Annal: 1998 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction

Results of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in the year 1998.

Book:Master Georgie

Master Georgie: A Novel

Beryl Bainbridge

Master Georgie—George Hardy, a surgeon and amateur photographer—stands at the center of this intense, searing, unsettling novel that takes him from a comfortable life in prosperous nineteenth century Liverpool to the battlefield at Inkerman and the horrors of the Crimean War. His story begins and ends in front of a camera, but Master Georgie is more than the subject of a photograph. Three voices record the series of strange events, bad judgments, good intentions, and ill luck that shape the destiny of Master Georgie. There is Myrtle, a foundling rescued by an accident of fate that secures her an ambiguous position in the Hardy household. There is Pompey Jones, a resourceful street boy, then a fire-eater, and finally a photographer’s assistant. There is the pompous, melancholy Dr. Potter who studies the classics and the new science of Darwin no less than he ponders the singular misadventure in a Liverpool brothel that has so ominously linked his own fortune with that of a servant girl, a scamp, and his brother-inlaw, Master Georgie.

Book:Charlotte Gray: A Novel

Charlotte Gray: A Novel

Sebastian Faulks

In blacked-out, wartime London, Charlotte Gray develops a dangerous passion for a battle-weary RAF pilot, and when he fails to return from a daring flight into France she is determined to find him. In the service of the Resistance, she travels to the village of Lavaurette, dyeing her hair and changing her name to conceal her identity. Here she will come face-to-face with the harrowing truth of what took place during Europe’s darkest years, and will confront a terrifying secret that threatens to cast its shadow over the remainder of her days.

Vividly rendered, tremendously moving, and with a narrative sweep and power reminiscent of his novel Birdsong, Charlotte Gray confirms Sebastian Faulks as one of the finest novelists working today.

Book:The Last King of Scotland

The Last King of Scotland

Giles Foden

Shortly after his arrival in Uganda, Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan is called to the scene of a bizarre accident: Idi Amin, careening down a dirt road in his red Maserati, has run over a cow. When Garrigan tends to Amin, the dictator, in his obsession for all things Scottish, appoints him as his personal physician. And so begins a fateful dalliance with the central African leader whose Emperor Jones-style autocracy would transform into a reign of terror.

In The Last King of Scotland Foden’s Amin is as ridiculous as he is abhorrent: a grown man who must be burped like an infant, a self-proclaimed cannibalist who, at the end of his 8 years in power, would be responsible for 300,000 deaths. And as Garrigan awakens to his patient’s baroque barbarism—and his own complicity in it—we enter a venturesome meditation on conscience, charisma, and the slow corruption of the human heart. Brilliantly written, comic and profound, The Last King of Scotland announces a major new talent.

Book:Man or Mango? A Lament

Man or Mango? A Lament

Lucy Ellmann

Something of a latter-day Jonah, Eloise describes her life as “half-alive hermitude”: she avoids windows, minds cats, plays the cello (badly), writes letters of complaint to the makers of “defective loo roll holders,” and allots “recovery time” to each social encounter. George is an American writer, painfully dependent on rich, dull patrons, who wonders whether he’ll ever finish his epic poem about ice hockey. He’s contemptuous of what he regards as England’s abnegation of sexuality—”a land of safe but wasted women.” Then there’s Ed, burglar, pervert, and bee tormentor, who grows giant vegetables in his backyard and sends letter bombs to women in the news.

The book itself is a collage of lists, its scope ranging from inventories of house contents to the elements that constitute seawater—the kind of manly data that distracts us continually from our true dilemma: how to love in a loveless world.

Book:The Restraint of Beasts

The Restraint of Beasts

Magnus Mills

Here is the captivating tale of three men who work for a company specializing in high-tension fences, the kind that keep beasts in and humans out—or maybe the other way around. Tam and Richie are good Scots lads at heart (taciturn and suspicious of authority) who have turned loafing and pub-crawling into an art form. They try the patience of their foreman, the narrator of the novel, who has the misfortune of being British. Carefully laid plans go haywire from the start. The fence they had built for Mr. McCrindle has gone slack, and while he watches them attempt to set things right, things go horribly, terribly wrong. Covering their tracks as best they can, the hapless trio head south from Scotland to do a job in England. But sometimes good fences make disastrous neighbors.

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