Fairly sure I said something about not reading much about the Holocaust in the last decade or so because I overdid it in the eighties and nineties… Anyway, seems that went out the window when I read The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman and The Toy Maker by Liam Pieper, one after the other.
The books are similar in many ways – both tell the story of an Australian man living in the present alongside the story of a Holocaust survivor; both are set in the ‘Canada’ barracks at Auschwitz–Birkenau and examine the role of the Sonderkommando; both have themes of good versus evil, penance, and the measure of crime; both show that there are lessons in history.
“History can provide comfort in difficult or even turbulent and traumatic times. It shows us what our species has been through before and that we survived. It can help to know we’ve made it through more than one dark age. And history is vitally important because perhaps as much as, if not more than biology, the past owns us and however much we think we can, we cannot escape it. If you only knew how close you are to people who seem so far from you… it would astonish you.” (Perlman)
Visiting the Pacific north coast of America is on my bucket-list. Not exactly sure why… it might have started when I had to do an in-depth investigation on the Douglas fir at uni (I did a couple of forestry subjects as part of my hydrology studies). Anyway, it’s this bucket-list item that prompted me to read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.
Actually, to be perfectly frank, I’d avoided Wild because I thought it was going to be all look-at-me-Eat-Pray-Love-Oprah-is-raving-about-it but when it popped up on an audio list I figured I could just listen to the Oregon bits and abandon the rest if Strayed was giving me the pip.
I was wrong. Continue reading
Depending on your attitude, it’s either wildly inappropriate or absolutely hilarious that I was listening to Nancy Mitford’s Wigs on the Green concurrently with the podcast, My Dad Wrote a Porno. If you’ve experienced both, you’ll appreciate that the frequent mentions of hedge mazes, manicured lawns, horses and duchesses are quite similar in one sense… and also very much not. Anyway, the important thing is that both made me laugh. A lot.
There’s a juicy back-story to Wigs on the Green, notably that the novel was truly about Nancy’s two Fascist sisters, Unity and Diana, and that the relationship between Nancy and her sisters imploded after its publication (I really should read The Mitford Girls, which has been languishing on my TBR stack for over a decade). Nancy never allowed the novel to be printed after WWII, on the basis that jokes about Nazis were not funny in any context. And obviously they’re not, yet the elements of the story related to class and marriage are sharp and very, very funny.
‘Marriage is a great bore. Chaps’ waistcoats lying around in one’s bedroom and so on. It gets one down in time.’ Continue reading
If you’re looking for a memoir about exploring, ice and braving the extremities of Antarctica, then Alexa Thomson’s Antarctica on a Plate is not for you. Yes, there’s ice but the focus is on the challenge of cooking large quantities of food on a small stove, and the fact that in Antarctica you never run out of freezer space. Continue reading
I continued my theme of reading ‘art thrillers’* with The Muse by Jessie Burton.
The story begins in 1967, in London, where Odelle Bastien, a budding writer from Trinidad, gets a job as a typist at a well-known art gallery. Her boss, the elegant Marjorie Quick, takes a special interest in Odelle and her writing. Meanwhile, Odelle meets Lawrie Scott, a young man who has inherited a mysterious painting – the masterpiece, Quick believes, of a Spanish artist called Isaac Robles.
The history of the painting takes the story to a village in southern Spain in 1936, where Olive Schloss is living with her art dealer father and her glamorous but troubled mother. Although Olive is a painter of considerable talent, her father dismisses women as artists.
“Was the difference between being a workaday painter and being an artist simply other people believing in you, or spending twice as much money on your work? As far as Olive saw it, this connection of masculinity with creativity had been conjured from the air and been enforced, legitimised and monetised by enough people for whom such a state of affairs was convenient – men like her father.” Continue reading
Do you look at Goodreads ratings when choosing a book? Or when starting a book? I sometimes do, particularly when it’s an author I haven’t come across before. Do I let the ratings influence me? Maybe a smidgen. Which is how I came to read (listen to) The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss – I was lured by its massive 4.17 rating on Goodreads. And no, that wasn’t because there were only six reviews, five of them done by the author’s friends. There was a respectable 443 ratings and 82 reviews. The novel had also received glowing reviews when it was released in July. I was sure I was on a winner. Continue reading
Yo, Lila – sisters before misters.
3/5 I enjoyed the second installment more than the first. I’ll be reading on, hoping that Elena’s EQ begins to match her IQ.
I think if I knew more about Greek mythology, anthropology, medusae, father-complex and cultural memory, then Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk would be even better, and more layered with meaning, than it already is.
As it is, I understand enough about hypochondria and passive-aggressiveness to know that what Levy has created in the characters of Rose and Sofia is truly excellent stuff.
“Hello Sofia. I can see that you’ve been having a nice time at the beach.”
I told her the beach was desolate and that I’d been staring for two hours at a pile of gas canisters. It was my special skill, to make my day smaller so as to make her day bigger. Continue reading
I think, if they were being brutally honest, most people would give Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman two stars. But you throw an extra star Watchman’s way because it’s Harper Lee. And because we all know those arseholes published this book against her long-held wish.
But I have no qualms about my three star rating because I pulled the right rein and listened to this book. Yes, the words are still the same but when they’re spoken in Reese Witherspoon’s smooth-as-molasses Southern drawl, it’s a very lovely story to hear. Continue reading
Truly, there were probably a dozen things about Graham Swift’s Mothering Sunday that could have annoyed me –
- the cloying “Once upon a time…” opening
- the Cinderella riff
- the subtitle, ‘A Romance’, for it’s seemingly a story about a maid being taken advantage of…(or is it?)
- the lengthy descriptions of stains on sheets
- the improbability of a maid walking around a stately home, naked, and laying books across her bare breasts
- the 400-page-price-tag on what is actually a novella*
But all is forgiven Mr Swift because, when you revealed your twist – a small but perfect tragedy – I gasped.