An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident is the story of a brutal murder in a rural Australian town. The victim, Bella Michaels, was a much-loved member of the community and her death stuns not only those that knew her but the whole nation. Her sister, Chris, is left to grieve, search for answers, and deal with the growing media interest in Bella’s death.

I’ll get straight to the point – I didn’t care for this book at all. Am I wrong to have immediately thought that the story exploited the Jill Meagher case? And that there was a hint of treading the same path as Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things? Continue reading

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

I confess that it was love at first sight when I saw the cover of Emily Ruskovich’s debut, Idaho. There was something about the rich floral artwork that caught my eye. Thankfully the blurb held up, as did the opening page, and fairly soon I was engrossed.

Idaho could be classed loosely as a literary thriller. It tells the story of Ann and Wade who live in a remote mountainside forest in northern Idaho. Ann tries to piece together the truth of what happened to Wade’s first wife, Jenny, and their two young daughters, May and June –

“Because Wade had thrown everything away – drawings, clothes, toys – each accidental remnant loomed in Ann’s mind with unspeakable importance. Four moldy dolls buried in the sawdust of a rotten stump. A high-heeled Barbie shoe that fell from the drainpipe… Artifacts heavy with importance they didn’t deserve, but which they took on because of their frightening scarcity.” Continue reading

The Lover by Marguerite Duras

Marguerite Duras’s The Lover is the second book I’ve read in as many weeks that’s a memoir, thinly disguised as a novel (the other being by Lily Brett).

The story is set in Saigon in the 1930s, and describes the tumultuous affair between a relatively poor adolescent French girl and her wealthy, older Chinese lover. Interspersed between details of their clandestine meetings are descriptions of the unnamed narrator’s mother – headmistress of a girls’ high school and prone to bouts of depression, and her wayward brothers. Continue reading

Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford

Depending on your attitude, it’s either wildly inappropriate or absolutely hilarious that I was listening to Nancy Mitford’s Wigs on the Green concurrently with the podcast, My Dad Wrote a Porno. If you’ve experienced both, you’ll appreciate that the frequent mentions of hedge mazes, manicured lawns, horses and duchesses are quite similar in one sense… and also very much not. Anyway, the important thing is that both made me laugh. A lot.

There’s a juicy back-story to Wigs on the Green, notably that the novel was truly about Nancy’s two Fascist sisters, Unity and Diana, and that the relationship between Nancy and her sisters imploded after its publication (I really should read The Mitford Girls, which has been languishing on my TBR stack for over a decade). Nancy never allowed the novel to be printed after WWII, on the basis that jokes about Nazis were not funny in any context. And obviously they’re not, yet the elements of the story related to class and marriage are sharp and very, very funny.

‘Marriage is a great bore. Chaps’ waistcoats lying around in one’s bedroom and so on. It gets one down in time.’ Continue reading

Lola Bensky by Lily Brett

My first encounter with Lily Brett was in 1986 when my mum, who had never censored my reading in any way, gently took The Auschwitz Poems from my hands and said, “Enough.” I’d been on a long Holocaust reading binge and Brett’s collection of poems had me in tatters.

Lola Bensky is a different Brett. It’s the story of nineteen-year-old Lola, an Australian rock journalist who is sent to London in 1967 to interview Hendrix, Jagger and Joplin, to name a few.  It sounds fanciful, but Lola Bensky is rooted in Brett’s own experience and although it may be difficult to sort fact from fiction in this novel, a glance through Brett’s bio suggests that Lola is almost a memoir. Almost. Continue reading

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

A story about the sea, swimming, books and relationships. It’s like Claire Fuller was writing just for me.

Despite the blurb hinting that Swimming Lessons is a mystery, it’s not. It’s a book about marriage – specially that of Gil and Ingrid. Gil is a lecturer and a writer, famous for a scandalous novel. He’s also a collector of books, specifically those with notes in the margins and passages underlined.

“Forget that first-edition, signed-by-the-author nonsense. Fiction is about readers. Without readers there is no point in books, and therefore they are as important as the author, perhaps more important. But often the only way to see what a reader thought, how they lived when they were reading, is to examine what they left behind.” Continue reading

Miss Chopsticks by Xinran

If you’ve never read anything by Xinran before then allow me to get bossy: Read something by Xinran.

Actually, I’ve only read her non-fiction, which is invariably so affecting, so powerful that the stories she tells will never leave you. I was keen to see how she tackled fiction and her novel, Miss Chopsticks, was recommended to me by Lisa (an excellent suggestion to meet a tricky reading challenge category).

Miss Chopsticks is the story of peasant sisters – their mother is considered a failure because she never produced a son, and the daughters only merit a number as a name.

“In my village, girls are called ‘chopsticks’ and boys ‘roof-beams’. They all say girls are no good because a chopstick can’t support a roof.” Continue reading