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.


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.