Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Tiny Sunbirds Far Away

Title: Tiny Sunbirds Far Away

Author: Christie Watson

Number of pages: 352

Started: 12 December 2011

Finished: 28 December 2011

Opening words:

Father was a loud man. His voice entered a room before he did. From my bedroom window I could hear him sitting in the wide gardens, or walking to the car parking area filled with Mercedes, or standing by the security guard's office, or the gate in front.

Plot summary:

Blessing and her brother Ezikiel adore their larger-than-life father, their glamorous mother and their comfortable life in Lagos. But all that changes when their father leaves them for another woman. Their mother is fired from her job at the Royal Imperial Hotel – only married women can work there – and soon they have to quit their air-conditioned apartment to go and live with their grandparents in a compound in the Niger Delta. Adapting to life with a poor countryside family is a shock beyond measure.

What I thought:

This was the last of the Costa books on this year’s list. It took me a while to warm to this book, but once I really got into it (helped by reading the majority of it on a very long train journey) I really enjoyed it.

It was well written and I thought it was good at conjuring up emotions. I really felt the unfairness of the situation that they were in when they fell into a life they had not expected. It was a rather sexist and corrupt society, and one that was in some ways beyond redemption.

A decent and readable book, and definitely one of the better ones on the shortlist, although not as good as A Summer of Drowning.

Friday, 9 December 2011


Title: Pao

Author: Kerry Young

Number of pages: 288

Started: 5 December 2011

Finished: 9 December 2011

Opening words:

Me and the boys was sitting in the shop talking 'bout how good business was and how we need to go hire up some help and that is when she show up. She just appear in the doorway like she come outta nowhere. She was standing there with the sun shining on her showing off this hat, well it was more a kind of turban, like the Indians wear, only it look ten times better than that. Or maybe it just look ten times better on her.

Plot summary:

Kingston, 1938. Fourteen-year-old Yang Pao steps off the ship from China with his mother and brother, after his father has died fighting for the revolution. They are to live with Zhang, the ‘godfather’ of Chinatown, who mesmerises Pao with stories of glorious Chinese socialism on one hand, and the reality of his protection business on the other. When Pao takes over the family’s affairs he becomes a powerful man. He sets his sights on marrying well, but when Gloria Campbell, a black prostitute, comes to him for help he is drawn to her beauty and strength. As the political violence escalates in the 1960s, the lines between Pao’s socialist ideals and private ambitions become blurred. Jamaica is transforming, the tides of change are rising, and the one-time boss of Chinatown finds himself cast adrift.

What I thought:

I wasn’t sure about this book to be begin with. It was written in a sort of dialect, which is a style that I don’t always warm to. In this instance, I think it worked though.

I thought the book had a decent plot and at times was moving. It was an engaging tale and, whilst some have criticised it for not being factually accurate, I thought it was an interesting read. It wasn’t one that I thought was a prize winner, but it was well worth a read.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A Summer of Drowning

Title: A Summer of Drowning

Author: John Burnside

Number of pages: 336

Started: 28 November 2011

Finished: 4 December 2011

Opening words:

Late in May 2001, about ten days after I saw him for the last time, Mats Sigfridsson was hauled out of Malangen Sound, a few miles down the coast from here. They say he must have gone into the water at Skognes, then drifted back down to the pier near Straumsbukta, not far from where we lived – and I like to think that the sea took pity on the puny child it had killed, and was in the process of carrying him home, when a fisherman caught sight of that distinctive, almost white shock of hair through the summer gloaming and, with due car and sadness and habitual skill, fetched him to shore. Later, they found a boat drifting in the Sound, halfway between Kvaloya and the shipping channel where the great cruise and cargo vessels from Tromso glide out into the open sea.

Plot summary:

Painter Angelika Rossdal suddenly moves to Kvaloya, a small island deep in the
Arctic Circle, with her young daughter, Liv, who grows up isolated and unable or unwilling to make friends her own age. Spending much of her time alone, or with an elderly neighbour, Liv is beguiled with old folk tales and stories about trolls, mermaids and the huldra, a wild spirit who appears in the form of an irresistibly beautiful girl, to lure young men to their doom. Now 28, Liv looks back on her life and to that summer when two boys drowned under mysterious circumstances off the shores of Kvaloya. As the summer continues and events take an even darker turn, Liv comes to believe that something supernatural is happening on the island. But is it?

What I thought:

I really enjoyed this book. Set within the Arctic Circle, it looked back at strange occurrences during mid-Summer ten years before. It was a well written story and it really felt as though you were within the narrator’s thoughts. I found the words just flowed off the page and it was a pleasure to read, despite the rather dark undertones.

There was an ambiguity about the reasons behind what took place and it was a book that at times you had to consider, momentarily, why things had happened in order to get the most of the novel, but it was a book that was well worth the “effort”.

This was another of the Costa shortlist. I hope it wins.