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Flights
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International Booker Prize > 2018 MBI Shortlist: Flights

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message 1: by Hugh (last edited Mar 13, 2018 04:20AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3166 comments Mod
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk Olga Tokarczuk (Poland), Jennifer Croft, Flights (Fitzcarraldo Editions)


Neil | 1886 comments Finished this last night and really, really liked it. I think I may have said before that I prefer books with atmosphere to books with plot, and this is one of those because it works by accumulating lots of different fragments until something forms in the mind of the reader. It takes some reading because the writing deserves time to be taken, but it also feels like a book best read in as few sittings as possible. If lifestyle allows, I would recommend setting aside some long periods of time to concentrate on this.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5415 comments As someone who takes lots of Transatlantic flights I am impressed how evocative this book is of such a journey. Enjoyable, but half way though I will be relieved when it finishes.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 567 comments Finally finished. It took me over a week to read this book and I read nothing else in print during that time. I thought it was very well-crafted but I really struggled with it. Here's my review -- https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....


Neil | 1886 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "Finally finished. It took me over a week to read this book and I read nothing else in print during that time. I thought it was very well-crafted but I really struggled with it. Here's my review -- ..."

I guess not all books are for all people! You had to force yourself to finish this whereas I could not put it down. Wouldn't life be dull if we all liked the same things?


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5415 comments Linda - I largely agree with you (as per my comment before yours). To my mind this is a typical Fitzcarraldo book - worthy, admirable but at times a real struggle.

Overall I found it enjoyable but it really dragged at times (just like transatlantic flights) summed up for me nicely by the section "A VERY LONG QUARTER OF AN HOUR" which in its entirety says

“On the plane between 8.45 and 9 a.m. To my mind, it took an hour, or even longer.”

Some of the pages and sections of the book felt very much the same to me.


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments I am with Neil. Pure pleasure although not sure I would agree on reading it in a single sitting as I enjoyed deferring the pleasure.


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments Another MBI book link. In the Flying Mountain the brothers make up their own constellations - after all the linkages of the traditional ones are somewhat arbitrary.

And Tokarczuk calls her technique in this book "constellations." It is up to the reader to design their own connections and lines between the different pieces.


Neil | 1886 comments And it is a bit too long for one sitting. My suggestion was “as few sittings as possible” which in my case was 3, I think.

My reason for this is that I see the book as about atmosphere as much as anything else. If you dip into it for short periods and/or take long breaks, you miss that atmosphere and, in my view, therefore miss one of the best things about the book.


message 10: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments Fair point. I just liked to ponder it between reads. The opposite of a page turner but in a good way.


message 11: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1886 comments Yep. That would work, too!


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5415 comments My review - I found the parallels with books like The White Book, Sight, Reservoir 13, River, Fireflies fascinating

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 13: by WndyJW (new) - added it

WndyJW | 4882 comments I finally started this and I really enjoy the writing. I would rather listen to well spoken, well written essay than to music so this book appeals to me. I don't think for me reading it straight through is the best way. I agree with Paul. I think a few sections in the early evening will be a good way to unwind, then move onto a story.


message 14: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments Glowing review from Eileen Battersby, writing in the LARB rather than the Irish Times:

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/c...#!

Tokarczuk is one of Europe’s most daring and original writers, and this astonishing performance is her glittering, bravura entry in the literature of ideas.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 567 comments Gumble's Yard wrote: "“On the plane between 8.45 and 9 a.m. To my mind, it took an hour, or even longer.”

Some of the pages and sections of the book felt very much the same to me."


Yes. That's it exactly.


Declan | 189 comments Paul wrote: "Glowing review from Eileen Battersby, writing in the LARB rather than the Irish Times:

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/c...#!

Tokarczuk is one of Euro..."


Unfortunately her days of reviewing for The Irish Times are at an end. A great loss as will be demonstrated when they try to find someone to write about the MBI shortlist. I hope it's not John Boyne again. His assessment of the International Dublin Award was appalling. Anyway it's great that 'Flights' made the list and I can't wait to read 'Vernon Subutex 1', which I know you dislike, but which, as you probably know, Eileen liked a lot: "One of the books of the year, if not the decade."
https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/bo...


message 17: by Val (last edited Apr 12, 2018 04:13PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1016 comments I can see the similarity to Beckett she mentions, if only because I find it difficult to define in a review what it is in both authors's works exactly what makes them so memorable and wonderful. This is not the right prize for Flights to win however, so it is unlikely to top my list.


message 18: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments To me this has to win now. White Book aside (which I suspect can't win) it is far better than the other four books left.


message 19: by Neil (last edited Apr 13, 2018 12:02AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1886 comments I agree. For me, those two stand head and shoulders above the rest (even though I gave 5 stars to a couple of the others).


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5415 comments Based on the judges comments I am revising my opinion that white book cannot win.


message 21: by Tony (new)

Tony | 592 comments Putting my own views to one side, I suspect this must be the favourite:

1) Time for another female winner
2) Fitzcarraldo probably deserves some recognition
3) Croft's translation has already won a prize for this
4) It's very good, and some of the others aren't the writer's best work
5) I don't think Han Kang will get it twice in three years either.

Watch this come back to bite me when LK wins ;)


message 22: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments Will it be too abstract though for some of the judges? The EBRD prize jury rather hinted that they (or some of them) didn't even deem it eligible on the grounds it wasn't a novel, in a rather odd statement that made reference to Flights, a book that didn't even make their longlist, when announcing their winner.


message 23: by Tony (new)

Tony | 592 comments If it's too abstract for them, they don't deserve to be judging the prize...


message 24: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments One of their shortlist choices already confirms that


message 25: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3166 comments Mod
Just picked up my copy and will probably read it next week.


message 26: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1016 comments Tony wrote: "If it's too abstract for them, they don't deserve to be judging the prize..."
This prize jury seem to like abstract books (or contemplative, meditative, atmospheric ones, if you prefer). This one and The White Book are both more about thoughts around a theme than what happens.


message 27: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments If anyone hasn't got this yet, the publisher is offering 20% off at their website to celebrate the shortlisting - discount code MBI2018

Also valid for all their other translated books - some gems on their backlist.

https://fitzcarraldoeditions.com/


Barbara (barbara_63) | 59 comments Paul wrote: "If anyone hasn't got this yet, the publisher is offering 20% off at their website to celebrate the shortlisting - discount code MBI2018

Also valid for all their other translated books - some gems ..."


Hi Paul, this might not be the best place to ask this, but would you recommend getting 'Bricks and Mortar' or 'River'? At the moment I can only justify one purchase, but I'm having a hard time deciding between the two.

As for Flights, it is my favorite from the entire list, although The White Book is a very very close second. I appreciated the translation especially: it barely registered that this book was not originally written in English. I felt the opposite for Frankenstein in Baghdad, some very grating turns of phrases there - I don't know if that's maybe the book itself, or some issue with the choices made by the translator.

Did readers really think this was abstract? It had its share fare of philosophical/psychological discourse, but I felt it was rather grounded in reality (too much so perhaps with some of those passages on embalming, which to be honest I really enjoyed, but can understand might have been too much for some readers).

Overall, I do hope this one wins it (to get both Fitzcarraldo and the author some recognition), although so many people seem to think that for political reasons alone FiB might snatch this year.


message 29: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments Personally I wasn't a big fan of Bricks and Mortar, indeed while I appreciated what Meyer had done and it was 5 stars for literary merit, it was 1 star for personal enjoyment.

But Meike & Neil both loved it (mind you they both loved Vernon Subutex!)

I think River is much stronger.

Very different books though - River is much closer to Flights in nature (albeit not quite as good).

Both are arguably a little too long it must be said - but one is 400 pages too long!


message 30: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3166 comments Mod
I still have another 100 pages to me, but I am enjoying this one, though it is such a varied collection of fragments that it is quite difficult to get a sense of how it coalesces into a novel. Since some of the fragments are 30 to 40 pages long, and these benefit from being read in one sitting like a short story, some kind of table of contents might have been helpful. The maps are distracting but fascinating.


message 31: by Hugh (last edited Apr 18, 2018 07:32AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3166 comments Mod
I have created my own table of contents and will include it in my review! By my reeckoning there are 116 sections. Unless I missed any of the headings when I flicked through the book earlier, the sections/chapters/stories that are 15 or more pages long are:

Kunicki: Water (ii)
Ash Wednesday Feast,
Dr Blau's Travels (i)
Dr Blau's Travels (ii)
The History of Filip Verheyen
Flights
Godzone
Kunicki: Earth
Kairos


message 32: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3166 comments Mod
I finished the book yesterday, and was very impressed - still not convinced it is a novel but I got more drawn in towards the end and found it wonderful (literally). My review.


message 33: by WndyJW (last edited Apr 20, 2018 05:22PM) (new) - added it

WndyJW | 4882 comments I love it too, Hugh. I agree it's not a novel. It's a collection of flash fiction and short stories. Is it being called a novel?


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5415 comments And this interview is fascinating from today's Guardian.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...

The literature of central Europe is very different from that of the west, she explains. “The first thing is that we don’t trust reality as much as you do. Reading English novels I always adore the ability to write without fear about inner psychological things that are so delicate. In such a form you can develop a story in a very linear way, but we don’t have this patience. We feel that in every moment something must be wrong because our own story wasn’t linear. Another difference is that you are rooted in psychoanalysis while we’re still thinking in a mythical, religious wa


message 36: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1016 comments The MBI rules don't say it has to be a novel to be eligible:
'The Man Booker International Prize for fiction translated into English is awarded annually by the Booker Prize Foundation to the author of the best (in the opinion of the judges) eligible novel or collection of short stories.'


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5415 comments Agreed (and one collection of short stories made the shortlist I believe) but the author and publisher of this one believe it to be a novel


message 38: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1886 comments I am happy with it being described as a novel. In my head, it is all connected by ideas and repeating motifs. There may not be a “plot”, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a novel. The quote GY posted is fascinating.


message 39: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1016 comments I am happy for the author and publisher to call it a novel if they want to, the fragments are connected, as Neil points out. I don't think the connections are as strong as in "The White Book", but I also don't think it matters. (I haven't read "The World Goes On" to see if those stories have repeated ideas and motifs.)


message 40: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1886 comments “The World Goes On” is a short story collection and does not try to be anything else.


message 41: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3166 comments Mod
I wasn't questioning its eligibility and I know that the novel is a slippery concept! I will be very happy if this wins.


message 42: by WndyJW (last edited Apr 22, 2018 08:03PM) (new) - added it

WndyJW | 4882 comments I looked up the definition of a novel since we were talking about it, most definitions say basically that a novel is an invented prose narrative, usually long, that deals with the human experience. One definition included, “usually through a series of connected events,” but that can be understood in different ways as well.

It wasn’t until I was made aware of the RofC and read some of the books on that list that I realized how fresh and exciting literature that stretches the form really can be.

However one likes their novels it seems we all agree Flights is an exceptional book.


message 43: by Paul (last edited Apr 22, 2018 11:53PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments Re-read this as part of shadow jury duties. It really is impressive - and very much a page-turner, absolutely riveting.

On a re-read the connections come out even more, the constellations become clearer. And the style of the novel is very much a key part of the message.

The narrator's (rather than author's) own thoughts on her style:

Am I doing the right thing telling stories? Wouldn’t it be better to fasten the mind with a clip, tighten the reins and express myself not be means of stories and histories, but with the simplicity of a lecture, where in sentence after sentence a single thought gets clarified, and then others racked after onto it in the succeeding paragraphs? I could use quotes and footnotes. I could in the order of points or chapters reap the consequences of demonstrating step by step what it is I mean ...

Tales have a kind of inherent inertia that is never possible to fully control. They require people like me - insecure, indecisive, easily led astray. Naive.


and to me the effect, again in the novel's (and yes it definitely is a novel) words:

Throughout this beautiful chaos, threads of meaning spread in all directions, networks of strange logic.

Interesting that the Bieguni fear that tyrants want to tie them down:

They want to build a big machine where every creature will be forced to take its place and carry out false actions.

or, in other (my own) words, lock them into a conventional novel.


message 44: by WndyJW (new) - added it

WndyJW | 4882 comments What is the function of a shadow jury?


message 45: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments To provide a coherent way to prove that the real jury doesn't know what it is doing.

Bit like the M&G rankings, which I dub the shadow shadow jury as last year they proved it wasn't the real jury that didn't know what it was doing.


message 46: by Tony (new)

Tony | 592 comments Paul wrote: "To provide a coherent way to prove that the real jury doesn't know what it is doing.

Bit like the M&G rankings, which I dub the shadow shadow jury as last year they proved it wasn't the real jury ..."


Yeah, about that...


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5415 comments Just adding to the narrative debate, this excerpt from the Guardian interview I linked to above is interesting

Tokarczuk prefers an astronomical metaphor, explaining that, just as the ancients looked at stars in the sky and found ways to group them and then to relate them to the shapes of creatures or figures, so what she calls her “constellation novels” throw stories, essays and sketches into orbit, allowing the reader’s imagination to form them into meaningful shapes.


message 48: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8772 comments The constellations feature quite a lot in the novel itself as well.


message 49: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 1016 comments I have found the quote which almost knocked a star off my rating:
'For a brief moment these men were vertical neighbours; what is, after all, eleven thousand metres?' (It's eleven thousand metres, that's what it is.) 'Barely more than ten kilometres.' (It's eleven, exactly eleven.) 'That's a lot less than the nearest settlement for that man on earth.' (No, you are applying average population density for Siberia to an individual.) 'It's less than the distance dividing the neighbourhoods of a big city.' (Do you mean two neighbourhoods on opposite sides of a city? There are not eleven kilometre gaps between neighbourhoods.)


message 50: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1886 comments Hi Val - I read that paragraph differently to you.

'Barely more than ten kilometres' - in the context of the passage and a line drawn from the centre of the earth to a plane 11km above the surface, 1km is indeed 'barely more'.

'...a lot less than the nearest settlement...' - isn't that simply saying that the man on earth she is talking about is more than 11km from the nearest town, which must surely be possible in many parts of the world, and therefore closer to the man in the plane than to a person on the surface of the planet?

'...less than the distance dividing...' - I don't think she is talking about the gap between adjoining parts of a city but rather about the fact that some cities are so big that they have neighbourhoods that are more than 11km apart.


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