Monday, 5 January 2015

Costa Thoughts

Warmest congratulations to Emma Healey on winning the Costa First Novel Award.

If someone had told me a year ago that A Song for Issy Bradley would be shortlisted for the award I wouldn't have believed them. I still feel excited about it - in fact, here's a picture of me feeling excited about it (and insisting that everyone else in the vicinity also be excited about it). 

I wasn't sure whether reading the other novels on the shortlist was a masochistic thing to do, but when I received them - a gift of two halves; 2 novels for my birthday and 2 for Christmas (and yes, that means that Neil actually gifted me me a copy of my own novel - another classic present to add to the list) - it seemed silly not to enjoy them (or, at least, to enjoy the 3 novels I didn't write), especially as this may well be the only time I ever find myself on a prize shortlist.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
Elizabeth is Missing is a heart-breaking, intelligent novel. Maud is forgetting things - cups of tea, the way to the shops, her daughter's face - but she is certain of something: her friend Elizabeth is missing. Maud's world is meticulously drawn, meaning that as her narration becomes less reliable, the reader has to fill in the gaps. And these gaps are achingly sad. The final chapters, in particular, are beautifully drawn and, although the reader is incredibly moved by Maud's deteriorating condition and the long-anticipated solving of the mystery, Healey's prose remains skillfully understated and unsentimental. A cracking read. 

Academy Street by Mary Costello
Mary Costello's debut reminds me of both Anne Enright's The Gathering and Tessa Hadley's Clever Girl. The novel begins with a bereavement and takes the form of a series of beautifully observed, deceptively quiet vignettes as it follows the course of Tess Lohan's life I was aware of Costello's earlier collection of short stories China Factory (which will feature on Radio 4 Extra, 12th - 16th January) and so it came as no surprise to find that many chapters of Academy Street were reminiscent of the measured, restrained stories I admire in The New Yorker - Costello's eye for detail and illuminating prose make this an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. 

Chop Chop by Simon Wroe
I knew I'd love this book by page 2. Told in Monocle's witty, knowing, voice and edited by 'Racist Dave' (who put a brick through the Salford branch of Blacks 'before he realised it was a camping store') and ape-loving trouble-maker Ramilov, Chop Chop is chock-full of visceral descriptions and gorgeous, biting characterisation. It took me a while to get through it because I kept pausing to read funny bits aloud to members of my family. But this novel is not just an entertaining romp; it's a story about loss and revenge, family and belonging, and, in addition to the chaos and hilarity, readers will be sure to find a meaty pleasure in the language itself. 

So, how do I feel having read these 3 novels? 

Happy. Not only did I enjoy each writer's work, I feel tremendously pleased and flattered to have been included on the same shortlist as them, and I'll be looking out for their next books.

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