Yesterday saw the announcement of the Carnegie and Greenaway longlists. It’s always a much anticipated day in our household and guarantees that I’ll be glued to twitter for the next couple of hours and, more significantly, glued to the books themselves for the next couple of weeks. As with most years, I find that I’ve read a fair few already and have several patiently waiting in the to be read pile (now expedited to the top) but many are also gloriously new to me
And this is the bit that I love the most – that wonderful sense of anticipation and the knowledge of all those adventures about to unfold – because one thing is for certain, if they’ve made the longlist of the Carnegie Medal then these are going to be GOOD books.
I started my longlist reading with a remarkably prescient bit of book selection when I picked up Jenny Valentine’s Fire Colour One on Monday. So enthralled was I that I’d finished it by the time I read it had made the longlist on Tuesday!
The blurb: Iris’s father, Ernest, is at the end of his life and she hasn’t even met him. Her best friend, Thurston, is somewhere on the other side of the world. Everything she thought she knew is up in flames.
Now her mother has declared war and means to get her hands on Ernest’s priceless art collection. But Ernest has other ideas. There are things he wants Iris to know after he’s gone. And the truth has more than one way of coming to light.
I’m a longtime fan of Valentine – she has a way of describing things that just feels right; a way of expressing things in a recognizable but beautifully lyrical way. Her characters combine perceptive everyday observation set alongside a rich and reflective emotional inner life and I find that sentences and scenes are still percolating through my thoughts long after I’ve finished reading.
Reading Fire Colour One was certainly no exception – it’s lyrical without being saccharine and it packs a powerful emotional punch without being overly sentimental. Iris, the focus and narrator of the tale is an awesome character – full of rage and tenderness; at times incredibly perceptive and at others consumed with blinding loneliness and despair – she is utterly beguiling. But then the whole ambition of the book is beguiling – it’s the bittersweet tale of parent and child reunited, it’s the hopeful tale of a girl coming to understand her place in the world – where she came from and who she is but it’s also a wonderful discussion on the power and nature of art in the twenty-first century (I defy you not to google Yves Klein by the end of the book!) with a healthy dose of social commentary about materialism and consumerism to boot. It’s a lot to hope for from such a slim volume but Valentine totally pulls it off and what’s more throws in a brilliantly satisfying twist at the end.
It certainly sets the bar high for the rest of the longlisted books