I decided to push to get 2 books read this week-end, as I am now rushed for time:
Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil
Narcopolis is set in an opium den in 1970’s Bombay and spans the next few decades, as well as going back in time to China. The main strength of the book are the four central characters who keep the story zipping along. At times it feels as if it is Trainspotting, but set in India – there is excessive amounts of drug-taking and violence and at times I lost concentration but overall this is a really written book and very believable.
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
A man who is newly-separated from his wife but middle-aged, embarks on a walking trip in Germany. At one of the B n B’s that he is staying at the landlady is also contemplating her life and marriage. You could be so easily fooled into thinking that this book is mundane and just captures the hum-drum of their every-day lives, but the author, without writing what happens, is telling you really what is going on! You also have to make up your mind as to what outcomes there are at the end. I can’t tell you how brilliantly stunning this book is and I think it’s a credit to Booker that this has come from a small publishing company, yet packs one hell of a punch.
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.