Sample Saturday: Booker Prize Contenders

This week candidates for Sample Saturday are novels that were either long or short-listed for the Booker Prize. I bought them at a time when I was considerably more interested in the prize than I am now and was thinking, not only of reading all the prize winners, but making inroads into the short lists and long lists.

Orfeo  by Richard Powers

Orfeo was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2014, the first year that a change of rules meant entries were open to American authors.

Powers tells the story of a man who journeys into his past as he desperately tries to escape the present. The narrative focuses on Peter Els, a composer who has been conducting DNA experiments at his home. It’s part of his long-term attempt to find music in surprising patterns. His experiments attract the attention of Homeland Security who conduct a raid on his home. In panic, Els flees, taking refuge with his ex wife and daughter. He devises a plan to turn his clash with security officers into a work of art that will amaze the world.

This synopsis from Richard Powers’ own website, sounds bonkers to me. I was more re-assured when I read the Guardian review which indicated that this whole business with law enforcement is just a framing device. The real story, according to that reviewer, is about classical music and the life one one man who became a composer.

I’m more likely to find the musical aspect more interesting than a tale about a bio-terrorist on the run. But I’m not feeling a strong pull to this book.

The Verdict: Ditch

Eileen by  Ottessa Moshfegh

Moshfegh’s debut novel made it as far as the shortlist for the 2016 Booker Prize. In simple terms it’s story of an unhappy 24-year-old woman named Eileen who works at a correctional institution, and what happens to her during a bitter Massachusetts winter in 1964. She lives in a squalid apartment with her alcoholic father, with whom she has a partially fond but mostly murderous relationship. At work she spends her time composing meaningless questionnaires for the mothers who visit the inmates, and lusts after the prison guards. 

It sounds an unsettling narrative, one that could be interesting. But I’ve seen multiple comments from reviewers and bloggers that the novel is clunky and badly written. I’ve read a few chapters without detecting anything spectacularly off putting about the style but the problem apparently manifests itself further along in the book.

Really undecided about this one. I need some other opinions to help me decide

The Verdict: Undecided

Satin island  by Tom McCarthy

Satin Island, a Booker Prize shortlist novel from 2015, has been described as a “brief theory of everything; packed with daring cerebral insights and swashbuckling prose.” It seems to pack in an awful lot of ideas for a 175-page narrative. As best as I can make out it’s narrated by someone called “U” engaged by “The Company”, on a multi-faceted project that will make them a big fish in the world. As he jets about collecting research he thinks about various things.

Do I really want to read this? There’s nothing about it that’s calling to me and having read the first few pages I can tell I would find it irritating.

The Verdict: Let Go

If you’ve read any of these books what do you think of my decisions?

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

21 thoughts on “Sample Saturday: Booker Prize Contenders

  • October 12, 2020 at 2:33 pm
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    I really liked Eileen. I’ve not read Satin Island, but I have a copy as I loved his other book Remainder.

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    • October 12, 2020 at 6:46 pm
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      Eileen is definitely staying on my bookshelves having had so many people tell me they enjoyed it!

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  • October 12, 2020 at 3:00 am
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    Satin Island was only okay (I read it for uni, which might have coloured my impressions, but I don’t think you’re missing anything wonderful if you let it go). Can I put in a vote to KEEP Eileen, though? I love Ottessa Moshfegh, and her protagonists are always so challenging (in the best way). I find myself thinking about her books for months after I’ve finished them…

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    • October 12, 2020 at 3:00 am
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      Oh, and I forgot to add – *wolf whistle*! Your new blog layout is GORGEOUS!

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      • October 12, 2020 at 6:47 pm
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        Thanks Sheree. It took me a long time to find a theme that I liked and I felt could work

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    • October 12, 2020 at 6:46 pm
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      The jury composed of the people who read this blog, have voted unanimously in favour of Eileen. So it’s staying.

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      • October 12, 2020 at 8:14 pm
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        Great to hear!!

        Reply
  • October 11, 2020 at 12:01 pm
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    I’ve read none of these, but I stopped by to read this post & wanted to say — your blog is different! It looks great. 🙂

    Reply
    • October 11, 2020 at 6:37 pm
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      Thanks Jillian. It’s taken me a long time to find a new theme that I like and has the menu/navigation sections where I want them to be

      Reply
  • October 11, 2020 at 7:43 am
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    Know nothing about any of these, so have nothing to add!

    (PS just drafted my second WG post completely in block editor. Still don’t like it a lot – those little tools bars that pop up obscuring what is just above the block you are working on, for example. I hate that. However, I can work with block editor ok!

    Reply
    • October 13, 2020 at 8:03 pm
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      You can move that tool bar so it doesn’t get in your way. At the top right of your screen, along from the line which says “Save” “preview” you should see three dots stacked one above the other. Click that to see options for the location of the toolbar. You probably have it set to “spotlight mode”. Change it to “top toolbar” and it will now appear at the top of the page instead of with each block.

      Reply
      • October 13, 2020 at 10:42 pm
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        Thanks Karen, I don’t think I’ve looked at those three dots, just the one on the toolbar itself. Will check that out.

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  • October 11, 2020 at 7:12 am
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    Eileen is great, and Moshfegh’s second book is even better. Ive got her latest on the TBR pile. Not for everyone, but give it a go!

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    • October 11, 2020 at 6:38 pm
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      Thanks Laura, I liked what I sampled from the book so far…

      Reply
  • October 11, 2020 at 2:41 am
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    I think Eileen offered an
    excellent psychological profiling of the protagonist due to the fact that she seemed to be more of an antithesis to the regular protagonist . . . That one should be given a chance definitely . .

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    • October 11, 2020 at 6:38 pm
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      Seems like a few of you are rooting for Eileen.

      Reply
  • October 10, 2020 at 10:52 pm
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    I thought Eileen was excellent. I read it when it was first released and, checking back on my notes, saw that it was compared in the publicity to Gone Girl. Huh. It’s nothing like Gone Girl (which I didn’t think much of). Eileen is a clever character study. I suspect the ‘bad’ reviews were coming from people who thought they were getting a thriller.

    I say it’s a keeper!

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    • October 11, 2020 at 6:39 pm
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      I can’t imagine how anyone could make a comparison with Gone Girl.From what I’ve read via reviews etc Eileen is absolutely nothing like it

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  • October 10, 2020 at 8:23 pm
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    TBH, I’ve not read any of them and from what you say none are calling strongly. I reckon I would ditch the lot….

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    • October 11, 2020 at 6:39 pm
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      They’re not old enough to get your attention!

      Reply

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