[Saman Booker 2019] Serial Killers, Boats to Tangier, and Frankisses

Since the Booker Shortlist was announced yesterday and I didn’t have time to type these up before I accidentally spoilt myself and discovered the results, I’ve taken out the prediction sections of each review.

Oyinkan Braithwaite – My Sister, The Serial Killer

Start date: 22 August
End date: 26 August
Total reading time: 1 hour 36 minutes (in 2 days)

Initial impressions:
‘Lolololol!’ 

What I liked:

  • The portrayal of gender roles, female agency and oppression, family
  • Fast-paced!
  • Pretty humorous

What I disliked:

  • Too humorous – more seriousness would’ve given it a better balance so the humour could shine through even more
  • Unsatisfying conclusion
  • Not enough character depth

Overall:
A quick read that was enjoyable at the time, but won’t leave a lasting impact on me.

Personal rating: 2.5/5
Personal shortlist: Nope
Personal winner: Nope


Kevin Barry – Night Boat to Tangier

Start date: 28 August
End date: 30 August
Total reading time: 1 hour 33 minutes (in 2 days)

Overall:
I’m not bothering with much of a review on this one because it was my least favourite of the longlist so far. I didn’t like the voice, writing style, or the characters. There’s something to be said about the subject matters explored (masculine identities, ageing, coping with change), but other than that, it was all pretty meh to me.

Personal rating: 2/5
Personal shortlist: Nope
Personal winner: Nope


Jeanette Winterson – Frankissstein

Start date: 1 September
End date: 3 September
Total reading time: 3 hours 15 minutes (in 3 days)

What I liked:

  • Frankenstein is one of my favourite novels, so I adored everything about this premise!
  • All the amazing 21stC character! Ry is fantastic! <3
  • The explorations of sexuality and identity
  • The glorious intertextuality, especially re: Shakespeare
  • Oh, the ideas and philosophies in this novel! <3
  • The writing style in the 21stC sections
  • The creation of the monster

What I disliked:

  • Most of the 19thC parts. Was it really necessary? Could the writing have been less…21stC?
  • I just couldn’t deal with Mary Shelley’s 1st-person POV

Overall:
This is definitely my second favourite of the longlist so far. I enjoyed all the big questions the book raised, and I’m definitely going to re-read this in the future, possibly along with a re-read of Frankenstein. The novel also achieves a nice balance of literary and accessible, which means I’ll incorporate it into my teaching curriculum – all the themes and values are so pertinent today!

My only qualm was with the bits set in the 19thC, but this is possibly due to my knowledge of the time period (my MA was in Romantic and Victorian Literature, and I have a keen interest in the long 18thC). I couldn’t turn off my scholarly brain every time Mary Shelley’s character narrated from her POV. Since I read a loooooot of fanfiction, I just wasn’t impressed with Winterson’s take on literary real-people fic. But don’t let that deter you, because this novel is pretty fantastic overall!

Personal rating: 4/5
Personal shortlist: Definitely
Personal winner: Possibly

[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!

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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