Six Degrees of Separation #9: Saturday 6th December 2014
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan is a novel about Dorrigo Evans, a POW doctor on the Burma Railway in WW2. I was quite affected by this book, finding some of the detail unsettling.
(Read my review here)
I also found the ending of Her by Harriet Lane quite disturbing as it concerned an innocent little boy, made worse no doubt by the fact I have a young son myself…
(Read my review here)
Although I haven’t read the novel by Lionel Shriver, the film We Need to Talk About Kevin affected me much more than films usually do. It was really thought provoking with regards to the nature/nurture debate with children.
Amity and Sorrow are two sisters and the main characters in Peggy Riley’s novel. They are fleeing a small religious sect with their mother and certainly their characters have been shaped by their childhood.
(Read my review here)
Another interesting story with a religious main character is The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. Honor Bright is a Quaker who emigrates from England to America (rural Ohio to be exact) in the 1850s and becomes an abolitionist.
(Read my review here)
The Promise is also set in a rural frontier town. Author Ann Weisgarber brings 1900 Galveston, Texas vividly to life. The crisis point in the novel is a calamitous storm, the worst in a generation, that threatens to destroy the island.
(Read my review here)
One non-fiction book I think sound really interesting is Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink which recounts the story of how the New Orlean’s Memorial Medical Centre coped in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with staff deciding which patients would benefit most from the rationed medical care available.
Find out more about the Six Degrees of Separation meme here.
Monday 1 December 2014
Dan Kelly in Barracuda page 174
‘There’s no sun here.’
Of course Luke is startled, he doesn’t understand.
I try to explain. ‘Even in the yard, when it’s day, when the sun is shining and the sky’s blue, I don’t believe it is the real sun. It’s another sun altogether.’
These words only make Luke sadder but I am glad that I have worked them through, that I have revealed the truth to myself. I am in another solar system, another galaxy. That’s where I am.
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
Peter Leigh is a missionary about to leave his wife Bea here on earth and travel to Oasis, a distant planet to minister the native population. The Oasans are a devout group of recently converted Christians who want to learn about the Bible, The Book of Strange New Things. The journey will challenge Peter’s beliefs and character but is there a higher purpose for him being sent to Oasis?
First Impressions: Slow. Very slow.
Highlights: I liked reading about the Oasans and wanted Peter to integrate further into the society and develop his relationship further with Jesus Lover 5, just as I wanted to learn more about his predecessor. I found the company who sent Peter to Oasis intriguing with their purpose and selection of staff. I really wanted to read more of this too.
If I was an editor: I would lament how I just kept waiting for something to happen, some kind of revelation to turn the story on its head… but what you see is what you get for all 592 pages. The bulk of the story comprises long missives between Peter and his wife Bea discussing their love which is entwined in religious beliefs and this just wasn’t for me. I can certainly see the tenderness and great love story that mirrors Faber’s heartbreaking farewell to his wife but as fiction I just don’t enjoy this sort of thing. Also, I didn’t think the catastrophes on Earth that Bea writes about are necessarily as convincing as they could be, particularly when compared to other recently published dystopian stories such as The Ark.
Overall: Kept coming close to the verge of genuine intrigue…
The Book of Strange New Things: 3 stars
The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane
I have had this novel on my TBR pile for a while but as it sounds a little like Elizabeth is Missing (which I really enjoyed) I keep passing it over. Aus Reading Month was the motivation I needed to finally pick it up!
Ruth lives alone on the edge of a coastal town in what was meant to be retirement bliss but her husband has died and her sons live far away. One day Frida, a government carer, arrives to help care for Ruth. Is this exotic woman with the many hair styles linked to Ruth’s Fijian childhood? Has Frida been sent to help Ruth get rid of the dangerous tiger she hears prowling through her lounge at night?
First Impressions: From the first page I could tell I would enjoy this story. I really liked all the references to to Ruth’s Fijian childhood.
Highlights: I thought Ruth’s childhood of living in Fiji with her missionary doctor parents was interesting and would have loved to read more about this.
If I was an editor: I would want more about the mystery that is Frida.
Overall: I was wrong to spend the last few months comparing this novel to Elizabeth is Missing. They are very different stories. I did really enjoy The Night Guest but unfortunately it is just a novel I just don’t have too much to say about…
The Night Guest: 4 stars
Monday 17 November 2014
John Patterner in Alex Miller’s Lovesong, page 64.
‘Australia,’ he said. ‘I’m from Australia.’
‘Whereabouts in Australia? My husband sailed there many times when he was in the merchant navy.’
‘New South Wales originally, but Melbourne these days,’ John Patterner said.
‘Dom visited the Dandenong mountains. Do you know them?’
John Patterner laughed. ‘Of course! The Dandenongs, for sure. They’re just hills, really.They’re not mountains.’
‘So you know them?’
‘Of course, yes. Everyone in Melbourne knows the Dandenongs.’
Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany
I adored Tiffany’s first novel Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living and have been curious about the mixed and unusual reviews Mateship with Birds has received so I decided it would bee a good novel to kick off my Aus Reading Month. If the unusual reviews are accurate then at least it is relatively short…
Harry is a farmer on the outskirts of an Australian country town in the 1950s. When he is not watching the family of Kookaburras on his property he is helping his neighbour Betty, a single mother. Can love blossom between these two outcasts?
First Impressions: From the first page this really felt like an ‘Australian novel’. Landscape, tick. Flora and Fauna, tick, tick. Country life, tick. Downtrodden and friendless characters. tick.
Highlights: I was really drawn to the glimpses of Betty’s earlier life and would have loved to read more about this character’s backstory. The novel obviously has a wealth of literary merit but unfortunately I just didn’t feel compelled to draw comparisons between Harry’s kookaburra diary and his relationship with Betty’s family.
(Can you get more Australian that that last sentence?)
If I was an editor: Dear me! Is all the detail about genitals necessary? It is the sort of detail a hormonal teenage boy would obsess over but it comes from Harry! He includes it in letters to Betty’s son Michael as a means of giving him advice (and advising himself, aha!) but I think this detail coming from a father figure is rather creepy and would certainly gross Michael out (to use some Aussie slang). Also, don’t get me started on Farmer Mues’ final storyline. Really? I understand that the setting is a sexually repressed rural town in the 1950s but I now wonder if I have missed something and it is actually a satire that has missed the mark.
Overall: Not the most enjoyable start to my Aus Reading Month but I did enjoy writing this review.
Mateship with Birds: 3 stars
Lovesong by Alex Miller
Ken, a curmudgeonly writer becomes intrigued by the family who run the new local bakery. John Patterner met his wife Sabhiha while on a sabbatical in Europe. Together they ran in Chez Dom, a run down Tunisian café in the back streets of Paris, well off the tourist path. They are contented in their marriage but are destined to always be strangers to each other, both from different cultures and living in a third, communicating in French rather than their native languages. Sabiha yearns for a child. John feels himself being pulled back to Australia. Is there a remedy to strengthen their relationship?
First Impressions: I was instantly drawn into Alex Miller’s writing, more specifically Ken’s voice. Interestingly, I did not find Ken an engaging character at this point.
Highlights: There is much to love about this novel. The narrative frame is interesting as Sabiha’s story is told by her husband to Ken who then relates it to us. I did wonder if Ken’s inclusion was necessary as he was a rather innocuous character. However, much to my surprise, towards the end of the novel Ken’s true character emerges and I found him highly entertaining. MIller really made Vaugiraud in Paris come alive. I could just imagine walking the back streets and I had a strong sense of what Chez Dom would have been like. As an expat I could also relate to John Patterner’s moments of yearning for Australia that were not necessarily based on logical reasoning, and the small details he remembers from his childhood.
If I was an editor: It is just nitpicking but Sabiha’s longing for a baby perhaps did go on for a bit too long. I would have also liked more of the narrator’s story – I really liked Ken by the end!
Overall: So glad I read this. Such a lovely story.
Lovesong: 5 stars