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BOOK REVIEW: The Dry by Jane Harper

Saturday, March 11, 2017


BLURB:

Luke Hadler turns a gun on his wife and child, then himself. The farming community of Kiewarra is facing life and death choices daily. If one of their own broke under the strain, well...

When Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk returns to Kiewarra for the funerals, he is loath to confront the people who rejected him twenty years earlier. But when his investigative skills are called on, the facts of the Hadler case start to make him doubt this murder-suicide charge.

And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, old wounds start bleeding into fresh ones. For Falk and his childhood friend Luke shared a secret... A secret Falk thought long-buried... A secret which Luke's death starts to bring to the surface...


MY THOUGHTS:

Set in a small Australian country town, The Dry is a tense, compelling and atmospheric murder mystery, as well as an astonishingly assured debut from English-born novelist Jane Harper. It won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2015, and has since been sold in more than 20 territories and – wait for it – has been optioned for a film by Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea's production company, Pacific Standard. It deserves all its acclaim. The story itself is brilliant: Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk returns to his home town to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend. The town is in shock. Luke Hadler killed his wife and son, and then turned the gun on himself. Or so it is believed. Aaron begins to have doubts. But his investigation is hampered by the skeletons of his own past – and the people of that small outback town have long memories …

World-class crime writing with an evocative and powerful Australian setting puts this novel in a class of its own. Read it. 

BOOK REVIEW: Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson

Thursday, February 16, 2017

BLURB:

'All in?' Kieran pulled me up, and the others followed. We gathered around the bigger tree. No one asked Matty - he just reached up and put his right hand on the trunk with ours.

Kieran cleared his throat. 'We swear, on these trees, to always be friends. To protect each other - and this place.'

Finding those carved trees forged a bond between Jay and her four childhood friends and opened their eyes to a wider world. But their attempt to protect the grove ends in disaster, and that one day on the river changes their lives forever.

Seventeen years later, Jay finally has her chance to make amends. But at what cost? Not every wrong can be put right, but sometimes looking the other way is no longer an option.

MY THOUGHTS:

A beautiful meditation on the Australian landscape and the Aboriginal connection to it, Where the Trees Were is a must-read for anyone who has ever swung on a tyre over a slow-moving brown river or lain on the ground looking up at a scorching blue sky through the shifting leaves of a gum tree. 

Told in Inga Simpson’s deceptively simple style, the novel moves back and forth between the adulthood and childhood of a Canberra art curator called Jay. In the past lie tragedies and misunderstandings that shaped Jay’s psyche and still have ramifications on her life today. Jay is searching for a way to make amends for what happened, but her quest may cost her everything she most cares about. 


BOOK REVIEW: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


BLURB:


The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family. Their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu, (who loves by night the man her children love by day), fled an abusive marriage to live with their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), and their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt). When Chacko's English ex-wife brings their daughter for a Christmas visit, the twins learn that things can change in a day, that lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river...


MY THOUGHTS:


Arundhati Roy burst onto the literary scene with this Booker-Prize-winning novel in 1997, which became the biggest-selling book ever written by an Indian author still living in India. She received half a million pounds as an advance, and the book was sold into eighteen different countries within two months. It’s the kind of dream run every writer longs for, yet Arundhati Roy has never published another novel. 


Perhaps this novel was so deeply felt and personal to her that it was the one book of her soul, never to be repeated.


I bought it in 1997, and tried to read it then. I disliked it emphatically. I found it faux-naïf: awkward, self-conscious, disjointed. There were so many characters – ten introduced in less than five pages! And the narrative structure was kaleidoscopic, making it difficult to connect to either the characters or their story. I put it away, thinking I’d try it another time (this is my rule with books I don’t like.) So it sat on my to-be-read-one-day bookshelf for twenty years. I pulled it out a dozen times, hesitated over it, then put it back. I almost gave it to charity once. But something made me keep it.


Then, one day, determined to read some of those books I’d bought but never read, I took it down again. This time I read it swiftly and eagerly. I found the jumps about in time and point-of-view fresh and exhilarating. Her boldness and originality struck me forcibly. No-one has ever written like this before, I kept thinking. The naivety and awkwardness now seemed a perfect choice for a story told from a child’s point-of-view.


It is not an easy book to read, both because of its subject matter – the tragic consequences of violence and cruelty and small-mindedness – and because of its repetitive and disjointed narrative structure. And I felt as if Arundhati Roy set out deliberately to shock and provoke, breaking as many taboos as she could, from the Indian caste system to incest. I have read that the book was inspired by true events in Arundhati Roy’s life. I can only hope it was the setting and not the events of her life. 


The God of Small Things is undeniably brilliant, innovative, and thought-provoking. I was moved and troubled by it, and found tears in my eyes at the end. And I can only applaud her virtuosity and boldness with language. A truly astonishing book.  




BOOK REVIEW: The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece - Carola Hicks

Thursday, December 08, 2016

BLURB:

One of Europe’s greatest artistic treasures, the Bayeux Tapestry depicts the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. 


For all its fame, its origins and story are complex and somewhat cloudy. Though many assume it was commissioned by Bishop Odo—William’s ruthless half-brother—it may also have been financed by Harold’s dynamic sister Edith, who was juggling for a place in the new court. 


In this intriguing study, medieval art historian Carola Hicks investigates the miracle of the tapestry’s making—including the unique stitches, dyes, and strange details in the margins—as well as its complicated past. For centuries it lay ignored in Bayeux cathedral until its discovery in the 18th century. It quickly became a symbol of power: townsfolk saved it during the French Revolution, Napoleon displayed it to promote his own conquest, and the Nazis strove to make it their own. 


Packed with thrilling stories, this history shows how every great work of art has a life of its own. 


MY THOUGHTS:

I have always been interested in the Bayeux tapestry and made the trip to see it in its little French stone village this year. 


It really is a fascinating artefact, the world’s longest piece of embroidery and quite possibly the first real comic strip. It tells the story of William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066, in a series of small scenes sewn with extraordinary vigour and humour. 


I bought Carola Hicks’s book in Bayeux, and read it over the next few nights. It begins with the story of how the embroidery came about, and then the extraordinary story of its survival over the next three thousand years. It survived the French revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, years of being kept in a damp church cellar, and the Nazis who tried to steal it. A really lively and beguiling story about an utterly unique piece of art. 


Love books set in France? I have a list of my favourites here


Do you love non-fiction books that illuminate history for you? Any suggestions for me? Please leave a comment for me.

BOOK REVIEW: Nest by Inga Simpson

Sunday, October 23, 2016

BLURB:

Once an artist and teacher, Jen now spends her time watching the birds around her house and tending her lush sub-tropical garden near the small town where she grew up. The only person she sees regularly is Henry, who comes after school for drawing lessons.

When a girl in Henry's class goes missing, Jen is pulled back into the depths of her own past. When she was Henry's age she lost her father and her best friend Michael - both within a week. The whole town talked about it then, and now, nearly forty years later, they're talking about it again.


Everyone is waiting - for the girl to be found and the summer rain to arrive. At last, when the answers do come, like the wet, it is in a drenching, revitalising downpour.



MY THOUGHTS:

Inga Simpson is an Australian writer and Nest is a rhapsody about the importance of being at one with the natural world. The protagonist Jen is a middle-aged artist who has retreated from the world after a bitter break-up. She lives on the edge of a sub-tropical rainforest, which she has turned into a paradise for native birds and animals. Hers is a quiet life; she watches the birds, teaches a local boy to draw and paint, and practises her own art when she can. One


 day a local girl goes missing, and Jen’s tragic past collides with the present. Somehow she must find peace with her own father’s disappearance many years before, and find the courage to push the boundaries in both her creative and personal endeavours. Simple, elegant, wistful, Nest is as delicate and as nurturing as the birds’ home it describes. 

BOOK REVIEW: A Bad Character - Deepti Kapoor

Friday, October 21, 2016

BLURB:

She is twenty, restless in New Delhi. Her mother has died; her father has left for Singapore. 

He is a few years older, just back to India from New York.

When they meet in a café one afternoon, she—lonely, hungry for experience, yearning to break free of tradition—casts aside her fears and throws herself headlong into a love affair, one that takes her where she has never been before. 

Told in a voice at once gritty and lyrical, mournful and frank, A Bad Character marks the arrival of an astonishingly gifted new writer. It is an unforgettable hymn to a dangerous, exhilarating city, and a portrait of desire and its consequences as timeless as it is universal. 


MY THOUGHTS:

One of the wonderful things about the Sydney Writers Festival is that it introduces you to a lot of books and authors that you might not otherwise discover. I chaired a panel with Deepti Kapoor, Toni Jordan and John Purcell called ‘Who’s Been Sleeping in my Bed?’, talking about contemporary depictions of love, desire and sex in fiction. A Bad Character is the story of a love affair between a young woman and man in modern-day Delhi. It begins: ‘My boyfriend died when I was twenty-one. His body was left lying broken on the highway out of Delhi while the sun rose in the desert to the east.’ Then, in a series of small broken scenes, expressed in concentrated language that is poetic in its intensity, the narrator tells the story of how she came to meet her boyfriend, their passionate and ultimately destructive relationship, and the damage left behind. The city of Delhi is brought to vivid and pungent life, and so too is the inner life of this one young women caught between tradition and a longing to be free. Beautiful and full of pain, A Bad Character is a dazzling debut.


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