Orange Prize for Fiction 2012

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WINNER

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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Before I started the book, I looked out my copy of Homer's The Iliad and skim-read its one page introduction (yes, yet another book in my 'must-read' pile but it's been on it for about ahem, ten years). Having said that, it is rather dry and scholarly which didn't really inspire me to get on with this book as I wasn't really looking for a 'heavy' read, especially on a nice summer's day. Onwards ... Full review...

Shortlist

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

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Sid and his friend Chip are revisiting their youth, more than 50 years ago. They were jazz musicians, living and working in Berlin and Paris, until they had to escape Nazi occupied Paris in 1940 to return to Baltimore. Now it is 1992, and all the others they worked with are long since dead. They have just been involved in a documentary about their experiences, and are about to return to Germany (soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall) for a jazz festival in memory of the great Hiero Falk. Hieronymus Falk was a young black German musician with an exceptional musical talent, the star of their band, the Hot-Time Swingers. He was picked up by 'the Boots' as Sid refers to the Germans, in Paris in 1940, and disappeared into a concentration camp, then they heard he was released but died in 1948. Full review...


The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

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Anne Enright's 2007 Booker prize winning The Gathering addressed the gloomy subjects of the three D's; death, depression and dysfunctional families. Her latest book, The Forgotten Waltz, set in Dublin in 2009, sees her turning her attentions to a love affair. A more uplifting subject you might think. Well only up to a point. The affair in question you see is that of her narrator, Gina, who is already married to the generally good, if undynamic, Connor, while on the other end, the subject of the affair is the older, Seán, also married and neighbour of Gina's sister. In case your moral compass isn't stretched quite enough by this, Seán and his wife Aileen, also have a young daughter who suffers from epilepsy. Full review...

Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding

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A young, anonymous, vagrant collapses on the steps of a hospital in Romania. He doesn't speak and remains a mystery to the staff that tries to treat his obvious symptoms but can't seem to reach the silent person beneath. However, Safta, a nurse, suggests that he may be deaf and produces drawing materials. Coincidentally, the man is able to draw beautifully, but this is no coincidence to Safta. There are reasons why she can't disclose it, but she knows this man. They grew up together in pre-war Romania, a whole world away when the country had a king, beautiful cities untouched by bombing and being able to read a foreign language wasn't punishable by imprisonment in work camps... or worse. Full review...

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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Before I started the book, I looked out my copy of Homer's The Iliad and skim-read its one page introduction (yes, yet another book in my 'must-read' pile but it's been on it for about ahem, ten years). Having said that, it is rather dry and scholarly which didn't really inspire me to get on with this book as I wasn't really looking for a 'heavy' read, especially on a nice summer's day. Onwards ... Full review...

Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick

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Bea Nightingale's brother Marvin wants her - is haranguing her - to retrieve his errant son Julian from post-war Paris, to where he has decamped in an effort to escape parental control. Bea, a New York high school teacher, is an unlikely candidate for the role of rescuer - she and her brother have been estranged for the best part of twenty years. But she capitulates to his demands and sets off on a journey in which her presence will affect not only Julian, but his sister who also runs off to Paris, his girlfriend, a displaced Eastern European Jew, his mother (also escaping Marvin, but this time in a psychiatric facility) and Bea's own ex-husband Leo. Full review...

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

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Anders Eckman is dead. The news has been delivered in the form an aerogram – remember those blue paper-cum-envelope things we used to use to write to foreign pen-pals when the notion of befriending a person you'd never met in a foreign country still seemed exotic? Full review...

Other titles on the Longlist

Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg

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Rev Neil MacKenzie has been assigned to the Hebridian island of St Kilda. His mission is to bring the locals back to the Victorian idea of God and propriety. He and his pregnant wife Lizzie not only have to fight the elements but also centuries of superstition that have trickled into the islanders' Christian faith. Life is made harder for Neil by a secret guilt emanating from the death of a friend years ago. However, the going becomes harder still for Lizzie, isolated by an inability to speak the local language and the burgeoning fear engendered by Neil's behaviour and attitudes. Full review...

On The Floor by Aifric Campbell

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Geri Molloy, the central character in Aifric Campbell's On The Floor, may be earning a six figure salary working at a London investment bank just prior to the outbreak of the 1991 invasion of Kuwait, but she's seriously messed up. Drinking heavily, sleeping lightly and mourning the end of a relationship, she may be a mathematical genius with a direct line to a mysterious Hong Kong-based hedge fund manager with whom she trades, but her life is increasingly being controlled by other people. Full review...

The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen

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As the title suggests, the subject matter of Leah Hager Cohen's The Grief of Others is pretty grim stuff. The Ryrie family, living in the suburbs of New York, suffer the tragic loss of a baby just fifty seven hours after it is born. The book details how, one year later, the family are coping, or more accurately not coping. Full review...

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

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If you are in the mood for a deliciously scandalous Victorian page-turner, look no further than Emma Donoghue's The Sealed Letter. Set in 1864, it's based on the real life story of secrets and scandal surrounding Helen Codrington's divorce from her older husband, the rather dull Vice Admiral Codrington. There's added spice and intrigue provided by the unwitting involvement in events of Emily 'Fido' Faithfull, an early mover in the rights of women movement and that good old standard, the Victorian spinster. Full review...

The Flying Man by Roopa Farooki

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The Flying Man opens with the now elderly Maqil Karam writing a letter in his budget hotel in the South of France and facing death. His story takes in many locations, from his native Punjab, to New York, Cairo, London, Paris and Hong Kong. In each location, Maqil adopts a different name, including Mike Cram, Mehmet Kahn, Miguel Caram and Mikhail Lee. Often he acquires a different wife as well, Carine, Samira and Bernadette, although he doesn't go to the bother of divorcing them, he just simply walks away. He is a chancer and a gambler, avoiding attachment, responsibility and commitment throughout his life. Full review...

Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon

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West Virginia, 1970. We're at a rundown race track, of the dusty kind rundown horses and their rundown owner/trainers fetch up living in, with the occasional race to interrupt the boredom. Into things comes a young upstart hoping to surprise all with his four unknown quantities and make a packet before fleeing. His girlfriend is here too to help out, and naively eager for success and knowledge, but old hands like Medicine Ed have seen it all before. Also in the background are some small-time gangsters who are not too keen at for once not knowing who is doing what and how races are going to be run and won. Full review...

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

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The 'I' in the title of Jane Harris's Gillespie and I is Harriet Baxter. Now elderly and residing in London in 1933, she is finally telling her events of what happened in the early 1880s in Glasgow and her relationship with the Gillespie family. At the time, a spinster of independent means, she arrived in Glasgow to visit the International Exhibition and became a champion of and friend to a young Scottish painter, Ned Gillespie and his young family. We know from early on that tragedy struck the Gillespie family leading to Ned destroying his career, but Harriet wants to set the record straight with regard to her involvement in events. You may or may not believe her story. Full review...

The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay

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The Translation of the Bones revolves around four women, all connected with the Church of the Sacred Heart, Battersea. Mary Margaret, not the sharpest knife in the box, lives between two poles. When she isn't in church, she's caring for her flat-bound, morbidly obese mother, Fidelma. Alice Armitage, happily married to Larry, counts the days until their son will be home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The fourth woman, Stella, lives in a loveless marriage to MP Rufus and spends her time wishing the days away till she can collect her 10 year old son from boarding school. Father Diamond ministers to these women and the church community in general, but whilst worrying about his own adequacy and faith. However, their problems thus far are nothing compared to the devastation to come. Full review...

The Blue Book by A L Kennedy

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Despite not being 'quoits and gin slings and rubbers of bridge people' Elizabeth and Derek have embarked on a cruise. Derek is probably hoping to propose, but things do not go as planned. From the moment they encounter a stranger as they board the ship, the cruise proves to be revelationary for all concerned. Full review...

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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The Night Circus moves from town to town; appearing with no warning, no announcements. The attractions seem impossible – a carousel with breathing animals, handkerchiefs that turn into birds in front of the watchful eyes of the audience, doors that appear and disappear. In the middle of it all are Celia, the daughter of a famous illusionist, and Marco, the apprentice of a mysterious magician. From a young age the lovers have been destined to compete against each other using their unusual skills to win a prize that neither of them understands; and an end that will leave only one standing. Full review...

There but for the by Ali Smith

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If you are the type of reader who thinks that the mark of a good book is a plot, then step away from this book: you'll hate it. Ali Smith's intricately clever and often funny There but for the is very much at the literary end of the fiction spectrum. Not in terms of the language used though - Smith uses simple language, and a LOT of puns, and if anything, as the title suggests, she's more interested in the little words. It's playful and strangely affecting, while at the same time a little affected and often slightly irritatingly free flowing. Full review...

The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard

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The phone call came when she was 17. Her mother had died; the mother who had just been a flimsy memory of a touch, an impression and a faded photograph. Not satisfied with her father and grandma's biased recollections of 'the slut', she steals her step-mother's credit card and catches a flight to the funeral in Los Angeles. Unfortunately she arrives too late for the funeral, but finding the pink hotel her mother owned, she walks in on the wake. Rooms full of drunken, drug-sodden eyes stare at her whilst she makes her way through the building to what must have been her mother's bedroom. It's then she decides, as her step-father lies, semi-consciousness, on the bed. She takes some of her mother's clothes, shoes and letters. Once she has a chance to read them, she realises they're cards and love letters from men who may be able to build her a picture of the woman who gave her life but not a lot else. Full review...

Tides of War by Stella Tillyard

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When a scholarly historian turns a hand to fiction, complications can follow. Sometimes the result is a dry work of proud, thinly disguised research, where all discerned information is hurled at the page. Sometimes the demonstrated research levels are just right, but the characterisation is more reminiscent of cardboard cut outs than real people. However, if the historian is Stella Tillyard, cited as being phenomenally gifted by none other than Simon Schama, there's no need for concern. Tides of War is an engrossing, sweeping epic of a novel. Full review...

The Submission by Amy Waldman

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The front cover of the book that I received for review is subtle (as befitting the sensitive contents) and I can see the two twin towers (as was) depicted in grey in the title word submission. The back cover announces that this novel will be 'Published in time for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.' No pressure then. I open the book with a certain amount of trepidation, I have to admit and feel slightly as if I'm about to tread on (literary) eggshells. Heavens - what if I don't like the book? Full review...