Shortlisted for this year’s Desmond Elliott Prize awarded to debut novels published in the UK, ‘How to Be Human’ by Paula Cocozza tells the story of Mary Green, a woman in her thirties who has recently separated from her partner Mark. Now living alone after buying him out of their home in Hackney in east London, she becomes captivated by an urban fox who regularly visits her garden. Meanwhile, her next door neighbours, Michelle and Eric, regard her new visitor as a pest while Mark makes an unwelcome return into her life. Continue reading
‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller is a modern retelling of ‘The Iliad’ and won the Women’s Prize (then Orange Prize) for Fiction in 2012. Whereas Homer’s epic was told from the perspective of demi-god Achilles as the warrior hero of ancient Greece, it is the exiled prince Patroclus who takes centre stage here, having been a minor character in the original. In Miller’s interpretation of events, Achilles and Patroclus are inseparable childhood friends who later become lovers, and when the time comes for Achilles to fulfil his destiny, Patroclus follows him to war with the Trojans. Continue reading
The Man Booker Prize is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a “best of the best” Golden Man Booker Prize due to be awarded next month. However, while the winning novels have often been met by a mixed response, many of the shortlisted and longlisted titles have been well received and in some cases go on to be better known than those taking the prize that year. So if the past winners don’t inspire you, then here is a selection of “the best of the rest” to consider.
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet – shortlisted in 2016, this is a brilliantly original historical crime novel which blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction with outstanding results. Published by Saraband, a small Scottish independent press, I doubt I would have discovered this if it hadn’t been for the publicity generated by the Man Booker Prize. Continue reading
The blurb of ‘You Think It, I’ll Say It’ describes the unifying themes of Curtis Sittenfeld’s first collection of short stories as “how even the cleverest people tend to misread others, and how much we all deceive ourselves”. Specifically, the passing of time tends to distort the memories of the protagonists who are often flawed and naive, yet with just enough self-awareness to recognise these traits in themselves. This allows Sittenfeld’s natural gifts for convincing character portraits and satire (especially where class snobbery is concerned) to shine through in this contemporary collection. Continue reading
I haven’t read many of the early winners of the Booker Prize but ‘Hotel du Lac’ by Anita Brookner is one I have been meaning to read ahead of the Golden Man Booker Prize celebrations later this year. It tells the story of Edith Hope, a novelist of romantic fiction who is staying at a hotel near Lake Geneva in Switzerland by herself. A keen people-watcher, she has some unusual encounters with various eccentric guests including a rich widow Mrs Pusey and her daughter Jennifer, as well as Monica and her dog Kiki. However, it is Philip Neville, a divorced man also staying at the hotel who makes the most significant impression on the other guests. Continue reading
Winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt and recently translated from the French by Sam Taylor, ‘Lullaby’ by Leïla Slimani has been one of the most talked-about novels so far this year, partly inspired by a real-life case of a nanny who killed two children in New York in 2012. Paul and Myriam live in a fashionable area of north-west Paris with their two young children, Mila and Adam. Paul works in the music business and Myriam is a criminal lawyer of North African descent who hires a nanny, Louise, to look after the children when she decides to resume her career. Initially, Louise appears to be perfect and indispensable to the family, but her behaviour becomes increasingly concerning. Continue reading
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year, ‘4 3 2 1’ by Paul Auster consists of four different versions of the life of Archibald Issac Ferguson, born in Newark, New Jersey in 1947 (the same year as Auster). Descended from Russian-Jewish immigrants, Archie is the only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson and during his early childhood, random events change the path of his life splitting into four different trajectories – in one version his parents divorce, in another they stay together, in another Stanley dies, and so on. The parallel structure means that each of the seven parts is rewound three times before moving on to the next stage in Archie’s life covering his early childhood through to his coming-of-age in the late 1960s. Continue reading