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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The Clay Girl – Heather Tucker

 

The Clay Girl – Heather Tucker

This novel was highly recommended by several people on  booktube that I had to read it.

Here is the blurb …

Vincent Appleton smiles at his daughters, raises a gun, and blows off his head. For the Appleton sisters, life had unravelled many times before. This time it explodes.

Eight-year-old Hariet, known to all as Ari, is dispatched to Cape Breton and her Aunt Mary, who is purported to eat little girls . . . With Ari on the journey is her steadfast companion, Jasper, an imaginary seahorse. But when they arrive in Pleasant Cove, they instead find refuge with Mary and her partner Nia.

As the tumultuous ’60s ramp up in Toronto, Ari is torn from her aunts and forced back to her twisted mother and fractured sisters. Her new stepfather Len and his family offer hope, but as Ari grows to adore them, she’s severed violently from them too, when her mother moves in with the brutal Dick Irwin.

Through the sexual revolution and drug culture of the 1960s, Ari struggles with her father’s legacy and her mother’s addictions — testing limits with substances that numb and men who show her kindness. She spins through a chaotic decade of loss and love, the devilish and divine, with wit, tenacity, and the astonishing balance unique to seahorses.

The Clay Girl is a beautiful tour de force that traces the story of a child, sculpted by kindness, cruelty and the extraordinary power of imagination, and her families — the one she’s born in to and the one she creates.

The blurb makes this book sound very grim – and it is grim, but the predominate feeling is hope. In fact it is quite uplifting.

It is told from Ari’s point of view and she has quite a unique voice – particularly in the first two-thirds when she is younger – it is lyrical and highly descriptive. It is Ari that makes this book so fabulous.

This novel is quirky and beautifully written about the families we make for ourselves and thriving not just surviving after terrible events.

Another review …

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Commonwealth – Ann Patchett

Commonwealth – Ann Patchett

I have seen this book everywhere and contemplated buying it on several occasions, but for some reason never did and then finally I borrowed it from the library. I liked it, but as I don’t think I will read it again I am glad I didn’t buy it.

Here’s the blurb …

It is 1964: Bert Cousins, the deputy District Attorney, shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited, bottle of gin in hand. As the cops of Los Angeles drink, talk and dance into the June afternoon, he notices a heart-stoppingly beautiful woman. When Bert kisses Beverly Keating, his host’s wife, the new baby pressed between them, he sets in motion the joining of two families whose shared fate will be defined on a day seven years later.

In 1988, Franny Keating, now twenty-four, has dropped out of law school and is working as a cocktail waitress in Chicago. When she meets one of her idols, the famous author Leon Posen, and tells him about her family, she unwittingly relinquishes control over their story. Franny never dreams that the consequences of this encounter will extend beyond her own life into those of her scattered siblings and parents.

Told with equal measures of humour and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a powerful and tender tale of family, betrayal and the far-reaching bonds of love and responsibility. A meditation on inspiration, interpretation and the ownership of stories, it is Ann Patchett’s most astonishing work to date.

This novel had an interesting premise about stories and memory and writing. What are the ethics involved in turning someone’s story into a novel? And what if someone else who experienced the event had a different version? And what happens when the story is in the world? Is that the definitive version? Does it really matter? Has there been a betrayal?

Despite all of this I wasn’t captured by this novel. It just wasn’t for me, which is not a criticism, I think it is well-written.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/16/commonwealth-by-ann-patchett-review

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/commonwealth-review-ann-patchetts-novel-of-postdivorce-families-20161027-gsc0ec.html

 

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The Cat’s Miaow – Jacqueline Perry-Strickland

The Cat’s Miaow – Jacqueline Perry Strickland

This is the follow up book to The Magpie’s Nest  published in 2014.
Here is the blurb …
One for sorrow, two for joy,
Three for a girl, four for a boy

Queen Street, Perth – Australia

A timeworn costume shop – A missing enchanted gown

A forgotten mystery – A treacherous romance – A new novel

‘What’s this about a green dress?’ Julienne asked.
They had been best friends at high school and she burned to confide in her. ‘What would you say, Julienne, if I told you that I’m in possession of a gown that I think is enchanted?’
She laid a hand on Julienne’s forearm. ‘It’s made of the most exquisite velvet you’ve ever seen, and is so soft and lush to touch. I keep a feather from the gown in my bra as a lucky charm.’ She sighed dreamily. ‘And when its crystals sparkle onstage my performances come to life. And I mean really come to life!’
As a newsreader, Julienne was the voice of reason both on television and off. Stony-faced, she replied, ‘I would say that there’s no such thing as lucky charms or magical crystals. Your performance comes from within you and is not influenced by any talisman … no matter how much you wish it to be.’
Her expression softened and a twinkle appeared in Julienne’s brown eyes as the side of her mouth turned up in a grin. ‘Though an enchanted gown does sound rather delicious. Where do I get myself one?’

Seven for a secret finally to be told.

These books have a fabulous sense of place. Full of local colour, vernacular sayings and descriptions of the locals’ lifestyles. You could use the books as a travel guide to the cities.
This second novel goes global: Montreal, Barcelona, London and back to Perth as we follow the characters we met in The Magpie’s Nest. Where is Esmeralda? Who wore her first and what was their story? Is the gown enchanted or is it all just a series of coincidences?
This is a well-written, easy to read novel with colourful characters and great locations. And it has something for everyone; romance, mystery, fantasy and travel.
I am looking forward to the next instalment, The Hound’s Tooth.
It is published by Vivid Publishing and you can purchase copies here or at these book stores

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The Break – Marian Keyes

The Break – Marian Keyes

It has been a while since Marian Keyes last book – in fact I thought she had retired – I think The Woman Who Stole My Life came out in 2014? I didn’t even know this one was coming out – just came across a huge pile in Dymocks and thought ‘yay! a holiday read’.

I have always liked her books – some more than others. They are funny, but also tackle big issues. Here is the blurb for this one …

Amy’s husband Hugh isn’t really leaving her.

At least, that’s what he promises. He is just taking a break – from their marriage, their children and, most of all, from their life together. For six-months Hugh will lose himself in south-east Asia, and there is nothing Amy can say or do about it.
Yes, it’s a mid-life crisis, but let’s be clear: a break isn’t a break up – yet . . .
It’s been a long time since Amy held a briefcase in one hand and a baby in the other. She never believed she’d have to go it alone again. She just has to hold the family together until Hugh comes back.
But a lot can happen in six-months. When Hugh returns, if he returns, will he be the same man she married? And will Amy be the same woman?
Because falling in love is easy. The hard part – the painful, joyous, maddening, beautiful part – is staying in love.

Her books have aged/grown up as I have – now she is writing about middle-aged people with children (where I am right now) and it is refreshing to read one’s own experiences in a novel – the never-ending domestic slog, the needs of children, trying to balance family and work.

Once again, this one is witty and sad. It focuses on a modern marriage crisis – Hugh needs a break, 6 months and then he will be back. While he is gone it will be like they’re not married, i.e. he wants to be able to shag complete strangers in South East Asia. Amy is left to hold it together at home – three children, a hectic job, a mother who needs support caring for her demented husband – seems like a terrible and very selfish thing for Hugh to do, but he has suffered several bereavements and has Amy drifted away?

There are laugh out loud moments – Amy’s mother becoming an internet sensation, social commentary – going to England to procure an abortion.

As much as I liked this novel, I think there was too much of it. A bit of an edit would have made the whole thing tighter and more compelling.

Another review …

http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/books/book-reviews/novel-with-a-strong-moral-heart-and-plenty-of-laughs-36089516.html

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Encounters with Harriet Martineau – Stuart Hobday

Encounters with Harriet Martineau – Stuart Hobday

I hadn’t heard of Harriet Martineau until someone in my Victorian Literature study group announced she wanted to do a presentation on her – so in the interests of being prepared (I am still reeling from knowing nothing about Jane Austen’s military brothers and being put on the spot to lead that session) I decided to read something. I searched on my Kindle and this book came up and it was a good choice – well written, easy to read and containing a huge amount of research.

Harriet Martineau was a woman ahead of her time who has largely been forgotten by history because she was writing in time that was dominated by white christian men. She believed in universal human suffrage, education and evidence based science. She knew and influenced an enormous number of Victorian era luminaries – Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell …

She was out-spoken and radical and investigated things for her self – slavery in the US, religion in the middle east, etc.

We need an amazing historical novelist – Hilary Mantel perhaps? – to write about her and bring her to the world’s attention.

I haven’t been able to find any reviews of this book, but you can read more about it at Unbound

 

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Anything is Possible – Elizabeth Strout

Anything is Possible – Elizabeth Strout

I bought this book on my Kindle quite close to its publication date, but then it languished in the pile (and on a Kindle you don’t really notice the pile) until finally I needed something good to read after trying (unsuccessfully) to get through Kim. As it turned out I was going to miss the Kim meeting anyway so I decided to cut my losses and move on.

I do like Elizabeth Strout – this one is another book of connected short stories.

Here is the blurb …

From #1 New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout comes a brilliant latticework of fiction that recalls Olive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity. Written in tandem with My Name Is Lucy Barton and drawing on the small-town characters evoked there, these pages reverberate with the themes of love, loss, and hope that have drawn millions of readers to Strout’s work.

“As I was writing My Name Is Lucy Barton,” Strout says, “it came to me that all the characters Lucy and her mother talked about had their own stories—of course!—and so the unfolding of their lives became tremendously important to me.”

Here, among others, are the “Pretty Nicely Girls,” now adults: One trades self-respect for a wealthy husband, the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. Tommy, the janitor at the local high school, has his faith tested in an encounter with an emotionally isolated man he has come to help; a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD discovers unexpected solace in the company of a lonely innkeeper; and Lucy Barton’s sister, Vicky, struggling with feelings of abandonment and jealousy, nonetheless comes to Lucy’s aid, ratifying the deepest bonds of family.

With the stylistic brilliance and subtle power that distinguish the work of this great writer, Elizabeth Strout has created another transcendent work of fiction, with characters who will live in readers’ imaginations long after the final page is turned.

Her writing is fabulous and I love it when you get a glimpse of a character from another perspective – a bit like when you see someone you know well completely out of context. She writes about people whose lives are limited by lack – money, education, love, but in such a sympathetic way you feel you understand these people and are willing them onto better lives.

Now I need to read My Name is Lucy Barton (I have that on my kindle as well!) as I believe they are connected.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/23/anything-is-possible-elizabeth-strout-review

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/short-stories-review-anything-is-possible-20170511-gw2evz.html

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The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

Isn’t this a beautiful cover? I resisted reading this for a long time – I don’t really know why – but finally decided to read it when my friend told me how much she liked it (she hasn’t lead me wrong yet).

Here is the blurb …

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.

They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners’ agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.

This is beautifully written and felt very Victorian – medicine, science (mentions of Mary Anning), religion versus science, consumption – it was all there. The characters are spectacular – love triangles are everywhere, but everyone comes out unscathed in the end (in slightly unexpected ways).

If you want to be transported to another time and place, this is the book to read – the writing is so evocative.

 

More reviews

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/16/the-essex-serpent-sarah-perry-review-novel

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The Button Box – Lynn Knight

The Button Box – Lynn Knight

I loved this book – social history, fashion history, contemporary literature and buttons! Here is the blurb …

I used to love the rattle and whoosh of my grandma’s buttons as they scattered from their Quality Street tin.

An inlaid wooden chest the size of a shoe box holds Lynn Knight’s button collection. A collection that has been passed down through three generations of women: a chunky sixties-era toggle from a favourite coat, three tiny pearl buttons from her mother’s first dress after she was adopted as a baby, a jet button from a time of Victorian mourning. Each button tells a story.

‘They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us’ said Virginia Woolf of clothes. The Button Box traces the story of women at home and in work from pre-First World War domesticity, through the first clerical girls in silk blouses, to the delights of beading and glamour in the thirties to short skirts and sexual liberation in the sixties.

I first heard of this book here and was intrigued – a quick pop to the book depository and a copy was winging its way to me. It then languished in my pile… however, I have been going through my pile picking and choosing what I want to read.

Each chapter starts with  a button (Jet button, glove button etc) but moves onto what is happening in the world at that time and also what was happening in women’s lives at that time. I particularly enjoyed the references to literature and now have a stack of new novelists I want to read – Barbara Comyns, Rosamond Lehmann, E. M Delafield and many more.

If you are at all interested in social history, fashion history or women’s history, then this is the book for you.

Another review …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/10/the-button-box-lifting-the-lid-on-womens-lives-lynn-knight-review

 

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