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.”
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.