In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – a literary mixtape

It’s ludicrous that I haven’t read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote until now. I thought I was the only person who hadn’t read it (although Bonnie fessed up that she hasn’t either).

There’s nothing left to say about this book – it’s genre-defining; it’s clearly a touchstone for many books since (I’m looking at you We Were the Mulvaneys); it’s absolutely gripping; and it’s beautifully written.

So instead of a review, I’m going to retell the story in songs. Of course, you’ll understand my sequence of choices because you’ve read the book. Note: the Flashdance inclusion is relevant for the song title only! Continue reading

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Smile by Roddy Doyle

Reviews of Roddy Doyle’s latest novel, Smile, are taking one of two approaches – focused on style and a brief reference to the plot OR spoilers and trigger warnings.

Although it’s not my usual approach, I’m going with spoilers and trigger warnings (look away if you want).

Smile is the story of Victor Forde – he’s middle-aged, alone for the first time in years, and has just moved into a new apartment. Every evening, he heads to his local pub, Donnelly’s, for a pint. At Donnelly’s he meets Eddie Fitzpatrick, a man who claims to have been at school with him, although Victor can’t recall him. Victor dislikes Fitzpatrick, particularly because he stirs up memories of being taught by the Christian Brothers.

The story switches between the present and Victor’s memories of school; his marriage to Rachel (who became a celebrity); and of his own brief media career on the radio.

So, to the spoilery/triggery bit: Continue reading

The Party by Elizabeth Day

The individual elements of Elizabeth Day’s suspense novel, The Party, are promising – campus-lit, British society, and a very fancy party where an ‘incident’ occurs that threatens reputations and relationships. Unfortunately the story was a bit of a fizzer.

At the centre is Martin Gilmour, who wins a scholarship to the prestigious Burtonbury School. Usually the outsider, Martin meets the charismatic and wealthy Ben Fitzmaurice and via him, gains access to society’s elite. The boys develop a close relationship although it’s one that’s lopsided – Martin has deep feelings for Ben, which are further complicated by a secret he has promised to keep.

By the time I got to Cambridge, my reinvention as Ben Fitzmaurice’s surrogate brother was so convincing to me, I’d almost forgotten I had a different past – one that involved gas fires and sausages in tins… Continue reading

Two short(ish) reviews

I read two fantastic books in the middle of my manic assessment period at the end of first semester – Euphoria by Lily King and We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. Both books featured strong, memorable characters, and both books were set in foreign countries (New Guinea and Zimbabwe respectively), each with a beautifully developed sense of place. Some thoughts on each – Continue reading

Woman of Substances by Jenny Valentish

I saw author Jenny Valentish speak at last year’s Melbourne Writers Festival. At the time, I hadn’t read her memoir, Woman of Substances – I often wonder how much my thoughts about a book are influenced by hearing the author speak before I’ve read it. Invariably their passion and post-publication reflections rub-off, and I go into the reading experience ‘looking out’ for certain things, which is why I left Woman of Substances almost a year before picking it up.

Woman of Substances is a memoir-research hybrid. Valentish uses her own experience of drugs and alcohol to explore how women deal with addiction and treatment. There are two main threads in the book – firstly, Valentish examines how trauma and self-destructive behaviours – such as eating disorders and high-risk sex – complicate substance use for women.

There’s an illusion of power in being as sexually aggressive as men are allowed to be, but it can sometimes take a stupefying blood-alcohol level to override the misgivings. Continue reading

Written on the Skin by Liz Porter

I’ve never been particularly interested in crime novels, mysteries, or courtroom dramas, and until I listened to the Serial podcast, true crime was also on the ‘not particularly interested’ list. But there was something about the meticulously produced Serial that sucked me in (and it wasn’t just Sarah Koenig’s dulcet tones). Since that time, I’ve listened to other true crime podcasts and read a few books.

Liz Porter’s book, Written on the Skin – An Australian Forensic Casebook grabbed my attention because of the chapters on the use of DNA testing in forensic science – genes are always interesting! Continue reading

A Zoo in my Luggage by Gerald Durrell

I’m always astounded by the television program, Border Security. I’m not interested in the immigration issues or drug busts – it’s the people bringing fruit, vegetables, live seafood and meat into Australia that is fascinating. Invariably, they’re in the ‘nothing to declare’ line when airport officials open their suitcases to find kilos of unidentifiable meat, plants and seeds, and they feign surprise. For my overseas readers, you basically can’t bring ANYTHING into Australia – we have the world’s strictest quarantine and biosecurity laws (remember Johnny Depp’s dogs?).

So it was with a mixture of interest and amazement that I read Gerald Durrell’s memoir, A Zoo in My Luggage. It’s an account of Durrell’s trip to what was then the British Cameroons in West Africa (now part of northern Nigeria and Cameroon), during which he and his wife captured animals to start their own zoo. The book concludes with their return to England, and how he managed his menagerie while he found a permanent home for them (they lived in his back yard and then later in the basement of a department store). Continue reading

White Houses by Amy Bloom

I’ve got so many deal-breakers when it comes to historical fiction that I sound like a pain. You can read about them here. Or you can simply ignore my carry-on and know that I really enjoyed Amy Bloom’s White Houses.

The story is told from the perspective of Lorena Hickok, known as ‘Hick’. Hick grew up in poverty in South Dakota, suffered abuse at the hand of her father, and was sent to work at a young age. Resourceful and tenacious, she soon carved a career as a journalist.  When she met Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932 (while covering Franklin’s first presidential campaign trail), a friendship developed, which soon turned to love.

Hick took a job in the Roosevelt administration and moved into the White House, where her status as ‘first friend’ was an open secret, as were Franklin’s own lovers.

Missy and Franklin put a smile on reporters’ faces. Eleanor and I were no one’s favourite secret. I tended to scowl. Continue reading