BookerTalk

Sunday Salon: Looking back Looking ahead

As Spring has officially given way to summer time in the UK, it seems a good time to think about the year so far and take a peak at what’s next on my reading horizon.

Let’s start with the good news. My TBR pile is shrinking (round of applause please). I’ve read eight from the list of 139 books that were on my shelves or on the e-reader as of January . Despite many temptations I’ve bought only one book so far this year. My wish list has exploded however.

Of all the books I’ve read so far this year only two really stand out for me: L’Assommoir by Emile Zola and the 1999 Booker prize winner Disgrace by J. M Coetzee. If I was the sort of person that used a star-rating system they would be in the 5 star category.  They couldn’t be more different in terms of setting or themes – Zola’s focus is on the miserable condition of the poor in nineteenth century Paris whereas Coetzee looks at the issue of life after the ending of apartheid in South Africa. What they have in common is the way they make you pause from whatever else is going on in your life and to think instead about the condition of the human race.

It wasn’t a surprise that the Zola was so good because I’ve enjoyed three other novels by him (Germinal is one of my all-time favourites) but I’d never read anything by Coetzee. Based on this experience I was getting fired up to read two of his works that I already have on my shelves − his 1983 Booker Prize winning Life & Times of Michael K and Summertime published in 2009. On closer inspection however I found that the latter is the third in a series of “fictionalised memoirs” so isn’t going to make much sense until I read the first two. I’ll have to check whether I can get them from the library.
Looking back over the last few months I think I’ve neglected my Booker Prize project a little. I’m not following any deadline for this project but since this was what prompted me to start blogging, I feel I should be making rather more progress than I have of late.  So I am rectifying that right now by starting  The Bone People which won the Booker Prize in 1984 for the New Zealand author Keri Hulme.

It’s a story of relationships in which Maori myths and folk traditions are blended with a modern day setting of life. The mystical tones of the opening didn’t give me great hope:

It is all silence.
The silence is music.
He is the singer.

They were nothing more than people by themselves. Even paired, any pairing, they would have been nothing more than people by themselves. But all together they have become the heart and muscles and mind of something perilous and new, something strange and growing and great. Together, all together, they are the instruments of change.

Fortunately we’ve had less of this as the story got underway though I sense it will not go away entirely. Interesting to note in the author’s introduction that she refused her publisher’s guidance about editing the book, declaring she would rather have the book “embalmed in Perspex” than re-shaped.

After that, it’s a toss up between Graham Swift’s 1996 winner Last Orders or the 1992 winner— Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. 

Any of you read either of those and can give me a recommendation?

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