Man Booker Prize

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.

Booker_Conversations

2013 Booker Conversations: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Booker_ConversationsThe 2013 Booker Conversations is a series of in-depth, spoiler-free discussions between BookerMarks bloggers about this year’s nominated titles.

Today, Aaron Westerman, Penny Kollar, and Michelle Williams partake in an in-depth spoiler-free discussion about Lhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Lowland.

Aaron is Opinionless. Except of course when it comes to books or movies. He’s the co-founder of Typographical Era where he blogs on a regular basis about the latest in translated literature, foreign cinema, and more.

Penny is 1/3 of the Literary Hoarders that works in research administration by day and dreams often of reading and working amongst books full time.

Michelle is an avid “reader” of books and a “rider” of bicycles. When she is not cycling you can catch her reading and when she is not reading, well, she is probably pedaling about somewhere. Her blog, A Reader and A Rider journals her reviews of literary fiction.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland tells the deeply moving story of two Indian brothers whose lives are forever changed by a tragic event that threatens to tear the very fabric of their family apart. It’s about how we get stuck, unable to shed the ties that bind us and leave the past where it belongs, but it’s also about misunderstanding and miscommunication, and what happens when lives are built around false assumptions.

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Booker_Conversations

2013 Booker Conversations: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Booker_ConversationsThe 2013 Booker Conversations is a series of in-depth, spoiler-free discussions between BookerMarks bloggers about this year’s nominated titles.

Today, Aaron Westerman, Michelle Williams, and Jackie Hirst partake in an in-depth (mostly) spoiler-free discussion about Ruth Ozeki’s novel A Tale for the Time Being.

Aaron is Opinionless. Except of course when it comes to books or movies. He’s the co-founder of Typographical Era where he blogs on a regular basis about the latest in translated literature, foreign cinema, and more.

Michelle Williams is an avid “reader” of books and a “rider” of bicycles. When she is not cycling you can catch her reading and when she is not reading, well, she is probably pedaling about somewhere. Her blog, A Reader and A Rider journals her reviews of literary fiction.

Jackie Hirst is a book freak and a Duran Duran enthusiast.  She’s also 1/3 of the Literary Hoarders.

Ruth Ozeki’s Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel A Tale For The Time Being is chock full of references to cat anus and dog nuts.  It’s also a fascinating novel about quantum physics, religion, faith, writer’s block, and bullying.

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Harvest

2013 Shortlisted: Harvest by Jim Crace #3

HarvestRating: 4
Harvest
By Jim Crace
2013 / 224 Pages

The promise of a man

It’s a curious thing, the way one can attempt to trace the threads that bind together each batch of six novels that are annually shortlisted for the United Kingdom’s prestigious Man Booker Prize.  Sometimes, like last year, the connections are devastatingly obvious:  Harold Fry, Futh, and Kitty Finch are all restless, misunderstood souls?  You don’t say!

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Transatlantic

2013 Longlisted: TransAtlantic by Colum McCann #3

TransatlanticRating: 3
TransAtlantic
By Colum McCann
2013 / 304 Pages

Shut out the lights on the world below

The past, as they say, is most often written by those who are victorious. At first blush, by fictionalizing a number of historically consequential voices and weaving them into his narrative, National Book Award winning author Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin) appears to buying into the this notion with much verve. However the further that his Man Booker Prize longlisted novel TransAtlantic progresses, the more clear it becomes that McCann is only interested in these prominent figures as a set of high profile glue sticks whose value lies in their ability to help paste together a much more ambitious, socially conscious narrative detailing the plight of Northern Ireland and the unheard voices of the common folk who endured throughout these turbulent years. The resulting story is extremely poignant at times, yet woefully stodgy at others.

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