Hello, and welcome to the Book Club Review. I'm Kate.
I'm Laura. And this is the podcast about book clubs and the books that get you talking.
We love a prize and we love a special episode. And so we're delighted to have an excuse to get together to discuss the 2022 Women's Prize shortlist and its winner, the book of form and emptiness by Ruth zek.
For those who don't know the woman's prize as the UK is annual Book Award, celebrating and honouring fiction written by women. key criteria for the prize are accessibility, originality and Excellence in Writing. Judges are asked to ignore the reviews publicity spends an author's existing reputation, in order to choose the novel that inspires them, moves them makes them think, and that they admire and enjoy.
Perhaps no surprise, then that many paths winners feel like old friends from last year's Piranesi by Susanna Clarke to Hamlet by Maggie O'Farrell also known as one of my favourite books of 2020. Then there's bel canto by Ann Patchett on beauty by Zadie Smith, the Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and Half of a Yellow sung by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to name just a few. Ruth Ozeki joins
the ranks this year with the book of form and emptiness, which judged cheer Marianne Siegert said stood out for its sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy.
But nevermind all that what did we think? Does it hold up against the competition? It was after all, a dazzling shortlist of must reads this year with great circle by making chips to the island of missing trees by Alicia back sorrow and bliss by Meg Mason, the bread the devil need by Lisa Allen Agostini and the sentence by Louise Erdrich also in the running
keep listening to hear our Frank let friendly take on the shortlist. Ozeki is big when, and whether we agree with the judges. Maybe you don't have time to read them all, and just want to read one, leave it to us, we've got you covered.
That's all coming up here on the Book Club Review.
Kate, shall we confess to listeners that we have tried multiple times now to record this episode, because of the women's brides? Various things came up and we had to keep pushing back. But you know what, I am so excited for this discussion because I have had the chance to kind of expand what I've read on the shortlist in the interim period.
Yes, we were going to be joined by old friends, Elizabeth Morris and Sarah Oliver. But sadly, various family reasons meant that we couldn't do it. And I just thought, yeah, trying to get a group of busy women juggling jobs and families and trying to read and do a podcast. Maybe it's always ambitious, but here we are now. You and me. Team. Yeah,
the originals. Let's get to it. We're going to start with great circle by Maggie Chipstead, which is a book that we have talked about at length on the podcast. That's because one we really wanted to read it last summer to get cropped up on the Booker Prize shortlist, and so featured on episode 104. But for those who are new to great circle, here is a short description. From her days as a wild child and prohibition America to the glitz and glitz of wartime London. From the rugged shores of New Zealand to a lonely ice shelf in Antarctica. Marian Graves is driven by a need for freedom and danger. Determined to live an independent life. She resists the pull of her childhood sweetheart, and burns her way through a suite of glamorous lovers. But it is an obsession was flight that consumes her most now as she is about to fulfil her greatest ambition to circumnavigate the globe from pole to pole. Marian crash lands at a perilous wilderness of ice. Over half a century later troubled Filmstar Hadley Baxter is drawn inexorably to play the enigmatic pilot on screen. It is a role that will lead her to an unexpected discovery, throwing fresh and spellbinding light on the story of the unknowable Marian graves.
The audio book of great circle is narrated by Cassandra Campbell and Alex McKenna, and published by Penguin audio.
Here's a clip Little America three. Ross a shelf Antarctica, march 4 1950. final entry from the sea, the sky the birds between the last log book of Marion graves, published by de Wenceslaus and sons, New York 1959. I was born to be a wanderer. I was shaped to the earth like a seabird to a wave. Some birds fly until they die. I have made a promise to myself. My last descent won't be the tumbling, helpless kind, but a sharp Gannett plunge, a dive with intent, aimed at something deep in the sea. I'm about to depart. I will try Try to pull the circle up from below, bringing the end to meet the beginning. I wish the line were a smooth meridian. A perfect taught who?
This book does feel like an old friend. It's interesting, isn't it? When you read things, I often think you know you've got your immediate response to the book. But then I always think it's interesting how much of it stays with you. I remember how happily immersed I was in this story, and how vividly she creates this character of Marian graves. And the extra freedom that comes from knowing that this character was inspired by a real life. Aviatrix, Jean batten who is a New Zealand aviator, she made a number of record breaking solo flights and flew from England to New Zealand in 1936. So these are real women who were really flying back in the day. And I remember vividly the wartime scenes where graves comes to London and works as a pilot for the Air Force. Women weren't allowed to fly combat, but they were allowed to fly supply missions. And there's just incredibly cinematic scenes of having to navigate through these barrage balloons and extremely difficult and dangerous and the lack of support they got because they weren't really taken seriously by the largely male Air Force that they were working with. And so things like that are what really made it it wasn't just a great story, it was a really powerful read that felt like a really natural fit for the Women's Prize. It wasn't just a great historical novel, it had this extra layer to it that made it feel really important and relevant as well.
I remember us talking about how wonderfully it bridge this critical expectations we might have for a prize winner or Prize nominee. And the commercial imperative of publishing. It was recommended on our summer reading episode last year and then copped up on the prize, cinematic is a great word because I have such strong recall of the scenes flying over Montana. And she has a flight actually over the coast mountains of British Columbia at one point where it almost goes terribly wrong. And then she's in Alaska later on. She's in Capitol Hill in Seattle, which is where my brother lives. And so it felt very local to me in some ways, but then global because of course, as you say, she goes over to the UK during the war, and then she is traversing the globe. So a real adventure story. We haven't mentioned the Filmstar thread, Hadley Baxter, which is both a weak point, I think in terms of narrative, but a strong point in terms of what it means for the overall story without saying more than that.
Yeah, I think that's absolutely right. And I think the only other thing to say about it is it's quite a long book, I think it's over 600 pages long. But I remember it absolutely fell into that category of books for me where it was long. And that was great. You know, when you're really enjoying something you don't mind that it's long, you actually could be quite happily reading more. And this very much fell into that category for me. So yeah, recommended.
Do we need to pass judgement on whether it should have won this award? Or should we hold fire on such things?
I think we should try and round them up at the end. Let's have a little look at them all. And then let's see what we feel. And so Moving swiftly on we come to the bread the devil need by Lisa Allen Agostini. She's a writer, editor and stand up comedian who comes from Trinidad and Tobago.
So you were saying before we started to record that you have just finished this book?
Yeah, this one is the freshest in my mind.
And I am currently reading it at 34% on my Kindle. I'm enjoying it a huge amount. Okay, let's
tell listeners what it's about. Alesia Lopez is about to turn 40. Fashionable, feisty and fiercely independent. She manages a downtown boutique. But behind closed doors, she's covering up bruises from her abusive partner and seeking solace in an affair with her boss. When she witnesses a woman murdered by jealous lover. The reality of her own future comes a little too close to home, bringing us her truth in an arresting unsparing Trinidadian voice. Althea unravels memories repressed since childhood and begins to understand the person she has become. Her next step is to decide the woman she wants to be. The audio book is published by W F house and read by the author
herself. Here's a clip
when I wake up that morning, oh god, my back and my belly was hurtin but I didn't want to make no noise and wake up Leo. So a bite my lip hard to make sure I didn't boil out for pain. Slow, slow, slow, or turn on the bed and swing my foot over the side and get up like if his eggs as it turned on, and I feel with my foot from a rubber slippers before I stand up. It was dark in the bedroom. They clean still a good hour we are here in a Bangkok crew in any way as though he watched break. I didn't switch on the light because I live in here five years and I could find anything here with my eyes close. I reach under the bed by the ashtray from a Pakistan at Sun lighter, slip them in Modesto pocket and tiptoe out the room. When I reached the door, I remember the book I was reading last night before you come home. Yes, look at the way that sling it by the wardrobe. Or bite my lip again, when I bend down to pick it up. Close the bedroom door behind me soft, soft. And the kitchen rubbish was full and alter the old grocery bag in the corner by the back door. And it had a smell like steel fish and cigarette and ear.
He still had a crust on it.
split peas boil over on top of the black grease coat and the white enamel. I didn't even bother to suck my teeth. I pick up my copper bottom cattle, shiny, bright chrome, fill it with water and use my lighter to light the stove. As I waited for the water to boil, I sit down and start back reading my book
table nasty, like the stove.
So I'm reading the book and you read it to rather than listen to the audiobook. Yes, very different experience. Because I don't know the Trinidad in accents as writing on a page. You do have to fall into the rhythm of it.
Did you find that hard though? Because I was struck at how effortless that seemed I almost that's when you first start. You think oh, is this going to be difficult and it's not? Within? I'd say the first sort of paragraph, you just absolutely slip into this voice and the rhythms of this voice. And I thought that was one of the things that was really successful about it worked really well.
I agree. I think that I have to fall into it. Every time I begin the book, though, like my brain has to slightly recalibrate and that first paragraph to catch the rhythm. It's worth
saying because it is genuinely full of words that I didn't even recognise. But that doesn't stop you understanding it. You absolutely work them out just from the context as you go along. And so often the way that things are phrased is unfamiliar, but you absolutely can imagine it but genuinely sometimes there are words in there, which I don't know what they mean. But it never held me up. It never bothered me. I was really happy just to go with it and the rhythm of it and enjoying experiencing this voice, this incredibly vivid main character who you really root for. I think this is a really interesting contrast to the sherry Jones book, how the one arm sister sweeps her house, which was on the shortlist last year, which is said on Barbados, I actually loved it about it was quite a difficult read in lots of ways, covering very similar territory to this one in that it dealt with domestic abuse, domestic violence, child abuse. It was a book full of darkness and violence. I think I was slightly the lone voice on that one in that I had listened to the audiobook and I had been so carried along by it, I almost was able to bear the things that happened in it in a way that I think perhaps I remember the others in the discussion weren't and found it really just too gruelling, but strangely with the bread the devil need, even though in some ways, as I say it covers very similar territory. It's somehow not dark in the same way the darkness is there, but there's something very warm about it. And the characters, I think aware as the main character is kind of lifted away from this darkness by her relationships with other people. So you as the reader almost are a little bit insulated by as well. So for a book about domestic violence and incredibly difficult situations. It's a strangely enjoyable and uplifting rate. I found a thumping page turner.
I would almost call it joyful. Yes, not only is it this incredibly introduction to culture, I am unfamiliar with Trinidad and Tobago. I feel like she is changing how I understand domestic violence. Althea is so intelligent and self aware. I'm still early on but you know, she understands her situation. And she doesn't even justify it necessarily. But there's a confession. This isn't a spoiler. She shows one of her colleagues these horrible bruises across her stomach from a beating a savage beating beatings, I think between Christmas and New Year from her partner, and she out of character shows them to her coworker and her co worker essentially burst into tears. She's so devastated. And from then on, her coworker is trying to talk to her about this and she asks, I think the question that is the default, why don't you leave him and Althea so eloquently turns it back and says, Why isn't anyone ever asked Why don't men stop beating women? Why is it always back on the women and she's just so lucid. I agree such a page turner.
It's really good. It's so pleasing because it is so beautifully sustained all the way through as well. It never dips she holds these characters she holds the action she holds a quite complicated plot with quite a few big reveals as you go along and Looking back and forth in time and it all just comes together. And the other thing that's just a nice little note to this book which is common to most I think of the books on the shortlist this year is a reference to books and reading so one of the things that is salvation in a very quiet way it's not dwelt on too much is the main character's love of reading it. What's lovely about it that all readers will recognise as something that's really she does for herself alone. It's her own personal private escape thing that she does, and you feel happy for her as a reader knowing that least books are there for her. So yeah, it's wonderful. That sets
up the stakes quite high. I think in terms of our favourites, Kate read and loved the next book, sorrow and bliss by Meg Mason last year, and so I was very excited to have an excuse to dig into it. Here's what they say about it. Everyone tells Martha Friel she is clever and beautiful. A brilliant writer who has been loved every day of her adult life by one man, her husband, Patrick, a gift her mother once said, Not everyone gets. So why is everything broken? Why is Martha on the edge of 40, friendless, practically jobless and so often sad, and why did Patrick decide to leave? Maybe she just is too sensitive. Someone who finds it harder to be alive than most people. Or maybe, as she has long believed there was something wrong with her. Something that broke when a little bomb went off in her brain at 17 and left her changed in a way that no doctor or therapist has ever been able to explain, forced to return to her childhood home to live with her dysfunctional bohemian parents. But without the help of our devoted falamos sister Ingrid. Martha has one last chance to find out whether a life is ever too broken to fix, or whether maybe by starting over, she will get to write a better ending for herself. The audiobook is read by Amelia Fox and published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Here's a clip.
My sister and I still look alike. Our jaws are similarly to square. But according to our mother, we somehow get away with it. Our hair has the same tendency towards struggling Enos has generally always been long and was the same blondish colour, until I turned 39 and realised in the morning that I could not stop 40 from coming. In the afternoon. I got it cut to two square jaw length, then went home and bleached it with supermarket dye. Ingrid came over while I was doing it and use the rest. Both of us struggled with its upkeep. Ingrid said it would have been less work just to have another baby. I have known since I was young that although we are so similar. People think Ingrid is more beautiful than I am. I told my father once. He said they might look at her first. But they'll want to look at you for longer. Such
a contrast I think with the bread the devil need. Martha is in London. She is not from a wealthy background. But her aunt is extraordinarily wealthy. So she spends a lot of time in Belgravia and her eccentric artistic family are known in cultural circles in London. She herself is a very beautiful, obviously incredibly witty, she just rolls into a job at Vogue at one point, you know, straight out of college and I was like really, really like those are those are hard to get. But so desperately unhappy at moments in her life, deep dark depression, which has never named partially because she isn't diagnosed, but I think feels very recognisable for anyone who has suffered or know someone who has suffered from mental health issues.
Yes, that's an interesting point. Because I think is it depression? Is it schizophrenia? Is it some very particular mental disorder that she's suffering from? The descriptions of it are incredibly specific, in a way that it becomes quite frustrating that it's never actually named, because you think surely this is done, you almost want to rush off and start Googling and diagnosing yourself because no one else is. But I found that a really clever device. I know some people found it frustrating, but for me, it did work. It kept me interested. And I like the fact that although the character in sorrow and bliss is suffering from this one quite specific condition. In fact, because you don't know it really then makes you consider all people who are struck down by something that they can't understand or explain or deal with. And it wasn't their fault. No one asked for this to happen to them. And I thought it was a really interesting way of evoking empathy and an understanding of what different people are going through at different times in their lives.
I've really enjoyed reading this book. I am slightly on the fence over giving it away but I'm slightly on the fence in terms of how I feel about it after the fact. I actually recommended it to my sister in law because I saw it on a shelf at the bookshop when we were on a holiday But I'm slightly apprehensive about whether or not it will land with her. It has great humour, right? Yep, I'd never laughed out loud. But I appreciated this dry wit through the entire novel.
I found it very funny again, yeah, maybe not like chuckling that every sentence but deeply funny in that way that you just really appreciate and enjoy when you're reading it. And again, that humour offsets some really difficult stuff that this character goes through that you go through with her and awful things that happen as a fallout from her own behaviour. And you can't fix her, you know, you just have to read along and experience things as she goes, and this humour and I love the relationship with the sister and the sisters, children. And that family dynamic was really brilliantly observed. I thought, so much to love about it. The other thing I loved was, it felt I remember saying it, we talked about it at the time, it felt a bit like she must be writing from personal experience, it felt so vivid and deeply felt. And it was actually quite refreshing to read that she's not someone who's suffered this at all. And she was really just imagining what it might be like and had obviously done her research and thought about it a lot. But I loved that I thought as an act of invention, it felt very compelling and beautifully realised I thought it was definitely one of those books. You know, sometimes you read something and you have a bit of a book hangover afterwards, you're not quite ready to plunge into something else, because you don't quite want to leave the book behind. And this was definitely one of those books for me. Hmm, interesting. Onto the next book, which is the island of missing trees by a live Shafaq. She is a well known name in the UK and Turkey as the successful writer of 19 works and counting. She writes in both English and Turkish and her novels have been nominated for numerous awards. Yeah, she's no stranger to a shortlist as she
No, no. And I know the name, partially because she is such a regular contributor to The Guardian. And she reviews other books. She also writes opinion pieces, she writes about what's happening in Turkey. So I've always meant to read her. And I was actually drawn to the island and missing trees before the nomination and proposed it to my Canadian book club to read. Now that was because my mum had come home from the UK with this beautiful blue hardback edition with gold foil on the front. So I took it to my book club and said, Oh, do you want to read this? And everyone was like, wonderful, amazing. We figured out afterwards that it hasn't been released in Canada. So we might come back to it. But then it appears on the shortlist. I'm like, great, this is going to be it. This is my chance. Open it. Get 40 pages in. Don't make it any further. Know what happened? Well a couple days ago. Open it. Try it again. Don't get any further. Why? Well, let's turn to the synopsis.
It is 1974 on the island of Cyprus. Two teenagers from opposite sides of a divided land meet at a tavern in the city they both call home. The Tavern is the only place that costs us who is Greek and Christian, and definitely who is Turkish and Muslim can meet in secret, hidden beneath the blackened beans from which hang Garland's of garlic, chilli peppers and wild herbs. This is where one can find the best food in town the best music the best wine, but there is something else to the place. It makes one forget even if the just a few hours the world outside and it's in moderate sorrows. In the centre of the tavern growing through a cavity and the roof is a thick tree. This tree will witness their hush after the meetings. They're silent surreptitious departures, and the tree will be there when the war breaks out when the Capitol is reduced to rubble, when the teenagers vanish and break apart. Decades later in North London, 16 year old ADA Kazantzakis has never visited the island where her parents were born. Desperate for answers she seeks to untangle years of secrets separation and silence. The only connection she has to the land of her ancestors is a ficus carica. Growing in the back garden of their home. The audio book is read by Daphne Kuma and Amira gazella and published by Penguin UK. Here's a clip
once upon a memory. At the far end of the Mediterranean Sea. There lay an island so beautiful and blue, that the many travellers pilgrims, Crusaders and merchants who fell in love with it, either wanted never to leave, or try to tow it with ham probes all the way back to their own countries. Legends perhaps, but legends are there to tell us what history has forgotten. It has been many years since I fled that place on board a plane inside a suitcase made of soft black leather, never to return. I have since adopted and other land, England, where I have grown and thrived. But not a single day passes that I do not yearn to be back home, motherland. It must still be there I left it, rising and sinking with the waves that break and fall upon its rugged coastline. At the crossroads of three continents, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Levant, that the vast and impenetrable region vanished entirely from the maps of Today
the problem is the tree. Kate.
Before you go on, actually Elizabeth Morris, who was supposed to be joining us today did manage to record between bouts of toddler crying because her child's got tonsillitis did managed to record some thoughts on the auditor missing trees, she said the Shabak has got too into the idea of narrating the tree. Trees are jealous of other trees. A moth told the tree about a thing. For Elizabeth it was too much she found it overwritten. She said even though there was some incredibly lush, beautiful prose, it felt like purple prose. Shabak got so into writing the fake tree, she forgot to shade in the story, all the characters sound the same. The plot hinges on revelations, you can see coming a mile off, and it's all about the tree.
The tree, I couldn't have put that better myself. And I mean, I feel like Elizabeth did due diligence and actually finished the book. So I think she's kind of giving me a Get Out of Jail Free card here. Because if it remains all about the tree, I can't get it.
You know, people raved about that Richard powers book, the overstory. And that's all about trees, you know, don't like that's about a tree.
I didn't like the overstory and didn't get through it because of the trees. I would also say this is the next level of treasonous. This tree is very emotional and real. And there's no sense that they are of a different species or might have a different. I mean, I can't say this authoritatively. What I read, it felt very much like a real character. And as Elizabeth says, you know, there are these other characters, but maybe they don't get as much attention. I was also put off by the opening chapters, because our main character as far as I got is 16 year olds, Ada, who's living in North London, and seems to be at a comprehensive and she's having a really terrible time because her mother has passed away and all her father does is tend this victory as He's grieving. We'll come back to this with Zeki. But I really struggle with middle aged authors taking on the voice of teenagers. It's hard to get right now, I'm not a lift Shafaq she's a very accomplished writer. But it didn't ring true to me. And I was like, gosh, between the tree and this teenager voice that I don't even believe in I can't do it. That's not for me. My mom loved it. I should have got a quote from her. My mom loved it. Thought it was amazing. She's gonna listen to this and be like, Oh, you didn't like it, I can't do it the tree
or she's not alone. Briar Rose reviewing it online. Give it five stars that it was a fantastic read really makes you think and respond just a magical book on every level, really well researched, but affecting all the senses as Cypress is explored. An unfolding of the history and the division but with huge issues included wonderful characters and the voice of the factory to sensitively written but also raising issues which is so pertinent today, a novel of our time, which explores loss memory and the responsibility we have to remember to and of our responsibility to the ecosystem and our role within. It challenges us to think and consider such crucial issues and to protect all of life and treasure it too. But yeah, I couldn't resist another little negative one. Amanda Jenkinson said this is an epic tale of love, grief, exile and trees. I enjoyed learning about the history of Cyprus and how it affected the Greeks and Turks who called the island their home, and I enjoyed learning about cypresses ecology, particularly the destruction of the native forests almost as tragic as the destruction of human lives. But what spoiled this book for me was the device of using an anthropomorphic fig tree as a narrator. This magic realist elements simply irritated me, I could forgive the over romanticization of the central love affair. The introduction of implausibly wise aren't Miriam, and her fondness for genies and Exorcist, frequent cliches and stilted dialogue. But the talking tree was one step too far.
But not for the judges, not for the judges of the Women's Prize. So maybe this is just a Marmite book.
Yeah, it sounds like it might be a good one for book club.
Gosh, so that's probably the only way I'll read it. And my book club might hold me to it right like when it's released in Canada, it could well end up being something I have to get all the way through.
Well, I'll be very interested to hear that discussion should ever come around. Okay, only one more book on the shortlist for we tend to this year's winner, but what a book it is the sentence by Louise Erdrich.
I love this book. I'm very excited to talk about it. But first, what is it about? Louise entered his latest novel, The sentence asks what we owe to the living the dead to the reader and to the book. A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020. By the store's most annoying customer, Laura dies on All Souls Day, but she simply won't leave the store to key who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading with murderous attention must solve the mystery of this haunting, while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation and furious reckoning. The sentence begins on All Souls Day 2019 and ends on All Souls Day. 2020 is mystery and proliferating ghost stories during this one year propel a narrative as rich, emotional and profound as anything Louise eldritch has written. The audio book is read by the author herself, published by Hachette UK here's a clip
of booksellers awareness often travels with a browsing customer. Throughout the day, maps of the customers Movements form and collect in a corner of awareness. When the day is finished, books left down on chairs sales are a SKU have to be re shelved. And I always know where each book came from. I know which customer carried which book. I know which book was discarded by which person who picked up yet another book to leave on a chair or shelf. As with other customers, Flora's ghost left a trail. After rustling around in the confessional. She always started in her favourite section fiction, then slipped to nonfiction and memoirs, and conducted her hushed investigations along indigenous fiction. She investigated the sailboat table if my back was turned, then she slid along poetry and cookbooks. Eventually, more rustling noises would occur in the confessional, and silence. Flora had been an extremely devout Catholic, and maybe the confessional now labelled a forgiveness booth gave her comfort.
Yeah, it's interesting to hear Louise Erdrich his voice that I didn't know anything about her. So this book was a really exciting introduction in a way to this author that owns a bookstore in America and has written all these other books. And I guess it's quite well known over there. So it just felt like Oh, someone I just missed, you know,
you posted about the book on Instagram, and said something similar. My mum was like, How does Kate not know of Louise Ehrenreich? Like she's a big deal. Like, I believe she's won the Pulitzer Prize, you know, she has, but like you, I don't think she has had much of a profile in the UK, she certainly hasn't been on my radar, where to start?
Yeah, it's interesting, because there's a lot going on in this book. On the one hand, you've got this always crime caper that it starts out with, which gives you then the setup for where Tookie ends up, she's done time in prison, and she's come out the other side, and she then gets this job working in a bookstore, you're happy for her that she's found that and she carries on working there throughout the rest of the book. So you've got the setup that gets her to where she is. And then you've got some backstory about how you understand about her character, and why she is the way she is. She's then working in this bookstore. So there's this other thread about the bookstore, and almost like bookshop culture, book references, it's very knowing about all that, that is very enjoyable if you are someone who reads widely, because you're gonna hear all these references to books that are not explained, that just dropped in, in passing. And if you have read them, or you're familiar with that author, all of that is going to really resonate with you. And it's very enjoyable. At the same time, much as I loved it, I found it a bit clicky and annoying. Sometimes bookshops can be a bit like No at all. You know what I mean? It's like a bit. You know, it almost felt a little bit like I wasn't quite sure I wanted to be that complicit in it, even as I was totally enjoyed
it. But Kate, it was totally justified because she's talking about books with book buyers in a bookshop. Absolutely. For a recommendation. Yeah,
it all belongs there. Yes, then what happens is that other things start to appear. So then COVID becomes a thing locked down and took his experience of that with her family, the riots after the killing of George Floyd, the bookstore is in Minneapolis, and I hadn't actually put two and two together. But of course, that's where that event happened. And so there was rioting and disruption and reading it from Turkey's point of view as someone who lives there. And obviously, Aldrich herself, I'm guessing experienced this, it really was a very scary breakdown of law and order in a way that really resonates through the pages of the book. The other major theme running through this book is this idea of contemporary Native American culture, and they are also marginalised. And there are lots of issues to do with appropriation of that culture. One of the characters believes that she has Native American ancestry characters, there's a thread about that Well, and then what should we also say about that character? I think we can say she's our ghost. So then one of the customers of the bookstore dies, and then comes back to haunt Tookie. And so this bookstore has this ghost. So there's this other thread about this haunting and I thought it's all dealt with the whole ghost thing with quite a light touch. But I also felt we talked about this before you have been with any form of horror. That was a couple of moments where I was really like, Whoa, this is way too chilling. For me. There's a scene where Tookie has to go to the bookstore on her own at night and there's just like the ghost is there. There's one point where they're both one Reaching for the likes of I was like,
it was really
slightly out of my element, it was a bit like hang on a minute, not sure I signed up for this, what stops this novel for me being a total success rave in the way that, for example, I felt about the bread, the double need is that I didn't think, unfortunately for me, she didn't manage to sustain it, she didn't manage to hold all those threads together, it was very uneven. And I felt what I really loved and was really invested in was the story of Turkey and the story of the ghost and that whole plot thread. And then it gets caught up in these other things, which are interesting, but it just started to feel like I didn't know what it was saying anymore.
I think it's very odd that the woman's price description. And I think even the blurb within the book doesn't really foreground that this is a Native American author talking about the Native American experience and her identity. And this is a bookshop specialising in Native American literature, and Tookie has been through so much, which is the legacy of colonisation. And perhaps it's a marketing thing to reach a wider audience, maybe they don't think that that narrative would mean as much to a British audience. And that's probably true, you don't have as much context as I would in Canada, where decolonization and reconciliation finally has come very much to the fore. And there is a real looking back at the crimes and violence and continuing violence against indigenous peoples and Native Americans. There's so much in this book, but that thread for me is actually what holds it together. And then I just loved how many genres are kind of like tucked in there. It's so its own thing. And I wonder if her other books are like that. I really want to read her more widely.
Yeah, I'm interested to read more of her. It's a little bit meta took he gets a job in a bookstore. And the bookstore owners name is Louise, it's quite lightly done. But you're like, oh,
you know, I didn't notice that at all.
It's Lincoln miss it thing. But I think it was at that moment, because I sort of started again, as you say, knowing nothing about her. And as you say, it's not foregrounded, in any of the blurb about the book. So as I was reading, and obviously this Native American thread is very powerful from the very beginning. And then this thing about the bookshop and the owner being Louise and I thought, well, who is she? What is her expertise on this subject. And then of course, I looked around, oh, she's Native American, she runs this bookstore, Birchbox books, it's a whole thing. It all fell into place. But it's trip, you don't know any of that. It's slightly disconcerting. But on the other hand, it's incredibly engaging. I loved learning about this, I love being in her world, she does the nicest thing, this bookstore is the sort of place you just want to spend the rest of your days and it's so great. And then you finish the book and you're like, ah, you know, gonna have to leave now. And then she gives you at the end a list of the books in the bookstore. It's the totally biassed list of took his favourite books. And then it's organised according to categories that you're familiar with from the book. So goes managing book list, short, perfect novels, a sailboat table, which I'm guessing is something in the real shop. And it's the thing in this bookstore over there sort of front table, books for band love, Turkeys pandemic reading. And there's a whole section on indigenous lives, indigenous poetry, indigenous history and nonfiction, which, after reading this, you're really intrigued to read something else. I did find it uneven. I think I feel very at ease with the fact that it didn't win, because I didn't think it was as good technique as to talk about that yet. I just want to lay it down. Just want to lay it down now. But it has such warmth. And you know, heart, you can't help but fall for it. And I think that's why when you mentioned it to readers that oh, the sentence. It's just one of those books.
I loved to key. She is a great character. And her husband Holux and her adopted daughter had a and all the women at the bookshop, even flora is so brilliantly drawn, you feel like you have seen met and interacted with these people now
before with all of them. But we're not here to talk about the sentence, Laura?
No, we've made it this. It's time to turn to that winner, the book of form and emptiness by Canadian American author Ruth Ozeki, who is also by the by a Zen Buddhist priest. The book tells the story of Benny, a young boy whose father has been out drinking falls in the street and is killed when he is hit by a truck. It's then about the aftermath of this as Benny and his mother Annabelle grieve. As he grows older Benny starts to hear voices, objects, talk to him, tell him their stories, he starts to feel like he's being overtaken by madness. But is it madness or another way of seeing the world. As Annabelle tries to understand and to help him she is grappling with her own sense of loss and feeling overwhelmed by her job, which is to scan the news making notes for a media agency. As part of her job she is required to save the print media she analyses, but around this other objects and possessions start to pile up. Meanwhile, Benny finds an unexpected place of sanctuary, the library. The audio book is read by Carrie shale and published by cannon gate. Here's a clip,
he selected a book from the days array and opened it and started to read a page or two, well not read exactly, not at first, and not in any systematic way, like left to right or top to bottom. His was not the steady grazing of the methodical cow, but rather more like the browsing of a deer in the springtime, when the leaves are tender and young, a nibble here and nibble there as a young child, he loved being read to. But then when he got older, he started playing video games, and never acquired the habit of reading whole books by himself from cover to cover. Now he didn't quite know how to proceed. So he just flipped through the book in a nonlinear fashion, sometimes starting at the back, and sometimes in the middle, not looking for anything in particular, but enjoying the sensation of turning the pages, which seemed to give the pages pleasure to it didn't take long for the words, to start to draw him in with their meanings. And he found that in order to understand what they were trying to say, he needed to go back to the beginnings of sentences, paragraphs, chapters of the book itself. And so he did. A book must start somewhere he discovered, starting with the first syllable. On the first page, he mouthed the words as he read them, pronouncing them out loud, as they combined to form sentences, until he felt as if the words were animating his lips, borrowing his tongue, as they whispered their way into the world.
I'm very pleased that you've read this book and full, because I have not. And I want to hear all about it, and what you thought of it, and then I will share a tiny little smidgen of my experience, but it holds no weight, no one should really listen to it. Because it's not fair. When you haven't
read the full book. Over to you. I love that quote. And that last bit, the words whispering their way into the world, it's another book with a lot going on. This family story is the anchor the story of this boy Benny and his mother Annabelle, you really root for them, you've grieved for them, you care for them deeply, very quickly. She has been engaged as your empathy. Annabelle is trying her best she really is. But she's overwhelmed by her grief and trying to look after Benny and help him and also just try to provide a home for him. And she has to work. And her job is that she's a sort of news media scanner. She's working from home, she's surrounded by banks of computer screens. And her job is to scan all of these different media outlets and make notes and archive the information. So she has been inundated with terrible things from all around the world all the time, basically. And she's trying to manage her family life and her son is quietly going off the rails, he starts to hear voices, objects that are talking to him. And the objects are very characterful and engaging. I mean, they annoy him. No, no, you can't hear himself think because he's surrounded by this cacophony of objects telling him things. So the shoes tell him that they want to be warned, and they want him to go running in them, because that's what she's like. The teapot on the shelf says that it wants to be full of tea and want someone to pour a drink from it, because that's what teapots want. Paper remembers the tree that it wants was. So it's a book where even in all of the objects that surround the characters in this story, there's a lot going on, and the book itself, Laura is indeed is it not an object. And so there's this meta text duality. The book is an object, it's also a conduit for ideas. And then the reader is an active part of that relationship. So you the reader, become actively engaged in this book you're referred to at some times. The author is in there. When Benny goes to the library, and he makes his way up to the ninth floor. There's a lady up there who has dark glasses and grey hair and seems very Zeki like and she is sitting there typing and I actually mark this passage because I thought it was the most wonderful description of typing. Then he listened to the small quick sounds of the typing lady's fingers. Earlier her tapping had sounded like raindrops but now it sounded more like a flock of starlings lifting from a wheat field and then settling again, lending back into the library's ambient Hush, well, maybe not starlings, maybe waves. Maybe the starlings would changing into waves washing up on the sand and tickling all the pebbles and tiny broken shells before receding again, in and out waves and starlings the tapping of fingers on a keyboard. The rustle of a turning page, the exhalations of the stars punctuated by an occasional slaw, Benny heard all these sounds rising and falling and he knew too, that they like the voices he heard, were always there and would always be there coming and going somewhere in the background. The writing is something else so way it's written in some ways the line Which is quite, Elizabeth put it quite well, when we were talking about it, she said it's quite uncluttered the prose. And that's very nice because this is a book that is really considering our relationship with objects and the things around us. Another thread that's going on here is there's a whole riff on that Marie Kondo book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. And so in this novel, there is a character who is a monk. And she comes to a realisation that the Zen understanding of objects and their place in the world could be packaged up, it could be written in book form, and she could help others understand how to harmonise their lives, live in balance with the objects around us, and not feel so overwhelmed by everything. And so in that novel, she writes this book, and this book is very successful. She then is travelling the world. And so there's a way that this all connects up. So you know, there's a lot going on.
And one, I haven't
mentioned Walter Benjamin, you mean exactly. Walter Benjamin, who wrote an essay called unpacking my library, which is part of a book called Illuminations, which I found online and read. And I have to say, it's very hard going, I thought, he is linking the activity of collecting books to the workings of memory. So it's again picking up on this idea of objects and the resonances that they have and how objects you know, on one level, they're simply objects, but on the other level, they are memories, their feelings, there's a reason why we have the things that we have, usually, and they're all vessels for all of that. One thing I did love about that essay. He also quotes the humorous retort of the Frenchman of letters, Anatole France, who when asked if he had read all the books in his library equipped, not 1/10 of them, I don't suppose you use your cell for China every day, several being an unusually costly, ornate and highly prized type of porcelain. There's that there's that there's Bull has, I don't know about you. I've never read any more has. But I found a very interesting BBC culture article, which I found fascinating actually, having read this now, boy has did the ultimate high low fusion fixing pop material detective stories sci fi scenarios with architectural structures and philosophical preoccupations. He loved when saris the world he created in his fiction was essentially a world made out of a library. ACCION is also a flexible has original and postmodern approach to books and texts. As he noted in 1941, the composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance, a better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a resume a commentary. More reasonable, more inept, more indolent, I have referred to write notes upon imaginary books, and final thought, the World Wide Web, in which all time and space coexist simultaneously seems as if it were invented by boy his take, for example, his famous story, the LF, here, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet becomes the point in time and space that contains all time and everything in the universe. As Bo has writes, In the story, I saw a small iridescent sphere of almost unbearable brilliance. At first I thought it was revolving, then I realised that this movement was an illusion created by the Dizzy world at bounded, the LFS diameter was probably little more than an inch, all space was their actual and undiminished so to anybody who's read the book of fullmoon Epson this, instead of that all sounding very complicated, and actually, you'd be thinking, Oh, I Right. Yeah. Okay. See that? All right, when I read that I'd had a real sense of Oh, I see, you know, she's weaving in all of this. So, you know, this idea of books and libraries, and
high low fusion, so it's true.
And the elf is a character in this book. So she's a girl that Benny meets, for much of the time, I was wondering whether she was real, that's another thread. But anyways, there's this whole idea about this character embodying this principle of every nurse, one nurse, another character known as the bottle man is quite helpful to Benny and he is a sort of hobo, the guy in a wheelchair who smells and seems to live at the library, like Benny, at first, you're quite judgmental of that. You just think, Oh, God, He's not someone you should be hanging around with? Is he safe? And the novel asks you to look at him differently and say, you know, this man is a poet and a thinker and a writer. And so he is very helpful to Benny and somehow seems to embody the volto Binyomin aspect of the story. So guess what we should come to what is known as actually trying to do, I think one of the things that it's trying to do, and it does very well, is it's asking us to consider the way that we think about the world is someone who hears voices and thinks that the objects are talking to them crazy, or do they have a different way of viewing the world from the way that we are used to? And should those people be marginalised and punished and ignored? Or should we be trying to consider their point of view? I think it's one of the questions that's raised you're so invested in Benny and his mother Annabelle, you know, you really care about them, and you really root for them. You're very open to that because you want to understand him and you want to try and help him. The novel in one way is exploring that which I really love. Like it was great. And then there's the Zen message. Wow, what's going on with us in our objects, you know, this consumerist world that we live in? How do we change from people who just needed enough to get by and to live and be comfortable to suddenly people who wanted everything? And is there any limit on the amount that we want? How can we learn to coexist with all these objects that we've created? What rivers Zacky seems to be suggesting is let's consider the resonance of that object, let's consider the memories it contains. And so it's a really interesting, challenging, thought provoking book with so many layers. You know, I could talk about this book for about five hours, and I don't think I
can emphasise doubt.
I know I've got so much to say I've got 38 pages of notes to get through. But I will say I absolutely loved its twists and turns, did you? I did, and it's, again, it's another one where it's a long book, it's 550 pages long. And at one point, probably about 450 pages in I really had a moment of feeling like you know, I could happily I feel like I'm sensing I'm getting to the end of this but I can happily go on I would happily have followed her for more pages because I would found it so interesting. Where this mind, dippers was leading me and I love that about it. I'm sensing you didn't have the same experience.
Similar to Ala Shafaq. I want to love Ruth Ozeki, I felt remiss for not having read her. And I picked up or had recommended to me at a bookshop, a tale for the time being one of her other novels, I think, from a few years back, and I read that God 200 300 pages, and I think it's also around 500 pages. I was like, No, I just don't want to go on. And then I started this one, the Book of Mormon emptiness, and I read my 10% sample, list feelings, kids loving care. I don't really like her prose style, the main character while a tale for the time being Ruth herself is almost the main character coming back to metafiction when she's found this diary of a Japanese schoolgirl that's washed up on the shore of a West Coast Gulf Islands, you know, not far from where I am right now. And I just thought that again, kind of similar to Shafaq. I was like, I don't think this is what a young Japanese school girl would sound like. And so coming up with against Benny who's even younger, I think when you first meet him, I was like, Oh, this is gonna be another teenage Narrator written by someone tactically having to research what am I like to be at age right now with those experiences? And honestly, nothing you have said makes me want to read it. But it one it one, so there must be something there.
I thought it had reach and scope that the others lacked.
I demolition? Yeah,
I think it did work. Actually. I thought she did hold it all together in a way that I almost was worried a couple of times, but she wouldn't, but it did. I felt a little bit a tiny bit let down by the ending. I think that was my only thing. But almost as I remember saying once about great circle, I think I was just sort of sad and stopped, you know, it's like, no way she could have ended up where I wouldn't have been like, Oh, we're not gonna get some more. I thought one of the things she did brilliantly was that she balanced a really good plati story with a strong emotional hook that was incredibly readable. It reminded me for example of the Goldfinch by Donna Oh, no way did that teenage character reminded me know much of the boy in that and that kind of coming of age story, and also the grief and the relationship with the parent. All of that I thought was that is
high praise that could almost convince me to revisit my existing prejudices and keep going almost. So
you've got that going on. And then you've got all these really quite complicated philosophical ideas that she's weaving in there that I thought she did very successfully. It was it was very cleverly done. I thought I was slightly uncomfortable with the inclusion of herself in it. When I got to that I was like, Oh, I'm not sure about this, Ruth. Why it wobbled for me slightly at that point. But overall, like with Louise Erdrich, there was such warmth from heart to it, I went with it. It took me places this book.
So is this the book
that you think should have won? We're here now. Are you happy with this winner?
I am. It's the book that I think was the most worthy of the prize but you know, what, if I was going to recommend to people to read one of the shortlist? Yeah, I would actually say read the bread that devil need. Oh, in China, even though I love the sentence so much, but I thought the bread that they will need was brilliant.
Well, I can't comment on the book of form and emptiness, or the island and missing trees, so they're out of my running, but out of the others that I did read the sentence is currently talked for me 100% But I haven't finished the bread the devil need and I'm really enjoying it and really excited. So maybe it will pivot to the post at the very end. A great shortlist, I think, really happy with this list. For the Women's Prize,
Yeah, agreed. It's such an interesting varied selection of books or characterised by some really excellent writing. And hey, all very good discussion books, which we love. Yeah. That's nearly it for this episode, you'll find book titles in the show notes and full descriptions plus a transcript of this episode on our website. Whether you listen when it comes out, or at some point years in the future, maybe you have thoughts. Perhaps you've got a tree book to recommend to Laura, or a favourite novel from Ruth Ozeki that you think I should read next, there is a place for the ease and that's the episode page on our website where you'll find a comments for it. Please do drop us a line we love to hear from you. Comments there, go straight to our inboxes and we will reply so keep in touch, you'll find it all at the book club review.co.uk. That's also where you can sign up for our bi weekly ish newsletter for reviews in between episodes and suggestions of what to read next. You can also follow us on Instagram and Facebook at Book Club Review podcast on Twitter at book club RBW pod or email the book club firstname.lastname@example.org. If you like what we do and want to support us, you can rate and review the show on your podcast player. Tell your friends about us and share on social media. It all helps us to find new listeners. But for now, thanks for listening and happy reading