How to be Both

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The buzz was right, Laline Paull’s The Bees is a great read

Flora 717 knows her place. As a sanitation worker bee she is bottom of theimages heap inside her rigidly hierarchical world. But she is both happy and proud to be playing her allotted part in the smooth running of a society in which “Accept, Obey, Serve” provide both voluntary guidelines and the brutally enforced law. Inside the hive individual thoughts are dangerous. Obedience is absolute and self-sacrifice for the common good, the norm. Each member knows their place and finds reassurance within its parameters, however harsh.

The Bees, Laline Paull’s debut novel, was described by Publishers Weekly

A very long long list for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction


How many books is too many? I confess there’s more than a little self interest involved in the question.  The long list for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has just been announced and it’s a whopping 20 books long, albeit from 165 original applicants. The prize, which was previously known as the Orange, is for a full-length novel written in english by a woman of any nationality and published in the United Kingdom.

Of course a plus for having long lists longer than the customary 10 or 12 titles is that  many more authors are able to get their moment in the literary sunshine. This particularly applies to debut authors of which the long list has five including Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing, which won the Costa Prize, and Laline Paull’s dystopian The Bees. It also gives the judges the opportunity to broaden the range of work celebrated beyond what might be viewed as more “conventional” subject and style.

On the downside,  I know I am not alone in liking to read as many of the contenders for

Folio Prize shortlist sees some intriguing omissions

Sometimes, the list of entrants who don’t make make it onto the shortlist for a literary prize can be as interesting as those who do. The prestigious Folio Prize, which is open to books of any genre from anywhere in the world, written in the english language and published in England, this week named its final eight, and there were some surprising omissions. First the shortlist which includes some exciting and original works:

The best books of 2014

Sturt292014 has been another wonderful year for literature, a classic case of so many books, so little time. I ended the year having read 80 books, predominantly fiction novels, but including one play (Mike Bartlett’s perceptive and witty King Charles 111, works of non-fiction and collections of short stories.

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine (Text)

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (W.W.Norton)

The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (Bloomsbury)

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki by Haruki Murakami (Alfred A Knopf)

Thank you For Your Service by David Finkle (Text)

Beyond the Beautiful Forever by Katherine Boo (Random House)

The Golden Age by Joan London (Random House Australia)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (Allen & Unwin)

A Winter’s Book by Tove Jansson (A Sort of Book)

His Own Man by Ribeiro Edgard (Text):

The gender division was 66-44 per cent to the blokes, the authors came from

Will head or heart triumph when the Man Booker Prize 2014 is announced?

So, which will triumph tomorrow when the Man Booker Prize winner for 2014 is finally announced? Head or heart? My heart wants it to be Richard Flanagan’s harrowing but deeply moving historical drama The Narrow Road to the Deep North largely focused on Australian prisoners of war building the Burma Railway. A close second would be Karen Joy Fowler’s stunningly original and at times very funny We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves which also raises some important and difficult ethical questions.

My head says it will be Howard Jacobson’s bleak, dystopian J or possibly Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others a sweeping masterpiece about the decline of a family, set in the 1967 Bengali famine. But like everyone except the judging panel, I


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