Dustfall – Michelle Johnston

Dustfall – Michelle Johnston

This book was mentioned by a friend and then I received an email about a literary high tea (where Michelle would be speaking), so of course I had to read it. I even bought a paper copy.

Here is the blurb …

Dr Raymond Filigree, running away from a disastrous medical career, mistakes an unknown name on a map for the perfect refuge. He travels to the isolated town of Wittenoom and takes charge of its small hospital, a place where no previous doctor has managed to stay longer than an eye blink. Instead of settling into a quiet, solitary life, he discovers an asbestos mining corporation with no regard for the safety of its workers and no care for the truth.

Thirty years later, Dr Lou Fitzgerald stumbles across the abandoned Wittenoom Hospital. She, too, is a fugitive from a medical career toppled by a single error. Here she discovers faded letters and barely used medical equipment, and, slowly the story of the hospital’s tragic past comes to her.

Dustfall is the tale of the crashing consequences of medical error, the suffering caused by asbestos mining and the power of storytelling

This book has a wonderful sense of place – in particular Wittenoom (and the Pilbara). I could feel the heat, see the red dirt and the blue sky.

I also learnt quite a bit about Wittenoom and the criminal mining practices – I like to learn history through fiction. As a Western Australian, I know about Wittenoom and Asbestos (and all of the health issues), but I thought the mining company was incompetent not criminal (you know no one paid attention to safety in those days).

Personal responsibility is juxtaposed against corporate responsibility – both doctors make a mistake (of attention more than negligence) – feel terrible remorse and have the career paths altered. Whereas the mining company denies, deflects and delays.

I couldn’t find any other reviews, but I found this …

2, 2 and 2: Michelle Johnston talks about Dustfall

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A Country Escape – Katie Fforde

A Country Escape – Katie Fforde

I have always liked Katie Fforde’s novels – I find them comforting. I like some more than others – the ones I like have some sort of skill or craft (pottery, gardening, antiques – this one has dairy farming and cheese making). I am not so keen on the ones that involve cooking or event planning or narrow boats (but that is just a personal preference).

Here is the blurb …

Fran has always wanted to be a farmer. And now it looks as if her childhood dream is about to come true. She has just moved in to a beautiful but very run-down farm in the Cotswolds, currently owned by an old aunt who has told Fran that if she manages to turn the place around in a year, the farm will be hers. But Fran knows nothing about farming. She might even be afraid of cows.

She’s going to need a lot of help from her best friend Issi, and also from her wealthy and very eligible neighbour – who might just have his own reasons for being so supportive. Is it the farm he is interested in? Or Fran herself?

If you like a gentle romance – where the villains aren’t too villainous – and the surroundings are beautiful, then these novels are for you.

More reviews …

Book review: A Country Escape by Katie Fforde

http://reabookreview.blogspot.com.au/2018/02/a-country-escape-by-katie-fforde.html#.Wr2VAehuY2w

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Dangerous Liaisons – Pierre Choderlos De Laclos

Dangerous Liaisons – Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

The theme for my historical fiction group is classic french literature, so we started this year with Dangerous Liaisons by Laclos. I was quite keen to read this having see this film when it was fisrt released at the cinema and then again recently in preparation of reading the novel.

Here is the blurb …

The complex moral ambiguities of seduction and revenge make “Dangerous Liaisons” (1782) one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. Its prime movers, the Viscount de Valmont and the Marchioness de Merteuil — gifted, wealthy, and bored — form an unholy alliance and turn seduction into a game. And they play this game with such wit and style that it is impossible not to admire them, until they discover mysterious rules that they cannot understand. In the ensuing battle there can be no winners, and the innocent suffer with the guilty.

The Marchioness de Merteuil and the Viscount de Valmont are creations without precedent. They are the first [in European literature] whose acts are determined by an ideology. —André Malraux
One of the two greatest French novels. —André Gide
What really keeps “Dangerous Liaisons” potent after two hundred years is not so much its depiction of sex as its catalog of corruptions, including but not limited to the corruption of language by polite cant and the corruption of morals by manners. It implicates a whole society so founded on falsehood that a single act of emotional truth is tantamount to an act of subversion. —Luc Sante
In many respects, Laclos is the perfect author: he wrote, at around the age of 40, one piece of fiction, which was not merely a masterpiece, but the supreme example of its genre, the epistolary novel; and then he troubled the public no further. —Christopher Hampton

It is a long novel so don’t do what I did and leave it to the last week and not finish it in time!

It is epistolary and written in four parts – the third part dragged for me. This novel is suprisingly modern – it was published in 1782 – and very salacious. It was designed to highlight the depravity of the french aristocracy. Valmont and de Merteuil were amoral, bored and making life interesting by seducing and ruining people.

The writing is extraordinary, each writers’ letters have a distinct style from the naive teenager Cecile to scheming, cynical Valmont.

More reviews …

Book Review | ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ – Choderlos De Laclos

Book Review – Les Liaisons Dangereuses, by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

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City of Crows – Chris Womersley

City of Crows – Chris Womersley

I read a review of this in The West newspaper (of course I can’t find it now ) and went of that day to buy it – I was the person saying ‘the book with the crow on the cover’ – surprisingly I did manage to find it. And then I heard that Chris Womersley was coming to the Writers Festival, so I moved it to the top of the tbr pile.

Here is the blurb …

A woman’s heart contains all things. Her heart is tender and loving, but it has other elements. It contains fire and intrigue and mighty storms. Shipwreck and all that has ever happened in the world. Murder, if need be… 1673. Desperate to save herself and her only surviving child Nicolas from an outbreak of plague, Charlotte Picot flees her tiny village in the French countryside. But when Nicolas is abducted by a troop of slavers, Charlotte resorts to witchcraft and summons assistance in the shape of a malevolent man. She and her companion travel to Paris where they become further entwined in the underground of sorcerers and poisoners – and where each is forced to reassess their ideas of good and evil. Before Charlotte is finished she will wander hell’s halls, trade with a witch and accept a demon’s fealty. Meanwhile, a notorious criminal is unexpectedly released from the prison galleys where he has served a brutal sentence for sacrilege..

What’s not to like about this novel? 17th Century France, witches, sorcery, plague and hidden treasure. Clearly there has been a lot of research done, but it is unobtrusive – just a fabulous world created. The two main characters are well-developed and I found myself flipping between like and loathing Lesage. Charlotte, although unsophisticated, creates more complicated feelings. Even now, several weeks after finishing it, I am not sure that I like or approve her actions.

I went to one of Mr Womersley’s sessions at the writers festival and he was great – witty, chatty, happy to engage with the audience. He was interviewed by Amanda Curtin who was also fabulous.

If you like historical fiction, then this book is for you.

More reviews …

https://www.readings.com.au/review/city-of-crows-by-chris-womersley

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/city-of-crows-chris-womersley-depicts-pariss-murky-past/news-story/7582cc0837ab6563c00b07eaa5a49bfe

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Golden Hill – Frances Spufford

Golden Hill – Francis Spufford

I read somewhere (sorry I forgot where!) that this was  fabulous historical fiction, so of course I had to read it. It was suprisingly hard to find and in the end I bought it from the Kindle store.

Here is the blurb …

New York, a small town on the tip of Manhattan Island, 1746

One rainy evening in November, a handsome young stranger fresh off the boat pitches up at a counting-house door in Golden Hill Street: this is Mr. Smith, amiable, charming, yet strangely determined to keep suspicion simmering. For in his pocket, he has what seems to be an order for a thousand pounds, a huge amount, and he won’t explain why, or where he comes from, or what he can be planning to do in the colonies that requires so much money.

Should the New York merchants trust him? Should they risk their credit and refuse to pay? Should they befriend him, seduce him, arrest him; maybe even kill him.

As fast as a heist movie, as stuffed with incident as a whole shelf of conventional fiction, Golden Hill is both a novel about the 18th century, and itself a book cranked back to the novel’s 18th century beginnings, when anything could happen on the page, and usually did, and a hero was not a hero unless he ran the frequent risk of being hanged.

This is Fielding’s Tom Jones recast on Broadway – when Broadway was a tree-lined avenue two hundred yards long, with a fort at one end flying the Union Jack and a common at the other, grazed by cows.

Rich in language and historical perception, yet compulsively readable, Golden Hill has a plot that twists every chapter, and a puzzle at its heart that won’t let go till the last paragraph of the last page.

Set a generation before the American Revolution, it paints an irresistible picture of a New York provokingly different from its later self: but subtly shadowed by the great city to come, and already entirely a place where a young man with a fast tongue can invent himself afresh, fall in love – and find a world of trouble.

I enjoyed this novel, it was fun and well-written. I was fascinated by early New York – only 1000 people and the dutch influence. It was a rolicking ride – a bit like a short Fielding novel (and that has to be a good thing), action, romance, a duel and a secret purpose.

I think it is very accomplished and if I was more literary I would have more to write.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/01/golden-hill-by-francis-spufford-review

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/07/03/golden-hill-a-crackerjack-novel-of-old-manhattan

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Passion – Jude Morgan

Passion – Jude Morgan

As this one was lent to me, I felt compelled to read it quickly rather than letting it languish in the TBR pile. It is long – 663 pages – and slowed my reading. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it – there was just a lot of it.

Here’s the blurb …

They were the Romantic generation, famous and infamous, and in their short, extraordinary lives, they left a legacy of glamorous and often shocking legend. In PASSION the interwoven lives and vivid personalities of Byron, Shelley and Keats are explored through the eyes of the women who knew and loved them – scandalously, intensely and sometimes tragically.

From the salons of the Whig nobles and the penury and vitality of Grub Street, to the beauty and corruption of Venice and the carrion field of Waterloo, PASSION presents the Romantic generation in a new and dramatic light – actors in a stormy history that unleashed the energies of the modern world.

What I liked most about this novel was learning about the lives of the women involved with these men: Caroline Lamb, Annabella Milbanke, Augusta Leigh (Byron’s half-sister), Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont and Fanny Brawne.

I notices some sentences taken directly from Austen

Annabella Milbanke, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

Replace Annabella Milbanke with Emma Woodhouse and you have the opening paragraph of Emma. There are probably other (contemporary) authors also used, but I am not clever enough to notice them.

If you are interested in the romantic poets, then I think this book will interest you.

Another review…

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/nov/13/featuresreviews.guardianreview22

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Bodies of Light – Sarah Moss

Bodies of Light – Sarah Moss

I read Tidal Zone  and loved it, so when I saw this at the library I was keen to read it.

Here is the blurb …

Bodies of Light is a deeply poignant tale of a psychologically tumultuous nineteenth century upbringing set in the atmospheric world of Pre-Raphaelitism and the early suffrage movement. Ally (older sister of May in Night Waking), is intelligent, studious and engaged in an eternal – and losing – battle to gain her mother’s approval and affection. Her mother, Elizabeth, is a religious zealot, keener on feeding the poor and saving prostitutes than on embracing the challenges of motherhood. Even when Ally wins a scholarship and is accepted as one of the first female students to read medicine in London, it still doesn’t seem good enough. The first in a two-book sequence, Bodies of Light will propel Sarah Moss into the upper echelons of British novelists. It is a triumphant piece of historical fiction and a profoundly moving master class in characterisation.

Completely different from Tidal Zone although there are similar concerns – medicine and motherhood. This one is historical fiction set in the late 19 the century – women are finally entering universities to study medicine, the industrial revolution is well underway, trains, factories, squalor, poverty and prostitution.

There is a fabulous review here – much better than I could write -and it has made me aware of more novels. I will definitely be tracking them down.

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The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

There seemed to be a lot of talk about this one – although I found it quite hard to find. In the end my local book shop ordered it for me.

Here is the blurb …

Summer,1976

Mrs. Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands.

But as doors and mouths begin to open  and as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined…

This is told from the point of view of a child (Grace) whose innocence makes her an ‘unreliable narrator’. By that I mean we learn more about the people and actions around her than she does. This technique allows the novel to stay light and quirky (Jesus’s face on a drain pipe) while still covering some dark territory: alcoholism, murder (or at least an accidental death – manslaughter?), mental illness and serious physical illness.

Mrs Creasy has gone missing and Grace (and she drags Tilly along with her) are determined to get to the bottom of it. They decide to find god because he is every where, and looks after everyone, and knows how to separate the sheep from the goats and therefore must know the whereabouts of Mrs Creasy.

There is another mystery involving the older members of The Avenue, a fire, and a missing child.

This novel is about people living extraordinary ordinary lives – neighbours forced by proximity to be a community.

I am looking forward to reading her next book Three Things about Elsie

More reviews

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/28/the-trouble-with-goats-and-sheep-review-by-joanna-cannon

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

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Brooklyn – Colm Tobin

Brooklyn – Colm Tobin

I broke my hand …

and it is a family tradition that you get a ‘broken’ book, so I selected this one.

I have seen the film and love it – the costumes, the knitwear …

Here’s the blurb …

Colm Tóibín’s sixth novel, Brooklyn, is set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself.

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America — to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland” — she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

As is often the case, the book was better. I watched the family again immediately after the reading the novel and I had a much better understanding of the film.

It is a beautifully written story about migration and yearning to be in two places. I creates a snapshot of life in Brooklyn in the ’50s and in a small Irish town.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/09/colm-toibin-brooklyn

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/22/AR2009052201123.html

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Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan

 

Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan

This is Jennifer Egan’s fifth novel. I loved A Visit From the Goon Squad and went on to read Look at Me and The Keep (which I found in our book shelves – I think my mother-in-law gave it to my husband.

Here is the blurb …

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.

Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career as a Ziegfield folly, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life.

There must have been a bit of research involved in writing this novel – the descriptions of the ‘diving dress’ and life on board a merchant navy ship during the World War 2 were detailed and intricate.  This is a meticulously created world that the reader feels they inhabit. I love (good) historical fiction – finding out about life in a different time and place.

I think this is well-written and dynamic – there are gangsters, show girls, beautiful tailoring, diving and wandering along the ocean bed. I think it would make a fabulous movie or television series.

A Visit from the Goon Squad is still my favourite, but I feel I know more now having read this novel.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/29/manhattan-beach-jennifer-egan-review

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/11/jennifer-egan-manhattan-beach/540612/

 

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