Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Secret River is one secret I can live without

I could be a bit biased because I've read In the Country of Men already, which I feel has all the quirkiness in the face of simplicity that make an excellent prize-winning writing (one more hurrah for this book!), but sad to say, I didn't feel for The Secret River as much as I hoped I would. To be fair, I started reading with an open and interested mind as this is one story (the exile of English convicts to Australia) I've never read anything about, both in fiction and non-fiction. The story itself was beautiful: a man's yearning for security and stability is one each one of us has experienced at one time or another. It was informative, yes, and it did evoke a certain accuracy of the times with the language and descriptions, but I didn't quite like the pacing of the book: there were some parts that just seemed to rush through, such as the hero's capture and trial--i felt like it just sprung on me!--and other sections that simply dawdled--too many times the author delivered details of the setting that, although beautifully written, just wasn't evocative enough. I also think the lack of dialogue may have contributed to such rambling accounts, and I would have preferred more of it. Although I'm happy to have learned a few things from this book, I don't think I'd want to read it again.

Friday, September 29, 2006

In the Country of Men

A very good book with some interesting people. I thought that the narration as seen through the eyes of Suleiman [the son] was very good as he tried to understand the conflict both his mother and father went through, his mother trying to get through everything life had given her so far and his father his political beliefs. I also thought the ending gave hope for forgiveness on both sides.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

In the Country of Men

I finished this in less than 2 days (my fastest yet!) and it seems to be the best I've read so far. I particularly enjoy the voice of the child-narrator (very apt in this book whereas dodgy in Carry Me Down and Mother's Milk). Although the words are not as poetic as Mother's Milk, I think I prefer this because it is not overly done: the writing did not intellectualize, but rather pulled on the heartstrings. It seems to exude despair, dealing with issues of betrayal and corruption, which should have depressed me, but surprisingly didn't--the horrific scenes in the story were neutralized by the undercurrents of love for freedom and family and respect for humanity. And I loved the ending because there was a hint of redemption.

Allow me to borrow a word from the blurb printed on the front of the book: it was definitely a poignant tale.

Could this be it??? :)

Reading like a demon

I am now half way through The Inheritance of Loss. Finding it hard to put down and only my eyelids closing last night caused me to stop. I love the descriptions of New York and Himalayas, especially the monsoon. But The Secret River is still my favourite read so far.

I thought it would be impossible to read all six shortlisted books but like Mark and Arlien we seem to be flying through them.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Reading as fast as a very fast thing.

I'm on book five now and fairly rattling along. I'll give a quick overview of what I think of what I have read so far.

Mother's Milk - Edward St Aubyn.

Satirical and witty but with unbelievable characters. The father, Patrick is a self obsessed monster, the mother weak and vunerable and the children far too precocious to be believed. I liked it very much in places as it made me laugh out loud but in the end I don't think it is a great book.

Carry Me Down - MJ Hyland.

I was disappointed with this book. I was greatly looking forward to reading it as I am a fan of Maria Hyland's first novel. It was a very bleak book, which I liked, but again I found it hard to believe in the characters. The narrator John, is only eleven but he talks like an adult and I found that disconcerting. I thought teh ending was a bit weak too. John returning home as if nothing had happened (I won't give what it is he does away) seemed a bit of a cop out to me.

The Secret River - Kate Grenville.

An excellent book that showed the horror of what it must be like to be a settler in a new land. I learnt a great deal about the felons transported to Australia in the early 19th century and I particularly liked Grenville's descriptions of London at the turn of that century. I was unsettled by the way the Aboriginal people were portrayed in the book though. I know it was written from Will Thornhill's perspective, but I would have liked to have seen a litle more of the reaction of the indigenous peoples to the invasion of their land.

In The Country Of Men - Matar Hisham

The best book I've read so far by quite a way. Again written from the perspective of a child, but with the writer looking back on his youth rather than in the now. The story of Sulieman a young Libyan boy growing up in Tripoli and how the actions of the adults around him effect his life. Hisham is an excellent writer and doesn't try to show off his writing skills. The prose is simple, but effective and to me that is a real skill. Highly recommended.

I am about 70 pages into The Inheritance Of Loss by Kiran Desai and so far I am really enjoying it. I started it this morning and found it very difficult to put down so that I could come to work. I hope it continues to show its early promise.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Night Watch not my winner...as yet

I finished the book yesterday. Everything I said before still holds true...good read, well-researched, interesting plot. Even though it has a unique way of progressing through the story, it didn't seem to have the "wow!" factor I think a Booker Prize winner should have. It IS a bestseller read, but not one I'd rave about. I can still remember Fiona Shaw saying there's one that stands out amongst the rest, and unfortunately, it isn't this one for me.

Flying through the shortlist!

I seem to be reading these at a rate of knots! But unless I do I can not really give my honest view on which of the shortlist deserve to win.

Carry Me Down - MJ Hyland
What a depressing read! Like Arlien I felt slightly uncomfortable with the relationship between mother and son. It felt slightly incestuous at times. I wouldn't really say that I enjoyed the book because it was really depressing and like Arlien felt that it had carried me down! This is not a book that I would have chosen to read under normal circumstances.

The Secret River - Kate Grenville
I liked this book and finished it in one day. Finally a book with a storyline. I really liked the descriptions of London in the eighteenth century - depressing and fascinating at the same time. I could really get into the characters of William and Sarah Thornhill. Life in Australia was seen as hard and unrelenting and the interaction between the settlers and the 'natives' was written in a informative and unbiased way. My favourite book so far but unlikely to win as not 'odd enough' for the great and good of the literary world. Shame though.

Hoping to pick up the last two from the library today. Will keep you posted.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Thoroughly enjoying my reads so far

I've read Mother's Milk and Carry Me Down, and am now 2/3 into Night Watch. So far I've read through them more quickly than I'm used to--is it the pressure? Or are they simply great reads?

Well, I read Mother's Milk first, and despite the unbelievably articulate and insightful children, I thoroughly enjoyed the repartee and the interplay of totally different characters. Although Patrick's character is despicable, I can somewhat understand where he's coming from, as Mary's selfless attention on the children seemed too extreme. I found the book very philosophical (with a few sections just a bit too much to fathom, I had to stop and really read through them several times). The writing was exceptional considering the story was a simple one, and I think this book deserves the shortlist.

The second book I read was Carry Me Down. I read this book in 2 days. I wouldn't really say that I enjoyed the book because it was really depressing with too many filthy descriptions, and there wasn't a lot of banter to keep up my spirits. I found John Egan suspicious and insecure (a typical teenager? but he was only 11!) and I found the attitude of the adults towards him disconcerting and reprehensible. I couldn't really grasp the full story because John Egan's point of view is very limited, and this put me off a bit. However, I did find that the story was true to life, the depressing side of it at least, and it did "carry me down". I don't think I would have chosen this to be part of the shortlist, even the longlist, but that's only because I don't really favour depressing books that don't give any hope whatsoever.

Night Watch is a good read so far...I'm actually flying through the pages. Sarah Waters is once again very accurate in her description of a certain period, similar to her first book, Tipping the Velvet. So far, I'm liking this book more than I ever did Tipping the Velvet, and there's enough mystery in one part to push you on to read the next. I like the way she reveals just enough to keep you interested...and this isn't even a mystery! The connections amongst all the characters seem to be carrying it a bit too far, though. Does this deserve a Booker shortlist? I'm still not decided, because it seems to be too much of a usual bestseller read that it makes me wonder how it even got considered (with a preconceived idea that Man Booker Prizes are highly literary pieces).

If the other books are written as well as these three, then 6 books in 3 weeks isn't so bad after all.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Inheritance of Men - Kiran Desai

The story is set mainly in The Himalayas and New York with characters who were interesting and with situations that had many complexities to contend with, unfortunately for me, I didn’t find it as good as I had thought it would be.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Just read Mothers Milk

Like Mark, I am in the process of reading through the Man Booker shortlist, here are my views on two of the chosen six finalists.

The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

I had already read this one prior to the Booker. Although it was a well written and researched book – the period detailing was great. The characters were well formed but I did not think that it was the best book I have ever read. So I am fairly neutral on this one.

Mothers Milk - George St. Aubyn

I liked this book, a scathing and witty attack on middle class England. Although I did find the child characters and their language unrealistic being a mum to a 5 year old they do not speak like college professors no matter how intelligent they are deemed to be. Patrick, the father, needed to be taken and given a good old shake – self pity and self loathing abound.

Have just started to read Carry Me Down by MJ Hyland so will let you know my thoughts later.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Short List Announced.

Several of the members of the book club were lucky enough to be invited to the Short Launch Party at the London Library on Thursday 14th September. The short list is as follows:

Kiran Desai - The Inheritance Of Men.
Kate Grenville - The Secret River.
M.J. Hyland - Carry Me Down.
Hisham Matar - In The Country Of Men.
Edward St Aubyn - Mother's Milk
Sarah Waters - The Nightwatch.

We are all looking forward to reading the books over the next few weeks or so. I have already finished St Aubyn's bok and have read about a third of MJ Hylands. Reviews to follow.