Thursday 19 March 2015

A Clarke 2015 shortlist and a few thoughts on Bête.

The Clarke Award 2015

Some rich, vital novels are definitely going to miss out on any shortlist action this year. I’m still working my way through all the contenders but, aware that the shortlist may be out anytime soon, mine would be:

  • Bête – Adam Roberts
  • A Man Lies Dreaming – Lavie Tidhar
  • The Race - Nina Allan
  • Station Eleven – Emily Mandel
  • Europe in Autumn – Dave Hutchinson
  • The Girl in the Road – Monica Byrne

These are the books I most want to read again. I loved the first three A LOT and admire the others a great deal. I’m curious to see how they’ll all hold up to a second reading.  Choosing between Hutchinson,  Jeff Vandermeer and Claire North was the hardest bit.

I can’t help worrying that my list is a bit conservative? I tend to read more ‘literary fiction’ throughout the rest of the year so one of the targets I’m setting myself is to read more sci-fi and fantasy from around the world.
Bȇte cover
A few thoughts on Bête

Reading The Buried Giant and Bête in quick succession was fascinating. I found The Buried Giant very moving but , well, problematic. There’s the sense throughout that Ishiguro is writing about something ELSE – that it falls away from metaphor and symbolism into allegory. I also get the sense that he’s much better at tapping into emotion and morality than he is the bigger analysis of history and politics.  Yet how then is it so moving? What subtle mastery of technique turned me into a jabbering wreck at the end? And I’m not at all sure my criticisms are valid anyway.

Conversely, a Robert’s novel – in spite of all the references and the layers of intertextuality, it’s debates with matters philosophical, political and all things science-fictiony, AND it’s all round smarts – feels completely about itself. Thus Ishiguro’s subtlety has an obviousness about it that verges on annoying yet is, nevertheless, powerful, whilst Roberts' obviousness (ness?) is far more subtle, rich and pleasurably difficult.

Does that even make sense? Maybe not.

Bête is full to bursting with ideas and fantastic writing. I wanted to read bits aloud to people – not just the puns, the funny bits or the philosophical bits but the descriptions of landscape too. And Graham is a fantastic creation. It felt throughout that the text wanted to draw me into conversations and debates, engage with Graham’s ideas and assertions. As always I can’t begin to grasp the complexity of the text – to make a coherent sense of everything that is going on - but that is what makes rereading Roberts so pleasurable.  The other great quality of Bête is its depth of feeling and generous humanity. That might seem like a weird thing to say for a novel that is often so dark and perhaps suspicious of humankind’s future prospects but yes, Bête is profound and moving too.
Paul Kincaid and Jonathan McCalmont have both addressed the difficulties of getting to grips with Adam Roberts’ novels (here and here) and I’m hoping Glyphi’s collection of Critical Essays (ed. Christos Callow Jr. and Anna McFarlane) is released soon.  Andy Sawyer’s Strange Horizons review of Bête is the best I’ve read.

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