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A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian - Orange Prize Winner?

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The Orange Prize is awarded on Tuesday 7.6.2005 - so will this book be the winner?

As I suggested it for the Group Read, I suppose I should be its staunchest supporter ..... however, this is not the case.

My own reaction to the book reflects the ambivalent views already expressed in this forum.

Initially appealing because of the quirkiness of its packaging and the humour blended with the mix of serious themes, it sounded marvellous. It got great reviews on the BBC Pageturners series and, to be fair, in almost every newspaper review I have read since then. I so wanted to love it .... and I did, for the first half of the book - I even laughed out loud more than once.

Then, the charm faded. I felt the author backed herself into a corner with Valentina so that, in the end, she became nothing more than a charicature. I found her personal happy ending daft and completely unrealistic. (No man can be that devoted!)

The novel was, however, powerful in its portrayal of the humiliations of old age, which at times were heartbreaking. Most fascinating of all was the sibling relationship, and I still find myself wondering how two people from the same background can become such different personages. It just shows the power of childhood experience.

In the final analysis the intention was good and the execution lacking. I do find myself wondering what makes this book deserve the accolades it is receiving. My only answer is originality, because it has that in spades. Is that enough for it to win the Orange Prize? I personally wouldn't think so. How about you?

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I'm glad you mentioned Wodehouse ... I can't bring to mind any comic novel that manages to keep me interested to the end - I find the joke always wears thin long somewhere round the mid-point. This includes some of Wodehouse (if I may make such a heretical statement). If that is the case, then the problem is mine, and "A Short History ...." may well be a much stronger piece of writing than I suggest.


... P.S The above does not apply to "The Eyre Affair" by Jasper Fforde. Thank goodness - I do have a sense of humour.

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Do we really need a literary prize for women only?

I asked myself the same question when the Orange Prize started out. I decided we didn't and, initially refused to have anything to do with such positive discrimination. We women can stand on our own two feet, can compete with men, etc etc.


I also used to believe that women could compete with men at tennis. A little older and wiser, I can see that the two games are not the same. The same is true of writing - there is a world of difference between the male and the female voice, so why shouldn't we celebrate it and have a prize for the best in female writing? (I'd have no problem with a male-only prize either.)


The Orange prize lists are also invaluable in another respect. In a market swamped with female chick-lit authors, they provide a valuable reference to quality female writing.


Long live the Orange Prize, I say.

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I also used to believe that women could compete with men at tennis. A little older and wiser, I can see that the two games are not the same. The same is true of writing

I would say the same is absolutely NOT true about writing. Tennis and writing seem a bit apples and oranges to me. There's a physical side to tennis to justify the different sex competitions. Nothing like it with writing, and I think any same sex writing prize is wrong.


Just to threadjack, I never could understand why bookshops have separate Black Fiction and Gay Fiction areas either. Why aren't the novels in with general fiction (or whatever genre the book is, crime, romance, historical, etc)?


A novel should be read and judged blind ;) ie without any preconceptions about the writer.

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In 1987 Virago published Down The Road, Worlds Away, a collection of short stories by a young Asian woman called Rahila Khan on the grounds that this was a different specifically female Asian voice that needed to be heard. They were subsequently embarrassed when Rahila Khan was revealed as a man, not only that but a white man, in fact a vicar, the Reverend Toby Forward. Despite their earlier gushiness about the writing, Virago declined to sell any more copies of the book.

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  • 2 years later...
Obviously I'm alone in my view but I fail to understand the moral problem in celebrating female writing for its own sake.

Hi Lizzy!


I'm a bit mixed on this.


I believe it was set up because there were very few women getting on prize lists. With 4 out of 6 of last years Booker shortlist written by women, I'm not sure it is relevant anymore.


Another thing I have noticed is that, in my opinion, the quality of the books chosen is not as high as that of other prizes such as the Booker. What is that saying about female writers? I think female writers can write as well as men, but I don't think this particular prize shows that.


I did like Tractors... though. I thought it was going to be too lightweight, but it wasn't.

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Hi Lizzy!


I'm a bit mixed on this.


I believe it was set up because there were very few women getting on prize lists. With 4 out of 6 of last years Booker shortlist written by women, I'm not sure it is relevant anymore.


Another thing I have noticed is that, in my opinion, the quality of the books chosen is not as high as that of other prizes such as the Booker. What is that saying about female writers? I think female writers can write as well as men, but I don't think this particular prize shows that.


I did like Tractors... though. I thought it was going to be too lightweight, but it wasn't.


Hi Ang!


It may be 2 years since my last comment but my view hasn't changed. Leave the Orange alone. Even if the original reasons for its creation no longer apply, it lets the world know there is more to women's fiction than chick lit and it encourages diversity. Every year the lists bring new women writers to my attention - this year I discovered Patricia Ferguson and Catherine O'Flynn. (Or rather I will when I get round to reading the books I bought on the back of the longlists and related discussion/recommendations). It's good for the authors and it's good for the readers. It's not just about the winner.


The fact that the winners of the Orange differ from the winners of the Booker says more about the judges than the writers, or perhaps the judging criteria (whatever they may be.) There have been three female Booker winners since the Orange began. (Arundhati Roy, Margaret Atwood, Kiran Desai). They were all shortlisted but didn't win the Orange. I wonder why?


The quality issue is very subjective. For what floats my boat may sink yours and vice versa. I find Booker winners very patchy. For every Life of Pi (good) there's a Disgrace (not just a pun - I detested it!) Orange winners are not always great but I've yet to read a poor one. (Though judging from reviews Zadie Smith's homage to Howard's End could well scupper that argument.) And I have yet to read a Booker winner, or indeed anything, superior to either "Bel Canto" or "Small Island".


EDIT: inserted the words "Zadie Smith's homage to" and thus removed a glaring error before anyone pointed it out! Phew! Also am mighty impressed by the hyperlinks which have appeared from nowhere. How do you do that?

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Guest John Self

I agree with Lizzy. Many men are, as Nabokov described himself, exclusively homosexual in their literary tastes and anything that gives more prominence to literary novels written by women is a good thing.


I also agree that Small Island by Andrea Levy is superior to anything that has won the Booker in the last ten years.

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I agree with Lizzy. Many men are, as Nabokov described himself, exclusively homosexual in their literary tastes and anything that gives more prominence to literary novels written by women is a good thing.

It wasn't that long ago (a couple years?) that my eyes were opened. I used to avoid books written by women myself, and I am one!
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