Category Archives: Booker Prize

All That Man Is by David Szalay

51PSst0HidL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_ Title: All That Man Is
Author: David Szalay
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977535
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

“All that Man Is” is classified as a novel, however to me it was just a wonderful collection of short stories that represent man at a pivotal time in his life. Each story advances age to age and gives us a glimpse of man and his complexities – the way he functions, thinks, and conducts himself. The stories at the same time are also interwoven but by very small details – details that you might even not recognize as you go along and somehow comes full-circle at the end of the book. I would call the book dark but not depressing. It just manages to show you men’s lives and how they are. At the same time, it doesn’t make motherhood statements in any story nor does it endorse the concept of “all men”, which to me was very refreshing.

Szalay’s style of writing is brooding. I like the fact that he spends a lot of time on each story and more than that on each character – giving it the full body and flesh as it should be. Also, might I add that these men are away from home, so that adds another layer altogether to the narrative – which is delightful, fearsome and thrilling at the same time. Also, the locales in which these stories are set are quite edgy in the sense of being melancholic – whether it is a suburb in Prague or a dingy hotel in Cyprus to an Alpine village, the drama of life and death unfolds beautifully through the prose.

The book relies heavily on its characters, more than the locales, which is how it should be, however at some point I thought that the detailing was a bit much sometimes and could have been avoided a little. Having said that, the nine lives could not have been put in any other way than what Szalay has done. “All That Man Is” is a tribute to the contemporary urban life and how we are all a part of this gigantic mosaic that doesn’t fail to amaze us with its simplicity, complexity and zest for life, no matter what.

Book Review: Levels of Life by Julian Barnes

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes Title: Levels of Life
Author: Julian Barnes
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House UK
ISBN: 9780224098151
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Memoirs
Pages: 118
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

There are things that are connected in the world. That perhaps come naturally to people – either as a phrase – like chalk and cheese or like the way it is meant to be – like a button and a shirt. They go hand in hand. There are some things that just are not meant to go hand in hand. That maybe by some twist of fate some things just happen or they make you think of them together, in Julian Barnes’s case – love, grief, photography and ballooning. They all strangely come together in his latest work, “Levels of Life”.

He uses ballooning as a metaphor for love – raising us to a higher level and then what happens when we come crashing down. At this point, the focus moves to the crux of the book, which is his grief – the gaping hole left by his wife when she passed on after thirty years of togetherness.

Julian Barnes writing is sparse and very striking. He writes with a lot of emotion (but obviously given the context) and somehow transfers the feeling in his reader/s. Somehow I have found very few writers capable of doing this.
Barnes’ writing is too intense at times, however that is because he was writing with the emotion that could not be faked, which converted superbly into words and sentences. The book scorches you from within – because grief after all is a universal emotion. We have all felt it at one point or the other, and Barnes only connects to that with almost every sentence. It does take some time to get into the book at the beginning, however once the reader does, it is all a breeze, where you wish Pat (Julian’s wife) was there with him, healthy and alive.

“Levels of Life” may be a short book, however the emotion and the construction of the memoir, which is only close to The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, to me is sure going to be one of the best reads this year. I would recommend everyone to get a copy of this work.

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Book Review: True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey Title: True History of the Kelly Gang
Author: Peter Carey
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 9780571302017
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

The second book in the “The Novel Cure” reading challenge happened to be True History of the Kelly Gang and I took it upon myself to finish reading this one. It was a tough read for sure however I loved it in most parts and therefore could also be done with it. It took some time unlike other books, however having said that, it was quite a rollercoaster of a read.

In “The Novel Cure”, the book is recommended to cure the disease of being accused and it does that to a very large extent. The book is but obviously about the very famously infamous Kelly Gang and their bush-ranging activities, which made them outlaws and ultimately lead to their deaths. It is about how Ned Kelly became an outlaw and a bush-ranger even if he didn’t want to, and it is surprising how his mother pushed him into becoming one under the apprentice of Harry Power (the mother though makes for a very formidable character in the book).

The book’s narrative is a little off – in the sense that the styles keep changing. However, once you get the drift and get used to it, you actually enjoy Carey’s writing. The story is written in parcels – that Ned wrote on scraps of paper for his baby daughter to read, when she grows up, as he will not be around to tell her the story of his life.
There is no high ground in the book. There is no justification for what Ned does besides the love for his family – which is more than enough most of the time and yet there might be some readers who would judge him and his actions, which of course I do not think is the right way to look at this book.

For me, the writing was a little slow at the beginning, however it picked up pace and I liked the book a lot. Some of it was also heard through an audio book, but that definitely counts. Some scenes are graphic if you have the stomach for them. I can also imagine why this book won the Booker. The language and structure are definitely in place. All in all, a very satisfying read. Definitely helps you cure the feeling of guilt and accusation.

Next Up: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (for Adolescence)

Book Review: Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

Title: Swimming Home
Author: Deborah Levy
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 978-1620401699
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 157
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I am normally not a fan of Booker Long List of Short List nominations. I tend to find them boring to get by and honestly do not see the fuss made around them sometimes. However, when I started reading one of this year’s shortlisted books, I began to see the light, at least for that book. “Swimming Home” by Deborah Levy is an outstanding nominee for this year’s much awaited literary prize.

It did not take me long to finish the book, however I am still thinking of the book and the characters, so definitely the impact that it’s had is huge. “Swimming Home” is a powerful, almost offbeat book about the impact of an outsider has on the relationship of two couples, who are sharing a vacation home in the Alps-Maritimes. The idea that presents itself strongly in the book is sense of home, love and most of all whether or not one will make it back home, more so in the metaphoric sense.

London poet Joe Jacobs, his war reporter wife Isabel and their fourteen year old daughter Nina, are renting a holiday villa near Nice with friends, Laura and Mitchell. One day they discover a naked woman swimming in their pool. She has nowhere to stay and Isabel inexplicably offers her the spare room. And thus Kitty Finch becomes a part of their vacation – bordering on the line of being invited and intruding. At the same time there are minor characters that add to the substance of the book – their neighbour Dr. Madeleine Sheridan who is vexed by Kitty’s arrival, Claude – the local pub worker who has taken a liking to Nina, and the caretaker who is besotted with Kitty.

Kitty is enigmatic – in the sense that she walks around naked, is off her antidepressants and considers Joe to be one of the greatest living poets. She wants him to read her poem, “Swimming Home” – she feels that she has a connection with Joe. The reader on the other hand is left wondering about Kitty’s so-called seemingly love or obsession with the poet. Joe tries to avoid her but cannot. Nina is in awe of Kitty and wants to understand her more than anyone else. Laura and Mitchell do not like her presence. Isabel on the other hand, somehow is indifferent to her presence, fully aware of her husband’s attraction to Kitty. Nina on the other hand emerges to be the sanest and sorted character in the entire book.

The book plays itself out on so many levels. At times you are scared for the characters and what might happen and at others you want them to not care and life to play itself out. Readers can only wish how they would like the story to end, but at the end of the day, I strongly believe that characters decide what they want.

Deborah Levy uses the setting brilliantly. I am sure any writer would, but she plays with it, moulds it like clay and places her characters skillfully in it. She answers some questions that nag readers, some she leaves for their speculation and others aren’t answered at all. Questions such as: Why did Isabel invite Kitty to stay? Why is Joe hesitant to discuss Kitty’s poem? Why does Isabel stay with Joe considering she is never home, given the nature of her job? Why is Nina the way she is? The book is so tightly woven, that the answers are found and sometimes not throughout this one hundred and fifty-seven page of a read.

The startling intimacy between characters is scary sometimes and yet it is almost that the intimacy decides who ends up with whom. Natures are revealed during the course of the book and every character encounters his or her chaos. Everyone is searching for their own space and whether they get it or not is the haunting question.

My favourite portion of the book, which according to me sums the book:

“Life is only worth living because we hope it will get better and we’ll all get home safely.”

With this, the characters learn how to cope. Some grow up and some are forever trying to deal with their tragedies. Everyone is trying to know themselves and the others and somehow cannot. The prose of the book is haunting and will keep you hooked. For a short book, it clearly speaks volumes of the human condition. I definitely would like to see, “Swimming Home” win the Booker Prize.

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Book Review: Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Title: Half-Blood Blues
Author: Esi Edugyan
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-1250012708
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It is not easy to write a book with Jazz as the main character that is always lurking as the “backdrop”. In fact it isn’t easy writing about music at all; no matter how tuned you are to it and what your sensibilities are made of. Esi Edugyan manages it wonderfully through his book, “Half-Blood Blues”.

“Half-Blood Blues” alternates between 1992 and 1939/1940, whose major characters are three African-American men who met in Weimar, Germany playing together in a jazz group. The book brings out the world inhabited by these three men and their longings, passion, betrayal over the years, while the music silently plays on.

The tale is narrated by Sid, and he moves in time, back and forth to unfold the story of a talented trumpet player, Hieronymus Falk. The musicians struggle against the growing danger of Nazism and each experience varying degrees of safety (or lack of it) in Europe based on their background and citizenship. One of the most endangered is Hiero, a German of mixed race who is taken by the Nazis one night and never returns. Sid witnesses this and the major focus of this novel is Sid’s guilt as he grapples with what he did and what he did not to save his friend’s life.

The book in itself reads like poetry at times. Esi has a knack of writing and presenting the story in a manner that is graceful, lyrical and sometimes heart-breaking. The novel explores the other side of World War II, the persecution of Blacks and German “Mischlings” in Germany. What I loved was that the book is set against the backdrop of Jazz, which was then banned in Germany because of it being seen as, “degenerate”. So there are two biases – one against a set of people and second against a genre of music, both of which are wonderfully brought to surface by Esi Edugyan.

Esi allows the reader to explore the world through Sid’s eyes, where everything is not wrapped up tidy and neat. She creates the historic context, allowing readers to live there for a while with her flawed characters. She makes you think about what it would be like to live in a world where everything seems and has gone wrong, where may be music is the only thing left that one can rely on completely and unconditionally. Music is the only thing that seems to make sense at times.

Esi has a powerful voice though at times I felt disconnected from the book however came back to it to be enthralled for a while. Read it if music and identity interest you together. It is a great combination though.