Monday, 27 June 2011

An International Feast

My previous post was all Aussie.
Now for the adult fiction update from around the world.

I'll begin with one of my favourites - When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman. Funny, poignant, heart-warming, up-lifting. A truly human drama full of surprises, quirks & tragedy.

A great holiday read; one you will want to share with others.

Over Christmas I read a modern day classic - The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt.
I was initially attracted to the glorious blue/green art nouveau dragonfly on the cover of my edition.

What followed was a wonderful ramble through the English countryside at the beginning of last century. The book is populated by a group of diverse, contrary and interesting families. They're absorbed in the world of art, history, nature and literature. Their passion rubs off until you feel regret for not living through this period of time with them!

The only thing I found unsettling was the sudden jumps in time, especially as the book ended on one of these sudden and rather unsatisfying (& convenient for the author) jumps.

The Children's Book won the 2009 James Tait Black Memorial Award and was nominated for the Booker.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt was recommended to me by several friends and when I found a lovely old copy in a 2nd hand shop on holidays, it seemed fated.

My uni days are long over, so the romantic 'good ole college days' atmosphere didn't really work on me the way I've heard told by others. But I did love the story. The intensity of the friendships, the sinister, gothic drama that unfolds so gently and politely is completely absorbing.

It was a captivating read - dense and juicy. So much so that I couldn't read anything of substance for weeks afterwards.

As a consequence I turned to Maisie - Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. Light and easy, but with enough going on to keep it a cut above the rest.
Set after WW1 in London, Winspear is obviously concerned about the way war affects people long after the fighting is over. Her characters are all shell-shocked in one way or another and the fall-out continues to impact years later.

Maisie is a detective who uses the new ideas of psychology & intuition to help solve crimes. The first book gives lots of fascinating WW1 back story. It was just what I needed after The Secret History and I will certainly be reading more Maisie Dobbs in the future.

And now for my favourite read so far this year - Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.

It combines some of my favourite themes - the 1930's, New York, jazz, art, martini's, love, the meaning of life...!
Full of decadence, despair & drama - rags to riches and back to rags. The American dream, the quest for happiness...and all the compromises we make along the way.

Pop on your flapper dress, slip an olive into your martini and let this wonderful novel take you on a very New York journey.

I also finally read 2 of last year's Booker shortlist books - just in time to beat this years nominations!

The Finkler Question - hmmmm - where to start. I did find it funny - not laugh out loud stuff, but the word play was fun and it was clever in a very Finkler way.
And maybe that was the problem. I am not Jewish. Throughout the book I felt that there was some great story going on behind the scenes that you could only really get if you were Jewish. Perhaps that was the point?

I finished the book (slowly), waiting for my moment of ah-ha! It didn't come and I was left somewhat disappointed.
But then I picked up Room by Emma Donoghue!
I had been putting off reading this book - the premise - a story of a boy locked in a room with his mother. After all the media coverage of the young woman found in an Austrian shed, the idea seemed a little too real and somewhat grotesque.

And the first quarter of the book is exactly that. The story of captivity told innocently through the child's eyes. Except, of course, the boy does not view it as captivity. He knows nothing else; the Room is his world and he is happy enough.
He struggles when his mother finally tells him about the outside world and her plans for their escape.

I won't reveal any more of the storyline, except to say that this book made me cry - and very few books achieve that status! It was completely satisfying from start to finish.

Another piece of light fiction and a pleasant surprise, was At Sea by Laurie Graham.

A female detective of sorts, full of gentle English humour - from an American poking fun at the English tendency towards snobbishness & intellectual superiority!

It was uncomplicated, amusing and the perfect holiday read.

To finish this ramble, I will rave about Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

The story of Thomas Cromwell during the time of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn's rise to wifedom was bound to pique my interest.

I loved the sense of anticipation that sat underneath the story of Cromwell, Anne Bolelyn and her family's rise to power.
The title of the book and the quiet, mousy Jane Seymour who appeared discretely throughout. We know her as Henry's third wife and that his infatuation with her began with a visit to her family seat of Wolf Hall.
The whole time I'm reading about Anne I'm experiencing a delicious sense of future foreboding, waiting for the inevitable downfall...waiting for Henry to notice Jane. So for the book to end with "Early September. Five Days. Wolf Hall." was beautiful and frustrating at once. Is there a sequel??

Full of fabulous characterisations, the sense of time and place feels personal.  If Henry VIII were alive now, would he be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder?
I loved the story, but occasionally found it hard to follow who's talking and when.


I think I could be a little in love with Mantel's Thomas Cromwell.

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