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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 9, 2009 @ 10:54 am

    Battersby on the Booker

    Fiona McCann

    Eileen Battersby gives her verdict on the shortlist here. I had the misfortune to begin working my way through the longlist starting with books that didn’t end up on the shortlist, so now I’m way behind (and still have to finish Me Cheeta). “Yesterday, and not for the first time, the Booker Prize looked in serious need of rescuing – from itself,” says Battersby. Y’all agree? What’s your take on the shortlist, and on past winners ? Personal favourite from the past ten years? I’ll go for Vernon God Little. You?

    • C Murray says:

      its a toss-up betwixt ‘Midnight’s Children’
      and ‘Possession’ form me.

      and (er) William Trevor is a *genius*

    • Fiona says:

      C Murray: Excellent choices both (well, particularly Midnight’s Children), though strictly speaking not winners in the past ten years. Mind you, I only specified the last decade to make it easier – otherwise I’d have to contend with Kelman too. . .

    • John Self says:

      A moment of bitchiness first: I’d respect her view more if she’d got the name of Mantel’s 2005 novel right (Beyond Black, not Nothing is Black).

      I think Battersby is barking mad. Of the four novels she thinks should have been longlisted, I’ve read three (Chaudhuri’s The Immortals, Banville’s The Infinities and Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows) and didn’t think any of them worthy of a place.

      But Trevor Trevor Trevor! What is it about him that impresses Battersby so? I do plan to read Love and Summer, but I don’t expect it to overturn my view of Trevor as someone who turns out nicely written stories and novels about lives of quiet desperation. OK, so at the age of 104 he isn’t likely to produce something groundbreaking, but I don’t understand the love-in he gets (Nobel indeed!) for what are frankly quite pedestrian books. (I say that based on Felicia’s Journey and The Story of Lucy Gault, two which I have read and which attract particular praise when people want to say how good Trevor is as a novelist.)

      I do agree that it’s a rather dull list. I loved Coetzee’s Summertime and liked Foulds’ The Quickening Maze. I am reading Mawer’s The Glass Room at present and finding it, well, somewhat Trevor-like: a very well done example of its kind but just not that exceptional. I will read the Mantel (or try to) but don’t know if I will bother with the Waters (I thought Fingersmith and The Night Watch just OK) or Byatt.

      As to the best winner of the last ten years, for me that would be Coetzee’s Disgrace by a country mile, though I couldn’t finish Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang or Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, so I may be missing something wonderful there.

    • Fiona says:

      John Self: Must say, of the three books omitted from the longlist , I’ve only read one and agree that Banville’s The Infinities, while “mildly entertaining” doesn’t merit a place on the list Also have reservations about Trevor, though only based on The Story of Lucy Gault which did amaze me as it did other people. As for the past ten years – Disgrace, I agree, was a gem, and having finished both Carey and Desai, it’s a better book than either (don’t bother with this Carey book, would be my advice. Life’s too short.) Did you read Vernon God Little?

    • John Self says:

      Yes I did – I liked it but obviously not as much as you did!

    • Fiona says:

      John Self: I guess I hadn’t realised how much I’d liked it until I looked at the past ten years of Booker winners and realised it was the one that said something new to me. Must read it again to make sure I am not demented. Or perhaps it will be dated now. So I should read Summertime, I take it?

    • John Self says:

      Yes, it’s very good. Just look at some of the reviews around the web. Each seems to deal with a different aspect of the book, suggesting that it contains multitudes or says many different things to different people. Either way, that’s a success.

    • The White Tiger was good fun, but my favourite winner in recent years is easily The Line of Beauty.

    • Fiona says:

      Laura: I did like the dance with Maggie Thatcher, alright. Interesting portrait of a political/historical moment, but still not beating VGL for me.

    • John Braine says:

      Hi Fiona

      I’ll have to go for an obvious one. But I loved Life of Pi.

      I found ‘The God of small things’ and some others in the shortlist in recent years to be very Booker, in the same way that some films are very Oscar.

    • John Braine says:

      Hi Fiona

      I’ll have to go for an obvious one but I loved ‘Life of Pi’.

      Like some of the other shortlisters in recent years I found ‘God of small things’ to be very Bookerish, in the same way that some movies are Oscarish.

    • Chris Murray says:

      Ok, I would have to choose ‘Amstersdam’,
      I s’pos.

      I am a devotee of baroque, magic realism
      and layering. Though i have to admit that
      Booker is not always *there* in my must
      read list, tending as I do toward poetry, ephemera and the unspoken word -

    • brian says:

      I’d agree with John Self re: “Disgrace” by Coetzee though I’m a bit of a Coetzee apologist at the best of times. Though I haven’t read any of William Trevor’s novels, some of the short series are outstanding – for me, they have an almost Poeish uncanniness to them at times so was (non-critically) disappointed to not see him make the shortlist.

      I also really enjoyed (if that’s not completely the wrong word) “The Gathering” by Anne Enright. I regularly pull it out just to read the first chapter (all one and a half pages of it) which is a little miracle in itself.

      Booker winners I wasn’t too enamoured with would be “The God of Small Things” and “The Sea” – both unnecessarily wordy – and “Amsterdam” and “True History of the Kelly Gang”- both from writers I’ve tried a few times and who just don’t stick for whatever reason. Having said all that I’ve seldom been disappointed with a Booker winner/selection….

    • Fiona says:

      John Braine: Life of Pi! A controversial choice – I have to say, it didn’t work for me, but so many people I know seem to love it.

      Chris Murray: Ditto Amsterdam – I hate to side with Banville on McEwan, but the emperor was definitely naked for that one. I found it entirely overrated. What did you like about it?

      Brian: Yes. Must re-read Disgrace. And I agree on Enright: I too loved the Gathering (though Battersby, I recall, did not), and agree on Amsterdam and the Kelly Gang. As I recall, Oscar and Lucinda was a better Carey book, though that’s going faaar back in my reading memory.


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