Thursday, 27 August 2009

Dummies' Guide to the Booker longlist

(with grateful thanks to Mr Fishwife for his contributions)
So many books, so little time. I present here the easy crib notes for the vast quantity of (some of them also vast) books on this year's Booker longlist. Yes, I know it's the Man Booker really, but I hate calling it that, and I have actually been asked twice "Is there a Woman Booker prize too?". So don't bother reading them: amaze your friends and astound your colleagues with these nuggets of information*.

A S Byatt "The Children's Book" : Not many people know that A S Byatt was approached to continue Enid Blyton's much-loved Noddy series. This book is about Noddy and his desperate but hilarious attempts to find Big Ears's lost teaspoon! (warning: contains scenes of incest and sniper action).

J M Coetzee "Summertime": Reproduces faithfully the first school essay J M Coetzee (or "Johnny" as he was then) wrote about wot he done in the school holidays. Apparently his father's sandcastle-building skills weren't up to much, but the ice creams were delicious. He got an A-.

Adam Foulds "The Quickening Maze":
Honestly, the faster you try to get out, the more lost you get. Just keep turning left.

Sarah Hall "How To Paint a Dead Man":
It's a doddle. They don't fidget like live models do. Just make sure you keep the windows open and the central heating off.

Samantha Harvey "The Wilderness":
Could really do with a pergola and some radical pruning to those brambles, otherwise fine. Maybe a water feature?

James Lever "Me Cheeta":
Yu lose tu me at cards. I taik yur money.

Hilary Mantel "Wolf Hall":
Hotly tipped to be this year's winner. The prequel to her spellbinding "Who Let The Wolves Out?"

Simon Mawer "The Glass Room":
Lovely to look at, nice to hold, but if you break it, we say "sold"!

Ed O'Loughlin "Not Untrue And Not Unkind":
true, and kind.

James Scudamore "Heliopolis":
The renaming of Sun City has almost doubled its tourist income!

Colm Toibin "Brooklyn":
Not a lot of people know that Brooklyn is a bit like Hoxton. Bit of a schlep on the Metro though. If I were you I'd stay in the Village.

William Trevor "Love And Summer":
See above, for Coetzee. Billy Trevor was a little older, though, and as a result this touchingly ill-written account of wot he done on his summer holidays with next door's Dutch au pair contained language the teacher felt it better not to read aloud. He got a D.

Sarah Waters "The Little Stranger":
"Darling? Darling? I thought all Saffy's party guests had gone home? Hmm? ...No, he says he's waiting for his mummy. Well we must have invited him, he's got a party bag and everything..."

*Disclaimer: some of the information contained in this post may be (wildly) inaccurate and is not for quotation or press distribution until a finished copy is issued.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Nuptials, saucy Restoration poetry, and the return of Gertie Blood.

So, sunny summer weddings. Are they great or what? Particularly when the bride (let us call her Steak, for she is a vegetarian) concludes her touching speech of love to her new husband with the words ".. and I can't wait to start my life with you and start having lots of pasty little ginger freaks." The groom (let us call him Kidney), a more or less dead ringer for Frankie Boyle (or either of the Proclaimers), did a "fair comment" kind of shrug. Could any love be greater? Not a dry eye in the Gladstone Library of the Liberal Club. My only quibble was with the three flights of giant stairs one had to navigate in either direction to have a cigarette - surely if I provided proof I voted Lib Dem I'd be allowed to light up under the vast oil painting of Winston "Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em" Churchill? Sadly (and, in fact, legally) no. Not even in the vast Edwardian grandeur of the Smoking Room.
How stately and gorgeous is that? Less so when you've been up and down it 100000 times because the lift is full of band equipment...
Highlights of the day (for me) included some random tourists approaching the bride on the lawn outside and asking if she'd take a picture, er, of them. "I'm a little busy right now", she said, as if the long sparkly white dress hadn't given it away. And the bride's sister-in-law saying "Yes, the hen weekend in Newcastle was great, except that Sir Bobby Davro had just died so all the football fans were in mourning"*.
My part in this excellent day was the reading of "The Good Morrow" by John Donne. Complicated not at all by my fear that I would blush in an unseemly way on reading the line "Suck'd we on country pleasures childishly?" - yes, I know, I know, we're all grownups, but frankly John Donne meant it to be a tad racy (as any student of Shakespeare kno, reference to "country pleasures" and "country matters" are generally intended to be a euphemism). Luckily I was so enthralled by the sheer loveliness of my own voice in the scholarly setting of the Gladstone Library that I failed to even clear my throat. Although I took the precaution of looking at Steak throughout (smiling radiantly yet tearfully like a proper bride), rather than Kidney, who would have gurned at me.

HOWEVER. All weddings have that moment where you bump into someone and realise you knew them years ago; in my case, while sneaking into an empty sideroom (trying to find a balcony rather than brave the stairs for the billionth time), who should I see gazing down at me from the wall but the lovely Lady Colin Campbell (aka Gertie Blood). She's been gracing my sidebar (as have Steak & Kidney) for over a year now, and I've got used to dropping into the National Gallery to say hello every now and then - but there she was.

Surely that has to be an excellent omen of something.

* Note for non-football fans - Sir Bobby Robson = recently deceased giant of British football, latterly much-loved manager of Newcastle United. Bobby Davro = mediocre TV impressionist. Non-deceased, non-giant, non-much-loved.