19.4.19

The Dry

The excitement around Jane Harper's debut crime novel, The Dry, has been bubbling away in my peripheral vision for months, and when a copy popped up on Brotherhood Books, I seized the moment (I bought it for my Mum, you understand, who's having trouble finding really engaging books lately, and who loves a good murder mystery -- and I had to act fast, because Jane Harper novels don't last long on Brotherhood Books).

Mum raced through it and then it was my turn. And yes, I'm pleased to report, it's just as good as everyone says it is. A thoroughly Australian, totally readable, meaty mystery, with just the right amount of surprises and a good depth of characterisation. It was the kind of book where I'd find excuses to pick it up and whiz through a chapter or two. Maybe that's the ultimate accolade -- this book is more enticing than Candy Crush... oh, boy, that is really sad. For me.

So yes, this is a great read and Harper deserves all the plaudits that have come her way. Apparently a film version is on the horizon. I can't wait.

15.4.19

And the Ocean Was Our Sky

And The Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness is the YA title for the Convent book group this month, based on classics. This is (almost) the story of Moby Dick, but told from the perspective of the whales rather than the humans.

It's an intriguing idea for a novel, and this short book is beautifully and evocatively illustrated by Australian artist Rovina Cai, who coincidentally seems to have a room at the Convent herself!

I met Patrick Ness once, at a school literature festival, and he was extremely nice, and clearly he is a clever and inventive writer with lots of interesting ideas. He also wrote the Dr Who spinoff, Class, which my younger daughter is a massive fan of.

But...not every book will work for every reader, and And the Ocean Was Our Sky just didn't do it for me. Maybe because I've never read Moby Dick, or wanted to. Maybe I struggled with the improbabilities of this world, where whales sail their own underwater ships, riding the currents, and hunt with their own harpoons. There is one passage where the narrator, a whale called Bathsheba, discusses the advantage in dexterity that humans gain from having hands. Well...yeah! How the hell do you build cities and make weapons with fins? Maybe I found the style just slightly too pretentious, impenetrable, elaborate? I don't know. There were beautifully written passages, and the message is a worthy one -- that violence makes us all into monsters -- but this short book was long enough for me.



12.4.19

Gilgamesh

Every time it seems I'll get a chance to attack the huge piles of unread books hiding in my wardrobe, another contender jumps up and claims my attention. This time it was Joan London's debut novel, Gilgamesh, which I found while browsing the second hand book shelves at Royal Talbot rehabilitation hospital (Dad was doing some conversation workshops with speech pathology students, and I had to pass the time somehow... I just can't resist a second hand book sale).

Like The Golden Age, which I loved, Gilgamesh takes us back to a sleepier, almost ignored pocket of Western Australia, a backwater of the world. But the story breaks open when Edith takes her little son Jim in search of his father, first to London and then across Europe and into Armenia.

Armenia is one of those places (and there are all too many, I'm afraid) that I know nothing about. I had never even heard of Yerevan, the capital, known as the Pink City, shadowed by the snowy slopes of Mt Ararat. This is where Edith and Jim spend most of the Second World War. One of the great benefits of being a reader in the internet age is that you can google the places you're reading about and see the streets and monuments and parks unfold on your screen, or even trace your character's journeys on a satellite map.

This is a novel peopled with pairs -- Frank and Ada, the unhappy farming couple; their daughters, Frances and Edith; their exotic visitors, cousin Leopold and his friend Aram; Edith and little Jim; Edith and Hagop, her ambiguous Armenian protector -- just like the pair of friends, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, who travel through the world's oldest epic story.

10.4.19

Looking Glass Girl

This month in the Convent book group, we are reading books based on classics. Cathy Cassidy's Looking Glass Girl uses Alice in Wonderland as its foundation.

There are SO many books that use Alice in their titles. I once thought of starting a collection for my elder daughter (whose name is Alice) but I gave up because there were just so many of them: Go Ask Alice, A Town Like Alice, Alice in La La Land, Alice in Blunderland etc, What Alice Forgot... there are literally dozens of them. I mean, it's a great name, obviously, but I hadn't realised just what a heavy literary burden it bears!

This book also features a heroine named Alice, who is lying in a coma in hospital after an accidental fall. Or was it an accident? Each chapter cleverly weaves in dialogue drawn from the original Alice in Wonderland as visitors to the hospital come and go, trying to coax Alice from her long sleep, and we trace the events that led to the mysterious fall downstairs.

This is really a story about bullying and peer pressure, with a few twists along the way. The character who is set up as the villain turns out not to be the real villain after all, though I still had reservations about her behaviour and wasn't prepared to let her off the hook so lightly. Looking Glass Girl is a very competent book, but ironically it lacked the touch of magic that makes Lewis Carroll's Alice so special.

7.4.19

Feeling Sorry for Celia

Another delightful outing from Jaclyn Moriarty -- though I shouldn't say 'another' as Feeling Sorry for Celia was actually her first novel. Written, like the others, in the form of letters, notes and postcards, we track the developing penpal friendship between Elizabeth and Christina, along with a couple of possible budding romances and the adventures of Elizabeth's flaky best friend Celia. Often funny, sometimes touching, occasionally dark, Moriarty handles the emotional rollercoaster of adolescence with her usual madcap touch.

There were a couple of aspects of Feeling Sorry for Celia that made me slightly uncomfortable. Celia's behaviour was so wild that I wondered if she needed psychological help, and I found it hard to summon up a lot of sympathy for her. The adults in this book seemed particularly dim and irresponsible. I'm just relieved that Elizabeth and Christina found each other, as you can't help feeling that they will support each other for life.

How well I remember feeling, like Elizabeth, that I should be kicked out of the Association of Real Teenagers for knowing nothing about boys or fashion. I also thoroughly enjoyed the contributions of the Society for Amateur Detectives at the end, which were pure fun. I wish I could give this book to my younger daughter, as she loves novels in letter format, but alas, she would never forgive me for a significant death about halfway through...

3.4.19

The Camomile Lawn

My friend Sian recently read The Camomile Lawn and apparently said to herself, This is such a Kate novel! So she lent it to me... and she was absolutely right.

Set in England before and during the Second World War -- tick. Upper class, eccentric characters -- tick. (Extra points for the eccentrics being an extended family of cousins.) Ruminations on love, loyalty, secrets, loss and betrayal -- tick. Bring it on!

This is definitely an adult books, despite featuring a class of young adults, and one child, Sophy. I've never read anything by Mary Wesley before, and she is one of those inspiring authors who wasn't published until she was seventy! This is quite a sexy book, but in unexpected ways. The F word is tossed around, but the seemingly sophisticated Calypso doesn't recognise an erection when it first.. er...comes to hand. Uncle Richard creepily puts his hand up little girls' skirts, but everyone shrugs, oh dear, and tries to keep potential victims out of his way. This book has the ring of authenticity, and surely must be at least partly based on Wesley's own memories of the war.

I enjoyed the structure of this novel, which has the main characters gathering for a funeral fifty years later, so we can see what has happened to them in the meantime -- often as a result of the events of the war. Relationships shift and twist, collide and explode in unexpected ways.

The Camomile Lawn was made into a mini-series in 1991, starring Jennifer Ehle in her first role. (Jennifer memorably went on to star as Lizzie Bennett in the iconic TV version of Pride and Prejudice.) The TV adaptation also starred Felicity Kendal and Paul Eddington, a couple of my favourite actors (though not at all how I pictured their characters). I wonder if it's still available anywhere?

Even if I can't find it, The Camomile Lawn was a thoroughly satisfying and enjoyable read. And now I have to hunt down all the Mary Wesley noels I can find.