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Showing posts from July, 2008

An explanation as to why I’m reading the Man-Booker Prize winners:

It was a gradual and growing idea idea: I thought one of my bookselling co-workers had said that he had read Man-Booker prize winners, and as I saw copies of the winners flow in and out of the store inventory, I began to fondle them and set them aside. As I considered it, it seemed like more and more of a good idea.

Several reasons come to mind:

1. My love of British literature: I am curious about what had been proclaimed the best of British (and Commonwealth) literature in the second half of the twentieth century and into the new millennium.

2. As a citizen of a Commonwealth country, I was interested in the works of South Africa’s prizewinning authors, J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer.

3. A chance to read fiction from all over the world (The old empire: New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, India, Egypt etc.)

4. The Man-Booker Prize is an easier target than the Nobel Prize winners, which are received for a consistent work contribution. This would be difficult to choose one work for which these…

"The Sea" by John Banville

Winner of the 2005 Man-Booker Prize, number 39 in a line of 41 books to read (non-consecutively), The Sea reminds one of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, for all-too-obvious reasons, perhaps. The overwhelming presence of the sea, the prominent place of an attractive mother-goddess (Mrs. Ramsay/ Mrs. Grace), themes of youth, memory, transience, and mortality.

Protagonist Max Morden is a recent widower, having lost his wife, Anna, to cancer. He has retreated to the seaside town where he spent summers as a child, staying in a house which once was the home of the Graces, a family which he idolized as the “gods” in his youth. The narrative switches between the present experience of staying at the seaside; to the recent past, where Max remembers Anna’s gradual descent and death; and his childhood, his experience with the Graces – in particular the children: Chloe, his cruel sometime-girlfriend, and Myles, her mute twin brother.

Critics of the book may accuse the nov…

"The Virgin Suicides" by Jeffrey Eugenides

Before the acclaim of Middlesex and My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, Jeffrey Eugenides published his debut novel, The Virgin Suicides (1993). An homage to the five Lisbon girls from the boys of the neighborhood (the ubiquitous “we”), the Virgin Suicides is a voyeuristic shrine to unfulfilled love and the decay of young life.

As opposed to Middlesex, where words were spawned as often as generations, Eugenides conserves his words to create a sculpted landscape of images. His careful choice of syntax creates a hazy atmosphere in which the hot days of summer seem to linger, and the amber glow of the seventies has not yet dimmed.

The adoration of the Lisbon daughters begins by a conceptualization of all five girls – Therese, Bonnie, Mary, Lux and Cecilia – as a “mythical creature with ten legs and five heads,” which only later develops into five characters. The neighborhood boys, not allowed to step into the Lisbon household, have to rely on imagination, surveillance, and the words of those lu…

"Possession: A Romance" by A.S. Byatt

I attempted to read Possession my junior year of college. It was a whim: it was a large, appropriately dusty, tome of a book whose Pre-Raphelite front cover appealed to my sometime attraction to Victoriana. It was far too literary for me then; Byatt’s prose is capable of holding one at a distance and freezing one out. As part of my resolution to read all winners of the Man-Booker Prize, I decided to try again.

The novel centers on two twentieth-century literary scholars, Roland Michell and Dr. Maud Bailey, who uncover a secret romance between two relatively obscure Victorian poets (their academic specialties), Randolph Henry Ash and Christobel LaMotte. Trying to stay one step ahead of unscrupulous scholars and academic rivals, Roland and Maud find the seductive call of curiosity a stronger force than responsible, methodical scholarship. The lust for discovery and the poets’ paraphernalia cause the quest for truth to be conducted in secrecy and care. Though originally an awkward couple …