Man Booker reading 6 - The Lowland and wrap-up

>> Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Man Booker reading 1 - Harvest and The Kills

Man Booker reading 2 - The Luminaries

Man Booker reading 3 - A Tale For The Time Being

Man Booker reading 4 - We Need New Names

Man Booker reading 5 - The Testament of Mary

Finally, with only a week to go, I got to Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland. In it, we travel back to 1960s Calcutta to meet brothers Subhash and Udayan. Subhash is the older brother and a solid, dependable young man who gets dragged into scrapes by his more mischievous, daring younger brother. As they grow up, Subhash continues to be dependable and conscientious, while Udayan continues to be a daring troublemaker. Their closeness begins to fray when they enter university and Subhash concentrates on his studies while Udayan gets involved in a revolutionary movement and his life becomes all about bringing about social change, whatever the danger that brings him. The book then covers decades and 4 generations, moving between Calcutta and the US, where Subhash moves for his graduate studies and ends up staying.

It starts out well, with wide themes being embodied in the characters' lives, from social injustice to environmentalism, and including familial obligation and how that can be interpreted in the modern world. I was really excited about how those contrasting approaches of Subhash and Udayan might be developed and confronted. But after the death of an important character, the focus becomes much narrower, and we spend a lot of time looking at a loveless marriage falling apart and at a woman chafing against the roles life has imposed on her. Now, I actually love novels that focus on very domestic issues (I'm a romance reader, after all, and think there's little more fascinating than relationships) and I should have been captivated by that important female character, but this just wasn't done in a way I found particularly interesting or illuminating. It felt cold, like we were getting a bird's eye view of the characters' lives, without really getting involved. The way it was narrated didn't help, as the sections from several characters' points of view were done in quite an omniscient way, which felt a bit distancing.

There were several points where I felt the book could have ended, including about halfway through, and about two thirds in. Lahiri did reengage me in the story for short periods, but it all felt like it was being stretched a bit, possibly unnecessarily. In the end I wasn't sorry I'd read it, but was quite underwhelmed. A B-.

So, that is that. It looked for a while like I might not make it and I did wonder whether I even should, but it was just a (really long) blip. I don't think I would have picked up any of these books independently, and I think I would have missed something if I hadn't, so this project of reading the shortlist still looks like a good idea.

The winner will be announced tonight. And after all that reading, I suspect who I think should win and who I think will win might have different answers. The first question is easy to answer. A Tale For The Time Being was by far my favourite. I thought it was objectively really impressive, but I also really enjoyed it and thought it was very fresh and different. The thing is, it didn't really feel like the sort of book that would win. I don't know if I can put my finger on it, but that's my gut feeling. If I had to guess, I would go for Harvest. That was my initial guess, based purely on the fact that there is a perception that Jim Crace is due a win, and given that the book really is very, very good, I don't think it would be a tragedy if this did happen.


w 15 October 2013 at 16:58  

I'd read that Harvest is Jim Crace last book supposedly. Of all the books mentioned, I'd give his book a try. As for the The Lowland, I did read another review that was a bit more positive. Still, it's on my maybe list.

CD,  16 October 2013 at 03:06  

I imagine you're probably rather let down by the result today!

I'm not much for literary fiction - I'm much more of a genre girl - but thanks for doing the trawl yourself. I think we have fairly similar tastes so I'm thinking about trying out "A tale for the time being", or perhaps "We need new names" because hey, Zimbabwe.

Hope you're currently cleaning your palate with a hot romance ;).

Rosario 16 October 2013 at 06:25  

Keishon: Yes, he's said he's retiring, which is something you don't hear very often from a writer! It's worth reading Harvest, it's good. With Lahiri, from all I've heard, it might be better to try one of her short story collections first. They seem to be universally loved!

CD: I know, ugh! Part of me is going "hmm, maybe I should go back to it", but no, I did give it a more than fair shake!

I've been reading more literary fiction the last few years. I still love romance, but I do quite like the having no idea of where a story is going, and you get that more often in lit fic (some, of course, is just as predictable as the worse genre fiction!). The Ozeki and the Bulawayo are worth trying. They're both pretty absorbing, quick reads, as well. Would love to hear what you think if you do read them.

Hah, I definitely am! It feels goood!! :)

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