The Book Catapult

Ken Bruen Has Not Won the 2009 Booker

Lately I have been busy working as the website & “social media” guy at my bookstore – which means that now Warwick’s is on Facebook, Twitter, and we have a blog – warwicksbooks.blogspot. As a result, I have to split some things I would normally cover on the Catapult and talk about them on my work blog – in a much nicer, less-profanity laced way. For example, the Booker Prize shortlist was announced this morning and, since I was at work, the only way I could write about it in the moment was on the store’s blog (here’s that post). But since this is something I like to talk about, I’ll do it some more here. The list:

I mentioned in my work post that I had just read J.M. Coetzee’s Summertime (the third “fictionalized memoir” by Coetzee) and found it “pretentious and way too self-indulgent” (is this plagiarizing?) which was true, although I did kinda like it. Sort of. Coetzee, being a Nobel Prize laureate and a rare two-time Booker winner, has long been an author I have wanted to read, come perilously close to reading, but never have mustered up the will to actually do so. I think that when I complained in an earlier Catapult post about the fact that the Booker nominees are often unavailable to American readers upon the longlist announcement, I of course was destined to have one fall in my lap within days. So I made a point of reading the Coetzee when I got one in the mail and, like I said, I kind of liked it, although by the book’s conclusion, I was ready to pistol-whip at least the fictional Coetzee, if not his reality-based creator. Summertime paints a portrait of the John Coetzee of 1970’s South Africa as a feeble, spineless, unsuccessful loser and a terrible son, family member, and lover. Should I sympathize with this man with his many social faults or should I loathe him for being so weak?  It is a novel idea, if you will, to blur the lines between fact and fiction – never moreso than in our current skeptical market of memoir reading – but I wonder if he is not so heavy handed with the self-deprecation that the reader comes away liking him even less for admitting that he is a successful author but “look at how pathetic I used to be”. Its a little difficult to come away liking someone after reading several hundred pages of his self-loathing but the final passage – concerning a potentially fatal illness of his father’s – just made me over-the-top incensed at the character’s inhumanity and general unlikeableness.

“…if he will not be a nurse, he must announce to his father: I cannot face the prospect of ministering to you day and night. I am going to abandon you. Goodbye. One or the other: there is no other way.”

Douchebag.

Well, regardless, there is no denying Coetzee’s talents – the mere fact that he made me hate his character with such loathing is testament to that fact. I share all this because Summertime is still the only one of the shortlisted titles that I have read as of yet. I won’t be reading Waters’ ghost story and I have never felt a desire to get in touch with my soft Byatt-side, but the Mantel’s Wolf Hall intrigues me for more than just the general plotline. I find it interesting that Coetzee, as a multiple Booker winner, is not the front runner in the British Booker betting underworld at the moment. Hilary Mantel is the leader with 11/10 odds of winning the Prize, while Sarah Waters is in second with 7/2 odds. Coetzee is a respectable 3rd at 4/1 but I would have thought him to be a clear favorite. Fascinating.

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3 comments on “Ken Bruen Has Not Won the 2009 Booker

  1. Tonya J
    March 11, 2013

    I'm a friend of Sam's, customer at the Art of Espresso and this morning he was talking about this site. Great stuff. I'll be getting back to your piece on Cloud Atlas but since Mantel wasn't on your list of approved authors wanted to see if you'd read Wolf Hall. I'm 3/4 through it and think it is brilliant. Cromwell has only ever been depicted as a weaselly, conniving villain in films so I'm enjoying very much Mantel's brilliant envisioning of him and his life to give us a fully-fleshed man, even if it is fictional history. I feel pretty good about saying it's a great read as I am backed by of all people, that notorious critic Christopher Hitchens.

  2. Seth Marko
    March 12, 2013

    Great, Tonya – thanks for checking out the site! Are you in Aaryn's book club, by any chance? 🙂 She's been telling me at every opportunity that I need to read Wolf Hall.

    You should come check out our event in South Park on April 23rd, by the way. It's going to be EPIC: http://www.thebookcatapult.com/2013/03/a-frank-bill-donnybrook-in-san-diego.html

  3. Tonya J
    March 13, 2013

    Hey Seth, I was reading about this event on your home page. I might just come. Nope, not in Aaryn's book club (you mean Sam's wife, right?). But it's good to know her taste is as well-developed as mine, or at least, a fellow historical novel appreciator. :=)

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This entry was posted on September 9, 2009 by in Booker Prize, Coetzee.
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