07 March 2012

Past The Shallows ~ Favel Parrett

If you like Tim Winton, you'll like this
And I don't like Tim Winton

There were positives :
voice of the young boy through whom the story is told is well done;
the sense of place, a rather bleak Tasmania, was well done;
the unfolding of their blighted lives is well done;
the characterisation is well done;
the descriptions of the sea are well done;
well done, it's Australian ... but, so what!!

But it just didn't do it for me.

It didn't draw me in. I am not sure if the twist, the emerging memory, was meant to be so obvious. And I am not sure what the role of the reclusive neighbour was. The ominous sense of violence was a little unrelenting. The lyricism of the language lead nowhere - yes, some poetic passages, finely polished, but I found it all tedious in the long run.

Longlisted for 2012 Miles Franklin Award
First Tuesday Book Club

06 March 2012

Mudbound ~ Hillary Jordan


Oh my! Breathtaking!
An engrossing, disturbing, memorable book

It has taken me a while to write this review. I usually post them withing a day or two of finishing, but with this one, I just had to wait, had to process it, had to calm my thoughts, had to savour it.

This is set in Mississippi just after the end of WW2. Social change and civil rights are not on the agenda. Mudbound is the sarcastic name bestowed the farm, but the storyline is mired in the murk of humanity. It is a sharp edged look at life in the 40's, a much harsher view of racism than The Help.

The characters are finely written and each gets to contribute to the story with chapters given from varying points of view. There are sour, mean-spirited bigots, there are damaged war veterans, there are the disenfranchised. If you have to draw a breath over the place of women in those days, then you have your breath taken away by the treatment of Negroes.

The story is shows the inhumanity of people towards each other but while the flavour of the story is one of extreme prejudice and cruelty, it is a touching and compelling read. This book will haunt you.

My only complaint is that I couldn't settle in to a new book after finishing (tried deep-and-meaningful, mindless-scholck) ... as this one seeps into your thoughts and takes hold!

Winner of the Bellwether Prize (This prize was founded by Barbara Kingsolver to reward books of conscience, social responsibility, and literary merit)

05 March 2012

Arcadia ~ Lauren Groff

**** RECOMMEND ****

Tournament of the Books : 2013

Soy good! A real trip!
A rich and satisfying read.

This was not a book to be skimmed. It was a thorough life story of "Bit" (a little bit of a Hippy), born and raised in a hippy commune, thrown out into the "real" world and coming to terms with his gentle soul and life in the wilds.

It has taken a while to write this review because I thoroughly enjoyed it ... but there are a few I-don't-know-why things about the writing. I admit to getting a little historically confused towards the end ... only to find when I read a review that the timeline went through till 2018. Really not sure why the author felt a need to do this.

The book if peopled with vividly described characters who are more than two dimensional. There is wonderful detail of the joys and privations of life on the commune. Having recently read 1Q84 where Murakami is obsessed with boring detail about getting meals, this was the opposite end of the interest spectrum ... making bread, growing veges, vegan food, acid spiked cider.

The story is told by Bit and, while this is well done at all ages of his life, it was especially well written through his eyes as a child. (So hard to do ... nothing childish about it but very child like in essence ... similar to the voice in Room.) This first third was, to me, the most enjoyable ... when he was growing up surrounded by diverse free spirits, loving the sense of community.

This is a slow paced read, anything but casual or lightweight.

04 March 2012

The Invisible Ones ~ Stef Penney


Meh! And another for good measure! Meh!
Not a patch on The Tenderness of Wolves

We both loved her debut novel ~ it had a great sense of place and time, with an interesting and diverse set of characters who were threaded through intriguing plotlines.

This also had lots of characters, but they didn't always hold my interest. I found the alternate chapters in the voice of the young teenager lacked verisimilitude (at time I wondered if he was supposed to be a bit "slow" given the clumsy dialogue and thoughts expressed by the character). In fact, the male pespective from her characters didn't ring true.

The gypsy theme was interesting and and an unusual background for the detective novel but it lacked "noir" for me. The investigation drags, probably because there are so many asides about the characters and their love lives, and ultimately it is too convoluted.

I didn't see the big twist coming at the end ... and I wondered if the author knew it was coming ... or decided as she wrote the last chapters just which of the red herrings she would follow up. Too much, too convoluted, and yet, too superficial.

03 March 2012

A Drowned Maiden's Hair ~ Laura Amy Schlitz

* LIKE *

Good, old style children's fiction
Subtitled "A Melodrama" ... perfectly apt

A totally enjoyable classic Victorian period piece with a feisty "heroine" and heartless "baddies". Though in this the villain isn't the usual out-and-out baddie. And the heroine leans towards naughty and is eager to seek love by participation in morally questionable activities. Characterisation and description are strong points, pitch perfect for the young reader, with excellent vocabulary and historical reference to enhance the melodramatic plot.

This follows the old "Pollyanna" style of sweetness and light winning out ... but with less saccharine. There is a moral of doing what is right and telling the truth though it could cost you the (false) love you have been looking for.

02 March 2012

Jenny And The Jaws Of Life ~ Jincy Willett

Collection of short stories
An excellent writer, a mixed bag.

After finishing 1Q84, I needed a bit of a palate cleanser and this did the trick. The writing was tight, the subject matter was confronting, the stories were polished.

As with all anthologies, some appealed more than others but they were all worthwhile to various degrees. They tended to be acerbic, bittersweet, tragi-comedies that showcased empty lives with a cynical bite.

There is a skill to presenting sharp characterisation in a small slice-of-life and this author pulls it off with a well crafted collection. (But, for me, it is not in the same category as my favourite by her, The Writing Class)

01 March 2012

1Q84 ~ Haruki Murakami


Tournament of Books : 2012

Finished at laaaaast
Tournament of Books, Amazon Best of 2011, highly acclaimed

This is one of those books that make you contemplate ...

Why is it so highly acclaimed?
Why is it so long?
What is the point?
Why did I finish it?

When you look into a kaleidoscope you actually only see one fragment that is "real" and all the rest of the intricate pattern is repetition ... that is how that book was for me. Yes, there is lots of detail (lots and lots and lots and lots) and it it repeated and repeated and repeated. The detail isn't necessarily important to the plot or characterisation and the repetition is necessarily to emphasis. There were so many, many conversations where the characters simply repeated what the other person just said.

One reviewer on Amazon used the analogy :
Imagine everything you love about your favorite cocktail; the way the ingredients intermingle, often with hints of flavors that, while unbearable on their own, blend magnificently with others to create a mixed concoction to stimulate even the most nether regions of the human tongue. Now dump your glass into a gallon jug. Fill the jug to the 3/4 mark with water. Then add clam juice, tabasco sauce, maple syrup, nutmeg, and vanilla extract til you get to the top. Voila! You've got 1Q84. Drink it down, consumers.

And while I thought of my fractured kaleidoscopic pattern as I read (skipped, skimmed) this book, I think the above analogy is pretty good. There are many good points about the book and the author knits in interesting musical and literary references but it is swamped with so much trivial ephemera. While a reviewer called it "complex and surreal", I am more with the one from The Onion that called it "stylistically clumsy with layers of tone-deaf dialogue". I think the repetition made it simplistic and scrambled.

BUT ... having now force fed myself with 1Q84, I will, when I have the chance, go back and read others by the author (reviews by fans suggest that this was not the one to start with!).