One-Minute Book Reviews

September 11, 2007

A Review of the Bookies’ Favorite to Win the Man Booker Prize, Coming Soon to One-Minute Book Reviews

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Lloyd Jones’s Mister Pip www.dialpress.com has surged ahead of Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach www.nantalese.com as the London bookies’ favorite to win the Man Booker Prize for Fiction www.themanbookerprize.com, given annually to a full-length novel in English by a writer from the Commonwealth or Ireland. Why is the New Zealander’s book getting so much attention? Watch One-Minute Book Reviews for a review of Mister Pip, coming within the next week.

Want to read about past winners in the meantime? See the posts on Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (2006) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/20/ and Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac ((1984) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/14/.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 7, 2007

Does Ian McEwan Deserve the Man Booker Prize or a Bad Sex Award for Writing Like This? You Be the Judge

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:53 pm
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The judges for the 2007 Man Booker Prize have named the six finalists for the award, and — no surprise — Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach is among them. But does McEwan deserve that prize or the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, given annually by the Literary Review www.literaryreview.co.uk for his tale of a young couple’s disastrous 1962 wedding night? Reader, you be the judge. Here’s a sample of the writing about sex in On Chesil Beach www.randomhouse.com:

“Like most young men of his time, or any time, without an easy manner, or means to sexual expression, he indulged constantly in what one enlightened authority was now calling ‘self-pleasuring’ … How extraordinary it was, that a self-made spoonful, leaping clear of his body, should instantly free his mind to confront afresh Nelson’s decisiveness at Aboukir Bay.”

What’s the prose like when it isn’t about pre-sexual-revolution onanism? A sample:

“Because the instrument was a cello rather than her violin, the interrogator was not herself but a detached observer, mildly incredulous, but insistent too, for after a brief silence and lingering, unconvincing reply from the other instruments, the cello put the question again, in different terms, on a different chord, and then again, and again, and each time received a doubtful answer.”

The other titles shortlisted for the Man Booker www.themanbookerprize.com are: Darkmans by Nicola Barker, The Gathering by Anne Enright, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones and Animal’s People by Indra Sinha. The winner will be announced Oct. 16. A review of On Chesil Beach (“A Mitch Albom Novel With a Higher IQ?”) www.randomhouse.com appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on August 10 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/10/.

Tomorrow in the Saturday Children’s Corner on One-Minute Book Reviews: A review of Chris Van Allsburg’s underrated The Z Was Zapped www.chrisvanallsburg.com and www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 14, 2007

Anita Brookner’s Booker-Prize–Winning ‘Hotel du Lac’: Room for One

Filed under: Book Awards,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:01 am
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Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac (Vintage, $12.95, paperback) could make an ideal antidote to shows like The Bachelor, and not just because its heroine never talks about “taking it to the next level.” Thirty-nine-year-old Edith Hope checks into a Swiss hotel, intending to lie low for a while, after backing out of her wedding to a dullard. But during her stay she receives a marriage proposal from a very different sort of man. Can she – and should she – accept? Brookner ‘s suspenseful and psychologically complex answer won the 1984 Booker Prize and helped to establish her reputation as one of England’s finest moralists. And Hotel du Lac still one of the best modern novels in which, as Anne Tyler wrote, the heroine finds “a nonromantic, wryly realistic appreciation of her single state.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 10, 2007

Ian McEwan’s ‘On Chesil Beach’: A Mitch Albom Novel With a Higher IQ?

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:26 am
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Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light …

— From Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”

On Chesil Beach. By Ian McEwan. Doubleday/Nan Talese, 203 pp., $22.

By Janice Harayda

Much of Ian McEwan’s new novel seems designed to remind you of “Dover Beach.” The title, the plot, the melancholy tone of On Chesil Beach — all raise echoes of Matthew Arnold’s lament for the erosion of spiritual values.

But you might also think of Mitch Albom after reading McEwan’s tale of a young, educated couple and their disastrous wedding night at a hotel on the English Channel in 1962. On Chesil Beach is a short, flyweight novel that wears its message on its sleeve. And it’s the kind of message you might expect from Albom: “This is how the entire course of a life can be changed – by doing nothing.”

Actually, the newlyweds in On Chesil Beach do quite a few things on their wedding night, each more humiliating than the next. But what Florence and Edward don’t do – and this is what changes their life – is express their true feelings, because the let-it-all-hang-out era is a few years away. If the couple had more substance, this overfamiliar idea might not be a problem. But Florence and Edward come across less as characters you care about than as emblems of English “types” fleshed out by dutiful research into their era.

Some of the period details in the novel are mildly interesting. Can hoteliers of the pre-Nigella era really have had so little Freudian sense that a typical honeymoon-suite meal began with “a slice of melon decorated by a single glazed cherry”? Other details are ’60s clichés. And none can turn this book into more than better grade of pop fiction, a For One More Day with a higher IQ. I read part of it on a trip disrupted by the tornado that struck Brooklyn, and, it was perfect, because unlike that journey, nothing about it was taxing in the least.

Best line: “And [he] would never have described himself as unhappy – among his London friends was a woman he was fond of; well into his 50s he played cricket for Turville Park, he was active in a historical society in Henley, and played a part in the restoration of the ancient watercress beds in Ewelme.” That phrase about the watercress beds is one the few that gives you a sense of why McEwan has such a high reputation.

Worst line (tie): McEwan aggressively courts a Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the Literary Review www.literaryreview.co.uk with: “Like most young men of his time, or any time, without an easy manner, or means to sexual expression, he indulged constantly in what one enlightened authority was now calling ‘self-pleasuring’ … How extraordinary it was, that a self-made spoonful, leaping clear of his body, should instantly free his mind to confront afresh Nelson’s decisiveness at Aboukir Bay.” A non-onanistic example: “Because the instrument was a cello rather than her violin, the interrogator was not herself but a detached observer, mildly incredulous, but insistent too, for after a brief silence and lingering, unconvincing reply from the other instruments, the cello put the question again, in different terms, on a different chord, and then again, and again, and each time received a doubtful answer.”

Reading group guide: www.randomhouse.com

Consider reading instead: Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac (Vintage, $12.95). This Booker Prize-winner involves a bride-to-be who backs out of her wedding at the last minute, an event that is as humiliating as the trauma that occurs in On Chesil Beach but handled with more credibility.

Published: June 2007

Furthermore: McEwan’s novels include Atonement, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize. He lives in London.

Update: After this post appeared, On Chesil Beach was named a finalist for this year’s Man Booker Prize www.themanbookerprize.com, to be announced Oct. 16.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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