writereaderly

writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: :AJ’s Bookshelf:

Review: Alex Miller’s “Lovesong”

alex miller lovesongAJ was reading a new one of Miller’s, recommended this one with reservations, said it might not be my cup of tea. She was right. Sappy Australian nice-guy John Patterner  (ventriloquised in a silly framing story) recounts his romance with womb-hungry Tunisian woman Sabiha, set in Paris in the 1990s (?). It was highly llevadero (carrying-along), i.e. very fluid and easy to read, but really – to what end? No great conflicts, no fascinating characters, no fabulous information. Uninteresting, and abandoned at p140 odd, which – (RANT ALERT!) had the publisher not been so sly with large fonts, fat margins, and excessive leading, in order to make a fatter book and boost the selling price– ought to have been p80. Still too many pages.

***A version of this review appeared in the Terania Times***

Where it came from: AJ’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Evening snippet and frustrated morning lie-in
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: The old chestnut re prizewinners failing as recommendations
Who I’d recommend it to: I’d not
Also reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews; The Politics of Ecstasy by Timothy Leary

Review: Stefan Merrill Block’s “The Story of Forgetting”

stefan merrill block the story of forgettingThe second of AJ’s book parcel, she considered it bound to be a modern classic. I wish I could agree. It’s the story of 15 y.o. narrator Seth dealing with his mother’s devastating hereditary early-onset Alzheimer’s, with interplaited stories from the family hunchback and the mythical world of Isidora. It just seemed to me such a writing school first novel, including the precociously awkward teen, the quirky freak narrator at the heart of the tale, the compassionate addressing of serious illness, the story of how we’re all human. I imagine that for sufferers and families of Alzheimer’s this book comes as something of a balm to their humanity, but I’m not excited or inspired by it as a novel. Missable.

Where it came from: AJ’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Bed, armchair and gas-shop waiting reads, with decreasing enthusiasm
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: I have less and less respect for New York Times reviews and lists; their taste is considerably naffer than mine
Who I’d recommend it to:
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Wallace Stegner’s “Crossing to Safety”

wallace stegner crossing to safetyApparently a modern US classic, Crossing to Safety is Larry Morgan’s narration of the life-long friendship between himself and his wife Sally, and the dominant Charity and Sid Lang. It’s carefully weighted, plotted delicately (except for that awkward hiccup with Lang daughter Hallie), a meditation on an emotional ménage à quatre. A sound read, nice to be in Madison, WI, again, and a bookly pleasure to take in a writer writing a character writing about writing his friends as characters (= w4c2 ?). The final part must have been particularly confronting for AJ to read. Not spectacular but yes recommended.

Where it came from: AJ’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
All the bed, armchair and waiting reads of the last four days
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Seekers of a solid, quite elegant read
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Delaunay by Hajo Düchting

Review: Ian McEwan’s “Sweet Tooth”

ian mcewan sweet toothAn ultimately annoying read. Serena Frome is a baby MI5 spy fresh up from an average university career at Cambridge. Asked to run an author as part of a cultural espionage program, Serena (yawn) falls in love with him (name already forgotten), (yawn) sets off some childish sexual jealousy in the “Five” office and (double yawn) isn’t who she really seems at the end of the novel. The “shocking” plot device McEwan uses is unoriginal and smug, the resulting narrative little more than shallow romantic drama, and – although the novel is easy to read – the results are uninspiring and unrecommended. As with Solar, I’m disappointed McEwan wasted his considerable talents on such facile endeavours. Willingness to read further McEwans eroded, but I will try Amsterdam as it is already lurking on the To-Read Shelf.

Post-post-lectoral rant: The more I think about this book, the more it irritates me. The heroine’s so vapid and blondely flouncy. She pingpongs around between the three idiot men in her life, and that’s the sum total of her being. Her career is rocketed by a jilted non-lover, she’s blamed for it, and takes it as her due. Her reading taste is rocketed by her terribly well-informed author-boy. The whole novel’s so sneery and pompous, and I’m hard pressed to tell whether that’s the work of author-boy or author-McEwan. Infuriating, even more so given the smarmy praise this book received just because McEwan wrote it. Ook and rant.

Where it came from: AJ’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
One bed-read, in which I nearly gave up in tedium 30pp from the end
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Review: Andrew Miller’s “Pure”

andrew miller pureLoaned by AJ, this prize-winning novel tells of Ingénieur Jean-Baptiste Baratte’s mission to dismantle les Innocents cemetery in Paris in the late 18th century. Well crafted, interesting, a commendable read. I’m not dazzled, but will continue to read Miller’s work.

Where it came from: AJ’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Couchy, beddy reads yesterday and today
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Pantaleón and the Visitors by Mario Vargas Llosa; also Rose Tremain’s Restoration
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Light between Oceans by M.L. Stedman; The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald

Review: Anna Funder’s “All That I Am”

A great book. Very elderly Dr Ruth Becker, ageing in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, reflects back on her pre-WWII years, and her resistance work with Dora Fabian, Ernst Toller, Hans Wesseman (her then-husband) and others. A novel based on the real Ruth, Funder again researches thoroughly and writes beautifully, the tale of politics, love and betrayal that has Dora at its heart. May we all cross paths with such women in our lives. A splendid novel, no wonder Funder raked the pool clean of prizes this year: do read it.

Where it came from: AJ’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: Various sound and satisfied reads
Where it went: Home (eventually)
Reminds me of: The loneliness of political persecutees, and their fabulous strength
Who I’d recommend it to: Anyone in need of a damned good book
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; Selected Essays by George Orwell; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Kalila and Dimna by Ramsey Woods; Embers by Sándor Márai

Review: Janette Turner Hospital’s “Orpheus Lost: A Novel”

Another mixed-bag of a book, in line with recent reviews… Leela and Cobb are smitten as children, Leela and Mishka are smitten as adults, Cobb thinks Mishka is a terrorist (purely for political reasons, cough cough), bad things happen to good people, and everyone’s sorry. This is meant to be a recasting of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, with O emerging from the underworld only with great difficulty and at unpleasant cost.

Since it’s a retelling of a myth, shall I consider it in keeping with mythological prejudices that Leela is largely powerless, surrounded by men (token dialogue by three other women all told), and is rescued by men from her own tragedy? That because she seeks men out for sex she is (sigh) accused of being a slut and a porn star, and is inherently to blame for the whole nasty caboodle? (Think sex and international politics don’t meet? Just remember Helen of Troy…) Leela’s character is quite richly drawn, but Cobb is little more than a lovelorn, two-bit army hero, and Mishka is only Australian as a pretext for some scenic background descriptions of the Daintree (vivid and charming, btw). I’m disappointed. Turner Hospital’s writing clearly demonstrates high skill, at moments is even utterly sublime – the first chapter is truly dazzling – but why reravel these tired clichés into today’s stories, and why write about a mean, post-9/11 world where armed American men do mean things to (non)suicidal Arab men? I don’t know what new contribution this book makes, really, but I will try perhaps one or two more of her novels in the hope that she breaks out of stagnant old nasties.

Where it came from: AJ’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: Bed-read, library-read, bed-read two – with arched eyebrows and discomfort
Where it went: Home (eventually)
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: Music lovers, perhaps
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; Selected Essays by George Orwell; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Kalila and Dimna by Ramsey Woods