The week in books

The Guardian - Review - - Review - Ed Vul­liamy

This Judg­ing­week the the email Booker from judges­the Man Booker’s pub­lic­ity team ar­rived, with its an­nounce­ment of the short­list: three Amer­i­cans; two de­buts; two formerly short­listed au­thors; one win­ner of a ma­jor prize set up in op­po­si­tion to the Man Booker; and one grand old man. Cu­ri­ous in­deed, I thought, and then, as my more rep­til­ian brain kicked in, I started play­ing the odds. Horse-trad­ing? Who pushed for what? Why were names such as Zadie Smith, Se­bas­tian Barry and Arund­hati Roy whit­tled off the longlist?

As a lit­er­ary edi­tor for many years, and a for­mer judge, I have some­times joked with friends that the year that I cor­rectly pre­dicted the Man Booker re­sult was the year I judged it. It is, de­light­fully, un­pre­dictable. The longlist did seem like a mix-tape of great­est hits (thank­fully no­body put on the Rushdie) – and yet the only two sur­prise tracks are on the short­list.

With a dif­fer­ent set of judges each year, it is a fool’s er­rand to try to guess the even­tual win­ner. So I have al­ways had a sim­ple for­mula: never judge the books – study the judges.

In the in­fa­mous year of hav­ing a for­mer spook look­ing at lit­er­a­ture, the prize nearly col­lapsed un­der the ba­nal­i­ties, un­til a tried-and-tested vic­tor was put in place (Ju­lian Barnes, with The Sense of an End­ing ). This year’s judges are a cu­ri­ous mix­ture. Hav­ing been in n this game for so long, I can say ay with­outwith­out hes­i­ta­tion that I re­spect the opin­ions of Sarah rah Hall and Lila Azam Zan­ganeh, ganeh, both of whom I have e chaired at lit­er­ary fes­ti­vals,ls, and have long ad­mired Colin Thubron and Tom

Phillips, whosee work I used to push on cre­ative writ­ing stu­dents. I have not met the chair, Baron­ness Lola Young. But th­ese are peo­ple I take se­ri­ously, and their de­ci­sions should be taken se­ri­ously.

But se­ri­ously: Paul Auster? The new book strikes me as bloated Borges. What he man­aged in “The Gar­den of Fork­ing Paths” it takes Auster a book longer than Ulysses to play around in. It’s a very ma­cho book, not in con­tent, but in form. Af­ter years of slen­der nov­els and slim pick­ings we get the huge work, and it is huge work to fin­ish it.

An­other Booker koan: the fron­trun­ner never wins. I quite liked Ge­orge Saun­ders’s Lin­coln in the Bardo , but it had a musty air of nos­tal­gic ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. Ali Smith ( Au­tumn) ap­pears to be al­ways the brides­maid, and seems con­tent with that – as she ob­served, An­gela Carter never won the Booker. The de­buts, His­tory of Wolves by Emily Frid­lund and El­met by Fiona Mo­z­ley, which I read yes­ter­day, are good; at points very good in­deed. Mohsin Hamid ( Exit West) , like Auster, at­tempts al­ter­na­tive re­al­i­ties but has the up­per hand in pol­i­tics.

If you want to win at the Man Booker – as a punter – then here’s the strat­egy: find five friends and each of you place a bet on one of the books. One of you will win and you can di­vide the div­i­dends six­fold. That’s the only way to win. Stu­art Kelly

A few words ono few words At an im­pres­sive 880 pages, Paul Auster's 4321 is the long­est novel short­listed for t the Man Booker prize, while the short­est is the diminu­tive Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, at 240. But the short­est prize-short­listed nov­els this week check in at on­lyon 25. Words, that is. On Fri­day,Frid Bath Spa cel­e­brated 25 years of cre­ative writ­ing at the univer­sity by show­cas­ing the win­ners of its re­cent Novel in 25 Words com­pe­ti­tion at the launch of its new an­thol­ogy, A Place in Words. The short­listed nov­els were: Early Learn­ing by Clare Gal­lagher

“With boys she hit harder. Hit at the child he once was. Thirty years’ ‘ex­em­plary class­room prac­tice’. The soft palm of so many small hands.” FYI by Kelly Do­ran

“Ob­vi­ously I’m not judg­ing Carl; I just think it would’ve been nice to know about the whole pineap­ple sit­u­a­tion be­fore I moved in with him.” Rise of the Shy Hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist by Michael Hunt “Veni, vedi, Aes­cu­lus hip­pocas­tanum: I came, I saw, I conkered. Caesar of play­grounds, bul­lied no more, com­man­der of string, nut and a smat­ter­ing of Latin.”

The win­ner, Do­ran's FYI , was read out by the Os­car-win­ning ac­tor and BSU chan­cel­lor Jeremy Irons at the cer­e­mony. The an­thol­ogy in­cludes an in­tro­duc­tion by Tessa Hadley, a deleted scene from Naomi Al­der­man’s The Power, Nathan Filer on “How to Write an Award-Win­ning First Novel” and a story by Philip Hen­sher.

Brevity is the soul of wit, and the very short story is noth­ing new. The six-word novel, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”, is of­ten at­trib­uted to Ernest Hem­ing­way and a $10 bet, but sim­i­lar tales ap­peared as far back as 1906. Take that, Twit­ter gen­er­a­tion. Katy Guest

A sonata for Shel­ley

From the white­washed bal­cony of Percy Bysshe Shel­ley’s house, it sounded like a sonata for sea and harp: the mel­liflu­ous notes of a piece by Liszt called “A Breath” from within, en­twined with the lap­ping tide of the Bay of Po­ets, in Lig­uria. Th­ese are the wa­ters in which one of our great­est po­ets drowned in 1822. Last week the peo­ple of Lerici were al­lowed into the house, Casa Magni, for the first time – a fit­ting cli­max to the Suoni di Golfo

( Sounds of the Bay) fes­ti­val. “It’s an emo­tional day for me,” fes­ti­val di­rec­tor Gian­luca Mar­cianò said. “I was born here, grew up here, and like you all, had only walked past this house, it­self al­ways a le­gend.”

Shel­ley ar­rived in Italy in 1818 in flight from stul­ti­fy­ing re­ac­tion in Bri­tain ( plus ça change ), sur­veil­lance and im­pend­ing per­se­cu­tion for his athe­ist be­liefs, Ja­cobin sym­pa­thies and cham­pi­oning of the Ir­ish cause. But also for en­tan­gled per­sonal rea­sons: with his wife Mary, their two chil­dren, friend Claire Clare­mont and her daugh­ter Al­le­gra, in or­der to re­turn the lat­ter to her fa­ther, Lord By­ron. In the fol­low­ing four years, both the Shel­leys’ chil­dren and Al­le­gra would die, as would a fur­ther daugh­ter, Elena, whom Shel­ley sired by an­other, un­known, woman – pos­si­bly Claire, prob­a­bly Elisa, the maid.

“Italy at first ac­quain­tance seemed to awake so many cor­re­spon­dences and res­o­nances in Shel­ley’s mind that it came like a rev­e­la­tion,” writes his bi­og­ra­pher Richard Holmes. Th­ese trau­matic years were also a time of ex­plo­sive cre­ativ­ity, pro­duc­ing some of his finest po­etry.

Shel­ley and his oeu­vre had forged an in­spired and in­spir­ing en­twine­ment be­tween moral­ity, cul­ture and pol­i­tics, and his vi­sion of art in­ter­ven­ing in so­ci­ety has been the propul­sion of the fes­ti­val. Mar­cianò’s en­deav­ours in­clude not just the young orches­tra he con­vened from all over world, but projects in mu­sic for peace in for­mer Yu­goslavia, the Mid­dle East and the Cau­ca­sus. Shel­ley, a mu­sic lover and revo­lu­tion­ary poet, would have savoured this fes­ti­val and its ethos. He spent his time at Casa Magni sail­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with By­ron and sim­i­larly ex­iled rad­i­cal friends nearby, Ed­ward Wil­liams and Leigh Hunt – and work­ing apace.

Af­ter a rad­i­cal “summit” at Pisa with By­ron and oth­ers, Shel­ley and Wil­liams set sail for Lerici from Livorno in Shel­ley’s beloved boat, Don Juan. A storm caught them un­awares, leav­ing Mary wid­owed within th­ese walls from which the harp’s res­o­nance echoed on the warm Mediter­ranean breeze.

Casa Magni: Shel­ley's house in Lerici, Lig­uria. Be­low left, Paul Auster

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