Finalists revealed in 2019 Guardian 4th Estate short story prize

The award for fiction by new BAME writers has selected an all-female shortlist, with subjects ranging across genres, generations and continents

A summons for jury service forces a student to reassess her father’s nurturing skills and the values of the British society in which they live, while a friendship between two schoolgirls reveals the murky depths of Nigeria’s political history. Jenna Mahale’s Packed Lunch and Arenike Adebajo’s The Hyacinth Girls are among six stories in contention for the 2019 Guardian 4th Estate short story prize, now in its fourth year.

The all-female shortlist was selected from nearly 200 entries. Both Mahale and Adebajo hold a fine balance between the personal and the political, as does Jameen Kaur in Once We Were Warriors, which explores the pride and the pain of a Sikh family struggling to deal with a drug-addicted son.

The summer before our family fell apart, a legend started on our estate. I was ten at the time, and like every other ten year old, all I wanted to do was spend summer riding around on my bike at the park near our house. The climbing frames in the park were rusty and completely discoloured – unless whoever built them had intended brown to be the colour of childhood excitement – so it didn’t appeal to many parents as an after-school site. Also, I’m pretty sure that drug dealers used to hang out there but I never met any, so how much of a presence could they have been really, you know?

“Hooligans,” my mother would say, shaking her head as the plantain simmered in the frying pan. She was cooking three things at once, as per usual, and the plantain was always the loudest, though no match for her voice. “That’s what you want to be, abi Marcus? One of those ye-ye boys who hangs around this place, anyhow?”

The night before I was due to begin jury duty for the first time, I asked my dad to help me make a sandwich to take with me in the morning. We had argued about something recently, though I can’t remember what. It was impossible to keep track.

So when I asked him to help me make the sandwich, I was partly extending an olive branch, but partly just seeking a non-hostile interaction with my father.

1964: the year his marriage ended. The year his record stopped spinning, the needle in his groove lifted haltingly, and with a snap returned his tone arm to its cradle.

He had never wanted Marilyn. Not her prim-girl curls hot-combed into place on her head. Not her full-moon face so earnest that the sight of it irritated him. He hadn’t wanted to hear, I’m eight weeks gone! We have to marry, the corners of her mouth drooping. He hadn’t wanted the ceremony in Hackney Town Hall, his signature and hers in the register (but he had wanted the tonic mohair suit that made him look like a prince). He hadn’t wanted to live in rented rooms above a shop, with Marilyn asking, But where will the baby sleep? He hadn’t wanted any of this. He had come to England to find work, to do something with his life, to send photographs of his handsome Jamaican self back home to his Grandma, make her proud. Dear Granny, I hope that when these few lines reach you they will find you well …

‘Check the time and date properly on the ticket. I don’t want us getting a fine. I’m still paying off your brother’s overdraft,’ said Mum, as she pulled herself out of the car.

I was pleased they had come. When they called this morning, I thought they were calling to cancel. It being a Saturday and we all knew what usually kicked off on a Friday night. The police were well versed to the goings-on. But here they were. ‘This is a Bengali area – Tower Hamlets. You know, there were race riots here,’ I said.

When I met Ọláídé, I was on punishment duty. Nabilah’s doing. She was being particularly vindictive after we stopped speaking; becoming a prefect had gone to her head and she’d banished me to the field to cut weeds. The elephant grass was thick, itchy against my calves as I thwacked at stalks furiously. The cutlass was too blunt. Wet ground underfoot sucked at my trainers, spat mud up my legs and spattered the hem of my skirt. I straightened up, and peered at the school building behind me, stark white against clouds that threatened showers.

My classmates would be in the canteen by now, gossiping over fried rice, cool in the air conditioning. Taking a water-warped book and an apple from my satchel, I moved towards the shade of a flame tree.

We are always barefoot. I try to explain this to the police officers who arrive from the mainland.

We’re quieter this way and we need to be quiet when we’re stalking wild animals in the pine forest. Heaven walks in front because she’s the oldest, then me because I’m the youngest, then Bluebird at the rear. When I tell the black policeman we were hunting, Heaven shakes her head. She tells him we were at home. He looks at me, then her, then back at me. We’re sitting at the kitchen table, the soles of our feet muddy and bleeding. Well, says the officer, which one is it?

Continue reading…

Source link

Too busy? Distracted by your phone? How to love reading again

If reading has given way in your life to social media and other distractions, it can be hard to return to books – but these tips could help

In 2019, books are not just a last resort when the wifi is down. There are Instagram accounts, podcasts and even subscription boxes dedicated to reading. Chances are you’ve noticed your friends joining book clubs or posting beautifully lit bookstagram photos. Reading is – if it ever was – cool again.

Why? Perhaps for the same reason we’ve seen a surge in interest in hobbies such as jigsaws and cross-stitch: right now, our brains are saturated with digital information so it’s no surprise that we’re returning to unplugged hobbies. (But also going online to talk about them.)

Continue reading…

Source link

'My nerves are going fast': The Grapes of Wrath’s hard road to publication

Famously written in 100 days, John Steinbeck’s novel drew on years of other work and an agonised sense of duty to migrant farm workers

In March 1938, shortly before he began working on The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck wrote to his agent Elizabeth Otis to turn down a commission to write about migrant workers.

“The suffering is too great for me to cash in on it … it is the most heartbreaking thing in the world,” he wrote. “I break myself every time I go out because the argument that one person’s effort can’t really do anything doesn’t seem to apply when you come on a bunch of starving children and you have a little money. I can’t rationalise it for myself anyway. So don’t get me a job for a slick.”

Related: The 100 best novels: No 65 – The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)

Continue reading…

Source link

Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week?

Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

Welcome to this week’s blogpost. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.

Let’s start with a beautiful example of nominative determinism. Isabella Tree’s Wilding has affected Wellfitbooty “more than any book I’ve read in many years”:

It’s the story of a large farm in Sussex, England, which chose about 20 years ago to stop intensive farming and allow its lands to return to nature. It is now home to many threatened species, including the turtle dove and emperor butterfly; is home to all 5 species of British owl, 11 species of bats – and countless other insects and birds.

The author is one of the owners and the style is very readable and engaging – in fact I couldn’t put it down. The principles in the book can be applied to gardens of any size … I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Taking me back to my childhood when I borrowed this off my older brother and thought it was hilarious… It still stands up as a funny and enjoyable read. I’ve got the next couple of books in the series and will move onto them at some point.

For the 15th time I think. I call it my summer book. It never fails to delight me.

An incredible true-story romp about an English spy hired by Lenin’s Cheka to capture himself. Bailey a national treasure who deserves more recognition.

It’s a quiet, understated book, but every line is so well crafted and has such power. The lessons it teaches are, when you write them down, obvious. Everyone needs love, physical contact, to feel wanted and like their company is a pleasure, not a burden. And yet it’s so easy to forget that everybody else feels these things in the cavalcade and clamour of everyday life.. Elizabeth Taylor’s empathy, compassion and ability to portray the irreducible human core of her characters are utterly remarkable and I thoroughly recommend Mrs Palfrey … to anyone who hasn’t read it.

It’s a series of linked short stories about a high-school class in Texas, most of them troubled, and their teacher who is equally so, being confined in a sort of capitalist asylum where they give Wellness Points(TM) for fulfilling various therapeutic tasks. The construction is ingenious – you might say gimmicky, but I like that kind of thing: the title story, for example, consists of the essays written by the students on how their favourite mythical creature might solve some world problem (though a lot of the problems chosen, inevitably, are on a more personal scale). Funny and moving. I love the fact that the most feared teacher is referred to simply as “The Sir”.

I picked this up on a whim in Foyles because it was a beautiful, signed copy. It’s a fast-paced story of three Pakistani young people (one of them British-Pakistani), negotiating their culture, religion etc. One of them is gay and struggling to accept it, another is from a very privileged background, another is from a slum of Karachi. I can’t say too much about the plot without giving it away. I was absolutely loving this and was about to praise it to the skies but I wasn’t too sure about the ending. Still, very good.

Not quite as good as The Corrections and Freedom, but then that might only be because of how the account of Tom and Annabel’s relationship makes me feel. It’s awful – the feeling of dread I felt throughout that section, the nerves, the butterflies, the absurd behaviour. It’s been a long time since a book made me feel that way.

He is amazing at threading stories together. It doesn’t even matter that it’s occasionally haphazard – realising things in a non-linear order affects the way you realise them (and changes what you thought you knew). There have been two or three moments that made me sit up and exclaim “FUCK” or “OH MY GOD”.

Catch-22 attracts all the plaudits but this is well worth checking out as a study of the office environment and the feeling of ‘Is this all there is?’ It’s as sharp as TV’s Mad Men, which I suspect was influenced by it. I read about one third of the book in a single evening until the early hours. It’s that good.

Toni Morrison’s essays and criticism in the New York Times.

“Pour another gallon into the bucket of our national grief, David Berman is gone.” A moving tribute to the great man.

This American Life’s Ira Glass on narrative storytelling.

The novel F Scott Fitzgerald never wrote.

“Even though the letters were from David Foster Wallace, Susan says that the letters as physical objects didn’t seem particularly special at the beginning.” They seem pretty special now.

200 years of Herman Melville.

It is not reassuring to know that a Supreme Court judge was a Shakespeare conspiracy theorist. (Hat tip to Swelter.)

Continue reading…

Source link

Not the Booker prize 2019: three more finalists revealed

After the public vote last week, our judges and book champions reveal their choices to complete the six-novel field. Let’s start reading!

We now have a full size Not the Booker prize shortlist. Following on from the public vote, our judges from last year have selected Spring by Ali Smith, while our nominated book champions from Storyhouse library in Chester and Golden Hare Books in Edinburgh have chosen Flames by Robbie Arnott and Supper Club by Lara Williams respectively.

I’m eager to read these new additions – not least because I’ve read what our expert team of selectors have to say about them.

It interweaves the story of the McAllister family with a cast of characters including a grumpy coffin-maker, a fisherman who hunts with a seal, a river god, an alcoholic private detective and an increasingly unhinged wombat farmer. Each of these characters has a very different voice and style, and Arnott is unafraid to experiment with different narrative forms … the way these seemingly disparate characters interact with each other is deftly done and the ending had me in tears. This book has been nominated for Australian literary prizes but definitely deserves a wider readership in other countries.

Our selection caused a lot of discussion but, in the end, we went with the brilliant debut Supper Club. A powerfully visceral read, it tells the story of a secret society of women hungry for more than the awful men in their lives can ever give them. Determined to be more than their lot, they quaff, sing and dance until their bodies grow huge from their defiance. Truly brilliant dark fiction with a cover to die for. We also had the pleasure of hosting Lara for the launch for Supper Club, and can vouch she is as excellent a human as she is a writer. We’re really excited about this new talent and we hope she wins!

Spring is the third of Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, a highlight of each literary year with their rhythmic examination of contemporaneous events through wordplay, historical resonance, female artists who capture past decades (here Katherine Mansfield and the 1920s), Dickens, Charlie Chaplin and Shakespeare’s late romances (here Pericles). [Read his full review on Goodreads here.]

Spring is, to me, a profoundly affecting book: about ways of seeing, ways of knowing, ways of understanding, ways of loving. The book’s coincidences, in the words of one of the characters in the book, are of the kind “that sends electricity through the truths of our lives.”

Spring is a timely and powerful novel which touches on the crises of our contemporary world while maintaining a strong core of humanity and a dash of humour.

12. Three readers will be selected by the Guardian to form a panel of judges from those readers who have made substantial contributions to the discussion of the shortlisted books. The process by which these readers are chosen is also left studiously vague and at the Guardian’s discretion. These judges undertake to read at least three of the six-book shortlist before the final judging meeting.

Continue reading…

Source link

Why are there so many new books about time-travelling lesbians?

At a time when historical amnesia is making itself widely felt, these stories show how readily the past can be rewritten

Time-travel stories sit at a nexus of the literal and figurative. All of us are travelling through time – at the ambling pace of a human life, moving in a direction we think of as forward, with the future ahead and the past behind. But memory is a form of time travel, the study of history is an attempt at building time machines, and past and future are entangled.

In 2016, I sat down with my co-author Max Gladstone to write our novel This Is How You Lose the Time War, which follows two time-travelling female spies as they fall in love. That same year was also when I first heard people speaking earnestly and frequently about feeling as if they were in the wrong timeline, as the Brexit referendum results rolled in and Donald Trump was elected US president. But our book did not feel like it was specifically about 2016; as we finished and moved on to other projects, I remember being troubled that it would feel inadequate to the moment, that when the world needed rallying cries against fascism and white supremacy, we’d given it a time-crossed love story.

Every time we affirm that queer people have always existed and often led happy lives, we change not the past but history

Continue reading…

Source link

Stephen King has written another new ending to The Stand – but do we need it?

King has already written two endings for his masterpiece and now he’s found a third coda for the TV adaptation. As a fan, I’m wary

  • Spoiler warning for two of The Stand’s three endings

Stephen King fans, gather ye here: our lord and master has written a new ending to The Stand, his story of a post-apocalyptic world decimated by a superflu that he has called a “long tale of dark Christianity”.

King wrote the “new coda that won’t be found in the book” for the forthcoming TV adaptation starring James Marsden and Amber Heard; CBS’s Julie McNamara told Deadline that “for fans of the book who have wondered what became of the survivors of The Stand, this episode will contain a story that takes us beyond the book to answer those questions.”

“Do you think … do you think people ever learn anything?” She opened her mouth to speak, hesitated, fell silent. The kerosene lamp flickered. Her eyes seemed very blue. “I don’t know,” she said at last. She seemed unpleased with her answer; she struggled to say something more; to illuminate her first response; and could only say it again: “I don’t know.”

Continue reading…

Source link

Not the Booker prize 2019: the first three books on our shortlist are …

After a lively week of voting, three novels have made it to the final stage – where your opinions will remain crucial

The votes have been cast. They have been counted. We have whittled down our very long longlist and now have a very short shortlist of three books:

The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas by Daniel James (Dead Ink Books)
Please Read This Leaflet Carefully by Karen Havelin (Dead Ink Books)
Skin by Liam Brown (Legend)

12. Three readers will be selected by the Guardian to form a panel of judges from those readers who have made substantial contributions to the discussion of the shortlisted books. The process by which these readers are chosen is also left studiously vague and at the Guardian’s discretion. These judges undertake to read at least three of the six-book shortlist before the final judging meeting.

Continue reading…

Source link

The Grapes of Wrath is our reading group book for August

John Steinbeck’s novel about a family’s desperate journey across the US is our migration-themed reading this month

John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath has come out of the hat and will be the subject of August’s reading group.

I have to admit that this safely established novel by a great American writer isn’t the first thing that came to my mind for our theme of migration. But the more I consider it, the more sense it makes. It’s clear that migration figures heavily in Steinbeck’s story, about the Joad family’s desperate exodus from the dust bowl in Oklahoma and their long haul to California looking for work and dignity. It was also a popular choice, receiving many nominations, and is of course a hugely important novel.

He is a conscientious realist; and if at times, after the fashion of the modish novelist, he would seem to dwell unduly on the description of the operation of the ordinary bodily functions, with him this preoccupation is seldom offensive because his presentation of the lives of these primitive people is in all respects to authentic. This is a terrible and an indignant book; yet it is not without passages of lyrical beauty, and the ultimate impression conveyed is that of the dignity of the human spirit under the stress of the most desperate conditions.

Continue reading…

Source link

Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week?

Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

Welcome to this week’s blogpost. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.

“It’s Mark Twain these days,” says voicefrombelgrade, “I’m rereading his short story collection”:

Every time I read The Experience Of The McWilliamses With Membranous Croup, Extracts from Adam’s Diary, Eve’s Diary, The Stolen White Elephant… I just love them. Also, I pilfered Tom Sawyer from my late father’s library (all right, I’ll take it back, my mom won’t even know that I took it…) – it’s a masterful Serbian translation from the 1949 (the author is Stanislav Vinaver). It’s relatively rare to find a translation that’s as good as the original, but this one really is, and I just have to revisit it every so often.

Warm, funny, breezily paced (as always with him) and a few interesting thoughts on the nature of sleep. Basically, if you like Coe, you’ll probably enjoy it. I do and I am.

As a cartographer by training and a sometime graphic artist by trade, I just loved almost every bit of this beautifully designed book … a minor quibble with the occasional use of yellow text on white pages, but the typography is exquisite, the whole conceit just wonderful.

Michael, a retired headmaster grieving for his wife, the victim of a terrorist attack, asks himself the question of who is really responsible for what happened, not the bombers themselves, not the bomb makers, but the ‘bomb-triggerers’ – the politician enriching himself from his time in office. There’s much more to this story than vengeance though; the narration soon reveals darker aspects of Michael’s character as he recalls his career. Good’s skill is in the narrator considering himself as a realist struggling with difficult pupils, but coming over to the reader as anything but that, and a cruel authoritarian.

As an ex-teacher of 31 years, this is an admirably accurate portrayal of some headteacher’s traits I have seen all too frequently.

Such a rich historical novel in which I, like one of the main protagonists Tao Chi’en, learned lots. I loved the lyrical evocative prose which stimulated all my senses. One of those books that makes you feel you are on a delightful journey with the characters and evokes laughter and sadness. And it stays with you in the intervals between when you put it down and pick it up again. I will definitely be reading more Allende.

A satirical mock-autobiography, published anonymously by Sir Henry Howarth Bashford in 1924. Anthony Burgess singled it out as one of the 20th century’s funniest books, but I would say that it’s consistently amusing, rather than LOL funny. Still, that’s rare enough to be noteworthy. Carp is possessed of a Pooterishly inflated sense of his own (and his father’s) importance, and almost total blindness to his own limitations and motivations. He’s a hilariously sanctimonious self-professed Christian (or “Xtian”), who frequently goes out into the streets to lecture smokers, drinkers and music hall artistes on the evils of their ways, but who seems hypocritically blind to his own acts of bullying, blackmail, and greed. Like a monstrous cross between Pooter and Ignatius J Reilly, his voice is impressively realised, and the irony well sustained. I’m not sure how much real satirical bite it had at the time – it seems rather more 1890s than 1920s in many ways, and the joke does wear a little thin long before he gets his comeuppance, but it’s very well-written (in a pretentiously archaic register) and generally good fun.

A 200-page account detailing the writer’s reflections, thoughts and wanderings during his visit to Armenia at the twilight of his life. Justification for the journey is provided by the task of editing a Russian translation of a local Armenian novel though the trip allows Grossman to explore and delve far more deeply into this marginalised and often overlooked country.

Faith, patriotism, oppression, comradeship and other such topics are beautifully mused upon in this life-affirming gem of a book.

What moves Nina Stibbe most in a book? “Dogs.”

“This is an ill-compounded mixture of romance and matter-of-fact.” Not all early reviewers of Moby Dick were impressed.

Was John Steinbeck a spy?

Olga Tokarczuk speaks out on nationalism.

An inter­view with Ann Gold­stein on trans­lat­ing Pri­mo Lev­i’s work. (Hat tip to Carmen212.)

Maurice Sendak at the opera.

Continue reading…

Source link