5

One Year On: My Laser Eye Surgery

I had my final 12 month eye check* today so no better time to write a post about the whole experience. I have been meaning to write a summary/review for about 9 months but as my eye sight is so good it always slips my mind.

When people find out I’ve had laser eye surgery they often have lots of questions for me, particularly if they wear glasses. Here are the questions I’m usually asked:

Where did you get it done?

I did a lot of internet research and my preference was to not use a ‘high street’ chain (although they do have lots of good reviews). I booked a free consultation at Accuvision, Parsons Green, for a number of reasons. They are a small but established clinic with long standing staff. It was also convenient for me to get to all the appointments which is important.

I also liked the fact that they are not pushy in any way whatsoever. I was asked if they could give me one follow up call in seven days and that has been it from the marketing side – no emails or post with deals and refer a friend incentives. They sent me away with an information pack and a list of surgery dates for the next 3 months if I decided to go ahead with it.
(I booked in before the follow up call).

What was the surgery like?

Quick. I wasn’t looking at my watch but it felt like I was in the theatre for no more than 15 minutes in total. The treatment on each eye only lasted a few minutes. I won’t go into too much detail but there was some pressure applied to the eye and then you saw a laser. When I sat up after the surgery I could already see better than before!

Did it hurt?

No. Drops were applied to each eye so you didn’t feel anything. However, when the pressure was applied it was uncomfortable more than anything.

Did you have to wear bandages?

No. I had sunglasses with me to block out glare. After the surgery I had to sit with my eyes closed for about 20 minutes and then I went home and spent an afternoon in bed with my eyes closed as much as possible. I had to put in drops quite regularly and I had leave-in bandage contacts that I didn’t even notice that were to be removed the next day. For the next few days I felt the same mild sensations I used to feel with new lens prescriptions when your eyes and brain are adjusting to the new vision.

Was the surgeon good?

He was brilliant. He had a lovely warm manner about him and although I only met him before my surgery I felt in safe hands. His surgical team were also fantastic and one of the staff even held my hand when the pressure was put on each eye as it was a little uncomfortable.
I was also impressed with the opticians. I had most of my appointments with Joan and she was great. I’m a little sad I won’t be seeing her again!

Did it work?

Absolutely! The treatment started working immediately. I caught a taxi home and by the end of the 20 minute drive I could read street signs unaided. Now, a year on, when the sun comes out on lovely spring days the colours I see are so vivid it’s wonderful. Everything is so sharp.

How much did it cost?

Well, most clinics have their prices up front on their websites but there are always deals. I got a spring deal last year that made it almost half price.

Did anything go wrong?

My left eye corrected to 20-20 immediately but my right eye took a bit longer. That being said it was hovering around -0.25 which was a huge improvement overall from -3.00 and looking through both eyes (as you do) I couldn’t even notice the fault. I didn’t realise it for a while but I also had a mild halo on my right eye which was more noticeable when I was tired. About 6 months to the day after surgery it completely disappeared overnight. Suddenly my new eyesight was even better than before and since the halo disappeared my right eye continued correcting itself. Amazing.

But you suited wearing glasses!

That didn’t mean I enjoyed wearing them! I am also vain enough to have always bought expensive designer pairs.
I am sure that if I had stayed in Australia I would have had this surgery done sooner due to the glare and the annoyance of swapping sunglasses to regular glasses when driving into carparks, etc. I also found contacts more comfortable to wear in the UK. I can now add that getting ready without putting contacts in is so much quicker and easier! Opening ovens and walking outside in drizzly showers is also more pleasant.

I have been saying for years that I would like to have laser eye surgery but it wasn’t until my son was born and I was still in hospital and realised that he was looking into my eyes through my glasses that I decided I wanted to have it done.
Everyone is different and if you want it done then book yourself a consult. If you are still unsure then leave it and the right time for you will come.

*I don’t think everyone needs a 12 month check but as my right eye wasn’t fully corrected at 6 months I had this appointment.

 

5

2016 Miles Franklin Prize – The Case for Black Rock White City

black rock

I have never before written a post about book prizes but I have to admit I was thrilled when I saw A.S. Patric’s Black Rock White City long listed for the Miles Franklin prize. Now, while the whole long list looks incredibly enticing this year I have only read one of the other novels on the list to date.

So while I can’t really compare it with other titles on the list I know that Black Rock White City is a strong and original novel worthy of accolades and it sets its own benchmark.

Black Rock White City tells the story of Jovan and Suzana who were refugees from the Bosnian war and are now settled in Melbourne. Jovan works as a cleaner in a hospital and looming over their story is a a Kafka-esque existential graffiti artist whose words Jovan must constantly remove.

I must admit that for the first few pages I did wonder if I would enjoy it but I can assure you it is a crazy and powerful novel. It made my top 2015 reads and as the months have passed it is the 2015 read that has affected me most. Some snippets in the story are so sad I still linger over them when they come to mind.

Could it win the Miles Franklin? Yes, most definitely as it is creative and shows how complex Australian society is today. Hopefully this is the version of Australia that the judges want to promote this year. I also hope the judges leave some time to digest the content so they can fully appreciate it.

You can find my original review here.

2

Current Affairs/Personal Journey/Travelogue Mash Up: The End of Seeing

the end of seeingThe End of Seeing by Christy Collins

Determined to discover the truth about the disappearance of her partner, Nick, Ana sets out to re-trace the route he took as a photojournalist on the other side of the world – a journey that saw him presumed dead, on a ship wrecked off the coast of Italy. But Ana doesn’t believe Nick is dead.  As she tracks his journey, she begins to witness the world that Nick saw through his camera – a world in which disappearance is not unexpected.

First Impressions: I knew very little about this novella before starting and I was surprised at how current the issues in the story were. A story of refugees but refugees that weren’t directly threatening Australia’s borders. I wonder if it was intentional to make it more international?

Highlights: You may be able to guess that I found this story really thought provoking. Although it would have been current when the author was writing and publishing it, the current crisis in the Mediterranean makes it even more relevant. However, it is hard to say exactly what the main story is as it is Ana’s personal journey too, as well as a travelogue through many European countries. All of this fit into a novella! Ana’s story was incredibly sad (I won’t tell you more) which makes it interesting that it was paralleled with the plight of countless forgotten illegal immigrants. It is all too easy to disappear and sometimes that is the easier option. I also enjoyed learning about the world of photography and photojournalism.

If I was an editor: It’s hard to think how this could be improved. Perhaps more from the Australian detention centre would have been interesting but I know it wasn’t necessary to the story. I also thought that by the end when Nick’s story was discovered (or was it?) that it was too exacting for where Ana’s story had taken her, like it belonged to a different genre. Or was this intentional given the numerous juxtapositions in the story?

Overall: The End of Seeing was a winner of the 2015 Seizure Viva La Novella Prize and I now want to indulge myself on a weekend reading the other winners of this prize. Sort of like sitting down with a Peirene Press trilogy.

Thank you to the author for a copy of the title to review.

 

2

A Perfectly Restrained Saga: The Brothers

brothersThe Brothers by Asko Salhberg

I am embarrassingly late with this review…

Finland, 1809. Henrik and Erik are brothers who fought on opposite sides in the war between Sweden and Russia. With peace declared, they both return to their snowed-in farm. But who is the master?

First Impressions: Wow. I was immediately drawn into the landscape, characters and story. Is the landscape and setting the most important part of this story.

Highlights:  I think the isolation and bitingly chilly environment is the star of this novel as it shapes the characters and the action. Even though there are mentions of the nearby village or regional towns they seem incredibly distant even when the characters visit them. I found the rural-town divide very interesting along with the historical context.
This is a novel of two brothers and their cousin but it is no way a purely masculine story. I particularly enjoyed the stories of the women and finding out how they found themselves in their current situations. Despite the brevity, everyone’s story is told which makes it very clever storytelling.
Also – it is a beautiful edition.

If I was an editor: I did think the Farmhand’s story was one revelation too many – the others were more interesting – but it was necessary to the whole story. I think I’m being a little fussy when making this observation!

Overall: A fantastic epic saga that the author has successfully  restricted to 112 pages. Now that’s restraint! For lovers of Burial Rites and Wolf Winter.

 

12

March 2016 Reading Round Up

 

 

After reading a huge number of novels in January and February, the inevitable reading slump followed in March. I published a silly number of reviews to catch up on all my reading but I felt rather ho-hum about most books I picked up. Luckily, in the last few days of the month when my passion for reading began to return.

Shout Out to Text Publishing

Last month I highlighted two publishers I suddenly realised I love and this month I am going to add a third: Text Publishing. I am currently reading my third novel of the year from this wonderful Melbourne publisher of literary fiction. I feel that filling my Kindle with some of their Australian Classics may remedy my reading slump. Of course, before browsing I’d have to set myself a strict limit, otherwise I’d go crazy. I know myself too well.

After looking on their website I may also just be tempted to do some international shopping with this offer:

Text Classics Special Offer

Shopping in multiples of 5 is fine by me.

Moral of the story: I rarely pay attention to who publishes what but I must always check. It’s the perfect way to discover more books I will also love.

Abandon?

Due to my reading slump I ended reading The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund for about a fortnight. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it, not because of the content but because I found the story bland rather than gripping. Furthermore, despite the setting it has no unique Scandi-noir atmosphere. It could be set anywhere. I read far more of it than I would have otherwise. As I have now read a fair chunk of it, do I continue on to get to the end? Usually I would say yes but it is so long… my Kindle percentage barely ticks along…

Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings is excellent but again, it is super long. I am reluctant to abandon it but let me ask, does it ever become gripping, or is is just a comprehensive story that immerses you in a different time and place, like a Jamaican War and Peace?

Operations Read My Own Books/ Read Rebus

One down, many shelves to go. / Fail.

Pick of the Month

The Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter for being so original and challenging my fear that the literary genre-bender element of it would be pretentious.

Coming Up

Hopefully some Text Classics! I’d like to read a few novels for my Australian Women’s Writers Challenge and read book two in Rangar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series.

 

0

Out in the Scruffy Sticks: Floundering

flounderingFloundering by Romy Ash

A powerful, beautifully written novel about two young brothers left alone by their mother in a beachside caravan park in the searing heat of an Australian summer.

First Impressions: Strong characterisation, particularly the mother Loretta and younger son Tom. The series of events in the first few pages were crystal clear and despite just a few hints I feel like I understood the family’s background.

Highlights: I thought the author did a wonderful job of telling the story through an 11 year old boy’s eyes. The characters of Tom and his brother Jordy were perfect. Romy Ash included so many small details that are particular to children of that age. For instance, I laughed when Tom was swinging his arms around and told Jordy that he was minding his own business and walking along; if he happened to hit Jordy it wouldn’t be his fault.

I really liked Loretta’s character too and wish I knew more of her story but as it is all told by an 11 year old I guess you don’t get all that. The author perfectly captures the Australian heat in summer, such as describing the tight feeling skin from sunburn or t-shirt tans. The author also captures remote towns and their inhabitants suffering from neglect and destitution well. The menace facing the boys was subtly done which probably made it more unsettling.

If I was an editor: As I said, I did want to know more about Loretta’s story but the novel was a bit of a boys own adventure reality check and I admired this originality. Actually, it’s not just Loretta’s story I wanted more of, I would have liked to see the whole family explored.

Overall: Scarily realistic and cautiously told.

 

5

A Grabby, Grotty World: The Monkey’s Mask

the monkey maskThe Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter

Fuelled by murder and a femme fatale, this is an erotic mystery novel written in verse. A female private detecitve investigates missing persons and gets a job to look for Mickey, who has been missing for two weeks. She begins by going to Mickey’s university to meet her poetry professor, Diana.

First Impressions: A novel of poems? Nothing to be scared of! You are quickly introduced to the detective and the crime like your standard crime novel.

Highlights: It’s been a while since I’ve read a verse novel (or similar) and The Monkey’s Mask reminded me that I should seek these out more often. I felt a real sense of the main character and the events in her life that led her to becoming a private detective. Much to my surprise I really enjoyed the contemporary world of poets and poetry: cut throat and full of deception and lies. I feared this novel would be rather pretentious but the author paints a rather cynical portrait of the world (exactly who gets published? no surprise!) which I enjoyed and appreciated. I also enjoyed the glossary of Aussie terminology at the end. It is too easy to forget these unique turns of phrase!

If I was an editor: I became confused with the different male characters and kept getting them mixed up while the female characters were all distinct. Perhaps this was intentional as it is a feminist novel? Who knows! Clearly this novel also needs to be kept in wider circulation: I borrowed it from the local library but the copy was pre-self checkout as there was no barcode to scan. I had to go to the desk!

Overall: A unique and literary crime novel that lack pretension. Quick to read to boot.

 

1

Some Bookish Reflections

I wrote my February post before actually reviewing any of the books I read. Now that I have been catching up on reviews I couldn’t help but notice some ridiculously obvious similarities in my February reading…

Refugees

I read three books that included tales of refugees:

The End of Seeing by Christy Collins – highlights the current problems in the Mediterranean with the unsafe boats from Africa bringing refugees north to Europe. (review to follow)

The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto – describes the long term problems refugees face after having their residency approved or denied.

The Healer by Antti Tuomainen – Imagines the plight of climate change refugees in the future.

Despite different contexts, there are mostly similarities between the three experiences.

Climate Change Fiction

9781921924439

It seems that the thriller The Healer will be my Cli Fi read of 2016. Last year I read A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson which has elements of fantasy. Both are highly creative and thought provoking reads that made me re-imagine the cities of Helsinki and Melbourne respectively. Oh, and Rawson also finds time to explore the refugee situation.

 

2

Just Keeps Getting Better: The Defenceless

defencelessThe Defenceless by Kati Hiekkapelto

When an old man is found dead on the road – seemingly run over by a Hungarian au pair – police investigator Anna Fekete is certain that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. Anna’s partner Esko is entrenched in a separate but equally dangerous investigation into the activities of an immigrant gang. Then a bloody knife is found in the snow, and the two cases come together in ways that no one could have predicted. 

First Impressions: Another complex and compelling crime for Anna and the team to solve!

Highlights: Many of the things I loved about The Hummingbird carry over to this second novel in the series. What I didn’t mention before was the way the author so perfectly captures the pull between two geographic locations, neither of which feels 100% like home. The author is also really clever in not just sensationalising problems with the arrivals of refugees and asylum seekers but describing matter of factly the long term social problems of those granted residency. How she has managed to do all this and still have at the core of the novel an intriguing police procedural is amazing! I also liked how Esko’s character is developing. I have a soft spot for the gruff and cantankerous detective!

If I was an editor: It’s hard to find fault with this novel but I can say that I did prefer the crime in the previous novel but that really would be hard to top! Also, I would have liked more mystery with the Hungarian nanny. What else could she be hiding? Maybe we find out in the next book…

Overall: How many months until book 3 is published?

 

3

Addictive and Contemporary: The Hummingbird

suspect XThe Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto

Anna Fekete becomes a criminal investigator in a northern Finnish coastal town and is thrust into a sensational murder investigation: A young woman has been killed on a running trail, and a pendant depicting an Aztec god has been found in her possession. Can Anna catch the Hummingbird before he – or she – strikes again?

First Impressions: This story is highly addictive from the start and I love the setting in the northern Finnish town.

Highlights: There is so much to love in this crime novel. Anna is a very interesting character with her background and quirks. At times I thought that maybe she needed to be a bit more hard boiled but by the end I realised the author had got the balance right. You read a lot in the news about the advantages women in Scandi countries have and this is reflected in the story with the working lives and independence of some of Anna’s colleagues. I also developed a soft spot for Anna’s partner Esko by the end.
The refugee situation was interesting to read about and I had some of those thought provoking moments you get when you read books in translations – wow, the situation for refugees is the same in Finland as the UK. In the past I would have added Australia to this comparison but off-shore detention makes it hard to draw parallels to any other system. On a more whimsical note, I liked the inclusion of Marianne sweets – my grandmother has always had a bowl of these in her sitting room and I even found one of my Christmas Mariannes hidden under the computer table when I sat down to write this review!

If I was an editor: I did wonder if Esko would be able to get away with some of his comments and attitudes in a modern Finnish workplace that should promote equal opportunities… but perhaps he could. There’s always the veneer and the reality. As an aside, I was also surprised at how a progressive country like Finland doesn’t yet have honour violence laws. The references to balcony angels surprised me and were incredibly sad.
Early on I did wonder if Sari’s extended chatting to Anna was typically Finnish and maybe the author was using this as a device to provide background in this first novel. As it turns out, no, that’s just Sari’s character and she can be a breath of fresh air.
Finally I loved the elderly residents interviewed during the investigation and would have loved them to be even more eccentric!

Overall: Addictive with an interesting crime at its centre. I must admit that I had bought and read the second book before even contemplating this review!