Congratulations to Kim Scott for winning the Miles Franklin Award for That Deadman Dance. See my review here. It is an important novel, one that should be well and widely read.
Congratulations to Tea Obreht for winning the Orange Prize for Fiction in the UK, for her sparkling debut novel The Tiger’s Wife. You can read my review here. See also my summary of Tea’s discussion of the novel at last month’s Sydney Writers’ Festival here.
Judges praised Obreht’s story-telling ability, how she weaves the barbarity of the Balkans conflict into a story about stories and the love they can inspire in us. You can see the announcement at the Orange Prize website here.
You can read the Guardian’s article on the ‘surprise’ winner here. (Room by Emma Donoghue was the hot favourite to win.) See also the Guardian’s follow-up opinion piece on the victory for Obreht here in which The Tiger’s Wife is praised for its exuberance – a starkly different novel to Room.
The Man Booker Prize 2010 shortlist has been announced.
Peter Carey Parrot and Olivier in America (Faber and Faber)
Emma Donoghue Room (Picador – Pan Macmillan)
Damon Galgut In a Strange Room (Atlantic Books – Grove Atlantic)
Howard Jacobson The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury)
Andrea Levy The Long Song (Headline Review –
Headline Publishing Group)
Tom McCarthy C (Jonathan Cape – Random House)
The list is a bit of a surprise says the Guardian & I’d certainly agree! (When, though, isn’t it?!). Christos Tsiolkas’s polarising The Slap didn’t make the cut. Nor did David Mitchell’s wonderful The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet which I’m currently reading. Half-way through and unless the ending is terrible, I’m at a loss as to how it didn’t get through. It was one of the favourites. Quite what Mitchell has to do to win the Booker is beyond me. But that’s literary prizes for you – especially the Booker!
Once again Peter Carey makes it through! Were he to win for Parrot and Olivier in America, he would be the first person to win the Booker Prize three times. I quite enjoyed Parrot, it is definitely a return to form for Carey, but at the time (read before I started this blog), I didn’t think it was quite as good as his previous best works. Though worthy of a longlisting, I really can’t see how it is better than The Thousand Autumns.
I haven’t read any of the others. I had planned to read the shortlist, but not sure I’d enjoy all of them. Of choosing the shortlist from the longlist of 13, Chair of Judges Andrew Motion said: “In doing so, we feel sure we’ve chosen books which demonstrate a rich variety of styles and themes – while in every case providing deep individual pleasures.” Does that mean the judges deliberately select a range of styles rather than the six best just so that everyone can find something on the shortlist they’ll like? Who knows. Apart from the glaring omissions, the list is broad and there are some genuine contenders left…
There has been a mixed reaction to Room by Emma Donoghue, but it is certainly generating much comment. Lisa @ ANZLitLovers disliked it immensely. The Guardian newspaper has been more generous in its praise.
The celebrated experimental novel C by Tom McCarthy is also generating a lot of interest and has been installed as favourite. This is the kind of novel I’d like to get my hands on…
What are your thoughts on the shortlist? Any favourites? Any favourites that didn’t make it through?
The Longlist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize has been announced. It’s a wide-ranging and interesting ‘Booker Dozen’, ie: 13 novels.
Peter Carey gets his expected nod for Parrot and Olivier in America, as does Christos Tsiolkas for The Slap. There are no first-time novelists. Interestingly, Ian McEwan’s Solar misses out.
As ever, the prize is determined by the group of judges assembled each year. This year’s prize is chaired by Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate, and features some highly qualified judges to assist him. I think we should see a very exciting shortlist and winner if the longlist is anything to go by. What price another Carey win?
Peter Carey Parrot and Olivier in America (Faber and Faber)
Emma Donoghue Room (Pan MacMillan – Picador)
Helen Dunmore The Betrayal (Penguin – Fig Tree)
Damon Galgut In a Strange Room (Grove Atlantic – Atlantic Books)
Howard Jacobson The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury)
Andrea Levy The Long Song
(Headline Publishing Group – Headline Review)
Tom McCarthy C (Random House – Jonathan Cape)
David Mitchell The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Hodder & Stoughton – Sceptre)
Lisa Moore February (Random House – Chatto & Windus)
Paul Murray Skippy Dies (Penguin – Hamish Hamilton)
Rose Tremain Trespass (Random House – Chatto & Windus)
Christos Tsiolkas The Slap (Grove Atlantic – Tuskar Rock)
Alan Warner The Stars in the Bright Sky
(Random House – Jonathan Cape)
I usually don’t get excited by longlists, but this one looks very strong. I’m particularly interested in the wonderfully packaged Skippy Dies by Paul Murray -widely said to be hilarious. Also, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet has had quite good reviews. But the overwelhming early favourite is The Long Song
by Andrea Levy. What are your thoughts on the list?
Posted in Literary Festivals, Literary Prizes, tagged 2666, Amulet, Australian Tragic, Australians: Origins to Eureka, Brooklyn, By Night in Chile, Chris Andrews, Colm Toibin, EM Forster, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Geordie Williamson, Hugo Bowne-Anderson, Illywhacker, Kirsten Tranter, Magic Realism, Man Asian Literary Prize, Mark Twain, Peter Carey, Raise the Red Lantern, Roberto Bolano, Su Tong, SWF, SWF2010, The Boat to Redemption, The Legacy, The Portrait of a Lady, The Savage Detectives, The Water Dreamers, The Wayward Tourist, Thomas Keneally, Virginia Woolf, Wives and Concubines on May 23, 2010| 1 Comment »
Another damp day in Sydney saw the close of the Sydney Writers’ Festival for 2010. Peter Carey is giving the official closing address, which along with many of the sessions will be available from the SWF website. It was another very interesting day. This is a long post but I assume that readers can see which session interests them and read those summaries:
1. ‘Portraits of a Lady’ with Colm Toibin and Kirsten Tranter in conversation with the learned Geordie Williamson, in part discussing their work’s (Colm’s Brooklyn & Kirsten’s The Legacy) relationship with Henry James’ famous novel, although the discussion covered more than this, with Colm in particular showing his encyclopedic knowledge of James, his life, and his work. Geordie opened the session with a quote of Virginia Woolf’s review of (I think) Henry James’ Letters; Colm told the story of how Virginia and her sister (and everyone else in London at the time) wanted to impersonate James. James was a great friend of Virginia’s parents and was over for dinner one evening and was telling a story in his own unique way, rocking on his chair as he spoke, until he rocked a little too far and fell toppled over, but what amazed Virginia was that he kept talking through the entire descent!
Geordie asked the authors how it was that they squared with themselves the task of taking on the ‘monolith’ of James. Kirsten told the story of how The Portrait of a Lady itself was James’ response to George Eliot’s Middlemarch, so this gave her a sense of confidence that such a project was appropriate. Cue Colm’s very witty reason: he used to work a summer job in the motor tax office, ‘sorting paper records covered in dust and grime and dirt’. Said Colm: ‘In the day, I worked in the tax office, and at night I read The Portrait of a Lady'(!) He was astonished with the idea of a secret held to the end of a story, and was puzzled and intrigued by James, and what appears on the surface to be the ‘style of morality’ but is really ‘the morality of morality’. Geordie then asked about the different structure that each author took in their novels, with Kirsten favouring a fairly direct use of James’ structure (with some ‘grafted-on’ mystery elements, as well as changing the scandal from infidelity to the artist’s authorship of her work). Kirsten purposefully did not re-read Portrait before writing her work, though she did dip into it. Colm stripped out a lot of the original structure. He noted that a lot of James’ work is poor, some of short stories in particular (often written quickly for money), but also some of his longer works. Colm said ‘James struggled to write about the English’, but he did have a gift in his great novels of using a very intimate third person narrative which allows the reader to ‘become the character’. Colm said James did this very well and Portrait is a great example. In Brooklyn, Toibin said he limits his protagonist Ellis Lacey’s ‘ambition’, but he allows her the ability to observe events and surroundings with ‘full intelligence’. A question was asked as to whether Henry James would have written great works had he been openly gay; Colm replied that EM Forster wrote a story which was openly gay but it was very bad because everything was given to the reader, whereas in other works his use of metaphor works, and the same could be said of James. Another observation of Colm was that James, whilst very wealthy, wrote poverty well. Colm clearly has both the gift of the gab – and the intellect to back it up. A very interesting session that covered so much more than the premise allowed.
2. ‘The Boat to Redemption’ – Su Tong in conversation with Linda Jaivin (who also translated). Another great session. Su Tong has a wonderfully sunny disposition which came across even through Linda’s interpretation. Tong’s books have included Wives and Concubines – which was made into the acclaimed film, Raise the Red Lantern – and others, with his latest novel The Boat to Redemption winning the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2009, making a total of seven novels, and over 200 short stories. The story is set in the Cultural Revolution – the time in which Su grew up. He saw people with placards around their necks with their crimes inscribed thereon and wondered what their struggles and stories were. There is violence in his novels, but he defends this by saying that ‘violence was a part of everyday life.’ Su said he is now very awake to the ‘nightmare and corruption of his childhood’ and all its ‘blackness’.
Interestingly, Linda noted that the title of the novel in Chinese means ‘River, Shore’ – it is set on a river, its narrator a young boy whose father decided to move from the shore to the river and they haven’t set on land since. Su Tong’s own parents once lived on an island on the mighty Yangtze River, so for him the river was his world. Yet the feeling of a river lends itself more to poetry than novels, so writing a story about the river proved a great challenge even for someone with his background.
Su said that he sees himself as a doctor that looks at the ills of humanity and figures out what needs to be done. He says it is common in China for doctors to cut out diseased tissue and show this to their families; Tong says this is what he does with society, he cuts out the rotten tissue and shows it to us – a nice metaphor. We then had quite a funny description of how young people learnt about sex in China, with Linda noting the theme of sexual anxiety that it present in a lot of Chinese literature, including Su Tong’s work. Mothers commonly tell their children when they ask ‘where do babies come from?’ that they come from the mother’s armpit or they are found on the street. Su Tong was told he was taken from a boat. He and his friends found out about sex from The Barefoot Doctor, the book given to rural people who were given very basic medical training. Says Tong: ‘We studied Mao in class, and The Barefoot Doctor at home.
We then arrived at Linda’s observation about the English translation. Linda read both the Chinese and English version simultaneously and was appalled at the differences between them. Important sentences had disappeared, chapters had been moved, and the overall elegance of the Chinese version did not fully come across. This was meant as a compliment to Su Tong’s Chinese version, but of course, we in the audience suddenly felt like we were getting a far inferior version. The explanation was that the English translation was taken from his second draft, and not his final draft, the publishers were anxious to get the book out! Tong blames himself for this, but the obvious question – which was indeed forthcoming from the audience – was: ‘will there be a ‘proper’ English translation published?’ I was certainly thinking this, but I had already bought the book the other night! Of course, the point that should have been made was: it was the English version that won the Man Asian Prize and had Colm Toibin singing its praises on Thursday night in the ‘Judges & Winners’ session. So whilst I have not read it yet and will provide a review soon, I’m aghast to think that there are people out there that wont read it because they feel it is a poor book, and I for one am looking forward to reading River, Shore.
3. ‘Reading Roberto Bolano’ – with Hugo Bowne-Anderson and Chris Andrews (translator of several of Bolano’s works into English), with chair Don Anderson. Bolano has captured the imagination of many readers since his premature death with his mysterious and incredibly prolific writing. Don noted in his introduction that Bolano said ‘magic realism stinks’, but he also said of Garcia Marquez, that some of his novels were ‘perfect’ – and this in a nutshell gives us a glimpse into the elusiveness of Bolano. Hugo spoke at length about Bolano’s works, observing that either of By Night in Chile or Amulet (see my review), are good ways into his work.
Chris then gave us a particularly well-constructed talk on what he saw as the five characteristics of Bolano: Energy; Tension; Totality; Ehtics; and, Poetry. He quoted the opening lines of The Savage Detectives and noted its lack of adjectives as well as the immediate sense of a ‘vibration’ of energy. Tension is ‘something that Bolano can create out of nothing’, and Chris noted that quite often his short stories, like Poe’s short stories, reveal a hidden structure at the end and what you thought you were reading turns out to be something entirely different. Yet many of Bolano’s novels eschew endings. Instead we have very open endings. Bolano wants to work the reader hard; he attempts to retain a sense of mystery, and wants understanding to be elusive. In terms of the ‘totality’, both Chris and Hugo noted how Bolano’s works are related and connected. However, Chris observed that there are many inconsistencies – characters’ reappear in other books but sometimes with different names. Thus, there is some sense of a plan behind the totality of the work, but not a real plan given all these inconsistencies. Chris said that these are a small price to pay for the whole. Ethics: Bolano was quite a moralist in his fiction (if not in life). His cardinal vice was ‘cosying up to power’, whilst his cardinal virtue is courage – a view that I share wholeheartedly. Courage in Bolano’s works is often represented by duels. Finally, poets are everywhere in Bolano’s stories, both as a metaphor for the creative class but also because Bolano himself was a poet before he began writing novels. Poetry is important to him.
Chris was asked about the method of interpretation, and gave an interesting insight when he said that often the first translation is very dry and awkward and does not retain the poetry of the original; it takes a lot of work to then arrive at a real sense of the original Spanish in English. An observation was then made from a member of the audience which the panel agreed with, as do I, when it was argued that had Bolano lived a long life, the sense of a real plan interlinking his entire work may never have been forthcoming, and we would have instead what we have now, a lack of a definitive ending to everything, where, appropriately enough, the session was ended! Very interesting. I have The Savage Detectives and 2666 on my shelf, their weight pressing down into the wood, but feel now that I have a much greater awareness of what awaits me.
4. ‘Australian Stories’ with Thomas Keneally (Australians – Origins to Eureka), Jack Marx (Australian Tragic), Michael Cathcart (The Water Dreamers), moderated by Richard Glover. A fun romp through some tall tales, interesting facts, and myths that each author has come across as an antidote to the view in school-children that ‘Australian history is boring’. Richard opened the session with Mark Twain’s famous quote from his journey to Australia, which Peter Carey used as a quote before his excellent Illywhacker, and which appears in the excellent: The Wayward Tourist: Mark Twain’s Adventures in Australia (see my review), that Australia’s history ‘reads like the most beautiful lies’.
There were some interesting observations made by each panelist. For instance, Jack believed that one Australian myth is that of ‘mateship’ – he felt there is nothing special about Australian male bonds than anywhere else in the world. Tom noted that one myth is the notion that all aboriginals were ‘supine’ to white settlement. This was an interesting observation for me, for I am well aware that many of the aboriginals of the day openly resisted. This notion was explored further after a question on why the stories of violence toward aboriginals goes untold. Again, I found this an interesting assertion, as I was aware of these stories myself, but perhaps they are untold. Jack observed that the violence continues today, providing the example of the indigenous man killed a couple of years back on Palm Is by a policeman and the lack of punishment. Michael’s myth is the notion that ‘everyone died searching for an inland sea’, noting the irony that as far as he was aware, the only man to die whilst searching for an inland sea was a man by the name of ‘Poole'(!).
All-in-all, the session was proof that there is a myriad of interesting stories that constantly fuel and refuel our understanding of the past, and the idea that those things that are swept under the carpet or assumed to be isolated things in our history, and thus unimportant, are actually rife within the primary records of the day, and it is not hard to find facts and myths and wonderful things if we merely open the page – an apt thought on which to end my musings on the 2010 SWF – thoroughly enjoyable, inspiring, fun, and yes, a little damp, but my mind was definitely expanded.
Let me know your thoughts. What were your SWF highlights?
Posted in Literary Festivals, Literary Prizes, tagged Booker Prize, Every Secret Thing, Jackie French, Marie Munkara, Parrot and Olivier in America, Pasha Malla, Peter Carey, Steven Amsterdam, SWF, SWF2010 on May 22, 2010| Leave a Comment »
1. Marie Munkara: in conversation with Irina Dunn – A very entertaining chat. Irina had done her homework and Marie was very engaging. She also read a few sections from her award winning book Every Secret Thing. The book recently won the Northern Territory Book of the Year Award and also won the David Unaipon (the first published indigenous author and the man on the $50 Australian note) Award for unpublished indigenous authors. The story centres on the Catholic missionaries in aboriginal communities, and is laced with vibrant humour. Marie was born on a riverbank of mixed parentage. She told us how her mother had been “promised” from birth to an aboriginal man (who had multiple wives), but refused to marry her and was sent away with the newborn Marie in shame to Tiwi Islands. But Marie was separated from her mother when aged three and was raised a Catholic. Needless to say, the mission clergy don’t get an easy ride in her book! The book’s second half becomes a lot darker, tracing the demise of the aboriginal community as alcohol is introduced. Marie talked of how she was then reunited with her mother at the age of 25 – at which point she had to learn all her culture from scratch (and almost re-learn her languages too). Marie knows many aboriginals who still struggle to find their own place after being raised in the missions. Fortunately for her, and us, she has found her place, and I went straight to Gleebooks to purchase Every Secret Thing. Stay tuned for a review.
2. Peter Carey in Conversation with John Freeman (editor of Granta). It always interesting hearing Peter Carey talk – as well as read from his novels. Here he was talking of his recent work Parrot and Olivier in America. He said he had been asked many times when he was going to write an ‘American’ novel, and had one on the go which he wasn’t enjoying when the idea for True History of the Kelly Gang came to him. So he dropped the former and went with Kelly – to much success and acclaim of course, winning the Booker Prize for the second time. It was after this that he began to return to the American theme and what better theme to tackle than Democracy. The book is based on Alexis De Tocqueville’s travels to America where he wrote Democracy in America amongst two other works. Carey talked of his horror of the Bush-Chaney Presidency and noted that whilst De Tocqueville’s more affirming viewpoints on democracy are well-known in the US, he was actually quite ambivalent about democracy and saw its ills, noting his worries about the position of the President itself. Said Carey: “De Tocqueville saw [Sarah] Palin coming.”(!) There followed a discussion on the relationship between ‘free will’ & ‘free markets’, Carey seeing the ills of the capitalist machine – including its vice-like grip on government. In writing Parrot and Olivier in America, Carey said he was most concerned with getting the voice of Olivier right – the voice of an aristocratic Frenchman – but in the end he said it was a matter of class, and here he drew on his own experience of the differences between Geelong Grammar – perhaps the finest private school in the country, and certainly home to many of the Australian ‘elite’ (though I shudder to use such a term) – and his upbringing in Bacchus Marsh, an interesting insight into how an author draws on their experience, no matter how oblique, and renders their story from both memory and imagination. In the end, Carey quite enjoyed writing Olivier. (The voice of Parrot, he said, was ‘less of a stretch’.) John Freeman opened the session by stating that he thought the book Carey’s best. Well, it’s good, but it’s not that good. Illywhacker, Oscar & Lucinda, and True History are better books in my opinion, and I quite enjoyed Jack Maggs and even his first novel Bliss too. That said, Parrot and Olivier is a far better book than his recent work, so it was a welcome enjoyment. Today’s session was interesting, but it lacked something, perhaps John could have done a better job – having enjoyed Irina and Marie’s conversation (see above), this seemed slightly inferior.
3. ‘Writing Short’ – Pasha Malla & Steve Amsterdam with Mandy Sayer – a nice session with both authors reading a short story from their collected stories books and discussing with Mandy the short form – though as Pasha noted, it seems difficult to talk about the short story without talking about its big brother – the novel – too! Mandy made one of the more interesting observations when she posited that people prefer the long stories because they ‘don’t like endings’ – readers love to invest themselves in the company of characters for a time. That said, with everyone’s attention spans shortening seemingly by the day, perhaps the short story will be the preferred format (until, of course, we can’t cope with that and poetry usurps it!).
4. ‘A Wombat at My Table’ – Jackie French talking with Geoffrey Lehmann. Okay, so every now and then I like to go to something completely left-field! And one thing’s for sure, you cannot come into contact with Jackie French and not be in any doubt as to her passion for wombats. She has written stories for children, as well as her adult memoir A Year in the Valley. Geoffrey also read a lovely poem featuring wombats that was published in New Yorker. I came out knowing a lot more about something and had quite a few laughs in the process. Good fun.
I had wanted to get into ‘Still the Lucky Country’ but you have to line up pretty early for the free events, particularly on the weekend, although I had the same issue on Thursday with one session too. Oh well, you can’t get to everything. If anyone was there, let me know how you found it.
What are your SWF highlights? Let me know!
More to come tomorrow, the final day of SWF2010, including a session on Roberto Bolano which I’m quite looking forward to.