Author: Penny

I have a deep obsession with books. I can't stop reading (or buying) and would much rather read, or own my own bookstore than this regular 9 to 5 gig.

2014 Longlist: The Blazing World

18143974The Blazing World was a very unique novel – Hustvedt has created an entirely fictional character yet has written of her as though she were a fully-realized person. The reader fully expected Harriet Burden to be an actual person that blazed bright in the art world. We discover everything about Harriet and her fight to expose sexism in the art world, through personal journals, articles and notebooks, to accounts from those in the art world, her family members and people that have interviewed her over the years. We even have the use of footnotes providing further detail and information about Burden’s work and those that influenced her.  It was so utterly unique to me and I quite enjoyed embarking on this journey.

Harriet Burden is pissed that women, and most especially her work, is not considered or widely appreciated as those created by her male counterparts.

“Although the number of women artists has exploded, it is no secret that New York galleries show women far less than men. The figures hover around twenty percent of all one-person shows in the city, despite the fact that almost half of those same galleries are run by women. The museums that exhibit contemporary art are no better, nor are the magazines that write about it. Every woman artist faces the insidious propagation of a male status quo. With no exceptions, art by men is far more expensive than art by women. Dollars tell the story. After giving up on a public life as an artists, Burden decided to experiment with the perception of her work through the use of masculine personas. The results were striking. When presented as the work of a man, her art suddenly found an enthusiastic audience. (taken from Rosemary Lerner’s written statement.)

When opening the first pages of The Blazing World we are treated to an excerpt from the Editor that is writing this account of Harriet Burden. Here she explains how Harriet “used” three men to show three very different shows in art galleries. Each was met with resounding success and only after her death is it revealed that it was actually the work of a woman, Burden’s work. Henceforth, the countless articles written either denouncing, disproving and exposing what Harriet called her experiment.

However, as unique as Hustvedt’s own literary experiment was, for me there were moments when I began to skim through it, as the number of written statements and journal entries, etc., continued to increase, yet nothing new seemed to be added to the story. I will say however that I found The Blazing World to be one wonderful and very interesting read. I quite fell in love with Harriet. I also quite fell in love with Siri Hustvedt for creating and envisioning this remarkable woman. While the literary style used may not suit many, I thought it remarkable. 3.5 stars.

As Harriet is in her final days she continues to say great and wonderful things, and these pages were wonderful to read: “I have more to do. There are undiscovered worlds inside me, but I will never see them.”

“I, Harriet Burden, know I am going to die, and yet a piece of me refuses this truth. I rage against it. I would like to spit and scream and howl and punch the bedclothes, but these demonstrations would hurt this frail skeleton with its few putrid remaining organs far too much.”

Sadly, The Blazing World did not make the 2014 Shortlist. This is one I would have thought would have made the cut over a couple others that did, but what would the Man Booker’s be without some twists and surprises right?

This review was posted simultaneously on the Literary Hoarders.


2014 Longlist: The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Flanagan UK hc    Flanagan AUS

On Tuesday, September 9th, the titles that will move on to comprise the Man Booker Shortlist will be announced. I fully and wholeheartedly expect The Narrow Road to the Deep North to be firmly positioned on that list.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North will leave you stunned and deeply moved, or at least, it did me. I was left breathless on many more than just one occasion. There are so many wide and varied feelings you will experience, ones that swing your emotions from the more visceral and astonishing moments over to the heartrending, profound and beautiful ones. There are any half dozen sentences or paragraphs that could be included here to best show the power and gift Flanagan wields with his words. There are so many, really you could simply open the book to any page, point blindly and then bask in their beauty.

I’ve selected this one below to give an example of the more beautiful and profound, although I can’t tell you this is the most powerful one, it was just the one that struck me as wonderful at that point when reading it:

And Dorrigo realised he might never see Amy again. And with this knowledge, he knew he would have to work, to operate, to go to bed and rise again and live, and now go wherever the war took him, without another soul knowing what he carried deepest in his heart.

And here is but one mere example of the more visceral, however it is probably best read again in the context it was presented, and this one was made after one of those moments where I was left gasping for air:

… he thought he grasped the truth of a terrifying world in which one could not escape horror, in which violence was eternal, the great and only verity, greater than the civilisations it created, greater than any god man worshipped, for it was the only true god. It was as if man existed only to transmit violence to ensure its domain is eternal. For the world did not change, this violence had always existed and would never be eradicated, men would die under the boot and fists and horror of other men until the end of time, an all human history was a history…

The dedication at the front of the book, “to prisoner san byaku san ju go (335)”, is Flanagan’s way to honour his father, an Australian POW during WWII, and as Goodreads reviewer (Jill) states: “The Narrow Road is based on an actual event: the building of the Thai-Burma death railway in 1943 by POWs commanded to the Japanese. The title comes from famed haiku poet Matsuo Basho’s most famous work and sets up a truism of the human condition: even those who can admire the concise and exquisite portrayal of life can become the agents of death.”

It is an incredible story that continuously applies direct punches to the gut over and over again, but it also presents, and does quite sympathetically so, all/both sides, and at its very heart it is a great love story: in the first pages, a love story to Dorrigo’s one true love but then also for the love of these men that he shared this astonishing experience with.

Dorrigo is the main character, is a surgeon operating in the POW camp assigned to help build the death railway. He tells his/their story through a series of back and forth tales, from the past, to the time spent in the camp and to his present, old man self.  What gives this book such great power and integrity is that Flanagan does not present sides or is more sympathetic to the Australian prisoners, or point fingers or encourages hate against the Japanese, instead he so skillfully shares all experiences, of the Australian men beaten, starved, tortured, brutalized in the POW camps but also of the Japanese and Korean men in charge of the POWs. Great time and patience is also taken to show the life for all of the men involved in the camps (prisoner and soldier), during and following the war and also extends to beyond their return home.

It was incredible. I don’t think I can say anything more generous than that. At times it left me shaking and I’m sure the expression I wore on my face during the more tortured moments was one of twisted pain, but it was a beautiful, beautiful story too. The Narrow Road to the Deep North handles itself with incredible strength and integrity and is an exceptionally well-deserved contender for this prestigious literary award. 4.5 stars.

(This will be simultaneously posted on the Literary Hoarders site)

Also, thanks to Knopf Publishers as they did send an advanced reading copy/galley of this book well before it was nominated for the Man Booker. Much appreciated.)

2014 Longlist: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves


US   UK   audio

Rosemary Cooke can separate her life by “the time period before her sister Fern was there” and into “the time period when her sister Fern was not there”.

She can also divide it into time periods of when she used to talk (she talked so much a neighbour asked if she was training for the Talking Olympics, she was a Gold medal contender) to the time when she fell completely silent.

And then….the true identity of her sister Fern is dropped. Oh, she said she gave us clues here and there and that some of us may have figured it out. (Rosemary tells her story to us in a very conversational tone throughout). I actually didn’t pick up on it as I didn’t closely read the synopsis or any of the reviews for this book. Therefore, the reveal did have shock-value for me. Of course, this is where upon closer inspection of the audiobook cover art should have come into focus for me. The audiobook cover art and for most of the other covers, some of the family members are illustrated there. However, the UK version (the red and black cover posted below) gives none of it away.

Initally after this reveal of Fern’s identity, I did question (again) how We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves made the Man Booker longlist. As Karen at BookerTalk  comments – she doesn’t anticipate this one going further in the competition. I admit to feeling the same. While this is my first read from the 13 in the longlist, it still begged the question in my mind how this was worthy of a major literary prize nomination. Oh, but for certain, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a heartbreaking and emotional tale, and one that left me thinking with great sadness for Rosemary and her brother Lowell, and on animal research, notably when using chimpanzees. These aspects will rip your heart out while reading, but set up against some of the more literary works in this competition, I fail to see how this would have the literary stamina to proceed on to the shortlist.

Often times when reading, I thought of The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, epecially after her first reveal of Fern’s identity and how Rosemary and her brother Lowell were expected and raised to consider Fern as their biological sister. In the Family Fang, the brother and sister are used in their parent’s experimental art installations and here, Rosemary and Lowell are being used in their father’s university research experiment. For both families, the psychological destruction is intense.

This intense heartbreak continued with Fowler’s narrative on the use of other experimental primates brought into people’s homes, labs, and how they were later turned out. She continues with the stories of what happened to them once they were no longer wanted, needed, or required. It is devastating and leaves a long imprint on your thoughts and mind.

However, there were many times where random and unnecessary filler litters the story and where my focus wandered and strayed from it. There is also some silliness included, especially to this ventriloquist’s doll named Madame DeFarge.  Madame DeFarge is given a voice and used in the storyline too often and only worked against the seriousness of the story, and causing further perplexity as to why this was nominated for a Man Booker Prize. (That’s starting to sound like a broken record here, my apologies.)

I will say however, that I was very pleased to have listened to the audio production of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Orlagh Cassidy’s narration is very appealing, well suited and perfectly cast to narrate the part of Rosemary. As Rosemary is sharing her story in a very conversational manner, the audio narration works very well here. I do not think I would have enjoyed this as much or enjoyed this style of writing had I read the text version.

The shortlist comes out in 3 weeks and I will be quite surprised to find this title on it. An enjoyable and heartbreaking read overall, certainly, just not solid enough for a major literary prize, and notably for one as “serious” I suppose as the Man Booker.

This will be posted simultaneously on the Literary Hoarders site.

2014 Man Booker Prize Longlist

The 2014 Man Booker Prize Longlist has been announced! This year the BookerMarks will feature a much more laid back approach to covering the long-and-short-lists for this year’s Man Booker Prize. You can read more about that here in our About section.

We look forward to you joining us again this year!

Clicking on the covers of the books below will take you to their descriptions.

17905709  18394990  18594412  19667395  20262498  20439328  20619897  20819685  21023409  21423525  22370991  18453074  18143974

( Oh, and Michelle (A Reader and a Rider) has already declared The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell as the winner.)



2013 Shortlisted: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki #3

A_Tale_For_The_Time_BeingRating: 5
A Tale for the Time Being
A Novel by Ruth Ozeki
Narrated by Ruth Ozeki
2013 /14 hours and 45 minutes

My first ever 5-star Man Booker nominated book!  A Tale for the Time Being (audiobook) was absolutely fantastic. Stunning. Remarkable. Most assuredly one of the best audiobooks and stories I’ve read this year. I was completely and utterly invested in this story, in the characters and in the tremendous creativity and ingenuity of this multi-layered tale.

The audio narration of this ingenious story is something that I cannot simply explain to you how amazing it was. To hear Ozeki breath the life and soul in to each and every one of her characters as she intended the reader to understand them, was an incredible listening pleasure. Each voice was distinct and I found myself arriving at work late every day so I wouldn’t have to stop the audio, I found myself driving an extra 20 minutes on the commute home, I even took to leaving for lunch to just around and hold on here…. at one point I even strapped on the running shoes to go for a run (!!) all just so I did not have to end my time spent with Nao and Ruth, and Old Jico, Oliver and Haruki #1, the inhabitants of the island where Ruth & Oliver lived, etc. That my friends is sound and genuine proof that A Tale for the Time Being is a stellar 5-star read.


2013 Shortlisted: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri #2

Arthur Brown, BALCO, Colum McCann, Fredrick Douglass, gender, George Mitchell, history, John Alcock, Let the Great World Spin, Major League Baseball, national book award, Northern Ireland, TransatlanticRating 4
The Lowland
A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri
2013 /352 Pages

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri was read for the BookerMarks project as it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013.

Lahiri’s novel followed immediately after my closing the final pages of The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. There is an obvious and dramatic difference in writing styles between the two, with Lahiri using a much stripped down use of language. I found it to be very refreshing.

I also have to say I was completely engaged from the beginning to the very end. I found that I was wanting to return to The Lowland every chance I was able to. Again,  extremely refreshing, especially for one of the Man Booker choices this year. Many times, the impact of those sharp focused sentences were so arresting they were the cause for me to stop, re-read and think. However, one “star” was removed from my rating as the characters were just as stripped down as Lahiri’s writing. Many times I found that to be flat and one-dimensional. The characters are not as richly developed but for that one flaw it still does not take away the intensity with which I devoured this story. Once I closed the pages of The Lowland I found I couldn’t stop thinking about these people! I ran over their stories over and over again in attempts to understand everyone’s perspective. That, to me, is the hallmark of a good read.