Showing posts with label Andrew Miller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Andrew Miller. Show all posts

Monday, 31 December 2012

My favourite novels of 2012

It’s New Year’s Eve, so what better time to look back over a year of brilliant reads? I love reading about other people’s favourite books of the year, so as 2012 draws to a wet and windy close, here is my list.

Australian ML Stedman’s first book is the moving account of a young lighthouse keeper and his wife in the 1920s. The couple live on a remote island off the coast of Western Australia, barely seeing anyone from one month to the next. Then one morning a boat washes up on the shore, with a dead man and a crying baby inside. As I wrote in the Daily Express earlier this year: “Keep a box of tissues at the ready – Stedman’s book is a real tearjerker.”

I was lucky enough to hear Rachel Joyce speak about her work and cherish her description of writing as “like having knitting in my head.” Her debut novel is the touching, uplifting story of a man in his sixties who leaves home one morning to post a letter to Queenie Hennessy, a friend he hasn't seen for 20 years. She's dying, and on the spur of the moment he resolves to walk from one end of the country to the other to see her. He has no walking boots, no map, no compass and no mobile phone, but he’s adamant that he’s going to keep on walking till he gets there.

Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French
As the years go by, I like crime novels and thrillers more and more. I’m a big fan of Ian Rankin but my favourite crime novel of the year was Tuesday’s Gone. The second of the husband and wife writing duo’s series about psychotherapist Frieda Klein was even better than the first. As I wrote on House With No Name: “I’m very squeamish and the opening scene, where a social worker discovers a rotting, naked corpse in a delapidated Deptford flat, stopped me in my tracks. But I was so desperate to discover who he was and why on earth the confused woman living there kept trying to serve him afternoon tea that even if I’d wanted to, I simply couldn’t stop reading.”

Alys, Always by Harriet Lane
Harriet Lane writes beautifully and her story of a lonely, 30-something newspaper sub who witnesses a woman’s death in a car crash was one of my favourite reads. When I chose it for one of my Friday book reviews I called it a subtle, beautifully observed and exquisitely written novel – the sort of book you read in one beguiling go.” And I can’t say better than that.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
It’s very special when you love a book and then get the chance to interview its author. And thanks to Headline’s Sam Eades, I interviewed Eowyn Ivey for House With No Name this year. Her first novel, the tale of a middle-aged couple who move to the wilds of Alaska to start a new life, is, as I said at the time, “a touching and truly exceptional portrayal of heartbreak and hope.”

Pure by Andrew Miller
One of my most memorable evenings of 2012 came way back in January when I was invited to the 2011 Costa Book Awards party. I’d been lucky enough to be on the judging panel for the first novel of the year category (a prize awarded to Christie Watson for the compelling Tiny Sunbirds Far Away) and as a result got an invitation to the glittering awards ceremony at Quaglino’s. The overall prize went to Andrew Miller for Pure, his novel set in a Paris cemetery four years before the start of the French Revolution. I later reviewed it for the Daily Express and wrote: “You can almost smell the cemetery’s stifling odour, see the noisy, turbulent streets and sense Baratte’s joy when he unexpectedly finds love in the midst of all the horror.”

2013 promises a host of eagerly anticipated novels, including Instructions for a Heatwave (February) by Maggie O’Farrell, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (March), the latest in Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones saga and William Boyd’s new James Bond novel.

So on that happy note, thank you so much for reading House With No Name over the past year. I hope you have a cracking New Year’s Eve and a brilliant 2013.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Friday book review - The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The two books that have made the biggest impression on me so far this year are the Costa prizewinning Pure, by Andrew Miller, and Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child.

Coincidentally, I read The Snow Child at the end of January, when most of the UK was blanketed in snow. As I watched snowflakes drift gently past my Oxford window the view looked tame in comparison to the desolate Alaskan landscape where Ivey’s novel is set.

Alaskan born and bred, she knows the place like the back of her hand and excels at describing a magical world where wild animals appear out of hidden crevasses, waterfalls of ice cascade off the mountainside and the snow is so deep that you can get lost just a few minutes from home.

Ivey’s first novel is set in the 1920s and tells the story of Jack and Mabel, a middle-aged couple who move to the wilds of Alaska to start a new life.

They expect “a land of milk and honey” but are in for a rude awakening. Winters are harsh and food is scarce. Jack finds working on the land backbreaking, while Mabel experiences acute loneliness and despair. To add to their plight, they’re both struggling  to cope with the loss of their only child, who was stillborn ten years earlier.

But one winter’s night, their mood lifts when they make a little girl out of snow, complete with red scarf and mittens. The next morning the snow child has completely vanished. But all of a sudden, Jack glimpses a small blonde figure dashing through the trees, red scarf at her neck.

As the child comes and goes as she pleases, often with a red fox at her heels, the couple start to love her as their own daughter. But is the little girl real or a figment of their imagination? Cooped up in their remote homestead, could their minds be playing tricks on them?

Ivey was inspired to write The Snow Child after discovering an old Russian folk tale about a couple who see the little snow girl they sculpt turn into a real-life child. The result is a touching and truly exceptional portrayal of heartbreak and hope.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Headline Review, £14.99)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Andrew Miller wins 2011 Costa Book of the Year

A star-studded party, buckets of champagne and some of the most talented writers in the business vying for the prestigious Costa book of the year prize.

The presentation ceremony for the 2011 Costa Book Awards was never going to be any old bash. Held at Quaglino’s, the chic London restaurant, hosted by TV presenter Penny Smith (looking resplendent in a long silver dress) and with guests including Maureen Lipman, Esther Rantzen, Natasha Kaplinsky, Jacqueline Wilson, Simon Mayo and Fiona Philips, the party totally lived up to expectations. Even better, Andrew Miller’s brilliant novel, Pure, scooped the top award.

When I reviewed the five Costa category winners (novel, first novel, biography, poetry and children’s book) for a newspaper last week I wrote: “If it was down to me, I’d be hard-pressed to choose between Andrew Miller’s novel and Matthew Hollis’s biography of Edward Thomas – two captivating books that both deserve a wider audience.”

The judges, who included comedian Hugh Dennis, actress Dervla Kirwan and broadcaster Mary Nightingale, clearly thought the same.

Announcing the winner, chair of the judges Geordie Greig admitted that the 90-minute judging session that afternoon had been a “tussle” between two books - Miller’s Pure and Hollis’s Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas. “There was quite bitter dissent and argument to find the winner,” he said. “The debate was prolonged with passionate views over two books.”

But in the end Pure triumphed and a slightly stunned-looking Miller stepped on stage to accept his prize – a £30,000 cheque to add to the £5,000 Costa novel prize he’d already won. “You spend three years in a room on your own,” he said, “and by the time you give a book to your publisher you never really know what it is any more.”

Andrew Miller caused a stir earlier in the year when he beat Booker prizewinner Julian Barnes to take the Costa novel prize. But his book is one that stays in your head long after you’ve finished reading. Stylish, compelling and beautifully written, it’s the story of an 18th century engineer charged with the “delicate and gross” task of demolishing an ancient, crumbling cemetery in the heart of Paris.  

Even though Matthew Hollis didn’t take the overall prize, his biography is one of this year’s must-reads. Engrossing and impeccably researched, it's the account of the five years leading up to Edward Thomas’s death at the war front in 1917 – including his inspirational friendship with American poet Robert Frost, his tricky marriage and his move (encouraged by Frost) from writing prose to poetry.

The other three category winners are remarkable books too. I was one of the judges for the Costa first novel award and out of 87 contenders we chose the gripping Tiny Sunbirds Far Away. Written by paediatric nurse Christie Watson, it’s the tale of Blessing, a 12-year-old Nigerian girl who swaps a privileged upbringing in Lagos for an impoverished life in the Niger Delta following the break-up of her parents’ marriage. At times hilarious, it's an uplifting and moving novel from a writer to watch.

The winner of the Costa children’s book prize was Moira Young’s stunning Blood Red Road, which I reviewed on the blog a couple of weeks back, while the poetry prizewinner was poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy for The Bees, a vibrant collection of love poems, political poems and the moving Last Post, written for the last surviving soldiers to fight in the 1914-1918 war.

PS. As if all this wasn’t exciting enough, Costa managing director John Derkach announced at the party that the the Costa Book Awards are to introduce a new short story award (it won’t be judged alongside the five other category winners.) More details will follow later in the year. 

PPS. Andrew Miller and Christie Watson are both University of East Anglia creative writing graduates – proof once again that creative writing courses really do work! 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...