Category Archives: Jerwood Fiction Uncovered
It’s a tale of a troubled past told by Madelaine who’s been a patient at a mental infirmary for the past 20 years. It’s clear that she has recently committed some terrible act of violence, though Madelaine apparently doesn’t know what she has done or why she is in the infirmary. All of this comes to light through hypnotherapy sessions with Dr Lucas, a newly-arrived specialist who diagnoses that Madelaine has “dissociative amnesia”. He wants her to reconstruct the events leading to her committal to the institution on her 14th birthday.
In the journal Madelaine is encouraged to keep we get a sense of her feelings after these sessions and her discomfort as the hypnotherapy takes her down uncomfortable paths. Her past is revealed as the child of poverty-stricken evangelists who move to a derelict farmhouse in a remote location on an island. The girl roams the fields, searching for God in a Garden of Eden like the one that illustrates the family bible. Faced with a domineering father and a mother suffering from depression, Madeline turns to the Old Testament for a solution.
There are some passages of beautiful lyrical writing as the girl takes her rites of passage adventures amongst nature, leading her into the occasional out of body experience. But overall, this was a disappointing novel. There was much that wasn’t really explained such as why people on the island were so hostile to Madelaine’s father, pretending no work was available for him and then sacking him without reason, or the source of her mother’s illness.
But mainly I think I didnt enjoy this book was because I couldn’t relate to Madelaine in the same way I did with the narrators in Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing (reviewed here) or Nathan Filer’s Shock of the Fall. Madelaine didn’t ring true to me. Though she says she sleeps most of the time, and is on a high dosage of medication, she has somehow developed a knowledge of medieval mystics. She seems oblivious to her own situation in the infirmary and yet demonstrates great insight when she observes other patients and a clear-sighted, if cynical, view on life and the true purpose of Dr Lucas interest in her case is to boost his career.
Dr Lucas has an agenda and I am part of it: he stands to win or lose depending on the result of my treatment… In any case I have an agenda too, entitled “release’. Everyone has an agenda, its just a question of who reads whose first. If, however, I am to be a pawn deployed to prove or disprove his theory….. then it is crucial to let the mover believe the pawn is a pawn, and oblivious to his intent.
The more the book progressed the less convinced I became by her as a character and consequently not that interested in discovering what happened on the day of her birthday.
The Offering was the third of the 2015 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered prize winners I’ve read recently and the one that left me underwhelmed.
Grace McCleen is well qualified to write about the effect of religious fanaticism having been raised by parents who subscribed to a fundamentalist religion. She applied to university in secret because education was considered by member’s of that faith to be dangerous. Having gained a first class honours degree and a distinction in her M.A she turned to writing fiction. The Offering is her third novel.
1. Awards. Justice at last for Jim Crace whose novel Harvest should have won the 2013 Booker Award because it was simply outstanding and far, far superior to the other shortlisted titles. I was delighted to see this week’s announcement declaring this book the winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It’s a recognition that is long overdue. If you don’t know this novel, take a look at my review
2. Acquisitions. Two of my library reservations came through yesterday. Just in time because I was on the final few pages of Ghost Road by Pat Barker which I didn’t enjoy particularly. I now have The World of Thomas Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson to look forward to opening tonight. This is the second book by her which features Thomas Hawkins, a young ne’er-do-well in seventeenth century England who somehow can’t help getting involved in events which threaten his life. Her debut novel The Devil in the Marshalsea which I read just last month was so good I was delighted to find her follow up was just out. The World of Thomas Hawkins is a sequel to The Devil in the Marshalsea but the publishers say it can also be read as a standalone historical mystery.
Here’s the blurb from the publishers Hodder & Stoughton:
Spring, 1728. A young, well-dressed man is dragged through the streets of London to the gallows at Tyburn. The crowds jeer and curse as he passes, calling him a murderer. He tries to remain calm. His name is Tom Hawkins and he is innocent. Somehow he has to prove it, before the rope squeezes the life out of him.
Doesn’t that just want to make you open the book immediately?? For me yes, but then I also collected another novel which I’ve had my eye on for some time. A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar, is a novel about revenge and redemption, that was named this week as a winner of a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize. The UK publishers Hodder & Stoughton describe it as:
Deep in the heart of history’s most infamous concentration camp, a man lies dreaming. His name is Shomer, and before the war he was a pulp fiction author. Now, to escape the brutal reality of life in Auschwitz, Shomer spends his nights imagining another world – a world where a disgraced former dictator now known only as Wolf ekes out a miserable existence as a low-rent PI in London’s grimiest streets.
The subject matter will not make this a comfortable read I’m sure but it’s such an interesting premise that I’m looking forward to getting stuck in soon.
3. Progress. Although I’ve weened myself off doing challenges for the last few years, I still have a few reading projects underway. While I haven’t made any conscious effort to make progress on them it seems I’m further ahead than I would have expected. With the completion of The Ghost Road, I find I’ve read 25 of the 47 Booker Prize titles on my list so well over the half way stage. I’m also exactly half way through my Classics Club project with just over two and half years left to read the remaining 25 novels. And I’m bang on target with the TBR Challenge run by Roof Beam Reader which is the one and only ‘challenge’ I’m doing this year. Usually I’m moaning that I’m behind schedule with my reading so it makes it a pleasant surprise to be right where I want to be.
4. Unplanned reading. A couple of months ago I decided that if I wanted to preserve my sanity I needed to stop creating reading schedules. I was spending too much time fretting about the fact that if I didn’t read book X then I’d be behind with my world literature project and if I didn’t read book Y I’d be late in delivering a review of an ARC. Reading stops being fun when you’re having to read a particular book or following a prescribed schedule. So instead I just adopted the behaviour of picking up whatever book was on the top of the two piles nearest to hand – one is my TBR challenge listed books and the other is a motley collection of classics and Booker prizes. And if I don’t fancy what my hand rests on, then I just scan the vast number of titles yet unread in the bookshelf. Hassle free reading is much more delightful than scheduled reading.
5. Library news. Progress this week on the campaign in which I’m involved to save our local library. A High Court judge has ordered our local authority to respond to our complaint within one week. We’ll then have a further week to make our own responses before the judge will rule if there is a case that needs to be heard. So though we’re not yet claiming victory, it’s at least some positive news.