I have loved the Orange Prize from the very beginning, and it has steered me towards some wonderful book over the years.
The longlist for 2010 was published today and, as ever, there was some predictable names, some new and unfamiliar names and some surprising omissions. Margaret Atwood was the most notable absentee, and the names Evie Wyld and Anna Lawrence-Pietroni that I had been sure would be there were not.
It’s always the way. And some writers – most notably A S Byatt – don’t allow their books to be put forward because the dislike the concept of a prize for women only. So who knows who has opted out and who has been omitted?
It’s an interesting issue, but probably one for another day. Today is about the books.
I like the look of this year’s list. I’ve only read two of the books, but I have several more to hand, a couple on order, and a few more to look into.
And here is the list:
The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison (Alma Books)
“England, 31st August 1939: the world is on the brink of war. As Hitler prepares to invade Poland, thousands of children are evacuated from London to escape the impending Blitz. Torn from her mother, eight-year-old Anna Sands is relocated with other children to a large Yorkshire estate which has been opened up to evacuees by Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, an enigmatic childless couple. Soon Anna gets drawn into their unravelling relationship, seeing things that are not meant for her eyes – and finding herself part-witness and part-accomplice to a love affair, with unforeseen consequences.”
I have this one to hand, and it looks lovely. I’m very pleased to see it on the list.
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton (Granta)
“A high-school sex scandal jolts a group of teenage girls into a new awareness of their own potency and power. The sudden and total publicity seems to turn every act into a performance and every platform into a stage. But when the local drama school decides to turn the scandal into a show, the real world and the world of the theatre are forced to meet, and soon the boundaries between private and public begin to dissolve.”
I borrowed this one from the library a while back, but I just couldn’t get on with it. Not a bad book – a lot have people have praised it and predicted that it would be on this list – but probably not the book for me.
Savage Lands by Clare Clark (Harvill Secker)
“Louisiana, 1704, and France is clinging on to a swampy corner of the New World with only a few hundred men. Into this precarious situation arrive Elizabeth Savaret, one of a group of young women sent from Paris to provide wives for the colonists, and Auguste Guichard, the only ship’s boy to survive the crossing. Elizabeth brings with her a green-silk quilt and a volume of Montaigne’s essays; August brings nothing but an aptitude for botany and languages. Each has to build a life, Elizabeth among the feckless inhabitants of Mobile who wait for white flour to be sent from France; Auguste in the ‘redskin’ village where he has been left as hostage and spy. Soon both fall for the bewitching charisma of infantryman Jean-Claude Babelon, Elizabeth as his wife, Auguste as his friend. But Babelon is a dangerous man to become involved with. Like so many who seek their fortunes in the colonies, he is out for himself, and has little regard for loyalty, love and trust. When his treachery forces Elizabeth and Auguste to start playing by his rules, the consequences are devastating.”
I read, and liked, one of Clare Clark’s previous novels, but I hadn’t heard of this one until today. I like the sound of it and an order has gone in.
Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig (Little, Brown)
“Rich or poor, five people, seemingly very different, find their lives in the capital connected in undreamed-of ways. There is Job, the illegal mini-cab driver whose wife in Zimbabwe no longer answers his letters; Ian, the idealistic supply teacher in exile from South Africa; Katie from New York, jilted and miserable as a dogsbody at a political magazine, and fifteen-year-old Anna, trafficked into sexual slavery. Polly Noble, an overworked human rights lawyer, knows better than most how easy it is to fall through the cracks into the abyss. Yet when her au pair, Iryna, disappears, Polly’s own needs and beliefs drag her family into a world of danger, deceit and terror.”
Well, I have to say that I had an idea of Amanda Craig’s books would be like, but this wasn’t it – the perils of making assumptions! The library has it in stock in my branch, so I’ll be looking out, hoping to catch it when it’s returned.
The Way Things Look to Me by Roopa Farooki (Pan Books)
“At 23, Asif is less than he wanted to be. His mother’s sudden death forced him back home to look after his youngest sister, Yasmin, and he leads a frustrating life, ruled by her exacting need for routine. Everyone tells Asif that he’s a good boy, but he isn’t so sure. Lila has escaped from home, abandoning Asif to be the sole carer of their difficult sister. Damaged by a childhood of uneven treatment, as Yasmin’s needs always came first, she leads a wayward existence, drifting between jobs and men, obsessed with her looks and certain that her value is only skin deep. And then there is Yasmin, who has no idea of the resentment she has caused. Who sees music in colour and remembers so much that sometimes her head hurts. Who doesn’t feel happy, but who knows that she is special. Who has a devastating plan.”
Another one I hadn’t heard about before. I’m curious, but there are a few others I want to get to first.
The Twisted Heart by Rebecca Gowers (Canongate)
“When Kit goes to a dance class she is hoping simply to take her mind off her studies. Soon it looks like Joe, a stranger she meets there, might do more than that. But when Kit uncovers a mystery involving the young Charles Dickens and the slaughter of a prostitute known as The Countess, she is sucked back in to the world of books, and discovers how Dickens became tangled up with this horrendous crime.”
I’m delighted to see a couple of Canongate books on the list, and I do like the sound of this. An order has been placed.
This is How by M J Hyland (Canongate)
“When his fiance breaks off their engagement, Patrick Oxtoby leaves home and moves into a boarding house in a remote seaside town. But in spite of his hopes and determination to build a better life, nothing goes to plan and Patrick is soon driven to take a desperate and chilling course of action.”
Well I checked the library catalogue, and it showed that this was in stock in my branch. So I did a quick dash to the library and picked it up. it’s a longer book than I expected, but it looks very promising.
Small Wars by Sadie Jones (Chatto & Windus)
“Hal Treherne is a young and dedicated soldier on the brink of a brilliant career. Impatient to see action, his other deep commitment is to Clara, his beautiful ‘red, white and blue girl’, who sustains him as he rises through the ranks. When Hal is transferred to the Mediterranean, Clara, now his wife, and their baby daughters join him. But Cyprus is no ‘sunshine posting’, and the island is in the heat of the Emergency: the British are defending the colony against Cypriots – schoolboys and armed guerrillas alike – battling for enosis, union with Greece. The skirmishes are far from glorious and operations often rough and bloody. Still, in serving his country and leading his men, Hal has a taste of triumph. Clara shares his sense of duty. She must settle down, make no fuss, smile. But action changes Hal, and Clara becomes fearful – of the lethal tit-for-tat beyond the army base, and her increasingly distant husband. The atrocities Hal is drawn into take him further from Clara; a betrayal that is only part of the shocking personal crisis to come.”
I have this in my library pile. I admired Sadie Jones’ first novel, but it was a hard book to love. Too bleak a world view and too many unpleasant charaters. This sounds like it could go the same way, but I have to give it a try.
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (Faber and Faber)
“”The Lacuna” is the heartbreaking story of a man’s search for safety of a man torn between the warm heart of Mexico and the cold embrace of 1950s McCarthyite America. Born in the U.S. and reared in Mexico, Harrison Shepherd is a liability to his social-climbing flapper mother, Salome. Making himself useful in the household of the famed Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and exiled Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky, young Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution. A violent upheaval sends him north to a nation newly caught up in World War II. In the mountain city of Asheville, North Carolina he remakes himself in America’s hopeful image. But political winds continue to throw him between north and south, in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach – the lacuna – between truth and public presumption.”
I know Barbara Kingsolver is very much loved, but I’m afraid I’ve tried her books and I just don’t get it. I’s give her the benefit of the doubt and take a closer look if I some across acopy, but I’m not confident.
Secret Son by Laila Laami (Viking)
“When a young man is given the chance to rewrite his future, he doesn’t realize the price he will pay for giving up his past…Casablanca’s stinking alleys are the only home that nineteen-year-old Youssef El-Mekki has ever known. Raised by his mother in a one-room home, the film stars flickering on the local cinema’s screen offer the only glimmer of hope to his frustrated dreams of escape. Until, that is, the father he thought dead turns out to be very much alive. A high profile businessman with wealth to burn, Nabil is disenchanted with his daughter and eager to take in the boy he never knew. Soon Youssef is installed in his penthouse and sampling the gold-plated luxuries enjoyed by Casablanca’s elite. But as he leaves the slums of his childhood behind him, he comes up against a starkly un-glittering reality…”
Another new-to-me title. Certainly one to investigate.
The Long Song by Andrea Levy (Headline Review)
“You do not know me yet. My son Thomas, who is publishing this book, tells me, it is customary at this place in a novel to give the reader a little taste of the story that is held within these pages. As your storyteller, I am to convey that this tale is set in Jamaica during the last turbulent years of slavery and the early years of freedom that followed. July is a slave girl who lives upon a sugar plantation named Amity and it is her life that is the subject of this tale. She was there when the Baptist War raged in 1831, and she was also present when slavery was declared no more. My son says I must convey how the story tells also of July’s mama Kitty, of the negroes that worked the plantation land, of Caroline Mortimer the white woman who owned the plantation and many more persons besides – far too many for me to list here. But what befalls them all is carefully chronicled upon these pages for you to peruse. Perhaps, my son suggests, I might write that it is a thrilling journey through that time in the company of people who lived it. All this he wishes me to pen so the reader can decide if this is a book they might care to consider. Cha, I tell my son, what fuss-fuss. Come, let them just read it for themselves.” –
A previous winner. I have to admit that I have never read anything by Andrea Levy. I do want to, but os this the best book to start with? Advice would be welcome.
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (Serpent’s Tail)
“Big oil and its twin, corporate corruption, meet their match with Jay Porter, a struggling personal injury attorney down on his luck, who suddenly finds himself in a situation spiralling out of control. Jay knows a boat ride on the Bayou won’t measure up to his wife’s expectations of a birthday celebration, but it’s all he can afford. Once a man of virtuous ideals, he is now just waiting for a break; all that changes when midway through dinner, gun shots and sharp cries for help ring out. When he fishes a woman out of the Bayou, his sixth sense tells him this charitable act will lead to no good. Unravelling the woman’s past, Jay finds himself enmeshed in a web that weaves together greed, politics, and corporate corruption. And the secrets of his own past come back to either haunt or save him.”
I’m not sure that this is my sort of book, but again I’ll take a closer look if I get the chance.
The Wilding by Maria McCann (Faber and Faber)
“17th Century England, and life is struggling to return to normal after the horrific tumult of the Civil War. In the village of Spadboro Jonathan Dymond, a 26-year old cider-maker who lives with his parents, has until now enjoyed a quiet, harmonious existence. As the novel opens, a letter arrives from his uncle with a desperate request to speak with his father. When his father returns from the visit the next day, all he can say is that Jonathan’s uncle has died. Then Jonathan finds a fragment of the letter in the family orchard, with talk of inheritance and vengeance. He resolves to unravel the mystery at the heart of his family – a mystery which will eventually threaten the lives and happiness of Jonathan and all those he holds dear.”
Maria McCann’s first novel (Like Meat For Salt) was extrordinary. I have this on order, and my hopes are high.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (HarperCollins)
“‘Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,’ says Thomas More, ‘and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.’ England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor. Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.”
It won the Booker Prize, so really it had to be on this list too. I liked it, but I know some people struggled with it, and I probably would have found it hard going if I hadn’t had a decent amount of prior knowledge of Tudor history. And for that reason I’m inclined to say that it probably shouldn’t be a two-prize book. But I reserve the right to change my mind!
Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohammed (HarperCollins)
“Aden,1935; a city vibrant, alive, and full of hidden dangers. And home to Jama, a ten year-old boy. But then his mother dies unexpectedly and he finds himself alone in the world. Jama is forced home to his native Somalia, the land of his nomadic ancestors. War is on the horizon and the fascist Italian forces who control parts of east Africa are preparing for battle. Yet Jama cannot rest until he discovers whether his father, who has been absent from his life since he was a baby, is alive somewhere. And so begins an epic journey which will take Jama north through Djibouti, war-torn Eritrea and Sudan, to Egypt. And from there, aboard a ship transporting Jewish refugees just released from German concentration camp, across the seas to Britain and freedom.”
Another one that I’m not sure about …
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (Faber and Faber)
“With America quietly gearing up for war in the Middle East, twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin, a ‘half-Jewish’ farmer’s daughter from the plains of the Midwest, has come to university – escaping her provincial home to encounter the complex world of culture and politics. When she takes a job as a part-time nanny to a couple who seem at once mysterious and glamorous, Tassie is drawn into the life of their newly-adopted child and increasingly complicated household. As her past becomes increasingly alien to her – her parents seem older when she visits; her disillusioned brother ever more fixed on joining the military – Tassie finds herself becoming a stranger to herself. As the year unfolds, love leads her to new and formative experiences – but it is then that the past and the future burst forth in dramatic and shocking ways.”
I didn’t get on with Lorrie Moore’s short stories when I tried them, but that was some years ago now. This sounds interesting, so I’m inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey (Simon and Schuster)
“When George and Sabine Harwood arrive in Trinidad from England George instantly takes to their new life, but Sabine feels isolated, heat-fatigued, and ill at ease with the racial segregation and the imminent dawning of a new era. Her only solace is her growing fixation with Eric Williams, the charismatic leader of Trinidad’s new national party, to whom she pours out all her hopes and fears for the future in letters that she never brings herself to send. As the years progress, George and Sabine’s marriage endures for better or worse. When George discovers Sabine’s cache of letters, he realises just how many secrets she’s kept from him – and he from her – over the decades. And he is seized by an urgent, desperate need to prove his love for her, with tragic consequences…”
I’d like to give this a try but the library doesn’t have a copy in the county. I miss the day when they stocked and promoted all of the Orange books …
The Still Point by Amy Sackville (Portobello Books)
“At the turn of the twentieth century, Arctic explorer Edward Mackley sets out to reach the North Pole and vanishes into the icy landscape without a trace. He leaves behind a young wife, Emily, who awaits his return for decades, her dreams and devotion gradually freezing into rigid widowhood. A hundred years later, on a sweltering mid-summer’s day, Edward’s great-grand-niece Julia moves through the old family house, attempting to impose some order on the clutter of inherited belongings and memories from that ill-fated expedition, and taking care to ignore the deepening cracks within her own marriage. But as afternoon turns into evening, Julia makes a discovery that splinters her long-held image of Edward and Emily’s romance, and her husband Simon faces a precipitous choice that will decide the future of their relationship.”
I am so pleased to see this on the list. I have just started reading, and I am smitten. It’s a beautifully produced book too, and Portobello Books have some intriguing titles, so I’m pleased for them to have the recognition.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Fig Tree)
“Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver. Some lines will never be crossed. Aibileen is a black maid: smart, regal, and raising her seventeenth white child. Yet something shifted inside Aibileen the day her own son died while his bosses looked the other way. Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is by some way the sassiest woman in Mississippi. But even her extraordinary cooking won’t protect Minny from the consequences of her tongue. Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter returns home with a degree and a head full of hope, but her mother will not be happy until there’s a ring on her finger. Seeking solace with Constantine, the beloved maid who raised her, Skeeter finds she has gone. But why will no one tell her where? Seemingly as different as can be, Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny’s lives converge over a clandestine project that will not only put them all at risk but also change the town of Jackson for ever. But why? And for what?”
Well this has been everywhere and I’ve been waiting for a copy to turn up. Nothing so far, but I’ll definitely read it one day soon.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (Virago)
“In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, its owners struggling to keep pace. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become entwined with his.”
Well it’s no surprise to see Sarah Waters on an Orange list – this is her third appearance. I like the book, with a few reservations, but I don’t think it’s her strongest -I’ve a feeling that in the longer term it will be seen as a transitional book. I’d love to see Sarah Waters win, but not with this book please!
What will win? What will be on the shortlist? I have no idea! But I’m aiming to read a few of those books that are calling me beore the shortlist is published, so then I may be able to offer an opinion.
But now tell me – what do you think of this year’s twenty books?:
Is there anything you’d recommend?
Is there anything that you think shouldn’t be there?
Is there anything that should be there, but isn’t?
And which books are you curious about?