writing of readerly reviews of writings

Month: August, 2012

Review: Chloe Hooper’s “A Child’s Book of True Crime”

So it’s a skilful enough novel, confident, carefully plotted, but why would you write about this topic and these nasty patriarchal clichés? School teacher Kate has tasteless affair with pupil Lucien’s dad Thomas, whose true-crime-writer wife Veronica might be out to get K. The women must be in it for vengeance or sex, and are (or are most probably) highly unstable. The classless shagging lawyer is untouched by scandal. The nuclear family stays wealthy and together. Blah. I will still read The Tall Man one day, but I think I’ll steer clear of Hooper’s fiction.

Where it came from: Bookshop
Time and manner of reading: A pre-picnic read, then a few post-picnic hours in the arm chair
Where it went: ???
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: I wouldn’t.
Also reading: Still nothing else… Fat library books pending.


Review: Graham Greene’s “The Heart of the Matter”

Finally read it! Had to go back to the beginning since my bookmark last moved some time in, oh, perhaps March(?), but it was quite readable, if unremittingly bleak. Deputy Commissioner Scobie of Unnamed Port in Unnamed British West African Colony is first sinless, miserable and trapped in the world. The plot wrangling leads only to his being sinful, miserable, and trapped in the other world. The end. Obviously West Africa didn’t agree with Greene’s spiritual digestion.

Where it came from: Farm Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: A couple of bed-reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of: Camus? Sartre? Neitzsche? Any of those happy souls who wants to make you feel that life’s not worth living
Who I’d recommend it to: Those in need of gloom and doom. Warm bath and scalpel should also be at hand.
Also reading: Nothing! Ha!

Review: Guy Bellamy’s “The Mystery of Men”

The perfect antithesis to my previous overweighty tome: mid-90s Britain, four middle-class barflies start a joint insurance policy whereby they each pay into a trust, and the survivors share in £100,000 when another dies. Light, wry, ’90s battle-of-the-sexist and rebellious (none of their wives have jobs?!), an entertaining bloke’s own adventure.

Where it came from: MR’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: Four good reads, the most pleasant being the one when I was supposed to be working on an assignment
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of: A man’s version of chick lit (one hesitates to use the rhyming parallel beginning with ‘p’)
Who I’d recommend it to: Those in need of lightness and distraction
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

Review: Christina Stead’s “The Man Who Loved Children”

It’s on KAM’s list, Bookclub felt we needed some Aussie Women, and we all blanched when its 500+ pages of glory emerged at the last book-in. This is considered Stead’s greatest novel of her 15, her childhood mildly fictionalised by all accounts. In the latest edition, Jonathan Franzen provides a generally rapturous introduction of this poor, undervalued novel (published here in the New York Times). Methinks this might be narcissism, given the two novels’ tonal similarities. My feelings about the Stead are near identical to my feelings about Franzen’s own Freedom: all the main characters are warped and unpleasant, and they do warped, unpleasant things to each other for *way* too many hundreds of pages. Hard to get into, drag-drag-drag in the middle, and I wish the last 150pp – which were quite good – had been the entirety of the novel. Overrated, not recommended, so glad it’s over!

Where it came from: Library via Bookclub
Time & manner of reading: Two weeks putting it off entirely with other things, a week of bits, then a week of getting the bloody thing out of the way
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of: Franzen’s latest, Freedom
Who I’d recommend it to: Only those who are really truly on the Australian Women Writers mission
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

Review: George Rousseau’s “Yourcenar: Life & Times”

 Marguerite Yourcenar, author of Memoirs of Hadrian and The Abyss, was a Belgian-born novelist and the first woman named to the prestigious Académie Francaise (only ever 40 members at one time). Memoirs is a splendid novel, so finely wrought, so carefully weighted, and I was keen to read this mini-bio which arrived just the week after discussing MY with the book man at my local market (excellent stall, by the way, so well curated). Rousseau writes for a French audience – Yourcenar’s literary heartland – and therefore assumes prior knowledge on his subject; for the uninformed such as myself, I wanted a little more scurrilous detail about her lady-loving seductions and a little less Gallic flamboyance butting in on the argument as to whether she really was a “gay writer” (she lived with Grace Frick for over 40 years) who fictionally inhabited powerful gay-male heroes. A lovely edition and quite a nice little bio of an excessively self-important woman – an amazing novelist, though, I’m interested to throw myself into The Abyss (ha!).

PS Sorry, got lots wrong about this. Rousseau isn’t French, he must be imitating Gallic flamboyance and pre-emptive knowledge.

Where it came from: Gift from CH
Time & manner of reading: A week of moderately interested bitser-reads
Where it went to: Trev the book man
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: Someone one knows a fair bit about Yourcenar and wants to know more
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

Review: William Faulkner’s “The Reivers”

Faulkner’s last novel, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1963, made into a movie with Steve McQueen. Eleven-year-old boy Lucius runs away with his grandfather’s chauffeur, his black servant and the new family motor-car – and what adventures they get up to! This was meant to be a comedy, but I didn’t even laugh accidentally in the 170pp I made it through. Abandoned once I got to the men fighting it out for the whore with the heart of gold: there’s many a better book awaiting my attention.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time & manner of reading: Disinterestedly about six months ago, and another week of attempting it in the same mood
Where it went to: Farm Bookshelf
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: No.
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

Review: Michel Faber’s “Under the Skin”

I can only tell you that it starts with a woman picking up hitchhikers in rural Scotland (hitchers, as she calls them), buff blokes only; any more than that and I’ll give too much away. It begins suspiciously like a well-written schlock-horror, but thankfully and unexpectedly moves into a gifted exploration of what it means to be human: I mean that in all sincerity. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the female lead, Isserley, or her flights of mood, and I found the moral guts of it (those who’ve read it should pardon the pun) somewhat disingenuous. But in the greater scheme of things, this is a damned impressive (first) novel – subtle, deft, tightly crafted, shocking – and I do recommend it.

Where it came from: Gift from JH
Time & manner of reading: The first two chapters made me sleep badly, so I made a policy decision to read only by daylight – absorbed, illicit reads squeezed in thereafter until I finished it yesterday
Where it went to: MM, when her reading pile is reduced
Reminds me of: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Who I’d recommend it to: Psychological and pretty damned dark – engrossing, but you’d have to be in the mood
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Reivers by William Faulkner (some progress made on the latter)