An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident is the story of a brutal murder in a rural Australian town. The victim, Bella Michaels, was a much-loved member of the community and her death stuns not only those that knew her but the whole nation. Her sister, Chris, is left to grieve, search for answers, and deal with the growing media interest in Bella’s death.

I’ll get straight to the point – I didn’t care for this book at all. Am I wrong to have immediately thought that the story exploited the Jill Meagher case? And that there was a hint of treading the same path as Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things? 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

The Lover by Marguerite Duras

Marguerite Duras’s The Lover is the second book I’ve read in as many weeks that’s a memoir, thinly disguised as a novel (the other being by Lily Brett).

The story is set in Saigon in the 1930s, and describes the tumultuous affair between a relatively poor adolescent French girl and her wealthy, older Chinese lover. Interspersed between details of their clandestine meetings are descriptions of the unnamed narrator’s mother – headmistress of a girls’ high school and prone to bouts of depression, and her wayward brothers. Continue reading

Lola Bensky by Lily Brett

My first encounter with Lily Brett was in 1986 when my mum, who had never censored my reading in any way, gently took The Auschwitz Poems from my hands and said, “Enough.” I’d been on a long Holocaust reading binge and Brett’s collection of poems had me in tatters.

Lola Bensky is a different Brett. It’s the story of nineteen-year-old Lola, an Australian rock journalist who is sent to London in 1967 to interview Hendrix, Jagger and Joplin, to name a few.  It sounds fanciful, but Lola Bensky is rooted in Brett’s own experience and although it may be difficult to sort fact from fiction in this novel, a glance through Brett’s bio suggests that Lola is almost a memoir. Almost. Continue reading

Miss Chopsticks by Xinran

If you’ve never read anything by Xinran before then allow me to get bossy: Read something by Xinran.

Actually, I’ve only read her non-fiction, which is invariably so affecting, so powerful that the stories she tells will never leave you. I was keen to see how she tackled fiction and her novel, Miss Chopsticks, was recommended to me by Lisa (an excellent suggestion to meet a tricky reading challenge category).

Miss Chopsticks is the story of peasant sisters – their mother is considered a failure because she never produced a son, and the daughters only merit a number as a name.

“In my village, girls are called ‘chopsticks’ and boys ‘roof-beams’. They all say girls are no good because a chopstick can’t support a roof.” Continue reading

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

If you’ve never read any Haruki Murakami, it’s tricky to describe his style. And at the risk of causing the book-blogging corner of the interwebs to implode, his style is not really my cup of tea.

South of the Border, West of the Sun tells of Hajime, a middle-aged man reflecting on his youth and in particular, his relationship with Shimamoto, a fellow only-child and his only true friend. Continue reading