Sunday, 20 September 2015

Reading the Booker Shortlist

I'll probably jinx this now I'm posting about it but I'll be reading the Booker Shortlist this year. My cousin started the trend in 2014 and this time round, in my bid to read more contemporary books (and because I like the look of quite a few of them this year) I decided to join her.

Or possibly I guilted her into doing it again. The arrangements were made via email so it's hard to be clear.

I started with Satin Island by Tom McCarthy. This is what I think of (possibly wrongly) as solid Booker fodder, falling firmly into the realm of literary fiction.

Satin Island takes us inside the head of a character called U, an anthropologist trying to take in the whole of the tribe of modernity as his study, finding connections where perhaps they don't exist, drawing parallels between CEOs and high priests, oil spills and ink blots and cancer.

All of which is really enjoyable and novel at first, but he goes on doing it and he goes on doing it and by two thirds of the way you find you're hoping for it to either end or coalesce in some way, twine into itself and make sense. Not even necessarily in a grand unified theory of anything. Just in a small way would do, a minor insight or.. I don't know.

The endings not the best part, that's all.

A Spool of Blue Thread is much more straightforward. It's a family saga over three generations. The most recent written first, then back, then back, then forward again. This sounds confusing but actually makes perfect sense. As we go back we hear secrets that change our perception of the present, and of course this reflects how we truly understand families - especially our own - in reality. No-one gets a handbook or a 'story so far' when they're born. What they get is a group of people to grow into and love, learning their dynamics and their quirks and the metal they're made of. It's only as we grow up and grow older that we hear the history - some semi-secret, some not - that explains those quirks to us.

So A Spool of Blue Thread rings true. What I didn't think (and this may very well be a reflection of my own inverted snobbery) was that this was Booker material. I think of Booker material as meaningful, significant, different, a bit pseuds corner.

I'd be happy to be proved wrong, but I don't think simply being extremely well-written and engaging is going to be enough.

In the meantime, on to the next..

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