The 5th and penultimate book that I tackled on the Booker List was Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home. This is the shortest read out of all six, a mere 140 pages.
Set in the south of France, two couples who are renting a villa discover one morning a young woman in their swimming pool. This stranger is soon infiltrating their lives and testing everyone’s emotions. Who is this girl and what is she doing here?
In my opinion, the only good thing about this book was that it was mercifully short. I really do question why this book was even long-listed. I think that this author was trying to write like Salinger and create this real one-off character (the main protagonist), somebody that is volatile, vulnerable yet calculating. But I don’t feel this works; in fact it felt like the book was sucking the energy out of me! It is only my opinion at the end of the day and I do hope that other readers get something out of it.
Sadly I could not get to read all six books by tonight’s announcement! Am halfway through Wolf Hall (very good), but most people have been very effusive about Hilary Mantel’s follow up, Bring up the Bodies. The front cover is very captivating.
I was dreading this year’s crop but actually I am very glad that I have read them. I got to hang out in a Bombay opium den, excavated a pond in Malaysia, stood on a ferry gazing at the Hook of Holland and watched a woman in North London awaken after 50 years.
My personal favourite is The Lighthouse by Alison Moore – her characters are still stuck inside my head. However I do think that panel will opt for one of the Bookies favourites: Bring up the Bodies (Mantel) or Umbrella (Self).
This is my third year of reading the short-listed six books and one which has to be met with tons of enthusiasm and an open mind. I have really enjoyed the last two years of doing this but was rather gloomy to hear that this year’s judges would be concentrating more on ‘prose’ and less about ‘readability. The deadline is Tuesday 16 October, when they will be announcing the winner.
As already mentioned on previous posts, the shortlisted books are:
Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books)
Deborah Levy, Swimming Home (And Other Stories/Faber & Faber)
Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Alison Moore, The Lighthouse (Salt)
Will Self, Umbrella (Bloomsbury)
Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis (Faber & Faber)
I am already feeling that this is a mighty struggle as I have not read the precursor to Bring up the Bodies, which is Wolf Hall and that also took the Booker Prize back in 2009. So that makes it 7 books to read!
The biggest task, I felt, was to try and tackle Will Self’s Umbrella. Why? At around 380 pages, it has no paragraphs and no chapters. I was assured that the reader would get something profound from it. 2 pages in and I felt it was a turgid piece of writing, too many italics, repeating words and I grumpily envisaged making a note of every page that I felt needed paragraphs and sending it to him, whilst being very impolite in the process.
By page 7, the Eureka moment hit and I was being sucked into this vortex of the two main characters and into their timelines, and worlds. A psychiatrist (Busner) is reviewing his patient’s life (Audrey Dearth) who was admitted to Friern Hospital in 1910 and has been ‘inside’ for many decades. It also follows the fortunes of Audrey’s two brothers.
This was a challenging novel, you felt you were cycling up a steep hill, but when you got to the top it was all worth it. For a book that is entirely unsentimental, it does elicit some strong emotions from the reader. Yes, it feels blurry, nearly all the time, but the language and the imagination of the book will be difficult to beat by any writer this year.