BETH’S BLOG OCTOBER 2016
The announcement of the finalist for the Man Booker Prize 2016 is rapidly approaching. I have read two of the short list contenders – Hot Milk and Eileen. Hot Milk, written by Deborah Levy, is a complex tale of the push-pull of mother-daughter dependency. Situated in southern Spain where Sofia has brought her mother for treatment of an indefinable occasional paralysis, the book is a brilliant example of two unreliable narrators, each trapped in the fury of their bodies, and their angry relationship. Levy has won numerous awards for her works of fiction and her playwriting.
Otessa Moshfegh, an American of Croatian and Iranian descent, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the winner of the Pen Hemingway Award. Her main character, Eileen Dunlop, is the product of a loveless marriage; she dreams of escaping the poor and dreary New England town where she has been raised by an alcoholic father. Her chance arises when she meets the self-confident and cheerful Rebecca at the local prison where both young women are working. But the crime Rebecca has plotted threatens a complicity which Eileen has not considered – but which suits her urge to leave her life behind her. This is a dark and clever novel by an original new author.
The Man Booker Prize will be announced on October 25th. All of the titles are available in Boekhandel van Rossum.
The Australian author, Graeme Simsion, who delighted readers with his hilarious yet compassionate books The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect, bases his brand new novel on the songs which define our lives. The author recommends we download his playlist before we begin. This is a trip down memory lane. In The Best of Adam Sharp, Adam is a contented fifty-year old consultant who thrives on his musical expertise at the local Norwich pub-quiz and dreams of his three-month affair twenty years earlier with Angelina in Melbourne, Australia. But the What-ifs begin to dominate his life when Angelina suddenly contacts him. What to do with his life now? A surprising look at the ups and downs of existence from a terrific writer.
Jonathan Safran Foer, best known for his novels Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything is Illuminated, has now produced the great American Jewish novel in his epic, 500 page Here I Am. Despite criticism for its length, the book is a masterpiece of virtuoso writing. Foer crawls into the skin of his narrator as he observes his marriage crumbling, his sons not responding to the carefully planned upbringing of the perfect parents, his Israeli relatives reflecting a totally different Jewish lifestyle. This is some of the best characterization in I have seen from Foer. This is a hip, perceptive, shocking, frustrating mammoth of a book which will make you laugh and cry.
Don’t miss Ian McEwan’s new book which apparently is a take-off on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The main character is a foetus in the the womb of his mother who is determined to murder her husband and marry his brother, her lover. He is close to being an all-knowing narrator, something of a trick when he is still in utero. As unlikely as the scenario is, McEwan carries it off with his usual brilliance.
My absolute favourite of the season, however, is Amor Towles new book A Gentleman in Moscow.
Count Alexander Rostov, living in splendor in his hotel suite of the Hotel Metropol in Moscow, is informed some five years after the Russian Revolution of 1917 that he has become a non-person and will be required to move to the hotel attic. Ever the gentleman who takes everything in his stride, the Count resigns himself to permanent house arrest and then proceeds to make the most of it. This is a lovely, warm, funny, tragic story of how one survives one’s time while remaining ever the gentleman. A wonderful read.