I’ve been looking forward to getting started on this one! This post is a little different, because I usually read books, write a review and then move on to the next one. But when it comes to the shadow panel for the Sunday Times + Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, I have to meet up with the rest of the panel to discuss them.
That poses an interesting challenge. I don’t normally directly compare books, and so I need to rank the five books in order of how much I like them. I also need to know what I like and what I didn’t like about them so that I can argue my case and pick sides as we debate them.
And it made me realise, my goodness – sometimes I give a book one rating and then look back at it and think it deserves another. So I wanted to set the record straight by summarising my thoughts on each of the five books, along with their pros and cons and my updated ratings. If nothing else, it’ll be a useful cheat sheet when we meet up – bonus!
So without any further ado, let’s get to it. We’ll start with my least favourite and work through to my favourite.
I initially gave this book a 4/5, but if I were to write it again then I’d downgrade it to a 3/5. I just found it tough to read because I couldn’t relate to any of the characters or the decisions that they made, given that it’s essentially about a young girl having an affair with a married man whose wife knows all about it. It just left me thinking that if I knew any of the characters in real life, I wouldn’t like them.
Pros: It’s aesthetically pleasing and isn’t too taxing. It’d make a good holiday read if you’re into contemporary fiction – and romance, I guess. I’m not too sure who it was aimed at.
Cons: It’s predictable and pretty boring. You spend the book waiting for the characters to get their comeuppance and then they all live relatively happily ever after.
I haven’t actually posted my review for this yet because I haven’t finished reading it. It comes in at around 800 pages if you count all of the notes and citations, and it’s still 640 if you don’t. The only non-fiction book on this list, it’s the biography of a man called Steven Runciman, who I’d never heard of. It’s actually pretty interesting and very well-researched, and it does a good job of capturing the last of a dying breed – the English gentleman from the old boys’ network. It’s just that if you don’t know who Steven Runciman was, I’m not sure why you’d read it. It seems a little too specialist for me. It would win a Young Biographer of the Year Award, but its niche and length make it difficult to recommend it above some of the other books on the list.
Pros: It’s the most in-depth biography of Steven Runciman you’ll ever read.
Cons: I can’t think of a single friend I’d recommend it to.
This book follows the exploits of the harbinger of death, a chap called Charlie, whose job it is to go to people before Death does. Sometimes he’s an omen, and sometimes he’s a warning. There was some great characterisation here and I loved the way that Charlie’s personality and the job he does sort of simultaneously clash with and complement each other, but I also thought it was longer than it needed to be and started to get kind of samey. But death can have that effect when you see too much of it.
Pros: It’s super quirky and very unique with some thought-provoking ideas.
Cons: It can start to feel repetitive and perhaps could have been shorter/punchier.
This was the first of the shortlisted books that I read and it set a standard that was tough for the others to follow. I feel like it was the most ‘literary‘ of the bunch, although you shouldn’t let that put you off. It’s a bit like taking acid and having a lucid dream about cocaine and rabbits. It’s hard to summarise it and to be honest, I don’t want to – I think you should go out and buy it instead.
Pros: Pachico’s writing is beautiful and this one has the most stunning sentences and similes.
Cons: It’s definitely one that you need to think about and you’ll need to re-read it to pick up on everything on offer.
The Lauras is basically an epic road trip novel that follows Alex and his Ma as they travel across America. Along the way, Ma talks about the Lauras, the different women who’ve influenced her life along the way, and we learn that Alex is androgynous and refuses to conform to gender labels. It can be difficult to write a topic like that without treating it heavy-handedly, but Taylor did a great job and the result is a novel that makes you ask yourself a lot of questions while simultaneously treating you to an interesting plot.
Pros: It’s well-written and easy to read but it still makes you ask questions.
Cons: I can’t think of any. Maybe it could have included a route map?
So there you have it – those are my thoughts so far on the Peters Fraser + Dunlop and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year award shortlist. Next up is to finish Outlandish Knight and to meet up with the panel ahead of when we reveal our winner. Be sure to check back often and to follow the #YoungWriterAwardShadow hashtag for more information on that.