Annal: 2003 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction

Results of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in the year 2003.

Book:Personality

Personality

Andrew O'Hagan

Maria Tambini is a thirteen-year-old girl with an amazing singing voice. Growing up above her mother’s shop on the Scottish island of Bute, living at the centre of her family’s dream of fame, Maria is an extraordinary girl making ready to escape the ordinary life.

We first meet her amidst the faded grandeur of the seaside resort of Rothesay, with the Argyll hills and the Eighties in front of her, and behind her a long shadow: the secret story of her Italian-immigrant family. When Maria wins a national TV talent show she is taken to London and becomes an instant star of what used to be called light entertainment; she sings with Dean Martin and tours America, can fill the London Palladium, yet all the while “the girl with the giant voice” is losing herself in fame and waging a private war against her own body. Maria becomes a living exhibit in the modern drama of celebrity: is it possible…[more]

Book:The Crimson Petal and the White

The Crimson Petal and the White: A Novel

Michel Faber

At the Heart of this panoramic, multidimensional narrative is the compelling struggle of a young woman to lift her body and soul out of the gutter. Michel Faber leads us back to 1870s London, where Sugar, a nineteen-year-old whore in the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, yearns for escape into a better life. Her ascent through the strata of Victorian society offers us intimacy with a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters.

They begin with William Rackham, an egotistical perfume magnate whose ambition is fueled by his lust for Sugar, and whose patronage of her brings her into proximity to his extended family and milieu: his unhinged, child-like wife, Agnes; his mysteriously hidden-away daughter, Sophie; and his pious brother Henry, foiled in his devotional calling by a persistently less-than-chaste love for the Widow Fox, whose efforts on behalf of The Rescue Society lead Henry into ever-more disturbing confrontations with…[more]

Book:The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: A Novel

Mark Haddon

Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, Christopher is autistic. Everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning for him. Routine, order and predictability shelter him from the messy, wider world. Then, at fifteen, Christopher’s carefully constructed world falls apart when he finds his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork, and he is initially blamed for the killing.

Christopher decides that he will track down the real killer and turns to his favorite fictional character, the impeccably logical Sherlock Holmes, for inspiration. But the investigation leads him down some unexpected paths and ultimately brings him face to face with the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. As he tries to deal with the crisis within his own family, we are drawn…[more]

Book:Middlesex

Middlesex

Jeffrey Eugenides

In the spring of 1974, Calliope Stephanides, a student at a girls’ school in Grosse Pointe, finds herself drawn to a chain-smoking, strawberry blond classmate with a gift for acting. The passion that furtively develops between them—along with Callie’s failure to develop—leads Callie to suspect that she is not like other girls. In fact, she is not really a girl at all.

The explanation for this shocking state of affairs takes us out of suburbia—back before the Detroit race riots of 1967, before the rise of the Motor City and Prohibition, to 1922, when the Turks sacked Smyrna and Callie’s grandparents fled for their lives. Back to a tiny village in Asia Minor where two lovers, and one rare genetic mutation, set in motion the metamorphosis that will turn Callie into a being both mythical and perfectly real: a hermaphrodite.

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