Review: How late it was, how late. James Kelman. 

The last book to read of my challenge and it’s a classic Booker prize novel, a little bit unusual and strange and in all honesty – quite hard to read. The book is a stream of consciousness novel written in a heavy Glaswegian accent. Sammy, the protagonist, is a guy who comes across as trying hard to make an honest living but can’t quite help but fall into a dodgy deal to make a quick buck in a ‘just this time’ kind of way. I’ve found these kind of books you’re best off embracing the heavy accent and reading it like that so you get into the flow of the writing. For examples… “He wouldnay even notice she was glowering, no at first.” 

Sammy’s got himself into trouble with the police, and finds himself in jail. However, he doesn’t remember how he got there, except that there were some soldiers ‘sodjers’ around, and he’s lost his sight. The book seems more than a little bit unbelievable at points in how the police just think he’s faking it, then so does the doctor, and then there’s the plot line about his missing girlfriend which is never really followed up. 

I found it a frustrating story overall, but Sammys character is the only one I liked despite his dodgy dealings and slightly shady past. I found myself rooting for him to make good and get himself sorted. 

Without giving away the ending Sammy triumphs over it, not his problems solved but problems dealt with and a plan to move forward with his life. 

It felt strange finishing this novel, the last of my Booker winners list. I’ll write a separate post about the challenge overall, but I’ve always had another book from the list, or from the pile next to my bed to move on to, but now I don’t! 

Sammy on sleep: 

“But the trouble with sleep is ye cannay just fucking command it to happen, it just does. Sleep. Fucking amazing so it is. There he are all wrapped up in yer own body, snug as fuck. Ye lie there like there’s nothing else exists in the world. Ye don’t fucking want anything else to exist.”

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Review: The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

I’ve been reading this book for months and months, I think I checked it out the library last year, pre Christmas. It got so bad they stopped letting me renew it online so I had to go into the library and show them the actual book to prove I hadn’t lost it! But anyway, almost 4 months on I’ve finished The English Patient! The time it’s taken me to read it isn’t a reflection of me not enjoying it, or it being a particularly long novel, I don’t seem to have a specific excuse (reason!) to mind! 
Anyway, onto the novel. It’s set at the end of the Second World War in a half destroyed Italian villa. There are four individuals living there who each start out as very separate people but gradually become intertwined to varying degrees and develop an usual set of relationships.
The book initially centres around Hana, a nurse who has stayed behind in the villa after the bulk of the war effort moved on and out, in order to car for ‘The English Patient’. His true identity is one of the core questions of the book, he is badly burnt following a plane crash in the war and says he doesn’t know who he is.  
The two are soon joined by Caravaggio, a friend of Hana’s father and family and a war veteran who had heard she was there and sought her ought. The fourth and final main character is Kip, an Indian sapper who arrived in the area to help defuse bombs left by the retreating enemy troops. 
I’ve tried to write this so I don’t give away the identity of the English patient or how the characters relationships evolve. Although according to my husband, apparently I’m one of very few people who hadn’t read the book or seen the film, so I might be holding back too much! 
I enjoyed the novel but a result of reading a real book over a long period – and rapidly returning it to the library as soon as I’d finished is that I’ve not got any favourite quotes noted and it felt insincere to Google ideas! 
So there it is – my penultimate Booker prize winning review! Just one novel left to read, the aptly titled “How late it was, how late” in relation to my deadline for completing this challenge! 

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Review: The Sellout – Paul Beatty 

I had planned to read this Man Booker Prize winner last of the list as it’s the most recent winner. However current circumstances meant it’s my 3rd from last read of the winners up to and including 2016! 
The circumstances being that I was on a beach holiday with a paperback copy of The Sellout, but a kindle version of James Kelman’s ‘How late it was, how late’ and a 75% finished library copy of The English Patient back at home! I always prefer to read a real book on a beach than my kindle/phone so this inevitably won! 
I saw Paul Beatty talk at the Southbank Centre along with the other shortlisted authors on the night before the prize announcement. I found he came across as arrogant and like he had numerous places he’d rather be than on the cusp of winning an international literature prize.  
The extract Beatty read that evening from the very start of the book also gave me the impression of arrogance – it is but having finished the book I think bold is a better word for the tone of the book! I think Beatty writes to make you feel uncomfortable and the whole premise of the novel fits this, it’s about a guy who’s been bought up as a psychology experiment by his father deciding racial separation is the best thing for his failing community. 
I think this is a great book for the time we’re in now, not just America but across the world. It took a bit of getting used to but I really enjoyed it and hope to look up Beatty’s previous novels soon! 
Favourite quotes:

“I sit in a thickly padded chair that, much like this country, isn’t quite as comfortable as it looks” 

“Pretty much everything that made the twentieth century bearable was invented in a California garage.” 

“Once, while watching my father typing away at his desk, I asked him where his ideas came from. He turned around, his tongue thick with scotch whiskey, and said, “The real question is not where do ideas come from but where do they go.” 

“If you think about it, the only thing you absolutely never see in car commercials isn’t Jewish people, homosexuals, or urban Negroes, it’s traffic.” 

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Review: Last Orders – Graham Swift 

‘Last Orders’ is the most I’ve enjoyed one of the Booker winners for a while now. It might be in part due to the context in which I read it – the start of a two week tropical holiday with not much else to distract me compared to the usual 10 minutes of reading snatched here and there at the end of a long day at work. 
The novel tells the story of a group of friends from east London, proper old fashioned cockney boys, born and bred.We soon learn that one of the group, Jack has died and has left a request with his wife about where to scatter his ashes. The story follows the trip of the group to fulfil a dead mans wish and in doing so unravels the complex and interlinked ties and tangles their lives have lead and the different directions they could have gone. 
Whilst en route to scatter Jacks ashes they find a suitably fancy car to carry out the deed in “The world looks pretty good when you’re perched on cream leather and looking out at it through tinted electric windows, even the Old Kent Road looks good”. 
Whilst the book is told from a number of perspectives it felt as though the lead was Ray, we hear the most from him and about his family relationships – notably the impact losing his only daughter to go and move in Australia has had. 

“I say, ‘You can’t stop her. She’s eighteen.’ She says, ‘And I’m not.’ And that’s when I realized that it wasn’t that she didn’t want Sue setting off for a new life across the world. It was that she was jealous.”
I liked the perspective of the undertaker in the narrative as an insight into a lesser known world described as people at their strongest and weakest. 

“There must be something that makes you look where you look when you look.”
I particularly like this quote on the feeling of vulnerability of your position at the ‘top’ of a family once your own parents have died. 

“And you wouldn’t think it would make any difference to your immediate safety and security, him not being there any more, when he wasn’t there anyway, as far away alive as dead. Except it takes away a sort of allowance, a sort of margin. It makes you feel you’ve moved to the front, you’re next.”

Finally, I’ve read a few of the reviews from high brow literary types in places like The Guardian and the Independent who criticise the novel for being simplistic or picking up on the debate which raged after the award was given about similarities with a Faulkner novel of a very similar ilk. However my review is made purely on my personal levels of enjoyment having not read the other novel in question! 

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Review: Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey

This is a big book, and it’s taken me a long time to read it. As an aside, I often find that big books take a disproportionately long time to read because they’re bigger and heavier to carry around – obviously not a problem for a more modern electronic approach to reading but this was one I checked out of my local library. 
I’ve just finished reading this book and after such a long time of reading I’m still not completely sure what I thought of it. Parts I really enjoyed and got swept up in, whilst others I felt bored and like I was skim reading for a few chapters before it caught my imagination again. 
Interestingly this is another novel from the Booker list that covers the journey of emigration from England to Australia and the adventures and pitfalls that (see also The Luminaries) and is about people who don’t quite fit in with the norm and for various reasons are slight outcasts in the society. 
The novel follows Oscar, the son of a Plymouth brethren priest, from his childhood on the south coast of England to adulthood as a student where he is introduced to and then justifies his gambling addiction as a means of funding his passage to Australia. 
Lucinda is also introduced to the story as an odd child who loses her parents but inherits their fortunes. A strong and determined young woman she causes a stir with her desire to own and run her own business, unheard of and controversial in late 19th century Sydney. 
Overall, this is a quirky story, with quirky off beat characters. It’s not a very easy read and drags on a fair bit in places, but for some escapism it’s a good read. 
Some favourite quotes:

“He was a queer one alright, as you might expect of someone who did not hold with dancing” 

About a particularly gaudily decorated room

“No one had thought, whilst they spent so extravagantly, that the brilliant settee might have to sit upon the brilliant carpet”

“Simply saying ‘with respect’ does not put it there” 

“Lucinda thought: terrible things always happen on beautiful days. Nothing bad has ever happened to me on a rainy day” 

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Review: The Bone People – Keri Hulme 

This is a complex book wrapped in Maori myth and unusual characters. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did and in fact raced through the first couple of hundred pages on holiday before having to slow back down to my usual pace of reading on normal work weeks! 
The book tells the story of Kerewin, a self confessed hermit who seemingly enjoys being away from the world and separate from her estranged family. This remote and undisturbed life is turned upside down one day by the appearance of Simon, a young mute and semi wild boy. In tracking down where Joe has come from Kerewin becomes entangled in the relationship of Simon and Joe – Simon’s semi-adoptive father, who never quite finished the paperwork to make it official. Whilst Kerewin is cagey about the secrets of her familial estrangement there’s something still in her that values the importance of family and draws her to help the strange father and son. 

The pair have a difficult relationship veering from all encompassing love to abusive and Kerewin bears witness to both ends of the spectrum and whilst it seems beautiful and healing mid way through the novel on an unconventional ‘family’ holiday at a remote beach it later takes a dark and disturbing turn which surprised me. 

Without giving away the ending I was a bit disappointed in it having had such a strong start and a dark twist, but I’d recommend you read it to make your own mind up on whether a different ending could’ve been better. 

(The book has quite a lot of Maori phrases in it but helpfully an index you can flick to at the back of the book too.)

Favourite quotes

“They were nothing more than people, by themselves”

“Here’s to the skeletons we all keep in cupboards” Joe says unsmiling “Here’s to the ones we let out…”

“Life goes on, Ngakau. The weeping doesn’t last forever. Nor does the waiting. You’ll heal, man, back together again.” 

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Review: Schindler’s Ark – Thomas Keneally

I think this book is the first that’s really blown me away of all the Booker winners I’ve read so far. I was (& still am) a bit confused as to why it won the Booker prize for fiction when it is based upon historical events, but I think the fiction comes from not being able to fully verify all that’s in the book and the specifics of some parts. But really don’t let that stop your reading this. 
The story of ‘Schindlers Ark’ is more famously known by the film title of ‘Schindlers List’ (which I’ve never seen but will do now) and even if you’ve not read the book or watched the film you won’t have missed what happened in ww2. 

When I was a student I visited Cracow and Auschwitz while backpacking around Europe. It chilled me then, but the descriptions by Keneally in this book really brought it home to me what the Jewish people went through during ww2.  Oskar Schindler’s story wasn’t one I was familiar with, a German man, initially set on maximising the economic opportunities of industry in the war, but soon enough focused on protecting the Jews who work in his factory. 

“Oskar would lay special weight on this day. “Beyond this day,” he would claim, “no thinking person could fail to see what would happen. I was now resolved to do everything in my power to defeat the system.”  

The presence of his factory of munitions workers becomes almost legendary amongst the prisoners swept up into the concentration camps, and people find endless ways to try and get themselves or their family members into Oskar protection. Despite his German nationality and position of respect and authority with the German authorities the Jews trust him implicitly to do what he can to keep them alive and protect them from the Nazis. 

“For a second it seemed ridiculous for her, a girl whose father had paid fifty thousand zloty for Aryan papers, to say it without a pause, to give it all away to a half ironic, half worried Sudentendeutscher with a glass of cognac in his hand. Yet in some ways it was the easiest thing she’d ever done.”

You know how it ends, but the stories and impact Schindler made, whilst a drop in the ocean of death during ww2, was the ultimate gift, of life to those individuals and hope for families. I think the book is summed up perfectly by this sentence in the prologue. 

“This is the story of the pragmatic triumph of good over evil, a triumph in eminently measurable, statistical, unsubtle terms” 

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