The Cook by Maylis de Kerangal

When you’re young, and you’re making decisions about school subjects and careers, there are inevitably pressures. For some kids, their passions line-up with family or social expectations. Lucky them. For others, expectations can steer them away from what they’d really, really like to be doing. I think we all know of that person who desperately wanted to be a carpenter or an artist or in advertising, yet they come from a ‘family of doctors’ and suddenly find their Year 12 dominated by chemistry and biology rather than graphic design. Personally speaking, I traded a Forestry degree for Environmental Planning – I think I probably would have ended up in the same place regardless but I can’t deny that my mum’s concerns about my being posted as a park ranger somewhere remote, didn’t go unheard. Continue reading

Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot

I have a weak point when reading – the loss of a child. Stories about losing a child – through death, family separation, to addiction, to crime – hurt my heart more than any other. I’ve mentioned a passage in Yanagihara’s A Little Life that haunts me because it gets to the very core of the issue.

When the loss of a child was revealed at the beginning of Terese Marie Mailhot’s memoir, Heart Berries, I prepared myself for a tough read.

You asked me for my secret. I told you about the son who didn’t live with me. I told you I lock myself in the bathroom to cry when I remember his milk breath… You said you’d be on the other side of the door. That’s how perfect love is at first. Solutions are simple, and problems are laid out simply. 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

Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill by Dimitri Verhulst

A dense forest; a house on a hill; a beautiful woman pining for her husband and the music they once shared; her story simply told… Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill by Dimitri Verhulst has the hallmarks of a fairy-tale, however, what transpires is a delicate and surprising reflection on grief and the things we do to go on living after losing the person we love most.

Madame Verona and her husband built a home for themselves, tucked away on forested hill slopes above a small village. There they lived in isolation, practising their music, and chopping enough wood to see them through the freezing winters.

Fire was the primary fruit of these trees and warmth was the harvest. After three years’ seasoning, the wood gave them the smell that all gods undoubtedly use as a perfume and heat that makes anything produced by electric devices look like a joke. Continue reading

The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe

The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe is a short, grim story about an Indonesian girl, Mina, whose life changes when her father sends her to work for a Dutch merchant.

And what will she wear? What is the town like? Who will she work with? She asks herself these questions, a tremor of excitement finally mingling with the dread in her stomach, making her feel pleasantly sick like when she eats too much sirsak, the sweetness of the custard apple curdling in her stomach. Continue reading

Blue Dog by Louis de Bernières

I need to start by saying that Red Dog by Louis de Bernières is one of those rare books that I recommend to #ALLTHEPEOPLE (and ‘animal stories’ aren’t really my thing). So from the outset, Blue Dog was a big collar to fill.

I also need to start with the Afterword. Blue Dog came about after the success of the film version of Red Dog, when the producer approached de Bernières with ideas for a prequel. It was suggested that the story be novelised, for dual release with the Blue Dog film. Initially, de Bernières resisted – “I was hostile about it, as I am far too grand and snobbish to turn other people’s stories into novels…” but he liked the script, loves the Pilbara and loves red cloud kelpies, hence Blue Dog. Continue reading