Man Booker 2017 Shortlist Predictions

The clock is ticking and it won’t be long until the six lucky authors in the running for the UK’s biggest book prize are announced. So who is tipped to get their name on the list?

Newcomers Fridlund and Mozley seem to be longshots alongside Paul Auster’s epic tome 4,3,2,1. Previous winners Zadie Smith and Arundhati Roy, have both released big novels this year but the odds don’t seem to be in their favour. The innovative Solar Bones and Exit West are possibilities and could make exciting editions to the list. But who is at the top of the bookies and critics lists?

The Underground Railroad

A hugely relevant book for 2017, combining the history of slavery with sci-fi elements. With a number of awards already in the bag, is the one to beat?

Home Fire

A rewriting of Antigone brought into the 21st Century to reflect the complexities and tragedies of being a Muslim in 21st Century Britain.

Days Without End 

The Costa Book Award winner about the horrors two Irish men face during the American civil war is certainly a competitor.

Autumn

The first ‘post-brexit’ novel is a huge innovation in the way we consume fiction, published mere months after the fact keeps fiction relevant.

Lincoln in the Bardo

A poignant imagining of Lincoln mourning his 11 year old son, over the course of a night seems to have touched the hearts of readers and critics alike.

Reservoir 13  

A haunting novel about how lives are affected by loss is one of the bookies favourites for the shortlist.

What is your dream shortlist? As my favourite book of 2016, I would love to see Autumn on there, and Home Fire was truly heart-wrenching.

Which ones have you read so far?

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Austen novels are typically seen as being full of parties, parlours and proposals. Yet her novels have an enduring appeal and for good reason. Far from being simple romances, Austen depicts nuanced analysis and explorations of English society, relationships and even life as a young woman.

There’s more to Austen than meets the eye so here are some of the things you can find in her novels:

Politics
Whether it is the largely unspoken of sugar plantations which support Mansfield Park, or a sympathy towards social mobility seen through the Navy and trade, Austen’s novels are astutely political and are engaging with the social issues of her day. Austen is often seen as a conservative, though many have pointed out that she is far from it – critiquing inherited wealth, slavery and the superfluity of ‘polite’ society.

Feminism
Lizzie Bennett may not be burning bras but like Austen’s other heroines she is a strong female lead, who knows her own mind. All of Austen’s books are about women and women’s lives, something that was radical for the Regency era. Women are not perfect heroines either, Emma Woodhouse and Catherine Moreland have important lessons to learn throughout the course of their novels, meaning that they aren’t just two-dimensional characters. And as a bonus, Austen is pretty good at passing the Bechdel Test, more than some books and films today achieve.

Life Lessons
We have already noted that some of our favourite heroines have some learning curves to go on, but Austen is full of wonderful snippets of wisdom that are especially important for growing up. From being open-minded and holding strong convictions, to knowing when to question your thoughts and feelings, Austen is here to teach us that life, and people, are complicated and no-one is perfect.

Satire
Life, particularly the stiff, polite life of the Regency period, is no fun if you can’t have a laugh. At the expense of some of her characters she mocks extravagance and polite society. Even her heroines are not safe with poor Catherine Moreland’s wild imagination the means of parody for the gothic novel. Far from the politeness of the parlour, Austen’s narration is witty, from Pride and Prejudice‘s acerbic first line, to the one-liners of Mansfield Park.


So what are you waiting for? Pick up a novel, or watch one of the many wonderful adaptations to commemorate 200 years since Austen’s death. Let me know what you’ll be reading or watching in the comments or on twitter @ellenorange94

Picks of the Year so Far

We are over halfway through 2017 and I have read some wonderful novels so far, but what a

 

re the best releases from the front end of this year?
Here are my topic picks so far from 2017:

Three Daughters of Eve

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Elif Shafak’s tale of a young Turkish woman who comes to study at Oxford is exquisitely written and was a wonderful exploration of faith, belief and doubt, in an age when the world is becoming more and more hostile to those who think and believe differently to themselves.

The Lauras Copy of Penscratch Size (1)

What if one night your mother packed you into the car, left home and took you travelling across America? This novel is a road-trip with a difference and has some touching explorations of family relationships and coming to terms with who you are as a teenager and young adult, not to mention one who doesn’t identify with binary gender norms.

Stay With Me

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Yejide wants a baby. Yet, where she lives in Nigeria, having a baby and becoming a mother isn’t so much a choice as a central aspect of a woman’s existence. Pressures come for every angle, making the inability to conceive even more difficult to deal with. This novel deals with the consequences of these pressures on Yejide and her husband and it is utterly heartbreaking.

The Power

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This was my absolute favourite book – not just of this year either, it is in close competition as my favourite book of all time. Imagine if, overnight, women suddenly had a literal power that made them stronger than men. The world would quite literally turn upside down, but would it be the feminist utopia you would hope for? Read it to find out!

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

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Roy’s long awaited second novel had serious hype – was it worth it? Absolutely! It was beautiful, epic and expansive, not to mention completely immersive in an entirely different culture. Reading this will instantly transport you but it also dealt with some really important issues relevant in the world right now.


So there’s a common theme in that all of these authors are women and are all dealing with relevant contemporary and feminist issues. However, beyond that there is a real spread of different topics and different issues. I’m not ashamed that my reading has focused so heavily on female authors as they still make up a much lower percentage of all of the books I have ever read. 2017 is definitely a good year to be rectifying this and I hope that the next 6 months of books are as good as the first.

Books to read about Ireland

Recent news in the UK has brought Irish and Northern Irish politics to the forefront of British politics and front pages of our newspapers. For many people, the recent history of Irish politics will still be lived experience, but for those of us too young to recall, it may be something that school history hadn’t yet caught up with.

If, like me, you know little about the Troubles, IRA terrorism and how this has influenced the current political situations in Ireland and Northern Ireland then now is the perfect time to be reading up on this, in light of the Conservatives striking a deal with the DUP to establish their majority.

Here are a few fiction books that I will be looking at to get a better understanding of the history which is influencing the present:

Cal by Bernard Maclaverty

Cal is a young Irish Catholic, involved with the IRA, living in a Protestant area. He must come to terms with the acts he has committed in the political violence of the Troubles and his guilt, but he must also make decisions about how to, or whether to, move forwards with his life.

A Star Called Henry (The Last Round up Series) by Roddy Doyle

Set between the 1916 Easter Rising and the Truce of 1921, this story features Henry, as a member of the Irish Citizen Army, who meets several historical characters, and engages in the fight against the British. The full series spans most of the 20th Century, covering the reach of Irish politics in the Western world.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

A view into modern day Ireland and its underworld, this book dramatises the legacies of Ireland’s attitudes to sex and family and the effects they have. A Bailey’s Prize winner this book has been described both as darkly moving and funny.

Troubles by J G Farrell

Beginning at the end of the First World War this book is set against the context in which the violence of the Troubles begins, and the political upheaval of the Irish War of Independence. The book is focalised through a confused observer – a position many modern readers are likely to relate to as we see events unfold.

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

This novel from the ‘modernist’ period treats the changing situation as a signalling of ‘the end’ as British rule in southern Ireland and the end of an aristocratic era comes to a demise. In the midst of this Lois Farquar is attempting to break free from this very way of life, which her relatives are fiercely defending.


These books span the 20th Century, right up to the present day. They cover a range of perspectives, Catholic and Protestant, Unionist and Nationalist, and those on the outside and in between. They capture the complexity of Ireland’s politics and are a great starting point for those who love to explore history through fiction.

Review: Wonder Woman

5 stars

DC doesn’t often compete when it comes to superhero movies but with the latest release Wonder Woman it has truly outdone Marvel.

Wonder Woman is the superhero movie we have been waiting far too long for. However, the first female-led superhero movie, directed by a woman, has landed in cinemas with a bang. It has been a critical and commercial success and if you haven’t already you absolutely need to go see it now.

Wonder Woman stars the truly amazing Gal Godot in the lead role as Diana, an Amazon, one of a tribe of female warriors, put on Earth to defend mankind from the influence of the God of War. The visuals on Themyscira are stunning, and it seems to be a feminist utopia, full of strong women – where being a warrior is normal. Unbeknown to them however, the world is already waging war, which they only discover when Steve Trevor’s plane crashes into the sea by their island. Diana and Steve connect, and a number of jokes about Diana meeting a man for the first time ensue in the most brilliant fashion.

However, Steve’s disaster brings war to Themyscira’s doorstep. This realisation inspires Diana to take up arms and hunt down, Ares, the God of War himself, in the midst of the First World War.

The film is a classic superhero origin story, with plenty of action, but also a great plot and well defined characters. Diana is not only a badass warrior demi-goddess, but she is true superhero material, making it her mission to see the good in humanity and stop us from being corrupted by the hate Ares spreads; it is truly the movie we need for 2017. Diana is constantly underestimated and even treated like she is crazy, a feeling 50% of us can definitely sympathise with, but this doesn’t stop her. She is determined and resilient, pushing forward and making strides for women everywhere – whether it is in her stunning modernist suit in Edwardian London, battling army bureaucracy, or striding across No Man’s Land to save local villagers from the ravages of war. The movie is not only funny and heartwarming, but full of action, Diana’s fight scenes are no easy feat – she goes up against a Greek God for goodness sake.

The film doesn’t fall into the misogynistic traps that other superhero films do, with cheap sexist one liners or an overt sexualisation of its women. Every joke in the film is appropriate, and it is actually funny – proving that you don’t need to be needlessly provocative to have fun. The film also nods its head in a few intersectional directions, with a diverse cast and acknowledgments of racial issues – from how difficult it is to be cast as an actor if you aren’t white to the seizure of Native American land by Europeans. It isn’t perfect – we could certainly have seen more black women with bigger speaking parts, but it goes further than many other superhero films – or films in general for that matter.

But all in all this film is empowering, it is pushing boundaries and it is forging paths for the future of women in film. And it is also simply just a great film.

New York Public Library Summer Reading Challenge

Many libraries run children’s challenges to get kids reading over their summer holidays, but New York Public Library have gone one step further and made a summer reading challenge for us adults too!

Adults can need the push to read just as much, or sometimes even more so, than kids. And more importantly adults can learn something from these challenges too, which is exactly what the NYPL’s is about, with their theme ‘Build a better world’.

The last year or so has been scary, we’ve seen the rise of far right-wing groups become mainstream and normalised and politics has taken a swing towards conservatism and nationalism. There have been riots and protests, there have been a series of terrorist attacks and there has been a rise of intolerance in the wake of Trump’s election and Brexit.

So ‘building a better world’ is an important idea and the NYPL captures this with the three strands of the challenge. Check these out below with what I’ll be reading for the challenge this summer.


New York Public Library Reading Challenge: Build a Better World

Read a book …

About immigrants or refugees: Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Madeleine Thien - Do Not Say We Have NothingAi-Ming is a refugee, fleeing China after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The book explains not only her story but the epic history of China’s revolutions. While the book deals with the horrors of a communist uprising, revolution and rule – it illustrates the dangers of any kind of extremist movement, something we need to keep in mind especially in 2017.

About an unlikely friendship: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
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A Jewish boy in a conentration camp is befriended by the son of a Nazi Commandant. The boys are too young and innocent to understand the divide between them. Obviously the Holocaust itself is a testament to the horrors that hate can cause, however this book is poignant reminder of just how terrible the effects can be, but also a heartwarming glimmer of light that humanity can still be good, and we can learn a lesson from these children.

That’s nonfiction, about an issue that’s important to you: Nasty Women33022718._UY2339_SS2339_

When Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton a ‘nasty woman’ he had no idea what he was starting. The words have become a hashtag, a global movement and a call to arms for feminists everywhere. This book collects essays on the issues that affect women today, with different perspectives covering a huge range of intersectional issues.

What are you going to be reading for the Summer Reading Challenge? Let me know in the comments!

Summer Reading List

What makes the perfect summer reading list?

You want books that transport you to exotic places, adventures, maybe some summer romance. Whether you are into mysteries or fantasy, there are definitely certain types of books that are perfect on the beach, or a rainy British summer indoors!

Checkout my picks for this summer:

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Released at the beginning of June this will be the hot topic of the summer – I read a lot of it on my first really hot day off. I have also just moved near to the beach which was the perfect place to read this.

The Girls

The cover of this screams summer and makes you think of Polaroids, aviator sunglasses and road trips in pastel blue cars – like pretty much every summer music video ever. Even better the book takes us back to the summer of ’69 – I feel a soundtrack coming on.

How to Stop Time 

Haig’s book is released on 6th July and sounds like the perfect holiday read – who doesn’t wish they could stop time over summer? This book will take us on a heady journey through all the best moments of literature and history and is all about losing and finding yourself – one for the traveller perhaps?

Pride and Prejudice 

This summer is the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death so you really need to read an Austen novel this summer – and with all of the garden walks and country picnics what could better represent the British summer? I will be listening to Rosalind Pike’s narration of Pride and Prejudice and possibly perusing Lucy Worsely’s new book Jane Austen at Home.

The Final Girls

A college girl goes on vacation and comes back alone. This could well be the thriller of the summer. Watch out for its release in July.

Treasure Island

Shame on me. I have never read this classic adventure. But it is the book featured by this season’s Happy Reader magazine so I figured I can set sail on the high seas and try both the book and magazine. And my new coastal location gives me the perfect setting to be reading this in.

Big Little Lies

The TV series has been making waves so it seems to be the perfect time to catch up if, like me, you haven’t read the book. All of the promo for the series screams summer to me – bright colours, shots on beaches – I’m imagining soccer moms holding pitchers at BBQs, I may be wrong but this feels like a pretty summery read.

Burning Girl

Released in August, this is a coming of age tale about two girls in a quiet town in Massachusetts. When you are a teenager summer can feel like time is on pause before you grow up, and so the release of this book could finally signal that September is here.

Sing, Unburied, Sing 

This has been described as brining the archetypal road trip novel into the 21st Century which makes it a perfect late summer read when it is released in August. The burnt orange and ice blue hues on the cover make me think of the relief of ice cream and swimming pools in scorching summers.

Are you struggling to make your own summer list? Feel free to steal mine or check out my top tips for picking summer reads.

Bailey’s Prize Round Up

Tomorrow evening will see the winner of the 2017 Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction announced and the book community is buzzing with excitement. Now that I’ve read a handful of the shortlisted books, let’s take a final look at the contenders and who my money is on to win.

The Dark Circle

Linda Grant tells the story of two Jewish teenagers confined to a Sanatorium for tuberculosis in the late 40s/early 50s. Unfortunately this book really wasn’t my cup of tea, I couldn’t get on board with the style, which was odd and jarring, or the plot, which seemed non-existent as not much happens. Perhaps its just individual taste, as grant is a previous winner of the prize, however for me this definitely doesn’t compete with some of the others on the shortlist.

The Sport of Kings

Morgan’s epic is a multi-generational saga of the American South.  I didn’t get the chance to read this one but from the book chatter that I’ve heard it seems interesting, however looking at the odds and the lack of people raving about it, I feel like it seems unlikely to win.

Stay With Me

I loved this book. The story is of a Nigerian woman and the pressure she faces, from herself, her family, and society, to have children –  and the consequences this pressure has. It was beautifully written, emotive, harrowing and heartbreaking. Odds-wise it is also high in the running and I would be happy if this won.

First Love

The story of a woman’s marriage to an older man, First Love is one I actually chose not to read, based on a some not-so-great responses, and some reviews which really didn’t sell it to me. The premise seems interesting but it sounds like it wasn’t brilliantly executed and so I think it probably isn’t likely to be a winner.

The Power

This is my favourite book. Not just on the shortlist, of all time; it has pretty much usurped The Great Gatsby (the ultimate English Grad cliche) and I have been raving about it to anyone who will listen because it is amazing, radical, revolutionary and I think everyone needs to read it. This isn’t just me on my soapbox – the buzz around this book is huge.  I’m excited that it has the best odds to win, and I would be ecstatic if it does because it truly deserves to.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

At the time of writing I’m still reading this, but it is a truly beautiful, engaging and expansive novel. It is simultaneously wonderfully written and also very easy to ready – which are two things that don’t often go together. it is incredibly immersive and the elements of Chinese culture, history and language are fascinating. Again,  I definitely wouldn’t be disappointed if it won.

If you haven’t yet guessed my favourite to win it’s The Power, and while I would be pretty disappointed if this doesn’t win, I would also be happy if either Thien or Adebayo’s books did. Thankfully, the two main contenders according to the bookies are The Power and Stay with Me, so my fingers are crossed for tomorrow night! Don’t miss the announcement tomorrow to find out who the winner is.

Review: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

4-stars

Arundhati Roy’s second novel has been long awaited, coming 20 years after her first. This highly anticipated book will have garnered high expectations from fans, and for me it didn’t disappoint.

This novel is expansive, exploring geographical issues surrounding Kashmir, the religious tensions in the region, ideas of revolution, gender identity, and identity politics in general – all issues which couldn’t be more relevant or important in 2017.

Anjum is a ‘hijra’ a term used to describe transgender women in South Asia. The novel depicts her life and struggle, and where her life intersects with others who are outcast, alone or in need of a home.

Anjum bridges the gap between Muslims and Hindus, between old and young, men and women, Indian and Kashmiri, through Jannat’s Guest House, which she gradually builds from a tin shack in a Delhi graveyard. The novel seems to be haphazard, jumping in narrative voice and focalisation. However, eventually these strands do pull together to meet, making the novel complete, whole and rewarding.

Roy’s prose is utterly exquisite, and the presence of India behind the novel isn’t just a ‘character’ in the way we sometimes metaphorically speak of the depictions of countries and cities in books. Roy very literally makes Delhi real, living and breathing; a ‘thousand year old sorceress, dozing but not asleep, even at this hour.’ Passages such as this one are the kind of literature that takes your breath away, which you reread over and over.

Despite being 20 years in the making, it feels as though the novel lives in the here and now. It preaches tolerance in the light of religious and transgender persecution, something which has never been more relevant with the rise of extremist politics in the last year. It presents an India in the age of video and selfies – with the videos on phones that characters obsess over mirroring an age obsessed with live streaming and on the go access.

For me the only fault lay in that the multiple narratives and wide-ranging nature made the book feel less polished than it could have and a bit like hard-work, to keep track and keep up with all the different strands of the story. But even this didn’t ruin such a beautiful novel, which not only evoked a sense of India, but managed to balance the death, suffering and misery, that features all of the way through, with kindness, tolerance and hope.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness couldn’t have arrived on our shelves at a better time and I hope Roy’s novel inspires some of the sentiments that she achieves in her novel.


I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own. 

Image from Amazon. 

The Late Shows

The Late Shows are a series of arts and culture events that happen across Newcastle and Gateshead over two night ever May. Dozens of venues in different locations participate, opening their doors later than usual to invite the public in to see, listen, make create and participate in any number of different activities.
There is literally something for everyone, whether you are a music lover, a fine art buff, or like to get stuck in. I’m the latter kind so my first stop was to Newcastle City Library which was hosting some glass painting upstairs, while a range of performances were going on downstairs.
I arrived a bit early and got caught up in the prep so ended up staying here a lot longer than planned. The glass painting, which was a communal effort, with everyone doing sections of a large Angel of the North, was really fun, and the classical performances on in the background were actually super relaxing, even though it isn’t what I would normally listen to.
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When I finally finished up here I popped next door to the Laing Art Gallery where there was music in the bar and watercolour painting. Obviously I dived straight into painting, getting experimental with the effects of clingfilm and salt on the paint, and making friends with the lovely student who ran the session.
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From here I hopped on a very handy shuttle bus over to the Biscuit Factory where I had a look round their new Summer exhibition. This gallery specialises in textile, sculpture and jewellery so it feels more like browsing a fancy shop than serious art, but it is all exquisite.
Stepping across the road took me to their sister venue, The Holy Biscuit, where there was a printmaking exhibition and demonstrations. Obviously I tried this out, making a gorgeous print whose design was based on two sycamore seeds.
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A wander further down into Ouseburn took me to my last spot of the night, Northern Print. It was the first time I had ever been in and it was wonderful! I browsed the shop, and the prints around the studios, and took part in two activities – one was letter press printing and the other was drypoint etching. These activities were all based around ourselves – portraits and how we define ourselves, which was a lovely touch to the takeaways.
I probably still had time to visit another venue after Northern Print however, it was getting late and with a journey home still to go, I called it a night. However, it was a fantastic night, and I came away with loads of things I had made and new experiences which were so much fun.
I met tons of different people on the way, from kids, to students, to older couples out for the evening. It was heartwarming to see so many people engaging in arts and culture across my city, and it was amazing that I did all of this, in four hours, for free!
Here’s to a great Late Shows 2017, and looking forward to next year already!