Posts Tagged ‘booker shortlist 2011’

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The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymus Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, is arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He is twenty years old. A German citizen. And he is black. Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero’s bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there’s more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero’s fate was settled. In Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don’t tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong …

This is the fourth of this year’s booker shortlist that I have now read.

I loved this novel! Atmospheric, poignant and enormously readable, I actually found it hard to put down. Beautiful writing with such a wonderful sense of time and place that it perfectly transports the reader to the jazz cafes’s of Berlin and Paris in the 1940’s. Narrated by American Sid Griffiths, Hiero’s bandmate, now 83 years old, in an unforgettably, authentic, musical voice. It is through him we see the first uneasy days of WW2 in Berlin, and later the occupation of Paris. Sid, his old childhood friend Chip, and Hiero share a flat with the beautiful Delilah in Paris 1940, and it is while waiting to get out of Paris, in a cafe one day that Hiero is arrested, with Sid the only witness. Fifty years later Sid and Chip travel back to Berlin for a celebration of the music of Hieronymus Falk, which has been made famous by the discovery, some years earlier, of lost recordings hidden in a Paris flat. When Chip reveals some mysterious letters to Sid, it throws everything into turmoil, forcing Sid to look again at the past and his part in it. This is a remarkable story of friendship, betrayl and guilt. It is also a celebration of jazz, with even the mighty Louis Armstrong playing a part, when Sid, Chip and Hiero get to meet the great man, who arranges for them to play with him.
I found the story of Sid and Chip’s friendship, and the uneasy relationship between Sid and Hiero beautifully told and really quite touching.

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Newly arrived from Ghana with his mother and older sister, eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku lives on the ninth floor of a block of flats on an inner-city housing estate. The second best runner in the whole of Year 7, Harri races through his new life in his personalised trainers – the Adidas stripes drawn on with marker pen – blissfully unaware of the very real threat all around him. With equal fascination for the local gang – the Dell Farm Crew – and the pigeon who visits his balcony, Harri absorbs the many strange elements of his new life in England: watching, listening, and learning the tricks of urban survival. But when a boy is knifed to death on the high street and a police appeal for witnesses draws only silence, Harri decides to start a murder investigation of his own. In doing so, he unwittingly endangers the fragile web his mother has spun around her family to try and keep them safe. A story of innocence and experience, hope and harsh reality, Pigeon English is a spellbinding portrayal of a boy balancing on the edge of manhood and of the forces around him that try to shape the way he falls.

This is the third of the booker shortlist for 2011 that I have read.

Pigeon English is a quick read, the narrative voice of an eleven year old boy from Ghana is instantly engaging and carries the reader effortlessly into his world. A world of council estate high rises, gangs, trainers, and the aftermath of a senseless death. There is a pigeon in the story – who narrates a few passages – this I didn’t feel added anything to the story at all. I’m not even sure what the reader is supposed to take from these passages.
I understand that the author has used the real life story of the death of DamiloaTaylor as an inspiration for this story. There have been plenty of successful novels that are told in a child’s voice, last year’s booker shortlisted ‘Room’ in my opinion one of the best. I am not sure if this device isn’t already becoming a bit tired, I’m not sure why this should be so – as every other plot device in fiction is used and used again. However, such works as ‘The Boy in the striped Pyjamas’, ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime’, ‘What was Lost’ and the aforementioned ‘Room’, all of which are brilliant may have diluted slightly the power of the child narrator’s voice. The voice of Harri in Pigeon English is authentic, urban and poignant. His fate feels inevitable. I did enjoy this novel, but it lacked something for me, the story which is told should be more of a punch to the solar plexus than I found it. I am trying to figure out why I felt slightly disconnected from the characters and events.

I am looking forward to the booker announcement this year as I have read some of the shortlist and will be starting another one later.

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Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life.Now Tony is in middle age. He’s had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove.

This is the second of this years booker shortlist that I have read. It is funny how, as a reader one can be affected by the book one has just finished as much as by the one currently being read. Previous to this novel I read ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ another booker shortlisted book. A colourful adventure with memorable imagery and voices. Because of this I think, Julian Barnes novel ‘Sense of an Ending’ paled slightly. This is a huge shame, because it is a beautifully written novel, poignant, minutely and intelligently observed and very clever.

Sense of an Ending is a very slight novel, the only reason I didn’t finish it before is because I was out till bedtime straight from work yesterday. I have read many reviews saying the reader read it in one sitting almost, and I wonder if I would have benefited from not reading it as slowly as I did.
Tony thinks he understands the past, but now in late middle age, retired a grandparent, he must look again at the things he was so certain of. History, memory and philosophy play a big part in this quiet and cerebral novel. I found Tony’s relationship with Veronica, a one time girlfriend, baffling, she’s spiky and difficult, seeming to use him when they are young. The second half of the novel becomes really quite a page turner, as Tony begins finally “to get it” as does the reader. There is a slight mystery at the centre of the story, and the ending – which I hadn’t seen coming, was something of a shock.

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Jaffy Brown is running along a street in London’s East End when he comes face to face with an escaped circus animal. Plucked from the jaws of death by Mr Jamrach – explorer, entrepreneur and collector of the world’s strangest creatures – the two strike up a friendship.Before he knows it, Jaffy finds himself on board a ship bound for the Dutch East Indies, on an unusual commission for Mr Jamrach. His journey – if he survives it – will push faith, love and friendship to their utmost limits

This is an amazing book. It is, I am sure, the sort of book, I will be forced to continue thinking about for days to come. I have downloaded this and two others of the book shortlisted books for 2011 to read before the big announcement on the 18th Oct.

Set in the nineteenth century ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ is the story of young Jaffy Brown, his extraordinary meeting with Mr Jamrach via the jaws of a Bengal tiger, and the adventure of a lifetime that comes later aboard a ship. As a young boy Jaffy comes to work for Mr Jamrach is the East end of London, and here he meets Tim, and his twin sister Ishbel. Jaffy and Tim’s relationship is not always an easy one, petty jealousies and childish fallings out though, give way to a genuine friendship while at sea. The menagerie of the title is the collection of characters on the ship, including Dan Rymer, Skip, Captain Proctor, Gabriel and Rainey. Their friendships and the way this wonderful and terrible voyage and the search for the elusive Komodo dragon, test their humanity, and their ability to survive is breathtakingly told. The writing is wonderful, the descriptions of the sea beautifully poetic. There are some uncomfortable scenes in the later part of the book, but it is hard to put down and hugely readable. I loved the ending, it was somehow just right.

In the acknowledgments Carol Birch tells us of two historical incidents that are almost identical to events in the novel. That just blew my mind all over again.

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