Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Booker Prize

I spent all day waiting to find out who won this year's Booker Prize. I bought Achmat Dangor's Bitter Fruit when it was named to the longlist (and because I had just seen Justin Cartwright plug it in the Sunday Times as his bedside reading) and I've read a few pages of it and it looks good. I think I'll enjoy it. And because I have it, I was kind of rooting for it.

I'm still waiting for my copy of Gerard Woodward's I'll go to Bed at Noon to arrive. I ordered it and his first novel, August, in paperback from AmazonCanada. I had to order both because Noon picks up where August leaves off. Even though the publication date is September 7, AmazonCanada is still telling me they need 6-8 more weeks to ship it. It would've killed me if it had won and I had to wait that long. (I ordered August in August.) Woodward, formerly a poet, was working filling vending machines at a university in Manchester when he made the longlist. That scares me. Here's a guy with a ton of talent (I think he won the Whitebred for best first novel) who still had to work a shit job. Now he's on easy street with a teaching gig in some small, beautiful university town. I think I would have liked for him to have won it.

I've been following David Mitchell's career since the start (admittedly, without reading or buying his first two books) in the Sunday supplements and book review sections. In a way, he's the one I identify most with because we're about the same age and because when he couldn't make a go of things in the UK he moved to Japan and taught English for eight years. But I've been a bit scared off by his style. My plan was to buy Cloud Atlas on my way home tonight if it had won. But it didn't. So I didn't.

Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty won the prize this year. I've been looking at his books for a long time but never read any. His name sticks out on the spines of books. I bought a copy of The Spell this summer (but spilled coffee on it) on the strength of the reviews I read of The Line when it was published this spring. Uniformly great reviews. I saw a nice copy of The Swiming Pool Library tonight but I passed on it.

Instead I would up buying an English trade paperback copy of Dead Air by Iain Banks. I have one Scottish customer who comes in every Monday night to buy a copy of the Sunday Times and somehow we got to talking about contemporary Scottish fiction. And he told me that he went to school with Iain Banks and that I should read him. I already own three of his novels - The Wasp Factory, Crow Road, and Complicity. I've skimmed parts of the first two and Banks is a weird guy. And I'd long ago started (but never finished) Complicity. Banks also writes science fiction novels (published under the name 'Iain M. Banks') and for that reason (and I know its a bad one) I kind of stopped paying attention to him. And when Dead Air came out a few years ago, I ignored most of the reviews. I knew it had something to do with 9/11 but not much more. I'm still not sure what its about but its a title my Scottish customer suggested. So I will add it to the list.

This year's shortlist for the Booker Prize:

Achmat Dangor Bitter Fruit
Sarah Hall The Electric Michelangelo
Alan Hollinghurst The Line of Beauty
Colm Tóibín The Master
David Mitchell Cloud Atlas
Gerard Woodward I’ll go to Bed at Noon

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