Four Quick Reviews

It’s getting to that stage where every spare moment is spent on ‘end-of-year’ stuff, leaving precious little time for writing reviews. I’m taking a short-cut.  Continue reading

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

There’s no shortage of Holocaust literature, and yet every so often one story rises to the top of the best-seller lists – why is one story more ‘appealing’ than another? I don’t know. Why does one story capture attention over others? I don’t know. The current critics’ favourite is The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

Morris has recorded the true story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who was transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in April 1942. When the guards at the camp discovered that Lale spoke several languages, he was put to work as a Tätowierer (tattooist), tasked with ‘numbering’ his fellow prisoners.

Day has become night, and still men line up to be numbered for life, be it short or long. Continue reading

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

It was a great risk to read Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, so soon after I finished the extraordinary Life After Life. It was a risk that paid off.

A God in Ruins is the sequel to Life After Life, but a sequel in the loosest sense. Atkinson turns her focus to Teddy, Ursula’s beloved younger brother and the family darling.

‘Out of all of them, you are my favourite,’ and he knew it was true and felt bad for the others. (It was a relief, Sylvie thought, finally to know what love was.) Continue reading

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

My thought as I was halfway through reading Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Less, was why the Melbourne Writers Festival team (i.e. Marieke and her off-sider, Gene) were so invested in the book (they were mad for it).

And then I discovered that there was so much more to Less.

It’s the story of Arthur Less, a mediocre novelist who is about to turn fifty (‘Arthur Less is the first homosexual ever to grow old’). When Less receives an invitation to ex-boyfriend Freddy’s wedding, he plans a round-the-world trip to avoid the nuptials. A string of speaking and teaching engagements takes him from New York and Mexico City, to Rome, Berlin, Paris, Morocco, India and Japan.

While snow glistens on Charlottenburg Palace, Freddy is standing beside Dennis in the California sun, for surely it is one of those white-linen-suit weddings, with a bower of white roses and pelicans flying by and somebody’s understanding college ex-girlfriend playing Joni Mitchell on guitar. 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

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I dither writing reviews for books that I absolutely adored. It’s ludicrous. I should be shouting from the rooftops “EVERYBODY! READ KATE ATKINSON’S LIFE AFTER LIFE! IT’S A MARVEL!”

Atkinson’s carefully constructed story follows Ursula Todd, as she lives and dies over and over again. Ursula’s story begins in England, in 1910, when she dies at birth, the umbilical cord around her neck –

The little heart. A helpless little heart beating wildly. Stopped suddenly like a bird dropped from the sky. A single shot. Darkness fell.

And darkness falls multiple times – drowning, slipping off a roof, illness, gas inhalation, suicide. Continue reading

Carol by Patricia Highsmith

Believe it or not, Carol is my first Patricia Highsmith. In the past, I’ve dismissed her work as ‘not my thing’ (on account of me being coverist* – you know those crime novels with darkly coloured covers and the author’s name in blocky gold-foil font, often found lying about at beach houses? That.) Anyway, I changed my mind a few years ago when I saw the fantastic play, Switzerland – Highsmith is the subject and the play included bizarre biographical details (things like carrying snails around in handbags). I was intrigued. Continue reading

Wonderful Women by the Water by Monika Fagerholm

Drifting before the wind in a boat is something Kayus has to do at least once every summer for the summer to have been a real summer.

Yes. I have a hundred similar things associated with my summers – a twilight swim, reading a book in one sitting on the beach, crispy calamari and homemade lemonade; sitting in my ‘nana chair’ in the shallows…

Wonderful Women by the Water by Monika Fagerholm is a story about the summers of the sixties in Sweden, told from the perspective of a young boy, Thomas, in stream-of-consciousness vignettes. Continue reading

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Claire Fuller has a great feeling for places – forests, the sea and in her latest book, Bitter Orange, crumbling country mansions – it makes her books immersive experiences.

Bitter Orange focuses on Lyntons, a dilapidated English estate. Over the summer of 1969, Frances Jellico, a middle-aged spinster grieving the death of her mother, is tasked with documenting the estate’s garden architecture for its absent American owner – Frances’s specialty is Palladian bridges and she is looking forward to quiet days of sketching the treasures of Lyntons.  Continue reading

Sweet Caress by William Boyd

Do not ask me why I kept reading William Boyd’s Sweet Caress, right up until the stupid end, but welcome to my second one-star review for 2018. I’ll get straight to the point (unlike Boyd).

Sweet Caress is the life story of fictional photographer Amory Clay and it begins in England, in 1908. The novel covers Amory’s childhood, her career as a photographer, her experiences during both World Wars and the Vietnam War, and her relationships. It’s astounding that a book about a female in an unconventional role (war photographer), could be so, so boring, Continue reading