Saturday, 16 June 2012

My Review of 'State of Wonder'

As per the request, here is my longer review of this novel, which was my joint favourite with the winner.

It was fairly obvious that Patchett's tale of a trip undertaken into an inhospitable jungle in order to track down a maverick researcher had taken inspiration from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness; even the official synopsis directly evokes this reference. While I've never read the original novel, I have seen Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now and so made the connection quite quickly. Of course, since Conrad's time the issues have changed and yet in other respects they are perennial. Marina's journey of self-discovery, triggered by its physical counterpart, is also one of those universal themes explored in fiction.

'State of Wonder' turned out to be one of those  books that I found engaging from its opening pages and could hardly put down.  At heart it was an adventure story and there was plenty of excitement as well as an examination of the ethics surrounding medical research and environmental issues. I loved the strength of the story-line, its characters and most of all the Amazon setting.

Part of this immediate sense of connection was linked to my work earlier in life with environmental charities where we were advocating the importance of the rainforest along with my continued commitment to the welfare of indigenous peoples, especially in this region. Patchett captures the heat, humidity and the insects of the tropics very effectively. It made me happy that I now live in a part of the world with less exotic flora and fauna.

Both this and The Song of Achilles were my favourites among the six short-listed titles for the 2012 Orange Prize. I did favour this one in the final vote due to the issues it explored. It has left me keen to read other novels by Patchett.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Interested in revisiting Middle Earth????

Five Hobbit reading groups wanted! 

The Reading Agency are looking for five reading groups to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. They want to encourage families to read together. Free books and everything. This is a great opportunity. I don't think it should be missed, even if it might mean putting together a 'new group on your own'.

Deadline for applications is 12th June, so if you are interested, I would say GO FOR IT and let us know.

Comment by user in Guardian

One commentor says, 'Why isn't it called the Orange Women's Prize for Fiction, as it's just for women?'

To which someone responds, 'Because that's too close to the Orange Woman's Prize for Fiction, which is awarded annually by Katie Price.'


Did they pick the best book? Natalie Haynes says that's not the point...

Article from yesterday's Independent

by Natalie Haynes

How do you judge one work of art against another? It's a question that bubbles up around every book, film, TV show or art prize: we're never comparing like with like, so how is it possible to claim that one book is better than another when they are novels or programmes, written to be enjoyed, not built to compete?

And voting processes are fraught with difficulty: if it's a jury prize, as at the Cannes Film Festival and most book prizes, you rely on a small number of industry experts to make a fair decision, even if they have worked with some of the eligible actors, directors or authors. The whole process runs the risk of appearing like an industry back-slapping festival instead. So wouldn't it be better to do away with prizes altogether, and just let artworks find their audience?
Well, that would certainly work if we simply want to maintain the status quo: authors who are already successful would continue to thrive, because readers would buy their new books, having enjoyed their previous work. But how do new writers then make an impact? As the book review pages of newspapers are pressed for space, and seem to get shorter almost every month, readers can rely on a prize to give them one thing: not a book they will definitely like (there's no such thing), but a book that lots of other thoughtful readers have liked very much.
The ban-all-prizes brigade says that literary prizes are worthless because they try to do something intrinsically impossible: pick the best book from a bunch of disparate genres and authors. But they are missing the point: all the books which made this year's Orange shortlist, of which I was a judge, are really good reads. They may not all be to everyone's taste, but they all had something going for them – a great story, beautiful prose, a brilliant theme – which made them stand out from the roughly six million words I have read so far this year.
It may sound trite to say that the winning doesn't matter when it comes with prestige and a large cheque – two things writers like as much as the rest of us. But making the longlist, and then the shortlist, gives a huge boost to writers' sales – perhaps as many as 150,000 more books are sold by a shortlisted writer than one who escapes the judges' attention.
And, as a rule, the more people who have read and liked a book before we read it, the better the chances of us liking it. A recent survey revealed that more than half of self-published authors earn less than $500 a year. Obviously, if you are writing merely because you love to write, the royalty cheque isn't the most important thing. But if you want to become a full-time writer, earning enough to pay the rent is an important factor.
Writers may moan about editors, but the figures of self-published writers are hard to ignore: those who pay someone to edit, copy-edit and proof-read their work earn considerably more than their DIY peers. In other words, readers, not unreasonably, prefer to read books which have been read by someone other than the author, who might gently point out that a character has changed name, or hair colour, or miraculously returned from the dead.
Last night, Madeline Miller won the last ever Orange Prize (it will have a new name and new sponsors next year) for The Song of Achilles. It's a beautiful novel, re-imagining the Trojan war through the eyes of Patroclus, the man whose death is so devastating to Achilles in The Iliad that he gives up his 17-book sulk and rejoins the war to avenge his friend. Miller's novel charts the relationship between the two men, from their first boyhood meeting to the 10-year war on the plains outside Troy.
Whether her novel is objectively better than the other five excellent novels on the shortlist is not a question which I or anyone else can answer. But it was, unarguably, the most popular book with the majority of judges of this year's prize. Other books on the shortlist ran it close, because they were differently great pieces of writing. And five different judges might easily have picked a different winner.
Having been nominated for – and then immediately lost – a Perrier Best Newcomer Award in my days as a comedian, I have never really understood why this is a problem. Just being nominated changed my career for the better. No one ever pretends that one comedian is definitively funniest; we simply accept that any judging panel, like any audience, will like some jokes better than others. And not winning was fine – the nomination was enough to boost my confidence and raise my profile.
Now the Orange Prize is over, I will buy copies of all the shortlisted books for my friends. I have already given several copies of some of the long-listed books to people, because that's what happens if you stand still for long enough near me. And when readers are finding new books and new authors, we all win.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Now we know!

Well, that was a bit of a surprise, enjoyed 'The Song of Achilles' and sure it will become a popular read. We were all quite a long way from the judges in our opinions! Look forward to re reading all of the short listed books and still sure of my personal favorite - 'Painter of Silence'. Great experience being involved in our shadow group and do hope we can do it again next year. Sue

Southbank Last Night

As you all know, Kate and I went to the southbank last night, for the Orange Prize Shortlist readings.
It was packed!  However, we were a little disappointed.....
I had an e mail beforehand from Southbank, to say that two of the authors couldn't be there -ie Cynthia Ozick and Ann Patchett, with the option of not going because of this,  if that's what we wanted. We went ahead, and Cynthia Ozick was represented by her agent, and there was a video link to Ann Patchett, in the States.( after a technical hitch! )
Kate Moss gave an introduction, and it was chaired by Joanna Trollope. Each author had five minutes to read an extract from their books, and to answer two questions from Joanna. AND THAT WAS IT!!! No audience question time, as last year, and it all lasted exactly an hour. (not good value for a £12 seat, certainly not for the many who had travelled far to the event) Kate and I were relieved that you hadn't all opted to go....
We were told last night that the event would end at 9pm, and all the publicity was saying this. In fact, it ended just after 8.30pm. Let's hope it will be better next year, if it happens( not Orange, obviously)

All the authors spoke well and clearly ( and the agent) No pants on head this year!! Out of the three books I haven't read, and from the readings, I have to say I liked the sound of  Foreign Bodies, though Kate liked Painter of Silence, as you all did. I will give it a go.

Bated breath for winner this evening. I am out, so will miss the " live".
The blog is up on the reading agency web site ( including not a bad pic) Hope you all like. Don't forget to check it out!

Good to see you all on Monday, and sorry it was our last one. I will do my best to think up something else for next year!  Keep talking and reading!!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Suggestion--how about a thoughtful little review from each of you?

The comments that were made by group members at last night's meeting were very interesting to listen to. I suggest that each group member write a blog entry about your favourite read from the shortlist. I noticed you all had notes. Could you work them up into a nice little piece for the blog? It would be fun to read several advocates for the same title, to compare and contrast your comments. You could even take the opportunity to rebut the 'opposition' encountered during last night's discussions. It would be a great capper for the 2012 blog. :)

If you're going to include spoilers (which I don't see why you shouldn't), just put a *****WARNING*****CONTAINS SPOILERS********* line at the beginning of your entry. :)