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Sample Saturday: Literary Prize Contenders

My Sample Saturday 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??

Sunday Salon: Replenishing the book stock

PurchasesWhen you have some time to spare and it’s a cold, dark November afternoon, then the warm interior of a really good book shop is the ideal place for any avid reader. Which was my excuse for popping into Blackwell’s in Oxford while on a visit to the city this week.

I have no excuse for the fact I emerged with three new books to add to the two I’d already picked up in the Oxfam shop (thanks to Ali and Liz for directing me there). It wasn’t as if I was running short of books to read. But it is hard to resist when you’re in the flagship store of a book seller in the heart of academia and faced with an extensive array  of authors and titles.  So of course I succumbed. But I did something I have not done for a very long time – I didn’t take out my wish list and head straight for those authors. I just browsed. My only ‘rule’ was to find authors I had never read before and, ideally, from countries whose literature I know little about.

I could have come away with a suitcase full but since I didn’t happen to have one with me at the time I had to curtail my enthusiasm.

Four of the new acquisitions will go a long way to helping me venture into more world literature but the fifth is very firmly rooted in England.

Diego Marani: New Finnish Grammar

The title was what caught my eye initially but the synopsis also appealed.

“A wounded sailor is found on a Triest quay. Amesiac, unable to speak and with nothing to identify him except a name tag pointing to Finnish origins. A passing doctor resolves to teach him Finnish to restore his memory.” Apparently this was shortlisted for the 2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

Yukio Mishima: After the Banquet

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by an author from Japan. I picked this one up without knowing that Mishima is considered one of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century and was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. After the Banquet is about  a middle-age proprietress of a fashionable restaurant that caters to politicians. She falls in love with one of her clients – a retired ambassador – but conflicts arise between them and she is forced to choose between marriage and her independence. The New Yorker called it “the biggest and most profound thing Mishima has done so far.” 

Nadeem Aslam: Maps for Lost Lovers 

This is set in an unnamed town in England where a close-knit Pakistani community is disturbed by the murder of two lovers and then the arrest of a brother of one of the victims. It’s a portrait of an immigrant family over the course of 12 months during which their culture, nationality and religious beliefs are tested.

And from the Oxfam shop I picked up the first of Angela Thirkell’s novels High Rising. I’ve never read any of her work but there seems to be such a buzz about her on various blog sites that I  thought I’d give her a go. I also found The Hour of the Star, a novella by Clarice Lispector, a Brazilian author whose name I came across while researching authors for my Reading the Equator challenge.

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