I’ve now read all four of the contenders in the novel category of this year’s Costa Book Awards.
The four texts are all very different, and take us across centuries, continents, conflicts and calamities. I was struck by the beauty of language in all four of them; there were some exquisite phrases and heart-wrenching prose in each book that have stayed with me since reading. But, how would I rank them? This is a competition after all.
Well, here’s now I think they should go:
1. The Gustav Sonata
This is a little book with a big impact.
It’s delicate and elegant but don’t let that fool you – it packs a punch and gets to the heart of some serious issues around duty, morality, national identity and truth. I think it’s the surprise hit of the four contenders and, perhaps because I had no expectations of it, I was immediately enamoured by the unassuming strength of this novel. It’s a winner in my opinion.
2. Days Without End
This has everything – blood, war, violence, love, emotion and tenderness.
It was my first introduction to former Costa winner Sebastian Barry’s work and I’d definitely read another of his books on the back of this one. Days Without End, like The Gustav Sonata, explores the idea of identity and belonging, using some of defining moments in America’s history as its backdrop. It’s a fascinating novel, confidently delivered by a seasoned pro, filled with beautiful words and visceral imagery.
3 and 4. This Must be the Place and The Essex Serpent
I’ve put these two as joint third and fourth place as my reaction to them was fairly similar.
To be fair to these books, I think I fell into the trap of believing the hype about them. Since they were released earlier this year, they’ve been touted as bookshop must-reads, had rave reviews from newspaper critics and been a staple of the book blogging world for many months. Lots of reviewers loved them, talking glowingly about their virtues, and I expected to do the same. I didn’t.
What I will say is that appreciated both of these books but I didn’t love them. They’re well written, beautifully told and their plots are intriguing. The issue I had is that they’re too long – the authors couldn’t sustain my interest for the 400+ pages of each book and I yearned for a faster pace, more action and quicker conclusions that would offer satisfaction in exchange for my commitment.
My money is definitely on Gustav. It’s a petite book up against some heavyweight writers and equally sturdy tomes so I’d love to see it take home the prize for best novel.
Now, I’m off to start the new novel category…