Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Effect - Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simsion

I loved The Rosie Project – recommended to heaps of people and made my book club read it, so I was keen to read the next installment.

Here is the blurb …

THE ROSIE PROJECT WAS COMPLETE BUT I WAS UNPREPARED FOR THE ROSIE EFFECT.
GREETINGS. My name is Don Tillman. I am forty-one years old. I have been married to Rosie Jarman, world’s most perfect woman, for ten months and ten days.
Marriage added significant complexity to my life. When we relocated to New York City, Rosie brought three maximum-size suitcases. We abandoned the Standardised Meal System and agreed that sex should not be scheduled in advance.
Then Rosie told me we had ‘something to celebrate’, and I was faced with a challenge even greater than finding a partner.
I have attempted to follow traditional protocols and have sourced advice from all six of my friends, plus a therapist and the internet.
The result has been a web of deceit. I am now in danger of prosecution, deportation and professional disgrace.
And of losing Rosie forever.

This was great – very similar to The Rosie Project –  lots of laugh out loud funny moments (like when Don decides to research children by observing them at the park!).

I enjoyed reading this novel, but it is more of the same.

More reviews …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/08/the-rosie-effect-graeme-simsion-review

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/graeme-simsion-looks-for-the-rosie-effect-again-20140919-10j82b.html

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Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood

Stone Mattress - Margaret Atwood

Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood

I really enjoy Atwood’s novels – not so much her later post-apocalyptic works (although I did like them), but her other novels like Blind Assassin and Alias Grace. Anyway I always try to read her new work. This one is a series of short stories – some connected and some referring to earlier novels.

Here is the blurb …

A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. An elderly lady with Charles Bonnet’s syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly-formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. A woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. And a crime committed long-ago is revenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion year old stromatalite.
In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood ventures into the shadowland earlier explored by fabulists and concoctors of dark yarns such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Daphne du Maurier and Arthur Conan Doyle – and also by herself, in her award-winning novel Alias Grace. In Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.

I really enjoyed these stories and being short stories I could read one at a time to extend the pleasure of a new Atwood story. They have everything I like about Atwood’s works – brilliant prose (her choice of words is poetic), interesting characters and quirky plots (I mean a woman is mistaken for a vampire – although maybe she is one?).

More reviews …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/28/margaret-atwood-stone-mattress-nine-tales-review-layers-of-experience

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/21/books/review/stone-mattress-by-margaret-atwood.html?_r=0

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The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters

The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters

The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters

I always say I am a fan of Sarah Waters, but when it comes down to it the only novel of hers I have read is Fingersmith. I pre-ordered The Paying Guests on my Kindle and I was keen to get to it when it magically appeared.

I read a lot of early 20th century domestic fiction – I read a lot of books from here – and this novel fits into that style beautifully.

Here is the blurb …

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa — a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants — life is about to be transformed as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.
With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class,” the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life — or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

As is usual in a Waters’ novel, the men are incompetent and the women are the chief protagonists moving the plot forward. Frances’s father (now deceased) has left the family in a bad financial situation (and both of the brothers died in the war), so in order to keep the house they have to take ‘paying guests’. The Barbers a young couple move in – he is a clerk (and a bit too sleek and shiny) and she a wife. A relationship develops between Lilian and Frances as they spend their days together keeping house. No one can have what they want: Mrs Wray wants Frances to meet a nice man and get married, Frances wants to live independently with Lilian, Leonard wants to move up the social ladder and Lilian – well I am not sure even Lilian knows what she wants – and thus conflict is created.

Although this is a pastiche of an early domestic novel (like something Elizabeth Taylor would write or Dorothy Whipple) it has a very modern sensibility. It highlights the restrictions on women (and gay women in particular). How Frances was required to stay home and look after her mother (not to mention the house). How Lilian was tied to Leonard – financially, but also the stigma (which Lilian could not overcome) attached to leaving him (especially for a women). After the crime (don’t want to give anything away) the story descends into melodrama. Class (and gender) plays a part in this too – but you will need to read it to find out more.

Waters is a skilled writer and I found it an interesting novel to read. I was disappointed in the latter part of the novel, but think it is worth reading for Lilian’s wonderfully vulgar family and for the sense of freedom expressed by Christina and Stevie living together openly.

More reviews …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/14/paying-guests-sarah-waters-review-satire-costume-drama

http://www.literaryreview.co.uk/canning_08_14.php

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The Blindfold – Siri Hustvedt

The Blindfold - Siri Hustvedt

The Blindfold – Siri Hustvedt

I really like Siri Hustvedt’s writing. When I saw this at the library I had to get it out.

Here is the blurb …

Iris Vegan is a graduate student, living alone and impoverished in New York City. In the course of the novel, she encounters four strong characters, each of whom fascinates and in some way subordinates her to alter the shape of her identity.

I have to say my favourite Hustvedt novel is still The Summer without MenThis is a short novel and I would describe it as a series of connected short stories. It is an exploration of one women’s mental state and how interactions with others change her. This is one of her earlier novels (possibly the first?) and it is interesting to see how her interest in her character’s interior drama has grown and expanded in later works. It is slow moving and I found Iris to be quite frustrating – she seemed determined to make her own life difficult and more complicated than in needed to be.

Another review …

http://hungrylikethewoolf.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/the-blindfold-by-siri-hustvedt/

 

 

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After I’m Gone – Laura Lippman

After I'm Gone - Laura Lippman

After I’m Gone – Laura Lippman

This is another crime novel, but it it not really a crime novel that is just the structure used to explore characters and relationships. This was recommended by Barb Sampson at a fund raising book night – she does a great job of describing the book with enough detail, but without giving anything away, so you can decide it you want to read it or not.

Here’s the blurb …

When Felix Brewer meets nineteen-year-old Bernadette ‘Bambi’ Gottschalk at a Valentine’s Dance in 1959, he charms her with wild promises, some of which he actually keeps. Thanks to his lucrative if not always legal businesses, she and their three little girls live in luxury. But on the Fourth of July, 1976, Bambi’s world implodes when Felix, newly convicted and facing prison, mysteriously vanishes.
Though Bambi has no idea where her husband – or his money – might be, she suspects one woman does: his devoted young mistress, Julie. When Julie herself disappears ten years to the day that Felix went on the lam, everyone assumes she’s left to join her old lover – until her remains are found in a secluded wooded park.
Now, twenty-six years after Julie went missing, Roberto ‘Sandy’ Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective working cold cases for some extra cash, is investigating her murder. What he discovers is a tangled web of bitterness, jealousy, resentment and greed stretching over the three decades and three generations that connect these five very different women. And at the center of every woman’s story is the man who, though long gone, has never been forgotten: the enigmatic Felix Brewer.
Somewhere between the secrets and lies connecting past and present, Sandy could find the explosive truth…

I have to say I was surprised by who was the murderer. Having said that, this novel is more about five women – the wife, the mistress and three daughters – being left behind when Felix disappears. Bambi (terrible name) struggles to keep up appearances, the daughters – particularly the youngest Michelle – grow up without a father figure, and Julie – who out of all of the women copes best with Felix’s departure – is prepared to throw it all away and join him in exile. The characters are fabulous – very well-written – they are selfish, self-centred and complicated. I had little sympathy for any of them (apart from the detective working the cold case).

It is a story that develops slowly – one of my friends complained that nothing happened. And while that is true to some extent, there is not much action – it is about character development and ordinary lives turned upside down.

I didn’t think this novel would be to my taste, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

More reviews …

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-review-after-im-gone-by-laura-lippman-9269868.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/17/books/in-after-im-gone-one-man-leaves-many-questions.html?_r=0

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I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes

I Am Pilgrim - Terry Hayes

I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes

Apparently this was big last year – I am so keeping up with the times. A friend had this and thought that I would like it. It was certainly compelling and I now want to get vaccinated for small pox.

Here is the blurb …

Can you commit the perfect crime?

Pilgrim is the codename for a man who doesn’t exist. The adopted son of a wealthy American family, he once headed up a secret espionage unit for US intelligence. Before he disappeared into anonymous retirement, he wrote the definitive book on forensic criminal investigation.But that book will come back to haunt him. It will help NYPD detective Ben Bradley track him down. And it will take him to a rundown New York hotel room where the body of a woman is found facedown in a bath of acid, her features erased, her teeth missing, her fingerprints gone. It is a textbook murder – and Pilgrim wrote the book.What begins as an unusual and challenging investigation will become a terrifying race-against-time to save America from oblivion. Pilgrim will have to make a journey from a public beheading in Mecca to a deserted ruins on the Turkish coast via a Nazi death camp in Alsace and the barren wilderness of the Hindu Kush in search of the faceless man who would commit an appalling act of mass murder in the name of his God.

First, this is quite long and could have been edited to make a tighter story. Having said that, however, I was glued to the page. And despite knowing that everything would be all right (because don’t we always know that) I raced to the end to find out how ‘Pilgrim’ will catch ‘Saracen’. I must say I was a bit disappointed by the ending. I don’t want to ruin the story, but I think Saracen acted out of character.

As this novel is written from different points of view including the villain, you, at times, feel sympathy for him and can understand how he becomes what he is – although it is hard to justify testing your small pox strain on innocent aid workers. The characters are complex  (and there are a lot of them) and the coincidence count is high – but that just makes for an entertaining if somewhat far fetched story. The various different places are described well and Mr Hayes uses a lot of fore shadowing to keep the tension high.

Overall I think this is a great thriller with an interesting point to make about disenfranchised (intelligent) young men.

I think this would make a great movie (and I think one is on the cards).

More reviews …

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/17/books/i-am-pilgrim-by-terry-hayes.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackie-k-cooper/so-far-i-am-pilgrim-is-th_b_5518631.html

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What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty

What Alice Forgot -

What Alice Forgot -Liane Moriarty

For one reason and another I am behind on writing my reviews – I have 8 more books after this one and I am sure more will get read in the mean time. Anyway, this was another book club selection.

Here’s the blurb …

So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes.
Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.

This was a fun, light read. For me it was quite close to home – all of that school mum stuff is where I am at the moment and I am surprised there hasn’t been a world record attempt of something at my girls’ school. The story is a bit like a mystery as tiny pieces of Alice’s memory come back you try to work out what happened in the intervening ten years. Alice changes quite dramatically in the ten years, but as the story unfolds her metamorphosis is quite believable. I thought the ending a bit weak, but overall the story was compelling.

Another review …

http://www.peekingbetweenthepages.com/2011/10/book-review-what-alice-forgot-by-liane-moriarty.html

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