literary awards

Survival of the Knitter

We went on a much-needed mini-break this week. (And by 'much-needed' I really mean 'if I don't get out of this place for more than one day, I will start shouting at strangers on the street and actually bitchslap them if they keep stopping right in front of me.' Have I ever mention that I am a city girl who's not a huge fan of crowds or human beings?)

Anyway. Mini-break.

I brought some knitting and made headway into a project I shouldn't really have cast on (I have too much work knitting to do, but these past few days were me-time). D. brought some books and finished two. I only checked mail twice (good girl) and I lived on a carefully balanced diet of cheese, wine, coffee, and cheesecake. It was lovely.

One afternoon we walked from one small finishing fishing village to another. A scrambling, rambling walk of some 6 miles. Fresh air, plenty of wildlife, and beautiful scenery. Another night we had dinner at Lairhillock Inn which was spectacularly charming: it is a 200-year-old coaching inn set in the countryside about 15 minutes from Aberdeen by car. The inn had a lovely, cosy feel with its dark wooden beams and log fires - and the food was surprisingly excellent in the gastro-pub vein. Locally sourced and freshly prepared food, yum. I succumbed to slow-cooked lamb shank with rosemary mash while my serving of cranachan was so generous, I had to leave half of it.

Do I feel refreshed and ready for another stab at Glasgow life? Uhmm.. er.. we have some very important visitors heading our way next week so hopefully that'll register on the internal energy & joy metre. I just wish I could have enjoyed this view a bit longer this week -->

While I have been away, the Man Booker Prize was announced which went to that jolly good egg known as Julian Barnes (also known as the man who wrote one of the most awful books I have ever read). I have not read his book but I suspect it was the least objectionable and most save-our-face book on the shortlist. I look forward to the Man Booker 2012 long list already. To celebrate I have begun re-reading the 1990 Booker winner. It'll be my .. seventh? .. time reading AS Byatt's Possession: A Romance and like all (good) books it is able to change and grow just as I am changing and growing.

Between Byatt, visitors, cranachan and The Daily Puppy, I may just yet survive.

Thoughts on the Man Booker

I have a love-hate relationship with the Man Booker literary prize. Admittedly the emphasis is mainly on the hate but I always care. In my former life as a literary blogger, I spent many paragraphs explaining why I am both fascinated and repelled by this literary prize. I shall try to keep it succinct this time. The Man Booker prize has come to symbolise an awfully conservative view of what constitutes 'good literary fiction': realist novels, novels set in the past, middle-class novels.. It was not always so, actually. In the mid-90s Scottish novelist James Kelman won with his "How Late It Was, How Late" which was written in a Scottish working-class dialect using a stream-of-consciousness mode. It promptly became The Worst Selling Booker Winner Ever and bookshops complained loudly. The Man Booker has been reliably "safe" since the Kelman win: Graham Swift, Ian McEwan, Peter Carey, Alan Hollinghurst and John Banville. They are all reliable, steady writers who will not cause a revolution in your head and will all make great dinner party fodder.  Sure, there is always a talking point to all the books which is handy for the book group discussions, but the books are never scarily different. I am clearly not the only one who worries about what the Man Booker has become.

I actually really enjoy some of the winners and sometimes the short list throws up some interesting books: Keri Hulme's The Bone People, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake, AS Byatt's Possession and The Children's Book, David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Colm Toibin's The Master, and Tom McCarthy's C among others. But for every one of those books you also get Ian McEwan's Amsterdam (which blooming won) and Atonement, Julian Barnes' England, England, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, Ali Smith's The Accidental, Zadie Smith's On Beauty and Emma Donoghue's Room. Bland literary chamber music in a world that could do with a symphony with blatant nerve.

Andrew Crumey, James Robertson, Alasdair Gray, China Mieville and Jonathan Coe have never been short-listed: too Scottish? too genre? too weird? too .. I don't know why Coe wasn't short-listed for his mainstream (and very wonderful) What a Carve Up! or The House of Sleep except maybe the novels were too angry? Too impolite?

But as you may have gathered, I read quite a few of the nominated books and this year I have read two of the long-listed books, Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child and Jane Roberts' The Testament of Jessie Lamb. Hollinghurst was curiously bland, stifled and aimless underneath the well-crafted prose. Roberts' book started out wonderfully defiant but quickly shrivelled into inconsistent, shrill nonsense. I think the failure of Roberts' book upset me more because I became genuinely interested  by its first two chapters.

Something is adrift in contemporary British literature. I think there are genuinely talented authors writing wonderful, complex, daring works of fiction. Most of them work under the radar whilst the holy 1980s trinity of Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes and Martin Amis continue to gather newspaper inches. A lot of dross have come out of Creative writing programmes too (University of East Anglia, I am looking at you) and I often wonder whether British literature is slowly turning into English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh literature? Regardless, we live in interesting literary times. Too bad the most high-profile literary prize doesn't really seem to be interested.

Ah, I always miss my literary blog this time of year..

It's Friday, Isn't It?

july09 392I appear to be having one of those days when coffee is keeping me upright. I'm working, let there be no doubt about that, but I'm also clutching my coffee cup like there is no tomorrow.

First, though, there is the Booker longlist. After a few years where the prize appeared to be a tiny bit lost, the year's longlist reads like the Hay Literature Festival programme: Sarah Waters, JM Coetzee, Hilary Mantel, AS Byatt, Colm Toíbin, William Trevor and Sarah Hall. Respectable, safe and commercially viable authors.

I used to rant against how the Man Booker Prize was held up as promoting the best and most exciting literary fiction around and how big a sham this notion was - but I think that nowadays the public has seen through the "best and most exciting" hype and expect solid, slightly conservative literary fiction from their Man Booker nominees (and the Man Booker seal of approval has certainly turned into something of a canonisation tool, hasn't it?). At any rate, I should get back to Byatt's novel and pick up Toíbin's Brooklyn - and promptly forget that I may have picked up another three Georgette Heyers..

Oh help me shopping gods, for I have fallen in love with this skirt at the same time as I suddenly have to find an extra £850 in my budget. I have also found Totally Buttons - a site feeding my button obsession (I do not need any more. I have just acquired even more vintage buttons).

Finally, on a very pleasant note: yesterday David and I celebrated four years together. The four years have been rollercoasterish, filled with adventures both good and bad, but we've always been very good together even if Life kept throwing us curve balls for a wee while. Here's to far more years together and hopefully they'll be a tiny bit more .. staid.

(Photo? Our local foxes and their cubs playing in the sunshine..)

Nobel Prize '08

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio? I feel so insular (and Anglophone/-phile) but I had to go look him up. Lengthy discussion on why the US hasn't received a Nobel Prize in Literature for some time (parts of the discussion isn't terribly well-informed but some people do make great points). The Literary Saloon weighs in with a very, very authoritative voice and they should also be your one-stop read for reactions to Le Clezio's win.

The Clare McLean Shortlist

AL Kennedy, the recent winner of the Costa Book Award, has been nominated for the brand-new Scottish literary award, the Clare McLean Award. She is joined on the shortlist by Ali Smith and Alasdair Gray for "Girl Meets Boy" and "Old Men In Love" respectively.

(Oh, did I mention that I have a first edition of "Old Men in Love" signed personally by Gray "To Karie says Alasdair"..? I just thought I'd slip that one in.)

I'm a touch excited by this. I should also get around to reading Gray's latest novel - but I'm slightly anxious that I might defile my lovely copy somehow. Oh.