So I have started my quest to work through the Orange Prize for Fiction for the first time. With a long longlist it is unlikely I can read them all before 12th April but I shall read as many as I can. I am hoping that my selection will coincide at least in part with the short list but I have no way of judging this and my initial search for early betting or advice from more book sages than me to give me a lead proved unfulfilling. In any event the vagaries of Hong Kong bookshops have meant that my selection from the long list is entirely pragmatic. I have only found 4 in my local shop so they will be my first four novels to read and I shall then search for others if time permits.
I should also say that Room by Emma Donahue is on the long list and as it was my favourite pick for the Man Booker I am hoping it will make the short list and I shall not re-read it yet but it gives me a marker to compare others. So to the first one.
The Pleasure Seekers is the first novel by poet and dancer Tishani Doshi. It appears to be strongly autobiographical as she is of mixed partentage herself of welsh mother and indian father just the path in which book unfolds at the start. Sent to London to study Babo Patel meets Sian Jones whilst at work and he falls in love. Love, what it is, how it manifests itself and sometimes does not and how it seeks to overcome all sorts of barriers be they geographical, cultural, religious or other testing differences is the subject matter of much of the book through four generations. The key cultural tensions are set out without fuss and the reader is left to ponder for themselves some of the difficulties in the way of contented relationships even when eventually achieved.
The characters are well painted and the lyrical quality of the words helps the reader to glide through the book easily. It was described on the back cover as a book for bedtime and I think that is an apt and not unkind description. It contains within it joy and sadness but the quirky humour makes light work of things that go wrong and the story rushes on without dwelling too much in the inevitable tragedies which beget any family over such a long period.
In many respects their lives simply go on without a great deal of fuss or crisis and even crisis is dealt with quickly. The grandmother, Ba, is a key element in the way the indivudals knit together. She lives in a remote village but is where all go for advice evn if it takes a couple of days to reach her and she proves to be a prescient individual sagely predicting and suggesting the ways their lives will unfold and offering all who seek it comfort, wise words and cautionary remarks when needed. In some respects she is almost too all-knowing but it is fitting that the novel ends at her house following a potentially shattering earthquake. In fact major world events are mentioned in the book but as we know in our own lioves do not always have the impact on ordinary family lives that the newsmakers might inject in their urgency to highlight them and this is well portrayed in the book.
I was irritated a little by th author’s tendency to give hints of major events to come. I thought this device a bit unnecessary and ahd the effect of slightly preparing you for what would have had more impact if it came as a surpirse. But overall it was an enjoyable read and a good first novel though its impact on me was not huge. But comparision with others will come later once I’ve read some more. A good start to the Orange Quest.