One-Minute Book Reviews

October 23, 2008

Why Didn’t ‘Sea of Poppies’ Win the Man Booker Prize?

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:58 am
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Sea of Poppies ranks higher on Amazon than any 2008 Man Booker Prize finalist except the winner, The White Tiger. Why didn’t that award go to its author, Amitav Ghosh, an Indian-Begali resident of New York? A review in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal argues that the book has serious defects:

Sea of Poppies means to explore grand themes — colonialism, commerce and caste among them. But the novel falls short of the praise heaped on it, weighted down by the burden of Mr. Ghosh’s sermonizing.”

Reviewer Abheek Bhattacharya adds that the novel “is roped with enough storylines to rig a four-masted schooler and populated by so many characters that you need a manifest” to keep track of them:

“Mr. Ghosh has said that this novel is just the first in a trilogy on the British Opium Wars. Perhaps by the trilogy’s end the tale will assume the coherence and fullness that its first installment lacks.”

Read the full review at online.wsj.com/article/SB122429055763246745.html

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 14, 2008

India’s Aravind Adiga Wins 2008 Man Booker Prize for ‘The White Tiger,’ a Novel That Outlook India Calls ‘A Tedious, Unfunny Slog’

Filed under: Book Awards,News,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:20 pm
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Aravind Adiga tonight won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his first novel, The White Tiger, which the New Yorker described as a “darkly comic début novel set in India” about a chauffeur who “murders his employer, justifying his crime as the act of a ‘social entrepreneur.’” The White Tiger won praise from some American and English reviewers, but the Indian novelist and critic Manjula Padmanabhan of the New Delhi-based Outlook India called it “a tedious, unfunny slog.” You’ll find links to that review and others over at the Complete Review, which gave the novel an overall B-minute rating www.complete-review.com/reviews/india/adigaa.htm. If you want just the hype, you’ll find it at the Man Booker site www.themanbookerprize.com.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 11, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – The Man Booker Prize Judges’ Blog

Filed under: Late Night With Jan Harayda — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:23 pm
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This is the first in an occasional series of brief posts that will appear after 10 p.m. Eastern Time, particularly during the literary-awards season. The “Late Night” posts will not include book reviews, which will continue to appear earlier in the day, but will comment on literary or related events.

The best part of announcement of the 2008 Man Booker Prize shortlist: reading the judges’ blog, a porthole onto the selection of the finalists www.themanbookerprize.com/news/blog-judges-08. Of course, the panel can’t tell us the half of what went on. But the blog is revealing in its own way and, at times, amusing. Novelist Louise Doughty writes of the meeting at which the panel chose the finalists: “It was mostly civilized, although there was the moment when one of my fellow judges told me he could envisage himself waking screaming from a nightmare in which he was married to me.” Hmmm. I wonder if any men had thoughts like that about me when I was a judge of the National Book Critics Circle awards? Could this explain why I’m not married?

Tomorrow: Another Gusher Award for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing.

Saturday: A review of President Pennybaker, a new picture book about a boy who decides to run for president of the United States, written by Kate Feiffer and illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Diane Goode www.dianegoode.com.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 10, 2008

An Excerpt From Philip Hensher’s Review of Annie Proulx’s ‘Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3’

Filed under: Short Stories — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:22 am
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[Note: The just-named finalists for the 2008 Man Booker Prize include The Northern Clemency by the influential English editor and critic Philip Hensher. I haven't seen the novel, which Knopf will publish in the U.S. early next year. But I have long admired Hensher's spirited reviews for the Spectator, which are as entertaining as they are erudite. An excerpt from one of the most recent follows my introduction below. Jan]

Annie Proulx’s fiction is an acquired taste that I have not acquired despite several painful attempts at force-feeding that nearly turned me into a literary bulimic. But I enjoyed Philip Hensher’s review of her new Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3 (Scribner, 240 pp., $25) in the Spectator, which included this passage:

“This new collection is pretty clearly divided into stories which don’t work at all and ones which seem to create something marvellously new in most unorthodox ways. When she ventures out of her familiar territory, the results can be fairly awful. I admit to being allergic to all narratives of prehistoric life, and this one is straight out of some terrible creative writing class.

“‘Night after night the thready monotone of [the shaman’s] prayers and invocations had formed the solemn background of the band’s dreaming’

“There are two stories set in hell with the Devil as the hero, apparent attempts at humorous topical satire which I beg Annie Proulx on bended knee not to repeat. And I was quite enjoying one story of frontier life until I realized that it was all about a serial-killer tree. These ventures into magical realism traduce the possibilities of Proulx’s oddness by settling into the conventionally odd — trees which kill, the Devil’s view of life on earth and grunting romances about stone-age communities were all totally old-hat for mildly ambitious pulp writers like Isaac Asimov 40 years ago.”

Read Hensher’s full review at www.spectator.co.uk/the-magazine/books/1736251/the-peculiarities-of-a-realist.thtml.

Read the Man Booker Prize announcement about Hensher and The Northern Clemency at www.themanbookerprize.com/prize/books/366 and a lively discussion of the novel on the Asylum blog at theasylum.wordpress.com/2008/09/01/philip-hensher-the-northern-clemency/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

September 9, 2008

Ghosh and Barry Make 2008 Man Booker Prize Shortlist – O’Neill and Rushdie Shut Out – Read the Full List of Finalists Here

Filed under: Book Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:47 am
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Judge boasts in blog that “we had all got our cojones back, a bit” as panel kicks Netherland and The Enchantress of Florence in the nuts

The judges for the 2008 Man Booker Prize for fiction have announced the six finalists for the award, the winner of which will be named on Oct. 14:

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

The losers included Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland and Salman Rusdie’s The Enchantress of Florence, which emerged as the favorites of London bookies after being longlisted for the prize in July www.themanbookerprize.com/prize/thisyear/longlist.

The bookies at the William Hill agency in London immediately named Barry the 2-1 favorite to win the Man Booker, which carries a cash prize of 50,000 pounds. The odds-makers at Ladbroke’s called Aravind Adiga the favorite with Linda Grant close behind www.themanbookerprize.com/news/stories/1136. “We were convinced that the winner would be either Joseph O’Neill or Salman Rushdie and are amazed that neither even made the shortlist,” a spokesman for William Hill said. “As a result it looks like a very open competition with everyone in with a chance.”

Read about the six finalists for the Man Booker Prize at
www.themanbookerprize.com/news/stories/1134.

Read about the shortlist selection process in a blog by judge Louise Doughty, including her boast that “we had all got our cojones back” at www.themanbookerprize.com/news/blog-judges-08.

Read reviews of all the books on the 2008 Man Booker shortlist from major U.S. and U.K. newspapers here www.reviewsofbooks.com/booker/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

September 7, 2008

London Bookies’ Favorites for 2008 Man Booker Prize Shortlist

Filed under: Book Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:02 pm
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UPDATE, Sept. 9, 2008, 3:30 p.m.: After the shortlist was announced today, London bookies listed the odds for the eventual winner of the prize: William Hill has named Sebastian Barry the 2-1 favorite to win the Man Booker Prize in October. The odds-makers at Ladbroke’s called Aravind Adiga the favorite with Linda Grant close behind www.themanbookerprize.com/news/stories/1136.

Netherland has 3-to-1 odds in its favor with a leading betting agency

Was it Hurricane Gustav? In my wisdom I didn’t think to Google “bookies’ favorites” + “2008 Man Booker” + “shortlist” before predicting that Joseph O’Neill’s novel Netherland would waltz into the final six on Tuesday. Now that I’ve hit the “Search” button, it seems that I am far from alone in my view. In fact, it appears that only people who don’t think Netherland will make the shortlist are those who think that “God Save the Queen” is the national anthem of Venezuela. But even with the 3-to-1 odds in his favor, O’Neill will be far from a sure bet to win if he makes the finals. He was born in Ireland and an Irish writer, Anne Enright, won last year. And he’s become a U.S. citizen, which could work against him if the judges are among the many Brits whose favorite insult for the former prime minister was to call him “President Blair.”

Note: Other favorites of those placing bets with the William Hill agency, in order, include Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence, Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44, Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture and Linda Grant’s The Clothes on Their Backs. Click here for the bookies’ odds on all the titles on the Booker longlist announced in July
www.themanbookerprize.com/news/stories/1108.

Update: After William Hill posted its list, the Ladbroke’s betting agency released a list that named Rushdie the favorite and ranked O’Neill third. Read the Ladbroke’s list here www.themanbookerprize.com/news/stories/1111. Rushdie won the 1981 Booker for Midnight’s Children.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

2008 Man Booker Prize Finalists To Be Named Tuesday — Jan the Hungarian Predicts That ‘Netherland’ Will Make the Shortlist

The latest in an occasional series of posts in which Janice Harayda, a former vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle, predicts the winners of or finalists for major book awards*

The six finalists for the 2008 Man Booker Prize for fiction will be named Tuesday, winnowed from among the titles longlisted in July www.themanbookerprize.com/prize/thisyear/longlist. If Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland doesn’t make it, it will be a shocker that’s the literary equivalent of the Sarah Palin selection in reverse. It’s not so much that the book is one for the ages — though it’s the best 2008 novel I’ve read — but that it’s so much better than most Booker finalists. (Who can forget that the 2007 Man Booker judges gave us one finalist, Lloyd Jones’s Mister Pip, that was written at a third-grade reading level? And that this was a frontrunner for the award that eventually went to The Gathering.) A review of and readers’ guide to Netherland appeared on this site on June 24 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/. Check back around 5 p.m. Tuesday for the shortlist or a link to it.

*under a nom de guerre inspired by that of the late Las Vegas odds-maker Jimmy Snyder, better known as “Jimmy the Greek”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

June 19, 2008

Overrated Book-Award Winners – Now Being Debated on the Ruthless Book Club

Filed under: Book Awards — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:41 am
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Is The Inheritance of Loss overrated? Is The Worst Hard Time underrated?

We’ve been talking about overrated and underrated book-award winners over on the Ruthless Book Club, a new online reading group with no required reading. Among the books that may qualify, based on vistiors’ comments: Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction (overrated) www.themanbookerprize.com/prize/archive and Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction (underrated) www.nationalbook.org/nba2006_nf_egan.html.

What award-winners do you think are overrated and underrated? You can let others know by leaving comment during the month of June at www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/01/. A new conversation will begin on July 1.

© 2008 All rights reserved. Janice Harayda.

February 14, 2008

Valentine’s Day Quote of the Day on Love (Anne Enright, ‘The Gathering’)

“There are so few people given to us to love. I want to tell my daughters this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen. And if you can, at nineteen, count the people you love on one hand, you will not, at forty, have run out of fingers on the other. There are so few people given to us to love and they all stick.”

Anne Enright in her novel The Gathering (Grove/Atlantic, $14, paperback), winner of the Man Booker Prize for fiction www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/01/21/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

January 21, 2008

Anne Enright’s Worthy Man Booker Prize–Winner, ‘The Gathering’

The Gathering is to On Chesil Beach and Mister Pip what 18-year-old Jameson is to lukewarm tap beer

The Gathering. By Anne Enright. Grove/Atlantic/Black Cat, 261 pp., $14, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

In the 1920s a group of lay Catholics tried to save Dublin prostitutes by removing them from brothels after buying off the madams with Milk Tray chocolates or other bribes. Anne Enright builds on this historical episode in her artful Man Booker Prize-winning novel, The Gathering, which imagines how the effort might have affected a young woman and her descendants.

Her narrator is 39-year-old Veronica Hegarty, a contemporary Irish mother of two who has enough wit and ironic detachment from her life to view it in quotation marks: “I could pick up my keys and go ‘home’ where I could ‘have sex’ with my ‘husband’ just like lots of people did. This is what I had been doing for years.”

But that begins to change after her brother Liam kills himself and her eight surviving siblings gather in Dublin for his funeral. As Veronica tries to make sense of the suicide, she reflects on her family’s sorrows – cancer, mental illness, alcoholism, an infant’s death, a mother’s seven miscarriages. None of it disturbs her more than a scene of sexual abuse that she accidentally had witnessed years earlier. An Oprah show might focused on the effects of that experience alone. Enright digs deeper and begins where television typically leaves off. In adulthood, Veronica realizes, “we always feel pain for the wrong thing.”

Best line: No. 1: “There is something wonderful about a death, how everything shuts down, and all the ways you thought were vital are not even vaguely important. Your husband can feed the kids, he can work the new oven, he can find the sausages in the fridge, after all. And his important meeting was not important, not in the slightest.” No. 2: “There are so few people given to us to love. I want to tell my daughters this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen. And if you can, at nineteen, count the people you love on one hand, you will not, at forty, have run out of fingers on the other. There are so few people given to us to love and they all stick.”

Worst line: “I sweep my arm along the table of yellow pine, with its thick, plasticky sheen.” Send that “plasticky” back to the same neologism factory that gave us “garlicky.”

Recommendation? Not for book clubs that think Western literature peaked with Mitch Albom and Fannie Flagg. But it could be great choice for groups that like literary fiction. Grove/Atlantic has posted a reading group guide that is more extensive and thoughtful than most publishers’ guides.

Reading group guide: Available online at www.groveatlantic.com.

Published: 2007

Furthermore: The Gathering isn’t likely to have the popularity of the best-loved Booker winners, such as The Remains of the Day. It themes are too downbeat and the sex is too frequent and explicit. But it is a far better novel than the favorites for 2007 Man Booker Prize, On Chesil Beach and Mister Pip, which it defeated www.themanbookerprize.com. The story is richer, the characters better developed and the settings more fully evoked. The Gathering is to On Chesil Beach and Mister Pip what 18-year-old Jameson is to lukewarm tap beer. It is also better than the 60 or so pages that I read of the 2006 winner, The Inheritance of Loss www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/20/. Anne Enright is what every literary novelist should be: a good storyteller who has something worthy to say.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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