08 August 2014

The Golden Age ~ Joan London

*** LIKE ***

Glows with beautiful language
Sharp edged nostalgia but a nebulous narrative

There was a lot to love.  London is a poetic, visual writer.  Her prose is sharp.  Without waxing lyrical, she sets the scene vividly.  I loved her commentary on the Royal Visit (the photographed flowers, the framed letter).  I felt I could see and breath in the Perth of the '50's that she pictured so clearly for me.  Many memories from my own golden childhood were tickled in the narrative from Argonauts to Choo Choo bars (though shame of Frank for being a little dismissive of Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopedia - my treasure trove of trivia!).

The backstory was deftly woven : comparing Old World Europe and provincial Perth, setting nostalgia for what was against hope for a new life, showing family as belonging and family as isolation.

But I was disappointed.  I am a big fan of Gilgamesh (pushing it on anyone interested in Australian literature).  I so wanted to love this one.  My husband is a polio survivor, still haunted by his time in hospital as a child, so there is a personal context.  Unfortunately there was little substance woven within the beautiful prose.

The story of the emerging "first love" between Frank and Elsa wasn't enough to make the Golden Age anything more than a mellow, nebulous embrace. All the niceties were there, but you were left wanting so much more : something as sharp-edged and unsentimental as the characterisation.  We have a series of poignant vignettes without an emotional investment in the characters.
I love this quote from towards the end (and well done to an author who has done her homework)
"Polio is like love, ... years later, when you think you have recovered, it comes back."

A small, almost meaningless point : I wasn't taken by the cover before I even started and, now that I am finished, I see it as questionable and irrelevant.  It shows a young man on a train - something that doesn't pertain to the narrative at all.  This is meaningless stock photography, a cheap letdown for the author and the reader.

Having just finished reading, I will see how it settles in my memory and may come back and change this to a 4 star review ... so I guess it is a 3-and-a-half review.

01 August 2014

Fourth of July Creek ~ Smith Henderson

**** RECOMMEND ****

Not a creek for a playful paddle but one 
of deep holes and deadly whirlpools

This was a dark, engrossing read, brim full of the dregs of society and those who seem to be striving to reach the bottom.  It reminded me of Chandler's "mean streets" transposed to the Montana backwaters and peopled with failures and fanatics.

The "hero" is so very, very flawed.  He is an alcoholic, a failure at marriage with family and social relationships, but with a dogged perseverance when it comes to discharging his duties as a social worker.  And that means developing a close relationship with a fanatical, anti-government isolationist and his son.

Characterisation and the sense of place are both extremely well done.  There is a sub-story about Pete's runaway daughter interspersed throughout in an odd (but not off-putting) Q&A style.   The narrative starts as a slow burn but the suspense builds, though surprisingly not to the expected Fourth-of-July fireworks.  The ending is not a foregone conclusion; satisfying, yes, but not exactly wrapped up in happy-ever-afters which rather suits the hit-and-miss outcomes of Pete's interventions.