Elizabeth Strout’s new novel, My Name is Lucy Barton is set in the mid 1980s where Lucy, a writer, has spent weeks in a Manhattan hospital recovering from a mysterious persistent infection. Her husband struggling to cope running their home and looking after their two young daughters, as well as with his job, unable to visit regularly. She is well cared for, particularly by the rather sad but fatherly doctor, but finds herself increasingly diminished by the nebulous nature of her illness, and her isolation.
Then, one afternoon, she wakes to see her mother seated on a chair at the end of her bed. It is completely unexpected. They have not seen each other for years, nor kept regular contact since her marriage. Her mother has never visited New York. Never been on a plane, nor even travelled in a taxi. But she has come and for five days she sets
There can be a beguiling allure to fictional memoire: the endless possibility of the imagination reinforced by a framework of real events. This idea of truth lies at the heart of The Moor’s Account by Laili Lalami, which is on the long list for the Man Booker Prize 2015. It is told through the eyes of Mustafa ibn Muhammad ibn Abdussalam al-Zamori, a young Moroccan, once rebellious and avaricious, whose first step to redemption is to offer himself up to slavery to provide money for his mother and siblings.
Bought from Portuguese traders by Senor Dorantes, a Castilian nobleman, he is renamed Estebanico, a symbolic stripping away of his identity. The erasure of his history. He is not just a lesser being than his new master. He is no individual being at all. He is taken by his new master on an expedition led by Conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez to claim and settle La Florida on the Gulf Coast of the United States.
There is usually a reassuring feeling of familiarity when you open a book by Anne Tyler; like catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen for a while. Everything is familiar but not the same. At the heart of A Spool of Blue Thread, her 20th novel, are the Whitshanks. Red is the head of a successful Baltimore construction company and he and his wife Abby, a former social worker, still live in the elegant house that his father, Junior, built almost 50 years before. Even they would concede that there is nothing remarkable about the family. This is no sweeping saga. Tyler’s focus, and where she consistently excels, is on the drama that lies within the ordinary everyday events and exchanges between the characters.
As three of their children, Amanda, Jennie and Stem pass from school to forge marriages and careers of their own, Denny, the troubled and troublesome one, consistently
I had been intending to read Behind the Beautiful Forever’s by Katherine Boo for more than a year but somehow had never got around to it. As well as seeing several highly positive reviews of it I have heard Boo talk at a couple of literary festivals to a packed and rapt audience. Last week it finally moved to its rightful place at the top of the pile: It has been well worth the wait. Boo has delicately and seamlessly pieced together a narrative about the lives of people living in the squalid Annawadi makeshift settlement that exists in the shadows of luxury hotels near Mumbai’s new Sahar International Airport.
Boo is a highly acclaimed journalist who has won the Pulitzer Prize for her work on The Washington Post. After marrying an Indian she became interested in telling the story of Annawadi, which is home to more than 3,300 of the poorest people on the earth. At the beginning, she was acutely aware of what she saw as the potential impediments to writing the non-fiction book; she wasn’t Indian, did not understand the language well; and was not steeped in the culture. In the end it was the journalistic challenge that led her to spend months at a time over several years in Annawadi overcoming the impediments by: Time spent in the community, attention to detail, sourcing thousands of public documents … and checking and re-checking until even the inhabitants “were bored with me.”
So intricate and complete is the story that it is frequently hard to believe that the Behind the Beautiful Forevers is not a novel, that the stories are true. Over successive visits to
It’s great to see short stories as a genre go from strength to strength with a stellar line up for the Sunday Times annual short story award. Among the longlist are Elizabeth Strout who won the Pulitzer Prize for the wonderful Olive Kitteridge, Marjorie Celona, whose debut novel Y, won several awards, and M J Hyland, who was shortlisted for the Man Booker. Previous winners of award, which carries a prize of £30,000, making it the world’s prize for a short story, include Junot Diaz, Hilary Mantel, Mark Haddon and CK Stead.
The shortlist will be announced on March 2, with the winner revealed in early April. All six shortlisted stories will be available on an ebook from March 2. The full line-up is listed below or go to thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/public/stefg. (artwork by Sturt Krygsman)
In Reeling for The Emperor, one of the eight short stories in Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, a group of young women are gathered “tall and thin, noblewomen from Yamaguchi, graceful as calligraphy; shirt and poor, Hida girls with bloody feet, crow-voiced and vulgar”. All have been “sold” to…
Paul Harding won the Pulitzer Prize with his first novel, Tinkers, and his follow-up, Enon, takes up the story of Charlie Crosby, grandson of George Crosby, the protagonist of Tinkers. George is long dead but remains a decisive power in his grandson’s life. Charlie still lives in the village of…
It had started as a perfectly normal day for Joe Coutts, still slightly amazed at the recent transition into his teens, awaiting the return of his mother Geraldine to their home on a fictional Ojibwe nation reservation in North Dakota.
When Geraldine doesn’t return it doesn’t take long for alarm bells to ring for Joe and his father, Bazil, a tribal judge. “Women don’t realize how much store men set in the regularity of their habits,” says Joe, who is the voice of The Round House “ … our pulse is set to theirs and as always on a weekend afternoon we were waiting for my mother to start us ticking away on the evening.”
But Geraldine has been violently attacked and raped, narrowly escaping with her life. She withdraws emotionally and physically from her family and the world, refusing to leave her bedroom and giving no details of the attacks. There is a stifling sense of resignation among the community that the perpetrator will never be properly hunted and brought to legal justice.