Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obligatory Shortlist Post

So the Booker shortlist is out, and as usual I find myself wondering whether a quorum of monkeys throwing darts couldn't have done a better job of picking the deserving books. I've only read four of the six books on the shortlist - I can't see myself reading The Northern Clemency (700 something pages about the Thatcher years? No thanks) and I haven't managed to get my hands on the Ghosh yet - but of those both the Grant and the Adiga absolutely do not deserve to be on that list, not at the expense of Netherland and The Enchantress of Florence (I'm not saying the Rushdie deserves to win or anything, only that it's a better book than the other two - NOT a high bar).

I'm particularly pained about the Adiga, not so much because I thought it was unreadable, but because coming so soon after the shortlisting of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, its inclusion means that for the foreseeable future we shall be plagued by this this-should-really-be-an-essay-but-no-one-would-read-that-so-let-me-make-up-a-few-wooden-characters-and-call-it-a-novel school of writing. Even as I write this someone is doubtless hard at work on next year's nominee - a novel about a 'typical' young woman growing up in the 'real' India, told as a hyper-erudite first-person confession to a visiting Martian - secure in the knowledge that as long as you give a few media interviews emphasizing how your book offers an 'alternate' perspective someone, somewhere is bound to find it insightful.

Of the books now on the shortlist, my pick would be the Toltz, though as I said, I haven't read the Ghosh. The book I'm really looking forward to reading, shortlist or no shortlist, is the Berger (which seems to be unavailable in the US at this point - at least the library system doesn't have it), though next on my list is A Case of Exploding Mangoes, which, now that it hasn't been shortlisted, I actually have high expectations from.


Space Bar said...

which, now that it hasn't been shortlisted, I actually have high expectations from.


The Berger is the one book I have been wanting to read. But what is it with him and the alphabet? In his Booker winning it was G and now this. Of course, there was no question of his coming close to the short list after what he did with his prize money the last time...

Falstaff said...

there was no question of his coming close to the short list after what he did with his prize money the last time

You mean you don't believe all this talk about how they were judging the book by itself, independent of who it was written by?

Veena said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Veena said...

Just started A Case of Exploding Mangoes and from what I can see from the first 30 pages, it def shows promise.

A very unfair comparison and all but what the hell. It reminds me (very, very vaguely) of one of the best books I have read so far this year - Oscar Wao. We shall see.

And yeah, the shortlist is ridiculous. I know I have to make the obligatory post but cannot bring myself to do it yey.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why you didn't like the Adiga. I thought it was fairly good reading (then again, I don't read Urdu poetry) although I'm now beginning to doubt the psychological foundations of the title character. He sounds too individualistic for me and I wonder if Adiga, a foreigner himself, was reacting in a very "foreign" way to Indian society. But then again, maybe India has changed in the last few years and there is resentment in the social order - who knows?

I also liked "A Case of Exploding Mangoes" (I am generally non-disciriminating that way) but maybe that's because I am less familiar with pakistan society so I thought the characters were more believable. After all, how do you tell the "woodenness" of characters?

And I can't believe you actually thought "The Enchantress of Florence" was better than "The White Tiger". Really? I thought The White Tiger was better. But that could be because I adore Rushdie and spend time dreaming about how he pinches my bottom, so this was a bit of a let-down.

Netherland I liked but there was a bit too much Govind Nihalani, stare-into-your-navel kind of stuff happening for me there. Still, it has a lovely mood.


Falstaff said...

veena: Hmmm...that's praise indeed. Now I have to read it.

n!: I don't know. I think WT just felt too much like fiction by numbers. The characters seemed less like real people than symbols of some familiar stereotype, the whole chinese premier thing was entirely grotesque, the prose was uninteresting and the narrative voice artificial. Plus the 'message' of the book struck me as fairly banal. To read WT you'd think that the fact that India has massive income disparities, widespread corruption and caste and communal violence is a revelation, whereas really - who doesn't know all this stuff already? Off the top of my head I can think of at least two novels - Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games and Indra Sinha's Animal's People - which also portray the 'real' India, but do so in prose that is genuinely well written, with characters who actually seem flesh and blood and not cardboard and through stories that manage to be engaging even while being realistic. Hell, even a book like Altaf Tyrewala's No God in Sight (which I wasn't all that impressed by) provides a significantly more authentic and sensitive portrait of poverty and communal violence in India than WT.

And of course the Rushdie was better. Just open the two books to any page at random and read the first ten lines from the top of the page aloud. You can hear the difference.

Desi Italiana said...

"which, now that it hasn't been shortlisted, I actually have high expectations from."

I have been troubled with the most recent Booker winners. What's going on?

And are they also insinuating that out of all of the literature in the English language, Indian writers almost always make the list? Perhaps India is the latest trend, but there you go.

"The Inheritance of Loss" really didn't seem to be a prize winner to me. Sure, it's got lots of pages, but often times, I felt like she was inserting stuff from grad school Anthro courses.