I have been remiss. I have yet to read beyond the 1.25 books I had read when the longlist was announced ….despite the Booker panel’s ever-so-generous accommodation of my wishes. I did however, spend some time in the company of two longlisted authors at the Edinburgh Book Festival.
Adam Foulds shared the stage with Julia O’Faolain, who will be telling us more about that in a My Event special tomorrow. In a true case of serendipity, the event happened on the day of my successful hunt for a Moxon Tennyson. I had no idea that Tennyson turned up as a character in Foulds’ novel. So at the after-event book signing, I asked him which poem he would recommend reading in connection with his novel. If you’re looking for inspiration about the forest, he said, Tithonus is the one to read.
Sarah Hall flew solo and the hour passed in an instant as she described the anxieties experienced while writing, How to Paint A Dead Man. The four characters came to her separately and she became really anxious when she realised the stories weren’t novel-length. But the characters then began to appear in each other’s stories and eventually she realised, to her great relief, that she was writing a novel after all! Asked what kind of novel she thought she had written she was almost apologetic when she used the word existential … but she explained that it is a novel of 4 artists examining who they are, how they are and how they project themselves to other people. Fundamentally existentialist then. Many of the questions from the very knowledgeable audience related to the technicalities of the novel which had taken her 5 years to complete. At one point she expressed regret at not having kept a writing diary as an awareness of her own process would have helped her through this particular session – which at times did feel like an interrogation. I’m sure it was an audience comprised mostly of other writers.
I now confess that I stopped reading How to Paint A Dead Man at around page 100. I was struggling to find the connections within the stories. But after the event I realise this stitching is very light and I’m now going to adopt a different strategy. I’m going to read the four strands as individual stories. Starting with Peter whom I find the most interesting. Funny that, the author said she felt closer to him as a character.
So, as it is Booker Shortlist day, here is my preferred shortlist. 2 that I have read or started to read, 3 others in the TBR and one reserved at the library, which I might get my hands on in January of next year if I wait my place in the reservation list.
Mr Naughtie, are you listening?