Lastminuteread.com here before the Orange Prize is announced this evening.
I haven't had time to read Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk so there's every chance that will win, because Kiran Desai was the only one I hadn't read in the run up to the Booker, so you see how this works.Sandra over on Book World rates it highly, it's clearly in with a chance.
The Observations by Jane Harris had some mega-plaudits in comments here and I'm in agreement it's a good read.
The narrative voice is the feature that everyone mentions and warms to and it is impossible not to love the down to earth, tell it like it really is voice of maidservant Bessy Buckley.Bessy is very much larger than life, leaps off the page and her honest and hilarious turn of phrase is priceless and carries the whole.
Arabella,mistress of the house compiling her own observations on the serving classes and reminiscent for me of the Hannah Cullwick diaries.Plenty of Victorian goings-on and a page turner of a read though I felt it sagged a little towards the end with not quite the degree of villainy I had been expecting.There was an intentional and noticeable change in the narrative voice as events drew to a close but somehow I wanted the Bessie I knew and loved to go on forever.
Minor niggles because Jane Harris deserves an award for Bessie alone and the way she sustains the voice and character. It must have been all-pervasive because I now find myself using some of Bessie's choicer epithets.
But still not an Orange prize winner for me when Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is on the table too. One of those books that had to be written and deserves to be read. I've searched back for my initial thoughts on this book posted here on November 13th 2006 and I thought I might as well air an edited reprise if you can bear the repetition.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
It would seem more and more often these days, that I am reading books which I just feel so fortunate to have found
Last year I read and was completely awestruck by Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, it's etched in my memory, so I have been on the look out for her second novel ever since.Half of a Yellow Sun was published here in September, I bought it immediately and there it has sat on the shelf waiting for the right moment to read it.I had second-novel nerves
Any fears I may have had quickly dissolved as I made a start on this book and how can there have been any doubt when the book is so firmly endorsed by the likes of Chinua Achebe,
" We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of the ancient storytellers".
What an honour and, not surprisingly, one that Adichie treasures.
I read Achebe's Things Fall Apart years ago and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is certainly carrying the baton for excellent post-colonial writing with Half of a Yellow Sun. Biafra happened in the 1960's and has entered our consciousness and our language as a byword for starvation.We were all acutely aware of what was happening "Eat your dinner, children in Biafra would make that last a week" but until now I must confess I didn't really know the background. From Christine Patterson's interview with Adichie,
"In May 1967 the military governor, Colonel Ojukwe, renamed the region Biafra and declared it an independent state. Three bloody years later he was forced to back down"
Adichie's parents lost everything in the conflict and both her grandfathers died.
As often happens, the core message of a book emerges in one succinct statement that leaps off the page and resonates through to the last page. Adichie touched the heart of the matter for me as Odenigbo a radical university lecturer remarks,
"The real tragedy of our post-colonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world"
The rest of the book is witness to his observations as we follow
Ugwu the house boy,Olanna the teacher and Richard the Englishman and a
wealth of other characters as they struggle to cope with the new order.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie achieves the same deep sense of place that she established in Purple Hibiscus.The gradual decline in food supplies in Biafra and the increasing hunger is dealt with in such a subtle way that it creeps up on you as a reader, much as it must do for any nation facing a famine.It was gradual but inevitable.The sense of fear, chaos and violence is handled as well as it was in Purple Hibiscus, you read it and yes, it horrifies you but you still read it and somehow Adichie offers a redemption that enables you to assimilate it all safely. It's not disturbing or gratuitous, it all has a clear purpose.
Final words to Adichie
"My responsibility is to be truthful. I love Nigeria, but I want to be clear-eyed about it. It's so imperfect. But, we don't choose where we are born"
Oh not quite, final final words to me. As is my preference, I've now read the reviews after the book and it would seem we are all of one accord, here's a powerful second novel and a book that I just feel very privileged to have read.