Tournament of Books Round 1: The Luminaries vs Hill William

The Tournament of Books has begun! I actually missed the play-in round, in which Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (one of my favourite books of last year) beat Woke Up Lonely. I haven’t read Woke Up Lonely, and the judging commentary didn’t make me regret that.

There was some controversy in the comments, where it was revealed that the author of Hill William had tried to withdraw from the competition by means of a cryptic facebook post. Luckily for him, the ToB organisers don’t care what the authors think, so it stayed in the tournament.

In the first round, the 200-page, indie-published Hill William, took on the 834-page, Booker-Prize-winning The Luminaries.

Surprisingly, Rachel Fershleiser chose Hill William over The Luminaries, although she didn’t sound that enthusiastic about either book. Fershleiser saw The Luminaries as just another Dead White Guy novel, and it is certainly an homage to that kind of book. She didn’t appreciate the understated writing of the characters, claims erroneously that it wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test (two female characters isn’t a lot, but they certainly discuss more than just a man), and can only muster half-hearted respect for the structure. Somehow Hill William gets points for being “real” because it describes violence and abuse in ugly language.

Sometimes when reading ToB judgements, I get the impression that the judge enjoys the power of unilaterally knocking out a favourite book. In a case where you don’t really like either book, why not give the win to the more ambitious and skillfully crafted book, otherwise? In his commentary, Kevin Guilfoile contrasts the judging with the Sochi men’s figure skating, where the gold medal went to someone who fell 3 times while attempting a difficult routine. But this is like penalising the skater who gave a technically impressive and ambitious performance for not being graceful enough and giving the gold to the amateur skater who stuck it to the establishment by performing to punk rock or something.

Unsurprisingly, Jeremy was also outraged by the decision:

My winner: The Luminaries

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