The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie

One of the things I’ve learnt in counselling is to pay attention to my judgements, to examine very closely what’s behind my assessment of another person. In particular, what does a ‘judgement’ say about me (as opposed to my client)? To be clear, 95% of my time counselling is free of judgement – I listen, I try to understand and that’s it. But 5% of the time, someone will say something that triggers an immediate personal reaction, and it’s in that 5% where counsellors do their own work. Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s memoir, The Erratics, was a whole book of 5% for me.

Laveau-Harvie is Canadian-born and raised but has lived much of her life in Australia (hence this book being longlisted for the Stella Prize). The Erratics captures a short time in her life when, along with her Canadian-based sister, they moved their elderly mother into permanent care, and made arrangements for their father to stay in the relatively remote prairie home he loved. This sounds straight-forward, however, the blurb hints at something more dramatic – the mother is mentally unstable, hostile and delusional, and has systematically starved her father and kept him a hostage in his own home.

One of the few coherent messages my mother repeated to me and to my sister as we grew up, a message she sometimes delivered with deceptive gentleness and a touch of sadness that we weren’t more worthy prey, was this one, and I quote: I’ll get you and you won’t even know I’m doing it. Continue reading

Turning by Jessica J. Lee

Sometimes, all the things you love combine in one perfect story. Such was the case with Turning by Jessica J. Lee. If you appreciate swimming, Berlin, hydrology (specifically limnology), the nuances in the German language, and memoirs, then read on (it’s not a niche audience, is it?!). Continue reading

The Postman’s Fiancée by Denis Theriault

The Postman’s Fiancée by Denis Thériault is a story about infatuation, love, haiku, and identity.

Tania moves from Bavaria to Montreal to fine-tune her French and fall in love. Waitressing at a restaurant frequented by ‘regulars’, she meets Bilodo, a shy postman who writes haiku and who is passionate about calligraphy.

He came through the door every day at noon, impeccable in his postman’s uniform. He was tall, rather thin and not exactly handsome, but his gentle eyes and timid smile made Tania go weak inside. Continue reading

Demi-Gods by Eliza Robertson

I won’t argue, there were parts of Eliza Robertson’s debut novel, Demi-Gods, that bordered on gratuitous. It’s important to mention that because some readers will abandon the book after they encounter a particular scene in the first chapter. Not me. I was hooked from page one, intrigued by the complex relationships and charmed by Robertson’s writing.

It’s 1950 and the lives of nine-year-old Willa and twelve-year-old Joan are transformed when their mother, a cocktail-swilling divorcee, invites her new lover and his two sons, Kenneth and Patrick, to stay at the family’s summer-house on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. The attraction between Joan and Kenneth is immediate and as they pair off, Willa is left in the company of the sly and unnerving Patrick. Patrick both intrigues and repulses Willa and the story focuses on the complex power dynamic that unfolds between them during the six times they meet in the following decades.

In the intervals between, we didn’t exist. He didn’t exist to me. I didn’t exist to him. Continue reading

Was She Pretty? by Leanne Shapton

My close friends know that there’s always one or two stories from their past that I could hear again and again – stories that represent everything I love about them.

My close friends also know that I assign my exes ‘stories’ and that those stories are usually reduced to one defining thing, one throwaway description, one random fact.  The guy that didn’t eat vegetables (I could never come to terms with it and we broke up). The engineering student that had long, blond hair, much nicer than my own. The guy who tried the cliché yawn/arm around the shoulder trick at the movies. The rower who was a sloppy drunk. Continue reading

Mãn by Kim Thúy

Mãn by Kim Thúy is a slip of a novel but looks can be deceptive – it’s a rich, melancholy tale about belonging.

Mãn has three mothers: the one who gives birth to her in wartime, the nun who plucks her from a vegetable garden, and her beloved Maman, who scarifies all that she can for her daughter.

‘In the distance, in the warm light, she saw me, and I became her daughter. She gave me a second birth by bringing me up in a big city, an anonymous elsewhere, behind a schoolyard, surrounded by children who envied me for having a mother who taught school and sold iced bananas.’ Continue reading

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

It’s almost impossible to find a review of The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood without the reviewer comparing* it to Atwood’s dystopian masterpiece, The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m bucking the trend and here’s why: the central premise of both novels is extraordinary – memorable, mind-bending, frightening, and thoroughly compelling.

I read The Handmaid’s Tale decades ago. I can’t remember any of the fine detail of Atwood’s writing but I do remember the horrifying world in which the characters lived. I’m quite sure that in twenty years time, I will also remember Consilience, the walled community created for The Heart Goes Last. Continue reading

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

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There’s a lot to recommend Kathleen Winter’s debut novel, Annabel.

Set in 1968, in a remote coastal town in Labrador, Canada, a baby is born – neither obviously a girl nor a boy. Parents, Jacinta and Treadway, and midwife, Thomasina, keep the circumstances of the birth a secret. Treadway decides that the baby will live as a boy and names him Wayne, although the women both covertly mourn and nurture the boy’s female side.

“Whenever she imagined her child, grown up without interference from a judgmental world, she imagined its male and female halves as complementing each other, and as being secretly, almost magically powerful. It was the growing up part she did not want to imagine. The social part, the what will we tell everyone part, the part that asks how will we give this child so much love it will know no harm from the cruel reactions of people who do not understand.” Continue reading

Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts

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1. Isn’t it fabulouso when friends think of you when they’re shopping? My ace friend Sam spotted these boots and texted me with “I’m seeing you in these boots. #sublime” I’m seeing me in those boots. Actually, scratch that. See me in those boots*.

2. The recommendation from the author of this article is “Don’t click on the Franzen think pieces.” Except that one, obvs. Continue reading

Fishbowl by Bradley Somer

Things I liked about Bradley Somer’s Fishbowl:

1. That the fish is called Ian. I like pets that have very much human names e.g. Graham, Kevin, Patricia.

2. Chapter headings that tell you a little of what’s to come. E.g. “In Which Petunia Delilah Learns That Birthing Can Become Complicated and That Her Housekeeping Skills Could Use Honing” and “In Which Homeschooled Herman Finds the Consciousness That He Recently Misplaced” and “In Which Claire the Shut-In Immerses Herself in an Edible History” and “In Which Petunia Delilah Gets a Fucking Ice Cream Sandwich“. Continue reading