Pat Barker's The Ghost Road (1995, Viking; paperback Penguin)
Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda (1988, Faber & Faber; paperback Faber)
JM Coetzee's Disgrace (1999, Secker & Warburg; paperback Vintage)
JG Farrell's The Seige of Krishnapur (1973, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, paperback Phoenix)
Nadine Gordimer's The Conservationist (1974, Cape; paperback Bloomsbury)
Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981, Cape; paperback Vintage)
Read here if you want the official press release!
Just when I think Sigmund's not paying attention, he always pulls a fast one on me.
Tonight, as I was making chicken and leek pie (Jamie Oliver's recipe, highly recommended), Sigmund tuned in Radio 4 and bade me to listen up for the evening's commentary on the just-released Short List for the Best of the Booker awards. Radio 4 has a regular Arts/Entertainment program called Front Row, and if you go to their website you can utilize the Listen Again option -- and in most of our cases, listen to it for the first time. (I have helpfully provided the direct link -- just scroll down past the Boleyn girls and Doris Lessing.) If you want to skip the program, I will happily provide the following summary:
- A.S. Byatt's Possession is a surprise no-show. Considered highly "influential," and shouldn't that be a characteristic of the "best?" (No final conclusion.)
- Midnight's Children highly likely to win. Much cackling at Rushdie's recent bad reviews for his latest novel, The Enchantress of Florence. Isn't it ironic? cackle, cackle
- Maybe non-winners, like Atonement, should have been considered. After all, occasionally the winner is considered a duffer.
- Coetzee should win, says the man with the muffled voice that I had turn the volume up in order to hear.
- No new books! Disgrace is the most recent winner (1999).
- A few unexpected choices!
- Doris Lessing never won the Booker, and here she won the Nobel! (slightly off-topic comment, which nevertheless underlines the rather arbitrary nature of picking "best" books.)
And now for my commentary. My first thought, of course, is: Why the heck have I been wasting so much effort on The Blind Assassin? And my second thought, naturally, is: Even though it's a miserable book, I can see why the judges fancy Disgrace. After reading Atwood, for oh these many days, I am feeling like her details get in the way of her story. Does anyone else think she's a bit of a show-off? Yes, she's clever; and I've had enough already. Is this story a universal one? Does it have timeless themes? Does it seem to contain more than it actually tells us? (I would argue that it tells us more than it seems to contain.) While Atwood tap-dances around, reading Coetzee is rather like watching Gene Kelly dance. He is so graceful, strong, and economical; he just makes it look easy.
As for the rest of the short list: Well, Rushdie was expected -- and he's next up to bat for me.
Oscar and Lucinda I've read, and if I have time I might read it again. It's a cheat, but the movie -- with Cate Blanchett, Ralph Fiennes, Ciaran Hinds and Tom Wilkinson -- is also an attractive option! Or, let's do both and then have the fun of comparing them!
I'm entirely ignorant of the others, but I will probably get to Gordimer first -- partly because she's the only female author on the list, and partly because I'd like to see how her South African themes compare to Coetzee's.
I'm feeling a little put off by the word "seige," and The Ghost Road is a wartime novel, too. I hope that Rushdie is funny -- because apparently the great novels are a little short on humor/humour. Has anyone read either of these? Heartease, we need you now!
Last word -- for now, at any rate:
We've got until July 8 to read these books and cast our votes!!