On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Eight Maids a-Milking
Day 8 of the 12 Days of Christmas game and giveaway.
We’re into the section of the song where people feature more prominently than feathered creatures. Doesn’t make the selection of titles any easier though. I suppose they mean by maidens not ladies in frilly aprons who serve high tea or do the dusting for you? Wonder how many of those can also milk a cow – an unusual skill to show up on your CV…
Booker Talk Titles for Day
Milking takes me to Hot Milk by Deborah Levy which was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. I haven’t read it – the furthest I got was chapter 1 which featured a dialogue about stinging jelly fish which bored me so much I didn’t feel inclined to read any further.
The other association would of course be the ‘play for voices’ Under Milk Wood by my countryman Dylan Thomas. If he’d stuck to drinking milk instead of spirits and beer he might be alive today. Then again maybe he wouldn’t have produced such distinctive poetry…..
But thats exhausted my list of associations with milk so I’ll switch to maids. Now I could go with the bestselling The Help by Kathryn Stockett which though it doesn’t feature the word maid in the title, is in fact all about maids. More particularly maids in the deep south and how badly they were treated in decades past. Far more enjoyable than I expected it to be – pride of place has to be the set piece where one maid takes revenge on her boss because she wouldn’t let her use the same toilet as the family.
I shall give a bonus today and add a fourth title – Lady’s Maid by Margaret Forster. I love Forster’s work for its blend of fiction and non fiction and this was one of the earliest experiences of her work. It’s a fictionalised account of a woman who goes to work for the poet Elizabeth Barrett and becomes a close confidant of her mistress, even helping in her secret marriage to Robert Browning. It gives a fascinating insight into the life of the poetess who now would probably be diagnosed as suffering anorexia and into Victorian life and culture.
Now over to you – here’s How to Play:
Come up with book titles or book images or anything book related (could be the name of a location mentioned in the book or a character) that matches with maids, maidens, milk or milking. Let’s see how creative you can be. I’m looking ideally for 3 titles/images etc . You can mix and match your nominations.
Put your titles into the comments field of that day’s post. Don’t just give me the name since you could easily get that from a Google search – tell us something about the book itself. Why did you choose these titles – are they from your TBR or ones you’ve seen mentioned on a blog. Please try not to just use lists from Goodreads etc.
Feel free to blog about this on your own site or via Twitter using the #12days hashtag
There’s an incentive to play along with this which is a giveaway of a book up to the value of $20 USD from the Book Depository
To participate, your list of books must be in the comments field by 10pm GMT/5pm Eastern Standard Time on Monday, Dec 12.
Day by Day Prompts
Day 1: Partridge in a Pear Tree
Day 2: Turtle Doves
Day 3: French Hens
Day 4: Calling Birds
Day 5: Gold Rings
Day 6: Geese a-Laying
Day 7: Swans a-Swimming
Day 8: Maids a-Milking
Day 9: Ladies Dancing
Day 10: Lords a-Leaping
Day 11: Pipers Piping
Day 12: Drummers Drumming
Rules of the Game
1.Each day a post will go live on booker talk.com matched to the task for that day. All you to do is post a comment with your list of books on the page
2. Each day try to come up with 3 titles. No need to think of 11 books featuring pipers or eight with maids in them. This is meant to be fun not mission impossible…..
3. Participants are encouraged to be creative with the names of titles matching each day. But the books do need to be in existence – no scope here for making up your own titles.
4. The number of contributions per person will be totalled and the one with the highest number will win the prize. So if you post three titles for day 6 and 5 on day 11, that gives a total of 8 points.
5. Contributions should be entered on the page within the time limit stated each day – typically I will give 48 hours between the time I post the day’s challenge and when comments will be closed.
6. You don’t need to play every day in order to be entered for the prize. Some days will be easier than others – and anyway you have all that shopping and packing still to do
7. There is only one prize – available internationally. The Prize winner will be announced on the blog around about the 15th of December.
6. The prize is that you get to choose a book up to the value of $20 USD from the Book Depository that I will arrange to ship to you. This will probably not arrive until next year given the last postage dates for international mail.
There was no way I could read all 13 of the long listed titles for this year’s Man Booker Prize in the short time available until the shortlisting is announced on September 13. But I did want to get a flavour of the contenders so read a few of them and then a sample of the rest.
Here are my reactions….
Paul Beatty – The Sellout: described as a satire of post-racial America. I couldn’t get hold of a copy of this or a sample. But having read the review by Mookes and Gripes I’m glad because I doubt I would have appreciated it and probably not been able to finish it.
J.M. Coetzee – The Schooldays of Jesus: Coetzee is a two-times Booker winner so it’s no surprise to find he is being strongly tipped for the shortlist. This novel is a follow-up to his 2013 novel, The Childhood of Jesus. It’s set in a nameless country where everyone speaks Spanish and where refugees arrive on boats, are given new names and identities, and are “washed clean” of all their old memories and associations. The plot is rather thin – this is more a novel about ideas than a story. I’ve only just started reading it so it’s hard to give a verdict other than I find the narrative style irritating at times particularly so in the middle of dialogue where we get this clumsy construction of ‘He, Simon …’ repeatedly.
A.L. Kennedy – Serious Sweet : a London love story between two decent but troubled individuals that is told over the course of 24 hours. I read the first two chapters as a sample of this novel. By the end of the first chapter I decided I wasn’t interested enough to read on – it focuses on Jon Sigurdsson, a civil servant who seems to be going through an emotionally disturbed period. He’s in his garden early morning and is trying to free a bird trapped in some netting. The metaphor for his own situation is clumsy and over-blown. The second chapter where we meet Meg Williams, a bankrupt accountant is far more interesting. Will I read it? Probably not.
Deborah Levy – Hot Milk: another novel I sampled. It’s described as a“richly mythic” tale of mothers and daughters but the first chapter seemed rather banal to me. The narrator Sofia is in a rented beach house in Spain where she is accompanying her mother who is seeking a cure for a mysterious illness that confines her to a wheelchair. Sofia is clearly dominated by her mother so escapes to the beach where she encounters Juan, the beach guard and has a boring conversation with him about jelly fish. Will I read any more of this one – absolutely not. Will it make the shortlist? It doesn’t deserve to but stranger things have happened with the Booker.
Graeme Macrae Burnet – His Bloody Project: Features a brutal triple murder in a remote northern crofting community in 1869. This is an odd choice for the judges, maybe not quite as highbrow literary as many of the choices in the past. The chapters I’ve dipped into have been fast paced and chock full of atmosphere. I have an electronic copy that I snaffled up as a bargain the day after the long-listing so yes, this is one I plan to read. Sometime. I don’t see it making the final list however.
Ian McGuire – The North Water: a closely detailed story of violence that breaks out between desperate men on a doomed whaling expedition into the Arctic. This was the second of the Booker list I read and what a scorcher it proved to be. A page turner but one that has more literary merit than most page turning novels. It might make the shortlist – a short while ago it was a favourite with the bookies. But if it makes it to the ultimate prize then I promise to go and read Moby Dick as a penance.
David Means – Hystopia: the novel imagines a history in which John F Kennedy was not assassinated, the Vietnam war drags on and there is a government initiative to wipe the trauma from the memories of returning soldiers.I read a sample of this and was thoroughly confused. It has multiple editor notes as the preface which supposedly explains the story but I ended up more confused and felt it was just trying to be too darn clever for its own good. Many blogger reviews I’ve seen since then all indicate that the confusion doesn’t go away the further you read. I don’t mind being challenged by a book – its the easy novels that frustrate me – but when someone is just trying to show off their ability and they forget they have a reader, I get annoyed. So no I will not be reading this one. I suspect it will make the shortlist though just because the Booker judges do like novels that try to be be inventive.
Wyl Menmuir –The Many: this a short novel that punches above the weight of its page count. It tells the story of a man who moves to an abandoned house in an isolated Cornish village whose future is threatened by pollution of their fishing grounds. The longer he stays, the more uncomfortable and bizarre life becomes. It took me a while to get hold of a copy because the novel is published by Salt who had only printed 1,000 copies and were overwhelmed by demand when The Many got long listed. But oh boy was this worth the wait. It’s atmospheric in a chilling sense because we don’t get to know why the fishing waters are polluted and there is some mystery about the previous occupant of the house. Will it make the shortlist – it deserves a place I think.
Ottessa Moshfegh– Eileen: set in the 1960s, this tells the story of an unhappy young woman and a bitterly cold Massachusetts winter. The sample I read did intrigue me – it is a first person narration by Eileen who is living a pretty miserable life with her alcoholic father in a squalid home. Her only escapes are the trips she takes in her battered down car to the liquor store and her work at at a correctional facility for boys. I’ve seen mixed reactions to this novel but it might be one that I’m interested to read more about. Whether it makes the shortlist I have no idea, not having read enough of it to judge.
Virginia Reeves – Work Like Any Other: Set in rural Alabama in the 1920s, it tells the story of a pioneering electricity engineer sent to prison for manslaughter after a young man stumbles on one of his illegal power lines. I don’t know what it is about the synopsis for this book but it didn’t encourage me to even get a sample…….
Elizabeth Strout – My Name Is Lucy Barton: a striking story about a relationship between mother and daughter. Simply one of the best novels I’ve read so far – see my review here. Will it make it to the next round? Maybe.
David Szalay – All That Man Is: This is an odd novel. Actually I’m not even sure that I can call it a novel though that’s the description used by the publishers. It felt to me a collection of stories about nine different men, all at various stages of their lives. There is only one really clear connection between them – and that’s between the young man in story number one and the old man in the final story who turns out to be his grandfather. Some of these pieces have appeared either in full or partially in either Granta or the Paris Review which makes me think that rather than conceived holistically from the start, the author is trying to make connections between each character in retrospect. Not one I expect to see on the shortlist even if Szalay has been named previously as a Granta Best Young British Novelist.
Madeleine Thien – Do Not Say We Have Nothing: relates the story of musicians who suffered during and after China’s Cultural Revolution. Another case where I had to rely upon a sample since it’s not available through the library system or NetGalley and I refuse to shed out a lot of money on hard cover fiction even though I am a sucker for novels that pull back the curtain on Chinese culture. The first chapter introduces us to the narrator Li-ling lives with her mother in Vancouver. Her father disappeared some years earlier, and subsequently committed suicide. His wife keeps all his papers in boxes under the kitchen table which she pores over to try and make sense of what happened to him. The arrival into the Vancouver apartment of a teenage relative forced to flee China following the suppression of the Tiananmen Square uprising, enables Li-ling to assemble the story of her father and his profound but troubled relationship with his wife’s family. What I’ve read was enough to whet my appetite to this is going onto the wishlist for when I can find a reasonably priced copy. Will it get shortlisted – maybe….
Other bloggers have been far more diligent than I have in reading the longlist so do go and check out their reviews.
According to the bookmakers, William Hill, this year’s Man Booker prize is a neck and neck race between Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies and William Self’s Umbrella. They both come in at odds of 2:1 whereas Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis is the rank outsider.
But the outcome isn’t nearly as clear as those odds suggest. On the BBC’s The Culture Show last week, the panel members weren’t in agreement on which novelist deserved to win. While it was universally agreed Mantel’s book is as good as Wolf Hall with which she won three years ago, doubt was cast on whether it was appropriate to give the title to the second in a trilogy. The chairman of judges Peter Stothard, hasn’t ruled out the possibility, saying that if anything Mantel’s command of her narrative method is even stronger second time round. The panel also touted Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home as a potential winner, along with Umbrella and Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse.
Over at the Guardian, the various contributors are unanimous in not agreeing who should win. Robert McCrum acknowledges that it will be a difficult decision – he is tipping Will Self’s Umbrella but with a side bet on The Lighthouse. But even he admits: “I say this every year: caveat emptor. With Booker, anything goes.” His fellow Guardian contributor Nicholas Wroe however, is backing Narcopolis while Sarah Crown argues in favour of Swimming Home.
The Independent seems to be backing Moore while the Daily Mail sees Umbrella as the clear favourite because of its compelling plot even though it recognises that the book doesn’t aspire to accessibility.
Across the Atlantic, this year’s award is also attracting considerable interest. For Paul Levy at the Wall Street Journal, there is no question but the prize has to go to Mantel. It would be typically ‘boneheaded’ of the judges however to pick Umbrella simply “because it is the most difficult/experimental/tricky book on the 2012 shortlist.
….one novel is so superior that only non-literary reasons could excuse their awarding the £50,000 to one of the other five. Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies,” a sequel to her 2009 Man Booker Prize-winning “Wolf Hall,” occupies an eminence of its own.
The sole reason possible for denying Ms. Mantel the 2012 prize would be that the judges feel it is someone else’s turn to win. It would be disgraceful, but perfectly in keeping with the perverse record of Man Booker Prize judges down the years.
Since the only one I’ve read out of the six shortlisted titles, is Mantel, I don’t feel that qualified to name my own favourite. It partly depends on whether the judges want to go for readability over inventiveness I suppose. I understand the argument against selecting Mantel but isn’t it more difficult to write a second novel about the same character and to keep the same quality?
We’ll find out soon enough I suppose!