Imagine a good soap opera (that’s not an oxymoron).
Now imagine that it’s set in the seventeenth century.
And that it’s really, really well written.
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
When I was young, we had family friends that were in a unique situation – two families, each with two girls. The couples then swapped partners (not in a tawdry way, it was just how it worked out…), and then both had two more girls each. My family was friends with both families (pre and post swap) – one family lived down the road, I went to school with the kids from the other. It was this bizarre, fascinating mix of sisters, half-sisters, step-children and parents.
Those that have read Ann Patchett’s brilliant new novel, Commonwealth, will understand why I started with that anecdote. For those that haven’t read it, know that the first line is one of the most appealing I’ve come across in a long time –
“The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.”
Hurrah! A story where gin is the protagonist in the first chapter. 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
The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang is presented as a classic road trip story, however, there’s more to this novel than car troubles, backseat squabbles and greasy truck-stop meals.
Immigrant businessman, Charles Wang, is mad at America (or more specifically, its financial crisis). He’s lost his cosmetics empire, his house, and all the trappings of his luxury lifestyle.
“Payback for ancient crimes. Alright, let’s call it that. A karmic kung fu kick to the balls. But you know who’s getting kicked in the balls? Is it the descendants of those missionaries? The Anglo Saxons who profited from that original theft? No, they remain in their Martha’s Vineyard mansions, eating lobster and fighting over who gets to give Bill Clinton handjobs. And who really gets jacked off? ME!” Continue reading