Book choice for August 2010

Stuart - A Life Backwards [suggested by Noel Fagan]

front cover

This is the biography of a person you've never heard of - a strange but compelling idea. Alexander Masters takes as his subject career criminal Stuart Shorter, and traces his development from grave to cradle, so to speak. In the process he highlights some of the ways that criminality escalates and proliferates: Stuart, a sometime heroin addict and surging muddle of violence, is a chaotic and difficult person, with serious convictions to his name (five years for raiding a post office, for example), but he emerges as a victim of the inadequate criminal justice system, of childhood trauma and of a neglectful educational system. In fact, Stuart, whom Masters paints warts and all, is oddly likeable. This makes the story of his ill-directed life a tragic one, and it's a powerful and timely story too. Moreover, Masters writes in a distinctive and intelligent way; he's not afraid to say things that fly in the face of political correctness, and he's not afraid to show his occasional disgust with Stuart's excesses, but this is a poignant and compassionate book, which deserves to reach a wide audience. [review by The Fisher Price King on Amazon]

The book has a Wikipedia page and has also been made into a movie for TV.

About the Author

Alexander Masters' website appears to contain no bio information so pop along to Wikipedia if you're interested. The entry is very short and concentrates on his impressive string of degrees and even more impressive string of awards for Stuart, in both book and screenplay forms.


Shortlisted for this month

Book selectors can bring one, two or three books for selection, although it's usual to bring three. This month, Noel's other suggestions were:

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange

[Originally nominated in October 2008] Novel by Anthony Burgess, published in 1962. Set in a dismal dystopia, it is the first-person account of a juvenile delinquent who undergoes state-sponsored psychological rehabilitation for his aberrant behavior. The novel satirizes extreme political systems that are based on opposing models of the perfectibility or incorrigibility of humanity. Written in a futuristic slang vocabulary invented by Burgess, in part by adaptation of Russian words, it was his most original and best-known work. Alex, the protagonist, has a passion for classical music and is a member of a vicious teenage gang that commits random acts of brutality. Captured and imprisoned, he is transformed through behavioral conditioning into a model citizen, but his taming also leaves him defenseless. He ultimately reverts to his former behavior. The final chapter of the original British edition, in which Alex renounces his amoral past, was removed when the novel was first published in the United States. [amazon]

As a group we do have a tendency to suggest books with their own Wikipedia page.

About the Author

Anthony Burgess is the pen name of the polymath who was born John Burgess Wilson in Manchester, England on 25 February, 1917 to a Catholic family of Irish and Scottish ancestry. His mother, Elizabeth Burgess Wilson, and his only sister, Muriel, died in the influenza epidemic the following year, and the loss of his mother had a profound effect upon Burgess's life and work.

Burgess was educated at Xaverian College and the University of Manchester. He served in the Army from 1940-1946. In 1942 he married his first wife, Llewela (Lynne) Jones, in Bournemouth while he was musical director of an army dance band. For much of the Second World War he was stationed in Gibraltar.

After the war, Burgess moved with Lynne to Adderbury. While there he wrote his first two novels, A Vision of Battlements and The Worm and the Ring, although neither were published until years later.

In 1956 his first novel to be published, Time for a Tiger, appeared under the name of Anthony Burgess. He continued to balance his teaching and writing careers, completing his Malayan Trilogy with the novels The Enemy in the Blanket (1958) and Beds in the East (1959). By the end of 1962 he had published seven novels, including The Doctor is Sick, The Worm and the Ring, and A Clockwork Orange, and two translations upon which he had collaborated with Lynne.

The above abridged from his short biography at his personal website and amazingly there's also a Wikipedia page.

The White Tiger

The White Tiger

Winning the Man Booker prize is something that most authors dream of, although -- ironically -- the reputation of the prize itself was under siege a few years ago. Books that won the award were acquiring a reputation of being difficult and inaccessible, but those days appear to be over -- and unarguable proof may be found in the 2008 winner, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Apart from its considerable literary merit, the novel is the most compelling of pageturners (in the old-fashioned sense of that phrase) and offers a picture of modern India that is as evocative as it is unflattering. The protagonist, too, is drawn in the most masterly of fashion.

Balram Halwai, the eponymous 'white tiger', is a diminutive, overweight ex-teashop worker who now earns his living as a chauffeur. But this is only one side of his protean personality; he deals in confidence scams, over-ambitious business promotions (built on the shakiest of foundations) and enjoys approaching life with a philosophical turn of mind. But is Balram also a murderer? We learn the answer as we devour these 500 odd pages. Born into an impoverished family, Balram is removed from school by his parents in order to earn money in a thankless job: shop employee. He is forced into banal, mind-numbing work. But Balram dreams of escaping -- and a chance arises when a well-heeled village landlord takes him on as a chauffeur for his son (although the duties involve transporting the latter's wife and two Pomeranian dogs). From the rich new perspective offered to him in this more interesting job, Balram discovers New Delhi, and a vision of the city changes his life forever. His learning curve is very steep, and he quickly comes to believe that the way to the top is by the most expedient means. And if that involves committing the odd crime of violence, he persuades himself that this is what successful people must do.

The story of the amoral protagonist at the centre of this fascinating narrative is, of course, what keeps the reader comprehensively gripped, but perhaps the real achievement of the book is in its picture of two Indias: the bleak, soul-destroying poverty of village life and the glittering prizes to be found in the big city. The book cleverly avoids fulfilling any of the expectations a potential reader might have -- except that of instructing and entertaining. The White Tiger will have many readers anxious to see what Adiga will do next. --Barry Forshaw on Amazon

As you might expect from a Man Booker prize winner, the novel has a Wikipedia page.

About the Author

Aravind Adiga was born in 1974 in Madras (now called Chennai), and grew up in Mangalore in the south of India. He was educated at Columbia University in New York and Magdalen College, Oxford. His articles have appeared in publications such as the New Yorker, the Sunday Times, the Financial Times, and the Times of India. His first novel, The White Tiger, won the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 2008. His new novel, Last Man in the Tower, will be published in 2011.

The above extracted from his website. For more, you could try Wikipedia.


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