Category Archives: Fiction

A Dance to the Music of Time – Anthony Powell

A Dance to the Music of Time

I watched the TV series and loved it, but I wasn’t sure if I would ever tackle the books. Then DovegreyReader started a year long (one book a month) project and I think I might be able to achieve that.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry on A Dance to the Music of Time.

20th January -So far so good, I have finished the first book, which I enjoyed and I have to say the TV series seems to be sticking closely to the novel (at least at this stage).

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Seven Types of Ambiguity – Elliot Perlman

Seven Types of Ambiguity – Elliot Perlman

I was on holiday and wanted to buy a paper book by an Australian author – this was the one I chose.

Seven Types of Ambiguity is a psychological thriller and a literary adventure of breathtaking scope. Celebrated as a novelist in the tradition of Jonathan Franzen and Philip Roth, Elliot Perlman writes of impulse and paralysis, empty marriages, lovers, gambling, and the stock market; of adult children and their parents; of poetry and prostitution, psychiatry and the law. Comic, poetic, and full of satiric insight, Seven Types of Ambiguity is, above all, a deeply romantic novel that speaks with unforgettable force about the redemptive power of love.

The story is told in seven parts, by six different narrators, whose lives are entangled in unexpected ways. Following years of unrequited love, an out-of-work schoolteacher decides to take matters into his own hands, triggering a chain of events that neither he nor his psychiatrist could have anticipated. Brimming with emotional, intellectual, and moral dilemmas, this novel-reminiscent of the richest fiction of the nineteenth century in its labyrinthine complexity-unfolds at a rapid-fire pace to reveal the full extent to which these people have been affected by one another and by the insecure and uncertain times in which they live. Our times, now. 

I loved it – it was dense (but not hard to read), literary and compelling (it’s long and I read it in a week). 5/5 (my first for the year).

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Warlight – Michael Ondaatje

I read The English Patient loved it, but struggled to get to the end. And have avoided his novels ever since, so I am not really sure why I picked this one up from the second hand book store.

In a narrative as mysterious as memory itself – at once both shadowed and luminous – Warlight is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire. It is 1945, and London is still reeling from the Blitz and years of war. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and grow both more convinced and less concerned as they get to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women with a shared history, all of whom seem determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all he didn’t know or understand in that time, and it is this journey – through reality, recollection, and imagination – that is told in this magnificent novel

It was great – easy to read and I learnt heaps about war time England and post war Europe. Definitely worth reading if you like historical fiction. 4/5

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Wolfe Island – Lucy Treloar

Wolfe Island – Lucy Treloar

For years Kitty Hawke has lived alone on Wolfe Island, witness to the island’s erosion and clinging to the ghosts of her past. Her work as a sculptor and her wolfdog Girl are enough. News of mainland turmoil is as distant as myth until refugees from that world arrive: her granddaughter Cat, and Luis and Alejandra, a brother and sister escaping persecution. When threats from the mainland draw closer, they are forced to flee for their lives. They travel north through winter, a journey during which Kitty must decide what she will do to protect the people she loves.

Part western, part lament for a disappearing world, Wolfe Island (set off the northeast coast of the US) is a transporting novel that explores connection and isolation and the ways lives and families shatter and are remade

I read Salt Creek (and presented it to my historical book club), but I think this one is better. It is thrilling (action-wise), but also has fabulous character development and settings. 4/5

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Damscus – Christos Tsiolkas, Wearing Paper Dresses –

Damascus – Christos Tsioklas

‘They kill us, they crucify us, they throw us to beasts in the arena, they sew our lips together and watch us starve. They bugger children in front of their mothers and violate men in front of their wives. The temple priests flay us openly in the streets. We are hunted everywhere and we are hunted by everyone …

We are despised, yet we grow. We are tortured and crucified and yet we flourish. We are hated and still we multiply. Why is that? You have to wonder, how is it that we not only survive but we grow stronger?’

Christos Tsiolkas’ stunning new novel Damascus is a work of soaring ambition and achievement, of immense power and epic scope, taking as its subject nothing less than events surrounding the birth and establishment of the Christian church. Based around the gospels and letters of St Paul, and focusing on characters one and two generations on from the death of Christ, as well as Paul (Saul) himself, Damascus nevertheless explores the themes that have always obsessed Tsiolkas as a writer: class, religion, masculinity, patriarchy, colonisation, exile; the ways in which nations, societies, communities, families and individuals are united and divided – it’s all here, the contemporary and urgent questions, perennial concerns made vivid and visceral.

In Damascus, Tsiolkas has written a masterpiece of imagination and transformation: an historical novel of immense power and an unflinching dissection of doubt and faith, tyranny and revolution, and cruelty and sacrifice.

This was beautiful and brutal and definitely not for the faint-hearted. 4/5

Wearing Paper Dresses – Anne Brinsden

You can talk about living in the Mallee. And you can talk about a Mallee tree. And you can talk about the Mallee itself: a land and a place full of red sand and short stubby trees. Silent skies. The undulating scorch of summer plains. Quiet, on the surface of things.

But Elise wasn’t from the Mallee, and she knew nothing of its ways.

Discover the world of a small homestead perched on the sunburnt farmland of northern Victoria. Meet Elise, whose urbane 1950s glamour is rudely transplanted to the pragmatic red soil of the Mallee when her husband returns to work the family farm. But you cannot uproot a plant and expect it to thrive. And so it is with Elise. Her meringues don’t impress the shearers, the locals scoff at her Paris fashions, her husband works all day in the back paddock, and the drought kills everything but the geraniums she despises.

As their mother withdraws more and more into herself, her spirited, tearaway daughters, Marjorie and Ruby, wild as weeds, are left to raise themselves as best they can. Until tragedy strikes, and Marjorie flees to the city determined to leave her family behind. And there she stays, leading a very different life, until the boy she loves draws her back to the land she can’t forget…

‘In the same vein as Rosalie Ham, Brinsden weaves a compelling story of country Australia with all its stigma, controversy and beauty.’ Fleur McDonald

I seem to be on a bit of an Australian fiction writing thing. This novel had a beautiful and interesting way with words. One of the characters has unstable mental health and the way the reader can see the madness creeping in is fabulous. 4/5

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The Last Train to Istanbul – Ayse Kulin

The Last Train to Istanbul – Ayse Kulin

This was one of my historical fiction study group novels (the last for the year).

Here’s the blurb …

As the daughter of one of Turkey’s last Ottoman pashas, Selva could win the heart of any man in Ankara. Yet the spirited young beauty only has eyes for Rafael Alfandari, the handsome Jewish son of an esteemed court physician. In defiance of their families, they marry, fleeing to Paris to build a new life.But when the Nazis invade France, the exiled lovers will learn that nothing—not war, not politics, not even religion—can break the bonds of family. For after they learn that Selva is but one of their fellow citizens trapped in France, a handful of brave Turkish diplomats hatch a plan to spirit the Alfandaris and hundreds of innocents, many of whom are Jewish, to safety. Together, they must traverse a war-torn continent, crossing enemy lines and risking everything in a desperate bid for freedom. From Ankara to Paris, Cairo, and Berlin, Last Train to Istanbul is an uplifting tale of love and adventure from Turkey’s beloved bestselling novelist Ay?e Kulin.

I found the story fascinating and informative – I had no idea the Turkish government saved so many people during World War 2. However, for me something was lost in translation.

Another review.

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Olive, Again – Elizabeth Strout

Olive, Again – Elizabeth Strout

Oilve Kitteridge was one of my favourite books (and I enjoyed the series as well).

Here’s the blurb …

The iconic Olive struggles to understand not only herself and her own life but also the lives of those around her in the town of Crosby, Maine. Whether with a teenager coming to terms with the loss of her father, a young woman about to give birth during a hilariously inopportune moment, a nurse who confesses a secret high school crush, or a lawyer who struggles with an inheritance she does not want to accept, the unforgettable Olive will continue to startle us, to move us, and to inspire moments of transcendent grace

Olive is back – as crabby and as unlike-able as ever, but also discerning, thoughtful and occasionally kind. The writing is beautiful -we have these little snippets of people’s lives and we see Olive as others see her. And, of course, everyone sees a different Olive.

There is a lot of fabulous stuff about Olive, Again…

Here is a podcast from Radio National’s Book Shelf podcast, Elizabeth Strout talking about Olive Again and a review from The Guardian.

I loved this book and can’t recommend it highly enough.

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Alternate Side – Anna Quindlen

Alternate Side – Anna Quindlen

I am not sure why I chose to read this one – was it a kindle daily or monthly deal? I wasn’t that taken with Miller’s Valley, but I really enjoyed this one.

Here is the blurb …

The tensions in a tight-knit neighborhood—and a seemingly happy marriage—are exposed by an unexpected act of violence in this provocative new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Miller’s Valley and Still Life with Bread Crumbs.

Some days Nora Nolan thinks that she and her husband, Charlie, lead a charmed life—except when there’s a crisis at work, a leak in the roof at home, or a problem with their twins at college. And why not? New York City was once Nora’s dream destination, and her clannish dead-end block has become a safe harbor, a tranquil village amid the urban craziness. Then one morning she returns from her run to discover that a terrible incident has shaken the neighborhood, and the fault lines begin to open: on the block, at her job, especially in her marriage. With humor, understanding, an acute eye, and a warm heart, Anna Quindlen explores what it means to be a mother, a wife, and a woman at a moment of reckoning.

This is Nora’s story and we see how her life changes over the years – being a young wife, the early years of motherhood, navigating a career and motherhood, life as an ’empty nester’ and the gradual drifting apart of a marriage. It is beautifully and generously written (all of the characters are sympathetic – except for the man with the pugs!).

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The Life to Come – Michelle de Krester

The Life to Come – Michelle de Krester

I have been a bit hit and miss with Michelle de Krester. I loved The Rose Grower, didn’t like Questions of Travel and really enjoyed this one.

Here is the blurb …

Set in Australia, France, and Sri Lanka, The Life to Come is about the stories we tell and don’t tell ourselves as individuals, as societies, and as nations. Driven by a vivid cast of characters, it explores necessary emigration, the art of fiction, and ethnic and class conflict.

Pippa is an Australian writer who longs for the success of her novelist teacher and eventually comes to fear that she “missed everything important.” In Paris, Celeste tries to convince herself that her feelings for her married lover are reciprocated. Ash makes strategic use of his childhood in Sri Lanka, but blots out the memory of a tragedy from that time and can’t commit to his trusting girlfriend, Cassie. Sri Lankan Christabel, who is generously offered a passage to Sydney by Bunty, an old acquaintance, endures her dull job and envisions a brighter future that “rose, glittered, and sank back,” while she neglects the love close at hand.

The stand-alone yet connected worlds of The Life to Come offer meditations on intimacy, loneliness, and our flawed perception of reality. Enormously moving, gorgeously observant of physical detail, and often very funny, this new novel by Michelle de Kretser reveals how the shadows cast by both the past and the future can transform and distort the present. It is teeming with life and earned wisdom—exhilaratingly contemporary, with the feel of a classic.

I have left it too long to really write anything meaningful – I need to take notes, but while I am reading I am immersed in the story (not really thinking analytically).

I know I enjoyed it – in particular Christabel’s story.

Another review

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Miller’s Valley – Anna Quindlen

Miller’s Valley – Anna Quindlen

I am not sure where I came across this novel. I am quite sure I didn’t buy it. I might have received it when my friend was having a book cull.

Here’s the blurb …

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER – In a small town on the verge of big change, a young woman unearths deep secrets about her family and unexpected truths about herself. Filled with insights that are the hallmark of Anna Quindlen’s bestsellers, Miller’s Valley is an emotionally powerful story about a family you will never forget.
For generations the Millers have lived in Miller’s Valley. Mimi Miller tells about her life with intimacy and honesty. As Mimi eavesdrops on her parents and quietly observes the people around her, she discovers more and more about the toxicity of family secrets, the dangers of gossip, the flaws of marriage, the inequalities of friendship and the risks of passion, loyalty, and love. Home, as Mimi begins to realize, can be -a place where it’s just as easy to feel lost as it is to feel content.-
Miller’s Valley is a masterly study of family, memory, loss, and, ultimately, discovery, of finding true identity and a new vision of home. As Mimi says, -No one ever leaves the town where they grew up, even if they go.- Miller’s Valley reminds us that the place where you grew up can disappear, and the people in it too, but all will live on in your heart forever.

I read this book while on holiday (Club Med on Bin Tan Island). This should have been the perfect novel for me, but I struggled. Wrong time? Wrong place? Who knows? Perhaps this one is not for me. I left it behind for someone else to enjoy. There are good reviews out there so don’t let me put you off.

Another review.

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