Review: Everything Under – Daisy Johnson

047 - Everything Under

047 - Everything Under

Rating – 4*

This is the first, and probably the last, book on the Man Booker 2018 longlist that I’m going to read. I’m not going to go in to why I’ve fallen out of love with the Booker, I think enough people have discussed that currently, what I am going to talk about though is this incredible, and ambitious, debut novel.

I picked it up the day before the longlist was announced as the few pages I read in the bookshop were absolutely beautiful and I knew I had to read it.There are so many things I love about this book, so many. I think a lot of people will be put off by the fact it’s on the Booker longlist, and even those who aren’t I think may not enjoy it all that much. It’s very traditionally “Bookerish” in that there are a lot of things going on, and a lot of literary devices which just ramp it up a gear (a lot of people may say those little techniques mean the book is pretentious, I personally think if done right it just makes for good reading).

Reading this book is like being in a constant state of flux where nothing is entirely certain. Johnson in this book plays with so many things both with writing style (from first, second, and third person narratives from the same character) to family, gender and identity in all the characters. Language is a key theme and that in itself is played with fluidly, the main character and her mother living a very isolated life during her childhood and developing their own, made up language. The fact that Gretel and her mother lived in a river community is fascinating in and of itself, but it also leads to another fluid component of the narrative in that her mother doesn’t like to be stagnant and stay in one place too long.

It’s taken me a couple of days to fully digest this book and process what I read and thought about it because for a slim thing of under 300 pages it packed a punch with the content. On contemplating I realised there are so many parallels with fairy tale and myth (not only is the main character called Gretel, but there’s a recurring theme of breadcrumbs and connecting ideas), there are themes of identity and loss and abandonment. And all of the little things done with language, this book is of itself a love letter to language and words – it’s about the power of words and it’s oh so incredible.

Parts of this book genuinely made me pause and have to go back on what I read to check I read it correctly. I didn’t see any of the twists coming and I loved that.

Ultimately, I’m a very happy woman that I read this book, and that I picked it up before it became a bit less exciting because it was longlisted for the Booker. I think had I not saw this in a bookshop prior to the longlist, I wouldn’t have picked it up because of that and that’s a shame, and I think it says all too much about how contrived the Booker has become! I’m going to be thinking about this book for a long time, and I’d highly recommend it.

Review: The Fishermen – Chigozie Obioma

thefishermenI’ve spent some time since finishing this book trying to decide what to say about it. I went in to it with high expectations because of Jen’s feelings about it; high expectations can be detrimental to my final feelings but not in this instance. This book lived up to the expectations I had, even surpassed them.

The Fishermen tells the story of four brothers who are growing up in a Nigerian village with the rather unstable political situation of the 1990s in the background. Their father leaves to work in the city and they go down to the river to fish, the river isn’t somewhere they ought to be. One day they meet the local madman – or prophet – who says that the oldest brother will be killed by a fisherman. This book is ultimately a story of how that unravels them.

The writing of this book is beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I find it hard to believe that this is a début, quite honestly! There is such a richness to the language he uses and a depth to the characters, it’s astounding. There is so much to think about in this novel; there are so many things that will keep me thinking for days. I’m certain that the more I reflect on this novel, the more I will enjoy it.

As it stands, I’ve given this 4*. It’s probably 4.5*. It may move up to 5*. It’s a beautiful book and one with a lot of things to think about. There’s more to this than meets the eye and I will definitely get my hands on whatever Chigozie puts out next.

Tag: The Man Booker Prize Tag

man bookerSo, I found this over at Jean’s channel (BookishThoughts) and really wanted to do it. I’m currently making my way through the shortlist for this years prize and really want to make an effort to read more of previous prizes and thought this would be a really good way to do that! This will probably include a bit of a long-term TBR as there are a number I want to get through it seems. Going through the shortlists (here) there are a number of books I really want to get around to that I, honestly, had no idea were nominated in the past. So, anyway, let’s get on with it.

1. How long have you been following the Man Booker Prize? (If this is your first year, have you followed any other prizes previously?)

I use the term follow loosely. Really I’ve only been interested in it for the past few years – maybe since 2009? I remember Hilary Mantel winning for Wolf Hall and I then remember the next few years quite well even though I didn’t actively go out and read the books. I’ve been aware of it for a long time though, I think my English teacher in year 6 (I was 10/11) was the first one to introduce us to literary prizes – I didn’t go out and read any that young but she was the one who made me curious enough to go out and investigate when I got that bit older.

As for other prizes, I don’t follow them as I do the Man Booker, I’ve dipped in and out of the Orange/Bailey’s Prize and the Costa Book Awards but mainly to see what books are out there rather than following it religiously!

2. If you read a book you know has been longlisted, what expectations do you have going in to it?

In the past I’ve headed in with a sense of trepidation. It’s only the last few years I’ve been aware of the longlist, previously I only ever noticed the winner and a lot of the winning books seem a little untouchable. Books longlisted for the Man Booker are those that are the best in the class, they’re the elite and being elite doesn’t always mean that they’re approachable for the average Joe!

However, now I’ve developed as a reader, I go in expecting something amazing. I go in wanting the experience to be amazing. I want the book to be something different, something that I’ve not read before. I want it to maybe make me think differently.

3. Have you read any books from the longlist this year (if not, which ones interest you?)

I’m currently making my way through the shortlist. I’ve read A Little Life and Satin Island – the first being amazing and the later being a disappointment. I want to get to the final four in the next week or two. I know I’m not going to get through them all by Tuesday when the winner is announced but I do want to finish them. Off of the longlist, I’m quite interested to read The Chimes!

4. Which previously longlisted or shortlisted Man Booker book is your favourite?

From last year, How to Be Both by Ali Smith, it just has to be.

I’ve also loved A Tale for the Time Being (2013), Room (2010), The Accidental (2005), Never Let Me Go (2005), Notes on a Scandal (2003), Oryx and Crake (2003), Fingersmith (2002) and The Handmaid’s Tale (1986)

5. Which previous Man Booker Prize winner is your favourite (or which would you like to read?)

I’ve actually not read all that many of the winners, and those I have read I’ve not necessarily enjoyed all that much. The one I enjoyed the most will probably be The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Ones I want to read in the near future The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014), The Blind Assassin (2000) and Midnight’s Children (1981)

6. Is there any book that you hoped would make the longlist this year and didn’t? (to be eligible it has to be a book published in the UK in English between 1st Oct 2014 and 30th Sept ’15)

I would have loved to have seen The Book of Strange New Things, The Buried Giant (even though I didn’t much like it when I read it, it’s one I’ve grown more warmly to in hindsight) and The Gracekeepers in the mix.

Review: Satin Island – Tom McCarthy

satinislandThis is a book that seems to split its readers in to two camps; the lovers and the haters. I sadly fall in to the latter. Satin Island has been shortlisted for the Man Booker this year and, honestly, it’s books like this that give prize lists a bad name and make them feel out of touch to the average Joe.

Firstly, the positives, the structure of this book is quite interesting and it was under 200 pages. Other than that it’s absolutely exasperating with a detestable main character and absolutely no plot. I can honestly find nothing to discuss about this book regarding the plot as there just wasn’t one. I don’t mind that as long as there are good characters, but the main character was just blah and the peripheral characters were barely there either. This just really frustrated me.

It read like non-fiction in parts, but the worst kind. If I wanted to read an essay on anthropology I’d have found one. Oh and also, there was an excessive use of parentheses which really got on my wick.

I gave this book 1* and I feel that is generous. It was pretentious, it felt self-absorbed and just didn’t give off a good impression. It could have been great, there were a few passages that were just stand up beautiful but, on the whole, I just felt I was banging against a wall constantly while reading it and never quite getting to the greatness. I felt unfulfilled reading this book. I wanted more but at the same time, I wanted far, far less. Essentially, I just wanted a different book entirely and I thank the Gods that this was short.

NB: I was stuck on a bus and only had this to read. I don’t know if I would have finished it had I not been stuck on said bus. Take from that what you will.

Review: A Little Life – Hanya Yanagigara

ALittleLifeFirst off, this review will not do this book justice, for good and coherent reviews scour Goodreads – there are so many incredible reviews of this book I don’t even want to imitate them. This book is beyond words, I have been trying to put my feelings in to words and I just can’t but anyway…

This book has taken me a lot longer to read than I anticipated but, oh what a read it was. I don’t think I’ve been this invested in a book, felt so in touch with the characters, felt so soul destroyed ever. This is just incredible and, in short, it fully deserves all the hype that is surrounding it. As I said, this book took me a long time to read, I couldn’t read much at once and I couldn’t read anything alongside it; it just completely consumed my life for nearly a month.

In short, A Little Life, follows the story of four young men in New York and slowly it focuses down to just the one of them; Jude. While this book is ultimately Jude’s tale, throughout it you get to know JB, Malcolm and Willem to the point you feel that all four of them are people you know personally – none of them felt fictional by the end of this. The depth of character is incredible, their souls are laid bare before you and I think they’re the sort of characters that will just sit with me. I will probably judge every book from now on on this level of characterisation that Yanagihara has put forward and I don’t feel remotely guilty

It is by no means an easy read, it isn’t one for everyone, it is a rollercoaster filled with trauma and harrowing events that absolutely destroyed me. This book really ought to have trigger-warnings galore on it’s front cover because some things were so difficult to read I had to put it down for a little while. But the thing is, I don’t think a book has ever had me openly crying like this did and I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I’ve been punched in the gut while reading a book either. By the end of my month of reading this, I was emotionally exhausted but I think I came out of it a different person, it was just one of those books that really affected and changed me.

It was a powerful, painful and exhausting book to read but so, so utterly worth it. It took me a month to read but I don’t mind that, I have read an incredible book here and it is one that I will reread in the future for certain. In short this book is a 5* read and I’ve run out of adjectives to describe it. I have the entire Man Booker shortlist sat in front of me but, honestly, I think this might just win it because damnit, it’s incredible.