Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

What a truly awful book. It’s a combination of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Cormack McCarthy’s The Road, but without the brilliance. It’s a sort of dystopian novel, though the setting is contemporary, about women who have been shamed by the media as sluts – women who have slept with the whole football team, who’ve been caught having affairs with politicians and so forth. Other people in their lives – friends, brothers, other women – somehow have the power to have them disappeared by a group called Hardings. There are shades of the forced lobotomies of the early 20th century, of the corporate run detention centres of the present, of the systematic abuses of children in care. But it’s such a miserable, depressing, gloomy read. Some women cave in, other women find strength, lots of women go mad. I can see this writer is a fire and brimstone feminist, and good on her for that, but the book is just so bloody depressing. And again, so mundanely written. And it just goes on and on. Emma, who lent it to me, told me not to bother returning it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Husbands Secret by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty's books are chick lit really but absolutely terrific when you're on holidays and cant be bothered concentrating on something more serious. This one is about a murder that took place a long time ago and about the people who knew and or know the family of the girl who died, Janie. It's fast paced and compelling and pretty well written.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This was a compelling book that jumped around in time a bit and was told from the point of view of the three main women in the story, Rachel, Anna and Megan. It's a murder mystery thriller thing. The problem was that I really didn't like any of the women in it, much less the men, and so didn't engage with them or hope things turned out OK for them. At the same time, I did want to know who dunnit so powered through it on trains and so forth. It was an easy enough holiday read.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

What a heartbreaker: this absolutely top notch gifted neurosurgeon struck down by cancer at the age of 35. His thoughts on death and dying, on a person’s place in life, their purpose, what matters, what doesn’t and, fundamentally, their connection with and responsibilities to other people. Box of tissues required.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

What a magical little book. It's the story of two older people finding companionship and love but also of the mean spiritedness of others, damaged people like the woman's son. It’s just an afternoon’s read but wise, wonderful and mature.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Commonwealth by Anne Patchett

I loved this book. It’s the freewheeling story of a family riven by infidelity, divorce, betrayals and yet somehow retaining a weird kind of loyalty and love despite everything. It’s beautifully written, compelling and clever. I particularly liked the way Patchett managed to get those unfinished bits and pieces that flow around families. There are gaps and loose ends. Not everything is explained. The reader has to think. This gives the story an authenticity that is rare in family sagas and I came away feeling I really knew Franny and Jeanette, from whose point of view the story is mostly told.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler

Somebody told me this book has had average reviews. WHAT???? I could barely put it down. Having been to Istanbul many years ago now, it was easy to place the events in this lucid history, and perhaps that’s part of why I loved it so much. But there’s also Richard Fidler’s amazingly easy style. He brings his skills as a conversational type of interviewer directly into his story telling, so that it’s relevant, engaging and grounded. But let me begin at the beginning. This big book is a history of Constantinople, from its inception as the capital of Byzantine Rome to its fall to the Ottoman Turks in the middle of the 1400s. Richard Fidler and his son Joe, both history buffs, are wandering through the city tracking down monuments and relics and then Fidler tells the story behind each one. It’s a good structure, hanging a story off an object as it were, and one I’ve used myself writing a family history. The light peppering of anecdotes and observations from their trip provides some gentle relief from the historic content too. I must admit that though I was a keen reader throughout, there were times where my eyes glazed over a little at the endless battles that took place and some of the descriptions of war tactics. I did confuse some of the historical characters but then I don’t think it’s essential to remember every name. I came away with a sense of the richness of the city’s history, its pivotal political and geographical role through time, an understanding of how the Christian church developed and split into the orthodox and Latin factions if I may call them that, and a complete horror at the cruelty and disregard for human life and wellbeing that was all pervasive. I spent a lot of time investigating the things I was reading on the internet – flicking back and forth on the iPad provides a new dimension to reading – and underlined so many utterly fascinating bits of information in the text that I will probably never look at again. For example: the origin of the term ‘navel-gazing’, which I’m not going into here. I just loved the way Fidler brought together so many incredible stories, patching them into a really readable and so often un-put-downable whole. I loved it so much I sent his radio program website a message telling him – a groupie no less – and he wrote back saying to watch out for his book in Iceland coming up. I’ll be the first in the queue.