Man Booker Prize 2018 – reviews

Philippa from Brompton Library has reviewed three of the six books that were shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker prize, including Milkman, which was announced last week as this year’s winner.

 The Long Take by Robin Robinson

The Long Take defies easy classification as it is both a novel and a poem. It is the story of a World War II veteran who travels through America, rather than return home to Nova Scotia after the war. He describes in vivid detail his experiences of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

There isn’t a lot of plot but I enjoyed the compelling descriptions of city life and the memorable characters he meets along the way. It explores the crippling mental impact the war had on him and the deep divides in society at this time. I found it quite a challenging read but I think I was hindered by my lack of knowledge of 1940s America. However, I enjoyed the language and each chapter or section could be enjoyed by itself as a poem.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan 

George Washington Black is an 11-year-old slave in Barbados in the 1820s. His life is changed forever when his master’s brother takes him on as an assistant. He tells Washington to call him Titch and teaches him about nature, science and his inventions. When Washington finds himself suddenly in danger they escape Barbados together in Titch’s invention, the cloud cutter.

Out of the books I read from the shortlist, this had the most straightforward structure. However, the story is captivating and strange. It is faced paced and we rush about with Washington all over the world, which took me by surprise. Although there are only a few main characters, it covers a lot of countries, topics and themes. There are horrific scenes of brutality, but touching moments too. I found it an odd but enjoyable read.

Milkman by Anna Burns

Middle sister lives in a world where it is dangerous to be interesting, dangerous to have a name or to name others; a world where what is said or unsaid can have devastating consequences. Middle sister tries to keep to herself but when Milkman takes an interest in her the rumours begin to spread.

When I started this it felt like science fiction or dystopia but as I learned more about Middle Sister’s world I started to think perhaps this was closer to home than I thought. It cleverly exposes the absurdity of what we are willing to accept as normal. It has an unusual structure as it is written almost as a stream of consciousness and the story jumps around a lot chronologically. It is so original that it doesn’t really remind me of anything I’ve read before. I think one of the most striking things is how current and of the moment it feels and so I was not surprised it won.

If you’d like to read any of these titles and can’t get into the library – don’t worry as they’re all available as eBooks via Cloud Library All you need is your Kensington and Chelsea library card.



Booker Prize Reading Challenge: The Sellout by Paul Beatty & Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh

selloutThe second book in my Booker Prize Reading Challenge is The Sellout by Paul Beatty. This book is set in ‘Dickens’,  a farmland area just outside of Los Angeles. A man is recalling his childhood of growing up under a very peculiar father who carries out experiments on him and the wonderfully colourful people that he knows.

The only problem is that he is going to embark on something which is so profoundly against popular culture and society that he is not just going to be a sellout but the ridicule and laughing stock of America.

I cannot give away too much about this book but it is at times hysterically funny – I’ve had quite a few laugh out loud moments on the tube home. It leads me to think that Beatty could have had a career as a stand-up comic and his political monologues are very prescient, almost Doug Stanhope. The characters are really well drawn, also very very funny but people who you could sympathise with, especially the main character. The problem with this book (in my opinion) is that it doesn’t quite grab your attention the whole way through.

I think it is a very original piece of work and it’s probably the funniest book that I have read.


eileenThe third book on my list is Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh

 A considerably older woman (Eileen) is looking back on her life to when she was a 24 year old. Living in ‘X-ville’ with her drunken and disturbed father and without a Mum she has a very restricted life of a job she really can’t stand, people who she doesn’t really want to work with. The odd crush on the security guard keeps her going. That is until a new colleague, Rebecca turns up and breathes new life into her. Their friendship leads to an even darker place and Eileen has some radical decisions to make.

 This is a deeply unsettling book but it was so compelling that I could not put it down. The microcosm of Eileen’s young life is fascinating and her inner world is fuelled by awkwardness, self-loathing and flights of fantasy. You cannot help but cringe in parts, but that’s down to Moshfegh’s brilliant writing. I am not going to spoil the ending but it is seismic. Think of works by Patricia Highsmith and Donna Tartt and you are getting close.

 So thus far it is my favourite on the shortlist as it feels like a complete novel – it is chilling, diabolical and her descriptions of the landscape make you feel as if you are living inside it. Brilliant.

 Next book that I am reading is All That Man Is by David Szalay, I have high hopes for this one!




Man Booker prize challenge: Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

donotsayIt is 1991 in Canada and a young girl and her mother who are originally from China welcome into their home a family friend who has just fled Tiananmen Square and martial brutality of the army. The young woman begins to relate a series of stories to the young girl and a bond is formed almost instantly between them. The book takes us back to before the Cultural Revolution where two sisters carve out their own lives and families who later come to diverge and interplay on one another. As the rule of Mao Zedong and his dominance deepens across China it has varying consequences for all they are and who they love.

This is a grandly epic novel and it feels as if its written by someone who has spent years on it – it deserves to have been shortlisted. Each character in the story is perfectly drawn and the way that it starts out as a series of stories begin to coalesce into the history of a family. One reviewer mentioned that they were ordinary but as 3 of the main characters are superlative musicians and composers I would disagree!

There are 2 criticisms that I would level at it. Firstly, the later scenes in Tiananmen Square are very rushed and it did not feel as authentically written or matter as much as the earlier histories which the family occupied. Secondly, at nearly 500 pages it was not a large book but it could have had 50 pages edited out of it.

Overall, it’s a very affecting piece of work and is a powerful reminder about how one person’s or governments blind control can turn us into different people in order to survive. But what will survival actually turn out to be and what remains for those who have been left behind?

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Rating: 7/10


Book Award round up

Sally Connew-Volpe, Triborough Stock Librarian, writes:

The Miniaturist by Jessie BurtonHave you seen our Book Awards page?

We’ve gathered all the contenders and winners of the UK’s most popular literary awards in one place! So if you’re keen to read a whole shortlist, want to know what all the fuss is about a particular winner, or are just looking for a great book to read – take a look. All our book lists link straight in to the library catalogue, so you can find out which libraries hold copies of the book you’re after and whether they’re available (you can reserve from here too).

The book awards we feature include the Man Booker, Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Specsavers National Book Award and many more!

Book Awards page - part of the RBKC library catalogue
Book Awards page – part of the RBKC library catalogue

Why not try The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (above) – winner of the 2014 Waterstones Book of the Year, winner of Book of the Year and Best New Writer in the 2014 Specsavers National Book Awards. This is a wonderful read set in 1686 Amsterdam. It follows eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman as she arrives from a small village to the Amsterdam household of merchant trader Johannes Brand, her new husband. A gripping story unfolds as she is given a cabinet by her husband containing an exact replica of their house.

The Paying Guests by Sarah WatersTake a look too through the excellent shortlist for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, including the latest book by Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests. The winner will be announced in just a couple of weeks!

Each time a new shortlist is announced, the lists are refreshed – but we are gradually building a ’round up’ list of past prizewinners, so you can always be sure to find some great quality reading.

Borrow one today!


Kensington Central Library – October 2013

Kensington Central Library
Kensington Central Library

Hello to you all from the staff at Kensington Central Library!  Autumn seems to have started but don’t worry – we have plenty of events happening that’ll keep you out of the wind and rain…..

Events past and coming up

Scary masks!

Gruffalo crafts
Gruffalo crafts

On Saturday 21 September, some scary monsters appeared in Kensington Central Children’s Library, the scariest was the Gruffalo himself! Everyone gathered round for the story of a little mouse who plays a big trick on his fellow animals. Then we made masks to disguise ourselves as all the different animals. There were lots of animal noises to be heard for a while afterwards!

We are now holding a story and craft session every Saturday in the children’s library at 2pm, until 3pm. Come and join us, for more creative fun!

Gemma Baker
Gemma Baker

Gemma Baker

Senior Customer Services Assistant

Author events

We’re extremley to lucky to have some great authors speaking at Kensington Central LIbrary this month –

John McHugo talks about his latest book, Sophie Parkin explores bohemian Soho, and Lucinda Hawksley marches with the Suffragettes.

John McHugo will be appearing this evening Tuesday 15 October, 6.30 to 8pm, Sophie Parkin will be here on Thursday 17 October, 6.30 to 8pm and Lucinda Hawksley on Tuesday 29 October, 6.30 to 8pm. Tickets will be available on the door.

Full details of these events are on the library events page.

Social media help

Facebook and Twitter logos
Facebook and Twitter logos

Like to learn more about Facebook and Twitter? We’ve a free training session at Kensington Central Reference Library on Friday 25 October, 10am to 12 noon. Places are limited so book your place soon at the library.

Half term fun!

Half term in the Royal Borough is week commencing Monday 28 October and we’ve plenty of events to keep your kids of all ages busy.

HiRes Halloween

They’ll be a Halloween story and craft session on Wednesday 30 October, 2 to 3pm for four to ten year olds.

Persian tile
Persian tile

Also we two Persian themed workshops – Persian dance on Tuesday 29 October, 2 to 4pm for eight to fourteen year olds and Persian art on Thursday 31 October, 2 to 4pm for five to eleven year olds. Both these events are part of the Nour Festival of Arts and can be booked on

New displays

We’ve some new book displays this month that have been put together by our creative staff – pop in and take a look!

We’ve displays for:

  • Black History Month
  • Man Booker Prize
  • Graphic novels – a selection of our collection

Hope to see you at our events this month!

Jodie Green, Lending Librarian
Jodie Green

Jodie Green

Lending Librarian

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

Q & A Session with 2012 Booker Prize winner – Hilary Mantel

The Man Booker Prize logo
The Man Booker Prize logo

On Thursday night (18th October) I attended a question and answer session with this year’s Booker Prize winner, Hilary Mantel for her book Bring Up The Bodies. Hosted by the delectable Mariella Frostrup, there was a really funny moment (in the beginning) when the introducer stumbled over her name 3 times which she found very amusing.

This week, Hilary Mantel won the Booker Prize for the second time, but more remarkably won it for parts 1 and 2 of her trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell, the right hand man of Henry VIII. She is also the only woman and the first British person to win it twice.

Bring Up the Bodies
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Mariella started by saying that in Mantel’s acceptance speech back in 2009 that she would spend her winnings on ‘sex and drugs and rock n’ roll’ to which Hilary said that she paid off her mortgage instead, saying that was just a line for the media. She said that on Tuesday’s award ceremony this week her heart was thumping nineteen to the dozen. She appreciated the fact that the head judge did not do an X-Factor style 20 seconds pause but just launched into who the winner was. She was utterly overwhelmed about winning and she felt overjoyed.

Mantel also touched on how the judges went about longlisting and shortlisting, as she herself has been a judge she could give an accurate account about how daunting the whole process was. She gave praise to this year’s judging panel, in the past they had nearly always voted by a show of hands, but apparently they all reached a consensus which she felt was very mature. Mariella asked her that now she has won twice did it give her confidence to write the next part of the trilogy? Mantel said not really, at the end of the day a blank page is a great equalizer, however she felt as a result of these awards that she had faith in her characters, which was a great starting block.

Throughout the Q&A, Hilary read some excerpts from Bring Up The Bodies which was really entertaining, she brought the text alive and her different voices for each character made it feel like a play. She also engaged with the audience; she tried to answer the questions whilst including everyone in her replies.

There were some really great questions from the audience, such as: do you have the third book in the trilogy all mapped out? Her answer was that it has virtually all been plotted out, but the story needs to be put in. A follow-up question: did the author go off in unexpected directions with any of her books? She said that she did, and the books turned out especially different from one another i.e. Wolf Hall is based over a number of years and even goes back to England at the very beginning of its history, whereas Bring Up The Bodies is set over a period of 9 months of Thomas Cromwell’s life, where Henry VIII is growing tired of Anne Boleyn as she is failing to deliver him an heir.

Mariella Frostrup
Mariella Frostrup

Mariella ended the session by asking Mantel about the final part of the trilogy, adding we all know the inevitability of Thomas Cromwell’s fate. Mantel’s big reveal – duh duh duhh, was that the third book will not be the fall and decline of Thomas Cromwell, but the rise and rise of Thomas Cromwell, to which Mariella joked that she was writing a fourth book! Mantel is adamant that it will be a trilogy but you get the impression that she is half in love with this man; she did say that she has been with this great man for one decade, although with her husband for four decades.

Best wishes Katie

Katie Collis
Katie Collis

Who is Katie Collis?

Katie Collis
Katie Collis

Katie Collis runs the monthly Reading Group at Brompton Library. In addition to her recent reviews of the 2012 Man Booker shortlist, each month she will discuss a book that has caught her attention:

‘My Reading Group are a talented lot and their families are no exception. One of them was kind enough to give me a free copy of her daughter’s book, The Harbour by Francesca Brill. Set in Hong Kong prior to the Japanese invasion in 1940 it follows the romance between Stevie Stieber (journalist) and Major Harry Field, who is investigating suspicious political activity on the island. This tracks the journey of their relationship amidst the decadence of colonial life and through the desperate traumas of war. I was really blown away by this book, I think that the author has penned a thoroughly believable novel and all the strings in the plot fit well together. Brill never shies away from the tough aspects of war and for me it was a chance to learn more about the history of the island. I highly recommend this book. Amazon have also named Francesca Brill as one of their ‘Rising Stars’!

At Brompton library, customers often praise our wonderful collection of books and book displays. Last week Saturday, an American tourist commented on what she described as an extensive collection of ‘amazing books’ that is ‘plentiful’ She remarked on the differences between libraries in San Francisco and Brompton library, wondering whether there are any other libraries in the Kensington and Chelsea area that offer a wider range of books. When I described the collection held at our other branches that are even bigger than Brompton, she exclaimed ‘Wow!’ 

Rahima Begum-Miah
Rahima Begum-Miah

by Rahima Begum-Miah – Library Assistant

North Kensington Library blog

October is the month of literary awards and festivals. The Man Booker Prize always brings excitement and manages to cause controversy. Last year there were complaints about too many debut novelists being included.  Other years it has been accused of being too ‘high brow’, not having enough women authors nominated etc.

My favourite novel of the year did not even make it to the Booker long list, probably because it is a debut novel, written by a women and accused by some of being too popularist.  Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles ‘is a triumph of glitzy story-telling over literary depth’ (Philip Womack, Telegraph 30 may 2012).

Miller’s imaginative retelling of the tale of Achilles and his friend Patroclus is full of poetic imagery, heightened emotions and vivid, sensuous descriptions of the Greek landscape. I read it while lying under an olive tree and by the sea in Corfu, which added greatly to the books atmosphere and my enjoyment. It had nothing to do with the jug of local wine which I had by my hand of course.

Man Booker Prize Board
Man Booker Prize Board

At North Kensington Library we are celebrating the Man Booker Prize 2012 with a people’s wall inviting you to tell us about your favourite new novel of 2012. It doesn’t matter what it is so long as it was published this year.

The Mann Booker Shortlist
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)

Also this month a strange, large object landed at North Kensington Library. It may look like an alien invader but it is in fact a scale model representation of KALC (sounds like an alien to me). KALC is short for the Kensington Aldridge Academy and Leisure Centre. Visit for up to date information and links to important strategy and planning documents. The new academy is planned to open to year 7 students in September 2014.

Kensington Aldridge Academy and Leisure Centre
Kensington Aldridge Academy and Leisure Centre

by Gaynor Lynch

Booker Prize update

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.

Swimming Home
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

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.

The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse

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).

Katie Collis
Katie Collis

Katie Collis