Reflections On The Best Books Of 2011

As 2011 comes to an end I’m finding myself stuck in a reflective and thoughtful mood. It’s the time of year for tinsel and turkey but also the time of year to think of what we’ve achieved, what we’re disappointed we haven’t achieved and what we hope to get from the coming new year. As an avid reader who surrounds myself with books I have invariably ended up musing on the books that made 2011 for me. So I thought I would jot down my thoughts here and share them all with you. 

The first book that really blew me away this year was Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, I was given the book for valentine’s day and the story of fated love set to the back drop of a speculative version of England made for an interesting and emotional parody to the traditional love story. I certainly had a book hugging moment when reading Never Let Me Go, how could I not?

The next book to really grip me was Room by Emma Donoghue. The hype of this book seemed to escape me and when I was handed a copy it was with little appreciation that I began reading it. But Donoghue’s magic didn’t fail me for long and I was soon exchanging sleep for stolen hours reading this book late into the night (that sounds almost like a love affair doesn’t it?). But I really did love this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it.

One Day is another book that really made my 2011 reading experience. The story is simple enough but it’s told with such a frank and honest approach that I found the novel and it’s messages deeply moving and engaging; for me the perfect reading experience.

Another book to captivate my attention and stick with me this year turned out to be Grace Williams Says It loud by Emma Henderson. How could I not be blown away by this book? Henderson shines a light on a subject that is rarely explored and does this in such a candid manner that the book is a shocking but emotional page turner that’s hard to forget.

Carrying on with the Orange Prize theme I also read and loved the debut novel Annabel. Although I will admit that my interest in the book waned towards the end overall I loved this book, I found her voice powerful and inspiring; this book is simply one of the most pleasurable books I’ve read this year.

One of my favorite books this year and one I’m not likely to forget (or shut about anytime soon) is The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly. This novel epitomizes my ideal book, secrecy, scandal, mystery and complex relations; this book ticks all the boxes and had me gripped from day one. If you haven’t read this book I’d highly recommend you do.

Colette is a writer I discovered in 2011 and her novella Gigi is a book that really stands out for me and was a pleasure to read. The glimpse of life as a society girl for Gigi in late Paris was delectable and really made a sunny day spent in Spain an extra treat.

And lastly a book I had low expectations for but loved was The Girls by Lori Lansen. It’s a story about Conjoined Twins and it’s one of those rare novels that in one breath has you crying in sorrow and in another smiling and filled with joy at the beautiful outlook on life that Lansen possesses.

So there the books that I’m most thankful to have read this year and the one’s that I wont forget. I may at some point decide to reflect on the books that really didn’t do it for me and the one’s that let me down. But what about everyone else? What books did you love this year, what would you recommend, what can you not stop talking about?

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Drum Roll Please….A Winner is annoucned

After much excitement, anticipation, and a lot of second guessing at last a winner has been announced for this years Orange Prize for fiction. And the winner is Tea Obreht for her debut novel The Tigers Wife.

The winner was announced last night at London’s Royal festival Hall, Southbank Centre. Can you even imagine how thrilled and elated Tea Obreht must still be feeling right now?

I haven’t read The Tigers Wife yet which is a bit frustrating as I would love to be able to give a more informed response to this years winner. This books been firmly on my TBR list since it made the short list but so have a lot of other books and for some reason I kept choosing something else.

I have to say I was a little surprised, going by other people’s preferences and opinions, I was sure either Annabel, Grace Williams Says it Loud or Room would win. Having read the last two I was happy to see either scoop the prize. I’ve also read mixed reviews of this book so was quite taken a back to see it be crowned the winner.

That said you can never tell which way the judges are going to go for can you?And I’ve also read some amazing things about this book, it definitely sounds like an original and cleverly written piece of work so maybe I shouldnt be so surprised.

Will I be reading this book? Definitely. Although I don’t like to read a book solely on the basis that it’s won an award, even one that I admire as much as the Orange Prize, I think your always primed for disappointment if you read something solely on this basis. However this book was already resting in my TBR pile and after reading the first chapter which is available to read for free here, thanks to the lovely people of Orange, I’m now a lot more curious than before.

Have you read this book? Was it the book you wanted to win? Or the one you thought would win? Or are you surprised to see it scoop this years prize? Perhaps you wanted the award to go to someone else? Do tell me your thoughts.

On a slightly seperate note I was also very shocked when I found out that not only was The Tigers Wife Tea Obreht’s debut novel she is also only twenty-five years old! and now she’s won this prestigious award.

Perhaps because were the same age I was even more taken a back, what an amazing achievement for someone so young. Obreht has also produced a number of short stories which I think I’ll have a go at reading so hopefully I will be as bowled over by this up and coming writer as the Orang judges seem to have been.

Will you be reading The Tigers Wife or any of her short stories? Or are you already a fan?

Orange Prize for Fiction – Shortlist unveiled

It seems like only five minutes ago that the long list was announced for the 2011 Orange award, where did the time go? So you can imagine my surprise this morning when an email dropped into my inbox announcing this years short list. Off course I was also extremely excited as this is an award I love and almost all of the books on the list have really grabbed my attention. So who’s made the cut?

 Annabel – Kathleen Winter (1st novel)

Grace Williams says it Loud – Emma Henderson (1st novel)

Great House – Nicole Krauss (3rd novel)

Room – Emma Donoghue (7th novel)

The Memory of Love Aminatta Forna (2nd novel)

Tea Obreht – The Tiger’s Wife (Ist Novel) 

Despite my excitement over the event I must confess I’ve still only read Room by Emma Donoghue. Usually I would have devoured a lot more but my list of books to read this year seems to be higher than ever. However I do have whatever you love by Louise Doughty, Grace Williams say it loud by Emma Henderson and also Annabel by Kathleen Winter on my bookshelf at home crying out to be read.  The long list was full of eye-catching gems that I desperately wanted to read but these are the three that really stuck out for me. I was a little disappointed to see that Whatever you love hadn’t made the short list as it was one of my highly anticipated reads, however I will still be reading it soon. I wonder if I will still be disappointed that it didn’t make the short list? Or if I will think that the decision was the right one?

I’m also desperate to start Grace Williams say it loud. After reading the synopsis for it my first thought was I have to read this book! So I am really pleased to see it on the list, I hope it lives up to my expectations as it’s a book I’m extremely excited to read. I’ve heard great things about it so to see it on the short list is further fuelling my anticipation. Has anyone else read it yet? would you recommend it?

I’ve also heard a lot of great things about Annabel, although I must confess that I slightly judged the book by the cover the first time I saw it, (a cardinal sin, I know) I found the cover quite foreboding and dark however from the buzz of winning praise surrounding this book at the moment, I clearly shouldn’t be perturbed by a cover, shame on me perhaps? Seeing it on the short list has sealed my interest so this is another book for the TBR list, wow it’s getting longer still.

As previously mentioned I have already read Room and this ia book I just loved. The story gripped me from start to finish and it still lingers with me now so I’ am thrilled to see it on the list.

The shortlist is as diverse as ever with three debut novels making the list and a variety of writers from around the world. Off course this is what is so good about the Orange award; the way in which it sheds light on such a broad scope of talent and celebrates the ability of both first time writers as well as long serving writers.

I think it’s time to start getting stuck into the rest of the books, both the short list and the long list (I still want to read everything on there…all in good time). I wonder out of the three books I’ve mentioned on my TBR list, and indeed the whole of the short and long list is there anything you would strongly recommend? Anything that I just have to read?

What do you think about the short list? Are you pleased with the finalists or is there a writer you really wanted to see but regrettably didn’t? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Orange Long List Announced

It’s that time of year again , the Orange Prize for Fiction have at long last announced the long list for this years award. The literary world and the internet have been abuzz with excited chatter about this years long list; some people seem to be thrilled with this years nominations, whilst I have noticed some disappointment about titles that haven’t made the grade. I must admit that I have, rather shamefully, only read one book on the list ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue. I am thrilled to see this book on there as I recently read it and was just blown away by the story and the way that Donoghue writes. I wonder then will the other titles have quite the same effect on me?

I’d love to get them all read by the announcement of the shortlist on April 12th but truthfully I think that’s a long shot, instead I wonder are there any books on the list that you would strongly recommend I read? I have recently purchased ‘Whatever You Love’ by Louise Doughty so that’s on my TBR list, has anyone one else read this yet? Can you recommend it as a good read?

The list this year is as follows: 

 

Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

Room by Emma Donoghue

The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi

Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

The London Train by Tessa Hadley

Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson

The Seas by Samantha Hunt

The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna

Great House by Nicole Krauss

The Road to Wanting by Wendy Law-Yone

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Repeat it Today with Tears by Anne Peile

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

The Swimmer by Roma Tearne

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

 
 

As I’ve said I’ve only read one title on the list so far, but I am looking to remedy this. The Orange Prize for Fiction is one of my favourite literary awards. I love that it shines the spotlight on female writers and celebrates newcomers too. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the award, are you pleased with the writers on this list, is there anything you really wanted to see on there but didn’t? Please let me know.

Room – By Emma Donoghe

One of the most gripping and powerfully told stories I’ve read this year. I laughed, I cried, I fell in love with Donoghue’s writting.

I’m always a little wary when I read a book that has had as much talk and praise about it as Emma Donoghue’s Room does. A book long listed for the Orange prize this year and short listed for The Man Booker Prize last year. Would the book live up to my expectations? Would I feel that I’ve missed something that all other readers seemed to have found? I have to admit that Room did not meet my expectations…it exceeded them.

The story starts on Jacks 5th birthday, he lives in ‘Room’, which really is just a 11×11 room that he shares with his Ma. We very quickly realize that Jack has never left this room, he was born here and he has no knowledge of the outside world. For him the small, confining space is his only world. The only glimpse he has had that anyone else exists is through the television, but his Ma has told him that everything in the TV is not real. They are just pictures. Make believe. From the very first words of the book a haunting and ominous presence leaks from the pages. Although we don’t know straight away the details of Jacks strange circumstances we are presided with an unnerving sense of unease.

Jack and his mother are being held captive by scary ‘Old Nick’ who comes in the night when Jack is sleeping in Wardrobe. Sometimes though, Jack who the entire story is narrated through, stays awake. And in the compelling and artistic way that Donoghue writes, Jack describes through his childish voice how he hears Bed creaking when Old Nick comes. If this sounds creepy now the feeling is nothing compared to what the author manages to convey, whilst retaining the innocence of youth in Jacks story telling. What is so precious about Jack is how intuitively he knows something is amiss, he counts all of his teeth when Old Nick is there, an OCD trait, yet he doesn’t quite grasp what is going on. He allows the readers to unveil the shocking truth and we become more and more empathetic for this loveable young boy.

I touched on the narration of the story and how Jack manages to tell the haunting story whilst ensuring that a youthful and endearing quality remains. It’s this dual purpose gained from Jacks narration that ensured my appreciation for just how well Donoghue had handled such a sensitive and shaky subject matter. On the one hand there is something disturbing and frightening about the fact that this haunting story is told by a small boy; that he is witnessing the rape of his mother every night, that he thinks inanimate objects like a wardrobe are his friends. It adds a creepy sense that subtly hits home to us just how morally wrong and damaging this story of captivity is. On the other hand the innocence of Jack also prevents this story from becoming too heavy, which off course could very easily happen in a tale like this.

The childishness of Jack is heartbreaking. The way he depicts his life in such an affectionate way, for example he tells us about ‘meltedy spoon’ and ‘egg snake’ that he and Ma made from broken egg shells. He describes them with fondness and refers to them as his friends. That Jack has had so little in the way of material possessions in his life, and yet he talks about his toys like friends and with so much joy deepens the story with unmistakable sadness. Room touches nerves and taps into emotions in a way that other writers have aspired to affect their readers but haven’t quite managed. And that this is written in such a childish manner and yet still packs such a blow just blew me away. Something you may think would come easily in a story about kidnapping, but I have read various novels and semi autobiographical books on this subject matter and honestly, sometimes I felt quite desensitized by the factual way the stories were told.

As the story wears on Jacks Ma begins to explain to him that there is more to the world than just him, her, and room. There is a whole world out there and all of the police cars, children, animals, hospitals, beaches he has seen on TV are actually real. She tells him that they shouldn’t be in this room but they are trapped by old Nick. What really tugged at my heartstrings was Jack’s reluctance to join the real world and his denial that they are a part of it. He desperately wants to cling onto the notion that only him and Ma exist and here the depiction of a mother and child relationship is magnificently displayed.

I don’t think anyone could read this story and not be touched by the frail lives of Ma and Jack and the fierce bonds that there circumstances create. The relationship between them is in one sense like an everyday mother and child relationshi yet it is magnified in this story of the captivity.

Room is a unique novel, it’s a story that has been touched upon before but not in this way and it’s this that made it for me such a spectacular and unforgettable novel. I’d highly recommend it too anyone wanting something a little different but also something moving that will get you thinking.

As I said earlier Room is up for the Orange prize for fiction. There will be a post up soon about all of the nominations, which I must confess I haven’t read yet. I wonder if they will be quite as powerful as Room?

Have you read Room? Did you feel as blown away by the story? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

10/10