OK, so I know that it’s 6 months since the 2011 Man Booker Prize was awarded to Julian Barnes for his novel ‘The Sense of an Ending’, but I have finally got around to reading the whole of last years shortlisted books (anyone would think that looking after my 2 boys, childminding a selection of other people’s children, working in a pub and freelance copywriting wouldn’t leave me with much time for reading!) and whether you are interested or not, here’s my thoughts…
Of the 6 shortlisted books, 2 really stood out for me as books that engaged and made me want to turn the pages and have been filed away on my somewhat overcrowded bookshelves to be read again one day. Barnes’ The Sense of and Ending was one of these. It is the story of a man who looks back on his life and discovers that his memories are less than perfect. On the surface it is a book about the mundanity of life but Barnes’ insightful focus on the minutiae of everyday existence and how our visions of ourselves, and more importantly how we want to see ourselves, shows the tragedy of our own skewed perception of our own existence.
My personal favourite from the shortlist was Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie. It is a proper old-fashioned story (like the ones we read as children) about the life and fates of Jaffy Brown, a boy growing up in the East End of London in the 1860′s. Jaffy’s life (although the name Jaffy was always too close to the Mr Jamrach of the title for my liking) finds him going from being in the jaws of a Bengal tiger, to working in the menagerie from which the tiger had escaped, to heading off to sea on the hunt for a Komodo Dragon. I loved following Jaffy as he worked his way through these roles, but it was the episode after the shipwreck that actually made me catch my breath and re-read the page to see if I’d truely read what had been written. Birch’s juxtaposition between the wonderful ‘proper’ story and the devastating ‘event’ that shocked and upset me, was an honestly great piece of storytelling that really made me want to start work on my own novel!
Amongst the rest of the shortlist A.D. Miller’s Snowdrops was a great insight into life in Russia and the crash between the old communist and the new capitalist cultures. Miller built up a great expectation of what was going to happen, but in the end I found it slightly disappointing, that the climax was not as shocking as I was expecting, but then maybe that says more about me (eek!). Also enjoyable was Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, a really fast read that drew me happily into the darkly funny world of Eli and Charlie Sisters, a pair of half reluctant and half splendidly murderous assassins in 1850′s America.
Less favourite were Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues, the first book that I selected to read from my shortlist after reading the blurb and discovering that it contained a character called Heironymous Falk (no bad can come from a book with a character name like that, I thought), unfortunately I found the narrative surprisingly dull and nearly gave up half way through. My other disappointment came from Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English, after about 10 pages it was blatantly obvious what was going to happen but I ploughed on regardless, and rather wish I hadn’t. The issues Kelman raises are worthy, but his novel just wasn’t for me.
Let’s see what this year’s shortlist brings…
I’m Jenny Bennion and I am a freelance copywriter.
I believe that there is an art to writing more than just ‘good’ copy. In fact, I want what I write to be more than just ‘copy’. So if you need something writing then I will aim to provide you with something that is interesting, informative and most of all effective.