Month: August 2016

Review: Irène

Irène by Pierre Lemaitre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has been tormenting me, it has taken so long for me to read. I kept being distracted by other shiny books and this one, even though I was enjoying it, was slower paced and so I was putting it aside. Finally last night I finished it in a huge reading flurry! I enjoy French crime novels as a rule, they have a different take on crime solving and the detectives are always unusual and nothing like British or Scandinavian police. I’m thinking of the Fred Vagas novels I’ve read, the pensive contemplative detective seems to be a French thing.

This is the first novel in the series which includes Alex, which I thought was fabulous. I think this is one of the more gory crime novels I’ve read, the descriptions of exactly how the bodies were dismembered was very graphic and at times made me wince a lot. The idea of a killer replicating the crimes in crime novels was really clever. The twists and turns were fantastic and the ending is quite something. And if you’ve read Alex you will know what happens in this one. I don’t think it particularly mattered that I’d read Alex first other than I did know what was going to happen in the end of this one, the journey was still good. The story does meander a bit and in a perfect world it could have been a bit more tightly edited, but the translation was great and it is an entertaining if disturbing read.

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Lost in the NZ wilds, the post apocalyptic novel becomes reality

There has been a huge news story in our region this week.  The tragic story of a young couple, out tramping in the mountains, the male partner dies tragically and his companion waits for three days beside him before making her way to a hut through metre deep snow.  Once she reaches the hut she waits.  She has frozen feet – frostbite pending – has no idea how to get the radio to work but does manage to get a fire started and writes HELP in the ashes.  It takes almost a month until someone starts to worry about this pair and the consular office starts to ask questions about where they might be. This  finally leads to her being found, and eventually today, the body of her partner being retrieved.

This story is real, and yet as I listened to the radio report of it this morning on National Radio, I saw it playing out like some of the post apocalyptic novels I have been reading.  Because I’ve read all these stories of survival I kept imagining how lonely, how terrifying and how exhausting it must have been to have been in the position of this woman. Alone in a snowy if beautiful environment, avalanches going off.  No way of escaping safely and hunkered down for the duration. In her case, knowing that outside the world was carrying on as normal.

I’m sure that there is a novel in this story. I’ve been thinking of wonderful stories I’ve read like The Dog Stars and After the Snow and the bereft feeling that these novels have conveyed so well.

So, what is my point?  Reading fictional works gives you the emotional wherewithal to put yourself in the position of someone who is living the experience in the real world.  Through reading fiction you gain empathy.  Fiction can take you to a place similar to that of a real world experience and even though an author has imagined a situation, if they have done a great job, then you can find yourself recalling the feelings that you had when reading the novel and applying them to the real world scenario. Great authors are able to trick you into sharing an imagined experience, perhaps trick is the wrong word, but they are able to draw you into their make believe world and then while you are watching the news, watching a TV series or film, you have the words to sharpen the experience.  I think that is one of the essences of reading for me.  Words I couldn’t have come up with myself to explain situations and emotions that I’ve never actually experienced other than through the writing of someone far better at expressing ideas than me.

In the meantime I can only hope that this poor woman is okay, that she is given lots of support and love and that she is able to cope which this huge thing that happened to her.

Review: Vinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold

Vinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold
Vinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold by Anne Tyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this one as audio book, it had the most wonderful reader, she hooked me from the beginning and maybe my enjoyment of it was linked as much to her fabulous job reading as it was to the story. This is a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, which has always been a play I liked. I also really like Anne Tyler so it was a great combination. Kate is perennially single, the elder daughter of a widower scientist, she has raised and looked after her younger sister and dad. She is presented with the opportunity to marry her father’s research assistant to keep him from being deported. Kate is a sensible, practical and snarky. She is not the type to be forced into marriage – or is she?

Such a good hearted and warm book, great dialogue and plenty of snark. Loved it.

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Review: The Natural Way of Things

The Natural Way of Things
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this book was amazing. I’ve never read anything like it, I became ever so slightly addicted to it, up very late reading it when I should have been long asleep. The story of these kidnapped girls was realistic and yet fantastic, their absorption into the lifestyle of deprivation and total lack of resources. The changing relationships between the girls and their minders, who turn out to be as much prisoners as the girls they are minding. I thought the writing was compelling and languid at the same time. As the girl’s mental state shifted, the writing changed with it. The anger, the fantastic descriptions of the truly disgusting things they eat, the way the girls miss their previous lives and the gradual unravelling of several of them as they spiral down into madness and in some cases spiral right back up into awareness and clarity.

I have read so many long books which could have been so much shorter, but this one was just the small perfectly formed novel, not a single wasted word. With a feeling of dystopia about it and yet totally not a dystopian novel, this was a pleasure to read, in a really uncomfortable way.

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Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an audio book which I kind of tandem read with the book alongside me from time to time. As a consequence of reading this book I have thrown away 3 large bags of stuff from my home and a heap of papers out of my office, and that is just the beginning. That said, I think it is completely and utterly weird to speak to your belongings, to kneel down in the middle of your house upon getting home and say thank you out loud to your house. It is completely strange to talk to your clothing! There is often a condescending tone in the book, and I can imagine that Marie Kondo just despairs of people like me who actually like their overstuffed houses. The book, however, does have some great ideas for culling your belongings and for storing things. I will definitely revisit the book for inspiration to cull more things. I’m not going to buy into the whole Konmarie system, that is just a bit too far for me, but I have definitely taken some of it on board.

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Review: Way Down Dark

Way Down Dark
Way Down Dark by James Smythe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is really 3.5 stars. I was not completely convinced by this story for the first half, enjoyable and something different. A spacecraft called Australia has been sent off because terrible things had happened to the world and flying adrift trying to find somewhere to land, it’s been 400 odd years now since they left. Society has pretty well become a dog eat dog world by now and only the strong, the quick and the agile survive. Chan is the main character, and she is resourceful and very determined with a wonderful sense of social justice. There turn out to be a lot of secrets on the ship, secrets which change the course of their lives. Good twists and turns and what I really liked were the descriptions of the structure of the ship.

I hadn’t realised when I bought this book that it was YA and was kind of surprised by it, which is great, but it isn’t perfect especially at the beginning, but it is good. I will buy the second one, I definitely have an audience for the book at school. And most of all, thank goodness for something a bit different!

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Review: Barracuda

Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are looking for excellent examples of contemporary Australian literature, I think that Christos Tsiolkas is right up there. While the language is always harsh and sometimes brittle, the way that he constructs his books is impressive. You always get complex characters full of good and bad and they are always completely filled out and entirely visible in your mind. I’m an admirer.

The story of Danny and his swimming obsession, his terrible time at school, his attitude and eventual understanding and coming to know himself is often really hard to read. I often wanted to reach into the pages and give him a shake, but when you come to understand it all, you realise that he is not heartless, that his troubled soul has been formed and shaped by lots of things, not least of which is his family. You come to understand why he is driven to be the best and the fastest swimmer. This is a tragic story really one to carry around with you while you mull over the story. Really liked it.

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Review: The Fireside Grown-Up Guide to Mindfulness

The Fireside Grown-Up Guide to Mindfulness
The Fireside Grown-Up Guide to Mindfulness by Jason Hazeley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, this was a treat, a funny and cool treat. I loved the artwork, cool old school vintage art, the different kinds of mindfulness were extremely entertaining and very tongue in cheek.

As the book says “Mindfulness: the skill of thinking you are doing something, when in fact you are doing nothing”. Oh look at me bring all mindful as I sloth around on the couch contemplating, finally the excuse I’ve always needed. A great laugh.

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Review: A History of Loneliness

A History of Loneliness
A History of Loneliness by John Boyne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was deeply affecting. I had seen John Boyne at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival reduce the entire theatre to messy snuffly tears and had known in my soul that I was going to love it, but I was unprepared for the emotional reaction I had to actually reading it. The story of this lonely priest, the way that he is treated, the way that the senior people in the church behave and the outrageous way that they seem to live in denial of patent truth is so disturbing. I know that we all know that the Catholic church has behaved abominably, but this book is about the covering up of awfulness and the fact that they really believed that they were above the law and that it was a perfectly fine thing to go on abusing children as a matter of right. If you have seen Spotlight then you know what is going on, the moving of priests around parishes all the time so that they continued to put young people in danger and the complete absence of guilt that the church seems to have felt at their ongoing cover-ups. It is all just so horrific. It is also horrific that priests were basically forced into the priesthood as an expectation, forced to remain there even when they knew they shouldn’t be there and no help ever given to them so that they can be treated or rehabilitated. They’d have had better care in jail probably!

Anyway, the book is well written, very moving. And I just felt so sorry for this innocent man who failed to see what others knew, and whose whole life story is changed by the knowledge he eventually gains. Highly recommended.

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