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Sample Sunday: Booker Prize Contenders

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This week candidates for Sample Sunday 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?

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