TBR list

Sample Sunday: Literary Prize Contenders

My Sample Sunday spotlight this week is turned on three books on my TBR shelves that were short or long-listed for some of the major literary prizes.

As a reminder, Sample Saturday is where I look at all the books I own but have yet to read, and decide which I should part company with and which I should keep.

The Accidental by Ali Smith

This 2005 novel by the Scottish author Ali Smith was Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize that year. It follows a middle-class English family whose holiday in a small Norfolk village is disrupted when Amber turns up on their doorstep claiming her car has broken down.  Her arrival has a profound effect on all the family members.

It’s written largely in stream-of-consciousness and free indirect style, with multiple narrators I think. The first is the family’s 12 year old daughter Astrid.

I’ve read a later novel by Ali Smith – How To Be Both – which I loved but I’m not sure about this one. Child narrators are such tricky things to get right – the few pages I’ve read of this novel make her seem quite precocious.

The Verdict: Undecided. I need your help to make a decision. Should I keep or let go?

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

If you like authors who can combine great storytelling with erudition, Umberto Eco is probably your man. He was a scholar of medieval studies and semiotics until he published one novel, The Name of The Rose, which propelled him into the world of best selling, intelligent fiction which a story of a series of murders in a late-medieval monastery. 

The Prague Cemetery is his sixth novel, published in 2010 and shortlisted for the International Foreign Fiction Prize in 2012. It tells the story of a notorious antisemitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – document which purported to describe a meeting in Prague during which Jewish leaders discussed their plans for world domination.

According to the back cover, The Daily Telegraph called this book “an extremely readable narrative of betrayal, terrorism, murder …” But I can’t find the full version of the review to see if that extract was a fair representation of what the reviewer thought of the book as a whole.

I did find The Guardian review which commented: “Once again, [Eco] includes a great deal of eclectic learning, organised (to a greater or lesser extent) around a potboiler plot.” That sounded pretty good but the reviewer then went on to call the book “a tiring plod.”

I don’t much care for books that are plodding so this is headed for the charity shop.

The Verdict: Ditch

Maps For Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam

Nadeem Aslam is a British Pakistani novelist who won the Betty Trask Award with his first novel Season of the Rainbirds. Maps for Lost Lovers is his second novel and was shortlisted for  the International Dublin Literary Award and longlisted for the Booker Prize.

It’s is set in the midst of an immigrant Pakistani community in a northern English town where a pair of lovers disappear and are believed murdered. According to the blurb the novel “opens the heart of a family at the crossroads of culture, community, nationality and religion and exoresses their pain in a language that is arrestingly poetic.”

I’m tempted by this one. It’s the portrayal of the immigrant communities that have grown up in many parts of England, that is drawing me to this book. This is a world captured so memorably by Monica Ali in Brick Lane but I’ve yet to find anything set in a different part of the country.

The Verdict: Keep

So that’s one fewer book on the TBR shelves. It’s not going to make any dent in the overall tally however because I’ve been on a buying spree in recent weeks. Did I make the right choices?? What would you save from these three??


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

18 thoughts on “Sample Sunday: Literary Prize Contenders

  • Pingback: 10 Novels On The Theme Of Love : BookerTalk

  • I thought THE ACCIDENTAL was only ok. I enjoyed the characteristic Smith word play but thought the characters were in service to ideas rather than authentic.

    • Thanks for that insight, I have so many books that I want to read that ones that are “only OK” would frustrate me…

  • I really love Eco, but I had to DNF this one. I had no idea what was going on at all

    • I hate books where I feel the author is being too complex. It makes me feel that I’m inadequate somehow because I don’t get it

  • Just based on the description, I can’t say The Accidental appeals to me but I haven’t read anything by Ali Smith so can’t give an informed opinion. Of the three, the last one is the one I’d keep.

    • I’ve read a few more pages of The Accidental and I’m not convinced its for me…

  • LOL I’m not here to change your mind when the purpose of this exercise is to shed things, but I liked The Prague Cemetery, see https://anzlitlovers.com/2012/04/21/the-prague-cemetery-by-umberto-eco-translated-by-robert-dixon/
    I loved Maps for Lost Lovers, I read it when it won the prize so that’s a long time ago, but I’ve bought other books by Aslan since, so I think you’ve made a good decision there.
    So too, with The Accidental. I find Ali Smith a bit hit-and-miss…

    • Thanks for the confirmation re Maps for Lost Lovers. It has earned a space on the shelves. Prague Cemetery is now in the donations bag – likely to be there for some time given lockdown rules so i may dip into it just to see what its like

      • You need a ‘Little Library’. I’ve got one in my front garden and now that I can’t get to the Op Shops where I usually donate my books I’m putting my books in there!

        • There are a few of them around our neighbourhood so I top them up when I can. right now I’m supplying some friends who can’t get out and who are racing through books…..

    • But when done well, they are often some of the most memorable experiences …. it’s a tough judgement to make

  • I ditched Prague.. too – read the first chapter and was so put off I couldn’t summon up the energy to see if it improved….

    • Your reaction was so different from Lisa’s. Interesting how tastes differ

  • I enjoyed the accidental, along with other novels by Ali Smith, so would encourage you to read this. I agree with your decision on the Umberto Eco novel,

    • Seems like the majority of people so far are recommending I keep The Accidental

  • I read Maps for Lost Lovers when it was first published and thought it was excellent. A tough read but well worth it.


We're all friends here. Come and join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: