Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

An error of judgement?

Yes, I completely agree with Valerie. The book promised much from its opening page - very well-written - and was a subject new to me. But I also found it let down by its characters, who seemed thin and implausible. It certainly had merits, but was ultimately unsatisfying for me personally. The Orange prize is clearly not the badge of quality we'd assumed from past winners! I looked at the shorlist for that year (2000) to see what the judges had to work with. There was nothing on the shortlist I'd read or wanted to, so I thought perhaps it was just a lean year. And then I saw the longlist - which included Girl with a pearl earring. Well! That year's judges were, I regret to suggest, misjudging at least 2 of the books on their original longlist.

Hey ho. Am now rather trepidatious about Bel Canto (another Orange winner) for December. So I suggest, after that, some non-Orange ones for a while. Amazing as many of them have been, the prize may not be quite the guarantee we'd hoped... Which, I guess, is fair enough. I listened, on Helen S's recommendation, to the Radio 4 thing on "matron lit", which was interesting - and an introduction to the brilliant "listen again" facility. Wow!

What I found especially stimulating was the panel's point that they didn't want books targeted too precisely at them because that was bad for the literature and bad for the audience. Discerning middle-aged women do not just want to read about middle-aged women facing middle-aged-women things, and books written specifically for such a market are likely to suffer as a result. I certainly feel the same about "reading group" targeted books, and tend to avoid being herded towards them. I want to be surprised, challenged and taken out of myself by books. I wonder if that is an inherent weakness of the Orange, or any, prize? They can - potentially - have such a clear view of what they stand for, that this can impede choosing the right winner. The Orange prize, for instance, is just open to women. Given that there are innumerable great books by women, I can cope with that, but not if it skews the judging process within the contenders. I'll be very interested if ANYONE preferred When I lived in modern times to Girl with a pearl earring!