Monthly Archives: December 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North

A friend mentioned she was reading this book and it sounded interesting, so I thought I would give it a go. It was great – I became very single minded – can’t talk to you now must finish my book!

Here’s the blurb …

SOME STORIES CANNOT BE TOLD IN JUST ONE LIFETIME.
Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.
No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.
Until now.
As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.”
This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

Now this novel is science fiction (Harry lives his life repeatedly), but not in the typical sense, so don’t let the fact that there is time travel put you off reading it.  I found this novel compelling – I couldn’t put it down and for once I don’t think it needs editing! The story unfolds gradually with little clues and foreshadowing here and there. It is told from Harry’s point of view and it is very ancedotal – it feels like someone is telling you the story with a few distractions and digressions. Harry is born during World War 1 and in one of his lives dies in 2003, so it is really the story of the 20th Century. It is a bit of a swash-buckling tale of courage, espionage and technical innovation. It is about the search for the Theory of Everything and just how far someone is prepared to go to achieve their goal – is it OK to sacrifice the future for the present? Also, if the world is essentially reset when you die and you repeat your life countless times, how do you make a difference?

Anyway, I really enjoyed this novel – it was fun, well-written, but also made me think from time to time.

Another review …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/13/best-science-fiction-novels-june-review-roundup

 

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Amnesia – Peter Carey

Amnesia - Peter Carey

Amnesia – Peter Carey

Years ago I read and enjoyed Oscar and Lucinda, but I haven’t read anything by Peter Carey since. Left to my own devices I wouldn’t have read Amnesia, but, fortunately someone bought it for me. It was not at all what I expected and I enjoyed it.

Here is the blurb …

It was a spring evening in Washington DC; a chilly autumn morning in Melbourne; it was exactly 22.00 Greenwich Mean Time when a worm entered the computerised control systems of hundreds of Australian prisons and released the locks in many places of incarceration, some of which the hacker could not have known existed.
Because Australian prison security was, in the year 2010, mostly designed and sold by American corporations the worm immediately infected 117 US federal correctional facilities, 1,700 prisons, and over 3,000 county jails. Wherever it went, it traveled underground, in darkness, like a bushfire burning in the roots of trees. Reaching its destinations it announced itself: THE CORPORATION IS UNDER OUR CONTROL. THE ANGEL DECLARES YOU FREE.
Has a young Australian woman declared cyber war on the United States? Or was her Angel Worm intended only to open the prison doors of those unfortunates detained by Australia’s harsh immigration policies? Did America suffer collateral damage? Is she innocent? Can she be saved?

 I think the blurb is a bit misleading … Felix a disgraced journalist has been employed (compelled) to write a biography of Gaby (the cyber criminal) by his friend Woody and her mother Celine. Now whose side is Woody on? Is he an American spy – did he play some part in the 1975 government dismissal? We follow Felix from safe house to safe house as he listens to tapes made by Gaby and Celine and writes the biography.

At times it was a bit confusing, but that was possibly because we only have Felix’s view point and he has no idea what’s going on. There is a lot of political history the ‘coup’ of 1975, early environmental activism and there beautiful, passionate description of the joys of coding.

The story is mostly told from Felix’s point of view – occasionally swapping to Celine and Gaby through their tapes – and he is quite the character. Funny, pompous and confused at times Felix is a fabulous character and for me the highlight of the novel. He leaps of the page.

I read this novel quickly – I was surprised how easy it was because I struggled with Oscar and Lucinda – and think it will appeal to a wide audience (especially to the generation that lived through the 1975 dismissal).

More reviews …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/30/amnesia-peter-carey-review-turbo-charged

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/peter-carey-maintains-the-rage/story-fn9n8gph-1227079014353

 

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Lila – Marilynne Robinson

Lila - Marilynne Robinson

Lila – Marilynne Robinson

I enjoyed both Gilead and Homeso I was always going to read Lila. Here is the blurb …

Marilynne Robinson, one of the greatest novelists of our time, returns to the town of Gilead in an unforgettable story of a girlhood lived on the fringes of society in fear, awe, and wonder.
Lila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church—the only available shelter from the rain—and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life. She becomes the wife of a minister, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the days of suffering that preceded her newfound security.
Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by Doll, a canny young drifter, and brought up by her in a hardscrabble childhood. Together they crafted a life on the run, living hand-to-mouth with nothing but their sisterly bond and a ragged blade to protect them. But despite bouts of petty violence and moments of desperation, their shared life is laced with moments of joy and love. When Lila arrives in Gilead, she struggles to harmonize the life of her makeshift family and their days of hardship with the gentle Christian worldview of her husband that paradoxically judges those she loves.
Revisiting the beloved characters and setting of Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead and Home, a National Book Award Finalist,Lila is a moving expression of the mysteries of existence that is destined to become an American classic.

Marilynne Robinson is one of my favourite authors. I can’t remember how I stumbled across Gilead (it was pre-blog), but I have been hooked ever since. Coincidently, I read  a quote by Helen Garner this morning about Robinson

I like quite books by writers who respect the texture of dailiness and convey it in sentences of syntactical balance and power. If mighty events occur in these works, they don’t shirt front you, but rumble softly under your feet. Amercian writer Marilynne Robinson’s Lila rounds of her two great novels Gilead and Home into a superbly executed trilogy. Like her characters a mid-western Calvinist lives thrillingly real without a single preachy word.

This is a beautifully written novel – the characters are superb. This book made me think about how we know what we know. At one stage Lila was suprised to hear she lived in a country called the United States of America and, really, unless someone tells you (or teaches you) how do you learn these basic facts? Lila’s early life is one of hard ship and drudgery, but she is content. It is only when Doll and her part ways that her life appears hard to her – she is desperately lonely, but trusts no one (probably with good cause). Once in Gilead, befriended by the Preacher (whom she marries) she finds kindness, but she is always suspicious. Lila is quite a literal character and there are lots of discussions (between her and John Ames) about the bible and what it means. This all sounds a bit simple (and a bit boring), but this is a remarkable novel that will make question assumptions of identity, religion, community and education.

I don’t think it is necessary to read the novels in order, but I think reading Gilead before Lila might enable a fuller understanding of both novels.

More reviews …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/07/marilynne-robinson-lila-great-achievement-contemporary-us-fiction-gilead

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/marilynne-robinsons-lila-an-exquisite-novel-of-spiritual-redemption-and-love/2014/09/30/55f5f318-45aa-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html

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The Children Act – Ian McEwan

The Children Act - Ian McEwan

The Children Act – Ian McEwan

I loved Atonement – first the book and then the movie and so have been reading McEwan novels ever since. I was so disappointed with Solar that it has taken me a while to start reading him again. I enjoyed Sweet Tooth and so when a member of my book club selected this one, I thought why not?

Here is the blurb …

Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child’s welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts.
But Fiona’s professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears. She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses. But Jack doesn’t leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case—as well as her crumbling marriage—tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

I did enjoy this novel – not as much as Atonement – but it was interesting, thought provoking and must contain a lot of research. In some ways it reminded me of Saturday – a tremendous amount of detail.  McEwan is a writerly writer who spends time crafting each sentence – using the occasional obscure word.

More reviews …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/11/the-children-act-ian-mcewan-review-novel

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/ian-mcewan-leaves-vulgarity-behind-in-the-children-act/story-fn9n8gph-1227038897605?nk=7827989c4e44dce0a75658491ea3d441

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The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

This is my second Wilkie Collins novel – this was the first – I preferred this one.

Here’s the blurb …

“The Moonstone is a page-turner,” writes Carolyn Heilbrun. “It catches one up and unfolds its amazing story through the recountings of its several narrators, all of them enticing and singular.” Wilkie Collins’s spellbinding tale of romance, theft, and murder inspired a hugely popular genre–the detective mystery. Hinging on the theft of an enormous diamond originally stolen from an Indian shrine, this riveting novel features the innovative Sergeant Cuff, the hilarious house steward Gabriel Betteridge, a lovesick housemaid, and a mysterious band of Indian jugglers.

My only complaint was that it was too long. I enjoyed the narrative being told from different characters points of view – they inadvertently reveal much about themselves while moving the plot forward. My favourite section was Miss Clack’s and apparently Wilkie Collins was so under the influence of opium that he didn’t even remember writing it (although when he read it, he thought it was quite good!). This is a detective story (possibly the first?) with all sorts of things going on – murder, love, suicide, mystical Indians, an enormous diamond (stolen from India – does that remind anyone of anything? Koh I Noor perhaps?) and a re-enactment of the crime scene.

Another review

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/27/100-best-novels-moonstone-wilkie-collins

and here is the shmoop page

http://www.shmoop.com/the-moonstone/summary.html

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An Officer and A Spy – Robert Harris

An Officer and a Spy - Robert Harris

An Officer and a Spy – Robert Harris

I’ve been reading a bit of crime/thriller this year – like this one or this one. I was given this one for my birthday.

Here is the blurb …

Robert Harris returns to the thrilling historical fiction he has so brilliantly made his own. This is the story of the infamous Dreyfus affair told as a chillingly dark, hard-edged novel of conspiracy and espionage.
Paris in 1895. Alfred Dreyfus, a young Jewish officer, has just been convicted of treason, sentenced to life imprisonment at Devil’s Island, and stripped of his rank in front of a baying crowd of twenty-thousand. Among the witnesses to his humiliation is Georges Picquart, the ambitious, intellectual, recently promoted head of the counterespionage agency that “proved” Dreyfus had passed secrets to the Germans. At first, Picquart firmly believes in Dreyfus’s guilt. But it is not long after Dreyfus is delivered to his desolate prison that Picquart stumbles on information that leads him to suspect that there is still a spy at large in the French military. As evidence of the most malignant deceit mounts and spirals inexorably toward the uppermost levels of government, Picquart is compelled to question not only the case against Dreyfus but also his most deeply held beliefs about his country, and about himself.
Bringing to life the scandal that mesmerized the world at the turn of the twentieth century, Robert Harris tells a tale of uncanny timeliness––a witch hunt, secret tribunals, out-of-control intelligence agencies, the fate of a whistle-blower–richly dramatized with the singular storytelling mastery that has marked all of his internationally best-selling novels.

I found this quite slow at first – it took me a long time to get into it, but eventually I was gripped and didn’t want to stop until I knew what had happened. The pace is slow and not particularly dramatic – although there is a shooting in the street  – but the story is fascinating. Traitors, spies, secret meetings, fabricated evidence and murder.

I don’t know anything about the ‘Dreyfus Affair’, so I can’t comment on the veracity of the story, but from what I’ve read in other reviews it is true to the story.

More reviews …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/10/officer-and-spy-robert-harris-review

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/an-officer-and-a-spy-20131031-2wi00.html

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The Woman Who Stole My Life – Marian Keyes

The Woman Who Stole My Life - Marian Keyes

The Woman Who Stole My Life – Marian Keyes

I have been a Marian Keyes fan for a long time – ever since the laugh out loud funny moments in Watermelon. Sometimes I have been disappointed, but usually I find them a fun read with a bit of a serious side.

Here is the blurb for this one …

Stella Sweeney is back in Dublin. After living the dream in New York for a year – touring her self-help book, appearing on talk shows all over the USA and living it up in her 10-room duplex on the Upper West Side – she’s back to normality with a bang. And she’s got writer’s block.
Stella wants a clean break as she didn’t exactly leave New York on a high. Why is she back in Ireland so soon? Who is it who keeps calling? Stella wants to get back to being the woman she used to be. But can she? And should she?

 Stella contracts a dreadful disease and spends a lot of time in hospital. While in hospital she develops a connection with her neurologist – she communicates with him by blinking. Later, he turns her sayings into a self-published book, which finds its way into the hands of an infamous celebrity (she is photographed reading it) and so Stella becomes a publishing phenomenon. She gets a book deal, moves to New York (with the neurologist and her children) and goes on a book tour. She is living the life people dream about – I shall leave you to find out how she ends up back in Ireland along (apart from her grumpy son) and broke.

As you would expect from Ms Keyes, there are some hilarious moments. For example, Stella’s ex-husband’s plan to create his own celebrity or her son who is simply too well behaved (for a teenager).

This was a well-written romantic comedy. There are funny bits and serious bits, but more of the funny than the dark.

 

 

 

 

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