On his retirement, my dad did what many new-retirees do – research the family tree. There were no surprises apart from discovering that a child was born out of wedlock, raised by his grandmother as her own, and grew up not knowing that his ‘sister’ was in fact his biological mother. On a spectrum of family scandals, it’s lightweight.
Author Eleanor Anstruther had a lot more material to work with, and the result is her fictionalised family history, A Perfect Explanation. Essentially, Anstruther’s father, Ian, was sold to his Aunt Joan for £500. The story also includes postnatal depression, Christian Science, a kidnapping, much family bitterness, a long legal battle, and a large emerald ring. Continue reading
The cover of Laura & Emma by Kate Greathead suggests a story that is gentle and relatively undemanding but beyond the pastels is a thoughtful examination of the relationships between mothers and daughters, complete with the funny and loving moments, the frustrations and complexities, and the sadnesses.
It begins in 1980, New York City, with Laura who is Park Avenue born and bred. Laura considers herself progressive – she is deeply concerned about the environment; lives in Harlem (well, on the border); uses the subway and shops locally. Yet she has a cushy job via the family trust and her mortgage is paid for by her parents – the slightly eccentric Bibs and the formidable Doug.
After an out-of-character casual encounter, Laura discovers she is pregnant and decides to keep the baby. Bibs falsely informs her society friends that the baby is fathered by a Swedish sperm donor although she’s not opposed to Laura’s single status, saying of marriage, “It doesn’t matter who you marry, one day you’ll be sitting across the table from him thinking, Anything would be better than this.” Continue reading
Tin Man by Sarah Winman is a simple story about two friends.
Ellis and Michael are twelve when they first meet. Their family circumstances, although very different, become a bonding point and their friendship grows over many years. However, from the beginning of the book, we know that there is a gap in Ellis and Michael’s shared history and the reasons for that break are slowly unravelled.
Winman moves the story back and forth over time, revealing the events that shaped the boys’ friendship. There are a number of twists in this relatively short novel and if I listed them, the story could be perceived as overly dramatic. In fact, it is quite the opposite – it is plausible, gently paced and Winman delivers the blows with a velvet hammer (brace yourself, there are bits to make you cry).
And I wonder what the sound of a heart breaking might be. And I think it might be quiet, unperceptively so, and not dramatic at all. Like the sound of an exhausted swallow falling gently to earth.
You know when someone asks how you are and you say “Fine”, despite the fact that your day/week/month/year has been completely shit?
That basically sums up the main character in Gail Honeyman’s smash debut, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Obviously Eleanor Oliphant isn’t fine. In fact, she’s a lonely young woman, set in her rather odd ways. A chain of events forces her to re-evaluate life.
I enjoyed Eleanor’s odd take on things and her formal, stilted interactions with others were strangely endearing.
Save for the exquisite oeuvre of a certain Mr Lomond, I have yet to find a genre of music I enjoy; it’s basically audible physics, waves and energized particles, and, like most sane people, I have no interest in physics. It therefore struck me as bizarre that I was humming a tune from Oliver! I mentally added the exclamation mark, which, for the first time ever, was appropriate. Continue reading
It might be pitched as light and frothy, a la Sex and the City, but Jami Attenberg’s third novel, All Grown Up, tackles big issues, goes to some dark places and doesn’t provide the New-York-fairy-tale ending that you might expect.
Andrea Bern is struggling with her identity.
For most people, moving to New York City is a gesture of ambition. But for you, it signifies failure, because you grew up there, so it just means you’re moving back home after you couldn’t make it in the world. Spiritually, it’s a reverse commute. Continue reading
Sometimes a book comes along at exactly the right time and it’s exactly the book you want to read. Such was the case with Georgia Blain’s Between a Wolf and a Dog.
The story takes place predominantly over one rainy day. Ester is a single mother to twin girls and works as a family therapist.
“It’s rare that she hears about love in her consulting room. Most of her clients talk of anger, failure, boredom, depression, conflict: the flipside of love.”
Although Ester spends her days helping others find happiness, her own family relationships are in disarray. She’s estranged from her directionless sister, April, and also from her ex-husband, Lawrence, whose reckless decisions are catching up with him. Ester and April’s mother, Hilary, is desperate for her daughters to reconcile.
The delicacy and brilliance of this book is captured in the title, translated from the French phrase, ‘l’heure entre chien et loupe’. Literally, ‘the hour between dog and wolf’, it refers to twilight, the time when distinguishing between a dog and a wolf might be tricky. The title reveals the duality of Blain’s story – friend and foe; outward calm and inner turmoil; what to discard and what to keep; safety and danger; what we reveal and what we keep hidden. Continue reading
From the very beginning of The Wonder, author Emma Donoghue sets up clear foci for narrative drama – the English versus the Irish; science and logic versus folklore and superstition; a single woman versus a group of powerful men; fundamentalism and faith versus common sense and love – and uses the phenomenon of the Victorian-era ‘fasting girls’ to explore these themes.
Eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell hasn’t eaten for four months, yet remains alive and well. Newspaper reports proclaiming Anna’s existence a miracle; visits and donations from people paying homage; and the curiosity of doctors and priests, prompts the employment of a British nurse, Lib Wright, to investigate whether Anna is a fraud. Lib, an atheist and a highly experienced nurse, is dismissive of the religious devotion and folklore that drives the small town, and believes she will quickly expose the secret feeding of Anna. Continue reading