writereaderly

writing of readerly reviews of writings

Month: July, 2013

Review: Elizabeth Hand’s “Available Dark: A Crime Novel”

elizabeth hand available darkThis was the ultra-dark and thrilling opposite to my recent nice-girl Scandi read, a nasty-woman’s take on murder, ancient Nordic spirituality, black metal, financial crisis, social suffering, drugs, photography and dark-darnesses of the soul. Excellent book. Traces photographer Cassandra Neary from the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Helsinki to Reykjavik as she snorts crank (crystal meth) and shoots death live. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel that reads so photographically, in that it is about photography but also so much about light, as an element, as a life-source, as a power. I’m going to do it, I’m going to call a novel about light and dark “luminous”. Terribly impressed. Read it.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
One absorbed afternoon/evening in the armchair
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book: “Photography is the art that justifies atrocity: war photography, pornography, memento mori, footprints left on a landscape where the last great auk died. None of us is innocent” (p.53)
Reminds me of/that: The film High Art
Who I’d recommend it to:
Readers willing to be impressed and deeply uncomfortable at the same time
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Stella Miles Franklin by Jill Roe; Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan; Life on Earth by David Attenborough

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Review: Kate Brandt’s “Happy Endings: Lesbian Writers Talk about their Lives and Work”

kate brandt happy endingsWhat a fabulous book: interviews with dyke writers, publishers, mavens, archivists and booksellers, conducted in the early 1990s, to catalogue the lesbian passion for publishing in the USA. Just great. All these women so passionate about words, books and their community, I loved them all – especially the book publishers, of course, since that’s my great wordy love. Among those interviewed were Asian, Black, Chicana and Hispanic women, and women from different classes, cultural backgrounds, political identities and historical eras, quite a few of whom were on my radar already.

The subjects of this delightfully subjective book: Dorothy Allison, Kitty Tsui, Cherríe Moraga, Valerie Taylor, Lee Lynch, Ann Bannon, Katherine V. Forrest, Barbara Grier, Barbara Smith, SDiane Bogus, Jewelle Gomez, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Sarah Schulman, Lisa Ben, Franco, Toni Armstrong Jr., Lisbet, Willyce Kim, Lesléa Newman, Terri de la Peña, Joan Nestle and Carol Seajay.

It made me wish we were still in that 80s-90s heyday of lesbian/feminist/women’s publishing, that there weren’t so few publishers/bookshops still in existence (in Australia and o/s), that the queer/women’s community still gathered around the beauty that is the printed word. Sigh. And sigh again. This review is dedicated to ladies of letters: live and love long!

Where it came from: ACON’s abandoned book box
Time and manner of reading:
One enthusiastic lie-in
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Best line of the book: “If you only read books by people who look exactly like you, and who have the same identities that you do, then you are participating in intellectual or literary segregation.” (Barbara Smith, p.112)
Reminds me of/that: Shari Benstock’s wonderful Women of the Left Bank
Who I’d recommend it to:
JJM, EC, MOD, JH
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Stella Miles Franklin by Jill Roe; Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan

Review: Sebastian Faulks’ “The Fatal Englishman: Three Short Lives”

sebastian faulks the fatal englishmanThis was an accidental biography: I opshopped it because I’d found various of Faulks’ novels to be excellent, and I didn’t read the blurb at all until I decided to give it a go the other night. Three mini-biographies in one book of brilliant Englishman who died too young: Christopher Wood (artist), Richard Hillary (airman) and Jeremy Wolfenden (journalist/spy). Well researched, wryly written (if a little too neatly repetitive at times) and thoroughly grounded in the relevant historical periods of his subjects, this is an(other) excellent yet bleak book. Recommended.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time and manner of reading:
A couple of days of kaleidoscopic reads in armchair and bed
Where it went: BE
Best line of the book: “[Jean Cocteau] … a poet, draughtsman, librettist, talker, impresario and self-publicist with a lifelong passion for what he had to sell” (p.30)
Reminds me of/that: A non-fictional, masculine counterpart of The House of Mirth (one of the kaleidoscopic partner-reads)
Who I’d recommend it to:
Seekers of quality biography/writing
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Stella Miles Franklin by Jill Roe; Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan

Review: Edith Wharton’s “The House of Mirth”

edith wharton house of mirthLily Bart, ornament of 1900s New York society, is refined, cynical, and must get married to ensure she can maintain the lifestyle to which she is accustomed. However, her beauty and thoughtless conquests have made many an enemy, and this novel watches the inevitable train wreck of that societal dream (albeit in her private carriage only). Astute, alert, analytical; a fine piece of writing with a resolutely hollow outcome. Moral of the story: even being able to trim your own hats is not enough to fend off the slings and arrows of misfortune when Society hates your gorgeous guts.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time and manner of reading:
A few days of kaleidoscopic reads
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Those who need some beautiful bleakness – masochists?
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Stella Miles Franklin by Jill Roe; Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan; The Fatal Englishman by Sebastian Faulks

Review: Sia Figiel’s “They Who Do Not Grieve”

sia figiel they who do not grieveMy second Samoan novel, tracing the women descendants of two tattooed best friends, and their life paths in traditional Samoa, America and “Giu Sila” (New Zealand). Well written, in a rich array of voices from diverse worlds, it is brutal, powerful and poetic. Well recommended.

Where it came from: UPB
Time and manner of reading:
A lie-in on an overcast morning
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book: —-
Who I’d recommend it to:
Globally curious readers
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Review: Nick Harkaway’s “Angelmaker”

nick harkaway angelmakerRecommended by JH on the strength of the 89yo dyke assassin/spy (nice choice), this was a rollicking, gripping and I was delighted to ingest it. Joshua Joseph, clockmaker, is the son of famous London gangster Mathew ‘Tommy Gun’ Spork, and determined to never be like his ole paw… until… A steam-punk, crime, espionage, conspiracy, apocalypse thriller, would be the best description I could muster of this one. The mad scientist and the dyke assassin were great, nuanced characters, the hero pretty well done, the plotting solid, the narrative absorbing. Shame the love-interest lady wasn’t much more than an oversexed bit of totty who was occasionally allowed to demonstrate brains, but I really enjoyed this one and it did weird things to the world for the next couple of days. Recommended as a great escape.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
One armchair sampling, then an all-in, “I’m not going to bed until I’ve finished” read
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book: “Joshua Joseph has no great hatred of modern technology – he just mistrusts the effortless, textureless surfaces and the ease with which it trains you to do things in the way most convenient to the machine. Above all, he mistrusts duplication. A rare thing becomes a commonplace thing. A skill becomes a feature. The end is more important than the means. The child of the soul gives place to a product of the system.” (p.67)
Who I’d recommend it to:
Readers after some old-fashioned dynamism
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Review: Hannah Kent’s “Burial Rites”

hannah kent burial ritesThis novel has the hallmarks of a successful publishing event. Kent is a young woman author (28; they made sure they included a photo of her with hipster glasses on). Her subject matter is both titillating (man-killing murderess awaiting execution) and emotive (but did she really do it?). It’s in an exotic location (Iceland) and has inconvenient accents on most proper nouns. It’s competently written (pure writing-school style, the odd dark but charming image). And I got bored and gave up a little over half way through, despite the hype and strong recommendations from friends. I didn’t care whether Agnes was good or evil, and whose lies led to her death. Nothing else to add.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
Bed and armchair reads, fruitlessly awaiting the piquing of my interest
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book:
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton