Smile by Roddy Doyle

Reviews of Roddy Doyle’s latest novel, Smile, are taking one of two approaches – focused on style and a brief reference to the plot OR spoilers and trigger warnings.

Although it’s not my usual approach, I’m going with spoilers and trigger warnings (look away if you want).

Smile is the story of Victor Forde – he’s middle-aged, alone for the first time in years, and has just moved into a new apartment. Every evening, he heads to his local pub, Donnelly’s, for a pint. At Donnelly’s he meets Eddie Fitzpatrick, a man who claims to have been at school with him, although Victor can’t recall him. Victor dislikes Fitzpatrick, particularly because he stirs up memories of being taught by the Christian Brothers.

The story switches between the present and Victor’s memories of school; his marriage to Rachel (who became a celebrity); and of his own brief media career on the radio.

So, to the spoilery/triggery bit: Continue reading

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Two short(ish) reviews

I read two fantastic books in the middle of my manic assessment period at the end of first semester – Euphoria by Lily King and We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. Both books featured strong, memorable characters, and both books were set in foreign countries (New Guinea and Zimbabwe respectively), each with a beautifully developed sense of place. Some thoughts on each – Continue reading

Written on the Skin by Liz Porter

I’ve never been particularly interested in crime novels, mysteries, or courtroom dramas, and until I listened to the Serial podcast, true crime was also on the ‘not particularly interested’ list. But there was something about the meticulously produced Serial that sucked me in (and it wasn’t just Sarah Koenig’s dulcet tones). Since that time, I’ve listened to other true crime podcasts and read a few books.

Liz Porter’s book, Written on the Skin – An Australian Forensic Casebook grabbed my attention because of the chapters on the use of DNA testing in forensic science – genes are always interesting! Continue reading

A Zoo in my Luggage by Gerald Durrell

I’m always astounded by the television program, Border Security. I’m not interested in the immigration issues or drug busts – it’s the people bringing fruit, vegetables, live seafood and meat into Australia that is fascinating. Invariably, they’re in the ‘nothing to declare’ line when airport officials open their suitcases to find kilos of unidentifiable meat, plants and seeds, and they feign surprise. For my overseas readers, you basically can’t bring ANYTHING into Australia – we have the world’s strictest quarantine and biosecurity laws (remember Johnny Depp’s dogs?).

So it was with a mixture of interest and amazement that I read Gerald Durrell’s memoir, A Zoo in My Luggage. It’s an account of Durrell’s trip to what was then the British Cameroons in West Africa (now part of northern Nigeria and Cameroon), during which he and his wife captured animals to start their own zoo. The book concludes with their return to England, and how he managed his menagerie while he found a permanent home for them (they lived in his back yard and then later in the basement of a department store). Continue reading

20 Books of Summer (except that it’s Winter)

Cathy at 746 Books is hosting the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge again this year. By Cathy’s own admission, she doesn’t have a great track record with her own challenge… But I do! As I’ve done in previous years, I’m using this challenge to read from my to-be-read stack (with a particular focus on hard copies). The challenge is straightforward – read twenty books between June 1st and September 3rd. Continue reading

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Stink. Bloody. Rotting. Decay. Putrid. Stench. Rancid. Filthy. These are the words that dominate Sarah Schmidt’s historical gothic novel, See What I Have Done. There’s also lots of sweat, bits of brains, vomit, decapitated pigeons, decomposing flesh, and blood spattered walls.

It’s the story of the 1892 axe-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Massachusetts. Forensics wasn’t what it is today – the murderer left little evidence. Eventually, the youngest daughter, Lizzie Borden, was arrested, spent ten months in jail and stood trial but was ultimately acquitted (due to a technicality and inconclusive evidence from witnesses).

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of the case, nor the accuracy of the detail as presented by Schmidt (there are hundreds of reviews of this book and others related to the murders, if that’s your thing). I should point out that I am apparently the only person in the world who knew nothing about this case until reading See What I Have Done. Absolutely nothing. So again, it’s pointless commenting on accuracy but I do have thoughts on Schmidt’s writing style and the way she tells the story. Continue reading

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

Homesickness is a peculiar thing. Unpredictable and urgent or gently tugging and constant. I have never really experienced homesickness (even as a 16-year-old exchange student in Germany) – not as an overwhelming sensation, anyway. But my brother would, even on our month-long family summers at McCrae – he just wanted his own bed and his usual routines. I was thinking a lot about people’s different experiences as I was reading Stephanie Bishop’s The Other Side of the World. Continue reading

The American Lover by Rose Tremain

I have two summer holiday traditions when it comes to reading – tackling one really big book (because if I get engrossed I can block out the day for reading), and a short story collection or two (because I can read and doze and not lose track of where I’m at). Which is why I selected The American Lover by Rose Tremain.

I think of Tremain as a short-story-master and this collection didn’t disappoint. The theme of loneliness, or rather loners, runs through the collection. There’s regrets, ‘could-have-beens’, unfulfilled wishes and compromises – all written about in Tremain’s precise style.

Four stories stood out – Continue reading