The Birdcage Archives

Wednesday 29 July 2020

The Booker Prize Longlist 2020

Hello Gentle Reader

Despite the Covid-19 Pandemic, the world has groaned and demanded it goes back to some semblance of normality. The United Kingdom along with the United States, has two of the worst hit countries by the pandemic; but are also the two most vocal countries demanding a return to the routine. Due to the pandemic, the International Booker Prize had delayed the announcement of its winner, but its shortlist remains as strong and striking as it did when it was first announced. On the contrary the Booker Prize seeks to rehash old and trodden ground, with the scattering of salt and pepper of new writers here and there. Cynicism aside, there may be hope yet for the prize’s future.

Without further delay Gentle Reader, the Booker Prize Longlist for two-thousand and twenty reads as follows: [in no particular order]

Hilary Mantel – UK – “The Mirror and the Light,”
Anne Tyler – USA – “Redhead by the Side of the Road,”
Tsitsi Dangarembga – Zimbabwe – “This Mournable Bod,”
Douglas Stuart – Scotland/USA – “Shuggle Bain,”
Maaza Mengiste – Ethiopia/UA – “The Shadow King,”
Colum McCann – Ireland/USA – “Apeirogon,”
Sophie Ward – UK – “Love and Other Thought Experiments,”
Brandon Taylor – USA – “Real Life,”
C Pam Zhang – USA – “How Much of These Hills is Gold,”
Kiley Reid – USA – “Such A Fun Age,”
Avni Doshi – USA – “Burnt Sugar,”
Gabriel Krauze – UK – “Who They Was,”
Diane Cook – USA – “The New Wilderness,”

Without much of a surprise, the United Kingdom and the United States of America have the highest listed numbers. The sheer quantity produced by publishing houses of these regions overpowers many other regionalities; though there was a conscious effort to look at other regions during the assembly and deliberation of this year’s Booker Prize Longlist. It comes as no surprise to see two literary Grande Dames on the list: Hilary Mantel from the United Kingdom, who has won the Booker Prize twice now; and Anne Tyler from the United States. Hilary Mantel is the headline grabber for the year. She is one of the few writers to receive the Booker Prize, while also being the first female to receive the prize twice; with last years Margaret Atwood being the second.

After the hoopla of last years decision, with the judges deciding to split the award between to writers, caused considerable controversy, with the Booker Foundation unequivocal warnings against the judges from doing so. In the end the prize was split, making Margaret Atwood the oldest winner at seventy-nine, as well as the second female writer to receive the prize; and Bernardine Evaristo became the first black writer to receive the prize.

This year the longlist is mixed with established and new writers, with a taste for diversity in mind. Of the thirteen longlisted writers, nine of them are women, and five of those women are come from different culture and ethnic backgrounds.

Its an impressive longlist, though it is still stalked and overshadowed by Hilary Mantel and the final novel of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. There will be no denying that “The Mirror and the Light,” will be a high contender of this years prize, but winning the prize may overshadow its literary merit, with controversy and routine scandal once again; one that fixates on the established while alienating equally important writers. The judges this year their work cut out for them, and it’s not an enviable task. The judges have their work cut out from them. They are required to be consciously aware of previous mistakes and controversy, and how to remedy them with their own decisions; judging literary merit before demands of social justice, and any other sociopolitical notion.

Best of Luck to the Judges, and of course the longlisted writers.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Thursday 9 July 2020

On A Dark Night I Left My Silent House

Hello Gentle Reader

There comes a point as a reader, where one understands the less then subtle signs where the relationship between reader, author, and the written content itself is non-existent. Persistent readers, who are devoted to completing a book, always push forward head on. To them finishing a book is as much a conquest as it is goal. This is only accomplished after reading the final sentence; turning the final page; slamming the book shut; and placing the book on its resting place, be it shelf or pile. Other readers—such as I—no longer have either the obligation or the commitment to finish a book, just for the sake of finishing it. A fair trial is commenced, but if there is a failure of interest; a lack of meaning; no attempts at engagement, the book must be tossed aside, and time well spent elsewhere. Such is the case of Peter Handke’s novel “On A Dark Night I Left My Silent House.” A surreal road trip, head injury, and continual sojourns into mushrooms gets old quickly. At the halfway point, it became clear there was no redemption, with this novel.

When Peter Handke was announced as the Nobel Laureate in Literature for two-thousand and nineteen I was immediately surprised and did not greet the news with either cheer or jeer; but rather looked at it with forewarning lukewarm contemplation. Before the announcement date of the Nobel Prize for Literature for both two-thousand and eighteen and two-thousand and nineteen; the Swedish academy had just barely pulled itself out of a scandal. One that saw the Nobel Prize for Literature postponed for a year; royal intervention; numerous resignations; a public dispute between oppositional members; and an unprecedented strong stance taken by the Nobel Foundation, in releasing firm statements, and warnings to the waring Swedish Academy. Eventually and finally, reasonable rationale overtook the rhetoric issued by the Swedish Academy, and its otherwise public dispute. Though not without adjustments being made to the Swedish Academy. Some of these changes were long overdue and should have been dealt with first and foremost when the initial shadow of the scandal began to form. Others carried the weight of compromise and caveat. For some, and mainly the Swedish Academy, these compromises, caveats, were the beginnings of a conclusion, and the start of a solution.

The Swedish Academy, however, is not one to read a room properly, and the announcement of Peter Handke as the Nobel Laureate in Literature for the year two-thousand and nineteen, was met with immediate praise, and calls for concern by some; followed by delayed outrage—but outrage nonetheless. Throughout his writing career, Peter Handke has been known as a provocateur. Handke’s early work were experimental in their shift in language and perspective, one that moved away from the historical apologist perspective taken by Henrich Boll and Gunter Grass. Handke viewed these immediate postwar German language writers as morally inept and bankrupt, and in their bankruptcy, they were no longer able to move either the German language or literature forward away from holocaust apologist predilections. Handke alongside his contemporaries, sought to move German language literature into newer realms, which no longer worked its way through the guilt of Second World War actions. Handke was successful early on his career. His dramatic works brought his name to the forefront of German literature. Handke continued throughout his career to write works for the theatre, as well as filmscripts, while also writing acclaimed novels, along with essays and non-fiction (which have also caused significant controversy).

Despite being hailed as one of the greatest post-war German language writers of the Twentieth Century and maintaining that same reputation with minor tarnishes into the Twenty-First Century; I’ve failed to enjoy Peter Handke as a reader. His novels have not been thrilling, or imaginative; or curating any linguistic experimentation. They’ve failed to provide any real meaningful observations on socio-economic, political, cultural issues. This is not saying that Peter Handke is lacking in these feats, traits, or qualities; rather it merely states they have not become apparent to me. Others have read his work and make proclamations of his literary prowess. Despite these declarations of praise, Peter Handke has always fallen flat. His prose always appearing tone deaf. His characters indifferent; their fates incurious. His language plain, without remarkable poeticism or lyricism. His themes postmodern and somehow come across as dated, and out of fashion. Of course, the only other book I read by Handke was: “Across.” Again, the underwhelming feature of his work came as disappointment. “Across,” detailed the account of Andreas Loser, a meticulous classics professor with an obsessive interest with thresholds. Much like the pharmacist from Taxham in “On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House,”—Andreas Loser is an emotionally distant, reserved, and reclusive individual. He’s one with little care or interest in external individuals, and who via happenstance finds himself stumbling into surreal situations, and through a subconscious dream logic, maneuvers and navigates himself through it. Even when, Andreas Loser commits a violent and righteous criminal act, it is met a tepid response. No jolt of concern; no schadenfreude of praise. All that is left is just a cool indifferent gaze. The pharmacist is no different, a man of few curiosities and traits. He is by far more clinical then healer; more detached then he is connected; and much like Andreas Loser has his own eccentric interest in mushrooms rather than mushrooms. It’s no wonder, Andreas Loser makes routine commentary and appearances throughout the novel, as an implied friend or acquaintance of the pharmacist. The two if not literary intertextual siblings; are at least characteristically spiritually related.

After reaching the halfway point of the novel, my tolerance came to its conclusion. Annoyed, frustrated, and irritated, I no longer was able to persevere reading my way through the thorn ridden thicket of the novel. The pharmacist and I were not meant to engage or become interested in each other. His fascination with mushrooms though a unique quality, failed to provide itself a redeeming quality. His complete apathy towards his situation, his passivity became asphyxiating and insufferable. A reaction; a response; anything would have been appreciated. Yet all the pharmacist was compelled to do was simply observe and contemplate the situations as they unfolded around him. At no point in time is he a participant. These are perhaps the qualities that readers love of Peter Handke. His acute demanding attention to otherwise uninteresting details, so tedious and monotonous in their revered annotations and remarks. They are expressed with cold clinical approach, matter-of-factly; with no adoration or adulteration. I found it became increasingly relentlessly solipsistic; repetitive and dull. Once again completely lack of interest or engagement in something else. Though Handke is noted for his detailed saturated narratives, which become increasingly noted for their symbolic narratives, failed to become interesting and engaging.

Often called one of the last great modernists (such as Samuel Beckett); Peter Handke fails to live up to the standard produced by his modernist forebearers, who viewed literature as a more idealistic force, which could influence and change social perspective, provide life to historical narratives, and be a otherwise influencing change towards society, through its formal experimentation to give expression to the human experience and psychological perspective. Peter Handke in comparison is at best a early postmodernist, one who rejects any universal concept or idea of purpose. Handke’s literary view is more fragmented and lacking in any universal notion of greater meaning or importance. The human experience is to individualistic, atomized, insolent in Handke’s view to provide a complete universal understanding of it operates or functions. How each individual experience, observes and interacts with the landscape is completely. Handke’s characters appear less and less interested in engaging externally with their surroundings, their landscapes, or their co-inhabitants. Rather they become obsessive only with their own niche eccentric curiosities—be it mushrooms or thresholds. Despite being a writer who I cannot seem to come to appreciate to the same style as others, I can concede that Peter Handke is an important German language writer. Handke’s contribution to German Language Literature cannot be overlooked. Handke sought to be a changing voice in German Language literary perspective, moving it away from the apologist attitudes of previous postwar German language writers. Though I do not personally as a reader appreciate Peter Handke’s work; it cannot be denied as revolutionary or groundbreaking in seeking to move the perspective to elevated heights.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary