November Book of the Month

The official vote is over – 2007’s Man Booker Prize belongs to Anne Enright and her third novel, The Gathering. But now its our turn to put the authors to the test. I’ve chosen four from the original shortlist of six (the two I’ve left out are Darkmans, which at £14.99 is over our price barrier and Animal’s People, which I haven’t yet read) – the books below are all under £13 and all are fairly short (a big bonus).

Starting with the winner, then…

The Gathering by Anne Enright follows familiar territory – large Irish family, dysfunctional relationships, hidden secrets, a funeral that brings it all together. What makes the book exceptional is Enright’s clear, unusual prose. Despite being jampacked with sex, death and bodily fluids, this is a quiet book – during her journey to collect her dead brother’s body, narrator Veronica reflects on her childhood, her marriage, her grandmother’s love life... It is all quite introspective, yet gripping. Enright is extremely talented and I salute her. Two warnings: 1) the key to the plot involves something fairly horrid happening to a child (but not in a misery memoir way, and not too awful) and 2) there’s a high level of detailed sexual description, so if you’re not a fan of the f-word, this isn’t for you. Buy it here.

It must be something in the water – Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach is also preoccupied with sex, but in a slightly more sedate, classically English manner.  Our two lovers are newly-weds, anxiously approaching their first night together on honeymoon in Dorset. He is eager, impatient, unsure. She is terrified, confused, divided. McEwan does what he does best – catalogues every last emotion and defines every moment in the psychological build up that leads to an inevitable climax (not the one you might expect). I admire McEwan’s skill, he is unmatched when it comes to picking apart the human character. This short novella has astonishing insight into male and female minds. Buy it here.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid gives us an insight into how it might have felt to be Pakastani in America just before, during and after the September 11th attacks. Our narrator is at a café in Lahore when he sits down with a mysterious stranger and begins to recount his tale of studentship, career success and a love affair in New York. As the night darkens and his past unfolds, it becomes clear that his companion is not all he seems. A pacy story shot through with emotion and suspense, and an excellent antidote to clichéd news clips and stereotypes of the War on Terror. Buy it here.

And finally, Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones. Where the last three are realistic and unflinching, this is more of a fairytale with a storytelling-is-the-answer moral. Matilda, a South Sea Islander, recounts how one white teacher changed lives by reading his class Great Expectations. All the children are captivated by Pip’s struggle, but over time the book creates divisions amongst the community, and suspicion from authority. It is heartwarming stuff, despite the atrocities of war in the background. That’s probably why it is slightly difficult to swallow – the nasty things aren’t really examined, and the message is rather simplistic. But the ideas are fun, the story zips along and if the style seems a little childish, well, that’s all part of the package. Buy it here.

A diverse bunch, then, and all with the Booker stamp of Greatness – cast your vote here for the Mumsnet Booker.

Last updated: about 3 years ago