What is the Booker Curse, you ask? It is the evil curse that someone placed on A Reader's Respite that has prevented us from ever being able to actually finish (let alone enjoy) any book written by an author who has been the recipient of the The Man Booker Prize.
We hear audible gasps from you. But it's true.
Margaret Atwood? Never been able to get past page 100 of The Blind Assassin. Michael Ondaatje? Made it to page 72 of The English Patient and then we slipped into a coma. Kazuo Ishiguro? Page 30 of The Remains of the Day.
See what we mean? It's a curse.
So of course we were dubious when we flipped open to page 1 of Barry Unsworth's latest novel, Land of Marvels.
You see, Unsworth was the recipient of the Booker Prize back in 1992 for a book called Sacred Hunger (we made it to page 14 of that one before it was tossed back on the shelf), and that didn't bode well for our ability to get through this book.
To our surprise and delight, we were hooked by page 10 and thoroughly enjoyed the remainder of this fabulous novel. Curse? What curse?
Land of Marvels is a taut little novel set in 1914 Mesopotamia, a time when the threat of war looms in Europe and everyone is descending upon the Middle East hoping for a piece of the pie as the Ottoman Empire slowly dies off.
In the middle of this political time-bomb are the archaeologists, ones like British-born Somerville, scrambling to uncover priceless treasures of the past before the encroaching Germans put the kibosh to all foreign academic expeditions.
But Somerville may find that the devil to fear lies within his own camp. His beautiful and haughty wife Patricia is looking for greener pastures while his Arab servant has his own agendas. Add to the mix an American geologist who is not who he appears to be and you have an explosive mix. A treasure of immeasurable value has been discovered in the desert sands and the Germans are bearing down.....we're telling you, this stuff is good writing.
We're so pleased that the Curse appears to have been broken. So pleased, as a matter of fact, that it's time to move on to Booker Prize winning author A.S. Byatt's newest release and then the 2009 winner, Wolf Hall. It's like a whole new book world has been opened.
Interested? We thought you might be. Leave a comment here if you'd like to read Land of Marvels and on December 5th, we'll draw a random winner (international peeps welcome!).