Sunday, December 09, 2012

the rest of the booker

I may have finished a while after the winner was announced, but I have made it through the Booker shortlist! Part 1 here. Now to round up the rest of the Booker books:

I may have finished a while after the winner was announced, but I have made it through the Booker shortlist! Part 1 here. Now to round up the rest of the Booker books:

The Lighthouse - Alison Moore
Without knowing much about it, I was really looking forward to reading this book, it just piqued my interest. Unfortunately, I didn't end up enjoying it as much as I'd hoped. It felt a little hollow to me, kind of lacking in emotion or narrative force I suppose. I did like how Alison Moore built up the story by replaying the same events in Futh's life over and over with slightly more information, from his memory while on holiday in Germany. It wasn't so much that secrets were revealed, more that the characters were built up a bit more, and the use of scent as a trigger for memory was used effectively, though signposted through Futh's job in creating perfumes and even the character name of Ester. Ultimately, despite the layers of memory, the book couldn't overcome it's hollow-ness for me, and it left me a bit flat.

Swimming Home - Deborah Levy
I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book, and when I read the first page I prepared to be unimpressed, but it ended up being perhaps my favourite. It has a lot of familiar elements- it's about a wealthy couple (a famous poet and his famous journalist wife) who go on holiday with their daughter and some friends, but have their holiday interrupted by a young woman who is charming but possibly mentally unstable, and a big fan of the poet. But by the end these things were turned on their head, or at an angle, changed slightly and altogether rounded out. I read a review/blurb for this book that talked about the things that are left unsaid, and I think that's an accurate way of talking about it- it's a book that's shaped by silences. There are things that are never explained fully, but you see the shape that they leave and that is enough. I ended up really enjoying this book, and if I didn't already know who won, this might have been the one I would have cheered for.

The Garden of Evening Mists - Tan Twan Eng
This book made me have one of those moments where I realise how much history I don't know. In this case, it's the history of Malaysia. The story is told in flashbacks- to the period after WWII, and back to WWII itself, but there are also echoes of a broader history, with colonialism and migration the ultimate backdrop. The main character is a Malaysian-Chinese judge, Yun Ling Teoh, who recalls her relationship with a Japanese gardener who she came to know through wanting to build a memorial garden for her sister, who died in the Japanese internment camp they were both held in during the war. It's fascinating (and sometimes devastating) material. Even after studying WWII in the Pacific in high school there is so much that I don't know- it was like reading When the Elephants Dance (a book about WWII in the Phillipines) from that perspective. The themes (war, enmity, colonialism etc.) were thought-provoking and the writing was mostly very good. But there were jarring moments too- most significantly the relationship between Yun Ling Teoh and Aritomo, the Japanese gardener. This book leaves a lot unsaid, but it left the nature of their relationship unsaid to a point that I didn't even realise they had one, until it was revealed in a way that jarred me. The relationship between two Japanese pilots during the war was much more moving to me, and the depiction, while understated, worked a lot better. Overall there was a lot to like here, but also a few moments where I thought it fell down, which meant that in the end it would not have my Booker vote.
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In the end, I think my vote would go to Swimming Home by Deborah Levy. But the actual winner was Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, and that's fine with me, she's a great writer and the only thing I really have against the book is that it was a sequel to a previous Booker prize winner. I'm kind of impressed with the wide range of books that get shortlisted- there's a lot of variation in style and subject matter, a lot of experimentation and all in all an interesting bunch of books.

5 comments:

  1. I've made a list of 50 things to do by age 50 (I don't have that long to go), and one of them is to read all the Booker winners. When I finish, I might just start on the shortlist titles!

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    2. Sounds like a fun challenge! But challenging. It would be interesting to see the range of books that are covered, and how they stand up over time. I'd be interested in reading about the experience!

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  2. Another blogging friend has just read 'The Garden of Evening Mists' and I know that I am going to have to get hold of a copy as soon as the libraries open again after Christmas. My father was a Japanese POW in Korea and it would be fascinating to get another perspective on this period of history.

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    1. That would definitely make reading this book an interesting experience I think. It seems to be a part of history that is not as well documented as WWII in other areas, but I think it is worth remembering.

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