Snapshot October 2015

Autumn leavesOctober 1 saw me on a business trip to Germany. Here’s a snapshot of what I was doing on that day.


Unusually for me I had three novels on the go on this date. Reading two simultaneously is something I can manage if they are very different genres/styles but I’ve never before had three in progress.

After a run of novels with rather dark subjects I was in need of some lighter fare. Since I don’t tend to enjoy comedy in novels, “lighter fare” for me usually means crime fiction. I had Silence of the Sea by the Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurdardottiron my TBR from Christmas last year which I thought I’d better read before this year’s festive event (otherwise I’ll get challenged why I want more books as gifts when I haven’t read the ones I got last time etc etc). It’s not as good as the review in the Sunday Times suggested it would be but it fitted the need at the time. More than half way through the novel, I realised that my library edition of the Booker shortlisted title The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma couldn’t be renewed so I switched to that one. But then at short notice I was asked to take this trip to Germany and didn’t want to lug a hard cover book with me. Which is how I ended up taking my Kindle and reading The Dictator’s Last Night by Yasmina Khadra, an advance copy via NetGalley and publication date is coming up fast.


I finished All the Light we Cannot See last week eventually. It only really perked up for me in the last quarter. I haven’t started anything new yet, just catching up on some podcasts. For my next audiobook I’m torn between Can you Forgive Her by Anthony Trollope and The Human Factor by Graham Greene. I’m a Greene fan and this is one I’ve not come across before. On the other hand I also like Trollope… Hm too many decisions.


Knowing I’d be restricted in the choice of English language TV challenges I armed myself for my trip with a DVD from Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads series. No matter how many times I’ve seen these dramatised monologues I still love them. This time I indulged in one of my favourites: A Cream Cracker Under the Settee in which Thora Bird turns in a stunning performance as the 79-year-old Dora who falls while trying to do a spot of dusting. Alone and injured she worries that the only place left for her is a care home which she considers abhorrent. She decides she would rather die on her own in pain than live in a place where everyone is expected to sing “I’m H.A.P.P.Y. I’m H.A.P.P.Y”. Simply sublime.

Room by Emma Donoghue

RoomEmma Donoghue made a brave decision when she chose as the subject for her seventh novel Room, the seven-year imprisonment and sexual abuse of a young woman.  Donoghue was accused of sensationalism and voyeurism because of the affinity between her novel and the real life story of Josef Fritzl, an Austrian who held his daughter captive and sexually abused her for 24 years. She admitted that Room was triggered by the Fritzl scandal but firmly denied that her novel was in any way ‘based on’ that case.

What interested Emma Donoghue most was not the experience of the abuse or the confinement in a soundproofed garden shed but how the victim and the son Jack that is born as a result of rape, deal with the challenges of life outside.

This is the story told by Jack. He’s five years old, born in captivity, whose knowledge of the world is limited to the 12-foot-square room he occupies with his “Ma”. Their only contact with the world outside comes via their captor  “Old Nick”, who delivers their food, a weekly “Sundaytreat” (new trousers, painkillers, the occasional candy bar) before raping Ma. She uses every ounce of her energy on nurturing and teaching her child, creating rituals that help preserve her sanity. Theirs is a very private world, with its own language and cast of characters that Ma creates out of the sparse items in their room. “Melted Spoon”, “Rug”, “Wardrobe” and “Plant” become friends as real for Jack as the cartoon characters he loves to watch on TV. Ma limits his tv time though so his “brain doesn’t turn to mush” and makes him do “phys-ed” every morning which consists of running around the room and bouncing on the bed. In between they make up poems, sing Kylie songs and create a snake from old egg shells.

For Jack every day is a day of wide-eyed discovery and joy. Ma however can recall life “outside”.  Not surprisingly some days she just succumbs to despair, days when in Jack’s eyes she is “gone” and he is left to his own devices. Ma however is an exceptional woman, one whose love for her son gives her the courage to make a bid for freedom.

When the second half of the novel moves to “outside” it loses some of its intensity but gains a new dimension in which the close mother-son relationship is put the test as Jack has to share his mother with other people.  He has to learn that what was acceptable ‘inside” the room is not acceptable “outside” and to acquire skills he never needed before like tackling stairs and wearing shoes. Jack’s introduction to this confusing new world and to gradual removal of his previous dependency on his mother is handled with remarkable skill and insight.

While it was almost impossible not to shudder at the plight of this pair it was equally impossible not to be totally enthralled by Jack. It’s not easy inventing a credible child narrator but in Jack, Donaghue delivers one whose voice is so memorable  I could hear him long after I closed the book each day. He is the figure whose sweet innocence mitigates the horror, the figure that ensures the book never descends into the simplistic mode of villain versus victim pure monster  It’s one of the reasons this is a novel like no other I’ve read in recent years.


End Notes

Emma Donoghue was born in Ireland but now lives in Canada. Room was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010. It was released as a film in 2015.

Emma Donaghue talks about the writing of her novel in an interview with the Guardian 



Writers on reading: Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov quoteIn 1980 Vladimir Nabokov wrote an essay called Good Readers and Good Writers which included this comment about reading and re-reading which seems contradictory the first time you see it. On closer inspection though I think what he’s reflecting is that the first time we read a particular text we don’t appreciate many of its subtleties. We’re so busy engaged in the physical process of reading, moving the eye across, down, over to absorb information, we don’t notice all the connections between different parts of the book or the nuances of meaning. Nor, until we get to the end do we also recognise the significance of particular episodes.  Only when we read it again can we see how the parts combine into the whole.  Nabokov claims that it’s only on a third or fourth reading, that we start behaving toward a book as we would toward a painting, holding it all in the mind at once.

Thats certainly been my experience when I’ve had to read texts for study purposes. I read it once just to get the idea of the story line, the main characters and how the narrative flows. But it’s not until a few re-reads that I appreciate its finer points and retain more of the information gleaned from the pages. It’s a rewarding approach. If I hadn’t started to re-read Jane Austen about 15 years ago I think I would forever have been perplexed by comments on how ‘witty’ she could be. It took maturity of years for me to ‘get’ the style.

But re-reading one text multiple times can be very time consuming so not surprising that as I look through the stacks and stacks of books in my home, I notice have few of them  I’ve read more than once. They’re usually ones that fall into the general category of  “a classic”. Very seldom are they contemporary works.

I finish a book, decide it was wonderful and I would really like to read it again. One day. Sometime in the undefined future. That day never comes because guess what. there is another new title out or another new author to explore. and so the loved book of last year just collects cobwebs, feels forlorn.

Which means in Nabokov’s mind I’m not really a reader. The ideal for him is depth, having total understanding and knowledge of a particular text. He quotes Flaubert’s comment:“What a scholar one might be if one knew well only some half a dozen books.”

It would be wonderful to think I could become a master reader just through a comprehensive knowledge of six books. But it doesn’t seem realistic. How many books could we name that would be worth the kind of attention Flaubert and Nabokov advocate?  Just six books from all the millions that exist – they would have to be truly remarkable. For sure I can think of six that I feel are pretty special but if I could read only those for the rest of my life, would my attitude to them change? There’s a risk I’d be reading them so many times that my love of them would wane.

So as tempting as it would be from a financial point of view not to have to buy anything new, I suspect I’d feel I was missing out. What if some new author produced a work that trumped one of my existing choices – how would I know about that if I just stuck to my half a dozen texts. Sorry to disappoint you Mr Nabokov but I’m not going to narrow my horizons this much. If that means I can’t be a real reader I’m just going to have to live with that….


Classics Club – ringing the changes

classicsclub3Hooray, the Classics Club has reinstated its monthly question after a gap of many, many months. Although sometimes they were a bit tough to answer, they did make me pause and think about what I was reading from my list and why.

The latest question is:

“Have you made changes to your list since you first created it? If you added any new titles or removed some, why did you make those changes?”

The simple answer is that I seem to be constantly tempted to fiddle and tweak my Classics Club list to fill in gaps in my reading experience (often the result of  a reference in another blog). I’ve also removed a few that were, on reflection, titles that felt more like work than pleasure

This year I’ve made two revisions, adding far more than I removed. Added to the list were:

  • Basil by Wilkie Collins ( I liked most of Collins’ work but have never come across this before)
  • All Passion Spent – Vita Sackville West . One of her most popular works
  • New Grub Street – George Gissing. One of the Guardian’s top 100 novels
  • Frost in May by Antonia White. The first novel issued by Virago Books I believe. A re-read from many years ago.
  • Clayhanger by Arnold Bennett. A coming-of-age story set in the Midlands of Victorian England, this is the first in a series written between 1910 and 1918. Bennett is an interesting author because in his lifetime he wasn’t rated by contemporaries like Virginia Woolf but he underwent a bit of a revival in the 1990s.

I deleted from the list The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov after hearing details of this book in Andy Miller’s A Year of Reading DangerouslyI’m not a great fan of the kind of magical elements found in that book.

I may well make further changes before August 2017 which is the date by which I’m meant to have read 50 of the titles.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg [2015 Booker longlist]

did you ever have a familyThink about a shocking news event and consider how much any of us know about what really happened. The story, whether it’s the attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001, the tsunami that hit Southern Asia in 2004 or the death of Princess Diana, doesn’t come to us completely; neatly packaged into a start-to-finish narrative. The story only really emerges in fragments through the voices of the participants. Each of them has a reaction, a perspective to share, a fact to divulge. Together they get woven into something approaching the total picture.

The idea that a story is the sum of desperate, diverse voices is the premise for Bill Clegg’s 2015 Man Booker award long-listed novel Did You Ever Have a Family.  In it he takes a tragic event, one that has a domestic rather than world dimension, and looks at the aftermath from the perspective of the sole survivor, those connected to her or connected to the victims.

Did You Ever Have a Family begins on the night before the wedding of  June Reid’s only daughter Lolly. By the early hours, the prospective bride and her fiance William are dead, victims of a gas explosion that ripped the house apart. Also dead is June’s ex husband Adam and her boyfriend Luke. Only June survives.

The meaner voices among June’s Connecticut neighbourhood are quick to attribute the tragedy to her wilful behaviour (what do you expect when a white woman shacks up with a black man who’d done time for drugs?). But even they recognise there are some questions that do not have easy answers: “How do you recover from that? How would you even begin? asks one of the gossips. June’s answer is to flee immediately the funerals are over, driving the breadth of the country and eventually taking refuge in a motel room on the edge of the ocean.

It’s left to a chorus of voices to fill in the details and  to reveal little by little what happened on that terrible night. Some of them are principal players like Luke’s mother Lydia and the troubled adolescent Silas who harbours feelings of guilt about his part in the tragedy. Others such as Dale, William’s father, are directly affected but many of the voices come from bystanders like the wedding florist and caterer. They’re decent, hard working individuals in the main. As they reflect on the events of that terrible night, they come to understand more deeply the complexities and joys of their own lives and relationships.

Clegg takes a risk by narrating his story in such a fragmentary fashion. It works, up to a point (we needed more variety in the voices to be truly effective). He manages the structure and pace extremely well,  slotting in small disclosures about the character’s relationships to keep his readers engaged.  He’s good too at showing the tensions between the locals in June’s community and the New Yorkers who buy up all the properties as weekend homes. The “little, old bitter, spinster” florist Edith, articulates the ambivalent attitudes of the locals about these “pampered and demanding” city dwellers. They take the best houses, views, food and flowers from the town and “never dirty their hands with any of the things the rest of us have to, nor shoulder the actual weight of anything.” But she also acknowledges: “We can’t bear them and yet we are borne by them.”

However for me the novel ultimately didn’t live up to its initial promise. The freshness of Clegg’s approach disappeared towards the final section and we ended up with the rather safe message about redemption and the value of family. Maybe Clegg’s own journey back from his battle with addiction explain why he wanted to end with a positive note about the potential for hope. As true as that was in his case, in this novel it felt too obvious a solution.

End Notes

Did You Ever Have a Family, published by Gallery/Scout Press is Bill Clegg’s debut novel. Clegg is a literary agent in New York.He’s written memoirs and articles for publications including the New York TimesEsquire, The Guardian and Harper’s Bazaar.

You can listen to Bill Clegg talk about his novel in a video on the Simon and Schuster’s web site  For alternative views to mine, take a look at :

The Guardian review

The Daily Telegraph review

New York Times review

Carried away and now counting the cost

It is not a good idea at 5am on a Sunday morning to begin browsing the Net Galley catalogue of titles available for review. Of course that only became apparent a few weeks later when the request approvals began coming through and I realised a) how many I had requested b) how much reading I would need to do between now and mid November.

I’m not complaining however. Having the ability to read books by authors I enjoy or to explore writers I’m not familiar with, is part of the pleasure of the Net Galley program. I don’t always get around to reading everything but if I do read the title, then I make sure to write a review. It seems a fair deal to me.

Awaiting me are the following:

The secret chordThe Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks: this is one I’m not entirely sue about. I enjoyed her novel Year of Wonders which is about a village in the Peak District in England which seals itself off from the world to prevent the spread of the plague. I know she does extensive research into her chosen periods to ensure her novels sound authentic. It’s really that I don’t know whether the subject matter of The Secret Chord, the life of King David from humble shepherd to despotic king,  is to my taste given I have little interest in religious history. But I could be pleasantly surprised and at least I will learn something in the process of reading.


man tigerMan Tiger by Eka Kurniawan is a wild card choice for me. Kurniawan has been named as a rising star from Indonesia and compared (favourably) to Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez. Her latest novel, set in an unnamed town near the Indian Ocean,  tells the story of two interlinked and tormented families, and of Margio, an ordinary half-city, half-rural youngster who also happens to be half-man, half-supernatural female white tiger.



the dictators last nightThe Dictator’s Last Night by Yasmina Khadra

I must be one of the few people on the planet yet to read Khadra’s best selling Swallows of Kabul (ok, a bit of an exaggeration I know). I do have it in the bookshelves, just haven’t got around to it yet. The Dictator’s Last Night sounded too good to miss however. It’s focus is a figure whose name has long been associated with authoritarian political leadership and abuse of human rights: the former Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi. Khadra imagines the leader hiding out in his home town in the dying days of the Libyan civilc war. As he awaits a convey to take him and his advisors out of the danger zone, he reflects on his life, his animosity towards the West and the ingratitude of his fellow countrymen.

the little red chairsThe Little Red Chairs by Edna O’brien: She may be in her 80s now but Edna O’Brien is giving no sign she’s ready to throw in the writing towel. When her memoir The Country Girl came out a few years ago there was much speculation it would be her last published work. She’s proved everyone wrong with The Little Red Chairs, a story of the consequences of a fatal attraction. A war criminal on the run from the Balkans settles in a small Irish community where he pretends to be a faith healer. The community fall under his spell but he proves to be fatally attractive to one local woman in particular.


Paris NocturneParis Nocturne by Patrick Modiano: How could I possibly resist a noir work from the Nobel Laureate? Especially given that atmospheric cover….

This novel begins with a nighttime accident on the streets of Paris. An unnamed narrator is hit by a car whose driver he vaguely recalls having met before and then experiences a series of mysterious events. They culminate  with an envelope stuffed full of bank notes being stuffed into his hand. Libération called this book “perfect” while L’Express described it as “cloaked in darkness, but it is a novel that is turned toward the light.”



the japanese loverAnd finally I have The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende. It’s fair to say that I have not yet warmed to Allende. But she has a huge following and a friend keeps raving about her  so I thought she deserved another chance.  As the title suggests this is a romance. In it we see a young Polish girl meet in San Fransisco and fall in love with the Japanese man employed as the family’s gardner. Their relationship is tested when in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour, Japanese residents in the US are rounded up and sent to internment camps. Fast forward to modern day San Francisco and the secrets of a passion lasting seventy years are revealed.


Any of these books appeal to you? or maybe you’ve already read some of them?


Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

Burnt shadowsShortlisted for the 2009 Orange Prize, Burnt Shadows spans the half a century between two events that shocked the world; the nuclear attack on Nagasaki and the terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Centre. Along the way it covers a multitude of other subjects from Indian Partition to the war in Afghanistan, from the divide between colonial settlers and the native inhabitants of the land they occupy and from the ties that bind family members together to the ties that bind a person to their homeland.

An ambitious novel and yet it begins very simply and with an air of innocence. Hiroko Tanaka steps out onto her veranda in Urakami Valley to admire the view of terraced slopes lit by a perfectly blue sky. Dressed in a kimono patterned with three black cranes that swoop across the back, she stands quietly; a young woman on the cusp of a new life with the man she loves. Within seconds her dream is destroyed, an explosion throwing her to the ground; the heat fusing something to her skin.

She touches the something else on her back. Her fingers can feel her back but her back cannot feel her fingers. Charred silk, seared flesh. How is this possible? … So much to learn. The touch of dead flesh. The smell — she has just located where the acrid smell comes from — of dead flesh.

In the aftermath of the bomb that obliterates her fiancé Konrad and her community, all that is left are the bird-shaped burns on her back. Two years later she arrives in Delhi, a city in the twilight of the Raj. She is looking to begin a new life and to erase the stigma of being branded a hibakusha, a survivor of the bomb.  Slowly she builds a new life, with the help of Konrad’s half sister Elisabeth and the love of the family servant Sajjad Ashraf.

Over the years as she moves home, to Istanbul and Karachi and finally to New York, her endurance is tested to the extreme. Through the redemptive power of love and friendship she is able to escape the shadows of the past. But not so her son Raza.  He will never be able to marry the girl he loves because of that past:

It’s your mother. Everyone knows about her.

What about her?

Nagasaki. The bomb. No-one will give their daughter to you in marriage unless they are desperate Raza. You could be deformed.  … You might have something you can pass on to your children.

Perhaps it’s his realisation he is a marked man that drives Raza to take the rather naive step of heading to an Afghanistan training camp with his Afghan friend Abdullah. The experience simply deepens his feeling of enduring guilt, and lead him to make yet another mistake when he joins forces with a former covert CIA Operator in Afghanisation to run a private security firm.

Raza is a complex character but it’s Hiroko, a woman who quietly makes a new life for herself without ever forgetting the past, who stole the show for me.  She holds the fragments of this epic story together and whenever she is missing from the text, the book seems to lose its identity. At times the didactic element of the writing was intrusive but overall I was drawn to the lives of these characters and admired how Kamila Shamsie roamed so widely across the canvas of international politics.


Shortlist announced for 2015 Man Booker Prize

The Man Booker Prize 2015 LogoThe Man Booker judges confounded us once again when they announced today the shortlisted titles for the 2015 Man Booker Prize. OK so the bookmakers favourite A Little Life was shortlisted but the hotly tipped Did You Ever Have a Family went out of the running as was one of the biggest names on the long list; Marilynne Robinson with Lila.

Which leaves us with these six titles:





Manbooker prize 2015





  • Marlon James (Jamaica) – A Brief History of Seven Killings (Oneworld Publications)
  • Tom McCarthy (UK) – Satin Island (Jonathan Cape)
  • Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria) – The Fishermen (ONE, Pushkin Press)
  • Sunjeev Sahota (UK) – The Year of the Runaways (Picador)
  • Anne Tyler (US) – A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus)
  • Hanya Yanagihara (US) – A Little Life (Picador)

I can’t really judge which of these will be the likely one to giant ultimate prize since I’ve read only one – A Little Life (review posted here)I did find that extraordinary though not without its flaws. And I have The Fishermen lined up to read once I’ve finished another long listed title Did You Ever Have a Family.

What I like about this shortlist however is the mix of genres and countries represented. It helps mitigate the flak over the inclusion of American authors since last year.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall as the judges pontificate over the next few weeks before reaching their decision about the winner. An article in The Daily Telegraph today gives some insight into the behind the scenes tantrums of various winners from the past – may the judges are equally as temperamental?

Snapshot September 2015

I’m rather late this month but this is what I was up to on the first day of September. It was day six of our holiday and we were in Dresden, Germany.

Dresden – after the 1945 bombing raids


I had two novels on the go on September 1, 2015.  As holiday reading companions I had two paperbacks plus of course a fully loaded e-reader. My plan was to begin with The Quest for Christa T by the East German author Christa Wolf which I though appropriate since our first port of call would be East Berlin followed by Dresden and Leipzig (all of which

Dresden - 2015. A city restored to former glory

Dresden – 2015. A city restored to former glory

are mentioned in the novel). But I found it hard to get into, so switched instead to my e-copy of A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara. Not the kind of book if you’re one of those people who like cosy novels as holiday companions but I found it difficult to put down.

Of course I couldn’t resist the temptation to browse in a few bookshops in Berlin and Dresden. The selection of books available in English was rather limited – the usual crime fiction and best sellers, a few of last year’s Booker shortlisted titles plus four different editions of  All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. But not a single English translation of a German fiction classic. I’d been hoping for a Thomas Mann at least but drew a complete blank.


Talking of All the Light we Cannot See, this was on my iPod during my trip. Shortly after starting it, I learned that President Obama had also selected it as one of his holiday reads. Presumably he chose it (or had it chosen for him?) because of its status as a Pulitzer prize-winner and winner of the Carnegie Medal for Fiction. What the leader of the free world made of this novel set in World War 2 I haven’t been able to discover. For me it’s rather slow going. I keep thinking sometime soon something will happen ….

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara [2015 Booker prize shortlist]

A Little LifeWith themes of child sex abuse and self harm, of emotional and physical damage, A Little Life can, in the truest sense, be considered a dreadful novel. Every time I opened it I was filled with a deep sense of foreboding as the story unfolded of a boy unable to lay to rest the nightmare of a childhood during which he was systematically abused by the very people who were meant to care for and protect him. And yet I wanted to read on… and on …. and on.

The first few pages give little hint of the darkness to come. Four university friends Malcolm, JB, Willem and Jude have made their way to New York to pursue their ambitions. Malcolm, son of a wealthy family, is intent on becoming an architect; Willem has his eyes on a career on the stage but in the meantime works as a waiter; JB dabbles in experimental art through really wants to be a representational painter and Jude works as a public defense lawyer. Success comes relatively quickly:  film star status for the kind, handsome Willem, MOMA exhibitions for bad-boy JB; international design projects for Malcolm and partnership in a leading law practice for Jude St Francis.

Slowly we discover there is a shadow over Jude’s life. The most reticent of the quartet, we get hints of a secret in his life about which he has never spoken. They may explain why  he has problems walking and negotiating staircases; why he always keeps his body hidden and why he never talks about his school days or his parents.

Eventually he reveals to Willem, the member of the quartet to whom he is closest, that he regularly cuts himself.   Further revelations are drip fed through the course of the novel’s 700 pages. We learn the specifics of the abuse Jude suffered in his early years and of the torments he now suffers as a result. Unflinching in tackling a subject in a way that makes us squirm, Yanigahara nevertheless edges away from gratuitous wallowing in detail.

This then is a portrait of an emotionally and physically damaged man and of the friends who try to stand between him and the demons that haunt him. They love him, shield him and — when needed (which happens frequently) — rush to his aid. They invite him to their homes, to parties celebrating their awards; to intimate family gatherings:  Jude is loved by all of them. Especially Harold, his former law professor who adopts him as a replacement for a dead son. And especially Willem; flat mate, confidante and would-be lover. But none of them cannot eradicate Jude’s past because  that would require Jude to disclose what he cannot reveal for fear the life he has constructed would collapse.  At one point in his life a social worker advised him:

 You have to talk about these things while they’re fresh. Or you’ll never talk about them. It’s going to get harder and harder the longer you wait, and it’s going to fester inside you, and you’re always going to think you’re to blame.

But such is the intensity of Jude’s feeling of shame that talking about his past is one thing he can never do.  He’s too afraid his friends will despise him and abandon him when all he wants is to be loved

… to feel someone else’s hands on him, although the thought of that too terrifies him. Sometimes he looks at his arms and is filled with a self-hatred so fiery that he can barely breathe: Much of what his body has become has been beyond his control, but his arms have been all his doing, and he can only blame himself.

His physical debilitation and his mental despair are at times unendurable yet he is not without a capacity to hope …

… maybe, he thinks, maybe it isn’t too late. Maybe he can pretend one more time, and this last bout of pretending will change things for him, will make him into the person he might have been. He is fifty-one; he is old. But maybe he still has time. Maybe he can still be repaired.

A Little Life is thus a profoundly moving book but one that is not without it’s flaws. It’s overly long and verbose in places for one thing; it contains some truly inelegant sentences and smilies and odd switches of tense from one paragraph to another. The characters all seem impossibly good and kind: how many doctors do you know who can be instantly available at any time of day or night? how many artists manage to get MOMA status though their whole body of work consists of paintings of the same three people?  They also live in a bit of a time warp – years flash by with such little (if any) reference to world events, to wars, elections, terrorist attacks, fashion changes that we can’t tell for sure in which period this novel is set.

Despite that A Little Life is still exceptional; the kind of novel that you still want to keep reading even though you’re aware it still has room for improvement. Will it win the Man Booker Prize for 2015? It depends whether the judges also look past those flaws and agree with the critic in  The New Yorker who described A Little Life as ‘brilliantly subversive” or whether they feel ultimately (as did The New York Times) that it’s over-long and contrived.


A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara is published by Pan Macmillan/Picador. I received a copy in return for an honest review. If you’re interested in learning more about this book take a look at the interview with Hanya Yanigahara for  The Millions.

Blogger reviews of A Little Life that are worth checking out:

Shiny New Books

Roof Beam Reader

The Readers Room

Savidge Reads



The Man Booker judged announced today that A Little Life has been shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize. One step closer to the ultimate prize. We’ll find out October 13 if it gets the title.

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