Wednesday, 24 April 2013

In A Free State

This blog is specifically for comment on the Man Booker Prize for fiction, based in the U.K. There are, at the moment, six shortlisted books each year, and as I read them, I will offer my review, without revealing the plot! I want to talk about the readability, style and the amount of quality reading to be enjoyed (or not!) I have no affiliation to anybody, so my comments are without outside influence. enjoy my thoughts, and please feel free to comment...

In A Free State
By V.S. Naipaul

Andre Deutsch, 1971

ISBN: 0233 95832 0

What an intriguing book. It is as relevant now as it was in the early 1970’s, when it was written. That timelessness makes it, for me, one of the classic titles that will be around for many years to come. The content, unfortunately, will also probably be around for many years to come. Let me explain...
The book is a series of accounts of people who attempt a life in a country that is not of their birth, in an atmosphere that is foreign to them. Each one believes they are going to, or becoming part of, a free state. Three long accounts, and a couple of shorter ones, all different, but all fundamentally the same, all telling of the struggle of life, looking for something better than they have, trying to create a better place for themselves and the world around them. Their successes and failures are explored in detail, but we are left to ponder the greater issues; just as a great book should leave us to do.
But enough of the plotline! I do try to avoid giving away any of the story itself, so as to retain the integrity of the author’s work, but I can tell you this much. It is tightly written, in as much as it wastes no words. Each sentence has a relevance to the tale and each sentence leads flowingly into the next one. It makes the work easy to read. I, for one, found myself concerned for the wellbeing of each of the protagonists, thus making the book a page turner. One of those tales that make the chores of the day disappear; the bedside light stays on just a little longer, or ‘lunch can wait’ for another half hour.
The descriptive text is, as far as I can tell, accurate and exhaustive. Set in three main locations, the description on England resonated in me as somewhere I recognised, so I have no doubt that quality research or first-hand knowledge was brought to bear with regard to the other locations.  But it doesn’t automatically make it a pleasant read. It is possible to make the reader quite uncomfortable, when he describes some of the things we took as the norm but are, in fact quite alien in our modern society. Or at least I would like to think so!
The book was written more than forty years ago, when the world as we know it was completely different. The great shame is that he could have probably written it in the last twelve months, and the story line would still be just as contemporary. Everything has changed, but absolutely nothing has changed. This is what will make this book important for the next hundred years or so. Perhaps Naipaul’s exposure of human endeavours, frailties, hopes and self belief, along with despair, prejudice and insulation by society will serve to alter the way the world looks at itself. But I wouldn’t bank on it!

BookerBookBloke verdict: 8/10

Why not have a look at my short story about the life of Florence Nightingale, taken from a slightly different slant. It can be found at:

Monday, 22 April 2013


This blog is specifically for comment on the Man Booker Prize for fiction, based in the U.K. There are, at the moment, six shortlisted books each year, and as I read them, I will offer my review, without revealing the plot! I want to talk about the readability, style and the amount of quality reading to be enjoyed (or not!) I have no affiliation to anybody, so my comments are without outside influence. enjoy my thoughts, and please feel free to comment...


By A. D. Miller

Atlantic Books, 2011

ISBN: 978 1 84887 453 4

For a debut novel, this book is fab!  In fact, for any book, this is fab! Set in modern day Russia, it tells of the good, bad and ugly of this country, seen from the point of view of a foreigner and Russian alike. The accolades for this story, written on the cover of this book sum up the quality succinctly; ‘Totally Gripping’ says the Times; ‘Disturbing and dazzling’ says the Sunday Telegraph.
The term ‘snowdrops’ is used by the Russians to describe the bodies that die during the Moscow winter, outside, where their corpse is only discovered with the melting of the snow. The down and outs, the tramps, the homeless and the occasional murder victim all remain under the winter snow for months, until the scale of the problem reveals itself in the spring.
If you transfer this thought to the more cynical world of bribery, blackmail, love trysts and the universal fact of a man who has his head turned by a pretty girl, then you have the makings of a tightly written, enigmatic book that sweeps you on the first page and carries you full pelt until it drops you off on the very last page. If you are truly lucky, this will be done in one sitting.  You will encounter all the seedier, corrupt side of Moscow, the coercion of women with a plan, the naivety of a foreigner in a strange land (a chap with certain influences), the simple side of old Russia and all wrapped up in a slow burning plot that you think you follow but I was never quite sure if the plot line would change. In my usual way, I won’t write of the plot line itself so as not to spoil it, but I did feel sorry for Nick, the British lawyer, but I also wanted to shout to him to watch out. I don’t think he would have listened anyway!
It is clear from the text that the author has an understanding of Russia, both before the revolution and since. His biography tells me that he as spend time writing of the country, an understanding that comes through loud and clear. Who knows, he might have even known the character Nick when he was there. So vivid and expansive is his descriptive prose. I am looking forward to his next offering. I do urge you to put a day aside with a large packet of chocolate biscuits and a pot of aromatic coffee to keep you going, and read this novel. You will not be disappointed (I hope) and if you are like me, you will discover a world previously not explored and although the story has been told in various guises, you will feel it has been told in a fresh new style.

BookerBookBloke verdict: 9/10

Friday, 12 April 2013

Anthills of the Savannah

Anthills of The Savannah
By Chinua Achebe

First Published in Great Britain, 1987, William Heinemann

My edition, 1988, Pan Books

ISBN: 0-330-30095-4

I chose this book for my next review for several reasons; the title is reasonably well known, the author is of international standing, (he has also won the international version of the Man Booker Prize) and as he recently passed away, I thought it might be a small, but nice way to mark his passing.  That is, though, about as polite as I can be.

I am a fairly intelligent chap, with fairly broad experience in reading all sorts of literature, but I found myself getting lost in the book. I don’t mean I lost myself in the plot, or the descriptive landscapes or inside the mind of the main protagonist; I just got lost...about half way through. I’m not too sure why, the text is rich in colour, the reflections wise and the characters real. But it is all far too dense.

I try to give a review without giving away the plot, and this time it is relatively easy; I could have had a stab at it within the first two or three chapters, but then the emphasis shifted, still not a problem. But as we drifted into an African folklore tale, and a poem that serves over two pages I became gently aware that I had now no idea what was going on, or where the book was going. But I knew where I was going, backwards. I was beginning to turn the pages back to check on what I might has misread, or omitted to read in the first place. Clearly, this was not the way forward.

This sounds as if I am being as if I’m being churlish, but I’m not being derogatory in any sense. The text is obviously cleverly written, the scenery lushly described and the darker moments in the plot line were quite stark, and, quite honestly, a little scary. The poem is ok too. I have no doubt that the subject matter, the life of prominent people within an African dictatorship, is written, I imagine, true to life, warts and all.  A place I would prefer not to be.

So off this book goes, back onto my bookshelf, perhaps to be tried again at another date. The Literary Word tell me that it is ‘a tremendous work, and a brave one.’ I’ll be content, for now, to take their word for it. As I say on my profile, life is far too short to read books that fail to engage you. Move on to the next one, and that’s exactly what I intend to do now.

BookerBookBloke verdict: 4/10

Monday, 8 April 2013

God On The Rocks

God On The Rocks
By Jane Gardam

First published 1978, Hamish Hamilton

My Copy: Abacus, 1981
ISBN. 0-349-11406-4

I’ve moved back in time a little for my next review, as the publishing details suggests, back some 35 years. I have found myself in a world habited by a religious zealot, an unhappy wife, a maid, (common of course, from ‘way up north’), a confused child and sundry characters who are introduced as the plot unravels. Sounds difficult to grasp? Well, it certainly isn’t.

It is a very easy book to read, once you have transported your mind back to the writing styles of the late ‘70’s, and then back to the timeline being written about in the story, the mid 1920’s. We are left to discover the time in which the story takes place, which is o.k. as long as we are not being left to discover where the story takes place. Clever wording brings clarity to both of these questions fairly early on, but not soon enough for my liking.  It will help as well, if you are from the U.K. or are familiar with English accents; the dialect of one of the characters is important to grasp, otherwise her involvement in the plot line loses some of its relevance.  And, we are led up a garden path quite early on. Just as you think you are meeting the main protagonist, emphasis switches. Still with me?...

So, we have a story with some looking back, in a nostalgic fashion, some with regrets, some looking forward, wondering if it will be still as confusing as an adult. Add into the mix a father with stern religious views, a house full of mentally ill, an aged, vindictive but regretful elderly lady who doesn’t see her two adult children, and we have the backbone of this short novel.

I am amazed that all these strands can come together in such a few pages, but they do and it works. The title of the book works in two ways – that will make sense if you choose to read this book. God is indeed on the rocks, in the literal sense, and God is certainly rocking in the stability stakes; as are many of the characters. But, along with my amazement, I find myself sitting here thinking just how good a story it is.

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is told in a lively fashion, sharply written and it is a page turner. I read it in a very short time, and my mind was kept alert at all times. I would recommend this with the caveat that if you are less familiar with the foibles of the English and their ways, you might just find yourself struggling to grasp the nuances of the text.

BookerBookBloke verdict 7(and a bit) out of 10

Why not try my short story about the life of Florence Nightingale. It can be found at:

or what about the final night of Guy Fawkes before his death. That can be found at:

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Swimming Home

Swimming Home
By Deborah Levy

And Other Stories, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-908276-02-5

There is always a title that gives a different, odd look at something ordinary; in this case a holiday. The oddity comes in the form of the girl who was found swimming in the pool. The work itself though, is far from odd. Cleverly written, in a fast paced manner, it poses all the questions that one should expect from a Booker Prize shortlisted book.
I had no reason at all to disbelieve any of the characters, situations or the plot line at all, but it is also fair to say that the reactions of family members surely wouldn’t be the same as if it happened on our holiday. Would they? But it remains a page turner. It deals with issues that we perhaps prefer not to bring into the open, but it does do this with a sharp sense of humour and in a light fashion.
Depression, and all the effects it has on someone, and the immediate circle of family and friends becomes the main thrust of the story, but it is easy to get embroiled without realising it and then finding yourself in a tangled web with all the characters.
Why does Isobel, the wife, allow Kitty to remain after being found in the pool? And what is the significance of Kitty’s determination to have her work read by Joe, the husband and published poet? When the inclusions of the issues concerning Isobel’s friend, Laura and her husband Mitchell are explored, then the simple plot line takes a decidedly twisted turn. The last component for the story, their next door neighbour and the local villa caretaker, with their tale involvement the book transforms from a mundane idea into a book worthy of its place on the 2012 list.
Not the longest of stories, I read it in two sittings, it is a book that you will not want to put down, for fear of missing the next bit, and also from fear of losing the plot. It is very much a book to pick up for the quality value, and in my opinion, a fabulous tale of love found and lost, illness ignored and acknowledged and ordinariness with bizarreness thrown in for good measure. I want to call it a good yarn, but it is much better and cleverer than that. I am looking forward to reading more from this author.
BookerBookBloke verdict 7/10

Why not try my short tale about the life of Florence Nightingale on:

or spend the last evening alive with Guy Fawkes on:

Monday, 1 April 2013


By Jeet Thayil

Faber &Faber, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-571-27576-2

When the shortlist was announced, this was the book I looked forward to most. A new author, a tale of old India, Bombay, and all set in a time when turbulence abounded. It did, I’m afraid, leave me with a disappointment that causes me difficulty in writing this blog. You see, I couldn’t finish it. Taking my own mantra on board about not wasting time in struggling with a book you don’t enjoy, I failed to get past the first 70 pages.

I tried while waiting in the doctor’s surgery; I tried reading it as my bedtime reading; riding on a bus to work; and I even tried to read it as a study piece, in the quiet, at a table and almost making notes.  But nothing worked for me. The book makes no sense to me at all. To my mind, the author has mixed up the real world, the dreams and aspirations of the main protagonist along with opium filled settings, visions and hallucinations. Confused? I certainly was. I know that this was possibly the intention of Thayil.

I have no objection to new works written in new styles, but this particular one had me completely baffled. I can honestly say that I had absolutely no idea about what was going on; I do understand that there was a plot line and the failing is mine, not the authors.  I had decided that as the book was in the same sort of time era and geography, it would be in the same ilk as work by Rohinton Mistry. Trust me here, it isn’t! If I am fortunate enough to have Mr. Thayil read my blog, then I do apologise for not enjoying the tale, but not for the comparison to Mistry. For my money, the book doesn’t even get close.  

However, should you have read this book, or do so in future, I would welcome your comments on the blog site; who knows, I might be given a reason to have another look and trying to decipher the story. It just might need a long train journey to do so though.

BookerBookBloke verdict 2/10

Why not try my short story about the life and times of Florence Nightingale? 
It can be found, online at:

or one about the last night of Guy Fawkes: