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Tag: :KT’s Bookshelf:

Review: Alison Jay’s “ABC: A Child’s First Alphabet Book”

alison jay abcThe illustrations in this alphabet book are just gorgeous. Fantastic (in the sense of ‘fantasy’) paintings of critters and the real world, looks like cracked-veneer oils, simple enough for the kiddies’ to play Spotto and rich enough for the adults to linger and wonder about the connections between the images. Just lovely. Recommended.

Where it came from: KT’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Intra-socialising read at KT & JT’s house
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Sometimes beauty is enough
Who I’d recommend it to:
Kiddies’ adults who want a book with something for them
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Tête-á-Tête by Hazel Rowley

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Review: Hermann Hesse’s “Gertrude”

Gertrude only makes an appearance about halfway through, but she sure is a heartbreaker. Mr Kohn is crippled at music school, makes friends with Heinrich Muoth the opera singer, and composes him into a leading duet and (and himself into due heartache) with the beautiful Gertrude. It’s absorbing and tormenting at the same time: it’s painful to read of others trapped in the throes of self-destructive passion. Not a bad read, gives you a glimpse of early Hesse warming up to his own later ideas.

Where it came from: KT’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: Slow start but then pretty good
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: Quite a good read; give it a try
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence; The Reivers by William Faulkner

Review: Christina Stead’s “Seven Poor Men of Sydney”

Stead writes about the daily lives of seven poor Sydney men [sic; one woman apparently counts as a bloke] between about 1915 and 1930. The contemporary details were fascinating for one who knows nothing of historical Sydney, despite being born there: picnics in Lane Cove, the building of the Harbour Bridge, the fact that women were called “flossies”, how poor the working classes actually were and how many of them investigated Socialist and Communist ideas and tearooms. Who knew any of these things about Sydney? And how rich and shallow we are by comparison! The ambience and the factoids were fabulous, but my God, a bad novel. All the “dialogue” is nothing more than one character ranting at another, and they’re all stroppy buggers with an awful lot to rant about. I got through about 182pp, but that’s well enough. Abandoned so I can get onto the more interesting books this one’s been keeping me from. I will, however, read others of hers, given that she’s so famous and all and this was her first novel of about 15.

Where it came from: KT’s Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: Too many failed, sleep-inducing attempts
Where it went to: Home
Reminds me of: Steinbeck again, actually, for that daily look at the lives of the poor working classes in the same era
Who I’d recommend it to: Those in need of some Australian literary-style history (which I suspect is most Aussies!)
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; Gertrude by Hermann Hesse; The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence; The Reivers by William Faulkner

Review: Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom: A Novel”

First things first: this doesn’t compare to The Corrections. That positively bristled with vicious brilliance. This, however, lacked any such attractions: it’s a mega (562pp), middle-of-the-road novel. There are four main characters who are dully warped and reprehensible, and, worst of all, *uninteresting* (but phew, they’re slightly better people by the novel’s end). Franzen knows how to write – not a line of this is a “clanger”, as one friend terms it – but I never really cared about his boring characters or the two-event plot or the 500pp wrestle on the theme of “who do you really love and how do you know”? The title made a spate of appearances between page 250 and 350, as though the author got a reminder that he needed some sort of theme to give universality to his Twin Cities/New York tale. One can imagine the readers’ group supplement, featuring astute questions such as “Was ‘freedom’ really at the heart of this novel? Do you think Jonathan Franzen approves of freedom? Why was that bird on the cover?” A fat and banal book. I remain, yours truly, Unenthused.

Where it came from: KT’s Housesat Bookshelf
Time & manner of reading: Bed-nights and days and a bath, but really just cos I wanted to finish the damn thing
Where it went to: Back home
Reminds me of: For no reason I can pinpoint, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History
Who I’d recommend it to: Sneh. Not excited enough to recommend.
Also reading: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene; Gertrude by Hermann Hesse; The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence; The Reivers by William Faulkner; Seven Poor Men of Sydney by Christina Stead

Review: Peter Carey’s “Theft: A Love Story”

Brothers Michael and Hugh Boone, aka Butcher and Slow Bones, one a painter, the other a bit slow, tell the story of their encounter with Marlene the crooked art authenticator. Bellingen, Sydney, Tokyo, New York. They’re all messy. She’s really, really bad. The boys are nearly done for. Fame and fortune come to those who worked for it (sort of).

It was pretty good; I know I was thoroughly absorbed for the first 70pp then again in the last 50 or so. Since I spend my days among artworks, it was entertainingly relevant to read of art and art dealership and even the “rural wilds” (according to the blurb) of Bellingen – a sequence which rather resembled my entirely tame and muddy existence.

The problem with Theft was that I got plain bored in the middle and was pretty close to book abandonment. Carey is an excellent creator of voice – fabulous imagination, unusual personages, careful selection of words just to get that nuance of character weighted just so – but I don’t know if he’s so hot on the driving plot. The plot got appropriately rapid and thrilling as the page count wound down, and it was clearly deviously entangled from the novel’s very first pages, but there was a good 100pp of tedium in there. I got bored of his Ned Kelly book once the voice was no longer of interest, and I actually felt just the same about Lolita. However skilled and diverse a writer Carey may be, it’s been a long time since I was really convinced by one of his books; I think I only persevere out of the obligation to read Great Writers rather than curiosity or joy. Well, and because I know he has it in him. I want to be blown away and he can so do it — but not for a whole book so far.

Where it came from: KT’s Housesat Bookshelf
Time taken to read: A couple of bed-nights and a bed-afternoon
Where it went to: Back home
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “Gertrude” by Hermann Hesse; “The Plumed Serpent” by D.H. Lawrence; “The Reivers” by William Faulkner; “Seven Poor Men of Sydney” by Christina Stead

Review: Haruki Murakami’s “Sputnik Sweetheart”

KT has a few of Murakami’s on her bookshelf, and I must say I only went for it because we have another of his on Bookclub’s up-and-coming list. I had to be talked into it, as all I’d read of his before was “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle”, which I found weird and incomprehensible.

However, I’m glad I read this one, I found it quite easy to sink into, and as it progressed it got more subtle and entangled and exploratory and interesting. Samire ♀ is in love with Miu ♀; she confides this and everything else to her dearest friend K. ♂; K. is in love with Samire. Samire disappears and Miu calls K. for help. Sounds mostly tried and true, but the plot’s delicately drawn out, and takes a wonderful, unexpected turn that’s unrelated to the core romance-tangle. The novel asks who we are, and where we are, and who we can be elsewhere. Enjoyable, solid, and the translation seemed to be splendid and nuanced. I look forward to reading more of Murakami’s. Go for it.

Where it came from: KT’s Housesat Bookshelf
Time taken to read: Two bed-nights and a bed-morning
Where it went to: Back home
Reminds me of: The philosophical bits reminded me of ‘Atoms, Motion and the Void’ by Sherwin Sleeves (radio series)
Who I’d recommend it to: Someone seeking a subtle novel of ideas
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “Gertrude” by Hermann Hesse; “The Plumed Serpent” by D.H. Lawrence; “The Reivers” by William Faulkner

Review: Kate Llewellyn’s “The Mountain”

The third in Llewellyn’s Blue Mountains trilogy – see previous and previouser reviews – and unfortunately I found each journal progressively less gripping. This one is structured as letters to Llewellyn’s daughter Caro, which felt like a slightly hollow device. I really prefer the exuberance and unselfconsciousness of The Waterlily, but I do admire her discipline in writing a daily, literary life journal, and I respect her as a writer pushing herself to new formats and continued creativity. (I read in passing the other day that Llewellyn’s up to her 19th published book, so she must be onto a good thing.) This series make me miss my own former journalling addiction, now sadly faded into traceless memory. Blessed be writereaderly for opening up some sort of writing practice.

Where it came from: KT’s Housesat Bookshelf
Time taken to read: Too many bed-night-bits and a bath to finish it off
Where it went to: Back home
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Also reading: “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene; “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons; “Gertrude” by Hermann Hesse; “The Plumed Serpent” by D.H. Lawrence; “The Reivers” by William Faulkner; “C” by Tom McCarthy