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Kate Sidley

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Archive for the ‘Awards’ Category

Literary Team SA is first class

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling unusually patriotic and optimistic this week. Yes, I realise it’s just a mechanism by which our natural urges to destroy other tribes are transferred into a more socially acceptable form of competition.

It’s a relic of our primal past. It’s actually, to be honest, rather crass in its bloodthirsty competitiveness.

Somehow, this year feels special. Not since we first clapped eyes on Ryk Neethling in a Speedo, back in 2004, have we felt so buoyed, so hopeful of success. Maybe in 2012 we will bring home the bacon.

Oh, the golden days of Fifa 2010 were marvellous but, let’s face it, we were never really in with a chance. We were deluded, our brains fried by beer and the blasts of vuvuzelas and the faint, familiar whiff of the cheerful sense of togetherness of 1994. We indulged in earnest conversations that went like this: “Look, if Papua New Guinea beats Italy 20-nil and Antarctica takes out Spain, we just need to beat the Netherlands by seven points and we’ll win on goal difference.”

But 2012 could be our year. I mean, look at our line-up. Team South Africa is total class. Take André Brink, whose Philida – a historical novel, set in the Cape, that tells of a slave woman’s relationship with her white master’s son – is on the longlist of the Man Booker, which is to literary awards what the 100m sprint is to the Olympics.

Literary patriots can also lay claim to Tan Twan Eng, author of longlisted The Garden of Evening Mists. OK, so he’s actually from Penang, but he lives in Cape Town. He spoke at the Franschhoek Literary Festival earlier this year, is very charming and can really write, so we can pop him into our camp.

Claiming Nicola Barker, who lived here for part of her childhood, is rather like claiming Roger Federer because his mom is South African. It’s a stretch and mildly pathetic, but hey.

Her offering is The Yips (the title refers to a nervous condition that makes golfers miss short putts). It sounds like a riot – bold and inventive and odd. Can’t wait to read it.

Brink is a much-awarded writer and has been shortlisted before, as has Barker. Some others on the list are newbies. But in this race, the best and fastest on the day gets the glory – last week’s brilliant race profiteth you nothing.

Peter Stothard, chair of Man Booker judges and editor of the Times Literary Supplement, put it thus: “We were considering novels not novelists, texts not reputations.”

Hilary Mantel – a previous winner – is the Usain Bolt of the field. At time of writing, Bring up the Bodies was the bookies’ favourite at three to one. But the field is diverse and ambitious, and one can never discount any athlete at this level.

The full list is:

Nicola Barker – The Yips
Ned Beauman – The Teleportation Accident
André Brink – Philida
Tan Twan Eng – The Garden of Evening Mists
Michael Frayn – Skios
Rachel Joyce – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Deborah Levy – Swimming Home
Hilary Mantel – Bring Up the Bodies
Alison Moore – The Lighthouse
Will Self – Umbrella
Jeet Thayil – Narcopolis
Sam Thompson – Communion Town

The shortlist will be announced on September 11 and the winner of the £50000 prize on October 16 2012.

The Olympics, of course, end on Sunday August 12. Good luck to our athletes and our writers.

Kate Sidley is the Sunday Times Books Columnist

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Nothing like a good Boeke

Last week saw the announcement of Exclusive Books’ annual Boeke Prize. The name gives a nod to the seeriaaas Booker Prize, but this one is a little more light-hearted, and aims to boost readable, crowd-pleasing, quality fiction.

There are two winners – one voted for by Fanatics members and one based on the votes of a judging panel of critics and media people – chosen from a shortlist of eight titles.

The reader’s choice award went to the perennially popular Deon Meyer for his Cape Town-based crime thriller Thirteen Hours. The judges chose When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman as their top pick. It’s a funny, poignant and whimsical book written from the perspective of a young girl, Elly. It follows her and a cast of eccentric characters and their relationships, stretching from an English childhood, to the streets of New York on 9/11 30 years later. A worthy winner.

I had expected Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese to win an award, as it’s one of those books that people keep recommending. Go to a lunch and guaranteed someone will say, “I’m reading such a super book, it’s called …” You can chip in “Cutting for Stone” and be right about 80% of the time. It is a very engrossing read and a definite recommendation if you’re looking for something good for the coming holidays.

My personal choice for best written was The Glass Room by Simon Mawer. I was pleased to discover that Barry Ronge, fellow judge and the event’s MC, also rated this book highly.

The most disputed book (at my table at least) was The Slap by Christos Tsiolakis. It is one of those “love it or hate it” books and I am not one of the lovers. You probably know the story by now: A group of friends gathers for a barbecue. One of them slaps an obnoxious child of indulgent parents. The book deals with the fallout of this one act. Personally, I would have liked to have slapped the majority of the adult characters who, to a one, are coarse, annoying, stupid and/or drunk. It’s pitched as controversial and thought-provoking, although most people are either in the “you don’t slap kids” camp or the “that brat had it coming” camp, so even that’s rather unrewarding. But, as I say, you might feel differently.

Enjoyed is perhaps not the right word to describe The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi. It is, after all, a rather gruesome thriller involving the dismemberment of young girls. This is the sort of book I would ordinarily avoid like the plague, but as a judge I had to give it a shot. My low exposure to thrillers no doubt renders me particularly susceptible to being manipulated by the tricks of a thriller writer, but this one kept me up at night with its twists and turns and surprises. But less naive readers found it good too, so if this is your genre, give it a go.

Matterhorn is being hailed as the great Vietnam novel of our times. It took Vietnam vet Karl Marlantes 30 years to write this 700-page epic, and it is an extraordinary portrayal of war – the drudgery and futility, combined with terror and tension. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda tells the story of an Indian baby girl left at an orphanage. It interweaves the stories of her birth family, with that of the prosperous American family who adopt her. Ultimately, she manages to navigate between the two worlds they represent.

These Boeke winners make a good start for any holiday reading list.

Kate Sidley is the Sunday Times Books Columnist

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Apples, oranges and rambutans

A large and heavy black box arrived at my door a couple of weeks ago.

In it, were the books shortlisted for the Exclusive Books Boeke Prize (sorry to disappoint those of you who spent too long at Jenny Crwys-Williams’s Bloody Book Week and were expecting it to be a severed hand or worse. Just books.). As a judge, I have to read them all and rate them. What fun.

The Boeke Prize is a fine thing and not just because it has a funny-punny name. It aims to strike a balance between literary merit and unputdownability, if there is such a word, in awarding the prize to one of the previous year’s popular successes.

The instructions from the organisers include the following: “You are asked to consider each book’s originality, freshness, readability and accessibility. The book should appeal to anyone who enjoys a really good read. These novels…are compelling reads that suck you into their world and stay with you long after the last pages are read.”

The shortlisted books are:

It’s a strange list, stretching from Addis Ababa to Sea Point to Prague and beyond. Crime, family drama, social commentary. It’s an occupational hazard of prizes and awards, the difficulty of comparing apples with oranges and rambutans (yes, spell checker, it is a word – it’s a fruit rather like a spiky litchi. So there. I do love outsmarting Bill Gates). How to compare? I’ve decided to consider the field as if I were recommending the books to my book club. Which is a must-read and which is just okay to take along if you’ve got a long holiday coming up?

So far, I’m having a most enjoyable time. I’m about halfway through the list, and have just finished The Glass Room. It is predominantly set in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. The modern mostly-glass house of the title is home to a cultured young family who are forced to flee the Nazis. The house is designed as a place of light and openness, but over the years it comes to hold darkness and intrigue, both personal and political. A finely-written, moving book that deals with the themes of sex, love, architecture, history and memory. But is it the best? I can’t say. I did relish a good heart-thumping chase around Cape Town with Deon Meyer. I have high hopes for Secret Daughter, which is set in India. And this evening I start When God was a Rabbit, which I’m pretty excited about, too. No, definitely too soon to be making predictions. Your vote is sought too, by the way. There are two winners, the Reader’s Choice and the Judge’s Choice. So get going! Go to to vote.

PS. Spare a thought for the judges of the Mann Booker who last year made their way through 138 entries, and I bet you’re not allowed to toss the ones with ugly covers, or that have yogis, or talking animals, or missing children, which are the strategies usually employed to get one’s reading list down to a reasonable length.

Kate Sidley is the Sunday Times books columnist

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