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

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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

The Rules of Engagement by Anita Brookner

A conversation overheard in 1975…

Richard Yates: I usually write about men but I’m thinking I’ll do something about a miserable woman…

Anita Brookner: Well Dick, one knows that there’s plenty of material when it comes to miserable women.

RY: And so many tempting themes around misery…

AB (laughing): Misery loves company!

RY: Loneliness, bitterness, regret, jealousy…

AB: Yes, the truly miserable woman has it all. Continue reading

Queen Lucia & Miss Mapp by E. F. Benson

Should you ever need a lesson in passive-aggressiveness and/or the art of one-upmanship, look no further than the Queen Lucia series by E. F. Benson.

There are six books in the series, all of which are Georgian satires, focused on the everyday affairs of the upper-middle-class residents of the fictional villages of Tilling and Riseholme. I read the first two books, Queen Lucia and Miss Mapp.

There are similarities between the books. In both, there is no single plot – instead, the comings-and-goings of people to town; the politics of bridge parties and evening suppers; the providence of recipes; the importance of where one has had a new tea gown made; and a multitude of other minor occurrences drive the story.

The hours of the morning between breakfast and lunch were the time which the inhabitants of Riseholme chiefly devoted to spying on each other. Continue reading

Blue Dog by Louis de Bernières

I need to start by saying that Red Dog by Louis de Bernières is one of those rare books that I recommend to #ALLTHEPEOPLE (and ‘animal stories’ aren’t really my thing). So from the outset, Blue Dog was a big collar to fill.

I also need to start with the Afterword. Blue Dog came about after the success of the film version of Red Dog, when the producer approached de Bernières with ideas for a prequel. It was suggested that the story be novelised, for dual release with the Blue Dog film. Initially, de Bernières resisted – “I was hostile about it, as I am far too grand and snobbish to turn other people’s stories into novels…” but he liked the script, loves the Pilbara and loves red cloud kelpies, hence Blue Dog. Continue reading

A Family Romance by Anita Brookner

Five things I thought while listening to A Family Romance by Anita Brookner:

01. I can rely on Brookner for the sort of consistency that I love in Yates or Taylor.

02. So, so glad that there’s a bunch of Brookner on my library’s BorrowBox list and that it’s narrated by Fiona Shaw (whose voice has just enough plum to provide deeply satisfying listening). Continue reading

The American Lover by Rose Tremain

I have two summer holiday traditions when it comes to reading – tackling one really big book (because if I get engrossed I can block out the day for reading), and a short story collection or two (because I can read and doze and not lose track of where I’m at). Which is why I selected The American Lover by Rose Tremain.

I think of Tremain as a short-story-master and this collection didn’t disappoint. The theme of loneliness, or rather loners, runs through the collection. There’s regrets, ‘could-have-beens’, unfulfilled wishes and compromises – all written about in Tremain’s precise style.

Four stories stood out – Continue reading