Teaser Tuesday and Man Booker Prize Longlist, Part Four
Betrayal by Helen Dunmore
Leningrad in 1952, a city recovering from war. Andrei, a hospital doctor, and Anna, a nursery teacher, are forging a life together. They try to avoid coming to the attention of the authorities, but their private happiness is precarious. Stalin is still in power, and when Andrei has to treat the seriously-ill child of a senior secret police officer, he and Anna are caught in a web of betrayal.
A gripping and deeply moving portrait of life in post-war Soviet Russia, The Betrayal brilliantly shows the epic struggle of ordinary people to survive in a time of violence and terror.
"Historians have written capably about the horror of Stalin's 1952 "Doctors' Plot", as they have written about the Siege of Leningrad which preceded it. But it takes the skill of a very superior novelist to make the unimaginable real. Dunmore is just such a novelist: brave, tender and with a unique gift for immersing the reader in the taste, smell and fear of a story. Writing like hers reminds us that human life is always more than just a statistic." -- Katy Guest, The Independent
"Unlike The Siege, which was essentially descriptive, The Betrayal relies for its effects on the characters and story Dunmore has made up. Her research is meticulous, and details of the workings of Soviet bureaucracy, hospital life and Leningrad in the 1950s are expertly stitched in... But the novel is not morally complicated. Everyone with whom we are encouraged to sympathise seems beyond reproach." -- Susanna Rustin, The Guardian
Helen Dunmore was born in Yorkshire in 1952. She has published eight novels including: Zennor in Darkness, which won the McKitterick Prize; A Spell of Winter, which won the Orange Prize; The Siege, which was shortlisted for the 2001 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award and for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2002; Mourning Ruby, House of Orphans and Counting the Stars. She is also a poet, children's novelist and short-story writer. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and current Chair of the Society of Authors. She lives in Bristol.
Reading Group Alert -- parenting, history, cultural issues, war, relationships.
Author On the Bookcase
Tanya Egan Gibson
I met a great writer at the Virginia Festival of the Book last March-- Tanya Egan Gibson, author of How To Buy a Love of Reading. We stay up all night, with Kim Addonizio (awesome poet) solving the world's problems. What happens in Charlottesville stays in Charlottesville!
So, I'm so thrilled to welcome Tanya to On the Bookcase. Tanya's debut novel, How To Buy a Love of Reading tells the story of Carley, a 16 year old girl, who when asked what was her favorite book, answered, "never met one I liked." [I say, "Off with her head!] Her parents are horrified and decide to commission a book to be written just for her. No spoilers here but throughout the "project" Carley begins to understand the importance of stories -- and how they are powerful enough to destroy a person. Or save her. With literary allusions throughout the novel, Tanya reveals her joy of reading. A book with a book -- what a great way to fall in love with literature, again.
Tanya chats about how novels reveal "characters' "insides" first, particularly those of point-of-view characters."
Inside Out, Outside In
Recently, a friend and I discovered that as children both of us had wondered what it would be like to be in someone else's body. Maybe everyone does this? It's never come up in conversation before for me. I don't mean being another person and having their thoughts and emotions; I'm talking about inhabiting just his or her body--that flesh carrying case for one's heart and brain and soul. Did people get born into the bodies they were *supposed to* have? Would I still be me in someone else's body? Would I feel mismatched?
I've been intrigued my whole life by the randomness of "looks." Style is something you about which you have choices. (I regard things like cosmetic surgery and sculpting one's body at the gym to be decisions not entirely dissimilar from choosing one's hairstyle and clothing), but about the raw materials behind your "looks" you have none. Symmetrical faces are often considered more conventionally advantageous, as are certain body shapes. Some bodies come into the world with great immune systems, others don't. Not all bodies are born with two arms, two legs, ten fingers, ten toes. And even bodies that do have all of the aforementioned plusses can end up suffering injuries that leave them "deformed" (an odd word, I think, as it implies that there is a specific "form" the body *should* take).
I am less interested in raw materials than how they are manipulated and adorned. That is, when I look at people--and I look a lot, studying what people are wearing and considering the implications of their sartorial choices--I'm struck by style more than genetics. (Odds are that if you ask me, for instance, "Oh, are you talking about the tall girl?" I won't be able to answer because I won't have noticed if the girl was, indeed, tall. I will remember, on the other hand, that she was wearing blue and grey, looked good/bad in a fedora, and carried a fur purse that may or may not faux.)
While I'm talking to you for the first time or staring at you in at a party, I'm making you up in my head. And I doubt I'm the only one. There are some hilarious scenes in the movie Date Night where characters played by Tina Fey and Steve Carell do a version of this at restaurants. While it entertains me as a storyteller (and as an admirer of accessories) to guess at people's insides by analyzing their exteriors, I understand how inaccurate my suppositions probably are. There is no possible objectivity in such an exercise: I am filtering "clues" to people's existences through the lens of my values and style--through my own point of view. And I assume other people are filtering me through theirs. How misread am I? How badly have I misread you?
All of which makes me wish, sometimes, that I could meet you in a book.
Putting my fascination with clothing and guessing-games aside, I love that in novels I get to encounter characters' "insides" first, particularly those of point-of-view characters. Even if, as in the case of my novel How To Buy a Love of Reading, a character's "looks" are an oft-discussed topic (my protagonist, Carley, is very overweight, and her "Golden Boy" best friend, Hunter, looks like he walked out of a Barney's catalogue), readers get to spend far more time hearing characters' thoughts than seeing their bodies. In written fiction, you peer at a character's soul before his or her body. In fiction we are inside-out.
How To Buy a Love of Reading, I think, was borne in part from these two conflicting impulses: my fascination with people's exteriors, and a wish to "see" (and be seen) beyond them accurately. I ended up inventing a community where almost everyone's appearance belies his or her soul, where insides and outsides never "match": beauty hides sickness, slickness hides depth, coarseness hides sensitivity. Hunter doesn't recognize himself in the mirror because he is still the fat kid inside that he'd been years earlier, an introverted, oversensitive bookworm whose now-gorgeous façade does him more harm than good. Carley feels like she "might maybe be beautiful" underneath her skin. I suppose I've never stopped wondering if some people end up, by accident, in the "wrong" carrying cases, or if, on the other hand, part of the beauty of life is in the unmatching.
Thanks so much, Tanya, for revealing your thoughts about "outside" appearance vs "inside" soul. Great discussion topic for reading groups.
Praise for How to Buy a Love of Reading
"Brimming with literary allusions, commentary on the rich and famous, and the necessary ingredients for a successful novel, Gibson's ingenious debut succeeds on many levels." —Booklist
Tanya is mother to a five-year-old girl who produces countless construction-paper "books" she insists Mommy "get published" and a two-year-old boy who thinks books are for throwing, and wife to the most patient man in the universe.
Check out Tanya's cool website!
Do you think "the beauty of life is in the unmatching?"
Love this video about Books and Books Clubs.
Thanks for the interesting comments on The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas! It was the third in the Man Booker Prize Longlist series. The first was Room by Emma Donoghue and Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey was the second.
The The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas giveaway winner is
Congrats, Ruthie! Thanks to Penguin for the copy.
Stay for for the fourth in the series -- In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut.
I bought a book for my grandkids last week. Having read it at ALA 2010 in June, I knew it was a lovely and funny book starring a mouse, a jackass, and a monkey. Everyone who is a booklover will enjoy it. Here are beginning lines I with use for my TT.
"What do you have there?
It's a book.
How do you scroll down?
I don't. I turn the page. It's a book.
Do you blog with it?
No, it's a book."
-- It's a Book by Lane Smith
The discussion goes on from there. And, the illustrations are so cute.
Here is the great trailer for It's a Book. Love it!
Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B from Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following: Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences. Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
What have you found for Teaser Tuesday?
Author On the Bookcase
Both my parents are from England, all my relatives live there, and I visited the Tower twice. So, I really enjoyed The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise and am so excited to welcome Julia Stuart, author of The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise! Julia's novel is about the Tower of London and its inhabitants --human and animal. All the Beefeaters actually live in the Tower and this story is about one Beefeater named Balthazar Jones, his wife, Hebe, and their the 180-year old tortoise. Oh, and Julia threw in a couple of very eccentric characters who called the tower home, as well -- the Tower’s Rack & Ruin barmaid, Ruby Dore; portly Valerie Jennings; the lifelong bachelor Reverend Septimus Drew; and the philandering Ravenmaster. When Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower walls to house the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen, life at the Tower gets all the more interesting. Then Hebe runs away.
The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is filled with humor, charm, beauty, heartache, grief, and love that calls to mind the novels of Alexander McCall Smith, and of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
Where did Julia get her idea of The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise? She tells us from a "plump blue folder on which I’ve written the words 'book ideas' ." Is it that simple?
Please continue, Julia -- just let me get a cuppa.
Authors famously don’t like to be questioned about where they get their ideas from. I suspect it’s because they’re asked it so often. Yet I still think it’s one of the most salient questions a reader can ask. You can’t write a book about a menagerie of exotic beasts housed at the Tower of London, a beefeater who collects rain samples, and a chaplain who writes erotica and expect not to have to account for it somewhere down the line.
I have a plump blue folder on which I’ve written the words “book ideas”, in the hope that it will provide me with some. It is filled with articles torn out of newspapers and magazines that have either made me laugh or tugged at my heartstrings. They are not fully formed plots (alas), just scraps of intrigue that may be useful one day, if only for a scene.
The inspiration for The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise came from an article I read in a weekend supplement. It told of the beefeaters who not only worked at the Tower but lived there, quite literally being locked in at night. I thought it was a great setting for a novel, but couldn’t come up with a plot, so I put it in the folder and got on with my first book. When that was done, I was drawn again to the Tower community. I paid a visit and bought numerous guidebooks hunting for inspiration. I then came across the tale of the Tower’s menagerie, which spanned 600 years and finally closed in the 1830s. Further research unearthed the fact that the Queen was still being sent animals in the 1970s, many of which were kept at London Zoo. I decided to bring them back to the Tower and institute a modern-day menagerie.
Choosing its inhabitants proved much easier once I’d found an animal encyclopedia in my local bookshop. As I read through it, I noticed some of them had curious characteristics. It mentioned a tiny shrew that could expire when under stress, a compulsive overeating glutton, and lizards that could run on water in emergencies. I found the monkeys that flash their private parts when they feel under attack at London Zoo (a sign offered that helpful nugget), along with the bearded pigs.
In the novel a bearded pig is thought to have escaped from the zoo, and deluded members of the public send newspapers their grainy photographs of it running through their gardens. This comes despite the fact that the pig is actually locked up in the Tower. The inspiration for that was simply the British public’s love of an escaped animal story. I don’t know why we like them. We just do. Particularly in the summer when the sun has finally come out and we’re all a little startled.
Naturally, all my ideas don’t come from my blue folder. Some arrive from a dusty, foxed part of my head while I’m getting on with life, or once my hands are over the keyboard. A chaplain who writes erotica? No idea what sparked that one off. A collection of rain samples? Couldn’t tell you. A romance between two elderly people as they lie dying in the hospital? Search me.
So what potential scenarios lie in store for the future? A quick delve into my folder reveals a story about a happy, plump seal being found on a grass verge five miles from the sea; a man who fired cannons to greet historical ships being given a 12-month conditional discharge for breaching his firearms license; an invasion of Liechtenstein by Swiss soldiers that no one noticed; and the Princess Royal’s secret obsession with lighthouses. I’m not sure whether any of these curiosities will make it into my third novel, but there’s every hope for the fourth.
Thanks so much, Julia, for revealing what might be in your fourth novel. I'd go with Princess Royal’s secret obsession with lighthouses!
"A Beefeater, his wife, and their nearly 180-year-old tortoise live in the Tower of London, and if Stuart's deadly charming sophomore novel (after The Matchmaker of Périgord) is any indication, the fortress is as full of intrigue as ever…the love story is adorable." —Publisher's Weekly
Author On the Bookcase
I'm thrilled to have Kate Ledger, author of Remedies, writing for On the Bookcase. In Remedies, Simon and Emily seem to have it all -- good jobs, nice house, a healthy thirteen year old daughter. But things are not always as they seem. There are some old scars and wounds that haven't been treated and addressed. Will the "elephant in the room" been the end of this seemingly perfect family. Kate's debut novel reveals marriage, parenthood, loss, grief, and hope. Most importantly, Remedies explores the complicated nature of pain, in the nerves of the body and the longings of the heart. To what lengths would you go to avoid feeling pain? And would you believe in a cure? What topics for book club conversation!
Kate writes about how exploring her own life -- marriage, children -- assisted her in understanding her characters. "Then came a moment in writing—I can still see the page of notes in my hand, the way my pen trembled—when I took stock of what was most important to me in the world. I had a new, fragile, tender recognition of what loss would mean, and I understood Simon’s painful world in a way I hadn’t before."
The initial idea for Remedies grew out of the medical magazine writing I do for a living. Over the years, I’ve met many doctors and researchers who developed amazing and helpful treatments for patients. Some of those therapies have even defied the current scientific thinking of the time. These people have fascinated me. I’m awed by their vision, not to mention their tenacity. As I pondered the core of a novel, I wondered: what about a doctor who believes he’s discovered a cure for pain?
The idea seemed beautifully complex. You can’t measure pain, like the size of a tumor, to know if a treatment is working. The success of a treatment might very well depend on the relationship between the doctor and the patient. And yet the ability to resolve pain could make such a profound difference in a patient’s life. But this was only a nugget of a story. The burning question, and what really intrigued me, was about character: what kind of person would believe that he was right and that even the textbooks were wrong? What would he be like? How would he think about the world?
I began writing about a doctor, Simon Bear—a passionate man full of ideas and ambitious, hopeful plans—who believes he’s stumbled across a pain cure. I imagined he would be confident in his views of the medical world. I also felt certain he had a devoted, earnest desire to help people. But as Simon’s character began to evolve, I realized that, despite all his confidence and professional success, he was plagued with insecurities. In fact, what came clear was that his desire to cure other people’s pain came from an inability to address his own.
I wasn’t certain for a while about the source of Simon’s emotional pain, until I took a look at my own life. I had begun writing the story when I was still dating the man who would become my husband. Over the course of a few years, as the novel was still taking shape, we had gotten married and had children. The emotional poles of my own life had widened with these new relationships and responsibilities. Then came a moment in writing—I can still see the page of notes in my hand, the way my pen trembled—when I took stock of what was most important to me in the world. I had a new, fragile, tender recognition of what loss would mean, and I understood Simon’s painful world in a way I hadn’t before. Simon Bear has suffered the loss of his first child, many years earlier. He still wonders whether, as a doctor, he was responsible for not having saved his son’s life, but he’s never dared to raise the question. Instead, he and his wife, Emily, a public relations executive, have attempted, as valiantly as they can, to move on. And in some ways, they have. They’ve become professional successes and are the parents of a daughter, who’s now thirteen. The grief, however, is still with them.
Remedies evolved into the story of a marriage, and the journey of recovering from profound loss, as individuals and as a family. Like other married couples, Simon and Emily are aware of each other’s vulnerabilities. They respectfully avoid discussing the past. But the conversation they’ve never had is still simmering under the surface of their everyday interactions. Simon can’t help doing provocative, potentially destructive, things, hoping to prompt the confrontation with Emily that he’s feared for years. Now, he’s discovered what may be a miracle cure for pain, and he’s willing to put his medical practice in jeopardy as he promotes it. Meanwhile, Emily encounters a lover from her past and begins an affair. But this chance meeting offers her a unique opportunity to connect with her past, in particular, to recall what she was like before grief entered her life. Suddenly, she finds the means to look at her marriage, and her role as a mother, entirely anew.
Thanks so much, Kate, for sharing your inspiration and understanding of your characters.
"An immediately gripping, expertly woven tale of pain and healing. Ledger is a brilliant writer; the book is dazzling, but more importantly, it is moving."—Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author of Barefoot
Find more about Kate!
To what lengths would you go to avoid feeling pain? And would you believe in a cure?
Book club tips, recipes, and picks! I was interviewed two months ago by Katie Alberts of Woman's World magazine about all things book club!
Woman's World put together a nice feature on starting a book club, selecting books, reading group icebreakers, recipes, and more.
The issue is out. Look at see!
Teaser Tuesday and Man Booker Longlist, Part Three
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas plus giveaway of The Slap for review. Just comment and I'll let you know if you won.
First lines of The Slap
"His eyes still shut, a dream dissolving and already impossible to recall, Hector's hand sluggishly reached across the bed. Good. Aish was up. He let out a victorious fart, burying his face deep into the pillow the escape the clammy methane stink. I don't want to sleep in a boy's locker room, Aisha would always complain on the rare, inadvertent moments when he forgot himself in front of her."
In this powerful and riveting novel, literary phenomenon Christos Tsiolkas unflinchingly exposes the inner-workings of domestic life, friendship and parenthood in the twenty-first century, and reminds us of the passions and malice that family loyalty can provoke.
When a man slaps another couple’s child at a neighborhood barbecue, the event send unforeseeable shockwaves through the lives of all who are witness to it.
Told from the points of view of eight people who were present, The Slap shows how a single action can change the way people think about how they live, what they want, and what they believe forever.
“Tsiolkas is a hard-edged, powerful writer….The novel transcends both suburban Melbourne and the Australian continent, leaving us exhausted but gasping with admiration.” –Washington Post
“This astute exploration of suburban aspirations and failings . . . . vividly demonstrates the wide-ranging effects of a single moment’s rash decision. . . . Beyond simply igniting the plot, the fateful slap draws attention to generational and philosophical differences regarding family life and the complex political, social, and ethnic milieu of contemporary Australia.” —Publishers Weekly
“Radiates with vitality as it depicts the messy complications of family life.” –Booklist
Reading Group Alert -- family, culture, social issues, relationships. great conversation starters.
Christos Tsiolkas is an award-winning novelist, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter. His fiction has won numerous prizes, including the Commonwealth Writers Award, The Age Fiction Prize, and the Melbourne Best Writing Award. The Slap is his first book published in the US.
Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B of Should Be Reading What is your TT, today?
A comment, with or without a Teaser, will enter you in the The Slap giveaway. Giveaway closes Aug. 27. Thanks to Penguin Books for providing this copy.