Each year I try to do a rundown of the Booker longlist according to the book blogs. (Here’s 2008 & 2009.) I’m running a little late this year – don’t look at me like that, I’ve been busy – so let’s get straight to the Booker shortlist, 2010:
Parrot and Olivier in America Peter Carey
Peter Carey’s first Booker winner, Oscar and Lucinda casts a shadow over several of the reviews of his new book. Jackie at Vulpes Libris can’t help noticing that one of the characters shares Oscar’s dishevelled red hair, while Trevor at The Mookse and the Gripes finds himself revisiting Carey for the first time since reading that book (having skipped Carey’s other Booker winner, The True History of the Kelly Gang).
Kevin from Canada read this one with some reluctance, not being a huge Carey fan, or being familiar with Alexis de Toquevillle, whose journey to the USA inspired the book:
Carey is a competent and talented writer and he carefully and deliberately unfolds that story in a reader-friendly fashion. He has obviously researched his material thoroughly — too thoroughly for this reader, because long sections of the book are taken up with explanations of the obvious that left me wanting only for them to end. While I appreciate the author’s determination to chronicle the “American” story, he does not have much new to add — his respect for the obvious history is so great that it comes to dominate the book
See Kevin’s full review, and the subsequent discussion in the comments, here.
Room Emma Donoghue
John Self kicked off his review on The Asylum by measuring it against his initial hopes…
Room has an intriguing premise: it’s narrated by a five-year-old boy who lives in a room twelve feet square and doesn’t know the outside world exists. This immediately set my reading glands salivating: I imagined an allegorical, philosophical novel, a European-style confection that provided an analysis of all our lives by an extrapolation to the extreme, something like Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. So my disappointment with Room is partly unreasonable, denouncing it for not being a different book entirely.
… before coming to the conclusion that ‘it’s clear that Room aims at the heart rather than the head, and for many people the emotional heft of the story will be enough to recommend it.’
If Room didn’t find its natural reader in John, it fared better with Jackie at Farm Lane Books, who declared it the best book she’s read this year: ‘a modern classic that will continue to be enjoyed many years from now.’
In a Strange Room Damon Galgut
In a Strange Room was originally published as a series of three autobiographical stories in The Paris Review, and John Self opens his review by pondering whether it really qualifies as a novel, or as fiction. He goes on to find himself more appreciative of it as as a reviewer than he had originally been as a reader (an idea that’s expanded upon in discussion in the comments).
Kevin from Canada is enthusiastic from the start:
I would characterize Damon Galgut as an author who is on the verge of the moment, waiting for the breakthrough that vaults him from the ranks of the “very good” to “he has to be read”.
Trevor at The Mookse and the Gripes read it as his first iPhone novel, but found himself thwarted when it came to describing the ebook experience:
I might hate reading books on the iPhone, but I wouldn’t know yet because this book is so good I would have enjoyed reading it while someone kicked me in the shin.
Natalie at Fiction Writers Review pulls out all the stops in her review, citing Milan Kundera, William Faulkner, and Nadine Gordimer.
The praise hasn’t been entirely universal, however: Claire at Paperback Reader only found herself enjoying one of the three parts of the book.
The Finkler Question Howard Jacobson
Tom at A Common Reader did like it, albeit with reservations:
Despite its obvious qualities, I wouldn’t say that I found this book particularly easy to read. It took me a surprisingly long time to get through it and I think this is because although I recognised its qualities, it didn’t really engage me as much as I thought it would. Its clever and funny, but there is perhaps a little too much of the introspective Treslove and the workings of his mind. I’m not sure that thought processes always make for good reading, particularly when the thoughts are those of an indecisive and confused man who fails to make much of his life. The concepts are funny, and the other characters are interesting, but with the focus on the sometimes idiotic Treslove, I sometimes lost a sense of forward movement while wallowing in Treslove’s muddied thoughts.
Finally, John Self bucked the trend by declaring that ‘The Finkler Question, luckily, is a triumph.‘
The Long Song Andrea Levy
Lizzy Siddal at Lizzy’s Literary Life had trouble with this one at first, but after jettisoning the high expectations following her love for Andrea Levy’s previous Small Island, ultimately seems to have found a satisfying reading experience. The ghost of Small Island also crops up in the review over at Savidge Reads.
There’s more certain praise over at Dovegreyreader, while Jackie at Farm Lane Books found it ‘a light, entertaining read’. Meanwhile, Kevin from Canada, having not read Small Island, approached this book with other preconceptions, which he was delighted to have dispelled:
The result is a novel of fully-developed characters and the story of how they face the world in which they have involuntarily been set. It is not a book about the slave trade; it is a study of a group of people affected by that trade. Levy makes them both lifelike and interesting — and that is all that can be asked from a good work of fiction. And I will be going back to Small Island.
C Tom McCarthy
Praise for C seems to have been more or less universal: John Self finds that it ‘resists easy interpretation but sticks around afterwards, challenging you to pick apart signal from noise.’ Trevor at Mookse finds himself uncertain how to describe it in his review, while Kevin From Canada suggests that you read it twice:
I certainly appreciated it more the second time than I did the first, but even then I was a frustrated reader when I reached the end. In no way do I mean that as a putdown — indeed, I think it should be regarded as an indication of the author’s success in crafting an intricate and complex book.
(If you’re a blogger and you’ve reviewed one of these on your site, drop a link in comments below to let us know!)