Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tournament of Books - personal update

I decided late to jump on the Tournament of Books bandwagon and so only read a couple of the contenders.

I started with We Love You, Charlie Freeman, and also read My Name is Lucy Barton.  I'm currently reading Hag-Seed (modern retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, by Margaret Atwood, which was on the long list but didn't make the cut for the short list brackets), and am still planning on reading The Underground Railroad, Homegoing, and possibly The Mothers and Grief is a Thing with Feathers.

So looking at a head-to-head competition between the two I've finished, I definitely preferred Elizabeth Strout's Lucy Barton over Kaitlyn Greenidge's Charlie Freeman.

Charlie Freeman is a debut novel and it shows--Greenidge has a powerful story with difficult themes and challenging characters, and it seems that she is never quite able to manage all of those elements cohesively.  After I finished the book, I read a couple of reviews that talked about the book being messy, and I agree with that.  There were significant parts that I just didn't get--in particular, the characters of the mother and the younger sister baffled me. I could never make sense of either one.  Likewise, the institution where the family went to live was something I never believed in.  I liked the premise of the story, and I liked the complexity of the characters, but the story-telling was clumsy.

Not so with Lucy Barton.  I loved the structure of the novel--the way Lucy tells the story of her life through her conversations with her mother.  I found the mother borderline believable, primarily because I cannot imagine any mother acting the way she did towards her child, but that could be my own narrow view of the world.  But the writing was great, the dialogue realistic, and the story-telling superb.  It was all flashback with little action, and yet the story was taut with tension.

On to Hag-Seed--in a word, it is great.  I usually don't care for modern retellings, though I have done this myself with some Austen works, but this is spot on, thoughtful, with superb characters and dialogue and it reflects a profound and sensitive reading of The Tempest.  I'm half-way done, so I can't say for sure how I'll feel, but for sheer reading enjoyment, I pick The Hag-Seed.  After reading Atwood's The Blind Assassin and disliking it, I jumped to the conclusion that I didn't like Atwood. Now, I considering reading some of her other works.

It'll be interesting how I rate all the books in this year's Tournament.  I'll keep you posted!  Anyone else reading along these lines?


  1. You know I am on board with the TOB! I concur with your assessment. I really loved Lucy Barton and while there were parts of Charlie Freeman that were great, as a who it was too much crammed into one book.

    I initially wasn't interested in reading Hag-Seed, but more because of my ignorance of the source material. I have read quite a few other novels (including Blind Assassin) and really liked them. If you only ever read one more Atwood, I recommend you try The Handmaid's Tale.

  2. Tournament of Books is an interesting idea. In general. I might have trouble picking one book over another though.

    I also usually dislike modern revisions on Shakespeare. With that, Atwood is such a brilliant writer that I would I think that I might like Hag-Seed.

  3. I think I would like Hag-Seed. Some Atwood books I like and others not as much. But more often they are great.