Eyrie – Tim Winton

September 7, 2016

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I like Tim Winston’s writing.  I like his highly readable prose and earthy, often funny, similes.  His characters are well defined and his descriptions of landscape evocative without being overwrought.  I even like the Australianess of his voice.  Sometimes it feels forced, but maybe that’s due to a bias born of the pervasiveness of American and English fiction. It’s partially for these reasons that Cloudstreet is one of my favourite novels.

All Winton’s strengths are present in his latest novel, Eyrie.   Despite this, it (pun intended) fails to soar, largely because it commits the cardinal sin of taking the reader for granted.

Eyrie centres on Tom Keely, a former environmental spokesperson who has shut himself away from the world in his apartment, high atop a notorious high rise for Freemantle’s down-and-out.  An undefined public scandal and divorce have left him a wreck of a man, broke, jobless, plagued by mysterious migraines and pain, only able to get through the day with booze and fistfuls of pills. Read the rest of this entry »


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon

June 3, 2016

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Escapism. It’s a term used for stories that are entertaining, light, and inconsequential. Nothing more than an escape from reality. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay doesn’t just revel in escapism; it makes a two-fisted defence of it.

The novel tells the story of Joseph Kavalier and Sam Clay, two Jewish cousins growing up in the era when Nazism began to cast its shadow across the world. Joe is a talented artist with a passion for escape artists and stage magic. Aided by his family’s life savings, his magic teacher and an inanimate golem, he escapes Europe just as the fascists are closing the trap. Sam lives in New York with his stereotypical Jewish mother (who doesn’t love a stereotypical Jewish mother?) and grandmother, having been abandoned by his circus strongman (really) father.  Despite coming from such burly stock, Sam is short of stature and spindly of leg due to a bout of polio at a young age.  He has a big mouth, he is able to conveniently translate into a knack for bombastic writing. Read the rest of this entry »


The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

December 22, 2013

The Hunger Games (Book 1) by Suzanne Collins

If I have a daughter, I’ll get her to read The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen is a great heroine – smart, resourceful, and pretty handy to have around if there’s no meat in the freezer. Sure she’s a little grim, but she provides a nice counterbalance to the passive princesses and attention-seeking twerkers that young girls have to look up to.

She’s also a product of her world. There’s a bit of backstory to The Hunger Games, but it’s all pretty familiar. Dystopian future America. Totalitarian government. Teen death match.  In many ways, it’s like a concentrated, exaggerated version of our world, and I was surprised at how political it is.  It’s savage in its depiction of wealth disparity, the media, and corruption. Although the central conceit of gladiatorial bouts to keep the populace subdued is a bit ridiculous, it did strike me as echoing our individualistic, cruelly competitive culture. Read the rest of this entry »


The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

October 14, 2013

 

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The Kite Runner is a strong debut novel that distinguishes itself from from other books on the shelf with its insight into a culture that attracted Western interest following 9/11; and with the extremity of violence it depicts.

The narrator, Amir, reflects on his childhood in 1970s Afghanistan, an idealised world of relative peace and tolerance, of colourful markets and Hollywood movies and kite contests. The son of a wealthy philanthropist, he enjoys a privileged upbringing despite his absent mother and disapproving father. His best friend is Hassan, a sweet natured, hair-lipped boy who happily accepts his lot as servant dictated by his Hazara ethnicity. Their happy childhood comes to an end one afternoon by a violent, harrowing event, and all chance of recovery is obliterated by Amir’s treacherous actions in its aftermath.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Kindly Ones – Jonathan Littell: Part 1 (Pages 1-40)

April 19, 2012

But first, a word from our sponsors…

I’ve gotten bored of writing structured, essay-style book reviews, and thought I’d give something different a try.  My aim in writing reviews is to provide readers with an idea of if they’d enjoy it, but also to help me reflect on the book.  To focus more on the latter, instead of waiting until I finish a book to write a post on it, I’ll try blogging as I go.  Hopefully, this will get me writing more and help me capture what it’s actually like to read the book.  I’ll also be trying to write in a style that is more personal than critical, more fan-boy than academic.  Let me know what you  think.

And now, our feature presentation…

The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

My sister gave me The Kindly Ones for Christmas in 2010, and despite her strong recommendation, it has sat on the bookshelf unread ever since.  I was put off in part by its near thousand-page size, and in part by the critical acclaim plastered all it: “A great work of literary fiction, to which readers will turn for decades to come”; “A tour de force”;  “A monument of contemporary literature.”  There’s even a little red, round sticker on the front cover saying “Profoundly important” (this makes me wonder if it was stuck there on the production line, or if it was shipped out to bookstores later and bookstore clerks had to go around sticking little red, round stickers on every copy).  I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but since out-of-context praise sprouts on every book cover, I don’t put much value on it.  The more hyperbolic these quotes are, the more suspicious I am of them.

What really made me wary of The Kindly Ones, though, was that it’s about two subjects I’ve lost interest in reading about: World War II and the Holocaust.  This isn’t to say that I don’t recognise the scale and importance of these historic tragedies.  It’s just that they have been tackled so often and so well in literature and movies that I believed there was nothing new to say about them. Read the rest of this entry »


Various Pets Alive and Dead – Marina Lewycka

April 6, 2012

This review was originally published on the excellent LiteraryMinded.  Thanks to Angela Meyer for the opportunity, and the free book.

The title of Various Pets Alive and Dead might make you think it involves lots of cute animal stories and some kind of furry genocide. Instead, it’s a very political novel about the global financial crisis and the failure of the leftist ideals, played out through the intergenerational conflict of a family of hippy-commune escapees. This probably doesn’t sound like the most fertile ground for a comic novel, but its author, Marina Lewycka, milks the politics for as many laughs as possible, and even manages to throw in the odd ill-fated hamster or doomed family of rabbits.

Lewycka’s fourth novel, Various Pets Alive and Dead tells the story of Serge and Clara, and their mother Dora, who, along with her partner Marcus and the other quirky members of their collective, raised her children in an old country house on a healthy diet of free love, socialism and lentils. Read the rest of this entry »


Shibuya No Love – Hannu Rajaniemi

November 19, 2011

I was clicking around the always excellent Guardian Books page, source of many a mid-work literature fix, when I came across this interview with Hannu Rajaniemi.  He seemed endearingly down to earth, is a fellow Murakami fan and his novel, The Quantum Thief, sounded like an interesting concept, so I followed the link to the first piece he had published, Shibuya No Love

I enjoyed the story, but it’s clearly the work of an inexperienced, though talented, writer.  It can be instructive to read the work of less polished authors, though, because the visible seams make it easier to understand what works, and what doesn’t. Read the rest of this entry »