Confession: I did not read The Gathering by Anne Enright, which won the Booker Prize.
Confession: I do not feel compelled to finish reading every book I pick up.
Confession: I did not read all of Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones but judged it anyway.
Congratulations, Anne Enright, for winning the Booker Prize. People seem excited. Way to beat Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip, which I found disappointing in spite of all the hype. The concept behind the book is a romantic one for readers of literature, namely that writing can become more real to us than real life, guide us through traumatic events, and ultimately help us live our own lives to the fullest expression of satisfaction. Even though this is precisely what the book is about, Jones’ use of this device as a vehicle for his story feels unwieldy and forced. He plops Great Expectations all over the story in unsightly gobs, obscuring the narrator’s voice and dynamics of her community. Fear and tension are supposed to be growing in the story as the young men of the village join rebel armies and attacks on the village increase. Dickens is meant to be seen as a safe alternative to this harsh reality. The problem is that the book explores so little of this harsh reality. The quiet island village is disrupted, but without feeling the fear that the characters do, the reader cannot find the solace in Dickens that they do. Reading Mister Pip was like reading Dickens through the blurry lens of an average and predictable story. Sorry, Lloyd and other fans, but this didn’t do it for me.
On a book-reviewing note (since there has been so much flying around the blogosphere about book review culture lately), it is my belief that book critics and reviewers should be frank and honest in their writing, not polite. Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, agrees with me: “The only way you can detect that the reviewer doesn’t like the book is when they spend the whole time simply describing the plot. They’re not brave enough to say, ‘It doesn’t work’.” Ironically, he said this in defense of this year’s Booker shortlist, which contained more unknown authors than established ones, including Lloyd Jones. Even more ironically, Booker shortlist books fall into the category of books that reviewers treat with kid gloves instead of honesty. Well, even if our reading tastes differ, Howard and I will at least be honest about it.