Friday, 31 January 2014

The February Shortlist

Three novels for the shortest month of the year....

The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness
The first of the Chaos Walking blockbuster trilogy. Discover what you're missing by ignoring the Young Adult shelves. 

The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer
Winner of the Costa Book Awards 2013 from debut writer Nathan Filer

All Souls - Javier Marias
Published by Penguin Modern Classics this campus novel might just fill a 'Stoner' shaped hole.

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Slap and Barracuda present a contemporary view of Australia through the eyes of one of the most exciting writers today.

Christos Tsiolkas's novels present a striking portrayal of an Australia at odds with the myth borne out of soap operas and popular culture - Ramsey Street this ain't! Instead, Tsiolkas's Australia is visceral, contentious and uncertain but ultimately compelling for the reader.

In the blockbuster novel The Slap we meet a Melbourne suburban community at a family BBQ, so far so recognisable. The switch occurs in a divisive moment when one of the guests, Harry, slaps someone else's child. This highly charged moment sends ripples throughout the BBQ and the lives of the guests whose attitudes reflect deep and strongly held personal beliefs at conflict with each other.  

"Whose side will you take?" asks the book's cover - a key reference to the structure of the book in which each chapter offers a different insight into the key characters.

The most compelling relationship is that between the hosts of the BBQ, Hector and Aisha, but the chapter concerning Hector's father Manolis is perhaps the best written. Whilst empathy is in short supply, the pay off for the reader is to see the world through the individual frames of each character - this is where Tsiolkas's talent lies.

Yes, the novel is over-flowing with drug taking, sex and adultery. Some readers have felt that this goes too far but others have argued that, in the themes and language used, the novel is simply holding a mirror up to modern Australia.

Sympathy for the main characters is in short supply leaving the "Whose side are you on?" question possibly unanswered however, the reward for readers is to experience a well crafted story iconic of its time and place.

Flash forward to Tsiolkas's new novel Barracuda and we meet Danny, a talented athlete with a obsessive drive to fulfil his destiny as a world class swimmer. Danny is from a working class family but wins a scholarship, on the back of his prodigious talent as a swimmer, much to his father's antipathy.

The structure of the novel allows the reader to simultaneously witness both Danny's rise to national swimming star alongside his fall into drug taking, crime and prison.

Danny initially uses his unchartered sexuality to his advantage - his adoration of his fellow team mates drives a steely competitiveness that untimely leads to success. Later, in jail, his relations with other inmates turn darker as he spirals into self loathing and resentment. On leaving prison, Danny's skills as a carer, initially for a cousin and later at work, ultimately save him however, the bitter taste of unfulfilled dreams and wasted potential runs throughout the story.

Following a best seller like The Slap was never going to be easy. Having achieved world wide acclaim with the novel and TV adaptation Tsiolkas could have chosen to write a further novel with this same audience in mind. Instead Barracuda is a much tighter story based around one key character rather than the ensemble of The Slap which in itself will alienate some. However, Barracuda's themes of family crisis, class divide and broken dreams in modern Australia pick up right where The Slap finished.

Tsiolkas's work may be raw and dark in places but what is lacking in polish is made up for in truth. The multi-cultural Australia portrayed in these novels depicts a nation at a cross roads - wealthier and more cosmopolitan than ever yet still unable to reconcile a patch-work of ideology and faith.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Inspiring teens to read can be tough. So many, especially boys, abandon fiction at secondary school for other forms of 'entertainment'. Words seem to loose their cool quickly and suddenly.

Whilst reading lists from enthusiastic school teachers might look like home work, there is something to be said for more personal recommendations.

With the help of this blog's facebook friends we're putting together the Word's Shortlist of teen reads. To add your recommendations tweet @wordsshortlist or comment to the post on FB. 

The Teen fiction shortlist:

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 1/4 - Sue Townsend
The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
1984 - George Orwell
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

The best modern young adult fiction....

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness
Grimm's Tales - Philip Pullman

Sunday, 19 January 2014

"From July of his sophomore year at college to January next year, Tsukuru Tasaki was living while mostly thinking about dying."

Random House may not have yet announced the release of the English translation of Murakami's new work Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his year's of pilgrimage but we do know that.... 

a) This novel reportedly sold over 1 million copies in its first week alone in Japan - typical native frenzy from this literary legend.

b) British fans of 1Q84 and Norwegian Wood will be queuing around the block on its release day - will bookstores run the same midnight events that occured around the launch of 1Q84?

The novel is already available in countries including Spain and The Netherlands (Dutch cover photographed below) but looks like we'll have to wait a little longer for the English translation. 

Internet chat suggests that we could see the novel released in August 2014. In the meantime, there's time to catch up on Murakami classics. 

The Word's Shortlist recommends:

Norwegian Wood
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Kafka on the Shore

Murakami fans are loyal and committed which makes up for the lack of media publicity from Murakami himself. One of the best fan blogs includes a nifty map detailing all the places mentioned in novels. See the 1Q84 map of Tokyo here

Murakami bibliography here

Monday, 13 January 2014

The Luminaries is an epic read. At over 800 pages this tome requires commitment, application and stamina! Eleanor Catton’s 19th Century gold-rush tale is beautifully written and rich with sublime prose that’s deserving of the huge critical acclaim and Booker recognition.

The story unfolds in a New Zealand gold mining outpost, home to prospectors and financiers from Europe and China, and centres around twelve key townsmen dealing with a mysterious death. As an historic novel this era of extreme hope and optimism, alongside harsh toil and bitter hardship, is rendered exceptionally. The Wilderness of the setting creates a microcosm in which the central characters exist alongside blurred lines and fabricated personal histories. Impeccable research, along with the framing of the narrative around two strong females make this a compelling read for fans of historic drama.

Structurally the book is a marvel- but therein lies the rub. Concentration is seriously required to tie together the fragmented narrative which swings backwards and forwards in time as it focuses on each character. The risk for the occasional reader is that the plot will essentially be lost in a tangle of timelines and intricate relationships. The chapters become progressively shorter (a reference to the overarching lunar theme) which drives the pace forward brilliantly and each chapter begins with a 19th Century style resume which readers of classical fiction will recognise and appreciate.

The plot itself is well conceived and packs a punch in terms of twists and turns so long as you can follow them! The lunar calendar theme possibly plays a larger part then alluded to in this piece however, to the untrained this will be a secondary device to the character driven plot.
Identity is one of the main conceits in the narrative which has plenty of intriguing personalities and back stories. The characters are all believable; particularly the linch pin Anna whose fortunes wax and wane throughout the story. Another engaging character is Ah Sook the owner of an opium den in the nearby Chinese settlement.

In short, The Luminaries is an engaging experience and a reminder how good great writing can be. The key reward for readers here is to simply enjoy literature at its best. Eleanor Catton literally leads you into labyrinth world which you are unlikely to forget. Let the prose sweep you up!

Follow the Shortlist on twitter @wordsshortlist

Read about a potential TV mini series here:

Friday, 10 January 2014

Beautifully crafted and skilfully structured - if a bit of a schlep at over 800 pages.

Anyone reading The Luminaries?

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

“Fugu poisoning is hideously painful and almost always fatal”
A Family Supper, Kazuo Ishiguro

Still looking for your first read of the New Year? The 'Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories' is the perfect way to discover writers from Kingsley Amis and Ian McEwan to Julian Barnes and Angela Carter.

This collection features 34 short stories, including traditional and more experimental piec
es, from many of the most highly regarded authors.

The Word’s Shortlist favourites:

A Family Supper by Kazuo Ishiguro
Memories of the Space Age by JG Ballard
The invisible Japanese Gentlemen by Graham Green

Pick up a copy, delve in and try something new and let us know what works for you!


Friday, 3 January 2014

'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt has made the November Shortlist. Find out why below...

Warning: this book is addictive and could keep you reading all night. Book some annual leave, sit back and enjoy!!

The Goldfinch is a triumph . . . Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction (Stephen King New York Times)...

A modern epic and an old-fashioned pilgrimage...Dickens with guns, Dostoevsky with pills, Tolstoy with antiques. And if it doesn't gain Tartt entry to the mostly boys' club that is The Great American Novel, to drink with life-members John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth et al, then we should close down the joint and open up another for the Great Global Novel - for that is what this is (Alex O’Connell The Times)
What happened when The Word's Shortlist met one of the best selling authors on the planet?

Follow the link below to Radio 4's Bookclub with Lee Child. Check out the question at 9m 35s from yours truly.

Lee Child talks about the development of his Jack Reacher character and discusses first novel, The Killing Floor, in detail.

Which is your favourite of the Reacher series??
Sycamore Row by John Grisham had made the December Shortlist. Find out why below...

In this novel Grisham returns to his first novel 'A time to kill' and picks up 3 years later. The launch has been hailed as an 'event' in the US as the first part of the story is such a popular classic. A great novel in its own right but even more interesting given the current trend for authors revisiting earlier ...
works - King's 'Dr Sleep' is another recent example.

Sycamore Row bristles with all the old authority....It's good to see the troubled attorney back (Independent 2013-11-05)

As with earlier books by Grisham, what we are given here is the purest of unvarnished storytelling. Grisham has no truck with any studied elegance of style; he is more in touch with the strategies played out in the books of such predecessors as Erle Stanley Gardner and his dogged attorney, Perry Mason. But he knows that modern readers require a conflicted, multifaceted hero, and that he provides in Jake Brigance. It's good to see the troubled attorney back. (The Independent)

A solid courtroom thriller with plenty to say about the long half-life of prejudice in the deep south... The much-trailed conclusion is powerful. (Guardian 2013-11-02)
Autobiography by Morrissey has made the Word's shortlist. Find out why below.....

On the one hand this is a straight forward autobiography with plenty to keep any music and culture fan of the eighties engaged but on the other hand Morrisse
y’s prose is as eloquent as any literary heavy-weight; worthy of a Penguin Classic? You'll decide.

At its best the book charts the rise to fame (infamy?) of one of THE creative icons of our time. From enigmatic front man to pop cultural loner, the book delves to the darkest depths of the mainstream music scene. At its worst, the book’s bitchy jabs border on the obsessive. Clever wit or down right pretension, draw your own conclusions.

This is a book for the Northerner in everyone. You'll smell the mouldy damp and taste the beer battered fish. 1970s and 80s Manchester is vividly brought to life to a sound-track by The Smith’s. In 2007 Morrissey was voted the greatest Northern Male, past or present, in a nationwide newspaper survey and by the end of the first third of the book you’ll appreciate why.

One thing is for sure, this is a great piece of writing from one of the best pop lyricists the UK has ever produced.

Enjoy and share
The Word's Shortlist shelfie

(Well everyone else is doing it!)

All titles available to loan from the Shortlist's very own lending Library - coming soon....

Most inconclusive read of the holiday period?
James Franco's Actors Anonymous.

This novel blurs the boundaries between fiction and memoir as Franco adopts various (too many) narrative styles to expose a Hollywood he clearly understands we

Read if you're interested in the raw and unvarnished celebrity condition. Avoid if you like your fiction a little less brutal.

We're feeling ambivalent with this one at The Word's Shortlist.

What's on your book shelf this month?
Kick of your 2014 reading with the January Shortlist.
This month includes a Booker prize winner from 2013, a global best seller from 2006 and a collection of short stories for those who don't know where to start!

The Luminaries - Eleano
r Catton

The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas
The Penguin Book of Modern Short stories - Malcolm Bradbury (editor)

 Please like, share and look out for more posts about these titles and others.