Owen Martell

First Sentence:     It was late in the evening, after dinner and Debby, before Harry got a chance to open the paper.

Back of the book:

New York, June 1961. The Bill Evans Trio, featuring twenty-five year old Scott LaFaro on bass, play a series of concerts at the Village Vanguard that will go down in musical history. Shortly afterwards, LaFaro is killed in a car accident, and Evans disappears. Intermission tells the story of what happens next.

In measured, evocative prose, Intermission takes a period from the life of one of America’s great artists and fashions it into a fiction of extraordinary imaginative skill and ambition. The novel inhabits the lives of four people in orbit around a tragedy, presenting an intense and moving portrait of the burden of grief, and of a man lost to his family and to himself. It is also a conjuring of a pivotal moment in American music and culture, and a unique representation of the jazz scene in the early 1960s.

Quote from the book:

It was easy to admire Bill’s playing – lithe and canny, a ringing gift in the wood.

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David Vann

First Sentence:     Galen waited under the fig tree for his mother.

Back of the book:

Dirt is the story of Galen, a 22-year-old misfit from Central Valley, California, and the few summer days over which his unconventional life is irrevocably changed. Set in a baked rural landscape, it is a vivid, intense and shocking portrait of alienation, lust, violence, and the bonds and burdens of family.

Quotes from the book:

[…]pushed his finger back hard into his throat, and let all the piggy grease and egg drool and pancake and syrup come out, purged himself, made himself clean again. If only there were some way he could throw up his family and not have them inside him anymore.

“The world in its immensity and such disappointing nothingness.”

You think you’re someone now, but it’s only because you can put your memories together. You put them together and you think that makes something. But take away the memories, or even scramble them out of order, and there’s nothing left.

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The Panopticon

Jenni Fagan

First Sentence:     I’m an experiment.

Back of the book:

Anais Hendricks, 15, is in the back of a police car, headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can’t remember the events that led her here, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and there is blood on Anais’s school uniform.

Smart, funny and fierce, Anais is also a child who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met.

The residents of the Panopticon form intense bonds, heightened by their place on the periphery, and Anais finds herself part of an ad-hoc family there. Much more suspicious are the social workers, especially Helen, who is about to leave her job but is determined to force Anais to confront the circumstances of her mother’s death before she goes.

Looking up at the watchtower that looms over the residents, Anais knows her fate: she is part of an experiment, she always was, it’s a given, a fact. And the experiment is closing in.

Quotes from the book:

I dinnae get people, like they all want to be watched, to be seen, like all the time. They put their pictures online and let people they dinnae like look at them! And people they’ve never met as well, and they all pretend to be shinier than they are – and some are even posting on like four sites; their bosses are watching them at work, the cameras watch them on the bus, and on the train, and in Boots, and even outside the chip shop. Then even at home – they’re going online to look and see who they can watch, and to check who’s watching them!

Is that not weird?

“I hate. Her red shoes.”

I love looking at reflections in bath water, any kind of water in fact. They’re like wee surreal paintings. I might photograph reflections, in water, in kettles, in things other people dinnae look at, like bins and shit like that.

“I hate. Her face.”

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Paul Harding

First Sentence: George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died.

I think that’s a great first sentence. It just tells you so much and yet leaves you wanting to find out even more after only a few words. Overall I think this book started off quite well but I kind of lost interest as I went along. It deals with the final days/hours of Crosby as he lies on his deathbed remembering scenes from his past; particularly the memories of his long-dead, epileptic father. There’s no denying the quality of the writing on display here, after all it did win a Pulitzer but overall I couldn’t shake the sense that it was a missed opportunity. The scene where Howard, Crosby’s tinker-father extracts a tooth from  one of his customers, a hermit, is particularly memorable:

[…]and Howard, squinting to get a good look, saw in that dank, ruined purple cavern, stuck way in the back of an otherwise-empty levy of gums , a single black tooth planted in a swollen and bright red throne of flesh

As is the description of how he feels post-seizure:

his head feeling like a glass jar full of old keys and rusty screws

but in the end it was the lack of empathy I felt for the characters which ruined it for me. Definitely not a bad book, just not a great one.

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