[Saman Booker 2019] Max Porter – LANNY

This was the novel I didn’t know I needed. <3

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Start date: 14 August
End date: 15 August
Total reading time: 1 hour 41 minutes (in 2 days)

Initial impressions:
An intriguing voice and style – it took me a few pages to unravel what was going on, but once I got there, I was hooked.

What I liked:
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[Saman Booker 2019] John Lanchester – THE WALL

My second ‘Saman Booker 2019’ novel!

the-wall

Start date: 3 August
End date: 4 August
Total reading time: 2 hours 47 minutes (over 2 days)

Initial impressions:
The narrative voice and dystopian premise got me from the first few pages – I was really keen on discovering more about the world, the characters, and where the story was going! Unfortunately, the first 20% of the novel was probably the best bit.

What I liked:
– The timely dystopian premise: sea levels have risen to the point where Great Britain has erected a wall to keep water and outsides (known as ‘Others’) out
– The main and supporting characters initially
– The overall setting – not just the wall, but the other parts of Great Britain where it was more or less business as usual

What I disliked:
– The characters didn’t really develop, so they were quite flat by the novel’s end
– The ‘romantic’ plot just didn’t work for me
– The anticlimactic ending (and really the second half in general)

Overall:
Despite an intriguing start with sections I enjoyed, The Wall was ultimately an unsatisfying novel that had a thought-provoking dystopian premise but failed to use it well. Fortunately, it was a fairly quick and easy read so it didn’t drag on for me.

Personal rating: 3/5
Personal shortlist: Possibly
Personal winner: Nope

Professional rating: 2/5
Booker shortlist: Unlikely
Booker winner: Unlikely

[Saman Booker 2019] Intro + LOST CHILDREN ARCHIVE

Ever since I’d discovered the existence of the Man Booker Prize, I’ve wanted to read all the longlisted titles and devise my own shortlist and winner. Life, of course, has the tendency to get in the way of that particular ambition – until this year! I prepared my calendar, list, book purchases, pre-orders, and so on – and I’m pleased to present the Saman(tha) Booker 2019!

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I’m giving myself a 15-minute timer to convert all my scribbled notes into semi-structured reviews for each book. The first one is Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive!

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My 2018 in Books

Happy New Year from Sydney, Australia! Throughout the past 2.5 years, I have been constantly ashamed to see I haven’t updated my blog since June 2016, when I was frolicking around in Finland – in fact, some of the posts on my homepage were from the glorious pre-Brexit days!

A lot has happened over the last 2.5 years (I was awarded my PhD, I moved back to Sydney semi-permanently, I started an English tutoring business, etc etc), but the one thing that’s remained the same is my passion for books. In fact, I am now more determined than ever to make time to reading – and I would very much like to share some coherent thoughts about the books I’ve read and loved (primarily because my memory has become quite shocking).

On that note, I’d like to say a few things about the best books I read in 2018. According to Goodreads, I read 69 books last year (yes, I did in fact excuse myself from family festivities for an hour on New Year’s Eve to finish Northanger Abbey, because I am evidently very mature). The full list and statistics can be found on my Goodreads page here.

Of these, my favourites are (in no particular order):

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Week 5: Thursday (Turku and my knight in shining armour)

The first day of the final week of my Humble Tour consisted of a day trip to Turku, Finland’s oldest city. A 2-hour bus ride away from Helsinki (€14), the city has a combination of old and new, and, by a stroke of pure traveller’s luck, also holds Finland’s largest medieval festival (30 June to 2 July this year). The festival pretty much takes up all of the old great square near the cathedral, and contains stalls, market food, games, demonstrations, and a medieval horse tournament.

Yup, that’s right: a horse tournament.

The entry fee of €13 was some of the best cash I’ve forked out, because not only was the jousting (!!) awesome, but I also met my knight in shining armour.

<333

<333

My knight saluting his fans.

My knight saluting his fans.

My knight in action!

My knight in action!

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Week 4: Wednesday (Porvoo, sunshine, and happiness)

As Finland’s second oldest (14th century) town, Porvoo bears all the medieval characteristics I love: a cathedral, a town square doubling as a marketplace, an endless sea of cobblestones. Add to that the spectacularly sunny weather, beautiful surroundings of water and trees, a good book, and Samantha in a Sundress, and we have a recipe for pure bliss.

I booked buses in advance to Porvoo (€10), and the trip took a very comfortable 50 minutes. I’d arrived at around noon (which gave me some time this morning to prepare a simple dinner for Maaria), and, as with yesterday, had no plans in particular except general meandering and prancing.

My first taste of Porvoo's loveliness, just a few minutes away from the bus station.

My first taste of Porvoo’s loveliness, just a few minutes away from the bus station.

Porvoo cathedral.

Porvoo Cathedral.

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Week 4: Tuesday (Tallinn)

And so the actual travelling/exploring part of Samantha’s Humble Tour continues! One thing I (especially as an Australian) adore about Europebigland is the close proximity of the various countries by air, land, and sea. I’ve been sharing my adventures on the first two by the bucketload, but today, I took a ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn (£18 return), with the trip being 2.5 hours each way. [As a side note, my most spontaneous ferry trip in Europe was when I went from Helsingør (Denmark) to Helsingborg (Sweden) for dinner after a Shakespeare conference day. We academics have to find an outlet somewhere.]

Since I wanted to bake a brownie-cake for Maaria’s brother’s birthday in the morning, I opted for the later ship, which gave me 4 solid hours in Tallinn.

The ship ride was super exciting, especially since this was the first time I’ve been on a cruise ship! I spent quite some time at the stern, taking a bunch of photos and generally grinning like an idiot while surrounded by sun, sky, and sea.

Leaving Helsinki.

Leaving Helsinki.

More Helsinki.

More Helsinki.

Even more Helsinki. The weather was perfect.

Even more Helsinki. The weather was perfect.

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Week 4: Fri – Mon (My lazy Finnish midsummer)

As I’ve learnt and lived over the last few days, Midsummer in Finland is a Really Big Thing. For a country with long and often unforgiving winters, midsummer brings about copious light, greenery, and even sunshine–in fact, the average temperatures in southern Finland exceed Belfast’s, and it’s only been since arriving here that I’ve consistently worn my skirt and dress (or just bummed around Maaria’s apartment in a oversized sleeping t-shirt).

Friday

True to Finnish stereotypes, Maaria’s family has a summer cottage, which is where she usually spends midsummer. This year, with the public holiday falling on the Friday, she decided to take me to the Seurasaari Midsummer Bonfires, the biggest such event in Helsinki. Held in a national park on an island, its main attraction is a series of bonfires–a nod to Finland’s pagan past–lit to celebrate the love and magic associated with midsummer. This also happened to be the first time Maaria’s attended, so we basically had a blast exploring and discovering and midsummering.

Singing traditional songs.

Singing traditional songs.

Raising a pole of fertility.

Raising a pole of fertility.

Ice-creams, matching fannish shirts, and adorable canine photobombers! :D

Ice-creams, matching fannish shirts, and adorable canine photobombers! :D

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Week 3: Tuesday & Wednesday (Travelling, Finland, cooking)

Moi moi from Finland! And thus begins the final part of Samantha’s Humble Tour, which will most likely be full of culinary adventures while I take over my friend Maaria’s kitchen, and essentially become her housewife (yay!). Since I’d spent so much time and energy planning for my English Dream Trip (which I’m pleased to say went without much of a hitch, and which I’ll summarise over the next few days), I honestly hadn’t given the Finnish part much thought apart from spending time with Maaria, participating in midsummer mayhem, learning about Moomins, catching up on some reading, catching up on lots of writing, and rolling around in pure Scandanavian happiness.

Tuesday

Despite the awesomeness of the sleeper train, my general failure at sleeping meant I didn’t really get much proper rest. The train stewardess knocked on my door at 6am to deliver breakfast on a tray, but I was too tired to eat anything, so I sipped on my tea and packed away the food for later.

Breakfast tray on the overnight sleeper train.

Breakfast tray on the overnight sleeper train.

The majority of my trip to Helsinki was fine, but the final leg (Oslo to Helsinki) was a little bumpy. Namely, I had 55 minutes between the “arrival” in Oslo and “departure” in Helsinki—while that might seem like plenty of time, a lot depends on a number of factors. Unfortunately, every one of the “uh-oh” factors were in play for that connection: there was a shuttle transfer from the Oslo plane to the terminal (15 mins with the taxi-ing), passport control, and another security check. With many apologies (and Japanese-esque bowing), I jumped the queues, and made it to the gate just a few minutes after boarding had commenced. But it turned out my haste was uncalled for, as the flight was delayed for some reason. Things got even more interesting once I had boarded, since the system had somehow double-booked a whole bunch of seats, and I kept being ushered to the back of the plane by an air stewardess who, while smiling, had no idea what was going on.

But it all turned out for the best, since the gentleman who sat next to me (another displaced passenger) was a Finn with lots of advice to impart.

The view leaving Norway.

The view leaving Norway.

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