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The Orange Book Prize 2011 – Short (or rather long) list and Synopsis March 28, 2011

I’m part of a book club which meets once a month. I love going, it was one of the first things I started doing as I began to be able to get out again. I was so nervous the first time I went, I was tempted to skip it; but I’m so pleased I didn’t because now it’s one of the highlights of my month.

We each nominate a book every month and then are very democratic and vote for the book we want to read. It was Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene this month. A slightly bizarre book  though; but quite a fun story. I found it hard to get into; but when I set myself a target of a certain number of pages at a time I’d end up reading much more.

Our book club has decided that we want to try reading all the books shortlisted for a prize and see how our opinions compare. The Orange Book Prize long list has been released this month, so I’ve put that together with a synopsis for each book to take in for our next meeting. I thought other people might be interested as I couldn’t find a similar list online.

Leila Aboulela – Lyrics Alley, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Set in 1950s Sudan, LYRICS ALLEY is the story of the powerful and sprawling Abuzied dynasty. With Mahmood Bey at its helm, the family can do no wrong. But when Mahmood’s son, Nur – the brilliant, charming heir to his business empire – suffers a near-fatal accident, his hopes of university and a glittering future are dashed. Subsequently, his betrothal to his cousin and sweetheart, Soraya is broken off, another tragedy that he is almost unable to bear. As British rule is coming to an end, and the country is torn between modernising influences and the call of traditions past, the family is divided. Mahmood’s second wife, Nabilah, longs to return to Egypt and leave behind her the dust of ‘backward-looking’ Sudan. His first wife, Waheeba, lives traditionally behind veils and closed doors and resents Nabilah’s influence on Mahmood. Meanwhile, Nur must find a way to live again in the world and find peace. Moving from the villages of Sudan to cosmopolitan Cairo and a decimated post-colonial Britain, this is a sweeping tale of loss, faith and reconciliation.
 
Carol Birch – Jamrach’s Menagerie, Canongate
‘I was born twice. First in wooden room that jutted out over the black water of the Thames, and then again eight years later in the Highway, when the tiger took me in his mouth and everything truly began.’ 1857. Jaffy Brown is running along a street in London’s East End when he comes face to face with an escaped circus animal. Plucked from the jaws of death by Mr Jamrach – explorer, entrepreneur and collector of the world’s strangest creatures – the two strike up a friendship. Before he knows it, Jaffy finds himself on board a ship bound for the Dutch East Indies, on an unusual commission for Mr Jamrach. His journey – if he survives it – will push faith, love and friendship to their utmost limits. Brilliantly written and utterly spellbinding, Carol Birch’s epic novel brings alive the smells, sights and flavours of the nineteenth century, from the docks of London to the storms of the Indian Ocean. This great salty historical adventure is a gripping exploration of our relationship to the natural world and the wildness it contains.

Emma Donoghue – Room, Picador

Jack is five. He lives with his Ma. They live in a single, locked room. They don’t have the key.

Jack and Ma are prisoners.

‘This book will break your heart . . . It is the most vivid, radiant and beautiful expression of maternal love I have ever read’ Irish Times

‘Startlingly original and moving . . . Endearing and as utterly compelling as THE LOVELY BONES’ Scotsman

‘I’ve never read a more heart-burstingly, gut wrenchingly compassionate novel . . . As for sweet, bright, funny Jack, I wanted to scoop him up out of the novel and never let him go’ Daily Mail

‘This is a truly remarkable novel. It presents an utterly unique way to talk about love, all the while giving us a fresh, expansive eye on the world in which we live’ New York Times Book Review

Tishani Doshi – The Pleasure Seekers, Bloomsbury
August, 1968: Babo Patel arrives in London from Madras, with curly hair, jhill mill teeth and dreams of becoming a success. When he meets the beautiful, auburn-haired Sian Jones, he falls in love instantly. She, like him, is in search of something bigger than what the home she left behind can offer. But when Babo’s parents learn of his intention to marry ‘some girl from God knows where’ he is given an ultimatum: he can only marry Sian if they agree to live in Madras for two years before returning to London. As the years pass by, the calamities, quirks and heartaches of first love, lost innocence, and old age unfold across cultures and generations of this mixed-up family in a topsy-turvy world.
 
Louise Doughty – Whatever You Love, Faber and Faber
I stare at the photo. I try to read his gaze, each fold on his face, the slight frown. I study the photo in the same way that a spy might study the face of a counterpart in a rival organisation. I am calm as I make this promise: I am going to find out what you love, then whatever it is, I am going to track it down and I am going to take it away from you. Two police officers knock on Laura’s door and her life changes forever. They tell her that her nine-year old daughter Betty has been hit by a car and killed. When justice is slow to arrive, Laura decides to take her own revenge and begins to track down the man responsible. Laura’s grief also re-opens old wounds and she is thrown back to the story of her passionate love affair with Betty’s father David, their marriage and his subsequent affair with another woman. Haunted by her past, and driven to breaking point by her desire for retribution, Laura discovers the lengths she is willing to go to for love. Whatever You Love is a heart-wrenching novel of revenge, compulsion and desire from acclaimed novelist Louise Doughty.
Two police officers knock on Laura’s door. They tell her that her nine-year old daughter Betty has been hit by a car and killed. When justice is slow, Laura decides to take her own revenge and begins to track down the man responsible. Laura’s grief reopens old wounds and she is thown back to the story of her passionate love affair with Betty’s father David, their marriage and his subsequent desertion of her for another woman. Haunted by her past and driven by her need to discover the truth, Laura discovers just how far she is prepared to go for love, desire and retribution. Whatever You Love is a heart-wrenching and compulsive story from an acclaimed novelist writing at the height of her powers.
 
 
Jennifer Egan – A Visit from the Goon Squad, Corsair
Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding novel circles the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa. We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist’s couch in New York City, confronting her longstanding compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We meet Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life – divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed up band in the basement of a suburban house – and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling in San Francisco’s punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of his high school gang – who thrived and who faltered – and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie’s catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou’s far flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall. “A Visit from the Goon Squad” is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to Powerpoint, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both – and escape the merciless progress of time – in the transporting realms of art and music. Sly, startling, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.
Aminatta Forna –  The Memory of Love, Bloomsbury
Freetown, Sierra Leone: a devastating civil war has left an entire populace with terrible secrets to keep. In the capital’s hospital Kai, a gifted young surgeon is plagued by demons that are beginning to threaten his livelihood. Elsewhere in the hospital lies Elias Cole, a university professor who recalls the love that obsessed him and drove him to acts that are far from heroic. As past and present intersect, Kai and Elias are drawn unwittingly closer by Adrian, a British psychiatrist with good intentions, and into the path of one woman at the centre of their stories. “The Memory of Love” is a heartbreaking story of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

Tessa Hadley – The London Train, Jonathan Cape

The London Train is a novel in two parts, separate but wound together around a single moment, examining in vivid detail two lives stretched between two cities. Paul lives in the Welsh countryside with his wife Elise, and their two young children. The day after his mother dies he learns that his eldest daughter Pia, who was living with his ex-wife in London, has moved out from home and gone missing. He sets out in search of Pia, and when he eventually finds her, living with her lover in a chaotic flat in a tower block in King’s Cross, he thinks at first he wants to rescue her. But the search for his daughter begins a period of unrest and indecision for Paul: he is drawn closer to the hub of London, to the excitements of a life lived in jeopardy, to Pia’s fragile new family. Paul’s a pessimist; when a heat wave scorches the capital week after week he fears that they are all ‘sleep-walking to the edge of a great pit, like spoiled trusting children’.

In the opposite direction, Cora is moving back to Cardiff, to the house she has inherited from her parents. She is escaping her marriage, and the constrictions and disappointments of her life in London. At work in the local library, she is interrupted by a telephone call from her sister-in-law and best friend, to say that her husband has disappeared.

Connecting both stories is the London train, and a chance meeting that will have immediate and far-reaching consequences for both Paul and for Cora.

The London Train is a vivid and absorbing account of the impulses and accidents that can shape our lives, alongside our ideas; about loyalty, love,sex and the complicated bonds of friends and family. Penetrating, perceptive, and wholly absorbing, it is an extraordinary new novel from one of the best writers working in Britain today.

Emma Henderson – Grace Williams Says It Loud, Sceptre

The doctors said no more could be done and advised Grace’s parents to put her away.

On her first day at the Briar Mental Institute, Grace, aged eleven, meets Daniel.

Debonair Daniel, an epileptic who can type with his feet, sees a different Grace: someone to share secrets and canoodle with, someone to fight for.

A deeply affecting, spirit-soaring story of love against the odds.

Samantha Hunt – The Seas, Corsair
The narrator of The Seas lives in a tiny, remote, alcoholic, cruel seaside town. An occasional chambermaid, granddaughter to a typesetter, and daughter to a dead man, awkward and brave, wayward and willful, she is in love (unrequited) with an Iraq War veteran thirteen years her senior. She is convinced that she is a mermaid. What she does to ease the pain of growing up lands her in prison. What she does to get out is the stuff of legend. In the words of writer Michelle Tea, The Seas is ‘creepy and poetic, subversive and strangely funny, [and] a phenomenal piece of literature’. Praise for The Invention of Everything Else: ‘A beguiling mix of love, death, pigeons and time travel…a gem of a story about the power of imagination’ – Marie Claire. ‘Samantha Hunt is an exciting find – a fresh original voice…a fantastical love story…literary gold…It should appeal to fans of The Time Traveller’s Wife and Donna Tartt’ – Sunday Express. ‘Intelligent, compassionate…beautifully conjured’ – Daily Telegraph.
 
Joanna Kavenna – The Birth of Love, Faber and Faber
Vienna1865: Dr Ignaz Semmelweis has been hounded into a lunatic asylum, ridiculed for his claim that doctors’ unwashed hands are the root cause of childbed fever. The deaths of thousands of mothers are on his conscience and his dreams are filled with blood. 2153: humans are birthed and raised in breeding centres, nurtured by strangers and deprived of familial love. Miraculously, a woman conceives, and Prisoner 730004 stands trial for concealing it. London in 2009: Michael Stone’s novel about Semmelweis has been published, after years of rejection. But while Michael absorbs his disconcerting success, his estranged mother is dying and asks to see him again. As Michael vacillates, Brigid Hayes, exhausted and uncertain whether she can endure the trials ahead, begins the labour of her second child. A beautifully constructed and immensely powerful work about motherhood that is also a story of rebellion, isolation and the damage done by rigid ideologies.

Nicole Krauss – Great House, Viking

During the winter of 1972, a woman spends a single night with a young Chilean poet before he departs New York, leaving her his desk. It is the only time they ever meet. Two years later, he is arrested by Pinochet’s secret police and never seen again. Across the ocean, in the leafy suburbs of London, a man caring for his dying wife discovers a lock of hair among her papers that unravels a terrible secret. In Jerusalem, an antiques dealer has spent a lifetime reassembling his father’s study, plundered by the Nazis from Budapest in 1944; now only one item remains to be found.

Connecting these lives is a desk of many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or give it away. And as the narrators of Great House make their confessions, this desk comes finally to stand for all that has been taken from them, and all that binds them to what has disappeared.

Great House is a story haunted by questions: What do we pass on to our children and how do they absorb our dreams and losses? How do we respond to disappearance, destruction, and change?

Wendy Law-Yone – The Road to Wanting, Chatto & Windus

Some call it China’s Wild West – a boom town on the border with Burma. In the new Chinese economy of the late 1980’s, the frontier at Wanting is a magnet for outcasts and opportunists. Or the desperate – like Na Ga. To Na Ga, the town of Wanting represents not the beginning of a new life, but the end of the road. Will, her American lover, has thrown her out – as she always expected he would – leaving her with painful memories, a dollar bank account and a one-way ticket back to Burma. Burma, however, holds no appeal for Na Ga. She may have been born in its hills, but she has left them far, far behind. Yet, caught in a cycle of yearning and betrayal, she finds herself inevitably on a home-bound path. Taking the reader on a journey from the remote tribal villages of northern Burma, to ex-pat life in Rangoon under a grim military regime, and then, in shocking scenes, to the brothels of Thailand and the hedonism of Bangkok, The Road to Wanting traces the life of a young woman whose fate is always in the hands of others, be they well-meaning Americans or provincial pimps. Full of the glare and shadows of the East, this haunting journey opens up places often hidden to Western eyes, revealing ancient cruelties, as well as the redemptive power in facing – and forgiving – the truth.
Na Ga, a young woman long alienated from her people in the hills of northern Burma, finds herself in Wanting, a sinister town on the Chinese-Burmese border, waiting to re-enter a home from which she was cast out as a child. Why then is she so reluctant to return? Born into a tribe about whom she remembers almost nothing, raised by an American family in Rangoon, lured to Thailand as a teenager, Na Ga is caught in a cycle of yearning and betrayal that sets her on a tortuous but inevitably home-bound path. This is the haunting story of her journey: from the remote Burmese countryside, to the pulsating streets of Bangkok, and finally to the Chinese frontier, where the wounded but spirited Na Ga is forced to ask herself why it is that, until now, she has fiercely resisted the road home.

Téa Obreht – The Tiger’s Wife, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

 ‘Having sifted through everything I have heard about the tiger and his wife, I can tell you that this much is fact: in April of 1941, without declaration or warning, the German bombs started falling over the city and did not stop for three days. The tiger did not know that they were bombs…’ A tiger escapes from the local zoo, padding through the ruined streets and onwards, to a ridge above the Balkan village of Galina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in a terrified thrall. But for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic – Shere Khan awoken from the pages of The Jungle Book. Natalia is the granddaughter of that boy. Now a doctor, she is visiting orphanages after another war has devastated the Balkans. On this journey, she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death, far from their home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery. From fragments of stories her grandfather told her as a child, Natalia realises he may have died searching for ‘the deathless man’, a vagabond who was said to be immortal. Struggling to understand why a man of science would undertake such a quest, she stumbles upon a clue that will lead her to a tattered copy of The Jungle Book, and then to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.

Julie Orringer – The Invisible Bridge, Viking

 In September 1937 Andras, a young Hungarian student, leaves his family and heads for Paris on a scholarship to study architecture. Before he sets off he is given a mysterious letter to post on arrival in Paris. It is addressed to an Hungarian woman and no reason is given why it cannot be posted from Budapest. When Andras arrives in Paris he becomes vitally aware of his poverty, particularly when he enters the home of a richer Hungarian emigre Klara Morgenstern. She is a young widowed woman, and he finds himself falling in love with her. As they begin to meet regularly it is clear that Klara is hiding a terrifying secret, related to the mysterious letter that Andras posted on arrival, which means she is trapped in Paris as war looms closer. And, as Andras and his fellow students’ lives become ever more vulnerable in the shadow of war, the group must shatter in order to survive. Andras is forced home to a labour camp, his brother disappears and Klara risks everything to return to Hungary to be close to her lover.

Anne Peile – Repeat It Today With Tears, Serpent’s Tail

A secretive child by nature, Susanna makes a covert list of everything she knows about her absent father, determined that one day she will find him. Unable and unwilling to adapt to life in her mother’s unsympathetic household, she distances herself as much as possible.When she finally discovers her father’s whereabouts and seeks him out, in the free and unconventional atmosphere of 1970s Chelsea, she conceals her identity, beginning an illicit affair that can only end in disaster. Repeat it Today with Tears is in many ways a traditional love story, as well as a skilful evocation of radical times and desires. It is a fever dream that examines our need to be loved and accepted and a piercing portrait of madness. Anne Peile is a striking new voice in fiction.
‘An enthralling and frightening story, and a wonderful evocation of pre-punk teenage London’ Tessa Hadley Susanna is a secretive child, obsessed with the father she has never known and determined that one day she will find him. As an adolescent she becomes increasingly distanced from life at home with her mother and sister. When she finally discovers her father’s address and seeks him out, in the free and unconventional atmosphere of 1970s Chelsea, she conceals her identity, beginning an illicit affair that can only end in disaster. Repeat it Today with Tears is a fever dream that examines our need to be loved and accepted and a piercing portrait of madness. Anne Peile is a striking new voice in fiction. ‘It is easy for a novelist to select sensational subject matter but very difficult to deliver on it. Anne Peile has built a startling and elegant little world – sensuous, then full of ominous and inescapable threat. With a caress of true danger, Susanna’s terrible teenage subversion unfolds for us with artful and often very beautiful conviction’ Alan Warner

Karen Russell – Swamplandia!, Chatto & Windus

The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline and Swamplandia!, their island home in the Florida Everglades and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as The World of Darkness. Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve year old, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Her mother, Swamplandia!’s legendary and beautiful star attraction, has just died; her sister is having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her Grandpa Sawtooth has been sent to the mainland to an old folk’s home; her brother has secretly defected to The World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep the family afloat; and her father, the Chief, is AWOL. To save them, Ava must journey on her own to a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, a harrowing odyssey from which she emerges a true heroine.

Swamplandia! is a dark and mythic story, bursting with energy and an unstoppable inventiveness, by a writer with an astonishingly original and exuberant imagination.

Lola Shoneyin – The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, Serpent’s Tail

To the dismay of her ambitious mother, Bolanle marries into a polygamous family, where she is the fourth wife of a rich, rotund patriarch, Baba Segi. She is a graduate and therefore a great prize, but even graduates must produce children and her husband’s persistent bellyache is a sign that things are not as they should be. Bolanle is too educated for the ‘white garment conmen’ Baba Segi would usually go to for fertility advice, so he takes her to hospital to discover the cause of her barrenness. Weaving the voices of Baba Segi and his four competing wives into a portrait of a clamorous household of twelve, Lola Shoneyin evokes an extraordinary Nigerian family in splashes of vibrant colour.

Roma Tearne – The Swimmer, Harper Press

A gripping, captivating novel about love, loss and what home really means.

Forty-three year old Ria is used to being alone. As a child, her life changed forever with the death of her beloved father and since then, she has struggled to find love.That is, until she discovers the swimmer.

Ben is a young illegal immigrant from Sri Lanka who has arrived in Norfolk via Moscow. Awaiting a decision from the Home Office on his asylum application, he is discovered by Ria as he takes a daily swim in the river close to her house. He is twenty years her junior and theirs is an unconventional but deeply moving romance, defying both boundaries and cultures – and the xenophobic residents of Orford. That is, until tragedy occurs.

Kathleen Winter – Annabel, Jonathan Cape

In 1968, into the beautiful, spare environment of remote coastal Labrador in the far north-east of Canada, a mysterious child is born: a baby who appears to be neither fully boy nor girl, but both at once. Only three people share the secret – the baby’s parents, Jacinta and Treadway, and a trusted neighbour, Thomasina. Together the adults make a difficult decision: to go through surgery and raise the child as a boy named Wayne. But as Wayne grows up within the hyper-male hunting culture of his father, his shadow-self – a girl he thinks of as ‘Annabel’ – is never entirely extinguished, and indeed is secretly nurtured by the women in his life. As Wayne approaches adulthood, and its emotional and physical demands, the woman inside him begins to cry out. The changes that follow are momentous not just for him, but for the three adults that have guarded his secret.

Haunting and sweeping in scope, this is a first novel as much concerned with its characters as it is with their predicament, as much about humanity as it is about a rigidly masculine culture that shuns the singular and the unique. Told with great elegance and empathy, Annabel is the powerfully moving story of one person’s struggle to discover the truth and the strength to change, to find tenderness in a severe and unforgiving land.

The judges for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction are:

Bettany Hughes, (Chair), Broadcaster, Historian and Author

Liz Calder, founder-director of Bloomsbury Publishing and Full Circle Editions

Tracy Chevalier, Novelist

Helen Lederer, Actress and Writer

Susanna Reid, Journalist

If you have read or do read any of these I’d be interested in your opinions.

This is the final Short List.

Emma Donoghue – Room, Picador

Jack is five. He lives with his Ma. They live in a single, locked room. They don’t have the key.

Jack and Ma are prisoners.

‘This book will break your heart . . . It is the most vivid, radiant and beautiful expression of maternal love I have ever read’ Irish Times

‘Startlingly original and moving . . . Endearing and as utterly compelling as THE LOVELY BONES’ Scotsman

‘I’ve never read a more heart-burstingly, gut wrenchingly compassionate novel . . . As for sweet, bright, funny Jack, I wanted to scoop him up out of the novel and never let him go’ Daily Mail

‘This is a truly remarkable novel. It presents an utterly unique way to talk about love, all the while giving us a fresh, expansive eye on the world in which we live’ New York Times Book Review

Aminatta Forna –  The Memory of Love, Bloomsbury
Freetown, Sierra Leone: a devastating civil war has left an entire populace with terrible secrets to keep. In the capital’s hospital Kai, a gifted young surgeon is plagued by demons that are beginning to threaten his livelihood. Elsewhere in the hospital lies Elias Cole, a university professor who recalls the love that obsessed him and drove him to acts that are far from heroic. As past and present intersect, Kai and Elias are drawn unwittingly closer by Adrian, a British psychiatrist with good intentions, and into the path of one woman at the centre of their stories. “The Memory of Love” is a heartbreaking story of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

Emma Henderson – Grace Williams Says It Loud, Sceptre

The doctors said no more could be done and advised Grace’s parents to put her away.

On her first day at the Briar Mental Institute, Grace, aged eleven, meets Daniel.

Debonair Daniel, an epileptic who can type with his feet, sees a different Grace: someone to share secrets and canoodle with, someone to fight for.

A deeply affecting, spirit-soaring story of love against the odds.

Nicole Krauss – Great House, Viking

During the winter of 1972, a woman spends a single night with a young Chilean poet before he departs New York, leaving her his desk. It is the only time they ever meet. Two years later, he is arrested by Pinochet’s secret police and never seen again. Across the ocean, in the leafy suburbs of London, a man caring for his dying wife discovers a lock of hair among her papers that unravels a terrible secret. In Jerusalem, an antiques dealer has spent a lifetime reassembling his father’s study, plundered by the Nazis from Budapest in 1944; now only one item remains to be found.

Connecting these lives is a desk of many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or give it away. And as the narrators of Great House make their confessions, this desk comes finally to stand for all that has been taken from them, and all that binds them to what has disappeared.

Great House is a story haunted by questions: What do we pass on to our children and how do they absorb our dreams and losses? How do we respond to disappearance, destruction, and change?

Téa Obreht – The Tiger’s Wife, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

 ‘Having sifted through everything I have heard about the tiger and his wife, I can tell you that this much is fact: in April of 1941, without declaration or warning, the German bombs started falling over the city and did not stop for three days. The tiger did not know that they were bombs…’ A tiger escapes from the local zoo, padding through the ruined streets and onwards, to a ridge above the Balkan village of Galina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in a terrified thrall. But for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic – Shere Khan awoken from the pages of The Jungle Book. Natalia is the granddaughter of that boy. Now a doctor, she is visiting orphanages after another war has devastated the Balkans. On this journey, she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death, far from their home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery. From fragments of stories her grandfather told her as a child, Natalia realises he may have died searching for ‘the deathless man’, a vagabond who was said to be immortal. Struggling to understand why a man of science would undertake such a quest, she stumbles upon a clue that will lead her to a tattered copy of The Jungle Book, and then to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.

Kathleen Winter – Annabel, Jonathan Cape

In 1968, into the beautiful, spare environment of remote coastal Labrador in the far north-east of Canada, a mysterious child is born: a baby who appears to be neither fully boy nor girl, but both at once. Only three people share the secret – the baby’s parents, Jacinta and Treadway, and a trusted neighbour, Thomasina. Together the adults make a difficult decision: to go through surgery and raise the child as a boy named Wayne. But as Wayne grows up within the hyper-male hunting culture of his father, his shadow-self – a girl he thinks of as ‘Annabel’ – is never entirely extinguished, and indeed is secretly nurtured by the women in his life. As Wayne approaches adulthood, and its emotional and physical demands, the woman inside him begins to cry out. The changes that follow are momentous not just for him, but for the three adults that have guarded his secret.

Haunting and sweeping in scope, this is a first novel as much concerned with its characters as it is with their predicament, as much about humanity as it is about a rigidly masculine culture that shuns the singular and the unique. Told with great elegance and empathy, Annabel is the powerfully moving story of one person’s struggle to discover the truth and the strength to change, to find tenderness in a severe and unforgiving land.


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3 Responses to “The Orange Book Prize 2011 – Short (or rather long) list and Synopsis”

  1. Lizzy Says:

    Hello,
    I’ve just read ‘Room’. i thought it was brilliant, definitely recommend reading it. life-affirming despite the somewhat gruesome subject. and just gives a really interesting point of view of the little boy (he is really cute).

    that is a long list though…and I haven’t really heard of many of them. even though I work in a library! maybe I haven’t been paying attention.

    • Claire Says:

      Tut, tut! Must work harder! Though working in a library is sooo cool! Although how tempting, I’d want to hide behind a shelf with a book!

  2. Claire Says:

    I forgot to say, thank you so much for my seeds! They were are a lovely surprise in the coolest birthday card ever! I’ll let you know if they really are easy to grow!


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