Monday, August 14

Mitchell favorite to land Booker literary prize

That's my boy!

Here is the longlist for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Black Swan Green seemed to be met with a cooler reception by British critics than American critics (small sample size, I know) and yet it is now the front runner for the Booker.

Critics who reacted negatively towards Black Swan Green seem to view it as a step back for Mitchell. While it is certainly not as daring as either Cloud Atlas or Ghostwritten in terms of toying with notions of time, setting, reincarnation, etc., or experimenting with interlinked stories featuring disparate narrative voices, it is far from a standard coming-of-age novel. In Black Swan Green we find Mitchell focusing on a very particular moment in time (Cold War England of 1982) a very particular place (Black Swan Green) and a very particular person (Jason Taylor). While not as grandiose as his past efforts, I hardly see this more microscopic focus as a step backwards. Rather, I think one could argue that in abandoning some of his tricks and telling a far more measured tale we see Mitchell maturing and bringing his writing to an even higher level.

One thing I am a little bummed about upon seeing the cover of the Black Swan Green U.K. edition for the first time is the fact that all of Mitchell's novels feature more interesting covers on the U.K. editions. See for yourselves:

U.K. Black Swan Green
U.S. Black Swan Green

U.K. Cloud Atlas
U.S. Cloud Atlas

U.K. Ghostwritten
U.S. Ghostwritten

Now, obviously the cover art is a rather inconsequential matter, but it's interesting to note that Black Swan Green is the first of Mitchell's novels that has not seen the inside of the U.S. version differ significantly from that of the U.K. version. In his first three novels the British terms (boot, lift, chips etc.) and phrases (lord only knows) were edited out and replaced by more commonly American-speak. But with Black Swan Green, as with many coming-of-age tales, the slang and local peculiarities of the town are an essential component to the story, so the words remained unchanged.


LTS said...

Ah, contemporary fiction... The enlightenment begins!

Ben said...

Cloud Atlas: Official Book-Loop Novel of the 21st Century

LTS said...

You know, Ben, it didn't take long, flipping through Cloud Atlas in the bookstore today, to decide that it's a book I will never read. Holy smokes! Sadly, the original New York Times book review said nothing that might have caused me to reconsider my superficial estimation from this afternoon. (And that was a positive review of the book--apparently a newspaper in London didn't even run a review after its critic declared the novel 'unreadable'; an amusing aside more than anything else, as I recognize that 'newspaper' is often a term used loosely.)

Anyway, what I'm building up to, Ben, is that I'm afraid we might need to have our own special Book-Loop debate on the merits of '(deliberately) difficult fiction' at some point. That's right, a la the infamous Ben Marcus vs. Jonathan Franzen fracas (or was it more of a hissy fit?), and notwithstanding that it's about the most nauseating fate we could contemplate for our beloved Book-Loop.

So let's not rush in, by any means. Just consider this a precautionary heads-up. In fact, Ben, you might say some nice things about the book 'cuz my trigger-finger's feelin' kinder itchy from flippin' all them dern pages and havin' drunk so much dern coffee in the process...

Ben said...

Hehe, there certainly is much to say on this subject and I don't wish to rush into it either. I could write pages on Cloud Atlas, but it's difficult seeing as other Book-Loopers have yet to read it. I might begin the discussion by submitting to you that the New York Times reviewer greatly exaggerates the difficulty of Mitchell's novels. Each story within Cloud Atlas is fairly straightforward. If the organization of the book--the stopping and starting of each story except the middle story--threw the reviewer off to such an extent that he found it deliberately difficut, then I might suggest he was looking for something that simply was not there. I could certainly pick up on more of the subtle links between each story with repeated readings, but the far more important aspect of Cloud Atlas is the overarching thematic offering. One could actually read the book as six separate short stories and have little trouble understanding each one entirely on its own. The distinct narrative voices in each tale and interlinked nature of the whole book was fun for me more than it was difficult. I didn't take joy in solving any riddles or de-coding a cryptic novel, because Cloud Atlas never struck me as that kind of book.

The only difficulty I had was with the one story that utilizes odd vernacular--and even that was annoying more than it was difficult. In some ways Cloud Atlas is a fairly breezy, adventurous read. Reviewers who found it difficult might have refused to get over the nested nature of the stories. Perhaps they were too concerned about knowing what was going on and how everything was connected at all times--looking for links at every step rather than letting the action play out and going with the flow. For me, it all fit together effortlessly and I enjoyed the ride immensly. I suppose I was helped by unwittingly following AS Byatt's advice, "Trust the tale."