So I’ve finished seven of the thirteen longlisted books. One of the good things about doing this challenge is that it has made me read at least one book that I would never have tried. Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan is very good indeed. It is about a group of musicians on the cabaret scene in Berlin and Paris as the second world war breaks out. I wouldn’t have read it because although the wartime setting appealed, I’m extremely uninterested in jazz, and I don’t have much time for books written in any kind of dialect or slang. (Bit pedestrian of me, I know, I’m not proud of myself for finding it tedious.) So it would have failed the first page test but I carried on and thought it was wonderful. And I’ll admit to being wrong about the language, it really adds to the atmosphere.
This is Sid the narrator talking about his bandmates, ‘We talked like mongrels, see – half-German, half-Baltimore bar slang. Just a few scraps of French between us. Only real language I spoke apart from English was Hoch-deutsch. But once I started messing up the words I couldn’t straighten nothing out again. Besides, I known Hiero preferred it this way. Kid hailed from the Rhineland, sure, but he got old Baltimore in his blood. Or talked like he did.’
And though I’m still not interested in Jazz I can only think that if you were this book would make your heart sing and then break it, all in an instant. This is a description of Delilah singing The Empty Bed Blues:
‘She swung the thick rope of her voice round the words, coming down hard on them, cinching them together. Then she flung the notes high up into the air, high and horn-like. But her voice was at its core a sailor’s voice, rough and mannish. Her low notes bitter croaks, filled with muddy regret.’
That is beautiful, isn’t it?
My favourite so far is The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst. It is long, entrancing, intelligent. It would be a worthy winner. I like that he writes slowly and carefully. I read an article recently where an agent said she would only accept an author if they were capable of producing a book a year. Whilst I accept the realities of the commercial world and am in no way turning up my nose at the mass market, there is still something showstoppingly magnificent about the exact opposite of the book a year brand author. Imagine if Hollinghurst writes a book every eight years or so, but they are always such miraculous, marvellous gems that he wins the Booker every year he publishes. That is a pleasing thought.
I also very much like The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes but I don’t think it his best book and hope that he has a still better one yet to come.
The other big news is that I have abandoned my unwise pledge to stay off the booze till I’d read the list. I got to three booze free weeks on Monday and decided I’d had enough. Books and booze do go together I think. (Oooh, there’s a future post.) And tomorrow I’m heading off to Cornwall to stay with my parents for a few days. Among their many accomplishments they are excellent and generous hosts, I don’t want to waste that delicious sound of ice cubes clinking on mineral water.
I’ll be taking my next three books with me to Cornwall. Hopefully I’ll be reading them on Castle Beach as I watch my Dad rockpooling in the distance with my little boy.
Which brings me to an interesting ‘do you judge a book by it’s cover’ question. I totally do. I am much more looking forward to Jamrach’s Menagerie in its new, smaller, jacket (published 1st Sept). One of my colleagues Mark prefers the old one. What do you think?