3 Booker Prize Winners Worth Re-Reading

There were a number of Booker Prize winning novels I read before I began this blog and my project to work my way through all the winners. As I’m approaching the end of that project I thought I’d write some short reviews of those pre-blog books.

I seldom re-read contemporary fiction (I don’t know why, but the classics seem to lend them selves far more to re-reading. ) But these are three that I would definitely consider reading a second time.

The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending: Booker Prize winner 2011

This 2011 Booker Prize winner was my first experience of Julian Barnes .

It’s a slim novel, beautifully paced and very readable yet it gets you thinking about some of the issues well after you reachthe last page.

The Sense of an Ending is narrated by Tony Webster, a retired man of around 60 years old. He reflects on his life and in particular his relationship with Adrian Finn, a boy he met at school. Adrian was the most intellectually advanced and gifted boy in his coterie.

But a rather odd girl called Veronica comes between them. Tony takes her defection to Adrian badly, heaping curses upon the pair. And then he learns Adrian has killed himself.

Years later Adrian’s diary is bequeathed to Tony. He believes it will unlock the mystery of why Adrian died. But first he will have to do battle with Veronica.

This is very much a reflective novel about a man who is trying to make sense of his life. His frustrations and anger come to the fore but so too does regret and his feeling of being on the fringe of life. “You just don’t get it. You never will.” is the barb Veronica most frequently throws at him. Tony does have a selective memory however and even by the end you feel that he is still a puzzle to himself.

The Sense of an Ending is a compact novel which meditates on the complexity of the human struggle to deal with regret and loss.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Blind Assassin: Booker Prize Winner 2000

Until I read this 2000 Booker Prize winner, my only experience with Margaret Atwood was through The Handmaids’ Tale. Although there is a sci fi aspect to The Blind Assassin, it couldn’t have been more different.

It has a complicated structure with three plot strands and multiple time frames.

The over-arching device is that this book is the memoir of Iris Chase, from her beginning as the daughter of a prosperous family, through a loveless marriage and into solitary and brooding old age. As she nears the end of her life she is determined to set down her version of the stories and scandals that have long swirled around her and her family.

Her younger sister Laura killed herself in 1945, 10 days after the end of the war. Iris published her sister’s novel The Blind Assassin posthumously. a decision which propelled Laura to fame but Iris to a life of isolation.

Interposed with Iris’s reminiscences are passages from that novel,  about an upper-class married woman and her lover, a hack writer and a political radical, who spins a science fiction tale (also entitled The Blind Assassin) during their clandestine meetings. 

Confused?? It’s not surprising.

Reading this novel is a giddy experience. We get Iris’ narrative, Laura’s novel, extracts from the pulp science-fiction stories the hero of Laura’s book tells his lover and newspaper reports on events.

In the hands of a less able novelist, this mix of narrative forms would be a mess. But Atwood handles it with authority and aplomb. It’s quite an extraordinary novel.

 

Amsterdam : A Novel by Ian McEwan

Amsterdam : Booker Prize winner 1998

Ian McEwan won the 1998 Booker Prize with his story of a euthanasia pact between a composer and a newspaper editor that ultimately destroys their long-term friendship.

It’s rather a dark novel from the beginning which takes place at a funeral where the two men agree that if one of them is left helpless by a medical condition, the other will ease his exit from this world.

The rest of the novel sees each man take decisions with far-reaching consequences. The editor publishes private photographs revealing a political scandal. The composer leaves the scene of a rape because he can’t waste time when he has a symphony to finish.

This is a novel which reads like a psychological thriller at times; particularly in the final chapters in Amsterdam where the friends meet for a show-down. But it’s the way the novel deals with moral ambiguities that I enjoyed the most.

I read Amsterdam in 2000 and it’s one of my favourite novels by Ian McEwan. It’s one of the Booker Prize winners I think warrants a second read.

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 August 25, 2019, in Book Reviews, Man Booker Prize and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 43 Comments.

  1. I am thinking of starting a reading project so that I atleast read the earlier winners . I started following Booker seriously only last year . . .

  2. Gosh I’ve never even heard of Amsterdam but it sounds AMAZING! I must keep my eye out for that if I ever get the time to read some older books…

  3. I think a lot of readers lost faith in Ian McEwan around the time of Saturday. A pity really as some of his early books (e.g. The Cement Garden) were very good. Have you read his latest, Machines Like Me? A work colleague is of the belief that it might be his best yet…

    • I certainly felt Saturday was not the McEwan that I had loved in the past. I did try The Children Act but that didn’t grab me much. I’m not sure I want to read his latest. thats the thing about authors you used to love but no longer – you keep wondering if their latest will be the return to the kind of writing you relished.

  4. Seems like many of us have a love/hate thing going on for McEwan. I still find myself getting excited at the thought of a new McEwan, but in recent times always end of disappointed. Curiously Amsterdam is one of the McEwan’s I’ve read twice, by accident, as I had forgotten completely reading it the first time, until about half way through, I came across an underlined section.
    One day I would also love to reread Atwood’s books, not all, just some ,including The Blind Assassin, Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale.
    Barnes would be an easy reread given the slim nature of his books, but I have to finish reading his entire backlist before starting on a rereading campaign.

  5. Saturday pretty much ended my appreciation for McEwan, so I’m very reluctant to pick him up again but this sounds excellent. Julian Barnes was excellent. I hope this isn’t my second comment. I tried before but it vanished.

  6. Julian Barnes’ Sense of an Ending must have been read by every book club in Australia it was so popular. I own a copy, however, I don’t particularly like the story.

  7. I loved The Blind Assassin and Amsterdam, The Sense of an Ending I liked rather than loved. Of the three I am most likely to re-read The Blind Assassin, though I never seem to have time for re-reading.

    • No matter how much I would like to think I will re-read books, I seldom do. I even took a hard look at my ‘re-read shelf’ this week and decided that I would never get around to a few of them so out they went

  8. Yes – to all three.
    Splendid books!

  9. The Sense of an Ending would be one of my favourite books per se, not simply from Booker winners. It is interesting to Amsterdam there because it was generally felt to be one of McEwan’s weaker novels. I must go back and give it another read.

  10. I’ve all three of these – at least I think I’ve read Amsterdam, it’s on my shelves of books that I have read, but it must have been around the same time as you – before I began my blog. I remember the other two very well and agree they warrant re-reading. So, now I’m wondering about re-reading Amsterdam. McEwan used to be one of my favourite authors but haven’t read any of his books since reading Sweet Tooth in 2012 – I thought it was disappointing.

  11. I read the Blind Assassin years ago and it sits on my shelf waiting for a reread. There is so much in it I think it needs to be read more than once. J Barnes book is one that crops up again and again as one to read and I don’t have it. Funny how some books never go away. McEwan is an author I battle with so have not read this one. I think it is on my shelf, need to check.

  12. So many books I’ve read go straight out of my head if I don’t write about them I have no problem with re reading (Re listening mostly) though if the recurrence of phrases and plot lines gets too familiar I don’t always go on. I ‘ve just relistened to Atonement though I’m finding I’m less and less of a McEwan fan.

    • While lying awake the other night I was thinking about the large number of books I’ve read that I can barely recall. If someone were to ask me about them, I’d struggle to summarise even the plot.

  13. The two I’ve read (Barnes and Atwood) most definitely warrant re-reading. I’ve not read the McEwan but I do want to explore his writing more!

  14. Nice to see someone else appreciating The Blind Assassin. A lot of Atwood fans don’t seem very keen.

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