Is that actually a thing? Why does the announcement of this annual prize always fill me with anxiety? It really isn’t my concern who is longlisted, shortlisted, who wins or who doesn’t. Yet somehow I always worry about it.
In fact I have only read one book on the current longlist – that is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun.
A Nobel Laureate, Ishiguro won the booker with the sublime The Remains of the Day. Yet– for me –Klara is a lesser work. Also I am aware that we are in a time where a whole lot of things don’t make any sense. And so it is fine for prize lists not to make any sense either.
On the list too is Richard Powers with a new work, Bewilderment. I love his writing and will certainly read this new one but already I am nervous. Will it be as good as his last book The Overstory ? That book won the Pulitzer Prize but not the Booker although it was shortlisted. If the booker panel didn’t love The Overstory enough to announce it the winner, then what are they hoping for?
The Overstory concerned itself with how humanity is losing the trees – and the rest of the earth along with them, and the irrational and violent forces of ‘authority’ that are brought to bear against those who campaign to protect it. It is worth noting that this is a book of which Barack Obama wrote: It changed how I thought about the earth and our place in it.
Then we have Frances Spufford’s Light Perpetual. I tried to read this. Honest! But it starts with a whole group of children being bombed (in Woolworths in South East London) during the second world war, all of them dying. It then goes on to tell their life stories! Or rather their imagined life stories. Suspension of disbelief is key to any work of fiction and all fiction is a work of imagination. Therefore imagining lives of dead characters is not so very different to imagining lives of ‘live’ ones. If you see what I mean. At least give me something to hang my credulity on. Several books including Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red and Elif Shafak’s Ten Minutes Thirty Eight Seconds in this Strange World are narrated by corpses. But those narratives recount past happenings, rather than future ones which couldn’t possibly have existed. There is experimentation, and then there is … what? Gimmick?
I am however quite excited to read Sunjeev Sahota’s The China Room, about which I have heard much.
My challenge to read ten books this summer is proceeding at a snail’s pace. Some of the ones I listed I suddenly can’t face reading at all (still haven’t got to Philip Pullman’s third volume of his Book of Dust series. It’s been on my shelf forever) and new ones are drifting in to the pile.
Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki (Penguin Random House) is one of those that has crept into the original list. It is my 8th of 10 Books of Summer, a challenge hosted by Cathy@746 Books.
This was recommended by Daunt Books in Marylebone High Street. Unlike algorithms which search massive databases for something vaguely similar to your last read (although The Storygraph is quite good on this), at Daunt’s, books are read and enjoyed by the staff and so I always take note of their recommendations.
I was looking for a gentle, sunny read – not genre fiction – this seemed perfect. A pre-pandemic, pre-holocaust, pre-war time time when the world still held possibilities and an idyll could be found for the looking. And here it is. Three Summers is an account of three sisters – Katerina, Maria, Infanta – growing up in a ramshackle house in a wildflower meadow with their divorced mother, before the Second World War. They dream about being writers, fall in love, ride horses. It is a time of innocence. But also as in all adolescence a time of heightened emotions and some confusion There are oleanders and cicadas, babies are born and straw hats are trimmed with ‘poppies red as fire’. There is a massive cast of characters. The landscape features too although perhaps not as much as I might have liked. But then if you live in a place, and you have always lived there, it is normal to you. These were the days before the onset of mass tourism.
Three Summers was first published in 1946. It has not since been out of print in Greece. It was also published in France in 1950 on the recommendation of Albert Camus. It begins with the main protagonist, Katerina in her sixteenth year. There are echoes of Cassandra Mortmain’s character in Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle although for me Liberaki’s book does not have quite the same charm as Smith’s.
And sadly it is all fiction. The writer’s life was less idyllic.
Of the author Polly Samson writes in her introduction to the book:
Liberaki was married and pregnant while she was writing Three Summers. Less than a year later she divorced and moved to Paris, leaving her only child to be raised, as she had been herself, by grandparents. That daughter Margarita Karapanou, also became an acclaimed writer. It was Karapanou’s novel, set on the island of Hydra The Sleepwalker that led me to Three Summers.
Another book for me to look out for if it is translated into English. And not a booker prize in sight.
Did I mention we have a new puppy?
Whoever did it it wasn’t me!
I’d be very interested to hear if anyone else has read any of the longlisted books or intends to. Meanwhile, owing to general puppy mayhem and other types of exhaustion, literary and physical, the rune is taking a break. I will return at the end of August. Thank you for persevering with my ramblings thus far, and I wish you a wonderfully normal August.