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Reader preference – Single or multiple narrators?

This week’s Bookends features a new novel from an author in Wales, an article and podcast about narrative voices and an article about the value of creative writing courses.

Book: Crushed by Kate Hamer

I enjoyed Kate Hamer’s debut novel, the disturbing, psychological The Girl in the Red Coat last year. She’s just published her third novel which sounds just as dark and intriguing. Crushed is about an obsessive friendship between three girls. Over the course of one long hot summer, they find their friendship pushed to a breaking point as one of them convinces herself that her thoughts can influence events in the world around them.

Podcast/Article: Narrators Singular, Plural and Vanishing

Narrators have been much in evidence this week. Early in the week, a Tea or Books? podcast episode on the topic helped make a treadmill almost a pleasure.  Simon (Stuck in a Book) and Rachel (Book Snob) discussed their preferences for multi-narrator novels or single narrator novels. Some interesting points about the desire for nineteenth century writers to use devices like diaries and letters designed to give added credibility and authenticity to their fiction. You can listen to episode 71 here In the same week I read an article in The Publisher newsletter about “vanishing narrators” – novels where the narrator is not the main character, such as The Great Gatsby or The Name of the Rose. Just be warned that reading/listening to these will have you scurrying to write down the titles of yet more books to read/buy.

Article: Value of Creative Writing Courses Questioned

You can rely on Will Self to create a stir. This time he’s done it by questioning the value of creative writing graduate programmes. In an interview for the BBC’s Radio 4 prime time news programme Today, Self said today’s students are unlikely to make a living from literary fiction, suggesting their courses might instead give them a career writing video games. “The people coming out of these courses are never going to make a living as novelists, certainly not in literary fiction though that’s a somewhat suspect term. Basically writers are chasing too few readers at the moment,” he said. You’d expect the universities who provide such courses would reject Self’s views but the publishing industry has also weighed in. More details are available via The Bookseller.

 

And so that’s a wrap for this episode of Bookends. Have you found anything new exciting and to read this week that might entice me?

Who will win this year’s Booker Prize?

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!

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