Poum and Alexandre: A Paris Memoir by Catherine de Saint Phalle

Poum and Alexandre by Catherine de Saint Phalle is a curious book. It’s a memoir, focused on Saint Phalle’s Parisian childhood with her unconventional parents, Marie-Antoinette (Poum) and Alexandre –

“The patterns of the eccentrics are often rigid. My parents have many idiosyncrasies and any new ones become instant habits. Theirs is a disciplined madness.”

The book reads like a fairy tale. Told through the eyes of eight-year-old Saint Phalle, her stories are studded with references to Greek mythology, The Odyssey, the Magna Carta, visits to Givenchy, the Napoleonic Wars and the French Resistance.

“He talks the whole time about Alexander the Great, Constantine, Caesar, Julian the Apostate. He tells me of palaces and forests, galloping  horses and raped women. His voice gathers momentum and his hands seize javelins and slave girls. He canters up hills where we stare at burning cities.” Continue reading

The Media and the Massacre by Sonya Voumard

Geez… it’s always a bit tricky when something doesn’t do what it says on the label. That’s not necessarily a bad thing… But expectations and what-not…

Which brings me to Sonya Voumard’s The Media and the Massacre. The subtitle is Port Arthur 1996-2016 – most Australians would understand that the title refers to the twentieth anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre. The blurb suggests an exploration of the journalistic intent after the tragedy, with particular reference to the ethics of reporting traumatic events. Voumard poses the question, “Is there a right amount of storytelling surrounding the Port Arthur massacre?” Continue reading

Wasted by Elspeth Muir

Two things to get off my chest about Elspeth Muir’s memoir, Wasted

  1. This is an extremely important book that examines the impact of alcohol on a family and, in doing so, highlights the fact that drinking to excess is normalised in Australian culture.
  2. In my opinion, this book was robbed – it really should have made the 2017 Stella Prize shortlist.

In 2009, Muir’s 21-year-old brother, Alexander, finished his last university exam, celebrated with friends, and then jumped 30 metres from the Story Bridge into the Brisbane River below. His body was found three days later, with a blood-alcohol reading of 0.25. This tragic event provides a starting point for Muir to explore her grief; her own drinking habits; and Australia’s drinking culture. Continue reading

Dying – a Memoir by Cory Taylor

“My body is my journey, the truest record of all I have done and seen, the site of all my joys and heartbreaks, of all my misapprehensions and blinding insights. If I feel the need to relive the journey it is all there written in the runes on my body. Even my cells remember it, all that sunshine I bathed in as a child, too much as it turned out. In my beginning is my end.”

I wobbled at the beginning of Cory Taylor’s memoir, Dying. She writes of her stage IV melanoma. I had my own meeting with melanoma last year – obviously not as far progressed as Taylor’s but nonetheless, the scar is still very large and very fresh (literally and figuratively) and I wondered whether reading this book was a good idea. It was. Because Taylor doesn’t dwell on her illness, her decline or her imminent death in the way that the title suggests. Instead, she reflects on her life, her family, and the largely dysfunctional relationship western society has with death. Continue reading

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

pct-4

Visiting the Pacific north coast of America is on my bucket-list. Not exactly sure why… it might have started when I had to do an in-depth investigation on the Douglas fir at uni  (I did a couple of forestry subjects as part of my hydrology studies). Anyway, it’s this bucket-list item that prompted me to read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.

Actually, to be perfectly frank, I’d avoided Wild because I thought it was going to be all look-at-me-Eat-Pray-Love-Oprah-is-raving-about-it but when it popped up on an audio list I figured I could just listen to the Oregon bits and abandon the rest if Strayed was giving me the pip.

I was wrong. Continue reading

Avalanche by Julia Leigh

There’s all sorts of reasons why I don’t feel I’m in a position to comment on Julia Leigh’s Avalanche, an account of her experience with IVF. However, Leigh makes a statement early in her memoir that made me pause and think –

“In the public imagination – as I perceive it – there’s a qualified sympathy for IVF patients, not unlike that shown to smokers who get lung cancer. Unspoken: ‘You signed up for it, so what do you expect…?'”

“Qualified sympathy” – it’s an interesting phrase. Have I ever been guilty of qualified sympathy? Probably, although certainly not in relation to someone’s desire to have a baby. It’s these kind of gritty bits that lodged as I was reading Avalanche. Continue reading

Two books, both difficult to review

katherine-boo-elizabeth-mccracken

I’ve thought so much about two excellent books I finished this week – Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo and An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.

They’re very different books – one is about the slums of Mumbai, in India; the other an account of the author’s pregnancy and subsequent stillbirth. Both books are painfully honest, emotionally raw and made me look away. Both tell the story of a death, yet the circumstances around those deaths couldn’t be more different. Both are confronting. Continue reading