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What I'm Reading

Oh how easy to let the list slide!

(I'm now just leaving that rider there permanently as by the time I get to this each time I've already forgotten most of the books I've read since the last time.)

September 2016...

...and I've lost track once again. But here are the ones I remember, for one reason or another-

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.
My sister was a monkey. Yes, really. Terrible, bizarre and heartbreaking, especially if you try not to think about laboratory animals. At least Fowler had the courage to do so.

The Dry by Jane Harper.
A great read for a wet weekend. Well plotted and impressive especially for a debut novel.

How It All Began by Penelope Lively
What's not to love about Penelope Lively - hopping in and out of different heads with such abandon, making everyday life seem rich beyond possibility.

A Short History of Richard Kline by Amanda Lohrey
An impressive portrayal of masculine discontent, but then it just stops - and with a dream?? Really?

Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett
Can't explain why I hadn't read this before now. Totally sublime, didn't want it to end.

Vertigo by Amanda Lohrey
Brief and beautiful about one couple's attempt to escape their past but in a new place, with a new threat to contend with they come to deal with it instead.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
At last, but after years of hype, how could it possibly live up to expectations?

The Catherine Wheel by Elizabeth Harrower
The last of my Harrower collection from Text Classics and I hated it. How can this be after all my swooning over the others?

Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall
A sad, shocking and beautifully told tale based on a real event. Can't wait to see what she does next.

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar
What a triumph! A work of art. I'd postponed reading it until I had some good time to devote to it but soon I might have to read it again, for the words, not just the story.

June 2016:

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier
By the author of Cold Mountain (which I've never read) this is a riveting nail-biter which you just have to read fast in order to get to the end with a gigantic 'Whew!' Despite the tension, the language is also beautiful with loads of description of the backwoods Appalachian mountains - bears, wolves, mountains, cold starry nights...
I'd like it to be made into a movie with a voice-over by Nick Nolte.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Dystopic fiction not being my thing I'm not sure why I bought this. But still, as futuristic possibilities go, it was engaging and sad. I can only hope I'm not around for this tale to become reality.

Down in the City by Elizabeth Harrower
Nobody does invidious domestic violence quite like Elizabeth Harrower. The whole time you're reading there's a voice saying 'Get out! Get out! Get out!'

The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower
Few villains as objectionable as the hateful Felix Shaw, though the mother of Clare and Laura, the girls he exploits, even tortures, is up there in competition with him. I wonder why this theme was so dominant in Harrower's writing.

(While I devoured both of these, neither was as gripping and totally involving as The Long Prospect, which I loved.)

My Brilliant Friend by Elene Ferrante
On a recent buying spree at Dymocks I very nearly succumbed to a special deal on all three of the Neopolitan novels. So glad I didn't. While others have devoured them all and swooned over the lot, this first one left me a bit cold in terms of character, narrative and language. A few reader-friends agree but we're in a minority.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
I've read most of her books and loved The Little Stranger for its wonderful creepy mystery, and Fingersmith for its complex and stunning plot twists. This one I found a bit too grim and at times a bit sordid - not for the gay sex but for the murder and guilt, and the total lack of joy and hope in the whole thing. Grim. I felt like reading a bout of Enid Blyton after it.

The Green Road by Anne Enright
Wonderful characters, glorious depiction of rural Ireland and quirky turn of phrase as we expect from Anne Enright. I do sometimes read a particular phrase or sentnce of her and think ' now if I wrote that...' But when you're a Booker Prize winner I guess you can get away with anything.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
What bliss to get involved in a story where every characters is interesting and where every sentence, every reference , every plot set-up is dealt with perfectly by the end.

February 2016
The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau
Acquired this a.s.a.p. but didn't love it as much as I'd hoped, given all its accolades. I couldn't warm to Evangeline, the main protagonist, or anyone else much, though the daughters were beautifully drawn and I cared about them to the end.

The Light on the Water by Olga Lorenzo
The long-awaited 'next book' by a much-loved creative writing lecturer at RMIT. Great air of support and celebration at the Readings book launch and the book didn't disappoint.

Finding Grace by Alyssa Brugman
I picked this one up secondhand, never having heard of the author before but attracted by the blurb on the back. Funny, witty and wise it was. I must seek out some more of her writing though most of it's Y.A. This one came out in 2002.

Rain Music, by Di Morrisey
I won this in a photogrpahy competition for the Macquarie Dictionary (!) and it's the first Di Morrisey book I've ever read. Might be the last.

20th January, 2016

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.
Finally, after all these years of wondering what the fuss was about, I got to read it! (See Blog.)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikery by Gabrielle Zevin.
What a treat this was! You won't find it taxing, and there is an element of the fairytale about it, but to anyone who reads a lot and has a passing acquaintance with books and authors, this tale, set in a small bookshop on a remote island, is for you.

Three Dollars by Elliot Perlman
Another book I should have read years ago but it still appeals today, with the added twist of seeing how right he was about the effects of economic rationalism on people and their relationships. Bitingly funny at times too.

The Queen of the Tamourine by Jane Gardam

See blog.


1st December 2015

But the few I remember :-
Bereft by Chris Womersley (how depressing!)

Summer at Mount Hope by Rosalie Ham (didn't like it as much as The Dressmaker)

Matchbox Theatre - Thirty Short Entertainments by Michael Frayn
* If you live with someone who keeps the same waking/sleeping hours as you do, buy this (Readings again) and read them aloud together. Magic!

Testimony by Anita Shrive (clever)

I started a lot of things that I never finished but it was a raggedy old time - end of year, assignments, exams...

When all that was over and to get myself back into bludge mode I re-read The Shellseekers by Rosamund Pilcher. I know, talk about chick lit, but it's a divine presentation of story, characters and place (Cornwell) and if you're looking for a book to curl up with, a dog behind your knees and a rug at the ready, try and find a copy of this. I have three, just in case I foist it upon someone else and they don't return it. I have back-ups.

7th October, 2015

The most beautiful of the books I've read in the past few months is without doubt The Light Between Oceans, by M.L Stedman—the first book in a long while to make me ache with pity for, not just one, but many of the main characters. Goodreads has said:
'...we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss'. Read it and be changed.

Then I read the much anticipated debut novel by Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma, The Fisherman. I'd previously read his beautiful essay The Audacity of Prose which he wrote for The Millions and I so Ioved that that I couldn't wait to read his book. It did not disappoint, a gripping story and so 'novel' with its setting of an unfamiliar Nigeria in which characters danced between that culture and the infringments of the western world. Mysticism, superstition,danger, the powerful ties of family and a sense of foreboding right from the beginning—all combined to chart the destiny of the so easy to love brothers and the terrible fate that is ahead for them.

Sebastian Faulks' Engleby was next on the list, published in 2007 but recommended some time ago by Andrea Goldsmith for the tricks that the clever use of voice and point of view can play on us. Worth reading for that alone, and very different from his others—the ones that I have read anyway.

I tried Gary Crew's The Diviner's Son and was so depressed by the premise which involved a boy chained up by the ankles in a sideshow caravan that I put it away after the first few chapters, figuring that my life would not be enhanced by carrying that image in my head for any length of time.

And then I got a cold. One of those head colds that makes you a thorough misery-guts to live with and keeps you coughing, night and day, for weeks on end. So I hit the easy reads. Having heard Liz Bryski speak at the Writers Festival I noticed several of her books on the shelves of the wonderful Ramalama Book Exchange in Wonthaggi, so I bought four. (I had read one of hers previously but I forgot, and bought it again!). I'm sure there's a huge market for these books with their subject matter of vaguely disenfranchised women busting out and 'finding themselves' but - suffice to say they were ideal for someone funcioning on just the two cylinders, with a head cold and perpetually runny nose. I look at them now and for the life of me can't remember the plots of any of them.

But now I'm better I plan to embark on something a little different for me. I rarely read non-fiction but have been tempted by Richard Glover's highly acclaimed memoir, Flesh Wounds. And Jennifer Byrne's Bookclub on the ABC at the weekend has me thinking seriously of buying Lev Grossman's The Magicians, of which Goodreads (how I love them) calls an enthralling coming-of-age tale about magic practiced in the real world-where good and evil aren't black and white, and power comes at a terrible price.

Who could resist!


August 2015

I used to have a policy of finishing every book I started but have since decided that Life's too short for that so if a book is unsatisfactory after a reasonable attempt then I cast it aside.

Which I did with the much anticipated The Childrens' Book by A.S. Byatt. It may well have been full of diligently researched facts about the art world in Edwardian times but by page 249 I hardly cared about a single person in it (and there were plenty) so I abandoned it—with no regrets.

Then, for light relief, I read In the Company of Strangers by Liz Bryski. Entertaining just to meet the characters and see how they fared but as I do read for the language as well as the story and the characters, this was one of those books you read in between 'real' ones.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
See Blog for review

The Strays by Emily Bitto
It was a pleasure to read this, the 2015 Stella Prize winner by a first time writer.
The story draws heavily on the 1930s enclave at Heide and the devotion of John and Sunday Reed to an assortment of artists trying to find their way into a new movement of modern art. The children are beautifully drawn as they negotiate their development in this family of vague and unconventional parents who seem far more interested in their own lives than that of their own children and the hapless Lily who comes to live with them. A great read, shame it had to end.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
As I recall, Tyler declared that The Beginner's Goodbye would be her last novel, so when another appeared a few years later it was eagerly snapped up by all of Tyler's devoted fans as though we'd been given an extra Christmas present on Boxing Day. The book is a family saga documenting three generations of the Whitshank family (including an incredibly annoying prodigal son) but to my great disappointment, the story seems to have lost its way somewhere in the middle, switching protagonists and for me, losing my interest. I would never have believed that I might one day find Anne Tyler even mildly disappointing and I'm sad that my lifelong devotion has met this anticlimactic end.

The View From Castle Rock by Alice Munro
This reads like a book that only Alice Munro could write. Taking some flimsy facts about her Scottish ancestors and their departure from Scotland in the 18th century she builds fiction on the facts to create their imagined journey across the seas to Nova Scotia. History? Stories? Fictionalised family history? A tapestry of all these. Munro herself says that they're all 'just stories' though the latter parts read like the most authentic memoir, told in the words of someone who owns all of these experiences and has lived them first hand. A lovely read.

The Philospher's Doll by Amanda Lohrey
Usually there's a lot to love about this writer. This tale, however, deals with couples, relationships and the dilemma of what to do when one partner wants a baby and the other doesn't. I read this avidly most of the way but then it seemed to lose direction when an initially peripheral characters takes over towards the end to finish the story for us and almost incidentally inform us of the fate of the characters who engaged me in the first place. Odd and a bit unsatisfactory.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield
After the wonderful The Thirteenth Tale maybe this was destined to be disappointing. It seems to me that Setterfield hit upon the idea of the black rook as a metaphor of death and misdeeds and then tried to construct a story around it. It reads as a very contrived tale with no highlights, a great deal of gloom and a bit of a 'so what?' ending.

The Cuckoo's Calling by J.K. Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith
Predictable whodunnit with nothing original that I could see. Damaged private investigator searches for killer of supermodel with unexpectedly fiesty assistant by his side. Why did I bother? Why did she bother??

Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor
I missed this when it first came out with all the accompanying accolades and though I was engrossed enough to keep reading I didn't actually like anyone in it so it left me cold I'm afraid. I seem to have to attach to at least one of the characters in a book before it gets to stay in my heart for any length of time.

Love and Summer by William Trevor
I love this writer and his Irish backwater settings. Beautiful language, meditative and engaging enough to fill me with compassion for his star-crossed lovers.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
How amazing is this book! Set in 17th century Amsterdam with no end of secrets, menace and shocking surprises awaiting the 18-year old girl who is sent from the country to be the wife of a wealthy merchant trader. Riveting stuff and yes, I confess, it was advertised as a Great Woman's Weekly Read. If I could get one of those stickers on a manuscript I'd wouldn't be too proud to object!

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
There's something fascinating about psychopathology and Jon Ronson seems to ask a lot of the right questions with such candour and bravery. The blurb on the cover emphasises how funny this book is and how many 'belly laughs' various reviewers got from it. While I enjoyed his ability to ask all the questions we might want answered I'm not sure psychopaths in any form can be inherently funny, but what a kill joy that makes me.
I am looking forward to reading his latest book on the pitfalls of social media, having read many of his articles on the 'Net about the same issue.

The Lightkeeper's Wife by Karen Viggers
How beautiful is this story! Families, secrets, loves and losses, all set on Bruny Island, Hobart and Antarctica.Not only are the various landscapes stunningly drawn but the characters had me engaged and committed from the outset. Hard to put down and so atmospheric that you almost need to rug up and light the fire when you read it.

And I still have a generous Christmas book voucher from Dymocks yet to be redeemed so bliss awaits as soon as I make the time to go shopping.

Spent the summer break reading books from secondhand shops mostly, especially the wonderful Ramalama in Wonthaggi. Each new year I vow (half-heartedly) to keep a record of what books I read and what I thought of them but already I canít remember most of them. Hereís a few...

The Birdwatcher by William McInnes
A lovely read about a twitcher whoís losing his hearing and his quest to see the elusive Pygmy Magpie Goose. Thereís a lot about following dreams, a little bit of magic and much about having the courage to love and be loved. Very satisfying.

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
A grim tale of love and relationships during and after the second world war. The narrative works backwards so that the things we wonder about all through the story are (thank heavens!) finally explained by the end. A bit harrowing but gripping nonetheless.

Personality by Andrew OíHagan
Having loved his previous works and what he writes in the London Review of Books I found this a bit disappointing. Itís the story of a young Scottish girl with a remarkable talent for singing, her rise to fame and her battle with anorexia nervosa. OíHagan switches voice and character cleverly but it made the whole thing a bit of a hotch potch and nothing in it took my breath away like his beautiful Be Near Me of 2006.

Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman
Oh my! That was a commitment! Seven parts, six different narrators and a cast of riveting characters. Luckily the end was satisfying after all that work, though I wonder if another editor might have cut out some of the excessive detail, eg. seemingly endless pages about how to win at Blackjack.

Cairo by Chris Womersley ( a set read for my PWE course)
A beautifully written tale of Tom Button, a 17 year old innocent from the country who finds himself living alone in inner city Melbourne where he is readily seduced by a group of 1980ís Bohemians. Central to the plot is a fictional account of the stealing of Picassoís Weeping Woman but the star of this book, for me, is the language, the voice and the wonderful use of foretelling.