Category Archives: Fiction

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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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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Noah’s Compass – Anne Tyler

Noah’s Compass – Anne Tyler

I went to a second hand book store/book exchange and I always feel I have to buy something. So when I saw this Anne Tyler novel I was on it.  I have read quite a few Anne Tyler novels – I like how the ordinary is made extraordinary.

Here is the blurb …

Quintessential Tyler, yet full of surprises – a perfectly pitched, enchanting and affecting novel about a man adrift in his own life, Noah’s Compass chimes gently, heart-breakingly with our times.

With the humour and poignancy of her classic The Accidental Tourist (though with a protagonist who doesn’t venture far from home) Anne Tyler’s new novel tells the story of a year in the life of Liam Pennywell, a man in his sixty-first year. A classical pedant, he’s just been ‘let go’ from his school teaching job and downsizes to a tiny out-of-town apartment, where he goes to bed early and alone on his first night.

Widowed, re-married, divorced and the father of three daughters, Liam is a man who is proud of his recall but has learned to dodge issues and skirt adventure. An unpleasant event occurs, though, to jolt him out of his certainty. Obsessed with a frightening gap in his memory, he sets out to uncover what happened, and finds instead an unusual woman with secrets of her own, and a late-flowering love that brings its own thorny problems. His ex-wife (sensible Barbara) and daughters worry about him but Liam blunders on, His teenage daughter Kitty is sent to stay – though it’s not clear who is minding whom. His middle daughter, Louise, is a born-again Christian with a son called Jonah, but her certainties leave Liam still more perplexed.

Noah’s Compass is about memory and its loss, about incidents and relationships which open up sight lines into a painful past long dead for a man who becomes aware that merely trying to stay afloat may not be enough.

Liam is disconnected from his own life – he has few friends and seems disengaged from his children. His two older children are angry at his emotional absence, but he just seems confused by them.  At the start, Liam has given up. He is planning on leading a small life – marking time until he dies – and then he suffers memory loss after a burglary gone wrong and becomes obsessed by the memory gap. While visiting a neuroscientist he overhears another patient in the waiting room being reminded (subtly) of someone’s name and he decides that’s what he needs a ‘rememberer’. He stalks this woman and they have a relationship – although she is not as she seems.

Liam is a non-stick man – he passes through life and nothing seems to stick – wives, children, friends, jobs. He is going through the motions but is not living. However, his memory loss, meeting Eunice, having Kitty (and her boyfriend) move in, minding Jonah and his oldest daughter’s anger seems to somehow ignite him and he becomes part of the world.

As always, the writing is beautiful, but unobtrusive.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/aug/16/noahs-compass-anne-tyler

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/books/review/Harrison-t.html?_r=0

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Girl Waits with Gun – Amy Stewart

Girl Waits with Gun – Amy Stewart

I saw Amy Stewart at the Perth Writers Festival and was intrigued, so I popped over to the festival book shop and picked up a copy. I enjoyed it – it is well-written and entertaining (plus I learnt things)

Here is the blurb …

Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.

I wish I had read it before I went to the talk because I am intrigued by the research. It wears the research lightly – it is never intrusive – but you feel like you are at the Kopp farm, or downtown Paterson, or waiting with a gun for the mysterious women in black. There is mention of clothes (I always like that), food, transport… essentially documenting a vanished way of life.

I love the fact that all three of the Kopp sisters are individuals – Constance, our heroine, Norma with her pigeons and her meaningful silences and Fleurette, melodramatic and flighty.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/01/girl-waits-with-gun-by-amy-stewart-review-a-marvellous-debut-mystery

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/girl-waits-with-gun-review-a-feisty-heroine-inspired-by-a-real-detective/2015/08/26/49d374da-4b34-11e5-84df-923b3ef1a64b_story.html?utm_term=.42e2d3b88490

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The Odd Women – George Gissing

The Odd Women – George Gissing

After reading The New Grub Street I was loathe to start this one, but my fellow book clubbers assured me this was a good read. And it was – I enjoyed it.

Here is the blurb …

A novel of social realism, The Odd Women reflects the major sexual and cultural issues of the late nineteenth century. Unlike the “New Woman” novels of the era which challenged the idea that the unmarried woman was superfluous, Gissing satirizes that image and portrays women as “odd” and marginal in relation to an ideal. Set in a grimy, fog-ridden London, Gissing’s “odd” women range from the idealistic, financially self-sufficient Mary Barfoot to the Madden sisters who struggle to subsist in low paying jobs and little chance for joy. With narrative detachment, Gissing portrays contemporary society’s blatant ambivalence towards its own period of transition. Judged by contemporary critics to be as provocative as Zola and Ibsen, Gissing produced an “intensely modern” work as the issues it raises remain the subject of contemporary debate.

At first I thought the ‘odd’ in the title meant quirky or a bit strange, but it means unpaired. So this novel is about all of the ‘superfluous’ women – the ones who can’t seem to find themselves a husband.

It shows the plight of a few ‘odd women’: Mary Barfoot (independent and trying to educate women with useful skills), Rhoda Nunn (fiercely independent and determined to remain so no matter the cost), the Madden sisters – Alice (poor but respectable), Virginia (who takes to drink) and Monica (who marries to escape her sister’s fate – a cautionary tale) and Mildred Vesper (content to work for her living).

Despite portraying all of these women sympathetically Gissing makes several misogynistic statements (unconciously revealing his belief that women are inferior)

Guilty or not, Monica would regard her with secret disdain, with woman’s malice

and

The scandal of Amy Drake, happening long after, revived her misery, which now took the form of truly feminine intolerance

This novel is preoccupied with money – very detailed accounts of incomes, what is required to get married, etc. It is about people living in straitened circumstances and how limited their lives are as a result. The women, for the most part, want to be free, but the only ones who achieve this are Mary Barfoot (independently wealthy) and Mildred Vesper (content with little). Monica finds marriage to be a prison and Rhoda’s fate is complicated – she got to choose it, but was her choice wise?

Gissing doesn’t provide any solutions -life is hard made even worse by poverty. Women, in particular, have little control of their lives.

More reviews …

“And neither was content”: George Gissing, The Odd Women

The Odd Women by George Gissing

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