Having read a substantial number of titles from this year's Orange longlist (and my posts can be found here), I thought I'd write a summing up post before the announcement of the shortlist tomorrow. No predictions, just thoughts, both on the books, and also on the experience as I have read far more titles from the longlist in a short time than ever before, mainly thanks to the generosity of publicists at a number of publishing houses: Faber and Faber, Corsair, Constable, Random House (incorporating Chatto and Windus, Jonathan Cape and Vintage), Canongate and Penguin. With the four titles that I had read before the announcement of the Orange list (which sadly I have not had time to write about as I had hoped), I am only two titles short of reading the whole longlist (these are Lyrics Alley and Tiger's Wife, which both had very long waiting lists at the library - and what's the likelihood that both of those turn up onto the shortlist?). I shall look out for them in due course so that I can complete the 20 books.
At first, when I read the list and some of the synopses I was concerned that it seemed to be dominated by rather heavy subject matter. Yes, difficult topics were covered - polygamy (The secret lives of Baba Segi's Lives...), incest (Repeat it today with tears), abduction (Room), hermaphroditism (Annabel), prostitution (The road to wanting), affairs (The London train), but sometimes these topics were treated more lightly than in other cases.
And what I enjoyed so much about the experience was the immense variety among the novels - different countries (Orange 2011 has certainly involved a lot of globetrotting), different time periods (although less historical novels this year than previously I think), debut novelists (Peile, Doshi, Henderson, Hunt, Obreht, Orringer, Russell and Winter) to accomplished writers with several novels under their belt (Doughty, Egan, Hadley, Birch). Some books were straight novels, others used interesting styles of writing (I'm thinking particularly of The Visit from the Goon Squad, but also The seas), and others drew together seemingly disparate stories (The birth of love, The London train).
Which ones did I enjoy most? Possibly the first three that I read (and I do wonder if my palate became slightly jaded), The secret lives of Baba Segi's wives, Annabel, and especially The pleasure-seekers. And also, The road to wanting, which despite its depressing subject material was somehow quite wonderful.
Would love to hear anyone else's thoughts on their Orange reading - I really hope that you've enjoyed journeying through a large portion of the list with me (and that there have been enough Baking and Bernard posts for those who haven't!). May I also point you towards three blogs which I read regularly which have also involved considerable longlistreading: Simon Savidge, Buried in Print and Farm Lane Books.