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

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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

March by Geraldine Brooks

march-geraldine-brooks

Some authors seem to have the inside word on particular things, whether it be a place, feelings or a scene. They can cut to the heart of a matter or find the perfect words to describe something. When I read a story filled with intimate detail (I don’t mean the sexy-time kind…), I assume that the author’s own experiences have informed the work. That makes perfect sense when talking contemporary literature – I, for example, could probably write something that would resonate with a girl growing up in the eighties who was obsessed with Culture Club, swimming, Princess Diana and was Team Jessica*. So how does Geraldine Brooks do it? She’s an author from Western Australia, yet is completely and thoroughly in the heart and mind of a Union Army officer during the American Civil War.

I’d forgotten just how good Brooks is until I read March. Continue reading

‘Olive Kitteridge’ by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is one of those books that somehow passed me by. Every so often it would turn up on a ‘Must Read’ or ‘Favourites’ list and I’d think, “I really should read that book.” Then I progressed the matter. I bought a copy. It sat on my shelf for eons. Then I took on the Mount TBR Challenge and, when deciding on the titles to tackle for the challenge, my eye fell on Olive. And so here we are…

Olive Kitteridge is probably best described as a collection of tightly woven short stories rather than a ‘novel’. The stories all hinge around one character, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher who deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine and in the world at large, but doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her. I must emphasise ‘tightly woven’ because it’s not a collection of stories that you could delve into at any point – little details build to create a grander narrative, threads of seemingly stand-alone stories weave together as a whole. And that is why this is such a good book. Continue reading

‘Black Box’ by Jennifer Egan

Did you follow Black Box by Jennifer Egan on Twitter?

The short story was serialised over the span of ten nights (ending this morning) and was delivered via The New Yorker’s NYerFiction Twitter account. One tweet was posted per minute over one hour each day (it was between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m in the US which meant mid-morning for Aussies).

It was my first Twitter-fiction experience. I’ve since discovered that there are other twitter authors out there doing a similar thing although none with the status of Pulitzer-Prize-winning Egan.

Black Box was billed as a spy’s mission log, with each tweet representing an entry into the log. The language quickly clued the reader into the fact that it was very much a science-fiction spy story (references to other spies as ‘beauties’, the surveillance targets as ‘Designated Mates’ and ‘Dissociation Techniques’). I was hooked from the very first tweet –

Continue reading

‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy

When I first picked up Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road, I did what I always do – tweeted it (#reading). Mistake. I had three people immediately tweet back with comments along the lines of “That’s a sure way to ruin 2012” and “Got the Prozac ready?” and “Don’t do it. I was miserable and confused for weeks.”

So I read with a sense of detachment – it’s a shame, I suspect I would have got so much more out of the book if I’d allowed myself to invest in the characters.

The Road tells the story of an unnamed man and his young son, making their way across a grim post-apocalyptic landscape. The air is filled with ash, no plants or animals remain, ghost towns and corpses litter the land. The few humans who are still alive resort to scavenging, cannibalism and thieving to survive. Continue reading