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Friday, October 3, 2014

Jill's Journey through the Man Booker List: Part 1

Posted by Jill S.

The Man Booker long list was announced on July 23rd, so I decided to read through the long list to see what the judges deemed as the 13 best novels written in English this year.   These are my personal thoughts only - not literary book reviews.   As we all know, personal preferences vary greatly, and that is part of the magic and mystery of reading.  Some books touch you and some are written for others!
I am using the Goodreads scale:  (1) I did not like it, (2) It was ok, (3) I liked it, (4) I really liked it, (5) I loved it
On September 9, 2014 the short list of 6 was released .  I have noted Short List next to the title if the book made the first cut. The winner will be announced October 14, 2014.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (5 out of 5 stars) Short List
Summary: A novel of love and war that traces the life of one man--an Australian surgeon--from a prisoner-of-war camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway during World War II, up to the present.

Jill’s Opinion: Any war book is difficult for me, and there are sections that were very disturbing to me.  A good friend of mine (who also works at the library) and I were discussing this, and she said something that really resonated with me.  Even though these books are difficult to read, don’t we owe it to those who endured these events to read it and never forget?  This is our hope in preventing it from happening in the future. 
The parts that have stayed with me are the relationships in the book rather than the cruelty.  The love story that is included was also beautiful and heart wrenching at the same time.  Life doesn’t always give you a happy ending.  I was sad when the book was over, because if felt like a journey I did not want to end.  It is even more meaningful when you read the dedication to his father in the book : for prisoner san byaku san ju go (335), (referring to the  number given to him as a Japanese PoW).   A powerful book that I would love to see win, and it is on the short list so….fingers crossed!

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt  (3 out of 5 stars)
Summary: When Professor Hess stumbles across an unusual letter to the editor in an art journal, he is surprised to have known so little about the brilliant and mysterious artist it describes, the late Harriet Burden. Intrigued by her story, and by the explosive scandal surrounding her legacy, he begins to interview those who knew her, hoping to separate fact from fiction, only to find himself tumbling down a rabbit's hole of personal and psychological intrigue

Jill’s Opinion: There were many sections in the beginning that were beautifully written, but all in all this to me seemed like a book about a very angry woman.  I spent about a third of the book wondering why she was so angry, another third trying to absorb all of the references to art, artists and philosophers and how they related to the story and another third enjoying it.   Worth reading but more work than pleasure at times. It has already dropped off on the short list round, possibly because of How to Be Both by Ali Smith.  Maybe only one art book can make the short list??

How to be Both by Ali Smith (4 out of 5 starsShort List 
Summary: How to be Both is a novel all about art's versatility. Borrowing from painting's fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it's a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There's a renaissance artist of the 1460s. There's the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real - and all life's givens get given a second chance.

Jill: How to be Both is split into two sections: one called "Camera" and one called "Eyes".  Both are labeled as "Part One", and you can read them in either order.  I have read that the physical copies of the book are sold both ways, and the ebook includes both formats.  I felt more connected to the section taking place in the 60s and would have liked to read more about those characters.  I also thought the connection between the times was clever and original.  However, I found my mind drifting occasionally in the section set in the more distant past possibly because of all the detailed art references (similar to  The Blazing World).

 All of you art aficionados may tell me I don’t have the IQ to fully appreciate these books which may very well be true!   I can see why this book made the short list, and I think I will have to read it again in reverse order to appreciate it fully! I really enjoyed the book, even with the art references, so I will be happy to re-read it.  

Part 2
Part 3

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