Man Booker Prize – reading challenge update

Katie Collis, Senior Customer Services Assistant at Brompton Library sets herself an annual reading challenge – to read all six titles on the Man Booker shortlist.  The winner will be announced on Tuesday 15 October 2013.

Man Booker Prize 2013
Man Booker Prize 2013

Katie first updated us this year in last month’s Brompton Blog post and here’s her latest update….

I’m m already well into my Booker books, although still four more to go and we are already into October!

I tackled the lightest volume of the short-listed six, which was:

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin
The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

Set entirely from the point of Mary, mother of Jesus, it starts with a stream of conscious thought that meticulously melds into a story. It charts the series of events leading up to the crucifixion and Mary’s fate afterwards. At 103 pages it is pared down language. Mary’s human acceptance of her son’s death and her own lot transcends humanity – indeed her view of the world of men is very critical and although she loves her son she mistrusts his preaching and work. I must have read this in less than a day, but like most powerful books it makes you think for much longer, it is a terribly moving piece of work. As with Usula Le Guin’s Lavinia, Toibin breathes some life into the story of a woman who we don’t know an awful lot about and who we all would want to.

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Set in a shanty-town called Paradise in Zimbabwe, it follows 12 year old Darling as she and her group of young cohorts steal guavas from nearby ‘Budapest’ and lives with her grandmother ‘Mother of Bones’ and attends church. She is then whisked off to Michigan to live with her aunt and her family and experiences a new live which is overwhelmingly different from her native ‘Zim’.

This to me is like a cross between The Sisters Brothers (Patrick Dewitt) and Pigeon English (Stephen Kelman), hilarious and awful in parts, very moving but bleak. It is a very easy book to read and zips by, the only aspect of it which was not convincing was Darling’s transition to the States, the flow of her wonderful language became more stilted and unimpressive. Still, Bulawayo is a gifted writer and her tributes to Achebe (the father of African literature) was affecting, especially in relation to Zimbabwe’s troubles and what might have been Darling’s life there.

Harvest by Jim Crace

Harvest by Jim Crace
Harvest by Jim Crace

Set in a post Middle-Ages but pre-Industrial village (all very Lark Rise to Candleford) it is about a group of labourers who are working on the land for themselves and for the lord of the manor. All of a sudden three strangers turn up and erect a makeshift shelter for themselves with the idea that they will stay. The villagers xenophobic feelings are unleashed and before long ‘Mistress Pandemonium and Master Chaos rule’.

It is very slow burner of a book, and you can see that something cataclysmic is going to happen. The writing is particularly beautiful and the main character is a lovely guy and an effective narrator. I just found it very boring in places and not really that believable. I would expect something of the calibre of his writing to be short-listed for the Man Booker and it focussed on lots of important issues but personally I had to force myself to read it!

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

It is post World War Two and two brothers negotiate round the high walls of the colonial country house on the outskirts of Calcutta, looking for golf balls and adventure. Naturally curious and bright, they excel in their studies but their path leads them in various directions. It is the younger brother who is fired with passion about his country’s future and wants to fight what he believes is an oppressive state. The older brother wants a quieter life where he can pursue his academic studies; this eventually takes him to the United States. However a series of events causes their lives and their loved ones to change.

I cannot really give more away of the story. I read this book in just one sitting – it is a brilliant piece of work. It is beautifully narrated, the characters are believable (I adored the older brother) and it is extremely moving. It is an example that if one is a slave to a cause or a movement then that person neglects those around them, with terrible consequences that can last generations. Out of the four books that I have read this is my favourite and I think Lahiri is every bit of a powerful story-teller as Andrea Levy.

So two more books to read – and with under a week to go it’s going to be a tight race!

Katie Collis
Katie Collis Katie Collis

Katie Collis

Senior Customer Services Assistant, Brompton Library

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