Orange Prize Short List Announced!

Oh dear.  The short list for the Orange Prize has been announced, and I didn’t like three out of the six novels on the list.  You’ll recall that my Literary Masters book groups read last year’s winner, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.  That was a wonderfully literary novel, which I blogged about here.

This year’s short list is as follows:

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.  Here we go.  I can just see this book sweeping the literary awards, and as you know, it left me…underwhelmed.  I blogged on it here.

Great House by Nicole Krauss.  Ugh.  I blogged about it here.

Room by Emma Donaghue.  I know that I said I wouldn’t read this book, but I did.  And I found it creepily compelling for the first half, and then I thought it fell apart in the second half.  Yes, I, like others, found the boy’s voice believable and, as I said, compelling, but that wasn’t enough to sustain me.

Grace Williams Says It Loud by Emma Henderson.  I haven’t read it, but it takes place in an institution for the mentally ill, and is about a relationship between the two patients.

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna.  I haven’t read this either, but it’s evidently about the Sierra Leonean civil war.  Or the aftermath.  Or both.  I’m sure I’d learn a lot anyway.  I think I may read this one.

Annabel by Kathleen Winter is about a hermaphrodite whose parents’ choice of surgery has massive consequences in the child’s life.  I may read this one as well.

One book that did not make the list that I have on my TBR shelf is Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.

For more on the Orange Prize and its short list, click here.  And let me know what you think–which novel do you feel should win?

The Writers’ Block at KQED

KQED, the San Francisco Bay Area affiliate of NPR, contacted me to say that Nicole Krauss, author of Great House, the novel I blogged about here, recently read from her book on KQED’s weekly reading series “The Writers’ Block.”

KQED thought my “readers at Stick With Lit might be interested.” Thanks so much, KQED!

Readers, let me know what you think. You can find the episode here:

You can also embed the reading – you’ll find the code to the right of the
audio player.

Great House by Nicole Krauss

Thanks for all your emails and phone calls; I am doing just fine, thanks. The reason I’ve not blogged in a while is that I’ve been reading! As you know, my Literary Masters Book Groups’ selected book for this coming February has not yet been announced. I purposely left that month open so I could choose a red-hot-just-won-the-award prize-winning novel. After all, this time of year is quite exciting; we have the Nobel in Literature, the Man Booker, and, days away, the National Book Award.

The book I’m blogging about today–Great House by Nicole Krauss–is a finalist for the National Book Award. I read a great review of this novel, and I love last year’s National Book Award Winner, Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann. You know I love that book–it’s this month’s selected novel!

But back to Great House. I am so torn about this book. I feel like the author wrote the book on a pile of cards, shuffled the cards, dropped the cards, picked them and shuffled them some more, then published the book. I get the post-modern literary thing, really, I do, but I just kept thinking while reading this book, did she have to make it this so bloody difficult to follow? Is the structure carrying some meaning to me as reader?

The different chapters or sections of the book are mirror-imaged against each other, with the center (or roof if you like an image of a house) being “Lies Told by Children.” The chapters are tied together through the seemingly disparate characters and a certain significant desk, although I can understand an impatient reader missing the connections altogether. I confess, I finished the book–and believe me, I read this book carefully–and I am still wondering who was related to whom and who did what. I think the lies (referred to above in the chapter title) are actually told by the father, not the children, but I’m not sure.

There are certain books with a complicated structure whose writing is so beautiful it pulls you through the difficulty of the plot and in the end you realize that the structure of the story is indeed perfect to its whole. I’m thinking of The English Patient, for example. And Let the Great World Spin, while not having an extremely complex structure, still demands a certain amount of attention from the reader to make all the wonderful connections between the ostensibly separate chapters. But McCann’s writing is so poetic, the effort that the reader makes is a pleasurable one.

I’m sorry I can’t say the same for Great House. Perhaps a second reading with illuminate a lot for me, but I’m not sure I want to spend my time re-reading it. On the one hand, I’d like my book groups to read it, so we can all figure it out. On the other hand, I’m not sure I want to subject my members to such a task.

I’m going to wait for the National Book Awards announcement this week. Should Great House win, I’m sure lots of people will write about it, and perhaps I can glean something from what they say. Perhaps even Nicole Krauss will shed some light on her work. So, stay tuned. Perhaps there’s more to come.