Orange Prize for Fiction 2009 decision day dawns and time for me to reflect on those books I have read, those I meant to read but haven't managed to and just where my vote might go. I might never have chosen a Booker winner yet, but I've had some good calls with the Orange in the past.
In the end I didn't manage to fit in Marilynne Robinson's Home or return to The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey so I'm hardly qualified to pronounce. I suspect Samantha Harvey's book was a moving and heart-rending book demonstrating the devastating effects of memory loss but I picked it up at the wrong moment on my reading journey, the words just wouldn't stick.
My Mum suffered from a form of memory loss in her later years so perhaps this book was just too painful, felt a bit too near to home.
Talking of Home, well that felt so near to my recent read of Gilead that I knew I would do it no favours.
I didn't want to read it for the sake of getting a prizelist 'done and dusted', some books actually transcend that notion and must be given their rightful time and place. I may be some time getting to that sequel in that way I was a long time travelling to Gilead.
But my good wishes to all the long-listed authors, they have given us some fantastic books this year, dazzling and challenging reading experiences, plenty of serious thought along with humour and innovation and it's been an absolute pleasure to discover them and share thoughts on here and discuss the books with all of you in comments. I'd happily sit on the fence and love them all but for the fact that my heart was captured by one very early on.
Hark at me, you'd think I was up there about to hand over the £30,000 and the 'Bessie', well in fact why not hand over a virtual award?
I think it might have been obvious at the time but Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie impressed me so much back in February, from the epigraph onwards,
every shadow, everything the earth was losing,
a time to think of everything the earth
and I had lost,of all
that I would lose,
of all that I was losing.
- Agha Shahid Ali,
A Nostalgist's Map of America
Another book that inspires me to head to the fabrics and make something, I already had it down as one of my top reads of the year back in February and, even given some brilliant reading water under the bridge since, it's still there, so I am very grateful to Kamila Shamsie for taking time out on her way to the real awards ceremony to answer the usual 'dovegreyreader asks...' questions.
"Keeping order over such the vast
amount of narrative material that is Burnt Shadows seems no mean feat, like herding narrative cats, yet
Kamila Shamsie maintains perfect command leaving me beyond impressed as
I turned the final page."
Kamila I wonder if you could talk us through where this book came from and quite how you managed to weave it all together?
I suspect that if I'd known the size of the canvas when I started writing I might well have talked myself out of it.
I started the book thinking there would be a very very short section in Nagasaki, and then the book would jump to contemporary times in which India and Pakistan would be engaged in a nuclear face-off - and there would be family connections between the characters in both sections. But once I started writing the story of Hiroko I became far more compelled by her story than by any grand arc of nuclear-related history, and so I needed, for myself, to write the story of what happens to her after Nagasaki - hence the Delhi section.
And really the whole novel progressed in that manner - I kept asking myself, what happens to these characters next?
And because the structure of section 1 had two people from different nations coming together at a historically fraught moment it seemed to make sense to follow that structure in each of the linked sections.
Kamila I'm really sorry but the readers will be very disappointed if I don't ask about your writing day so bear with me and could you please tell us how it works for you, special space, washing on the line first, pen (fountain, ink pencil or biro...) and paper or computer. special jumper/ thermal socks, nice view/blank wall etc
Really the crucial thing is emptying my mind of all distractions, and being fairly disciplined about sitting at the computer (a Mac) every morning after my morning cup of tea/coffee. I'll always face a window when writing, even if there isn't much of a view. But I'm not too fussed about special spaces - until recently I was leading a fairly itinerant life which meant that I had to write 'Burnt Shadows' in multiple locations - Karachi, London, upstate New York, Italy. I think that did a lot to rid me of too many notions of 'ritual' around the writing day - each place had its own rhythms and demands, in which I'd have to carve out a space to write. When I start a novel I go quite slowly, and might only spend an hour or two writing - but as I get pulled into the novel I often write until I have to force myself to stop because I know my brain is getting tired and the sentences are suffering as a result.
Your greatest literary loves and who must we read?
You must read whoever you feel you must read. Reading is such a personal thing...what works
for one person may leave another one cold. But my great literary
loves....Michael Ondaatje, Toni Morrison, Italo Calvino, Grace Paley.....