Tuesday, October 16, 2012

halfway to the Booker

The Booker Prize winner gets announced sometime today, and I am still only halfway through the shortlist! Oh well, I can still read the rest, I just won't be able to make predictions. And there's still time to write a halfway point blog post before the winner is announced. So, a short recap of the shortlist so far... 

Bring Up the Bodies - Hilary Mantel  
I loved Wolf Hall, so it's not surprising that this is probably my current favourite Booker book. Reading the second book of a series after loving the first is always a tricky thing, and I don't know how I would rate this in comparison to the first. The writing remains excellent and fresh and the plot remains tense, but this time there's a greater sense of ambiguity in Thomas Cromwell (and many of the other characters). His thoughts don't match up to his actions, and it's not clear why- is he motivated by revenge? Survival? A political trade-off to achieve his reform goals? All of the above? I felt like he was harder to understand than in the first book, yet as fascinating as ever. Despite how much I enjoyed it I don't really want this to win, since Wolf Hall already did and this, while a great continuation, doesn't surpass the first book enough to warrant a second award, I think.  

Narcopolis - Jeet Thayil 
I started reading this immediately after I finished Love by Angela Carter, and there was a certain similarity in feel- with a meandering structure and in writing that represents an unusual mind-state. In this case, it's a drug induced haze, that floats you through the stories of a bunch of characters centered around a Bombay opium den, and it feels a lot less sinister. Starting from the perspective of Dom, returned from addiction in America to try out opium in India. He's almost a tourist in the slums of Bombay, which seems an appropriate viewpoint for the reader. There were some uncomfortable moments reading this, but I thought the characters were great (though I hated Rumi with a passion), and it really mixes lightness and despair well. 

Umbrella - Will Self 
My least favourite of the shortlist so far- it took me 50 pages just to get over the author's use  of italics (are they for inner thoughts? quotes? what exactly?). I've heard the writing described as 'stream of consciousness' but it is more of a jumble- third person, first person. The viewpoint shifts between two (or three) characters and three loose time periods- Audrey Death in the beginning of the twentieth century (and a little bit of her brothers), Zachary Busner in the 1970s and Zachary Busner today. The shifts are very abrupt- turning on a phrase or a word- and I actually kind of liked that concept, but overall I felt like the book added up to less than the sum of its parts. There are a proliferation of umbrellas, historical events, mentions of the name 'Death', but for what? I was interested when it looked like the book was going to talk about the history of the way mental health has been seen for a bit, but that just seemed a bit flat. I didn't really care what happened to the characters most of the time. I think at the end when he kind of suggests that the encephalitis is brought on by mechanisation, and I kind of got the sense of history as a machine that grinds up the people in its path, or factories as machines, it all came together in my mind a bit more. But the process of reading this is a bit like being caught up in a machine yourself.

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Other than that, life has been pretty eventful lately. I finished my last assignment for my Masters last Monday, and my sister was married on Friday. Exciting times! It's been a bit busy, but quite happy, around here. Just thought I would mention a little congratulations to them.

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