Colm Toibin lifts the £30,000 Costa Prize…

Colm Toibin’s novel Brooklyn has won the Costa prize... Eileen Battersby reports:

Tóibín, who receives £30,000 (€33,491), defeated the 2009 Man Booker winner Hilary Mantel and her popular and populist novel Wolf Hall . He has also emulated his countryman Sebastian Barry, who won last year en route to winning the overall Costa Book of the Year. The result confirms a pattern by which Costa, formerly the Whitbread, revises the Booker.

Surprisingly, however, the most contentious Booker shortlist omission, William Trevor’s Love and Summer , did not featured on the Costa shortlist.

Liam McIlvanney in the London Review of Books has a decent synopsis of the plot. You can pick up both the Toibin and the Trevor books from the literature section Slugger’s growing bookshop at Amazon… What was your best read of the year?

  • Rory Carr

    Well congratulations to Colm Tóibín and, since I will not be adding to his royalty cheque by buying this novel as I am simply deterred by the prissiness of his Jamesian prose, he is welcome to the money.

    My best reads:

    Me Cheeta. the Autobiography by James Lever.

    The autobiography (yes! you got that right) of Tarzan’s (or Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan’s) best supporting actor, the hard drinking, chain smoking chimpanzee, Cheeta. Hollywood exposed as never before (and also John Banville’s choice on SKy Arts with Mariella).

    American Scoundrel by Thomas Keneally

    Poltics, murder and Thomas Meagher in Civil War USA.

    The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

    Prix Goncourt winning fictional memoir of former SS intelligence officer, Dr Max Aue. Chilling, be careful to keep your soul from the dark if you attempt this one.

    Vietnam: A History – The First Complete Account of Vietnam at War by Stanley Karnow.

    All that it promises to be.

    Francis Wheen’s, Karl Marx reminds us what a giant and what a lovable giant old Moor was. Tender, true and touching and a nice little introduction to what Marx really held for the beginner, for those who constantly get it wrong and might even help sort out a muddle-headed Trot or two (though I won’t be taking any bets on the last).

    And finally a rereading of George Pelicanos’s The Night Gardner. He just gets better and better and is the true heir to Dashiel Hammett. I felt that his main rival in this field, Dennis Lehane retreated backwards into late 19th/early 20th century realism with his great blockbuster of an Irish cop-family saga which owed much to James T Farrell’s Studs Lonigan. I much prefer his earlier work which reached its apex with Mystic River. But… the critics disagree, they loved it and you might well too. It’s just that I am a bit of a noir purist (can there be such an animal?) and had high hopes for Lehane. Let’s hope he gets down and dirty and back down those mean Boston streets this year.

  • Well-deserved, too. They’ve imported the atmospheric US dust-jacket, unlike the job-of-work Fourth Estate did on the UK edition of O’Neill’s Netherland a year or so back. My only qualification is that the Lady in my Life is hogging Wolf Hall, so comparisons are odious.

    Best read of the last year? Instant reaction says the last of Richard J Evans’s histories of Nazi Germany: The Third Reich in Power, 1933-1939: that kept me occupied [sic] for several days, but late in the year.

    Easy reads? Was I the only person on the planet to get choked off in the first paragraph or so of The Lost Symbol? It’s obviously going to be a vehicle for Tom Hanks, so perhaps I’ll wait around and miss out on the movie well.

    On the other hand, I demolished all three of Michael Connelly’s offerings at a sitting. The Scarecrow was in second place; but, despite Dewi putting a down on it, Nine Dragons was … OKish. What really staggers me is that Amazon are presently bashing it out for £7 (OK, plus postage, if it’s a single order): why wait for the paperback at £6.99 or whatever? Which leaves The Brass Verdict as the best-in-show. Err … were they all this last year? If so, I wish I had Connelly’s pension pot.

    One that really got me was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, the posthumous mystery/romance by Mary Ann Shaffer and another 2008 hangover — surely an A-level text in the making. For local value, Mystery Man by the Bateman formerly forenamed Colin — bit of image-building going on there. Both of those were paperbacks: C J Sansom’s latest “Shardrake”, Revelation, also is by now, as (I think) is Ian Rankin’s Doors Open.

    It was only mid-year I got to Stieg Larsson, largely because of a phobia about ‘teccies in translation. Which reminds me to have another go at Henning Mankell’s Wallanders. After the first two Larssons (both in PB) I had a prior order in pronto for the third in hard-back. Everything then went on hold for a couple of days. Which reminds me that, in the Spring, there was the annual Donna Leon/Brunetti, About Face, only a smidgeon below the excellence of last year’s The Girl of His Dreams.

  • Eleanor Bull

    Christ! I’ve read the Amazon review and am immediately reminded of John Lennon’s comment (regarding McCartney’s ‘novelistic’ songs like ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Paperback Writer’) that… ‘I don’t give a f*** about these dreary made up people and their dreary lives. I wanna write about me, because I know about me’.

    On that basis, Cheeta should have got the £30k.

  • feismother

    I think Eileen Battersby has got that wrong. Toibín has won the Novel category which bags him £5000. He’s now up against the winners in the other categories: First Novel, Poetry, Biography and Children’s Book. If he wins that he gets another £25,000 giving him 30K in total.

  • feismother @ 10:43 PM:

    Fair enough. Tóibín’s book is a cut above, though.

    To stretch the point, I laid hold of his wee monograph, Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush, earlier in the year. Not only, as a study, is it highly illuminating, but also in view of the prices copies seem to go for on the second-hand market, I made a small killing.

    There’s gold in them thar book-stacks! And not just for prize-winners.

  • Dewi

    Gone back a bit me….to 1136 with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the King of Britain -don’t think Amazon are doing the same deal now but I got it bundled with Gildas – On the Ruin of Britain and Nennius – History of the Britons. All super yarns.

    Two factual from Wales – Geraint Talfan Davies – At Arm’s length and the late Patrick Hannan – a Useful Fiction.

    (Also managed to pick up Kenneth Jackson’s Language and history in early Britain: A chronological survey of the Brittonic languages, first to twelfth century A.D (1953) – pristine for £75..)

    Mr Redfellow on the button with Conelly and Rory – just ordered the Vietnam book on your recom..

  • Dewi @ 09:08 AM sets me off on another personal gloat.

    At least one kind soul is unloading stuff via the local Oxfam book shop. There have been several Peter Berresford Ellis texts, notably the 1989 Pluto Press reprint of The Scottish Insurrection of 1820 (with Seumas Mac a’Ghobhainn, short introduction by Hugh MacDiarmaid). Another three or four brass Maggies bought me John Morris’s The Age of Arthur. On the same trip I acquired the Folio Society edition of Haklyut’s Voyages — more for show than go, but nice to have.

    And, for afters? Well, I reckon a mint copy of Patricia Hollis’s Jennie Lee, A Life (£3.49 in pencil on the fly-leaf) is tasty enough to have Dewi hate me for ever. Sits suitably, too, beside the first editions of the Michael Foot two volumes (1962 and 1973) on Nye, and In Place of Fear.

    So, you see, 2009 wasn’t all fun, frolics and feathers.

  • Fabianus

    Malcolm,

    “Tóibín’s book is a cut above, though.”

    It is? Care to share a line or two that shows the writing to be outstanding?

  • Fabianus @ 12:13 PM:

    As is usual, Amazon have the opening half-dozen pages for you to suck ’em and see.

    A correction: I must have been wrong about the cover — there now seem to be at least three different dust-covers to chose from. Once again, for me, the US (storefront) trumps the UK (ferry-boat).

    I suspect there’s a generational thing here: the setting is the 1950s, a bit before my time. Even so, something not a long way short of 90% of my cohort of early-’60s TCD were on the Liverpool boat or Icelandair (then the cheapest to Idlewild/JFK).

    Eilis’s journey from Enniscorthy to Fr Flood’s Catholic enclave in working-class Brooklyn has a whole series of cultural collisions. Her brush with the Holocaust survivor, Joshua Rosenblum (particularly when she goes to buy his book), is (for me) very telling. Younger types may find it hard to credit her innocence, her naïveté: I merely recognise it from experience.

  • Fabianus

    Malcolm,

    Two things.

    One: I phrased my earlier post badly and realise that it could have come over all negative. Not my intention. I wish to keep an open mind on this.

    Two: I actually read that extract you linked to. Sorry, should have said so. You see, it didn’t exactly blow me away. In fact I read nothing that would induce me to go out and buy the book. But if I know it gets better later on then I could be tempted.

    From what I gleaned from the synopsis, Colm seems to be reheating several (over)familiar themes. If he’s doing it way better than it’s been done before then good. I’m wary of hyped up books you see and Brooklyn appears to be such a one, to judge by many reader comments on Amazon.

  • feismother

    When I read it the first time I thought it not as good as other books of his like The Blackwater Lightship but I read it again for a bookgroup and appreciated it all the more. It’s quite a “slight” book (in comparison with others like Wolf Hall anyway)but it has stayed with me in a way that many other novels which were “a good read” haven’t.

  • Fabianus

    feismother,

    Thanks for that. Sounds like my kind of book, one that stays with me.

  • RepublicanStones

    Rory ever read ‘Motherless Brooklyn’?

    Only Pelicanos I ever read was ‘King Suckerman’ and I vividly remeber milling about No Alibis on Botanic for about half an hour before deciding on it.

    QUB used to run a great module on crime fiction, it had the likes of Hammett, Chandler, Thompson, McCoy and Highsmith interspersed with later stuff from the likes of Pelicanos and Leonard. I’d say you’da loved it.

  • Rory Carr

    Yes, RS, I have read Motherless Brooklyn (and another one by the same author which is momentarily erased from my ageing memory bank). I really recommend that you read all of Pelicanos that you can, in chronological order preferably but not necessarily. The English peer (I think he’s an Earl) literary critic and noir fanatic, Grey Gowrie gave the same advice about Elmore Leonard quite a few years ago and I took it. The first book of Leonard’s I bought was Dead man No. 69 from a London bookstore and I popped into a MacDonald’s for a burger and coffee and a browse through my latest find. There was a man sitting at my table and when I eventually got round to noticing how similar he looked to the author’s photo on the back page he just looked at me and said, “You got me.” And indeed it was, Leonard in the flesh. Easy going guy and the Daddy of them all. Nobody, but nobody in any genre writes as clean and tight as Leonard.

    I’ve also had a chat with Robert B Parker and he was also a nice guy but fortunately that was before I went off him as his later Spencer books went all sloppy with cookery lessons and wine snobbery and fashionista farting around. I’ve sacked him!

    You’re right, I would have enjoyed that module. Some of the very best of social and political writing finds its expression via the noir genre. This is more obvious and more important in the US than in Britain where Rankin merely piddles around the edges of the political pool not caring to wet higher than his ankles. The crazy Scot that writes frenetically and pulls few punches with his Jack Parlabane series is Christopher Brookmyre who is what I suppose Colin Bateman secretly wishes he could be if he had only but the talent and the heart.

  • Rory Carr @ 11:11 PM:

    I’m with you all the way on Brookmyre. His first (and arguably still best), Quite Ugly One Morning, must qualify for the award of “killer opening by a new novelist”.

    What I have never grasped is the comparison of Brookmyre’s neo-noir and radicalism to Hiaasen. Both are “laugh-out-loud” and political, though Hiaasen’s range extends little beyond matters environmental.

    I’d quibble about your take on Rankin. I can see why Doors Open didn’t pull the punters; but The Complaints was a fine re-boot. His own web-site suggests:

    maybe we’ll be seeing DI Malcolm Fox again. I certainly enjoyed getting to know him, and wouldn’t mind spending some more time with him. Maybe I could even introduce him to John Rebus …

    He even mentions Doors Open 2. So, ho-hum…

    Also at the outré end, I see there’s a new Jasper Fforde, Shades of Grey, due in a week’s time. That’ll be on my to-do list when I get through James Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover.

  • The Blow-In

    No doubt he’ll be spending some of that cash payin off the mortgage ‘squared’ for him by his good buddy Michael Fingelton, and still have enough for a few pints with his good friend from Tralee, recently up on a child-abuse related charge but with a character reference from the great author in his hip pocket to impress the beak with….

  • Rory Carr

    Malcolm,

    I received Blood’s a Rover at Christmas but it’s lying in my waiting-to-be-read pile. I felt that Ellroy had run out of steam after his documentary on his mother’s murder and that, having exorcised his ghosts, there was little left for him to say and I thought this was apparent in The Cold Six Thousand which left me rather cold. But there have been recent signs that he has had a new lease of life and I hope to see that demonstrated when I get round to Blood’s a Rover.

  • Rory Carr @ 10:31 AM:

    Sounds familiar. I, too, had Blood’s a Rover in the guilt pile, along with Robert Harris’s Lustrum.

    I think I made the third chapter of Ciceronian doings before I switched to the straight paranoid option. I find Ellroy addictive: never an easy read until one gets into the swing. Perhaps it helped, as with me, to have a training-wheels course of Richard Condon over a quarter-of-a-century [Winter Kills — $200 mint secondhand!, The Whisper of the Axe]. I blame it entirely on a formative experience: the Frankenheimer Manchurian Candidate, up O’Connell Street, around 1962-3, when I should have been at a TCD lecture on something intelleck-chuall

    Anyone, like me, still bewildered by the economics of book-publication and -distribution, can find further amazement in Amazon pricing the Ellroy hard-back at a couple of quid cheaper than the paperback.

  • Rory Carr

    Malcolm,

    I share your admiration for Richard Condon and Winter Kills in particular where he breaks open the role of the CIA, the purpose for which Air America was founded and US policy in shipping raw opium from the Golden Triangle to Haiti for refining before onward distribution into the black ghettos of the US in order to reward those Chinese warlords still hopeful of destabilising the recently victorious Mao and at the same time help to keep their black population in servitude. Nice.

    This has also been translated to cinema, directed by William Richert (1979) with Jeff Bridges, John Huston and Anthony Perkins. I’m sure you won’t have much trouble sorting out which role from the novel each of these fill in the movie.

  • Fabianus

    Rory,

    “I share your admiration for Richard Condon”

    Didn’t he live in Ireland at one time?

    What a surname. I’m guessing that he used the words “November not Mike” quite often in his telephone conversations.

  • Fabianus @ 07:30 PM: Condon [Richard] wrote about his family transferring to Kilkenny in And Then We Moved to Rossenara, or The Art of Emigrating (1973: long out of print. I don’t think it went beyond a single US edition. See one cheap, in good nick, you’ll make your money back from collectors).

    And why not? With that surname he clearly had roots. As does Sir Paul (later Lord), who had numerous nicknames, few printable, among the lower ranks of the Met Police. As most evidently did the Chicago Dixielander, Eddie Condon: pioneer of integrated jazz bands and author of the celebrated recipe for a hangover: “Take the juice of two bottles of scotch …”).

    There’s another Richard Condon book that deserves every thriller-reader’s time and full attention: Mile High. If there’s a copy around (you’re not getting mine), read it side-by-side with Puzo’s The Godfather. They came out in the same year, 1969 – I think, with similar themes and even a common named-character. Puzo got the credit and the dosh, mainly because of the Coppola movie, but I hesitantly propose Condon’s book is the better.

    Health warning: anyone with libertarian/ anti Big Government leanings should be forcibly restrained from the Condon experience. On the other hand …

  • Rory Carr

    While we’re at it let’s not forget the John Sandford Prey series. Writes like a dream, with a protagonist who is tough on crime and probably believes that the Republican Party are the cause of crime. Laconic, laid back Twin Cities (St Paul/Minnieapolis) top cop (and internet gaming millionaire) Lucas Davenport wastes the bad guys and koshers up the Democrats at every turn. Tough, urbane and witty, I grab every one I can get my hands on.

  • Fabianus

    Malcolm,

    I googled Mile High. Seems you’re correct about its being up there with the greats.

    I’ve discovered a “very good” hardcover edition for about £4, including p&p. I’m going for it.

    Do keep those recommendations coming!

  • RepublicanStones

    Ever tried any of James Lee Burke’s ‘Dave Robicheaux’ series?

    The Louisiana setting with its oppressive heat. A cynical Vietnam vet battling the bottle and his many other demons, a not entirely likeable personality mind you.

  • Fabianus @ 08:24 PM:

    I expect you’ll get pleasurable value for money. Did you try the fantasticfiction.co.uk site for secondhand values?

  • RepublicanStones @ 08:54 PM:

    Sometime back I had an Iris/Kirk moment with James Lee Burke. Then the moment passed: I think the last I did was Pegasus Descending. I can understand the pull of New Iberia, and might be revisiting. I’ve never gone beyond the Robicheaux sequence: any views on Burke’s others?

  • Rory Carr

    You beat me to it, RS. I was just considering that a mention of James Lee Burke might be worthwhile. Have you tried any of his early pre-Robicheaux novels often rooted in the struggle of mining families in the Cumberland Mountains and the struggle between union men and union-busting thugs. They give a great feel of where he came from and his continuing care for the dignity of the working man in his later work shows that he remains close to his spiritual roots.

    Burke’s novel In the Electric Mist Among the Confederate Dead has been adapted as a movie by French director, Bernard Tavernier with Tommy Lee Jones, John Goodman, Mary Steenburgen. The movie title is reduced to In the Electric Mist and I have the DVD on pre-order from Amazon at £9.98

    Of course there is also another alcoholic ex-cop recovering in A.A. (this time in New York City), Matt Scudder, in a series of novels by Lawrence Block which also feature Scudder’s friend from the other side of the law, Mick Ballou, half-French, half-Irish bar owner and gangster with IRA connections who always seems to have a barman “just over from Ballymurphy for a little rest” among his help. The only movie version from this series that I am aware of is Eight Million Ways to Die with Jeff Bridges in the lead role. It shows up in Sky movies every now and then usually late at night. Not bad at all but I can’t really match up Bridges with Scudder in the novels.

  • Dewi

    Block, Burke, great but Cruz Smith..he’s the man!

  • Dewi @ 11:29 PM:

    Hey, we’ve been missing you, my fine fellow. All well?

    You are, as so often, bang on target. I wouldn’t miss a proper Cruz Smith for anyone: Renko 7, The Golden Mile, due in April. Beyond the Renko series, I’m a bit hazy: I didn’t flip for Nightwing. Any views on his alias, “Simon Quinn”?

    For true noir, which is where this thread got sidetracked, I reckon Alan Furst is as good as it gets.

    Years back, I had serious hopes for Philip Kerr: the original “Bernie Gunter” trilogy had me pole-axed. Then he went rather weird before reviving Bernie, with some success. I wasn’t wholly taken by the most recent, a two part then-and-now: has the vehicle lost traction?

    Hope those links work: this is a rush job. I’ve been deep in the Iris Robinson business.

  • Dewi

    “Hope those links work: this is a rush job. I’ve been deep in the Iris Robinson business”

    Slugger as gossip column – a bit depressed about this.

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘any views on Burke’s others?

    Alas not Malcolm (and there is no excuse for it i suppose)

    ‘I can understand the pull of New Iberia’

    I don’t know why, but more than any other setting, the mystery of the deep south, (sweltering cajun country pockmarked with swamps, bayous, rickety backwoods bourbon soaked speakeasys, the lived in drawling accent) has a pull that I just can’t explain.

    Have you tried any of his early pre-Robicheaux novels..

    Can’t say I have Rory, but Im gonna hit amazon up shortly, and I’ll check out the Scudder series too. Haven’t seen the Tommy Lee Jones movie, only depiciton of Robicheaux I have seen is Alec Baldwin’s in ‘Heavens Prisoners’. Its from the mid ninities with Kelly Lynch and a great turn from Eric Roberts (who I have a soft spot for) as the local villan. I must admit, it was after seeing this movie that I sought out the novels, philistine that I am.

    Truth be told, I have been neglecting fiction for a while now, and part of the blame lies with the pseudo-texan last incumbent of Pennsylvania Avenue and the wealth of work critiquing the last decade. But this thread has definitely encouraged me to revisit some old stomping grounds, as it were.

  • Dewi

    Just been borrowed Beevor’s D-Day…see you next week….

  • RepublicanStones