The Man Booker Prize Fallacious Form Guide Vol.1: The Halfway Mark

on Friday, August 19, 2011
I've made no secret of my appalling record when it comes to betting on the Booker Prize. This year I have sworn not to fall down the same hole so, instead of placing any bets myself, I'm going to write a form guide to help you decide where best to lose your money. As always, I will read the entire long list (or as much as I can before the shortlist is announced) and use my spectacular oracular skills to gauge each book's likelihood of winning. In doing so I'll provide you with the briefest of reviews, as well as the current bookmaker's odds before throwing in my own (probably forged) two cents worth.

A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvette Edwards
Every year the folks over at Bookerland herald the arrival of 'the new Zadie Smith' and this year it's debut novelist Yvette Edwards's turn. Don't let the comparison turn you off though because there is much more to this than a plucky immigrant family saga. In fact, the only thing Edwards's book has in common with (now) Ol' Zadie is that it is set in Brick Lane. A Cupboard Full of Coats is a heartbreaking meditation on the crippling effects of family violence, its horrible trajectory and the resulting guilt that lives on far into the future. Jinx has long blamed herself for her mother's murder. She played a disastrous gambit to get the latter to leave her abusive husband Berris but it backfired and, rather than letting her go, he stabbed her to death. Years later, it is all brought back by the unexpected arrival of Berris's best friend, Lemon, at Jinx's door. As a girl Jinx loved Lemon. Lemon, however, loved her mother and was also doing his part to convince her to escape. Over the space of a couple of days Lemon and Jinx dance a delicate tango of guilt and recrimination, which culminates in some surprising perspective for both. In each other's revelations the two might find redemption but, as Edwards so crushingly points out, there is little solace. This is an urgent, relevant novel that deserves great recognition. It won't win the Booker, but it kind of deserves to.
Ladrokes Odds: 10/1
Bookworm's Odds: 4/1

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Edugyan's book swings with the Golden Age of jazz's signature patter but this ain't no New Orleans tale. Set at the dawn of World War 2 in Berlin and Paris, Half Blood Blues tells of an up-and-coming jazz band that catches the notice of Louis Armstrong thanks to its prodigious young trumpeter Hieronymus Falk. Timing, as they say, is everything, and the band, made up of American and Afro-German players is fated for disaster but it is not only circumstance that tears them apart. Edugyan uses a wonderfully obscure context to explore the limits of friendship in the face of naked ambition. We know from the outset that Falk is arrested and shipped off to Sachsenhausen, but it is not until well into the book that we realise the role our narrator, Sid, played in preventing his escape. The tone is suitable brooding and smokey, and the violent undercurrent is perfectly nuanced. The book ends a bit too neatly - it turns out Hiero survived and moved to Poland which conveniently provides Sid with a chance to ask for his forgiveness many years later - but it will certainly make you ponder just how far you would go for the perfect piece of art.
Ladbrokes Odds: 14/1
Bookworm's Odds: 20/1

The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes
I'm still peeved that Barnes didn't win for England, England or A History of The World in 10 1/2 Chapters, but this sombre novella about youthful adulation and regret might just snare it for him. For those still whinging about its length, build a bridge made of old copies of Amsterdam and On Chesil Beach and get over it! Brevity is but a facade in this story of a middle-aged man reflecting on his most significant adolescent friendship. Tony Webster admired Adrian Finn when the latter first fell into his clique. Adrian was smart, serious... pretty much everything to which Tony aspired. But the friendship fell apart when Adrian shacked up with Tony's first love Veronica; needless to say Tony reacted with typical teenage spite, cut his losses and walked away. However, things didn't go all that well for the couple - Adrian committed suicide only a few years later. Now an ageing divorcee, Tony is forced to revisit the friendship when he receives a legal letter advising that he was left Adrian's diary in Veronica's mum's will. Huh? The mum? And what's worse, Veronica won't hand it over. Secrets beg to be divulged (and they are) and Tony risks crumbling under the weight of false nostalgia. The big revelation at the end (why do all the books on this list need bloody revelations???) is a little on the twee side, but viewed simply as a meditation on what it meant to be young in the 60's, and what it means to live your life in the past, The Sense Of An Ending is a winner.
Ladbrokes Odds: 6/1
Bookworm's Odds: 5/1

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
As promised, this is a riotous picaresque dotted with characters you'll love to hate, most of whom would not be out of place on Cormac McCarthy's rolling plains. The Sisters brothers are a pair of bounty hunters on a mission to reclaim a formula from some dumb schmuck that double crossed the local rich bad guy. Unfortunately for all involved, they grow something resembling a heart along the way and fall in with their marks in the hope of even greater riches. We all know what becomes of bounty hunters with heart... Folks get shot, doubles get crossed and it all becomes a bit predictable before ending in a most warm-hearted, familial manner. Thankfully there are plenty of laughs to balance out the wanton violence, usually at the expense of the poor horse Tub (both the laughs and the violence come to think of it). It's an odd addition to the long list for the Commonwealth's most prestigious literary prize but at least it provides a bit of fun for those of us used to trawling through snooty Hollinghurst yawnfests.
Ladbrokes Odds: 14/1
Bookworm's Odds: 7/1

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch
You can read my full review by clicking on the Microviews tab to your right. Suffice to say it's another story with a shipwreck and a tiger, and it's getting far more attention that it deserves.
Ladbrokes Odds:8/1
Bookworm's Odds: 10/1

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
Again read my full review under Microviews. Here I need only point out that the wrong Andrew Miller got long listed. A travesty!
Ladbrokes Odds: 16/1
Bookworm's Odds: /1

The Library Diaries Vol. 2: Paperback Writers

on Thursday, August 18, 2011
A day off well spent...

I'm still toying with different configurations but for now I've lumped all the paperbacks together. I separated a few by publisher, just because they look nice as a set (check 'em out on the far right) and, contrary to my original intention to keep the library genre-free, I made one shelf of crime and fantasy. And, of course, there's a stack of books that simply didn't make the cut so they've been consigned to decorating my parents' shelves.

Anyway, enough reading the articles... Time for the book porn!