Wednesday, December 8, 2010

June Starr: 1969 short list review

Laura suggested that this sort of review might be useful to Complete Booker fans and participants. Maybe you have different ideas about what book should have won, if you've read the list. I think Laura was hoping this might generate some nice discussion. At any rate, let me know what you think. I'm reading all of the short lists in the coming year (or so). The links are to individual reviews at my Reading the Bookers site, where this wrap-up also appears.


As I indicated in the post on Something to Answer For, that novel makes sense to me as the inaugural Booker Prize winner, though the field is certainly strong.

Mosley’s Impossible Object gives us a stylistic experiment, shifting angles of view and playing with chronology in his account of a love affair and its aftermath. Williams’s From Scenes Like These gives us a vision of lower-class Scottish life as the nation is transformed through increasing industrialism. Spark’s The Public Image gives us a cold, cinematic look into the lives behind movie-star glamour and public relations. England’s Figures in a Landscape gives us a deeply present account of contemporary war. Murdoch’s The Nice and the Good gives us a more traditional if philosophically sophisticated study of love and relationships.

All of the novels engage with if not the immediate present, then at least with the era in which their books are written—with attention to the morals and mores of the time—particularly in their attitudes toward love, relationships, and identity. All suggest a culture in flux, with old certainties—about national and personal identity, war, love, and ways of life--giving way to uncertainty and anxiety.

All of the works, with the exception of Murdoch’s, seem to me to be unsettled and unsettling in a variety of ways. And while I truly loved Figures in a Landscape, Something to Answer For tackles post-colonial themes through historically located action, tragic love, and experimentation. The main character’s cynicism and naivete speak to Britain’s place and identity in the world, while he deals with politics at the personal, national, and international level. The head injury he sustains gives the book the hallucinatory quality that underscores the uncertain present and future that the book's events describe while also making the past real and resonant. Plus—the novel is both readable and stylistically adventurous, not an easy combination to pull off.

Good inaugural choice, Booker committee. Let’s see if next year's committee can hold off the sophomore slump.

1 comment:

  1. June, thanks for posting this summary!

    First, it's an easily consumable way to follow your project, and I like how you've linked to individual reviews in case we want to learn more about a specific book.

    Second, I suspect few of us can claim to have read an entire year's shortlist -- especially for the early years of the prize. So this is a wonderful way to get insight to those earlier works.

    I'd love to hear from other readers about this type of post!