Friday, January 28, 2011

Battle of the Prizes - British Version: Wrap-Up

I finally finished this challenge, with only a few days to spare. Thank goodness for Rose City Reader's creative pairing that (very important for the challenge-addicted) doesn't end on December 31.

I read all three of my chosen books and am now prepared--on the basis of that very small sample--to discuss which prize is superior. The challenge itself asks interesting questions, such as: Does one prize have higher standards than the other? Pick better winners? Provide more reading entertainment or educational value? I'm going to stick with the second question here, even though "better" is a dangerous term.

Personality by Andrew O'Hagan won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. The list of past JTB winners didn't knock me out, and I chose this book almost blindly, based on a couple of favorable reviews. What I found was a story so slight that it was inconsequential. For some unknown reason I kept picturing Marie Osmond while I was reading it, all 1980's big hair and shoulder pads. That didn't help, I'm afraid. I put more details into my review, if you care to know more. Someone may love this book. It just isn't going to be me.

Staying On by Paul Scott represented the Man Booker Prize, and did a nice job of it, too. Although I felt this book had its flaws (per my review), it had numerous strong points, not the least of which was winning me over from a position of mild dislike for the characters to neutrality and then fond indulgence and empathy. Not bad. I also posted another review at The Complete Booker and Matthew, a colleague there, encouraged me to judge the book in its proper context as part of a series that is considered rather a tour de force. So I'm acknowledging a limited viewpoint here, having not read the others.

Then came the clear winner, Graham Swift's Last Orders, which captured both prizes and also my vote. As I said in my reviews (here and here), I wasn't expecting much, but this book won me over, slowly but surely. It's not earthshattering, but it provides the flickers of insight that are all we can really hope to get out of life. And it delivers while using a piecemeal technique, incorporating the viewpoints of the various characters, that I heartily dislike but that totally worked. Both prize committees chose well in choosing this one.

And so another challenge comes to completion, and the bulldog takes Best in Show (the whole bulldog/Scottie thing just dawned on me--I'm a little slow on the uptake, aren't I?). Thanks, Rose City, for hosting! I'll be signing on again when the time comes.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for participating! The wrap up post for the challenge is here.

    I added all three of your reviews and am just about to read them all myself. Although the completist in me is already gritting my teeth to learn that Staying On is part of a series. I feel a compulsion to read them all in order to get context!

    I'll have the 2011 challenge posts up tomorrow.


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