Posts Tagged ‘booker nominees’

The Garden of Evening Mists, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, is Tan Twan Eng’s second novel. I have already read his previous novel – The Gift of Rain, which I thoroughly enjoyed. In my opinion though, this novel is even better.
This is one of those novels which I feel is difficult for me to do justice. The characters and their heart-breaking stories will stay with me I am certain, along with the images of a Japanese garden in the beautiful highlands of Malaysia.

“I have become a collapsing star, pulling everything around it, even the light, into an ever-expanding void.
Once I lose all ability to communicate with the world outside myself, nothing will be left but what I remember. My memories will be like a sandbar, cut off from the shore by the incoming tide. In time they will become submerged, inaccessible to me. The prospect terrifies me. For what is a person without memories? A ghost, trapped between worlds, without an identity, with no future, no past.”

Malaya 1951 and Yun Ling Teoh a young lawyer having spent some time helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals, comes to Cameron Highlands, a beautiful mountainous area of Malaya, to meet a Japanese gardener; the mysterious Aritomo, the creator of the only Japanese garden in Malaya. This garden is famous for its peace and tranquillity a place for calm reflection.

‘A garden borrows from the earth the sky, and everything around it, but you borrow from time,’ I said slowly. ‘Your memories are a form of shakkei too. You bring them in to make your life here feel less empty. Like the mountains and the clouds over your garden, you can see them, but they will always be out of reach.’

During the war Yun Ling and her beloved sister were interned in a Japanese camp deep in the Malaysian jungle, Yun Ling was the sole survivor of that hidden camp. As her sister was an enthusiast of Japanese gardening, Yun Ling wants Aritomo – a former gardener to the emperor of Japan – to design a garden in her sister’s memory. Aritomo offers instead to teach her to do it herself, telling her she can stay and work with him until the monsoon comes. As time passes Yun Ling becomes more and more drawn to her sensei Aritomo, and comes to appreciate fully his art and his system of gardening using the principles of “shakkei”, borrowed scenery. Slowly Yun Ling begins to tell her story, and the story of her sister and the terrible truths of what they endured at the hands of Aritomo’s countrymen.
During these days of the emergency in Malaya, communist terrorists hide deep in the jungle, emerging now and again to unleash terrible acts of violence. Yun Ling’s friend and sometime host Magnus Praetorius has remained surprisingly unaffected by these attacks, so Yun Ling is able to live on his tea plantation for a time. To the backdrop of the stunning scenery of Cameron Highlands and the coming Monsoon, Eng’s haunting and intense novel builds beautifully, the ambiguity of each character and the mystery of their pasts, making for a brilliant page turner, that is beautifully and intelligently written.
Almost forty years later Yun Ling – now Judge Teoh retires from the bench, and travels back to Yugiri – “evening mists” to negotiate the sale of some of Aritomo’s woodblock prints to an expert in his work. Ill and nearing the end of her life, Yun Ling needs to rekindle some memories and settle the past in her own mind. Surprisingly even after all the years that have passed, there are still mysteries surrounding Artitomo, the reasons for him leaving Japan in the first place, and his later disappearance into the Malay jungle forty years earlier.

This is a beautifully written novel, haunting and rich with imagery, I loved it – and what better thing is there to say about a novel than that. I would heartily recommend it to anyone.
The Garden of Evening mists fully deserves its place on The Booker shortlist. It would be a worthy winner – as would the other two shortlisted books I have read so far. However I don’t think it will win. I don’t think I can really explain why – and it’s certainly not meant as any criticism, because I loved it and think it is wonderfully well written. To me though, it doesn’t feel like a winner – but what do I know? – I have been wrong before.

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As I briefly explained in a recent blog post I do rather love the Booker prize – although I can’t explain why. These days I read far more older novels, than I do contemporary fiction, and yet I still keep a keen eye on the prize – and try to read at least a couple of the long list and shortlist each year. This year I am intending to read all six of the shortlist. Laura recently told me about The Complete Booker and I have decided to become a contributor there too. For a number of years I have been working my way through the list of previous winners – although I have to admit I only decided to do this when I realised I had already read a number of them. Unfortunately most of those were read in the days before I blogged – or later when I wrote tiny piddling little reviews. (All my old reviews were transferred across from livejournal when I decided to move to WordPress at the beginning of the year – but they make pretty poor reading).
So anyway these are the ones I have read so far – it’s a pretty long list now.
2011 The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes
2010 The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson
2009 Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
2008 The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga
2007 Anne Enright – The Gathering
2006 Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss
2005 – John Banville, The Sea
2004 – Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty
2003 – DBC Pierre, Vernon God Little
2002 – Yann Martel, Life of Pi –
2001 – Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang
2000 – Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
1999 – J M Coetzee, Disgrace
1998 – Ian McEwan, Amsterdam
1997 – Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
1996 – Graham Swift, Last Orders
1995 – Pat Barker, The Ghost Road
1993 – Roddy Doyle, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
1992 – Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
1992 – Barry Unsworth, Sacred Hunger
1991 – Ben Okri, The Famished Road
1990 – A S Byatt, Possession
1989 – Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
1988 – Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda
1987 – Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger
1986 – Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils
1985 – Keri Hulme, The Bone People
1984 – Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac
1983 – J M Coetzee, Life & Times of Michael K
1982 – Thomas Keneally, Schindler’s Ark
1981 – Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children
1979 – Penelope Fitzgerald, Offshore
1978 – Iris Murdoch, The Sea, the Sea
1977 – Paul Scott, Staying On

1973 – J G Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapul
1971 – V S Naipaul, In a Free State

Of those I have yet to read – I have three currently resting on my TBR shelves – Nadine Gordimer’s ‘The Conservationist,’ William Golding ‘Rites of Passage’ and Bernice Rubens ‘The Elected Member’. Sometimes I have the feeling I have only those left to read that I’m not sure I want to read – but I have been pleasantly surprised by Booker books before. I put off reading A Life of Pi for years thinking it wasn’t for me – only to find I loved it. I have liked far more of them than I have disliked, although I have to admit to not having liked The Booker of Bookers Midnight’s Children, and I really disliked The Finkler Question, some were tough going like The Siege of Krishnapul and The Sea by John Banville. Others however remain books I will always love; they live in my memory even those I read years ago, ‘The English Patient,’ ‘The Bone People’, ‘Wolf Hall,’ ‘Staying on’, ‘Offshore’ among others. With so few left to read on the list though I have to keep going, hopefully the enthusiasm of other Booker readers will keep me going.

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Jack is five. He lives with his Ma. They live in a single, locked room. They don’t have the key. Jack and Ma are prisoners.

This is really an astonishingly good book, and deserving of all the "hype" it truly is a hard to put down book.  The story is told to us by Jack himself, Jack turns five as the novel opens. He and Ma are held by his mother’s kidnapper – in an 11 foot square room, built in the back yard of "Old Nick’s" house. His mother has been held there for seven years. The narrative voice of this most extraordinary of child narrators is brillaint, and credible. How Emma Donoghue has managed to climb inside the mind of a 5 year old child so completely I don’t know, but that is what she has done, and in so doing, she makes Jack’s world our world. Jack’s whole world is Room, he sleeps n Wardrobe, and sometimes in Bed, he loves Plant, Meltedy Spoon and Rug and knows that everything inside Room is real, and everything on TV just pictures, things that are not real are TV. One day Ma reveals that there is a whole world outside Room, with other people in, just like on TV. Now Ma explains, she needs Jack to help her.  The relationship between Jack and Ma is beautifully portrayed, we see Ma, and the terrible toll of her captivity through the eyes of her child, the child she has protected by making Room his world.  It is Jack’s total devotion to Ma that is so utterly heartbreaking. An unforgettable story with an unforgettable narrator. Emma Donoghue’s use of language is so extremely clever that I can’t imagine this ever working in a visual context – ie film. Loved it.

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‘You cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames.’ It is Bougainville in 1991 – a small village on a lush tropical island in the South Pacific. Eighty-six days have passed since Matilda’s last day of school as, quietly, war is encroaching from the other end of the island. When the villagers’ safe, predictable lives come to a halt, Bougainville’s children are surprised to find the island’s only white man, a recluse, re-opening the school. Pop Eye, aka Mr Watts, explains he will introduce the children to Mr Dickens. Matilda and the others think a foreigner is coming to the island and prepare a list of much needed items. They are shocked to discover their acquaintance with Mr Dickens will be through Mr Watts’ inspiring reading of “Great Expectations”. But on an island at war, the power of fiction has dangerous consequences. Imagination and beliefs are challenged by guns. “Mister Pip” is an unforgettable tale of survival by story; a dazzling piece of writing that lives long in the mind after the last page is finished.

I loved this booker shortlisted novel. I was attracted to it because I absolutely love Great Expectations – I have read it four times, and although not a particular fan of Dickens (though I did read them all) I really love GE. Fans of GE will love the passages in which Mr Watts celebrates and brings to life the world of GE, allowing his pupils a relationship with Pip. The novel takes a brutal turn however, as the reality of war in the 1990’s comes to the village. This is a story about the power of story telling and immagination, and also of survival.

The ending was strange in a way – we suddenly go through about ten or fifteen years of Matilda’s like in just twenty or thirty pages. This serves to further illustrate the powerful effect Mr Watts and GE had upon her, and I did smile when she goes to Rochester to a Dickens exhibition, and sees a wax model of the great man posed in a scene – and mutters “I have met Mr Dickens and this is not him” Brilliant stuff.

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It is June 1962. In a hotel on the Dorset coast, overlooking Chesil Beach, Edward and Florence, who got married that morning, are sitting down to dinner in their room. Neither is entirely able to suppress their anxieties about the wedding night to come

This is without doubt an absolute masterpiece. Beautifully written, moving almost unbearably so at times it is both a minutely observed tale of social and sexual mores just before the explosion of the sexual revolution, and a bitter sweet story examining how two lives can be changed forever, by not communicating. Wonderful!!

I have now ordered two more of the booker short list – like I haven’t got enough books.

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One of the books on the booker longlist

Penang, 1939, sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton is a loner. Half English, half Chinese and feeling neither, he discovers a sense of belonging in an unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. The enigmatic Endo is bound by disciplines of his own and when the Japanese invade Malaya, threatening to destroy Philip’s family and everything he loves, he realises that his trusted sensei – to whom he owes absolute loyalty – has been harbouring a devastating secret. Philip must risk everything in an attempt to save those he has placed in mortal danger and discover who and what he really is. With masterful and gorgeous narrative, replete with exotic and captivating images, sounds and aromas – of rain swept beaches, magical mountain temples, pungent spice warehouses, opulent colonial ballrooms and fetid and forbidding rainforests – Tan Twan Eng weaves a haunting and unforgettable story of betrayal, barbaric cruelty, steadfast courage and enduring love.

This is one of those books that will live on in my memory for a long time. The story itself is unforgettable, often sad and brutal it recreates a devastating period in history. The writing itself though is wonderful, I started to feel I knew Penang and its people and saw every terrible thing that happened there, but also saw the lush beauty of Endo-San’s island. Tan Twan Endo skillfully allows the reader to witness this most violent and cruel of times without it ever becoming so ugly that you want to skip parts or look away.

A worthy booker nominee – the first of them I have read – but I hope it wins.

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