The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

When I was sixteen, I visited my grandma one afternoon and, on arriving at her house, found her in tears. The last of the ‘Old Girls’ had died. The ‘Old Girls’ were her life-long friends – a group of women who had met during the War and stayed close for decades. They always referred to themselves as the ‘Old Girls’, even when they were young women. And so suddenly, my grandma was the last Old Girl. It was deeply shocking for me because, until that moment, I had never really thought about friends dying.

This is the subject of Charlotte Wood’s novel, The Weekend. Three friends in their seventies gather for a last weekend at the holiday home of their mutual friend, Sylvie, who has recently died. There’s former restaurateur Jude, organised and bossy; Wendy, an acclaimed intellectual, who continues to write; and beautiful, flighty Adele, a renowned actress whose work has dwindled to almost nothing.  Over the course of the weekend, the dynamics of their relationships are revealed, and the absence of Sylvie felt.

This was something nobody talked about: how death could make you petty. And how you had to find a new arrangement among your friends, shuffling around the gap of the lost one, all of you suddenly mystified by how to be with one another. Continue reading

Gotta Get Theroux This by Louis Theroux

My enjoyment of Louis Theroux’s memoir, Gotta Get Theroux This has nothing to do with the sentiment expressed on these pencils… I promise.

Okay. I admit that I have always been a huge fan of Louis Theroux. It’s something about his slightly bewildered approach to everything; his self-deprecating humour; his genuine curiosity; his listening super-powers (and I say that because, as someone in the listening business, Louis’s capacity for hearing people’s stories and the timing of his questions, is glorious to watch). Continue reading

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume

Much of what I loved about Sara Baume’s second book (A Line Made By Walking) – namely startling descriptions of nature and being completely immersed in a character’s perspective, no matter how uncomfortable – is evident in her debut, Spill Simmer Falter Wither.

In summary, it’s the story of a loner, Ray, aged fifty-seven, ‘too old for starting over, too young for giving up’, who adopts a mongrel he names One Eye. Ray and One Eye are similar in many ways – both are accustomed to being alone; and both know what it is to be unloved and overlooked.

Sometimes I see the sadness in you, the same sadness that’s in me. It’s in the way you sigh and stare and hang your head. It’s in the way you never wholly let your guard down and take the world I’ve given you for granted. My sadness isn’t a way I feel but a thing trapped inside the walls of my flesh, like a smog. It takes the sheen off everything. It rolls the world in soot. It saps the power from my limbs and presses my back into a stoop. Continue reading

My Best Books for 2019

An even spread of excellent books and some truly memorable author events has made 2019 a terrific reading year.

As I’ve done in previous years, I’ll focus on the books that have continued to resonate with me (as opposed to those I gave five stars to as soon as I’d finished reading). Continue reading

Night Fishing by Vicki Hastrich

I’m not particularly into fishing and nor have I ever visited the byways of Brisbane Water on the Central Coast of New South Wales (although from a hydrological point-of-view, it sounds like my kind of place), and yet, I identified with much of Vicki Hastrich’s memoir, Night Fishing

Essays covering a range of topics from stingrays and aquariums to the acquisition of a bathyscope and her grandfather’s welding business, are loosely linked to fishing and Hastrich’s trips to the family holiday house on an inlet near Woy Woy. Each essay is overlaid with Hastrich’s elegant observations about family, nature, and writing and the result is cohesive and deeply pleasing.

At night, tucked in bed and daubed with calamine lotion, we listened to the parents having a few beers in the kitchen and playing cards; the cheerful noise of friends. Continue reading

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo has been billed as a book about desire, which might suggest something positive or empowering – “I desire x and therefore I shall have it.” It is in fact, quite the opposite.

Taddeo delves into the far-reaching reverberations of particular events in the lives of three women. It is overly simplistic and in fact false, to say that the women’s stories begin with desire of a sexual nature. More accurately, each of the women have complex emotional needs (as a result of rape, sexual assault, a history of self-harming behaviour, cultural expectations, and challenging family circumstances) that are, to a certain extent, expressed in their sexual relationships. I emphasise their emotional needs because as their stories unfold it is painfully clear that what they are seeking (what they ‘desire’) will never be found in the relationships with the (abusive) men they are drawn to.

We pretend to want things we don’t want so nobody can see us not getting what we need. Continue reading

The TBR stack that (happily) never goes away

I write a post every year about how I’ve made virtually no progress on reducing my TBR stack. Some bloggers will read this post and feel really good (smug) about their own manageable-and-totally-in-control TBR stacks. Others will read it and say, “Pfft. That’s not a stack, this is a stack”, and point to pictures of their hallway, lined with bookshelves that are filled with unread books. Continue reading