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April 29, 2013

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – review

AmericanahChimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s third novel is a superb dissection of race in the UK and the USA

By Elizabeth Day

There are some novels that tell a great story and others that make you change the way you look at the world. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is a book that manages to do both.

 It is ostensibly a love story – the tale of childhood sweethearts at school in Nigeria whose lives take different paths when they seek their fortunes in America and England – but it is also a brilliant dissection of modern attitudes to race, spanning three continents and touching on issues of identity, loss and loneliness.

This is Adichie’s third and most ambitious novel – her first, Purple Hibiscus, was longlisted for the Booker prize and her second, Half a Yellow Sun, won the Orange prize. A highly acclaimed 2009 collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, cemented her position as one of the most promising African writers of her generation. She was awarded a prestigious MacArthur “Genius” grant and in 2010, the New Yorker featured her in its list of the 20 best authors under the age of 40.

So a lot is expected of her. Gratifyingly, Americanah does not disappoint.

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March 22, 2013

The Booker prize and the battle for supremacy in a literary awards jungle

Sowing the seeds of success … 2012 Booker prize judges plant trees at the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Wood in Leicestershire

Sowing the seeds of success … 2012 Booker prize judges plant trees at the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Wood in Leicestershire

When Man Booker prize judges are photographed planting trees with the Woodland Trust, they offer a reminder of how English fiction and prize culture is flourishing on a global scale

By Robert McCrum

Last week I received a welcome reminder from the people who run the Booker prize of their commitment to the environment – a photograph of some recent Booker judges in wellington boots, planting trees.

Of course, this was not just about promoting green shoots and leaves. As spring heaves into view, the annual literary prize season opens again. It will run, roughly, from Easter to Halloween. During that time, Booker will want to assert itself as the premier book prize in the English-speaking world. No stone (or sod) will remain unturned in the ceaseless business of reminding the media and the reading public about Man Booker. The same goes for Costa, Samuel Johnson, the book prize formerly known as Orange, and many lesser awards.

Booker’s tree-planting stunt is also a reminder that these trophies are big business. Costa fights the coffee shop war against Starbucks with volumes of poetry, first novels and kids’ books. The Man Group extracts vital publicity for itself from the year’s best literary fiction. Who, outside the Square Mile, had ever heard of the Man Group before it became the Booker sponsor?

It’s big business for writers, too. Win the Booker prize and you become a millionaire. Win the top Costa slot (that one is a bit more complicated) and, like Kate Atkinson or Mark Haddon, your literary course is set fair.

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September 13, 2012

Booker Prize shortlist turns its back on ‘readability’


Man Booker Prize shortlist opts for experimental novels in which “the shock of language is shown in so many different ways”.

By Anita Singh

When the 2011 Man Booker Prize judges said they were looking for “readable” novels, the literary establishment was aghast.

Perhaps that is why this year’s judges have chosen a shortlist that stays well clear of the mainstream.

The six books include Will Self’s Umbrella, 400 chapter-free pages about a woman incarcerated in a mental hospital, and Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil, an Indian performance poet whose debut novel is set in Mumbai’s opium dens and based on his own experience as an addict.

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, Swimming Home by Deborah Levy and The Lighthouse by Alison Moore are also on the shortlist.

It is completed by Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies, the sequel to her 2009 Booker winner Wolf Hall. It is the best known of the books in contention, although plenty of readers find Mantel’s historical novels to be a challenging read.

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June 10, 2012

Barry Unsworth, Booker prizewinner, dies at 81

British author Barry Unsworth has died in Italy aged 81

Writer of historical fiction, who won Britain’s highest literary honour in 1992 for Sacred Hunger, has died.

By Alison Flood

British novelist Barry Unsworth, who won the Booker prize for his story about the 18th-century slave trade, Sacred Hunger, has died in Italy aged 81.

The Durham-born author had lived in Umbria for many years. His publisher Hutchinson confirmed the news of his death this morning.

“Barry was a wonderful writer and this is a great loss,” said publishing director Jocasta Hamilton. “Barry’s work was characterised by a willingness to tackle big subjects with great humanity. His writing brought enormous pleasure as well as being thought-provoking and illuminating. We are incredibly proud to have had the opportunity to publish his last novel, The Quality of Mercy, which has been shortlisted for the Walter Scott prize. Many of us met him in 2010 and were as charmed in person as we had been thrilled by his novels.”

From Morality Play, a 14th-century murder mystery, to Pascali’s Island, set during the last years of the Ottoman Empire, many of Unsworth’s 17 acclaimed novels explored different aspects of history.

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October 17, 2011

Arundhati Roy: ‘The next novel will just have to wait…’

Filed under: Authors — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:53 pm

GETTY Since her stunning Booker success, Roy's real passion has been for politics, not fiction.

Ahead of the Booker Prize tomorrow, Arundhati Roy tells Peter Popham how the award led her to a new life, and away from fiction.

Arundhati Roy, winner of the Booker Prize in 1997 for The God of Small Things, is not in the frame this year. Again. In fact, she has yet to follow up on that first book, what John Updike described as her “Tiger Woodsian debut.”

It’s not for want of trying: it is no secret that she has a second one on the stocks. “Everybody has known that for many years!” she laughs. Few people have had a glimpse of it, however, one exception being her friend John Berger, the octogenarian novelist and art critic. He was so impressed that he urged her to drop everything and finish it. “About a year and a half ago I was with John at his home,” she recalls “and he said, ‘You open your computer now and you read to me whatever fiction you are writing.’ He is perhaps the only person in the world that could have the guts to say that to me. And I read a bit to him and he said, ‘You just go back to Delhi and you finish that book.’ So I said ‘okay…’”

But her good intentions were derailed. “I went back to Delhi,” she says, “and in a few weeks this note was pushed under my door: just an anonymous typewritten note asking me to visit the Maoists in the jungles of central India…” more

August 29, 2011

Barnes biggest Booker book

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| By Philip Stone

Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending (Cape) is comfortably the bestselling longlistee of one of the most popular Man Booker longlists since records began.

Barnes’ concise novel has sold 9,700 copies at UK booksellers since the longlist was announced on 26th July, almost double the number of the next most popular longlistee, Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child (Picador).

Sebastian Barry’s On Canaan’s Side (Faber) is the third most popular longlistee in print sales terms, while D J Taylor’s Derby Day (Chatto) has proved the least popular purchase with sales of 762 copies over the period, despite being one of the bookies’ favourites.

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August 3, 2011

Booker Notoriety Sparks Rights Run at Cinderella Indies


Since hitting the longlist of the Booker Prize, indie publishers Seren Books, Sandstone Press and Oneworld are seeing global interest in their titles as never before.


By Roger Tagholm

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LONDON: Last week the Man Booker Prize judging committee surprised many observers by including numerous independent publishing houses on the 13-strong longlist for this year’s prize. The list included a trio of titles from smaller, lesser-known presses including Patrick McGuinness’ The Last Hundred Days (Seren Books), Jane Rogers’ The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press) and Yvvette Edwards’ A Cupboard Full of Coats (Oneworld).

The intervening days have been enjoyably crazy — but crazy nonetheless — for those lucky publishers with rushed reprints, foreign rights inquiries, global coverage. This frenzy is not only testament to the power of the prize, but also to the speed with which news travels in the age of the internet and Twitter. Coverage proliferates which increases inquiries which amplifies coverage, all in a kind of benign circularity that didn’t exist in slower, analog times.

Yes, the large number of independents on the longlist — which also includes books from Canongate, Atlantic, Serpent’s Tail, and Granta — may very well be the most ever, but there are at least two other firsts for the list as well. One of the publishers, Robert Davidson, founder and MD of Scotland’s Sandstone Press –- the rare MD who answers the phone since, after all, there is only one other member of staff (a part-timer at that) –- is also a published novelist and poet. In the award’s long, 42-year-history, has any other publisher of a Man Booker nominee themselves been a published writer?

Another publisher, Mick Felton of Seren Books his Brigend-based company is the first Welsh house ever to be represented on the list, another small landmark in the history of the prize. more


January 3, 2011

Books in 2011 – from the new Alan Hollinghurst to David Foster Wallace’s unfinished The Pale King

There’s little by way of ex-prime ministers’ memoirs, but the year ahead offers some fiction big-hitters and some impressive debuts.

Anne Enright's first novel since her Booker prize-winning The Gathering is out in April, entitled The Forgotten Waltz. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

By far the two most talked-about (if not most read) books published in the past 12 months have been Tony Blair’s memoir A Journey and Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom. It is tempting, therefore, to ask what their equivalents are likely to be in the coming year. The good news is that, as far as I can tell, they won’t have any equivalents. If 2010 was, in literary terms, a year of disproportionate attention lavished on a few high-profile titles, 2011 looks set to be one in which the spoils of praise and publicity are more evenly divided….read more

December 23, 2010

A-Z of 2010 in literature

A rocker and raunchy cricketer made it to the shelves, writes Tymon Smith

A: is for Martin Amis, the bad boy of English letters, who started the year with a new book, The Pregnant Widow, which turned out to be one of his best, although it was overlooked for the Booker Prize short list. In publicity interviews, Amis stirred controversy when he advocated suicide booths for old people and dismissed JM Coetzee as having no talent, a comment for which he later apologised.

B: is for Barack Obama, Tony Blair and George W Bush. Obama was the subject of David Remnick’s mammoth narrative biography The Bridge, which surprised not only for its quality, but also in light of the fact that its author wrote it while holding down a 12-hour day job as the editor of The New Yorker….read more

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