Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists 2013 Revealed

Source: granta.com

I bet you’re wondering who made the cut? Maybe you’re not; maybe you actually have a life or something. I was, personally, quite excited because David Szalay (a very unassuming young man that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting) made it. Aside from him and a few others (Zadie Smith – AGAIN! – maybe it’s about time I dusted off one of her books and actually read them instead of assuming I’ll hate them), my reaction to this list was ‘eh?’ I, genuinely, have no idea who some of these people are, and I have only read books by three writers on this list (Szalay, Benjamin Markovits and Xiaolu Guo). Here’s the list in all its glory….your thoughts??

Adam Foulds

Evie Wyld

Adam Thirlwell

Zadie Smith

Naomi Alderman

Sarah Hall

Steven Hall

Ross Raisin

David Szalay

Sunjeev Sahota

Xiaolu Guo

Kamila Shamsie

Ned Beauman

Tahmima Anam

Nadifa Mohamed

Taiye Selasi

Joanna Kavenna

Benjamin Markovits

Jenni Fagan

Helen Oyeyemi

Most of the commentary since the announcement earlier this evening has been on how diverse the list is, and that, I think is great. To define Britishness is so very difficult these days so I think this list reflects that. Here is an interesting article written by a member of the judging panel, explaining their year-long selection process. Maybe it’s not so bad that I don’t know the majority of the featured novelists, maybe that’s the whole point. When the next list comes out in 2023, I’ll have discovered these writers and they may have earned a space or two on my overcrowded bookshelf.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Book Review

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Who on earth is Bernadette, and where the hell did she go? Good question; this is how the novel opens:

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This is Bee, a precocious young teenager who is the daughter of Elgin Branch, Microsoft guru; and Bernadette Fox, neurotic architectural genius. After getting top marks on her report card, Bee reminds her parents that they had said she could have anything she wants. This anything turns out to be a trip to Antarctica. And so kick off a chain of events, charted through a mixture of emails, letters, notes, instant messages and reports; that lead to the disappearance of Bernadette.

Bernadette is highly opinionated, highly antisocial (completely disconnected from the real world to the extent that she has a virtual assistant based in India who does everything for her, short of breathing), hates everything about Seattle (‘Sometimes these cars have Idaho plates. And I think, What the hell is a car from Idaho doing here? Then I remember, That’s right, we neighbour Idaho. I’ve moved to a state that neighbours Idaho. And any life that might still be left in me kind of goes poof.’), and doesn’t care that she’s disliked by all the parents from Bee’s school – a pretentious school of ‘Subaru Parents’ (trying very hard to become ‘Mercedes Parents) where the worst grade you can get is a ‘W’ – working towards excellence. Yeah, that kinda nonsense.

Everybody in this book is so incredibly self-involved it is positively hilarious. Their ability to over exaggerate every little small detail and turn it into a 3-page rant creates a novel that is pure, unapologetic satire. An example of this hilarious exaggeration is when Bernadette is telling Manjula, her virtual assistant, about the difficulties of trying to park her car downtown when forced to pick up a dodgy prescription:

‘It was the first time I’d been downtown in a year. I immediately remembered why: the pay-to-park meters. Parking in Seattle is an eight-step process…Step eight, pray to the God you don’t believe in that you have the mental wherewithal to remember what the hell it was you came downtown for in the first place. Already I wished a Chechen rebel would shoot me in the back.’

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Maria Semple has written quite a bit of comedy for TV – this is obvious when you start getting into this book. The dialogue is sharp and witty if a little forced at times in that sitcom kinda way. And though Semple does it well, I have to say that there has already been a book written in this format, that I think pushes the humour button a little more naturally than ‘Bernadette’. This book is ‘E: A Novel’ by Matt Beaumont – a brilliantly funny book if you ever have the time.

So, together with Bee, the reader pieces together fragments of information from all these random bits of correspondence, to see if we can find out where on earth Bernadette has got to. Underneath the razor-sharp wit, this book has a lot of heart and is one of those unusual ones where you genuinely don’t know what’s coming next. The twists and turns seem so random yet they work really well together. The only thing I’ll say is that the final third or so didn’t quite match up to the humour of the first two sections and so was a bit of a let down. And I won’t say anymore than that, because part of the pleasure of reading (most of) this is the unexpected way in which the story unfolds.

Another thing that’s surprising is that this book has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year (formerly known as the Orange Prize). Though entertaining I didn’t think it was of that calibre….but then again, something shouldn’t have to be ‘serious’ in order to be considered prize worthy. Perhaps it’s the pure originality (minus the format) that has made the judges think twice.

The Book Cover Wars: UK vs. USA – Part 2

So, last week, inspired by The Millions, I compared the UK and US covers of some of the books I’ve reviewed on this blog. This week, I’ll be comparing the rest of the book covers from this blog. Fun times. As before, UK on the left, US on the right.

First up is this gem of a book by Emmanuel Carrere. What’s interesting about this book is that the UK and US publishers have each chosen to publish this book under different names: ‘Other Lives But Mine’ – UK, and ‘Lives Other Than My Own’ – US. I’m genuinely not sure which title or cover I prefer (which sorta defeats the purpose of this post). From what I understand, the US cover does have this tattered notebook printed on it, it’s not the notebook that’s the actual book. I find that a bit odd and I’m not sure what it’s supposed to say about the book either. And I (surprisingly) get the oversimplification of the main themes of this book by putting two hands holding onto each other on the cover, but think the UK cover, which depicts the devastating tsunami that is central to the story, ultimately does it better. Even if a bit flat.

A total no-brainer. I am completely shocked that the UK book cover was ever allowed to see the light of day. Honestly one of the worst covers I’ve EVER seen. Which is a shame because the book deserves to be read. But you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a poorly constructed textbook for young children. The hatred I feel for this cover cannot be fully expressed through words. It honestly offends me. Which is why the US wins. But neither of them have nothing on these amazing covers I found on this website.

Because this is one of my favourite reads of last year, I find it difficult to say anything negative about it. Difficult but not impossible :). UK has opted for boy running in field whilst US have gone for blurry image of father and son playing in the ocean. I quite like the colour tone of the photograph on the UK cover (though it has very little to do with the story), so my first instinct would be to pick that edition up. But when I look very carefully at the American version, I notice things like the ‘good’ in the title to be written roughly in pencil, giving varying connotations to the word. So, at a push, the subtlety of the US cover wins over the shelf appeal of the UK.

So this is a slight anomaly because it hasn’t been published in America. So the cover on the right is the German edition (I think). As the UK cover seduced me a very long time ago, I think it’s obvious which one I’m going for. I find the cover so strikingly beautiful. And so stark and spare – exactly like Judith Hermann’s prose style. The protruding nipple on the German cover gives a Lolita-esque impression that is neither titillating nor accurate.

Although it’s a bit unfair because the UK copied the US hardback cover to produce this paperback one on the left, and the somewhat less appealing US example I’ve used here is their paperback version; I’m gonna say UK wins. The silhouette of the little girl on the country road work very well as it’s an image that haunts the characters in the book. The US one is a bit meh.

If my memory serves me right, the American version was published by Amazon Publishing (don’t even get me started) who clearly had no idea how to capture the humour of the novel so thought they’d date it and make it look like a manual. Although a bit literal, the UK cover has a nice texture to it and uses a much more interesting font.

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Both sides of the pond opted for the same cover. It’s certainly eye-catching and I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t influence my decision to buy the book. But after reading these stories, I’m not sure that it necessarily has anything to do with anything. Does this matter?

A fascinating book with good, very different covers on both sides! I know that lobster has helped to sell many books here in England and I can see why – It’s very intriguing. The US cover hints at a dinner that is not as simple as the title implies. The burnt tablecloth revealing the title details underneath mimics the reading process where we discover the true nature of the narrator as the dinner progresses. The curiously curly/scratchy font also works really well. Well done to America.

thisiswhereileaveuAgain, both sides have the same cover. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it. People who read Jonathan Tropper read him because they’ve heard that he is one of the funniest authors out there, not because his book covers are amazing. I know this is being made into a film (CANNOT WAIT!! EEEK), and I dread the day when the book is reprinted with the movie cover. Those covers are NEVER appealing.

As it was the UK cover that prompted me to read this anticlimactic book, it makes sense for me to pick it over the US one. If you haven’t read the book yet then the US cover is just a girl standing in front of a house. Having said that, the woman’s legs (presumably swimming) in the water, though somewhat creepy, has absolutely nothing to do with this book. But it’s certainly more striking, and as it’s a publisher’s job to sell books, I understand why they went for it.

I’ll be reviewing this quite funny book next week (I promise). Both publishers went with the same idea but executed it in a slightly different way, and I prefer the UK version. The US one is certainly more angular, which I found strangely appealing, but the differing fonts used for title and author’s name is very irritating (also the placement of the author’s name?!?!). And unless you’ve already read the book, you wouldn’t make the reference that those blue triangles behind Bernadette’s head are actually icebergs. The UK wins by only a tiny amount because something about the cover screams chick-lit, which this book definitely isn’t.

So that’s the end of these cover comparisons. The UK won this time around – 6 to 3, so maybe these publishers know what appeals to us more than we do. But then, the US won in my last cover comparison, so perhaps there is no science behind the art.