There’s a line in Sheila Kohler’s memoir, Once We Were Sisters, that is representative of much of her story – ‘As is so often the case, truth is crueller than fiction.’
Kohler begins with the terrible moment when she discovered that her sister, Maxine, had been killed. Maxine’s husband drove them off a deserted road in Johannesburg – he survived the crash, she did not. Continue reading
This book. Wow.
Harrowing. Courageous. Repulsive. Compelling. Heartbreaking. Uplifting. Fascinating.
The Trauma Cleaner, like its star, Sandra Pankhurst, is genre-defying. Author Sarah Krasnostein shadowed Sandra over a number of years, observing her day-to-day activities and recording the story of her life before she was a cleaner. And that story is remarkable – Sandra was a husband and father, drag queen, sex reassignment patient, sex worker, businesswoman, and trophy wife. As a ‘trauma cleaner’, Sandra cleans places others dare not go – homicide, suicide and death scenes; meth labs; homes of hoarders; and places ravaged by water, mould and filth.
Sandra knows her clients as well as they know themselves; she airs out their smells, throws out their weird porn, their photos, their letters, the last traces of their DNA entombed in soaps and toothbrushes. She does not, however, erase these people. She couldn’t. She has experienced their same sorrows. Continue reading
It’s had a squillion reviews on Goodreads; it was a re-read for me; and it’s packed with pithy one-liners – all good reasons for a literary mixtape for Jay McInerney’s eighties classic, Bright Lights, Big City.
If you haven’t already read it, get on it – it’s a brilliant snapshot of grief in its denial phase, set against eighties New York with its largesse, its cocaine, its filth, its beautiful people.
4/5 It holds up.
Saturday Night / Cold Chisel
The night has already turned on that imperceptible pivot where two A.M. changes to six A.M. You know this moment has come and gone, but you are not yet willing to concede that you have crossed the line beyond which all is gratuitous damage and the palsy of unravelled nerve endings. Continue reading
Sophia Garfield had a clear mental picture of what the outbreak of war was going to be like. There would be a loud bang, succeeded by inky darkness and a cold wind. Stumbling over heaps of rubble and dead bodies, Sophia would search with industry, but without hope, for her husband, her lover and her dog.
And so begins Nancy Mitford’s satire, Pigeon Pie. Continue reading
Mãn by Kim Thúy is a slip of a novel but looks can be deceptive – it’s a rich, melancholy tale about belonging.
Mãn has three mothers: the one who gives birth to her in wartime, the nun who plucks her from a vegetable garden, and her beloved Maman, who scarifies all that she can for her daughter.
‘In the distance, in the warm light, she saw me, and I became her daughter. She gave me a second birth by bringing me up in a big city, an anonymous elsewhere, behind a schoolyard, surrounded by children who envied me for having a mother who taught school and sold iced bananas.’ Continue reading
No secret that I love the Royal Family. And I love stories about books. Stands to reason then, that Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader was a smashing success for me.
The story is simple – late in Her Majesty’s life, she discovers a love for reading. This new hobby is somewhat annoying for her staff because she’d rather be reading than cutting ribbons/ giving speeches/ opening buildings.
…she had begun to perform her duties with a perceived reluctance: she laid foundation stones with less élan and what few ships there were to launch she sent down the slipway with no more ceremony than a toy boat on a pond, her book always waiting. Continue reading
I’m trying not to let my MWF-JCO experience influence my thoughts on Oates’s much-admired family saga, We Were the Mulvaneys.
The story of the Mulvaney family spans twenty-five years and is told from the perspective of the youngest son, Judd. In the beginning, the family is blessed – a successful business, a sprawling farm property (with ponies), and popular children (a cheerleader, a football star and a science-whiz-kid). A single incident becomes a turning point in the fortunes of the Mulvaneys and bit by bit, everything (and everyone) falls apart.
There were exquisite nuggets of truth in JCO’s words that stopped me in my tracks, words that got to the heart of a matter so succinctly that I couldn’t help but admire her deftness – ‘Nothing between humans is uncomplicated’ and ‘But you can’t disappoint me because I don’t love you’ and ‘There are different kinds of homesickness to fit different kinds of families.‘ Continue reading
Despite the fact that The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida is written in the second-person (because truly, YOU would think YOU would want to put hot pokers in YOUR eyes reading so many YOUS), this slip of a novel hooks YOU from the outset.
You’re still wet from the rain. You should have brought an umbrella. A psychiatrist friend of yours once told you that a telltale sign of a mentally unstable person is she’s never dressed appropriately for the weather. Continue reading
Five things about The Mothers by Brit Bennett – Continue reading
Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout hardly needs introduction – it extends some of the characters mentioned in My Name Is Lucy Barton, and is structured much like Olive Kitteridge – interconnected short stories, to be read in order (some stories are resolved through other characters’ chapters later in the book, so you do need to read sequentially). It’s not necessary to read Lucy Barton first (or at all) in order to enjoy Anything is Possible but I reckon the book is enhanced by knowing Lucy’s story.
Despite the focus on the interior lives of individual people in small town America, Strout addresses two universal themes in Anything is Possible – that we are shaped by our past, and that we all want to be heard. Each character gives a different perspective on these themes, and the result is subtlety layered (without once feeling repetitive or contrived).
She did not say, and only fleetingly did she think: And you have always taken up so much space in my heart that it has sometimes felt to be a burden. Continue reading