Yesterday, the winner of the Man Booker Prize 2014 was announced and awarded to Richard Flanagan for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
The Man Booker Prize was set up in 1969 and this year celebrated its 46th year. It’s aim is to promote the finest writers in fiction by rewarding the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. Judges for the prize are changed regularly and are chosen from a wide range of disciplines, including writers, academics and critics as well as actors, poets and politicians who all have a passion for the best works of fiction.
One of the main reasons publishing houses and authors alike covet the Man Booker Prize award is not only due to the cash prize of £50,000 and a designer bound copy of their book, but because it encourages a wider readership. Most authors that win or those who are shortlisted for the prize enjoy a dramatic increase in book sales worldwide. The release of the longlist, shortlist and winner for this award therefore creates great hype within the publishing industry
Inspired Selection, as big readers with a variety of tastes in fiction, decided to read to the shortlist of the Man Booker Prize award in order to discuss amongst ourselves who we thought might win this year.
Please read on to meet our Inspired Team and their thoughts on this year’s shortlist, we will post two of the team member’s reviews over the course of three days, stay tuned!
My name is Amy and I am a Senior Consultant at Inspired Selection, specialising in recruitment for educational, professional and STM clients.
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If you were stuck on a desert island, what 3 books would bring and why?
1. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, because I could not live without it
2. Tender is the Night by F.Scott Fitzgerald, because every time I read it I get goosebumps
3. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, a more recent read that has haunted me bit and I want to read it again
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This book is an exploration of sibling love, at times making you nod in frustrated empathy and at other times, provoking a profound sadness. The narrative alternates between the present and a series of flashbacks and as we get to know Rosemary, we understand her marginalisation and displacement as a character. The way in which she describes herself as a child – attention seeking, loud, unaware, too curious – trickles into our understanding of her as an adult. Despite all that is disclosed throughout the novel, it is her childhood self that we are drawn back to and this, somehow, serves to excuse the questionable things she says and does.
The book opens in a cloak of mystery as we are given snippets of what has happened to the narrator’s siblings. Without disclosing the big twist, it is hard to go into too much detail on Fern; she is Rosemary’s sister who is sent away when she is a child and is never returned to the family home. However, we find a foyle for Fern in the character of Harlow, the beautiful and uninhibited friend she makes during her university years who fascinates her but scares her at the same time. She is drawn to Harlow in an obvious attempt to replace Fern and this mix of fear and admiration that she feels for Harlow echoes her feelings for Fern. Harlow has the same restless and unpredictable spirit and provokes in Rosemary the same feelings of self-doubt and jealousy. As Rosemary searches for answers to explain Fern’s disappearance, Harlow fills the void until she too disappears from the story.
More poignant, though, is the relationship between Rosemary and her older brother Lowell who she loves without the fear and hesitation she felt for Fern. It is his departure from the family home that hits her the most and the memories she recollects of him throughout the book make your chest tighten. He was the figure she looked up to and the jealousy she feels for Fern (and Harlow) can be traced back to a constant vying for his love and attention. Over the years after he disappears, he re-enters her life now and again but there is always the feeling that he is just out of her reach, destined to eternally slip through her fingers. When she is with him, she feels safe and like she belongs to something, to a type of family unit, but when he is gone her isolation is palpable.
Towards the end, the novel sits firmly in the present and it seems that all loose ends are tied up, at least for everyone except Rosemary. All missing persons have been located and their situations explained, for better or for worse. This has to be the only disappointment in the novel; after building our understanding for Rosemary and our consequent empathy with her, Fowler leaves her where we found her – on the margins, still.
Towards the end, she tells us “My brother and sister have led extraordinary lives, but I wasn’t there, and I can’t tell you that part”. It is safe to say that neither Lowell ‘nor Fern end up in the ideal situation either but they exist in a place where they belong and I don’t think the same can be said for Rosemary.
This book is thought-provoking, and addresses issues of sibling love and rivalry, with an underlying theme of animal cruelty awareness and the protagonist’s grappling for identity and for answers. Answers are provided but the closing lines left me unsatisfied, on Rosemary’s behalf and on behalf of all characters who never quite find their place at the end.
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If I was stuck on a desert Island the three books I would bring are:
- Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk: I think I felt every emotion reading this book and even though I have read it over and over it never fails to make me think and discover something new.
- The Twits by Roald Dahl: A book that never fails to make me laugh.
- The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe: Despite its bleak subject, I love to read this poem out loud as the poetic rhythm always calms me.
J by Howard Jacobson
Set in the future, in a dark world where the past is a dangerous country, not to be talked about or re-visited. This dystopian novel follows two people, who fall in love, and yet they don’t know anything about where they have come from or what the future might hold.
As a big fan of dystopian fiction, I did enjoy this aspect of J and I liked that it kept you guessing right up until the end as to the cause of the fractured state of the world. I also really enjoyed the dry wit used throughout that was very poignant at times.
Whilst I felt the protagonists were well developed, I found it hard to connect with them on a more personal level – however I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing as it echoed the overarching theme of detachment.