but very human, weaknesses. The lack of moralising makes it a refreshing, light, read.
While some may say it’s ‘cheating’ to have a book read to you, others would argue it needn’t be instead of reading words on a page. But whether you choose to re-read these books on paper or are content to ‘only listen’, here are some of our favourite: good books read to us with great talent.
The Man Booker Prize short-list 2015 is out with what looks like interesting books on a wide range of themes – child abuse, technology, immigration – and geographic settings – Nigeria, Jamaica, Sheffield. Take your pick!