Huzzah for people agreeing with me! Another preferred book has passed through with another loser kicked to the curb. Although Judge Walklin was not as mean as that…
This has been a bad year for any of you who are following along for the snark. On the whole I’ve agreed with most of the choices the esteemed judges have made, and even when I haven’t I have found their discussions interesting and considered. And today is no exception! But I thought I’d break out the snark anyway because, seriously, The Signature of All Things is a pretty crappy book. I’ve already talked about some of the things that annoyed me but I love that Judge Walklin pointed out that Alma has her very own Eat, Pray, Love expedition to Tahiti. How did I not make that hilarious connection??
Now watch out, this will be a bit spoilery… Alma was the most annoying character ever (which isn’t in itself a problem). Completely self-involved, she pretty much ignored all those around her and the sacrifices they made for her until the ‘Aha!’ moment when she goes off to Tahiti. Then she learns the error of her ways, finds inner strength and gets to a very convenient ending. Everything works out for the best! After struggling with family, love, science and recognition she finds them all (or almost all), helpfully situated in the first place she decides to look. It’s ok! You can hear Elizabeth Gilbert saying. Things will work out for everyone! And they do. In the most neat, unlikely fashion of all time.
As for the writing…. Well, it has pretensions to literary fiction that it sometimes achieves. It’s certainly not the worst ever. When someone asked me what the voice was like, my answer was ‘an obnoxious, close third.’ For example, we see Alma as a newborn infant before Gilbert whisks us off ‘while we wait for the girl to grow up and gain our interest again’. There’s a similar detached, reflective irony when Alma encounters certain traditions in Tahiti and it felt patronising and smug. I wish I could be more specific, but while I noted the page numbers of particular instances, I eagerly returned the book and now can’t tell you what they were. But boy am I happy this book is out of the game.
As for The Good Lord Bird, I’ve already talked about it a lot. I sincerely think that not being American and being unfamiliar with American history was a drawback as I don’t get lots of the mischievous character assassinations or interesting undermining of established historical traditions. Nevertheless I am glad it won today. I am also glad for the further insight into the general ToB process. The effort to maintain transparency and involve the readers is what makes this the best book prize in town.