Thursday, August 07, 2008

If you can't say anything nice, you must be reading the Booker longlist

You'll chuckle knowingly when I tell you that less than a week into Booker '08 I've almost had enough. You knew, of course, that I wasn't going to read the longlist, not after my dramatic withdrawal from the 2006 longlist reading project. You knew that the only reason I read so much of the 2005 longlist was because of the novelty factor, and also because I was studying imagist poetry and American modernism and needed some low-impact reading to salve my brain of an evening. You knew I wouldn't have the determination, time, and masochistic tendencies required to wade neck-deep through the mire of the Booker Dozen, not when I could be reading, say, the Bible in Klingon, or the month-old Green Guide I found under my armchair. You knew all that, didn't you, you little know-it-all? I just have one question: why didn't you tell me?

The problem is that most of the books aren't worth reading, at least not cover to cover. I was discussing this with with Beth and she suggested that perhaps "observing the Booker longlist" was a better description of what we're doing than "reading the Booker longlist". So far I have observed four longlisted novels:

- The Clothes on Their Backs, Linda Grant. The blurb was enough to put me off this one: "...a wise and tender novel about the clothes we choose to wear, the personalities we dress ourselves in, and about how they define us all." I didn't bother reading any further.

- The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga. Read about twenty pages of this. It seemed ok.

- A Fraction of the Whole, Steve Toltz. By page 200 of this 700+ page novel I was exhausted and bored by the chatty, superficial style. This is the kind of book that attracts reviews containing words like "rollicking", "romp", "thumping", and "rip-roaring", but for all its vim and vigour it's actually quite dull and amateurish. I reckon it would make the perfect companion on a long-haul flight - long, not at all taxing yet not completely brainless, and marginally more interesting than clocking Super Mario 3 for the eighth time on the little back-of-the-seat entertainment unit.

- Netherland, Joseph O'Neill. The one longlistee I have read thoroughly. I've been working on an essay about this book and other post-9/11 fiction, however I am not sure I will complete it because frankly I find the whole sub-genre wearying. For now I'll simply say that Netherland is a good example of modern mainstream literary fiction, which is to say that it is well written, utterly conventional, and terribly "sincere" and "profound". It'll probably win.

2 comments:

Beth said...

Great observing, keep it up.

Clay is considering reading The White Tiger because he is a Richmond fan. He says that although this tiger is "white", the colours yellow and black feature on the cover, so it must be OK.

Meanwhile, I almost lost heart with the project when The Northern Clemency arrived in the mail - 750 pages! Set in "unfashionable" 70s England!! Gulp.

imani said...

No, I'm sorry, but Super Mario Brothers three is the best videogame of all times -- I'm willing to entertain pro-Zelda arguments -- and must therefore be a superior choice, even for the 8th time, over a 700+ page of fun IM prose.