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Tell us your views of the Man Booker shortlist

Verity Murphy | 18:11 UK time, Friday, 25 September 2009

The shortlist for Man Booker Prize for Fiction was announced this month and we want to know what you think of the books in the running for the prestigious prize.

Tells us your views of the six nominees - AS Byatt for The Children's Book, JM Coetzee for Summertime, Adam Foulds for The Quickening Maze, Hilary Mantel for Wolf Hall, Simon Mawer for The Glass Room, Sarah Waters for The Little Stranger - here.


  • Comment number 1.



  • Comment number 2.

    It's a pretty backward-looking list, with only the Coetzee's offering taking place in anything like the distant past. Fould's and Mawer's work I found strangely passionless given the subject. The Quickening Maze didn't capture anything of the pressured thought and the flighty imagination of mania and a did a poor job of getting into the head of a major poet during a serious mental illness. It moved between its major characters so breezily, and in such a slim volume, that I got nothing of any of them. It lacked focus. Mawer's Mesto, a fictionalised Brno, relied once again on an evocative setting, and not only on the city itself, but on an architecturally important building in that city, standing to this day and visible to any reader after a cursory internet search. Mawer's fictional characters are more persuasive for me than Fould's fictionalised historical figures, but do not come fully alive. It is a very readable work, plot driven and, perhaps, old fashioned. It is a good novel, but perhaps not a great one.

    Sarah Water's novel is more readable yet. The prose is exceptional, and the characters are very well drawn. Indeed, the town itself comes alive as Mawer's Mesto never really does in any of its historical incarnations. I was drawn on and on, only to be let down by the ending, which seemed to me to be formulaic. It was not entirely expected, but then, the manner in which it was unexpected seemed to be part of the formula. For me this made the novel less than the sum of its parts, but then, I'm pretty ratiocentric in outlook and I have never got on with ghost stories. Really, I should never have enjoyed this novel half as much as I did because of that, so it must be a particularly good example of the genre.

    A S Byatt's The Children's Book, for me, was peopled with reasonably believable people. Lots of them. Far too many of them. The kind of people in life I would take great pains to avoid. Spending time with them on the page was no easier for me. Here there was far too much detail and too little focus. If any of these people could have become the subject of a shorter novel it might have been one I could read and enjoy, as it was, I struggled to reach the first hundred pages, and by the time I reached 2-300 the novel was so putdownable that I was cooking, cleaning, exercising, anything to get away from it. That Byatt dedicated the book to a historian gives away the fact that, for me, too much research went into this book, and too little of it was taken out with redrafting.

    Wolf Hall I'm still struggling with. I don't know how much I am supposed to be familiar with this story to read the book - I know too little, it seems, but then, I didn't much listen in school - but there's a lot of detail here too. I find it a great deal more readable than Byatt's effort, and those characters who are odious I find far less irritating than those in Byatt's work (no doubt this is a fault of the historical period rather than the author, as well as of the reader, but it's relevant nonetheless). Thomas Cromwell is a fascinating figure, the way she interprets him. Mantell also, for me, builds up detail more deftly than Byatt, always to a purpose. I'm not remotely sure I'll get to the end of the book - my ADD will see to that, I'm sure - but it wouldn't be right to mark down a book for its length if it is not prolixious, and I haven't yet read enough of it to judge.

    Summertime by Coetzee made an interesting and an important point. Should writers be public property? Do we have the right we sometimes believe we do to know so much about so many people in different areas of public life, and to demand so much of them? Tangentially, perhaps, this novel does make a point about our contemporary world, the same as some of the others do, but its inclusion here is puzzling to somebody who has not read any of Coetzee's other work. I'm not sure it deserves to be here on its own merits.

    I was disappointed overall that with sso much going on in the world there could not be one book that deals with any aspect of our contemporary society. I heard one discussion programme where the point was made that our world today is so diverse that no one writer could understand it all and write of it. I don't believe that. A part illuminates the whole. A short story by Chekhov can say as much as one of the great novels. Sometimes this fact is missed, and it is missed, I think, by such novels as The Quickening Maze which attempt to give so many divergent viewpoints and, in doing so, sometimes diminish them all rather than delivering something that it more than the sum of its parts.

    I have attention deficit disorder and have always struggled with reading, which I have loved my whole life. I set myself the target of reading the long list this year. I managed most of the short list (with the exception of the Byatt, and Wolf Hall, which is in progress) as well as Love and Summer (I idolise Trevor, but this is not his best), Brooklyn (a restrained masterpiece which should have made the shortlist), and Ed o'Loughlin's Not Untrue and Not Unkind (which I actually loved, thinking it an excellent first novel). I may manage it yet, we'll see. But I won't find it easy to celebrate any of the novels from this year's list.

    Invariably, I piss people off when I post anything anywhere. Not only am I ADD, I also have Asperger's. Probably I am opinionated and lacking in some cyber etiquette. Still, it's what I think.

  • Comment number 3.

    i would vote for Gordon only as a magician...he has made the Labour party dissapear.....

  • Comment number 4.

    3. At 11:18am on 26 Sep 2009, leftieoddbod

    His.. er.. performance on the Andrew Marr show left an impression, certainly.

    Just, not sure the one I suspect a few... so very few... might have hoped.

  • Comment number 5.

    The nulabour Chuting season open again Auntie?

    I cant be bothered with it/them, the same old spin eh

    tough on crime tough on the causes BLAH BLAH tough on anti social behaving BLAH BLAH BLAH tough on the banks Blah Blah spin spin spin LIE LIE LIE BLAH BLAH

  • Comment number 6.

    leftieoddbod (#3) "i would vote for Gordon only as a magician...he has made the Labour party dissapear....."

    I strongly suggest that this is what they were funded to do, much as Militant Tendency was. Those doing the work need not see it this way any mor etan the original Jewish Bolsheviks saw how they were being used in 1917 (or those settled in the Middle East by the British.) Old Labour never stood a chance in the Cold War years, anarchism is easier. It's almost entropic.


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