Tag Archives: Books

Orange Prize Awards Ceremony

I had a brilliant time at the awards ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall last night; making my way up the orange carpet and being greeted with a glass of  champagne was just the beginning! The atmosphere was fantastic, although one of the best moments for me was meeting Emma Donoghue, whose shortlisted novel Room was our Orange Prize youth panel’s winner.

Above all, congratulations to Téa Obreht, whose debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife, was the 2011 winner (and the youngest ever winner) of the Orange Prize! To read my full review of The Tiger’s Wife, click here.

Téa Obreht on winning the Orange Prize:

M.

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Review: ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ by Téa Obreht

WINNER OF THE ORANGE PRIZE FOR FICTION 2011!

The Tiger’s Wife is set in ‘Balkan country still scarred by war’ and tells the story of a young doctor, Natalia, who wants to discover the real reason for her grandfather’s mysterious departure from home days before his death. Natalia has reason to believe that her grandfather died searching for ‘the deathless man’, but why would a man of science pursue a mere myth?

As well as following Natalia’s struggle to understand her grandfather’s quest, Obreht weaves in folk tales and myths from the region. Two myths in particular represent a large portion of the books; the story of a tiger who escaped from a zoo during the bombing of Belgrade in World War 2, and who settled near the secluded mountain village where Natalia’s grandfather grew up; and the curious tale of the ‘deathless man’ and his various encounters with Natalia’s grandfather.

Obreht’s writing is magical – she does not get drawn into the politics and history of the war-torn setting of the Balkans but focuses instead on the human stories and tales which live on despite (or perhaps because of) the war. She has a clear talent for forming a character and describing the entirety of their life in a few pages – which she does, regularly, in order for the reader to see what the main characters cannot, and to enable the reader to understand and even sympathize with the more brutal characters in the book.

However, Téa’s talent for storytelling means that, in places, the book goes off on tangents and departs from the main story. The plot of The Tiger’s Wife is winding and varied, but the lack of focus can lead to confusion as to where the novel is taking you. Sections of the book are not always as smoothly connected as you would wish – the book takes you on a looping journey which is disruptive to the central plot. However, the clever links between past and present; between myth and reality, are ever present in the novel and prevent the story from veering too far off track.

The book deals with the complicated themes of the dangers and benefits of superstition and folk-lore, as well as the eternal struggle for man to come to terms with death. The dark background of war only serves to bring out the bright colours of the characters, although not much context is provided and the setting can be hard to understand if you, like me, have little historical understanding of the area.

All in all, The Tiger’s Wife is a spell-binding first novel which manages to bring together ancient myths and modern logic. The book is made rich with the superstitions and stories of a place, and is told with great love and understanding of the area: there can be no doubt that 24 year old Téa is an astonishingly accomplished storyteller.

M.

If you want to find out more about the Orange Prize, go to http://www.orangeprize.co.uk/ or check out their facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/orangeprize

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Review: ‘Great House’ by Nicole Krauss

Great House is not so much one novel but four: split between past and present, its five narrators each tell their story. Although the blurb states that it is ‘a desk of many drawers’ which connects these tales, the narrations are bound more tightly by questions of heredity, roots and loss.

The novel starts with Nadia, who for 25 years has written at the desk which was left in her flat by a young Chilean poet who disappeared into the hands of Pinochet’s secret police. Then there is Lotte Berg, a generation older but also a writer who worked at the desk for many years. Lotte’s story is told by her husband, who has found out his wife’s darkest secret only after her death, and is haunted by what the desk represents. The Weisz family feature too: George Weisz – the commanding father of Leah and Yoav – devotes his life to finding the desk, which belonged to his father. For Leah and Yoav, the desk represents their continual struggle with their father and his obsession with the past. Their tale is told by Isabelle; Yaov’s lover and outsider to the Weisz family.

The only story with no link to the desk is Aaron’s – the story of an old Israeli who, coming to the end of his life, has to face up to the void between him and one of his adult sons, who he has never been able to relate to. This, for me, is the most resonant story: Aaron’s resentment, anger and unexpressed love for his son make for a thrilling narration.

“We search for patterns, you see, only to find where the patterns break. And it’s there, in that fissure, that we pitch out tents and wait”

The novel can be confusing – the sudden changes of character and setting (the book straddles four cities: London, Oxford, New York and Jerusalem) do disrupt the flow of the book, and the links between the stories can seem tenuous. But the disjointed tales are all connected one way or another, and in the end the links are almost irrelevant: Krauss is challenging the reader to overcome the lack of structure, to step back and to see the big picture – the Great House.

Despite this, the beauty of the book is not in the larger picture but in the detail of the narrations: Krauss’s skill as a writer is undeniable. Her characters are made human by their pride, lack of faith and inability to identify with each other. The novel can be hard to piece together when you’re reading it (even after reading it I feel like it needs a second going through to identify all of the smaller links) but it is so rewarding to piece together. It is a novel I know I will not forget.

M.

To find out more about the Orange Prize, go to http://www.orangeprize.co.uk/ or check out their facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/orangeprize

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The Orange Prize Youth Panel’s Verdict!

Following our judging meeting last week, the youth panel‘s decision was announced yesterday: our winner is Room by Emma Donoghue, although the real winner of the prize will be announced this evening.

To read more about the youth panel’s decision, visit the Orange Newsroom.

This is what I had to say about the novel and our decision as a panel:

“We all agreed Room stood out. For us, it was the most accessible and gripping, and a real page turner. It’s an horrific tale told with powerful innocence – we all felt it changes the way you view the world and makes you question your environment.”

To read my full review of Room, click here. I loved the novel, and it was clear from the start of the youth panel’s meeting that Room was the most popular.

M x.x

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The Orange Prize Youth Judging Panel

Yesterday was the Orange Prize youth judges’ meeting, so we met in central london to discuss the shortlist and pick our winner. It was so much fun meeting the other 5 youth judges and even though all the novels were amazing it was pretty clear which book had the most support from the start. I’m really pleased with the result, which will be announced next week…

Bring on the awards ceremony!

If you want to find out more about the Orange Prize, go to http://www.orangeprize.co.uk/ or check out their facebook page http://www.facebook.com/orangeprize

M x.x

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Review: ‘Annabel’ by Kathleen Winter

As it is on the Orange Prize shortlist 2011, Annabel was another novel I had to read as part of my role as an Orange Prize youth judge. It is the powerful story of a hermaphrodite born in 1968 into the remote north-east coast of Canada. Although the baby’s parents decide to go through surgery and raise the child as a boy named Wayne, as Wayne grows up his stifled shadow-self – a girl he thinks of as Annabel – begins to cry out.

Kathleen Winter captures the loneliness of the stark environment beautifully – a loneliness which is mirrored in Wayne, who must navigate the difficulty of hiding the woman inside him. Although Wayne has some support, nobody really understands him.

In an attempt to label him, to slot him into society’s rigid norms, a whole half of who Wayne is is suppressed. The compassionate novel raises issues concerning not only gender, but of individuality and belonging: Winter questions our perception of what ‘normal’ is, and the effects of our categorical culture.

The novel is beautifully written: understated but all the more moving because of that. Winter does not indulge the characters with sympathy but tells their story in a delicate manner which allows the reader to understand their situation all the better.

M x.x

If you want to find out more about the Orange Prize, go to http://www.orangeprize.co.uk/ or go to their facebook page http://www.facebook.com/orangeprize

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The Orange Prize for Fiction – M the Youth Judge!

Just to let y’all know, M has been chosen to take part in the Orange Prize’s Youth Panel, to discuss the 2011 shortlist and compare the novels. They’re all amazing books (reviews will be coming up shortly), and definitely worth reading – it’s always good to know what’s going down in the literary world as well as the world of fashion!

Keep up to date with Orange Prize news online…

website: http://www.orangeprize.co.uk/index.html

facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/orangeprize

aaaand Twitter: @OrangePrize

M x.x

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