Tag Archives: Booker

Is this Booker standard? Paul Scott – Staying On

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Tusker and Lucy Smalley stayed on in India after it was decolonised in 1947, it is now the 1970s and they have retired in a small hill town called Pankot.  The story deals with ageing, loneliness, race and relationships.

The book dramatically opens with Tusker dropping dead after reading a letter from the hideous Mrs Bhooolabhoy who owns the hotel in which their lodge is situated.  The  book then goes back to when the  Smalleys met and Tusker’s unsuccessful career in the army in India.   Lucy begins to realise  she  and Tucker lead separate lives, and she thinks back over the disappointments of  the last 40 years.   They are seen to be small fish and unambitious, who are looked down upon  both by the British elite and the new Indian capitalists.

There were parts of this book that I really enjoyed and it is quite emotive,  but after a dramatic start I  lost some interest.  Is it a worthy Booker winner or just that it was felt that Scott deserved to have a turn winning it, especially as he was terminally ill?

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Am I thick? I don’t understand The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson

imagesIn a Radio 4 book club interview Jacobson said if you don’t get this book, it because you are thick.  Now I  am pretty sure  he was joking because if he wasn’t I am thick, along with the rest of my book club. This book starts well, it is really funny, then it just becomes less of a novel and more a discussion about  the nature of Jewishness.

Julian Treslove is an unsuccessful lookalike who is victim of a random mugging, but he soon becomes convinced that his attacker called him a Jew thereby believing that he is a victim of an anti-semitic attack despite not being Jewish.  He becomes obsessed with the idea of becoming a Jew and a key reason for this is due to his jealousy of his successful  ‘friend’ Sam Finkler  who is an Alain de Botton type TV philosopher who writes books  such as ‘The Glass Half Empty: Schopenhauer for Tenn binge Drinkers’.  Their old pro-Israel school teacher Libor is grieving for the loss of his wife but unites the two rivals together.  For Treslov,e the successful Finkler embodies everything about being a Jew or a Finkler, so  he begins a quest to become a Jew and  sleep with Jewish women, whereas Finkler joins a group for ASHamed Jews.

It deals with the issue of what it means to be a Jew and is highly ironic.  It could only have been written by a Jew because I felt some parts with really close to the bone,  and questions the nature of Judiaism and Zionism and issues such as Israel and  anti-semitic attacks.  In the end because the book is so long you begin to wonder what the point of it all is.

It won the Booker as the first comic novel to do so which is strange on two levels – one,  its not a very good book, two, it is not that funny (apart from the beginning), there are hugely tragic elements here.  Don’t be sucked in and ignore advice about it not being very good,  thinking this can’t be right because it won the Booker.  The general book club feeling was a thumbs down and that it was a emperor has no clothes type novel.

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Should this book have won the Booker prize? Penelope Fitzgerald – The Blue Flower

I had wanted to read this for a long time after reading an article on authors who were never Booker winners.  Three previous Booker judges independently argued that it was  a travesty that this ‘masterpiece’ did not win.   Fortunately my boyfriend’s mum Janet had this book in a pile waiting to go the charity shop so she gave it to me, as she hadn’t enjoyed it much.

Novalis looking like a proper German Romantic

The story is based upon the life of the German Romantic author and philosopher Novalis, the pseudonym of  Fritz or more correctly, Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg (a bit of a mouthful, you can see why he needed a pseudonym).  It tells the story of his life before he became well known and his noble family’s declining fortunes at the close of the 18th century.  Whilst under his apprenticeship in his early 20´s as a salt mine inspector, he meets and falls in love with Sophie, who  is only 12 (!).  He is a well-educated philosopher, whilst she is essentially a child, so like the reader,  the other characters in the novel are at a loss to understand their engagement. After discussing this novel with a friend she pointed out today that these people would be considered paedophiles, which is an interesting and highly debatable point.

During this period he is writing the novel of which the blue flower plays a part, this relates to the theme of the novel;  the blue flower represents desire, love, and the  striving for  unreachable.  This gives you an indication of  the nature of the plot, which  is hard for me to explain without including spoilers. The book is written in the context of the  in the context of the French Revolution and touches on issues such as Humanism and the Age of Enlightenment,  Fritz´s relationship with Sophie is linked to the development of the self as an individual.

The afterword to this book about the facts on which it was based was more interesting than the actual book.I found the real  Fritz more fascinating than reading the book and was interested to discover that he actually got engaged in 1798, only a year after this story ends.  Tragically, like many of his family he  died young, at the age of 29.

The book also focuses on other interesting topics such as 18th century ideas about medicine; the note at the front of the book explains that the description of an operation without anaesthetic was based on actual historical sources but in fact the description of it in the book largely passed me by. The chapters in is this story are very short, only a few pages long, maybe this is why I failed to become completely engaged at times.. The opening of the story draws you in straightaway and the descriptions of family life bring the period alive, the ending was also fascinating, but I found myself a bit disengaged in the middle.

So basically the genius of this ‘masterpiece’ passed me by, considering it was about someone who had such an interesting life,the  book had enjoyable parts but did not keep me on tenterhooks.

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