Atonement – Ian McEwan

atonement

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Chosen by Suzy

An upper-class girl’s half-innocent mistake ruins the lives of those around her, and she spends the rest of her life attempting to atone. 

“The thing I love about Ian McEwan is his ability to refashion ordinary things into sensory experiences. Reading his work makes me feel as though I’ve been there, met the folk and lived the complexities of their lives. Atonement is no different. And in fact probably better. Robbie and Cecilia are my friends, I can see the vast Tallis mansion behind my eyes and will remember the scene on Dunkirk for a long time to come. I adore this book.” – Rachel

“This book still haunts me!  The retreat to Dunkirk was so evocatively written that I felt I could have sat down with a soldier who was there and genuinely related to him and discussed it as a shared experience (yes I *do* realise how ridiculous that sounds). One of my all-time favourites and one of the few novels where I think the movie has done it justice.” – Suzy

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Published 2001
Jonathan Cape
371 pages

The Unconsoled – Kazuo Ishiguro

UnconsoledREAD FOR BOOKCLUB

Chosen by Rachel

Ryder, a famous pianist, arrives in a central European city to perform a concert. However, he appears to have lost most of his memory and finds his new environment surreal and dreamlike.

“While some may say this book was baffling, I found the confusion consistent. It made Ryder a believable character and heightened my sense of intrigue. Once I accepted things were not simple, nor offered in a succinct manner, I enjoyed the roller coaster ride. I was happy with the conclusion too, it suited the chaos of the narrative. To have everything spelled out and explained on the final pages would have been a disappointment.” – Rachel

“I didn’t really enjoy this book – I know a lot of it probably went over my head. Also, I couldn’t relate to the main character so I think it lost me there and then.” – Nadine

“Thoughts”  – Suzy

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Published 1995
Faber & Faber
535 pages

 

2007 Bookerthon

Booker 2007We thoroughly enjoyed our first Bookerthon, and feel privileged to have read six of the best books of the year one after another. We are pleased to see a Kiwi amongst the contenders, as well as Ian McEwan, whom we both adore.

In picking our winners, we have considered the following categories: readability, significance and writing style (from a complete novice point of view!)

Overall, we consider five of the six to have qualities worthy of winning: Mister Pip, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Animal’s People are all profound and human, set amongst real-life atrocities, and Darkmans is a detailed and unique story. On Chesil Beach is from the master himself, and while we do both respect his genius, we have differing views of where this one sits in the shortlist favourites order.

The book we do not think is a contender is The Gathering. Something so dreary fails our readability criteria and couldn’t make up for it with the other two categories.

In the end we’ve both picked our favourites for the same reasons: slap-in-the-face reality, highly developed characters and ability to promote a cause through a fictionalised truth. So for Rachel it’s Animal’s People and for Suzy Mister Pip.

 

Best book 1-6: Rachel:

Animal’s People
Mister Pip
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
On Chesil Beach
Darkmans
The Gathering

Best book 1-6: Suzy:

Mister Pip
On Chesil Beach
Animal’s People
Darkmans
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
The Gathering

On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan

on-chesil-beach1

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In this novella a newly married couple reflect on their pasts and as a result question their marriage while honeymooning on Chesil Beach.

“The opening line of On Chesil Beach sums it all up really: ‘They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.’

“It is 1962, the cusp of the sexual revolution, and two very English characters are contemplating the role of sex in their newly declared marriage. There are many factors that contribute to their differing views, not contained to the time and place, but also societal class systems and other goings on. The setting is certainly alive and relevant in this book.

“However, while I am an Ian McEwan fan of the highest order, On Chesil Beach left me wanting. There was his usual mastery of prose but somehow it seemed too easy. I’m being critical, obviously, because even a bad Ian McEwen book would be better than most texts on the bookshop shelves!, but I guess being the huge fan that I am means I am being extra tough on him. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a great read, I just didn’t feel overwhelmed with fervour and emotion as I have with his other masterpieces.” – Rachel

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Published 2007
Jonathan Cape
166 pages

Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones

Mister_Pip_(Lloyd_Jones_novel)

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Children on war ravaged Bougainville listen to their make-do teacher read them the story of Great Expectations. But their obsession with Pip results in clashes with rebel soliders.

“A clever, enthralling, devastating book.” – Suzy

“I enjoy books set in real life conflicts, to be educated/shocked and entertained all at once.  Here Jones takes a little known conflict and into it inserts fabulous characters. The protagonist, Matilda, and the re-invented Pip are both fully developed characters who bring innocence and a harsh reality to the real-life conflict. I enjoyed not only the harsh differences but also the parallels between story telling and war. A touching and haunting book with snippets I had to read from behind my hands. An important book; one not to be forgotten.” – Rachel

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Published 2006
John Murray
256 pages

Darkmans – Nicola Barker

darkmans

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The reality of English families set over two days in a small town in England, with a hovering jester haunting every page.

“This book was a bit mad but I loved it.  It was a massive commitment during a Bookerthon due to the length but definitely worth it.” – Suzy

“This was an epic read and there was a lot going on, but it was quite different to most novels (right down to the font!) and that made it intriguing. As two families go about their daily business, which is identifiable to us all, there is a ghostly jester who haunts the book, forcing characters to say weird things and moving things about in true supernatural style. You certainly had to be invested in the 800-odd pages to get the most out of it. It was tough to give it the attention it deserved due to time restraints with our Bookerthon reading, so I’d recommend picking up this book when your reading time is ample.” – Rachel

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Published 2007
Fourth Estate
848 pages

Animal’s People – Indra Sinha

Animal's People

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This book is based on a boy named Animal, who was deformed as a result of the 1984 Bhopal chemical disaster.

“This book was so evocative.  Years later, when I think of it I still feel overwhelmed with memories of the noise and colour.” – Suzy

“I had never heard of the Bhopal Disaster before reading this book. And it is so outrageous that even as I read I kept thinking surely this is not real? I loved how Sinha relayed the facts in a fictional style to give them more weight. I also enjoyed how he treated Animal as a normal person – with thoughts and desires, friends, enemies and love interests – despite his severe deformities and homelessness. It’s what made this book affecting and memorable. Not only does it educate people about the disaster but it reminds us that whatever our circumstances and outward presentation we are all the same inside.” – Rachel

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Published 2007
Simon & Schutster
374 pages

The Gathering – Anne Enright

The Gathering

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Irish woman Veronica takes a closer look at her family’s troubled history while at the funeral of her brother who committed suicide.

“For me, the endless misery in The Gathering put a veil over the whole reading experience, making it impossible to see what distinguished this as a book worthy of Booker nomination. I guess if that’s what she was after, Enright has done well, but I don’t know how that translates into reader appeal.” – Rachel

“And from me …..” – Suzy

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Published 2007
Random House
272 pages

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid

Reluctant_Fundamentalist

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Over one night, a Pakistani man tells an American stranger about his love affair with a woman and his forced abandonment of America post 911.

“This is an honest portrayal of a Muslim man living in New York when the towers come down. It offers new insights into the tragedy and offers reactions and consequences that none of us may have considered before. It is therefore an eye-opening and thought-provoking story, written in a personable way, as if the writer is speaking directly to you as the reader. Great characters, great plot, great read.” – Rachel

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Published 2007
Harvest Books

The People’s Act Of Love – James Meek

The P Act of LoveREAD FOR BOOKCLUB

Chosen by Suzy

A renegade Czech army unit is stranded in a community of religious fanatics in a small, remote town in Siberia. 

“I certainly didn’t expect what I found when I first opened the book. A unique setting and idea, bringing together an army unit and religious fanatics in the harshest of climates, so that everything is a daily battle. This is a blindingly forthright story, one which poses many questions about the fragility of the human condition and makes you consider ‘what if’ over and over. The bleak frosty setting is well incorporated into the storylines and is almost a character in itself. I didn’t want to put this down.” – Rachel

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Published 2005