The Booker short-list

I watched The Review Show last night on iPlayer – a Booker shortlist special. Naturally, I found myself disagreeing with more than I agreed with! So ahead of tonight's announcement, and having recently finished the last of the shortlist, here are my thoughts.

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING – JULIAN BARNES (4)
A slight, intense and dare I say 'philosophical' book, in which the bumbling and dull narrator transcends himself to deliver compelling provocations about the fallibility of memory, the disappointment of ageing and the impossibility of fixing experience. It's clever, but not convincing that the thoughts come from the narrator. Well written, very 'readable' and not at all a chore, but lacking in the heart that makes a great book.

JAMRACH'S MENAGERIE – CAROL BIRCH (4)
What begins as a joyful tale of youth in the late nineteenth century, and work in a menagerie (a zoo-come-pet shop) turns into a harrowing tale of shipwreck and cannibalism. Part One was a pleasure to read, part two was difficult to stomach and rather arduous territory and in part three I could barely read for tears. Emotive and almost unbearably sad, it's a surprising book, but one that somehow seems to be trying too hard to tug on the heart strings.

THE SISTERS BROTHERS – PATRICK DEWITT (5)
A compelling, funny and wholly original book that I can't wait to read again. It's an unconventional western about the relationship between the Sisters Brothers and their response to their immoral profession. Gripping, fast-paced, readable and re-readable, I'd be thrilled if this book won the prize, and will be recommending it to all my friends!

HALF BLOOD BLUES – ESI EDUGYAN (3.5)
A book that flips between 1992 Berlin, and Berlin/Paris at the start of world war two – this is a tale about a group of jazz musicians, and the impact that the political situation and the ensuing conflict has on the friendships and the music-making. I found the 1992 story, when the musicians have reached a ripe old age and are confronting their demons, beautiful, poignant and compelling, but got lost in the conflict and the confinement. Slightly jarring narrative voice.

PIGEON ENGLISH – STEPHEN KELMAN (3.5)
The narrator's voice in this book is full of joy and a total pleasure to read. Harri is 11 and is getting to grips with a new country and a new way of life, with an insatiable appetite for adventure and experience. There's a strange thread through the book that involves a pigeon, which ultimately fails to protect Harri (if indeed the pigeon is the guardian he seems to be). The energy of the plot is exciting, but I found myself holding back from falling in love with the character.  

SNOWDROPS – A. D. MILLER (2)
I was surprised this made it to the short-list. Its strength lies in its depiction of the seedy world of criminality in Moscow, but the city is the most well drawn character. The narrator seems to lack self-awareness, though he is ostensibly writing to confess all to his fiance. The book is set-up as a mystery that goes nowhere, and describes a legal deal that is obviously doomed to failure. Crude and dissatisfying, with writing that only sparkles when Moscow is the subject.

So, The Sisters Brothers is my clear favourite, but even if it isn't recognised, I'm delighted to have come across it!

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