Wednesday 20 June 2012

Five From The Archive (no.3)

In honour of Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week - and being a bit teasing about the morose face she seems to have in every photo...

Beryl Bainbridge was famously nominated for the Booker Prize five times but never won - and so, also in my honour, this week's five from the archive are...

Five... Shortlisted Booker Titles (which didn't win)

1.) Loitering With Intent (shortlisted 1981) by Muriel Spark

In short: My favourite Spark novel, as I'm sure you all heard during Muriel Spark Reading Week, it concerns Fleur's somewhat mad involvement with arrogant Sir Quentin, his Autobiographical Association, and the world of publishing.

From the review: "This becomes the crux of the novel - where does Fleur's imagination end, and where does plagiarism begin? Similarities between the Autobiographical Association's activities and the manuscript of Warrender Chase grow ever greater - how much is coincidence, how much does Fleur absorb, and how much does she write before it happens? "

2.) The Bookshop (shortlisted 1978) by Penelope Fitzgerald

In short: A woman tries to open a bookshop in a small town, but finds that the town takes against her.

From the review:  "Between Christine and Florence a rather touching, but unsentimental, friendship develops. If that sounds remotely mawkish, trust me, it isn't. Penelope Fitzgerald doesn't do mawkish. Her writing is spare, very spare, and there isn't room for emotions - we simply see the people interact, and can quite easily understand the emotions they must be experiencing."

3.) A Month in the Country (shortlisted 1980) by J.L. Carr

In short: Tom has been hired to uncover a medieval mural in a northern village church - this gentle novel shows his relationships with the other villagers, and quiet absorption in his work.  (I'm afraid the 'review' is hardly that... one of my scatterbrain days.)

From the review: "The most interesting scene is that when Tom visits the vicar and his amiable wife, Alice, only to discover their monstrous and secluded vicarage seems to alter both their personalities. Like the rest of the novel, this is shown subtly and calmly, but is a fascinating glimpse into one facet of the village."

4.) The Little Stranger (shortlisted 2009) by Sarah Waters

In short: Creepy events start to happen in an old mansion in the post-war 1940s.  Visiting Dr. Faraday narrates them, but is uncertain whether or not the supernatural is to blame...

From the review: "It's something of a truism to say that 'the house is itself a character', but you have to take your hat off to Waters' ability to invest Hundreds Hall with this power without it becoming a caricature of Gothic literature. The house remains comfort and terror; mystery and simplicity; homely and unhomely."

5.) Black Dogs (shortlisted 1992) by Ian McEwan

In short: Something happens on a couple's honeymoon, involving two black dogs.  We see the impact of this event without, for a long time, knowing precisely what took place...

From the review:  "It certainly battles out with Atonement for being my favourite McEwan - people have recommended 'early McEwan' to me, and I can see why. The writing here is compact, tense - so often I'd finish reading paragraphs or phrases and think "wow" - quite the opposite of Saturday."

As always, I want to know - which would you suggest?  To give you a hand, here is a link to all the shortlisted titles.


  1. The best non-winner? J G Ballard's Empire of the Sun. Wonderful book, which I can't believe was beaten by Hotel du Lac.

    1. I'm not a fan of either Ballard (although not read that one) or Hotel du Lac, so... lean year, in my opinion!

  2. Fab BB drawing!

    I'm loving your archive posts. I've read The Little Stranger and Black Dogs, enjoyed both, but do need to re-read Black Dogs as it was so long ago. I have the first three in my TBR - I really should get to grips with P.Fitzgerald, and A Month in the Country. Being familiar with Spark (thanks in part to your week), I don't feel the need to read more of her at present.

    1. Thanks Annabel :)

      I'm so glad you're enjoying it - I'm enjoying the stroll down memory lane. I found Fitzgerald a tough nut to crack, but loved The Bookshop - I think many book lovers would do so too.

  3. Martin Amis with "Time's Arrow" - really clever book and very enjoyable - about a guy living his life in reverse and I won't tell you what he turns out to be in the end!

    Any of the Margaret Atwood titles because she's brilliant (but particularly "Alias Grace", which I loved).

    And of course, "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont"!

    1. Of course for Mrs. P! That would have appeared, only I'm saving it for another Five FTA.

      I've only read two Atwoods, and I do not know what the fuss is about... sorry!

    2. Well, I can't actually pin down what I love about Atwood - maybe the quality of her writing, the strangeness of her landscapes and settings, the vividness of her characters? It's possible that "The Blind Assassin" is my favourite of hers, it's very clever, well written and the plot took my breath away. Probably a good place to start with Atwood!

  4. Haven't read most of the books mentioned, unfortunately, but I can vouch for The Bookshop. Don't hesitate, Gaskella.

    Simon, thank you for your blog. Have been enjoying it for months.

    1. Thanks for your comment! And for vouching for The Bookshop - such a good little book.

  5. Long time reader, but first comment! A Month In The Country is a wonderful book, and without giving the ending away I thought it had real modern day resonance.

    1. I always love it when people start comments like that! Welcome, Nellie! To be honest, I can't remember the end of A Month in the Country, so will obviously have to re-read one day...


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