Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

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STAR RATING: ☆ 

BLURB: When we first meet U., our narrator, he is waiting out a delay in the Turin airport. Clicking through corridors of trivia on his laptop he stumbles on information about the Shroud of Turin–and is struck by the degree to which our access to the truth is always mediated by a set of veils or screens, with any world built on those truths inherently unstable. A “corporate ethnographer,” U. is tasked with writing the “Great Report,” an ell-encompassing document that would sum up our era. Yet at every turn, he feels himself overwhelmed by the ubiquity of data, lost in buffer zones, wandering through crowds of apparitions. (Goodreads.com)

PAGE COUNT: Approx 180.

The one thing going through my mind when reading Satin Island was how in the world it got nominated for the Man Booker award, and that I’d really like to speak to the people who gave it such high praise. I was reading a review and someone described this book as ‘Flashes of brilliance amid interminable shite.’ which I think sums it up.

This book has no plot, no theme, and no character development. It alienates the reader by talking about topics that are completely inaccessible to the average reader, for example long winded passages based around anthropological terms and examples which made absolutely no sense to me, and infuriated me. It is pretentious drivel and is exactly the kind of book I detest, expecting the reader to just follow along and keep track of all its obscure references. It consists of mini chapters within chapters (e.g. chapter 1.1 etc.), which I actually like as a structure, but the lack of progression and development of the protagonist made it feel a lot longer than it’s short 180 pages. (one of the only things I can commend it on)

U (the main character..yes that’s his name) spends long sections talking about things and imagining situations written with such complexity that it made me feel stupid. I can’t shake the feeling that in disliking this book, I am less intelligent than those who described it as one of the ‘great English novels’, as if my primitive mind needs a plot or dramatic twist and turn to keep me entertained. I feel like I’ve missed something essential which made this book so amazing and it really infuriates me! McCarthy is clearly a talented novelist, I just wish I was able to follow along and get more pleasure out of reading his work.

I understand that this book is more than about plot, that McCarthy is trying to unpick the world in which U lives in, through the eyes of the anthropologist living in a corporate world. I also understand that not all of the greatest books hand you everything on a plate, but I was just naturally drawn to the intermittent passages in which U’s personal life and friends were explored, rather than long descriptions of his daydreams and a more than normal interest in oil spills. At times, it seemed that we would be given something more, in which it seemed something big was about to happen, which failed to.

 

The Man Booker Prize 2015…

For Christmas, I was gifted the ENTIRE shortlist of the books on the Man Booker Prize of 2015 shortlist!! When I say entire, I mean 6 books, but 6 is a lot, and at least 3 of them are 600+ pages. So, for the next couple of months I will be exclusively reviewing these 6 books. Even if they don’t all appeal to me, if A Little Life was anything to go by, then I am extremely excited and will read every one.

Here are the 6 books in the order I am reading them in, and I will add in the review once I’ve read them! (and they’ll have the cute little Man Booker Logo so you know when I’ve finally stopped reading them!)

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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STAR RATING: ★★★★★★

BLURB: When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

PAGE COUNT: Approx 720.

Having just finished this book, I don’t know what to do with myself. It completely consumed me and has left me emotionally changed. The journey I went on with Yanagihara’s characters is unlike any I’ve been on in a book before. I can’t move on with my life and will certainly not be forgetting about it any time soon.

Until now I thought I had read good novels. A Little Life has made me realise that I was very wrong. Never once feeling like I wanted it to end (despite its length) proved this to me, and honestly, this book has restored my faith in good fiction. A book has never made me feel the extreme range of emotion this one has, it pushed me up to the barrier of a reader-writer relationship and I was in this new world in which I just had to keep reading it no matter what, or no matter how much pain it caused me. I stayed up until crazy hours of the morning, I cried at it, I screamed and sobbed at it, in parts I smiled so much my face hurt.

Yanagihara is a magical writer, and gets so deep into the minds and lives of her characters that I feel like I know them, and I am in a kind of grieving period after finishing the book as they are no longer in my life. Although the overarching feeling is pain and sadness, I think it’s what makes it so magical. It makes you feel deep and raw emotion for people you’ve never even laid eyes on, people that don’t even exist!

However, before you read this book, please be warned that it deals with some seriously heavy issues. Although it explores the depth of human friendship and love in such a way that brought me deep joy, its fundamental plot is based around issues such as self-harm (a LOT of it), child sex abuse, drug related issues and suicide. Many critics feel that the graphic descriptions of self harm got too much, and although I think it should have been the winner, is maybe why it stayed on the shortlist for the Man Booker prize. Admittedly, there were times when it got too intense and I had to take a break, but I don’t think it would have been half as good if it didn’t push you to the extreme, which it successfully does.

Despite it being fundamentally and extremely depressing, this book is an epic. It will make you feel things you didn’t know books could make you feel and I am utterly thankful that it came into my life.