writereaderly

writing of readerly reviews of writings

Month: May, 2012

Review: Mary Ann Schaffer’s “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society”

AL recommended this in a letter just as it was suggested for Bookclub, and serendipity declared that it should be so. It’s just come up for this month’s Bookclub, and I got it in my hot little hand on Monday – the perfect book for winding down after a tedious assignment. It was fab: absorbing, light and rich at the same time, laugh-out-loud funny, quirky personages and the odd naff/improbably plot device (“Quick, we need a romantic hero! That one over there, get’im!”), but hell, a great book, literary and entertaining and at least a bit nuanced about WWII. Well, a little bit. The Germans aren’t all bad.

Interesting backstory, too, which I imagine was made much of when this book came out: 70 year old librarian’s first novel, taken up by her novelist niece “for the final edit” when Auntie got sick but had already sold the book, unfortunately Auntie died before it went to print. Some editions list both Auntie and Niece as co-authors. Just the kind of heart-warming story that sells a heart-warming book.

Which it is. Heart-warming, I mean. You should read it, it’s great.

Where it came from: Library via Bookclub and a recommendation from AL
Time taken to read: Three hours straight post-assignment
Where it went to: A new Bookclub member
Reminds me of: “Five Quarters of the Orange” by Joanne Harris, also damned good, better than her “Chocolat”
Who I’d recommend it to: Any reader needing a bit of lightness and lurv
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “The Blind Eye” by Georgia Blain; “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons; “Gertrude” by Hermann Hesse; “The Mountain” by Kate Llewellyn

Advertisements

Review: Dorothy Allison’s “Trash”

I waved this at KG in an opshop, and behold, she bought it and I could reread it once she was done. (Thankfully, she’d enjoyed it.) I particularly remembered ‘A Lesbian Appetite’, where Allison traces her girlfriends through the history of their shared meals. It’s a great story, been anthologised in lesbian and women’s titles all over the place.

I found this book pretty dazzling on the first read, probably because I was delighted to read a good, proud book about dykes and about being white trash. The activist in me loved it, and her writing wasn’t half-bad either. This time, I didn’t enjoy it as much. Allison has so much rage she needs to spell out – about being raped, about being poor, about defending her lesbianism, about her rage. Waves of anger lap with the pain, the sex, the hurt, and they leave some of Allison’s life upon the shore. This book is important in terms of dejando constancia (leaving a record) of lives and worlds which are not written about enough. I’m glad it’s out there, she writes well.

Where it came from: KG’s Bookshelf (well, I did talk her into buying it for herself then shamelessly borrowed it)
Time taken to read: Two or three doses of bed-nights
Where it went to: Back home
Reminds me of: the swathe of well-meaning novels by women from Greenham Comon
Who I’d recommend it to: Someone needing to broaden their view of Southern US culture, or dyke culture
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “The Blind Eye” by Georgia Blain; “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons; “Gertrude” by Hermann Hesse; “The Mountain” by Kate Llewellyn

Review: David Mitchell’s “Black Swan Green”

I grabbed this one because I’d read Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, and found it an impressive stylistic achievement (although I found his message naff and overplayed). Anyway, it was good enough to make me get this one off the Housesat Bookshelf, and despite a sloooow start, it was worthwhile. Thirteen months in the life a 13 y.o. writer-boy, who seems to be 13 the way that Jonathan Safran Foer’s hero in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was 9, or Juno was 16 in her movie. (It’s considerably more elegant than Foer’s novel, btw, but I wasn’t quite as impressed). Solid rendition of Britain in 1982, all chronistic details in tact – eg., Falklands/Malvinas war; e.g., VHS vs Betamax; e.g., who’s allowed to dance to Madness songs; e.g., mean legal attacks on gypsies who are good deep down. An increasingly absorbing read, plot threads sneaked up on me (but not entirely convincingly), and Mitchell is clearly a master of voice. It was a good read and I’ll read more of his.

Where it came from: KT’s Housesat Bookshelf
Time taken to read: About four doses of bed-nights
Where it went to: Back to shelf
Reminds me of: Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”; Adrian Mole’s diaries
Who I’d recommend it to: No one particular, but it is good.
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “The Blind Eye” by Georgia Blain; “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons; “Gertrude” by Hermann Hesse; “Trash” by Dorothy Allison; “The Mountain” by Kate Llewellyn

Review: Jon Stone’s “The Monster at the End of this Book”

You must have had this book when you were a kid; if not, you should be suing your parents for neglect. I found this copy in some opshop somewhere, and on its return route from a convalescence visit there it was! In the kitchen! At the same time as 9 month old baby M.! Whatever was I to do?! Read it, of course, with a poor but enthusiastic attempt at doing Grover’s voice. This is, of course, the best Golden Book of all time, so much so that when young AA was born, both SJD and I contributed this to her “beloved books only” baby shower. Read it when you find it, preferably out loud to the nearest available audience.

Where it came from: Random opshop
Time taken to read: Five minutes in the kitchen
Where it went to: New baby J.
Reminds me of: Only of itself
Who I’d recommend it to: My goodness, anyone with a pulse!
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “The Blind Eye” by Georgia Blain; “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons; “Gertrude” by Hermann Hesse; “Black Swan Green” by David Mitchell; “Trash” by Dorothy Allison; “The Mountain” by Kate Llewellyn

Review: James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”

This book was tiresome and self-important. I liked the first small section of Joyce’s childhood, but not the next one (“woe is me, I’m more profound and less understood than my schoolmates”), or the next one (as above, but with family), or the next one (“I shagged prostitutes then filled 30pp with Catholic guilt”) or the bit I skipped to where Stephen Dedalus was now a university student who was still bathed by his mother – “because you enjoy it,” he tells her – before running late to class. Eww: duly abandoned.

The only reason I struggled through as far as I did is because it’s on my sister’s 178 Best 100 Novels of All Time list. To introduce this element of my lectoral life: KAM glommed the All-TIME 100 Novels list – Time’s best 100 novels in English since 1923 – with another, as-yet-unidentified, more Brit-based, foreign-friendly list; skimmed off the duplicates; and, voilà, devised her reading plan for about the next five years. (Her Christmas and birthday presents are now considerably easier than they used to be.) The list’s contents is terrible for the ego of one (who shall remain nameless) who considered herself well-read – BUT it’s a great addition to the Slow Rotation. Except, however, when the books are Classic but Shite, like this estimable specimen.

Where it came from: Farm Bookshelf
Time taken to read: About 6 months of listless, desperation-only, handbag reading
Where it went to: Back to the shelf in shame
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: Bah! No one.
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “The Blind Eye” by Georgia Blain; “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons; “Gertrude” by Hermann Hesse; “Black Swan Green” by David Mitchell; “Trash” by Dorothy Allison; “The Mountain” by Kate Llewellyn

Review: Arnold Zable’s “Cafe Scheherazade”

Martin, a “no-good scribbler”, makes his way to a café in St Kilda in search of a news story, but instead is entranced in the history of the café’s owners, three of the regulars, and the café itself. Avram and Masha have been running their small piece of Mitteleuropa since 1959, when they arrived in Australia as WWII refugees. Yossel, Laizer and Zalman come daily to drink their strong coffee, and slowly share their stories of war and emigration with the scribbler. Martin deciphers their various Yiddish accents as they trace their separate flights from Vilna (Vilnius, Lithuania) to Siberian workcamps, Shanghai’s shortlived Jewish ghetto, a Parisian nightclub rendezvous and reincarnation in Melbourne.

This is a wonderful book, hypnotic and historical at the same time. I wasn’t excited about the idea of another WWII tragedy, but each character’s tale was so absorbing, and Zable’s touch so deft, that this book was a delight. I kept finding myself stopping to reread sections that were written so limpidly that I’d lost the meaning in my urge to say with the rhythm of the language. The heartaches were powerfully written but not dwelt on in any callous way, and the vibrancy of each city and each scene makes this 1001 nights alive and rich. Zable obviously researched his wanderers’ tales quite thoroughly, but you never feel like you’re being forced through a lesson on Jewish migrations – and more importantly, you don’t come out of the book with a heartache yourself. Instead, Café Scheherazade sings of home, and community, and story, and sanctuary. It made me feel grateful, once again, to live far from war and near to the home of my heart.

Beautiful and highly recommended.

Where it came from: KT’s Housesat Bookshelf
Time taken to read: Three bed-nights
Where it went to: Back on the shelf
Reminds me of: Its poetic tone is similar to Annie Dillard’s “The Maytrees”
Who I’d recommend it to: HG
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “The Blind Eye” by Georgia Blain; “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons; “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce, “Gertrude” by Hermann Hesse; “Black Swan Green” by David Mitchell

Post-Script: A version of this review appears in the June-July 2012 edition of the Terania Times.

Review: Helen Fielding’s “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason”

Spoiler alert: It’s all about Bridget getting to keep her Mr Darcy. Who’d have thunk it? Anyway, it has the same cringe-making laughs as the first one, and certainly lots of the same plot devices, but I’d probably have liked it better if I weren’t always comparing it to its older sister or the movie(s) with their po-mo casting witticisms. She needs an awful lot of rescuing, our Bridge, and I think she’s even flakier and less employable than before, but it was pretty entertaining and a lot more fun than the other books I’m managing not to finish on the Pillow Pile.

Where it came from: KT’s Housesat Bookshelf
Time taken to read: Three bed-nights, the second of which was a under five minutes of reading: the Colin Firth interview was so hilarious but embarrassment it nearly killed me, and I had to put it off till another night.
Where it went to: Back on the shelf
Reminds me of: Surprise, surprise: Helen Fielding’s “Bridget Jones’ Diary”
Who I’d recommend it to:
Anyone in need of chick-lit smartarsery, with a dose of Pride and Prej fan action thrown in
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “The Blind Eye” by Georgia Blain; “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons; “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce