September reading wrap up

sundaysalonSeptember 2013 will go down in history in the BookerTalk household.  It’s  the first time since I started reading the Booker Prize listed titles, that I read only Booker nominees.  Nothing from my Classics Club list, nothing from my World of Literature challenge list, nothing from my TBR mountain (will it ever get any smaller???).

It wasn’t planned that way. I’m not one of those people brave enough to embark on reading all the longlisted titles  as soon as they are announced. Nor even brave enough to attempt to read all shortlisted titles before the final.  I could do it if there wasn’t the  inconvenient matter of having to go to work each day which does rather cut into ones reading time. There is also the rather practical issue that these are titles are all in hardback so it gets expensive to buy the lot.

So I threw myself on the mercy of the local library and requested whatever they had thought to acquire – and as I said in an earlier Sunday Salon post, they all came into stock more or less the same time so had to be ready pretty quickly.

Which is how I spent September reading four Booker nominees and starting a fifth.  In no particular order, I read

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore was a  thoroughly enjoyable novel from the 2012  shortlist that I never got around to reading last year. I remember hearing the synopsis and thinking that a whole novel about a man walking to a lighthouse didn’t exactly sound wonderful. How wrong I was.

Conversely, I’d heard such good things about Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw, one of the 2013 longlisted titles that I felt sure I would enjoy it. Sadly I did but only in part – or to be more precise I enjoyed only the first half.  The remaining 200 plus pages were disappointingly ‘just ok’. I can understand why it never made it onto the shortlist.

unexplodedjpegLikewise, my third read, Unexploded by Alison MacLeod, didn’t move from longlist to shortlist status this year.  This is a novel set in the seaside resort of Brighton in the first year of World War 2 when Britain is gripped by a fear that they will be invaded by Hilter’s forces any day. MacLeod looks at the repercussions of the war at a very human level, focusing on just one couple and how the conflict ignites elements in their marriage that have simmered for years. She does a wonderful job of re-creating the confusing atmosphere of dread and excitement. Well worth reading though, again, I didn’t think it was shortlist calibre.

Which brings me to the cream of the crop —the novel that turns out to be the bookmaker’s favourite for the prize, Jim Crace’s Harvest. I can’t compare it to the other nominees since I haven’t read any of those but should Crace walk off with the prize then he will have richly Harvestdeserved the accolade.  It’s set in an un-named village in rural England at an unspecified date but likely to be fifteenth century. This is a community whose way of life is under threat from an absentee landlord who believes the future lies in sheep not arable farming and if that means a few dozen families lose their livelihoods and their homes, well tough luck. This green and pleasant land is further threatened by some ominous newcomers who have come to claim their rights of settlement.  There is drama but the power of the novel lies more in the way Crace gets you to reflect on the past and on the question of the ability of humans to endure change.

This is one of the best novels I have read yet this year.

So now September is over, what lies ahead in October? I’ve started reading another Booker longlisted title – TransAtlantic – Colum McCann’s first novel following his National Book Award success with Let the Great World Spin. Very shortly I shall be relinquishing contemporary fiction for some older texts as I start preparing for the Plagues, Witches and War course on historical fiction delivered via Coursera.  The course will be looking at historical novels from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, some classic, others less well known. It looks as if its going to go at a very fast pace so for the next 8 weeks I won’t have much time to spare on anything other than historical fiction.

 

 

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on October 6, 2013, in historical fiction, Sunday Salon and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. I am so glad you enjoyed Harvest – I have it to read and am a little afraid of Jim Crace (no idea why). I’ve also got a copy of The Lighthouse sitting on my shelves. It is always so encouraging to read a good review of a book I’ve not yet found the time for!

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  2. Oh, Harvest sounds really interesting! Will add that one to the TBR for sure.

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  3. I have Transatlantic on my reading list too. I didn’t know much about the book before I got it but the synopsis is very intriguing.

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    • It’s a bit of a mixed reading experience so far. the first part which covered the first transatlantic flight was really good but the next section felt lacklustre

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      • @Bookertalk: hope it picks up again soon. It seems like a very ambitious novel and I always like it when real people get mixed up in fictional novels, so I still have high hopes for it. Looking forward to your review 🙂

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  4. What a great batch of reviews. I’m especially intrigued by your review of Harvest. I need to dive into the 2013 short list myself. At this point I’m waiting to see who wins and will read that first.

    I started Transatlantic over the weekend and am enjoying it so far, but then I liked Let the Great World Spin too.

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  5. interesting titles! looking forward to your HF reviews. here is my own recap: http://wordsandpeace.com/2013/10/03/2013-september-wrap-up/

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  6. I have thought about signing up for the Coursera course but haven’t done so yet. I want to but then I am not sure if I have the time or energy! Good luck with it!

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  7. I still have to read ‘Harvest’ and like you am just about to start on the historical fiction reading so what with that and book group reads don’t know when I’ll get found to it now. What happened to all this time I was supposed to have once I retired?

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  8. That’s a pretty great recommendation for Harvest, which I’ve heard wonderful things about from others, too. I’m about 150 pages into The Luminaries right now and, though I can sense it is going to pick up a bit, it’s length is really starting to weigh me down at this point.

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  9. I think I might be the only one who read Let The Great World Spin and didn’t like it. 😦 So I don’t think I’ll be trying TransAtlantic either, I’m guessing. 😉 BUT I hope you enjoy it. We all have different tastes in writing and that is what makes…wait for it…the great world spin. 🙂

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    • You’re not alone Bryan. I wasn’t that enamoured of Let the Great World Spin either. It meandered without much purpose it felt. Karen Heenan-Davies

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