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

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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

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

Sorry in advance – The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton is one of those books that I can’t say much about, for fear of spoilers.

It’s the story of teenager, Jaxie Clackton. Jaxie’s mum died and his relationship with his dad is violent. 

…when everyone went home after the funeral and I finished putting all them casseroles in the freezer I stood in the lounge in my good duds and the Captain sat out on the back patio drinking homebrew and rum. Arm over arm. Neither one of us said nothing. We both knew there was never gunna be anything good again.

Jaxie decides to leave, taking off across the vast saltlands of Western Australia. There he meets Fintan MacGillis, an old Irishman, on his own for very different reasons than Jaxie. What happens next changes both their lives. Continue reading

Beloved by Toni Morrison

As a reader, I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain with Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

My reading waxed and waned – distracted and unfocused. I feel bad because there is no question that Beloved is an important book, and one that needs careful and close reading. Continue reading

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

 

Should I have included e) None of the above? Possibly… Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach was dull. Continue reading

Mary & O’Neil by Justin Cronin

I was recently asked what sort of books I liked. I replied “Contemporary relationship stories.” I think that made sense to the person who had asked the question!

I like stories that explore relationships, particularly families. I like stories that examine regular feelings – grief, love, loneliness, joy and so forth – in a new way, that puts fresh words around the familiar. Some authors are able to articulate particular emotions with astounding clarity (most recently, Jessie Cole’s memoir Staying took my breath away, and earlier this year Paula Keogh’s The Green Bell did the same) – these are the book I enjoy most.

That’s a long introduction to Justin Cronin’s short debut novel, Mary & O’Neil. The story traces the lives of two characters, Mary Olson and O’Neil Burke. When they meet, both have suffered profound losses (all is revealed in the blurb but if you intend to read this book based on my flimsy review, just dive straight in). Continue reading

The Clasp by Sloane Crosley

Last week I visited Canberra, and popped into the Cartier exhibition at the National Gallery. It was spectacular. In fact, it was so sparkly it was obscene (it’s hard to believe that emeralds and rubies as big as golf balls are the real thing).

So it was fitting that my holiday reading was Sloane Crosley’s first novel, The Clasp. Continue reading

Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito

If you like a crime novel where you know what happens from the outset (and then you rewind to unravel the story), you’ll enjoy Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito.

The cover proclaims Quicksand‘s status as the 2016 winner of Swedish Crime Novel of the Year, although strictly speaking it’s more courtroom drama than crime. The story revolves around Maja Norberg, who has spent nine months in jail awaiting trial for a shooting in her school. Among those killed were her boyfriend and her best friend. Maja was holding a gun. Continue reading