Category Archives: Fiction

The Lover – Marguerite Duras

The Lover – Marguerite Duras

This was the last of the classic french novels for my historical fiction study group. I bought the Kindle edition and read it while I was out-and-about; waiting for appointments, or to collect children, so my reading was scattered and very unfocused. This was not helped by the style of the book, which jumped about a bit.

Here’s the blurb …

Saigon, 1930s: a poor young French girl meets the elegant son of a wealthy Chinese family. Soon they are lovers, locked into a private world of passion and intensity that defies all the conventions of their society.

One thing I noticed was that, despite the shortness of the novel (more of a novella), it packed in a lot. And the detail was vivid – the hat, the shoes, the ferry on the Mekong, etc.

This isn’t my favourite classic french novel (that’s Madame Bovary).

More reviews …

https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/98/11/01/nnp/duras-lover.html?module=inline

On a Pedestal

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The Book of Strange New Things – Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New Things

I first saw this novel on Mercy’s Musings and then when I saw it at the library I decided I had to read it.

Here’s the blurb …

‘I am with you always, even unto the end of the world…’

From the author of Under the Skin and The Crimson Petal and the White, the first novel from Michel Faber in fourteen years is a wildly original tale of adventure, faith and the ties that might hold two people together when they are worlds apart

Peter Leigh is a husband, a Christian, and now a missionary. As The Book of Strange New Things opens, he is set to embark on a journey that will be the biggest test of his faith yet.

From the moment he says goodbye to his wife, Bea, and boards his flight, he begins a quest that will challenge his religious beliefs, his love and his understanding of the limits of the human body.

This momentous novel is Faber at his expectation-defying best. It is a brilliantly compelling book about love in the face of death, and the search for meaning in an unfathomable universe.

The plot of this novel is quite quirky – a foreign planet with indigenous inhabitants who want to learn more about Jesus. The planet, Oasis, is interesting – strange spiral rain (I think the cover is inspired by the rain), no big flora (there is a mushroom the Oasans use to manufacture all sorts of food for the humans), or fauna (apart from the Oasans, bugs and a strange duck thing).

There is an underlying sense of dread or menace – what happened to the previous minister? what are USIC’s plans for Oasis? that keep you turning the pages. It is beautifully written, full of detail that creates the new world of Oasis, but also show us the decay of the Earth.

It is about faith (and what that means), family and what we owe to each other as a community.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/26/book-of-strange-new-things-michel-faber-review

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/book-review-the-book-of-strange-new-things-by-michel-faber/2014/11/25/143d099c-70fd-11e4-ad12-3734c461eab6_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.fee0f10857a0

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To the Light House – Virginia Woolf

To the Light House – Virginia Woolf

This has been on my ‘to be read’ pile for sometime. I am not sure why it took me so long to get to it.

Here’s the blurb …

For years now the Ramsays have spent every summer in their holiday home in Scotland, and they expect these summers will go on forever; but as the First World War looms, the integrity of family and society will be fatally challenged.
To the Lighthouse is at once a vivid impressionist depiction of a family holiday, and a meditation on a marriage, on parenthood and childhood, on grief, tyranny and bitterness. Its use of stream of consciousness, reminiscence and shifting perspectives, gives the novel an intimate, poetic essence, and at the time of publication in 1927 it represented an utter rejection of Victorian and Edwardian literary values.
Virginia Woolf saw the novel as an elegy to her own parents, and in her diary she wrote: ‘I used to think of him (father) and mother daily; but writing The Lighthouse laid them in my mind”.

I loved this novel – it did take me a  while to get use to the style, but I enjoyed the different stream of consciousness. It was more about what people were thinking and feeling than the plot. It was also a nice look at a time in the past.

Here is Margaret Atwood writing about To the Lighthouse

And this one from the NY Times

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A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

Mercy from Mercy’s Bookish Musings reviewed the second in this series and mentioned how much she liked the first one (this one) and she said it was like Firefly one of my favourite shows, so of course I had to buy it. And then the owner of my local book store raved about it.

Here is the blurb …

Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

I found it a bit slow going at first – all of that creating a world, explaining the physics etc., but then I was hooked – couldn’t put it down. It is witty and exciting and has something to say about relationships and family (and the families we create for ourselves).

I have bought the second, but have some prescribed reading to get to first Pachinko and Gigi (for my book clubs).

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/31/science-fiction-roundup

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

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Less – Andrew Sean Greer

Less – Andrew Sean Greer

I had to read this – my friend knows the author! I even bought a paper version as another friend tells me the author is paid more for paper copies – why? I don’t know.

Here is the blurb …

You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.

QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.

Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, LESS is, above all, a love story.

A scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, a bittersweet romance of chances lost, by an author The New York Times has hailed as “inspired, lyrical,” “elegiac,” “ingenious,” as well as “too sappy by half,” LESS shows a writer at the peak of his talents raising the curtain on our shared human comedy.

I loved this book – finally something that is ‘literary’, but not grim. It was witty and clever (probably too clever for me, but I did notice things like…

[In the Paris section]

Less is left breathless below and old house all covered in vines. A group of school girls passes in two straight lines

This is my favourite book so far this year.

Another review

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jun/01/less-andrew-sean-greer-review

 

 

 

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Bel Ami – Guy de Maupassant

Bel Ami – Guy de Maupassant

This is my third in my classic french literature reading – I have read Dangerous Liaisons and Madame Bovary. Once again, I was surprised by its modern feel.

Here is the blurb …

Guy de Maupassant’s scandalous tale of an opportunistic young man corrupted by the allure of power, “Bel-Ami” is translated with an introduction by Douglas Parmee in “Penguin Classics”. Young, attractive and very ambitious, George Duroy, known to his admirers as Bel-Ami, is offered a job as a journalist on La Vie francaise and soon makes a great success of his new career. But he also comes face to face with the realities of the corrupt society in which he lives – the sleazy colleagues, the manipulative mistresses and wily financiers – and swiftly learns to become an arch-seducer, blackmailer and social climber in a world where love is only a means to an end. Written when Maupassant was at the height of his powers, “Bel-Ami” is a novel of great frankness and cynicism, but it is also infused with the sheer joy of life – depicting the scenes and characters of Paris in the belle epoque with wit, sensitivity and humanity. Douglas Parmee’s translation captures all the vigour and vitality of Maupassant’s novel. His introduction explores the similarities between Bel-Ami and Maupassant himself and demonstrates the skill with which the author depicts his large cast of characters and the French society of the Third Republic.

This is an interesting novel as the main character – Georges Duroy – is vile; selfish and self-centred, he uses others (but mostly women) to improve his social and financial position. This is interesting as it is unusual (at that time – first published in 1885) to have such an unsympathetic character at the heart of a novel (the hero so to speak). What does de Maupassant mean bu it? At this time most novels (English at least) had a didactic purpose – to make us (the readers) better people. Is he showing us the world as it is (or was)?

This novel also highlights how linked (and therefore biased) journalism and politics were – and the manipulation of policy to enrich a few men.

One aspect of this novel that I love is the contemporary social detail – the metro is being built, France has soldiers in Algeria, etc.

If you are interested in 19th century France (or Paris), then I highly recommend this novel. It’s gritty (and a bit grubby) and shows are darker side of life.

Here is another review …

http://insidebooks.blogspot.com/2010/03/book-review-bel-ami-guy-de-maupassant.html

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The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – Imogen Hermes Gowar

 

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – Imogen Hermes Gowar

As this is a beautiful book, I had to by a paper copy (full price $32.95, so clearly I liked the cover). I selected this for my book club because, for a while, it seemed to be recommended everywhere (and it was shortlisted for the Women’s prize for fiction).

Here is the blurb …

This voyage is special. It will change everything…

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This chance meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, a journey on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost…

What will be the cost of their ambitions? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?

In this spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession, Imogen Hermes Gowar has created an unforgettable jewel of a novel, filled to the brim with intelligence, heart and wit.

I found the experience of reading this novel to be disconcerting – individual scenes and sentences were brilliant, but the whole novel was somewhat disappointing. I can’t quite put my finger on why the novel wasn’t amazing given that the individual parts were. I loved the setting – it was beautifully described (and clearly well-researched), the characters were nuanced and interesting – I think it was the plot (not that I need much of a plot). It needed tighter editing and some of the characters (and their stories) removed.

However, I enjoyed it, but my expectations were high and it didn’t quite reach them.

More reviews …

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The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart – Holly Ringland

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart – Holly Ringland

The cover of this book is so beautiful and I kept seeing it everywhere, so I had to buy it.

I particularly enjoyed all of the Australian flora references – Ms Ringland made the harsh outback almost seem inviting.

Here is the blurb …

The most enchanting debut novel of 2018, this is an irresistible, deeply moving and romantic story of a young girl, daughter of an abusive father, who has to learn the hard way that she can break the patterns of the past, live on her own terms and find her own strength.
After her family suffers a tragedy when she is nine years old, Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her estranged grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak. But Alice also learns that there are secrets within secrets about her past. Under the watchful eye of June and The Flowers, women who run the farm, Alice grows up. But an unexpected betrayal sends her reeling, and she flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. Alice thinks she has found solace, until she falls in love with Dylan, a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a story about stories: those we inherit, those we select to define us, and those we decide to hide. It is a novel about the secrets we keep and how they haunt us, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive. Spanning twenty years, set between the lush sugar cane fields by the sea, a native Australian flower farm, and a celestial crater in the central desert, Alice must go on a journey to discover that the most powerful story she will ever possess is her own.

I had a run of reading about domestic violence and this came at the end and I must admit I was over it by then, so the timing was wrong for me and I haven’t recommended this novel to anyone. I really enjoyed the parts about the flowers: growing them, harvesting them and the secret meaning of the flowers. Ms Ringland creates a fabulous sense of place; by the ocean, by the river, by the crater and her female characters are amazing – the men not so much, but I think that might be the point.

More reviews …

https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/the-lost-flowers-of-alice-hart-review-holly-ringlands-dark-floral-fairytale-20180412-h0yogi.html

https://www.betterreading.com.au/news/australian-masterpice-the-lost-flowers-of-alice-hart-by-holly-ringland/

 

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Dear Mrs Bird – A J Pearce

Dear Mrs Bird – A J Pearce

I can’t remember where I first saw this – it was definitely somewhere online – and then the very next day I saw it at Boffins. I very much enjoyed reading this novel – it reminded me of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society possibly because they have a similar world war two feel.

Here is the blurb …

A charming, irresistible debut novel set in London during World War II about an adventurous young woman who becomes a secret advice columnist—a warm, funny, and enormously moving story for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Lilac Girls.

London 1940, bombs are falling. Emmy Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent seem suddenly achievable. But the job turns out to be typist to the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs Bird is very clear: Any letters containing Unpleasantness—must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant letters from women who are lonely, may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men and found themselves in trouble, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write letters back to the women of all ages who have spilled out their troubles.

Prepare to fall head over heels with Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are spirited and gutsy, even in the face of events that bring a terrible blow. As the bombs continue to fall, the irrepressible Emmy keeps writing, and readers are transformed by AJ Pearce’s hilarious, heartwarming, and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.

This is a charming and funny story about hope, friendship and the strength of the human spirit. It is mostly light-hearted, but it is set during World War Two, so expect some sadness.

This is one of my favourite books so far this year.

Another review …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/18/dear-mrs-bird-by-aj-pearce-review

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Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

This was the second French classic for my historical fiction group and once again I was surprised by how easy it was to read – much easier than an equivalent piece of English literature.

Madame Bovary is the debut novel of French writer Gustave Flaubert, published in 1856. The character lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life.

When the novel was first serialized in La Revue de Paris between 1 October 1856 and 15 December 1856, public prosecutors attacked the novel for obscenity. The resulting trial in January 1857 made the story notorious. After Flaubert’s acquittal on 7 February 1857, Madame Bovary became a bestseller in April 1857 when it was published in two volumes. A seminal work of literary realism, the novel is now considered Flaubert’s masterpiece, and one of the most influential literary works in history.

It was incredibly modern – concerned about consumerism and the role of women. I must admit that I didn’t find Emma at all sympathetic – melodramatic, selfish and self-centred, but she was stuck in a small rural community with no friends, married to a man with whom she had nothing in common. Her life lacked purpose, interest and romance, so of course she had to create drama and excitement.

Here is an article from the NY Times…

and here is the First Tuesday book club talking about Madame Bovary

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/firsttuesday/s3165716.htm

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