Specsavers Fiction (with a Sense of Place) 

WINNER:
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien 

In Canada in 1990, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests. Her name is Ai-Ming.

 

As her relationship with Marie deepens, Ai-Ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao's ascent to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989. It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China's relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming - and for Marie.

 

Written with exquisite intimacy, wit and moral complexity, Do Not Say We Have Nothing magnificently brings to life one of the most significant political regimes of the 20th century and its traumatic legacy, which still resonates for a new generation. It is a gripping evocation of the persuasive power of revolution and its effects on personal and national identity, and an unforgettable meditation on China today.

SHORTLIST:
The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel 

Lost in Portugal. 

Lost to grief.

With nothing but a chimpanzee. 

 

A man thrown backwards by heartbreak goes in search of an artefact that could unsettle history. A woman carries her husband to a doctor in a suitcase. A Canadian senator begins a new life, in a new country, in the company of a chimp called Odo. From these stories of journeying, of loss and faith, Yann Martel makes a novel unlike any other: moving, profound and magical.

The Muse by Jessie Burton 

A picture hides a thousand words...

On a hot July day in 1967, Odelle Bastien climbs the stone steps of the Skelton gallery in London, knowing that her life is about to change forever. Having struggled to find her place in the city since she arrived from Trinidad five years ago, she has been offered a job as a typist under the tutelage of the glamorous and enigmatic Marjorie Quick. But though Quick takes Odelle into her confidence, and unlocks a potential she didn't know she had, she remains a mystery – no more so than when a lost masterpiece with a secret history is delivered to the gallery.

The truth about the painting lies in 1936 and a large house in rural Spain, where Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, is harbouring ambitions of her own. Into this fragile paradise come artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles and his half-sister Teresa, who immediately insinuate themselves into the Schloss family, with explosive and devastating consequences...

Seductive, exhilarating and suspenseful, The Muse is an unforgettable novel about aspiration and identity, love and obsession, authenticity and deception.

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

A compact masterpiece dedicated to the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich: Julian Barnes’s first novel since his best-selling, Man Booker Prize–winning The Sense of an Ending.

 

In 1936, Shostakovich, just thirty, fears for his livelihood and his life. Stalin, hitherto a distant figure, has taken a sudden interest in his work and denounced his latest opera. Now, certain he will be exiled to Siberia (or, more likely, executed on the spot), Shostakovich reflects on his predicament, his personal history, his parents, various women and wives, his children—and all who are still alive themselves hang in the balance of his fate. And though a stroke of luck prevents him from becoming yet another casualty of the Great Terror, for decades to come he will be held fast under the thumb of despotism: made to represent Soviet values at a cultural conference in New York City, forced into joining the Party and compelled, constantly, to weigh appeasing those in power against the integrity of his music. Barnes elegantly guides us through the trajectory of Shostakovich’s career, at the same time illuminating the tumultuous evolution of the Soviet Union. The result is both a stunning portrait of a relentlessly fascinating man and a brilliant exploration of the meaning of art and its place in society.

The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler (Translated by Charlotte Collins)

When seventeen-year-old Franz exchanges his home in the idyllic beauty of the Austrian lake district for the bustle of Vienna, his homesickness quickly dissolves amidst the thrum of the city. In his role as apprentice to the elderly tobacconist Otto Trsnyek, he will soon be supplying the great and good of Vienna with their newspapers and cigarettes. Among the regulars is a Professor Freud, whose predilection for cigars and occasional willingness to dispense romantic advice will forge a bond between him and young Franz.

 

It is 1937. In a matter of months Germany will annex Austria and the storm that has been threatening to engulf the little tobacconist will descend, leaving the lives of Franz, Otto and Professor Freud irredeemably changed.

 

In the tradition of novels such as Fred Uhlman's classic Reunion, Bernhard Schlink's The Reader and Rachel Seiffert's The Dark RoomThe Tobacconist tells a deeply moving story of ordinary lives profoundly affected by the Third Reich. 

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

From the internationally bestselling author of The Snow Child comes an extraordinary story of discovery, adventure, and a husband and wife tested by the different paths their society expects them to tread.

Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska's hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its rich natural resources to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy.

Forrester leaves behind his young wife, Sophie, newly pregnant with the child he had never expected to have. Adventurous in spirit, Sophie does not relish the prospect of a year in a military barracks while her husband carves a path through the wilderness. What she does not anticipate is that their year apart will demand every ounce of courage and fortitude of her that it does of her husband.

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