Recent reading: Awards season

I’m still reading, somewhat more slowly given other demands, but steadily. Fall is awards season in literature-land and new short and long lists are popping up all over. And of course October is when the Nobel Prize in Literature is announced. This year the committee went for a candidate whose choice lots of people could understand and approve: Kazuo Ishiguro. Like many readers, I’ve read Remains of the Day, and we have several other books of his on our shelves. I didn’t love Remains of the Day, which I read soon after it came out, so I hesitated to read more from him, but that was definitely my problem not his. It’s a brilliant, lovely book, but I encountered it just when I was really tired of reading about the travails of comfortably situated white people and I couldn’t see past that, even though I could see the quality and artistry. I need to reread it, but that will have to wait until I’ve read some of the other works. I’m especially looking forward to The Buried Giant.

Man with seagull coverI read one more off the Not The Booker Prize list and loved it: Man With A Seagull on His Head by Harriet Paige. It’s a debut novel from a small press and it’s just as quirky as the title suggests, but it’s also insightful and quietly satisfying. It tells the story of artist Ray Eccles and the people around him. Ray is (literally) hit on the head by a diving seagull while he’s at the beach and he becomes obsessed with painting a woman he saw there at the same time. He’s discovered by a couple, George and Grace Zoob, who find and publicize “outsider artists,” and becomes quite a sensation. I hesitate to describe Ray as an artist, although he clearly produces art, because I think of artists as guided by intentionality, and Ray is compelled to paint rather than choosing to do so. His talent and fame affect the Zoobs and their young daughter, as well as the object of his paintings, Jennifer Mulholland, and Ray himself. The story is told from multiple POVs and stretches over a couple of decades despite being a fairly short book. And there is a pigeon. It’s a meditation on art, loneliness, attachment, and other aspects of the human condition, all told in an understated, unpretentious but deeply thoughtful way.

I also discovered that one of the major Canadian literary prizes, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, had just released its shortlist this week:

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Recent reading: award nominees and challenge choices

September is always a super-busy month for me but I’ve managed to keep reading. In addition to the Booker shortlist in the first half of the month, the Goldsmiths Prize shortlist was announced last week. The Goldsmiths is given to a novel written by a UK or Irish author which is “genuinely novel and which embodies the sprit of invention that characterises the genre at its best.” There is frequently overlap with the Booker but not always, and usually not much. The six nominees are:

  • H(A)ppy by Nicola Barker
  • A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume
  • Playing Possum by Kevin Davey
  • Reservoir 13 by Jon MacGregor
  • First Love by Gwendoline Riley
  • Phone by Will Self

I’d heard of 4 of the 6 and was thrilled to see the MacGregor on the list. Like many readers, I’d never heard of Playing Possum, which is published by the wonderfully named Aaargh! Press. The Barker and the Baume had been on my radar, and I’ve been meaning to read a Will Self novel. I’ve managed to pick up half the list through the library and will order the Barker for sure.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading a bit more of the Booker list and other award-nominee novels, along with some lighter and more comfort-oriented fare.

History of Wolves coverA History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. I bounced off the description because it sounded like another MFA-influenced novel about retrospective looks at teenage girls. But after it made the Booker shortlist and I read quite a few positive and convincing reviews and comments, I decided to try it. It didn’t start well; I had to force myself to keep reading through the first third of this novel. The writing felt overly self-conscious and I wasn’t convinced that it was in character. There are two storylines, one involving Maddie/Linda’s schoolmate and a teacher, the other involving a mother and child who come to live near Linda in the woods. The two parts don’t cohere and it’s not clear where anything is going. But then Leo, the father, shows up, and things start to fall into place.

The book is about so many things, too many really, because Fridlund can’t quite bring everything together. But the themes are important and her approach to them is unusual. The teacher-student relationship, the role of religion in Leo and Patra and Paul’s lives, Linda’s relationship with her parents, all of these are written beautifully and the twists and turns in each storyline are unexpected. Continue reading