Thursday, 4 January 2007

Booker Prize 2006: The Inheritance of Loss

Being the nerd that I am - the one thing I specifically requested for Christmas was the entire short-list of the 2006 Booker Prize. Now I have decided to bless you all with my thorough review and appraisal of each work blah blah blah.. Basically I'm going to tell you which ones sucked and which one should have won. I'll post them all in individual entries, :)

First off the winner - Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss. You have to know that I was so prepared to fall in love with this book. I fawned over it in bookshops, re-read the back a million times, looked up reviews on the internet and drooled over the cover art. I scoffed at negative comments on the Booker Prize forums (yes, I know - nerd), certain that those people just didn't understand/had no taste/were clearly stupid. I was so excited when I got it - so certain was I that this would be my new favourite book of all time - to be read and reread and recommended. I couldn't wait for it to suddenly "break(s) out into extraordinary beauty" like the Times review on the back cover promised.

What I'm really trying to establish here is just how high my expectations of The Inheritance of Loss were - so you can understand just how massive my disappointment was when I read this book.

There are a number of reasons why this book just didn't live up to the hype- but for me the most important one was the characters. Basically, Desai failed to make me care about them. I think this has a lot to do with the way she structured the story. There are four main characters - A retired judge, his orphaned grand-daughter Sai , the judges cook/servant man and the cook's son Biju. The Judge, Sai and the cook all live together in Northern India near Nepal, while Biju lives in New York. The book switches between India and New York and while there are links made between the sections - with Biju returning to India at the end, I felt that they were tenuous at best. One of the central premises of the book is the love story between Sai - the grand-daughter - and her tutor Gyan. It's supposed to be this tragic story of love destroyed by politics blah blah blah. Desai opens the book at the point where their romance begins to fail and then backtracks. However her attempts to fill in the back-story fail to establish their relationship properly, and as such I really didn't give a shit whether or not their relationship worked, because I had no emotional investment in it.

Desai's much applauded 'poetic language' also failed to grab me. There are some nice lines, interesting images, but overall she lacks the verbal inventiveness of authors like Proux and Ondaatje. I found many of her sentances hard to follow, and would often get bored by an image halfway through her description of it.

Mainly, Desai seems to struggle with the scale of the book, as though she couldn't decide if it should be a tale of Indians in India, or immigrants abroad, whether it would be a family saga or a political/social novel. Where authors like Ondaatje and Roy succeed in combining the personal and the political, Desai resolutely fails.

One other small, really anal, issue I have with this book is probably no fault of Desai's, but I have to air it anyway. The first few words of every chapter are italicised. This would be okay, except that there is no logic or pattern to it. In some chapters the first two words are italicised, in others it's the whole first sentance, sometimes only the words up to the first comma are italicised, sometimes half of the sentance is. At first I didn't notice, but by the end of the book it was driving me CRAZY. Just be warned.

Monday, 4 December 2006

dickens & the (unrelated) artful rendering of paedophilia

hi lovers
i wanted to post a review but i'm halfway through a million books so i might just make a few random comments i.e. i'm reading great expectations at the moment and can i just say dickens is frigging hilarious?? is anyone with me? the man is a comic genius and i never knew...i read a tale of two cities a million years ago and i think the subtle humour was somewhat lost on me..obviously there is much sobriety and melancholy also - it's all very gripping and absorbing but entertaining as well i now find! i'm getting into it hardcore dickens is such a treat to read - and not very difficult either
i also wanted to post the opening section of 'lolita' by nabokov (thanks for the lend soph) because it absolutely took my breath away..i just had to read it really slowly and inhale the beauty of each line..please excuse the wankiness of what i just said but i hope you will think it justifiable when you read this:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted lines. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many year before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.

xx cate

Sunday, 3 December 2006


Hello All!

Believe it or not, and despite all my best intentions, the general busy and exam-ness of my last few weeks has sneakily transformed my bedroom back to its secondary occupation as a landfill site or art installation, depending on how you see it. The fact a small hurricane has swept through my room was pardoned by my parents for the last few weeks firstly because of exams and secondly as I undertook several projects - namely making myself a liquorice allsorts dress and baking a large variety of apple based cakes. Fortunately I can avoid this task no longer without losing my basic freedoms, so here I am, tidying my room. Whilst re-alphabetising my bookshelf (always a pleasant and reassuring task) it came to my attention that Lighthousekeeping, by Jeanette Winterson, has somehow found itself not where it should rightfully be between Wilde and Winton but pride of place as a permanent fixture in my "artfully spontaneous assortment of books i'm currently reading" pile. As i further procrastinate cleaning up, sipping an organic green tea, i shall leave you with some of my thoughts on this book.

The fact is, considering how many times i've read it; this book does deserve to be in this pile. And why have i read it so many times? Firstly, it's really short. Once i even timed myself reading it (i was curious). It took one return train trip to uni, so less than 1.5 hours. Yet for a book that takes such a short time to read the content covered is somewhat amazing. She manages to tell the story of several lives, explore some themes and get all existential in the same amount of words any other author would spend on their introduction. I like her brief style; it's somewhat of a relief. Yet somehow her characters do have depth, even if we can't picture them in detail physically, and the story makes sense, even if it jumps all over the place. Yes, i know this is possibly the most obviously pretentious book. Examples like:

"A beginning, a middle and an end is the proper way to tell a story. But i have difficulty with that method."

are pure gold, but whatever, embrace it i say! Some of it's tacky, clich├ęd or possibly even stupid. But i like it. I do also enjoy the general nautical theme, and i like the cover!

"This is not a love story, but love is in it. That is, love is just outside it, looking for a way to break in."

I'm not going to describe the way "Lighthousekeeping is a way in to the rooms of our own that we secretly inhabit and the lighthouses we strive towards" as the blurb so eloquently puts it, or discuss her storytelling. But i will say, for a book like this, i find it has more integrity than most.
I'm assuming many of you have read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, but has anyone read Gut Symmetries? I read it in April, and it's very similar to Lighthousekeeping, but gets quite science nerdy at times. It too has some awesome wanky lines: "Are your 23 feet of intestines loaded with stars?". Has anyone read it? Or else can recommend any good ones by her or by other similar authors, so i can get this book back on the shelf?


Monday, 27 November 2006

Sup bitches??

Bookclubbers be proud, Cath and I exchanged books last week and then went to the library on the same day for some more bookclubbing love. Hope you're proud at our nerdiness. Cate's sister was certainly impressed, as you may imagine :P

Okay people, now that you're feeling proud, get off your buts and post something. NOW!!!
As for me, I would like to contribute the pre-discovered fact that Artemis Fowl is awe-SUM (thanks cath for the lend!) and that anyone who hasn't read Gossip Girl is missing out on the best trash ever invented. And trust me I know trash.


Tuesday, 21 November 2006


I thought I would break the rules and post a beatiful poem that I love and you guys will hate, just to make our discussion slightly more heated. I feel that calling this conglomeration of words 'poetry' may inspire some hatemail (especially from a certain someone whos name begins with 'c'), and to tell you the truth i hope that it does!

Chronic Meanings - Bob Perelman
The phone is for someone. The next second it seemed. But did that really mean. Yet Los Angeles is full.
Naturally enough I turn to. Some things are reversible, some. You don't have that choice. I'm going to Jo's for.
Now I've heard everything, he. One time when I used. The amount of dissatisfaction involved. The weather isn't all it's.
You'd think people would have. Or that they would invent. At least if the emotional. The presence of an illusion.
Symbiosis of home and prison. Then, having become superfluous, time. One has to give to. Taste: the first and last.
I remember the look in. It was the first time. Some gorgeous swelling feeling that. Success which owes its fortune.
Come what may it can't. There are a number of. But there is only one. That's why I want to.

Does it make anyone angry that this is a really famous poem? It makes me smile. :)

Monday, 20 November 2006

The Bright House

Okay lovies. Just before I say anything remember that I no longer have a brain so don't expect my reviews to be anything elsa-like. Whilst I do read a lot in my semi employed state, I tend to read junk, so please forgive me.

Aside from The Blind Assassin, which I'm not even going to try and review because you guys will all say smarter things than me, the most recent book I've read was The Bright House, by Lyn Hughes. (I know. I'd never heard of it either). The book is set in South Africa in the "turbulent 1950s", and is basically the story of the Bierman family. But the Biermans are no 'ordinary' white South African family - Hermie (the dad) is a radical left wing lawyer, Anton (the son) is gay and Jessie herself falls in love with a black man. To quote Els, awkward.

Although this might sound like a checklist of everything you wouldn't want to be in 1950s South Africa and the book obviously does deal with inequality, poverty and injustice, Hughes manages to make the story more about the characters than the place and time they are in. This is NOT an expose on 1950s South Africa (society nerds I know you're disappointed) but rather a story of a girl, her family, and those around them. Somehow, this makes the underlying issues all the more touching. Although The Bright House left me with a profound sense of sadness, it was not in a hallmark "oh the poor deprived people it's just not fair" sense, but rather something deeper and closer to reality. I found the characters to be grippingly real, from headstrong Jessie and fiery, righteous Hermie (to tell the truth he reminds me of sal!), to haunted Lennie and lonely Anton...the list goes on. Hughes has created these characters to tell the story of South Africa in their own lives, as an undertone, an everyday presence of injustice and I commend her for it. It is beautifully, if simply, written, easy to read but still thought provoking. If this book is available anywhere but Lindfield Library (sometimes I think the books there are a completely different species whatsoever) I recommend you get your cotton picking hands on it asap.

Sunday, 19 November 2006

That'll be Nigel with the bree...

hello chums! (who was i discussing my annoying deja vu over this expression with? george perhaps? remembered it's caro from divine secrets of the ya-ya sisterhood!)
thought it was about time i contributed to this awesome little club we've got going on..elsa you are my hero for setting it up - immaculate work! and your peter carey wikipedia link to this thing is hilarious - let's spread the word/love!
my most recent read has been 'fictions' by jorge luis borges...was part of my 'great books of the twentieth century' uni course - apparently borges is really famous and quite seminal although i'd never heard of him before! he's often called a fore-runner of pomo lit e.g. with his destabilisation of truth, history etc..although you would contest this truth and relativism thing about postmodernism sal? (will have to discuss with you again later!) basically he writes these short stories, many of which begin in a really dry, essayistic style e.g. seeming like a boring book review or something...which then segue into these fantastic (meaning fantasy) totally bizarre stories - which are still written in an objective style as if they are fact not fiction..e.g. a man attempting to dream a son into existence, and then realising he is only someone else's dream (bit like chuang tzu and his butterfly dream!)...most of the stories reflect idealistic philosophy and if anyone is familiar with this i would love to discuss this and its flaws/lack thereof which annoy me no end and have done my head in! anyway they're a good read although quite odd and hard to explain! i have 'fictions' at home if anyone wants to borrow it..some wacky ideas in there but thought-provoking and gets a tick of approval from me overall..
also if you're after a light, yet really well written book definitely go the '44 Scotland Street' series by alexander mccall smith...about these quirky residents of an apartment building in edinburgh..very witty and charming and if you read it let me know so we can obsess about bertie and wanting to live in edinburgh and being an anthropologist like domenica and studyng pirates in equitorial guinea or somewhere! i have so much love for these books!