Ever had one of those days where you can’t seem to settle on anything? After some enjoyable summery days its back to grey skies and rain here in Wales today so the garden is out of bounds. Maybe that’s affected my mood or it could be the signs I might have a cold coming on (I hate summer colds more than winter ones) but I can’t seem to settle to anything this morning.
It’s not like I don’t have plenty of things to do. I have a backlog of about eight reviews to write so I thought I’d give this some concentrated effort but after false starts on two of them I’ve abandoned that. I don’t know how you all approach writing your reviews/thoughts on books but I have to strike the right note from the first paragraph otherwise it becomes a painful exercise. And today my muse has deserted me.
So then I thought I’d make some progress with one of the short story collections on my 20booksofsummer list but although I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around My Neck, the next story in the sequence didn’t grab me as much. Another abandoned activity.
Right I thought, time for a change of tack. Crime fiction I find is wonderful escapist reading and I’ve been eying the British Library crime classics series ever since they started to be re-released in 2014. The success of these releases has been astonishing when you think none of the authors are around to help promote the titles in the way we’ve become used to with contemporary novels – perhaps our appetite for nostalgia and the gloriously painterly covers tell us something about the mood of the country right now? I’d had been hoping someone in the family would think to buy me a few to beautify my bookshelves but no such luck. A recent post over on HeavenAli about The Hog’s Back Mystery – which sounded wonderful – reminded me that indeed I did have have one of the titles in the series via NetGalley.
Ugh is all I can say about The Female Detective by Andrew Forrester.
Originally published in 1864 it is reputedly the first novel in British fiction to feature a professional female detective. in the firm of Miss Gladden, also known as ‘G’. The new edition includes an introduction by Mike Ashley and a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith in which he positions Miss Gladden as the forerunner of more modern-day female detectives like his own character Mma Ramotswe. Ashley’s introduction provides interesting context for the significance of this book – apparently there were no female police officers let alone detectives in the British force in 1864 and indeed they wouldn’t materialise for another 50 years. The Metropolitan Police Force was still rather in its infancy having been established only in 1829, Scotland Yard (the plain clothes detective branch wasn’t created until 1842) and the term detective didn’t actually pass into common usage until 1843. So by creating a protagonist with such an unusual role , Forrester was truly pushing the boundaries.
I wish he’d spent more time creating some compelling stories in which she is the investigator. I’e now read three and they’r rather dull, not helped by the dan-pan, colourless nature of the prose. I’ll give it another 30 minutes but if it’s failed to ignite by then it’s going to get abandoned and become the second book this year I couldn’t finish.
Hm, I could always tidy up the sock drawer I suppose…..
Around this time of the year I’m dusting down my crystal and trying to predict what will be announced as the longlist for the Booker Prize. But with only a few days to go (the list will be announced on Wednesday, 27th July) I’m struggling. Mainly the issue is that I’ve been so focused on reading what I already own from previous years that I haven’t devoted much time to contemporary works.
Of the very few I have read, My Name is Lucy Barton is Elizabeth Strout could be a contender now that American authors are eligible. Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must be the Place is surely going to be on the list? I suspect Gail Jones A Guide to Berlin won’t make it ( the fact that I couldn’t finish it says a lot though I know others rated it more highly than I did).
Fortunately other bloggers who have their fingers on the pulse more than I do, have come up with their own predictions. Take a look at the lists from:
- A Life in Books which also highlights the Elizabeth Strout. Her list has a number of books that are on my wishlist but just haven’t got around to – yet…. http://alifeinbooks.co.uk/2016/07/my-2016-man-booker-wish-list/
- The Readers’ Room This blog is going to be running a shadow Booker event so the judges have made individual predictions. Interesting to see Annie Proux and Louise Erdich on the list – both highly acclaimed authors but because of the eligibility rules in the past were never considered for the Booker. Will this be the year they crack the barrier? https://thereadersroom.org/2016/07/18/2016-man-booker-longlist-predictions/
I’m surprised not to see Dave Eggers’s Heroes of the Frontier on any list. This is a kind state of the nation novel set in contemporary Alaska which has had good reviews so far. I think its not yet out in UK but should make it before the publication cut off date of September 30. Also from the American stable comes Ann Patchett’s The Commonwealth which is a tale of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives. It’s due out in the UK on September 8. I haven’t seen any reviews for it yet but if it’s anything like the standard of Bel Canto which I read recently, it will give many other authors a run for their money.
If you feel any of your favourite authors are likely to be overlooked and yet they deserve attention, you can always put their names forward for the highly popular alternative Booker prize event hosted by the Guardian. Nominations are now open at https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/jul/18/not-the-booker-prize-2016-vote-for-your-favourite-book-of-the-year
This year was meant to be the year I completed my self-imposed project to read all the Booker Prize winners. At the start of the year my tally was 28 of the 48 winners and one that I couldn’t finish, leaving me with 19 (I’m not counting the winner of the 2016 prize which has yet to be announced). Since then I’ve read four. so if I keep up this pace I still won’t cross the finishing line by year end. Does that matter? Well not really in the scheme of things. No Booker Prize police are going to come storming my house demanding to know why I didn’t finish by the due date. But equally I don’t want to drag it out for ever.
I put three Booker winners on my list for 20booksof summer as a way of giving myself a kick up the rear end. Which is how I ended up reading the 1996 winner Last Orders by Graham Swift this week. I’m familiar with the story because of the film version featuring Tom Courtenay, Michael Caine and Helen Mirren. It’s actually a rather simple plot: four men spend a day travelling from London to the coastal resort of Margate to scatter the ashes of their friend Jack Dodds, as he requested just before his death. The book’s title comes from the idea that these men are fulfilling Jack’s final request but it’s also a play on the phrase used to signal closing time in the pub, which is where all these men spend a lot of their time.
Three of the men; Ray, Lenny, and Vic; knew Jack for most of their adult lives and come from the same working class part of London. The fourth, Vince, is Jack’s son. As they journey to Margate their histories, thoughts and feelings are revealed in a series of short chapters each told from one of the character’s point of view. So far it’s rather easy reading and I’m wondering why this Swift’s novel was considered better than Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance which were on the shortlist.
Here’s what I still have left to read. Some of them are going to be more challenging, then others namely How Late It Was, How Late, Vernon God Little and G so I’m likely to leave these to last. Anyone have some recommendations for me from this list of what I should get to earlier?
2015 – A History of Seven Killings (Marlon James)
2010 – The Finkler Question (Howard Jacobson)
2004 – The Line of Beauty (Hollinghurst)
2003 – Vernon God Little (Pierre)
2001 – True History of the Kelly Gang (Carey)
1997 – The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy)
1994 – How Late It Was, How Late (Kelman)
1993 – Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (Roddy Doyle)
1992 – Sacred Hunger (Unsworth)
1988 – Oscar and Lucinda (Peter Carey)
1986 – The Old Devils (Kingsley Amis) – on my 20booksofsummer list
1983 – Life & Times of Michael K (Coetzee) on my 20booksofsummer list
1974 – The Conservationist (Nadine Gordimer)
1972 – G. (Berger)