D.W. Wilson, ‘The Dead Roads’ (2010)

On to David Wilson’s winning story, which is now available to read on the Guardian website. It tells of a road trip taken across Canada by Duncan (our narrator), Vic (his girlfriend – when she’s not at university, at least), and their old school-friend Animal Brooks. Tensions build among the trio as Duncan realises that he might be about to lose Vic when she returns to university, where he can’t follow; and he starts to wonder, too, whether Animal is getting too close to Vic.

Out of all the shortlisted stories, I think this one creates the strongest atmosphere. There’s a wonderfully sharp edge to Wilson’s prose that complements the harsh bleakness of the setting. I’m particularly impressed with how the secondary characters leap off the page, even though Duncan’s voice is so strong itself; for example, I loved the initial description of Animal Brooks:

He was twenty-six and hunted looking, with engine-grease stubble and red eyes sunk past his cheekbones. In his commie hat and Converses he had that hurting lurch, like a scrapper’s swag, dragging foot after foot with his knees loose and his shoulders slumped. He’d drink a garden hose under the table if it looked at him wrong…

‘The Dead Roads’ is a deserving winner, to my mind, and makes me keen to read more of Wilson’s work. I see that he’s had a collection, Once You Break a Knuckle, published in Canada this month; I think it will be worth investigating.

This is one of a series of posts reviewing the shortlist for the 2011 BBC National Short Story Award. Click here to read my other posts on the Award.

K.J. Orr, ‘The Human Circadian Pacemaker’ (2010)

The first of two entries on the shortlist by PhD students, Katherine Orr’s piece concerns Eleanor Francis, the British wife of an American astronaut freshly back from space. The couple’s opening exchange, as Eleanor greets her husband on his return, sets the tone for the rest of the story:

‘How are you?’ she said.

A lop-sided smile. ‘I’m A-OK.’

‘So what have you been up to?’

‘Stuff,’ he said. ‘You?’

‘Oh, stuff.’

All manner of possible sights and experiences are subsumed under the word ‘stuff’, as an indication that Eleanor and her husband (whose name we never learn) don’t know how to talk about what has happened. ‘The Human Circadian Pacemaker’ is an exploration of the ways in which the couple have become dislocated from life and each other. The rhythms of the astronaut’s body-clock are off, so he’s asleep in the daytime and awake at night; he also finds it easier to talk to his fellow-astronauts than to his wife (that Eleanor only knows his colleagues by their nicknames further emphasises her distance from that world). In her turn, the life Eleanor knew was disrupted when she had to move to the US; now that her husband has changed, she’s losing that one anchor she had. But, towards the end of the story, Eleanor finds a place and circumstance that may allow her to understand something of what her man has been through.

Orr handles her theme very well, right down to the fragmented structure of the narrative. The author’s biography in the back of the anthology says that she is working on a story collection; on the evidence of this piece, it should be interesting.

This is one of a series of posts reviewing the shortlist for the 2011 BBC National Short Story Award. Click here to read my other posts on the Award.

Jon McGregor, ‘Wires’ (2011)

This is the second year running in which Jon McGregor has been shortlisted for the Award, which would be notable in itself; but, more than that, it’s also the second time in a row that has been runner-up. I very much liked McGregor’s nominated story last year; and he’s written another superb piece in this time around. ‘Wires’ is the story of a student named Emily Wilkinson who has an accident on the motorway when a sugar-beet smashes through her windscreen. Whilst waiting for the police to arrive, she dwells on her life, particularly her relationship with doctoral candidate Marcus, over which she has her doubts.

As with last year’s story, I’m struck by how completely McGregor evokes his protagonist’s mindset through his prose. The title of ‘Wires’ seemingly refers to neural pathways; and the rambling, jagged passages of narration evoke the feeling of a mind working than one can comprehend. Here, for example, is the opening of the story:

It was a sugar-beet, presumably, since that was a sugar-beet lorry in front of her and this thing turning in the air at something like sixty miles an hour had just fallen off it. It looked sort of like a giant turnip, and was covered in mud, and basically looked more or less like whatever she would have imagined a sugar-beet to look like if she’d given it any thought before now. Which she didn’t think she had. It was totally filthy. They didn’t make sugar out of that, did they? What did they do, grind it? Cook it?

All this and more goes through Emily’s mind before the sugar-beet even hits her car. Her thoughts flit from subject to subject in this way, with these lengthier passages punctuated by terser dialogue from the two men who saw Emily’s accident and have come to help; when they speak, the effect is of reality intruding in on the world of thought, in order to reassert itself.

McGregor also uses his narrative style to subtly suggest that maybe Emily hasn’t been left as unscathed by the incident as she had assumed. I’d say ‘Wires’ was a worthy runner-up, and will be interested to see how the winning story compares.

This is one of a series of posts reviewing the shortlist for the 2011 BBC National Short Story Award. Click here to read my other posts on the Award.

Alison MacLeod, ‘The Heart of Denis Noble’ (2011)

‘The Heart of Denis Noble’ was originally published in Litmus, an anthology of stories concerning key moments of scientific discovery. Denis Noble is Emeritus Professor of Cardiovascular Physiology at the University of Oxford, and pioneered virtual modelling of the human heart; he acted as an adviser to Alison MacLeod on the telling of this story, which sees a fictional Noble undergo a heart transplant, and dramatises episodes from the scientist’s earlier life and career.

I think this is a beautifully balanced piece of fiction. By turns, MacLeod’s prose has the precision of detail one would expect from a scientist’s viewpoint; and some wonderfully poetic moments, such as this, describing Noble’s earliest development:

Soon, the tube that was Denis Noble’s heart, a delicate scrap of mesoderm, would push towards life. In the dark of Ethel [Noble’s mother], it would twist and grope, looping blindly back towards itself in the primitive knowledge that circulation, the vital whoosh of life, deplores a straight line.

The story conveys both a sense of the demanding nature of Noble’s work (the computer he needs to use is only available between two and four in the morning, then it’s off to the slaughterhouse to buy a couple of sheeps’ hearts, before a twelve-hour day in the lab), and the scientist’s frustration at not being able to apprehend the true nature of love, for all his knowledge (“Where, he’d like to know, is love? How is love?”).

I could see this piece as an award-winner. Certainly it sets the bar high for the eventual runner-up and winner, both of which I’ve yet to read.

This is one of a series of posts reviewing the shortlist for the 2011 BBC National Short Story Award. Click here to read my other posts on the Award.

M.J. Hyland, ‘Rag Love’ (2010)

In 1960s Sydney, James Brailey (if that is his real name; it’s never confirmed) and his partner Trudy attempt to trick or bribe their way into a penthouse cabin on board the SS Oriana, so they can live out their fantasy of luxury for a short while, before the liner leaves port. I say ‘their’ fantasy, but it’s really Trudy’s; James has gone along with her dream because he loves her, even though he knows they can’t really afford the money they’re using as a bribe.

This is what M.J. Hyland does particularly well in ‘Rag Love’: to show that this act of apparently throwing cares to the wind masks a relationship under strain. James has doubts about Trudy’s feelings for him (“I was certain she’d want the money and the ocean cruise no matter what bloke she was with”), and Trudy seems to have little concern for anything beyond her immediate dream. That then sets up a tension over not only whether the couple’s plan will succeed, but also what will happen to their relationship with each other. I’m not sure that Hyland’s piece quite has the extra spark I’d hope to see from a story on an award shortlist, but it’s a good read nonetheless.

This is one of a series of posts reviewing the shortlist for the 2011 BBC National Short Story Award. Click here to read my other posts on the Award.

The BBC National Short Story Award 2011

Last night, 26-year-old David Wilson became the youngest-ever winner of the BBC National Short Story Award for his piece ‘The Dead Roads’. The five shortlisted stories were all broadcast on Radio 4 a couple of weeks ago (which, unfortunately, I missed); but now this year’s Award anthology has been launched, so now we have the chance to read them all. And, over the next couple of days, that’s just what I’m going to do.

First of all, an index:

The tiles above will become links as I review each story — three today, and the remaining two tomorrow. I’ll be working through the shortlist in alphabetical order of author, which means of course that I’ll get to the winner last (which should provide an interesting contrast to the experience of reading last year’s shortlist, where the winner came first alphabetically).

Enough preamble; off we go…

Further links
Podcasts of the shortlisted stories
The Award at BBC Radio 4
The Award at Booktrust
Comma Press, publishers of the anthology

Gavin James Bower, Made in Britain (2011)

Gavin James Bower’s 2009 debut, Dazed & Aroused, looked at the collapse of one man’s glamorous dream in the world of modelling; for his follow-up, Bower takes a few steps back to focus on the time in life when such dreams may begin to form. Made in Britain follows the lives of three Burnley teenagers about to sit their GCSEs, each with a notion that they need to escape their immediate circumstances.

Russell, academically-minded but also timid and bullied, could spread his wings if he moved in with his cousin Jason in Leeds and went to college there, but that would mean leaving his mother behind when she has no one else. Charlie, who has neither the time nor the will to contemplate A Levels, turns to drug-dealing as a means of raising the money his family so badly needs. And Hayley, who lives alone with her father after her mother died, dreams of being famous; love may even be on the cards – perhaps with Charlie, perhaps with Mr Mitchell, the teacher on whom she has a crush, and who might just reciprocate.

Made in Britain has a very clearly defined structure; every chapter consists of three scenes, one narrated by each of the three protagonists, in the same order (except the last chapter, where the order is reversed). For one thing, this allows Bower to reflect his novel’s concerns at the formal level, with the rigid structure representing the intractability of the characters’ situations. But it also proves effective as a storytelling device, as Bower juxtaposes different characters’ viewpoints (such as Charlie’s and Hayley’s contrasting ideas about each other), and has what may be key events for one protagonist take place in the background of another’s scene. There’s also this neat segue in the first chapter:

Russell
[...]
Life is transient, I think as I walk through my front door.
Love is forever.

Charlie
Jenny’s passed out on my lap, a bottle of White Lightning in her cold, pale hand. [p. 8]

This nicely encapsulates the distance in the book between idealistic dreams and the hard realities of life for these characters. Bower nods towards the socio-economic factors which have contributed to their circumstances (Charlie: ‘I look out the window as we drive past the old shoe factory where Mum used to work, when she was about my age. It shut ages ago, course,’ p. 110); but his focus in general is primarily on the teenagers themselves – perhaps naturally enough, given that his protagonists have to deal with their immediate situations, and dwelling too much on the past isn’t necessarily going to help them.  The author makes clear what has caused all three of his protagonists to take their respective paths, and the difficulties they face; none of the three characters has a completely free hand, but they’re not entirely forced by circumstance into what they do, either. From that point of view, Made in Britain is a story of making what seems the best choice, and then dealing with the consequences.

Towards the end of the novel, Russell reflects on the difference between Burnley and the bigger local cities:

I love going to Leeds because, there, being different isn’t about listening to metal in your bedroom or, if you’re really brave, dyeing your hair a funny colour, like it is where I’m from. In cities like Leeds and Manchester, nobody looks at you funny or beats you up for being different – because there’s always someone who’s more different than you. You can just get on with being yourself. [pp. 146-7]

This is the real issue that the protagonists have with their lives in Burnley (if not necessarily with the town specifically): they don’t have the means to be the people they could be. Made in Britain asks what it is like to be at a point of transition in life when your situation makes it difficult to make any sort of change – and the book offers no easy answers.

Elsewhere
Hackney Citizen interview with Gavin James Bower
Quartet Books
Some other reviews of Made in Britain: Helen J. Beal; Sophia Waugh for The Guardian.

Three novellas: Kaufman, Finley, Villalobos

Andrew Kaufman, The Tiny Wife (2010)
Toiya Kristen Finley, The Legend of False Dreaming (2011)
Juan Pablo Villalobos, Down the Rabbit Hole (2010/1)

If you lost part of yourself, what would you become? What if you didn’t even know what you had to lose? Andrew Kaufman’s novella The Tiny Wife (now given a UK edition – a beautiful little hardback – by The Friday Project) begins with a bank robbery where the thief demands, not money, but that each person in the bank give him a possession of great sentimental value to them. By taking these items, the thief  explains, he is also taking more than half of each person’s soul: ‘This will have strange and bizarre consequences in your lives,’ he warns, ‘learn how to grow them back, or you will die’ (p. 9).

Strange things do indeed happen to the victims of the theft. For example, one woman’s tattoo of a lion comes to life and chases her relentlessly. The bank’s assistant manager just has to imagine being underwater in his office, and it comes to be. Stacey Hinterland (whose husband David is our narrator) begins to shrink with strict quadratic progression; the very mathematics which has been one of Stacey’s touchstones for navigating life may now prove to be her undoing.

The Tiny Wife works as well as it does because there’s a matter-of-fact quality to its telling, which both provides an effective contrast to the fantastical happenings, and grounds them; what might have come across as overly whimsical instead becomes real, and carries the dramatic weight of a problem to be solved. The process of counteracting the effects of the theft is also one of overcoming whatever’s holding the victims back in their lives; we see several characters manage to do so (though others fail), and it’s affectingly done by Kaufman.

***

The characters in The Tiny Wife lost parts of their selves in a single event, but it’s the continual harshness of her life that has taken its toll on Rue, the protagonist of Toiya Kristen Finley’s The Legend of False Dreaming (published by Pendragon Press). In the midst of hitchhiking home, Rue (down to the last of her money, and with no wish to make payment in another way) is abandoned in Bronson, a run-down, worn-out town in the south of New York State where the locals are suspicious of outsiders and a strange fog keeps people from leaving. A boy named Mack is the only person to show any consideration towards Rue; buts he is suspicious of his intentions, and wants nothing more than to find her way home.

If there’s a lightness to the tone of The Tiny Wife (more in the way it’s told rather than what it tells), The Legend of False Dreaming is, in contrast, darker and dense with sensation. Finley conveys the atmosphere of Bronson through constant reference to the town’s sights, smells and tastes; the cumulative effect of these is to underline how hard it is to escape this place, how difficult to ignore where you are. For that’s the kind of place Bronson is: a once-prosperous industrial town that’s now going nowhere and has left its people with nowhere to go. This finds an echo in the life of Rue, who was trapped by the violent relationship she had with her father (still is trapped, in a way, by what that made her as a person), and now hopes to rescue her brother Bobby from their father’s violence.

As in The Tiny Wife, there are supernatural elements in Finley’s novella; and they, too, are treated matter-of-factly. But the effect is different: strangeness intrudes on the world of Kaufman’s book, and he makes it normal; the magic in The Legend of False Dreaming feels as though it’s already part of the book’s world, and is not wondered at because there’s no room left in that world for wonder. The fantastic elements of Finley’s tale represent Rue’s anger and Bronson’s secret shame; they add another layer to a very satisfying read.

***

There’s nothing fantastical in Juan Pablo Villalobos’s Down the Rabbit Hole (now given its first English-language publication as one of the launch titles from And Other Stories), but its protagonist is rather like a Wonderland inhabitant, in that he is trapped by the limitations of his own perspective, and is not even aware that those limitations exist. Young Tochtli is the son of a Mexican drug baron, who lives happily in his father Yolcaut’s palace, with his own private zoo, his tutor Maztazin, and a few other staff. The only people Tochtli knows are those who live in or visit the palace; what he wants most of all at the moment is a Liberian pygmy hippopotamus for hor his menagerie – and what Tochtli wants, he shall have.

Life in Yolcaut’s palace is, of course, all that Tochtli has ever known; this leads him to say things which come across to us as rather chilling, such as: ‘One of the things I’ve learned from Yolcaut is that sometimes people don’t turn into corpses with just one bullet’ (p. 8). But Tochtli’s narration is also bitterly poignant at times, when it shows up just how little he really knows. Take the opening of Down the Rabbit Hole, for instance:

Some people say I’m precocious. They say it mainly because they think I know difficult words for a little boy. Some of the difficult words I know are: sordid, disastrous, immaculate, pathetic and devastating. (p. 3).

Tochtli does indeed know those five words, and uses them repeatedly throughout the book. But, as the pages go by, it becomes less clear whether he really knows what they mean; they start to feel more like empty placeholders that emphasise the boy’s ignorance (I should add that Rosalind Harvey’s translation is excellent, really bringing the protagonist to life through his voice). There’s also an irony in Tochtli’s saying that he thinks he’s ‘precocious…in discovering secrets’ (p. 21), and his repeated assertion that ‘gangs are about not hiding things and about seeing the truth’ (p.47), because it’s quite clear from the events of the plot that Tochtli is wrong on both counts.

It takes some effort to reach Tochtli, because his subjectivity is so strong; there’s also a leap to be made between each of the book’s three chapters (the middle section, where Tochtli, Yolcaut, and Maztazin travel to Liberia under false names in search of a pygmy hippopotamus, is particularly striking; Tochtli never indicates directly who has taken on which name, and I was surprised at how effective this simple technique turned out to be at disorienting the reader). Yet it’s precisely this which makes Down the Rabbit Hole so rewarding; the book bodes well for both its author’s career, and its UK publisher’s future titles.

***

Reviews elsewhere
Of The Tiny Wife: Read Between the Lines; The Book Whisperer; Gaskella.
Of Down the Rabbit Hole: Winstonsdad; Nicholas Lezard for The Guardian; Lucy Popescu for The Independent.

Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus (2011)

Erin Morgenstern’s debut is being heralded with a considerable amount of hype, which is something that tends to make me instinctively sceptical. It would unfair, though, to feel entirely that way towards The Night Circus, which is every bit as generous with its imaginative vision as the hype promises. Where the novel falls short is in providing the support structure to bring that vision fully to life.

The starting-point for the tale is New York in 1873, where Hector Bowen (who uses the stage name ‘Prospero the Enchanter’) takes delivery of a five-year-old girl who turns out to be his daughter Celia, and to share his talent for magic – real magic, that is (Hector disguises his abilities as stagecraft). Later that year, the newest round of an old game begins, as Hector and his great rival – a mysterious grey-suited man known only as Alexander – each choose a champion; Hector’s is Celia, whilst Alexander trains up a boy who takes the name Marco Alisdair. The venue for the contest will be Le Cirque des Rêves, a travelling show founded by one Chand resh Christophe Lefèvre; Marco becomes Lefèvre’s assistant in managing the circus, and Celia Le Cirque’s illusionist. Over the years, the two compete to ouitdo the other in displays of enchantment; though things get complicated when each discovers their opponent’s identity, and love blossoms.

The Night Circus (both the novel and the fictional attraction) contains a plethora of fantastical phenomena – from the eerie white bonfire to a garden made of ice – with the potential to captivate patrons and readers alike. However, the book often seems to be trusting that the sheer fact of what’s being described will create a feeling of wonder, rather than using choice turns of phrase to bolster it. Morgenstern’s prose is not inert, but I don’t find many places where it truly fizzes, either. The brief interludes that take us on a second-person journey through the circus generally have a higher success rate than the main text; not all the vignettes work as well as each other, but their brevity, and that they show us the circus from the outside in, tends to give them an intensity of vision that I’d like to have experienced more frequently.

The book’s approach to the supernatural plays a part in this, I think. In the opening encounter between Hector and Celia, Morgenstern describes matter-of-factly how the two of them smash and restore a cup of tea through magical means; this sets a tone for the rest of the novel of magic being normalised, made familiar (for the main characters, of course, that’s exactly what magic is). This is fine as a technique, but it works against the creation of wonder and mystery – and, with the book’s fairytale tone, it’s for wonder and mystery that The Night Circus is really striving.

Morgenstern’s approach to characterisation is broad-brush (perhaps not inappropriately, given her novel’s fairytale quality), and not entirely successful. The portrayal of Celia’s and Marco’s burgeoning love walks the line between being properly affecting and overly sentimental, and sometimes steps the wrong side of that line. More effective overall is the subplot set in 1902 (and which joins with the main storyline at the novel’s climax), wherein Bailey Clarke, a boy from Massachusetts, becomes fascinated with the circus, and in particular with one of the young performers. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the best-realised scenes in the novel involve either Bailey or other characters from outside the immediate ambit of Le Cirque; again, I come back to the idea that the strangeness of magic is best evoked from the viewpoint of those unfamiliar with it.

My fellow-book-blogger William Rycroft commented on Twitter that The Night Circus would make a good film; he’s absolutely right, because this is a novel whose images would benefit from interpreted more strongly. As it is, the book certainly has the vision, if not quite the words to do it justice.

Elsewhere
Erin Morgenstern’s website
Audio interview with Morgenstern
Some other reviews of The Night Circus: Book Monkey; For Books’ Sake.

World Book Night 2012 Top 100

This year, World Book Night asked people to nominate their top ten books, to create a list that would feed into the selection of next year’s titles to be given away. That list, the Top 100, was announced today, and here it is; in time-honoured book-blogging tradition, I’m emboldened the books I’ve read.

The 2012 Long List – ordered by number of votes:

1    To Kill a Mockingbird    Harper Lee
2    Pride and Prejudice    Jane Austen
3    The Book Thief    Markus Zusak   
4    Jane Eyre    Charlotte Bronte
5    The Time Traveler’s Wife    Audrey Niffenegger
6    The Lord of the Rings    J. R. R. Tolkien   
7    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy    Douglas Adams
8    Wuthering Heights    Emily Bronte
9    Rebecca    Daphne Du Maurier
10    The Kite Runner    Khaled Hosseini
11    American Gods    Neil Gaiman   
12    A Thousand Splendid Suns    Khaled Hosseini  
13    Harry Potter Adult Hardback Boxed Set    J. K. Rowling
14    The Shadow of the Wind    Carlos Ruiz Zafon
15    The Hobbit    J. R. R. Tolkien   
16    One Day    David Nicholls
17    Birdsong    Sebastian Faulks
18    The Help    Kathryn Stockett
19    Nineteen Eighty-Four    George Orwell
20    Good Omens    Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman  
21    The Notebook    Nicholas Sparks
22    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo    Stieg Larsson
23    The Handmaid’s Tale    Margaret Atwood   
24    The Great Gatsby    F. Scott Fitzgerald
25    Little Women    Louisa M. Alcott
26    Memoirs of a Geisha    Arthur Golden
27    The Lovely Bones    Alice Sebold
28    Atonement    Ian McEwan
29    Room    Emma Donoghue 
30    Catch-22    Joseph Heller
31    We Need to Talk About Kevin    Lionel Shriver
32    His Dark Materials    Philip Pullman  
33    Captain Corelli’s Mandolin    Louis De Bernieres
34    The Island    Victoria Hislop
35    Neverwhere    Neil Gaiman
36    The Poisonwood Bible    Barbara Kingsolver
37    The Catcher in the Rye    J. D. Salinger
38    Chocolat    Joanne Harris
39    Never Let Me Go    Kazuo Ishiguro
40    The Five People You Meet in Heaven    Mitch Albom
41    One Hundred Years of Solitude    Gabriel Garcia Marquez
42    Animal Farm    George Orwell
43    The Pillars of the Earth    Ken Follett
44    The Eyre Affair    Jasper Fforde    
45    Tess of the D’Urbervilles    Thomas Hardy
46    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory    Roald Dahl    
47    I Capture the Castle    Dodie Smith
48    The Wasp Factory    Iain Banks
49    Life of Pi    Yann Martel
50    The Road    Cormac McCarthy
51    Great Expectations    Charles Dickens
52    Dracula    Bram Stoker    
53    The Secret History    Donna Tartt  
54    Small Island    Andrea Levy
55    The Secret Garden    Frances Hodgson Burnett
56    Lord of the Flies    William Golding
57    Persuasion    Jane Austen
58    A Prayer for Owen Meany    John Irving    
59    Notes from a Small Island    Bill Bryson 
60    Watership Down    Richard Adams
61    Night Watch    Terry Pratchett   
62    Brave New World    Aldous Huxley
63    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time    Mark Haddon
64    Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell    Susanna Clarke
65    The Color Purple    Alice Walker
66    My Sister’s Keeper    Jodi Picoult
67    The Stand    Stephen King
68    Cloud Atlas    David Mitchell
69    The Master and Margarita    Mikhail Bulgakov
70    Anna Karenina    Leo Tolstoy
71    Cold Comfort Farm    Stella Gibbons
72    Frankenstein    Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
73    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society    Mary Ann Shaffer
74    The Picture of Dorian Gray    Oscar Wilde  
75    Gone with the Wind    Margaret Mitchell
76    The Graveyard Book    Neil Gaiman
77    The Woman in White    Wilkie Collins
78    The Princess Bride    William Goldman
79    A Suitable Boy    Vikram Seth
80    Perfume    Patrick Suskind    
81    The Count of Monte Cristo    Alexandre Dumas
82    The God of Small Things    Arundhati Roy
83    Middlemarch    George Eliot
84    Dune    Frank Herbert
85    Wolf Hall    Hilary Mantel
86    Stardust    Neil Gaiman    
87    Lolita    Vladimir Nabokov
88    Midnight’s Children    Salman Rushdie
89    Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone    J. K. Rowling  
90    Shantaram    Gregory David Roberts
91    The Remains of the Day    Kazuo Ishiguro
92    Possession: A Romance    A. S. Byatt
93    Tales of the City    Armistead Maupin
94    Kafka on the Shore    Haruki Murakami
95    The Magus    John Fowles
96    The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas    John Boyne
97    A Fine Balance    Rohinton Mistry
98    Alias Grace    Margaret Atwood
99    Norwegian Wood    Haruki Murakami
100    The Wind-up Bird Chronicle    Haruki Murakami

So, that’s 22 titles that I’ve read (and I’ve just started The Great Gatsby, which will make 23), which is a higher percentage than I usually manage with this kind of list.

As for the list itself:  it’s the typical mixture of established classics, more recent favourites, and talked-about titles from the past year or two, that one might expect — and, from that point of view, I think it’s not a bad list. Quite remarkable showing for Neil Gaiman, though, I must say, with a full five titles (including one co-authorship) on the list.

And if I were going to choose one of these books to give away? I think I’d go for Notes from a Small Island.