A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks

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Sebastian Faulks’ homage to P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells made such a good impression on me that I couldn’t resist A Possible Life by this same author.

Talk about chalk and cheese. Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, though excellent, is a light, frivolous and fun story. In complete contrast, A Possible Life is a thought-provoking, serious look at human life. Both stories however, are beautifully written and left me feeling completely satisfied.

A Possible Life is made up of five separate stories which are tied together by the theme of self-awareness, something which manifests in this story as the main characters in each story wanting to be someone else, for various reasons. Several of the locations used in these stories touch very lightly on each other and a religious statue which shows up in several stories, but otherwise I could find no other connections between the characters in each separate story.

The first story is called A Different Man and follows the life of Geoffrey Talbot, an ordinary, cricket-loving Englishman. Geoffrey is middle class, attended an ordinary school and lived an ordinary life as a teacher until WW2, when he became a member of an ‘irregular force’ in France, delivering messages and aiding the French Resistance until he was captured by the Germans. After the war, Geoffrey was unable to forget the terrible things he was forced to do as a prisoner and he spent time in a mental asylum before taking up teaching again. Reading about Geoffrey’s sad and solitary life after the war left me feeling in despair, until the day he decided that he had lived his life for long enough.

The Second Sister is the second story and is told by Billy Webb, whose family were so poor during Victorian times they had to leave him at a poorhouse. When Billy’s father was able to bring him home again, Billy made the most of his opportunities and when he was able, brought a girl from the poorhouse home to live with him whom he eventually married. As Billy became more affluent he also took on the responsibility of his wife’s sister and her mother. One of these women motivated Billy to become a better and different version of himself.

Everything Can be Explained leaps into the future, to Italy in 2029 and tells the story of a young girl whose parents adopt a boy about the same age as the their daughter. The boy and girl grow to know and love each other but a tragedy separated them when they were teenagers. The girl grew up to be a scientist who discovered a particular link in the brain which explains why humans have a soul, and are “burdened with the foreknowledge of their own death – a weight no other creature had to bear.”

A Door into Heaven is the shortest of the stories, and tells of a poor Frenchwoman who worked as a nurse for a relatively well-off family. I felt the least connection with this story or character, who was the least self-aware of all of the characters in this novel.

The last story is titled You Next Time. This story is told in the first person by a successful musician in the 1970’s who fell in love with a young woman on the brink of her own stardom.

I felt that each story in this collection could have been expanded into a novel. What each character was prepared to give up to live a different life was fascinating.

I’ll probably give myself a longer break before reading another book by Sebastian Faulks, as I’ve read Jeeves and the Wedding Bells and A Possible Life within a few weeks of each other, but know I will enjoy and be challenged by whatever I read next by this author.

 

 

 

 

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The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

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I devoured The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, but was less interested in the characters and their fates by the time I read the follow-up to this story, The Rosie Effect. By the time The Best of Adam Sharp came along, I was excited to read a new stand-alone book by this author.

The first half of The Best of Adam Sharp is a sweetly nostalgic story. Adam Sharp is nearly fifty and living in the UK with his long time partner Claire at the beginning of the story. Adam is an IT specialist who only needs to works six months of the year. He is also a singer, a pianist and a mad-keen music trivia wiz. When he was in his twenties, Adam travelled to Melbourne, where he fell in love with an actress from a television soapie, Angelina Brown.

When they met Angelina had only recently separated from her husband. When Adam had to leave Australia their romance came to an end, but he spent the next 25 years thinking about her and what might have been, especially when he heard particular pieces of music.

Adam’s nostalgia and imagination ramped up when out of the blue he received an email from Angelina, which said just one word; “Hi.”

Of course he answered her, and their emails quickly become flirty. Needless to say, Adam didn’t tell Claire that he had reconnected with his long-lost love from the other side of the world. Adam and Angelina spent hours online reminiscing about their shared past.

Things eventually came to a head with Claire, who was on the verge of selling her company and moving to the USA for her career. Adam and Claire broke up and within a week, Angelina invited Adam to spend a week with her and her husband at their holiday home in France.

Off Adam went to France, which is where things got weird. The first half of the novel was sweet and nostalgic, although I felt sorry for Claire, but in the second half of the story I felt as if the author was living out a sleazy, personal fantasy where he meets up with his old, hot girlfriend, who is now a hot, middle-aged woman. For me, this half of the book lost touch with reality.

The story is very readable, but I felt let down by how far the characters went in the second half of the story. I believe Australian actress Toni Collette has optioned this book with the intention of playing Angelina in the movie.  I expect The Best of Adam Sharp will become a successful movie with an excellent soundtrack, but suspect the sections I found creepy and sleazy in the book will be much the same on the screen.

 

 

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The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver

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I’m a big fan of Lionel Shriver’s writing, although her fearless approach to topical and difficult subjects often makes me feel uncomfortable. She writes about ideas that some people might agree with but wouldn’t bring up in general conversation because of the fear of being judged. Her latest book, The Mandibles: A Family, 2027-2049 made me feel equally as uneasy as anything else of hers I’ve read.

I read We Need to Talk About Kevin years ago and still get cold shivers remembering the family and events of that book. The characters in A Perfectly Good Family made me realise that my family are not the worst ever, (although I do believe that all families are somewhat dysfunctional). Big Brother made me question how much can I do for my own family, in terms of leaving them to manage (or mess up) their own affairs.

The Mandibles: A Family, 2027-2049 is similar to other books I’ve read by this author, in that the dynamics of a family are at the heart of the story.

The story starts in 2027, when the younger generation of the Mandible family have been waiting for some time for their expected inheritance. Sadly for them, their 97 year-old patriarch, Douglas Mandible shows no sign of dying and when the US economy fails, everything the family expected to inherit is lost except for the family silverware and a few trinkets. A new global currency called the bancor became the almighty in place of the American dollar, and the American people, including the Mandible family, are suffering.

Douglas divorced the mother of his children many years before the story started, and married a much younger woman, Luella. Douglas’ daughter Nollie is a best-selling author who no longer writes because in 2027, nobody buys books – blame the internet. Nollie had been living in France but after the US economy crashed realised that Americans abroad were no longer safe, so returned to New York to move in with her niece’s family.

Douglas’ son Carter was in his 70’s and hanging out for his inheritance. He and his wife Jayne were financially comfortable, at least in 2027 when the story started, but they wanted to live in absolute luxury before they were too old to enjoy it. Carter and Jayne’s retirement didn’t go according to the plan, as Douglas and Luella were forced to move in with them once Douglas’ money was gone. Luella’s dementia adds an additional strain to the household.

Carter and Jane’s children, their son and daughter’s in law and their grandchildren make up the rest of the characters and by and large, most of them were also mad-keen to receive their inheritances. Willing, one of the youngest of the family, was the only person besides Douglas who understood from the beginning what was happening to the US economy, and who realised that they would need to lie and steal and cheat to enable their family to survive the hard times that were coming.

In an attempt to repair the economy, the US government wiped out their National debt, deemed Treasure Bonds worthless, and compulsorily acquired gold from US citizens  – not just shares or actual ingots, but wedding rings and gold fillings, which meant that rich people were hit very hard by the measures while poor people’s debts disappeared overnight.

Tourists began coming from other countries to the US to enjoy five star dining and life’s luxuries for less than the price of a soft drink at home, however the US eventually became an unsafe destination because so many visitors were mugged.

Spanish became the main language used in the US and a Mexican-born President is in the White House for most of the story. There are ongoing water and food shortages due an event which happened sometime between our present and this story’s version of 2027 which the characters call ‘Stonage,’ when the US’s electricity (and internet) were wiped out by terrorists.

Lionel Shriver has invented some hilarious slang for the future, including ‘Boomerpooper,’ as in; thanks very much Baby Boomers, because what has happened to us is all your fault, ‘Karmic-clumping;’ where if one thing goes wrong, then so will everything else, and ‘Shrivs’ for old people. There are no people in this version of the future with lactic or gluten intolerances, because people can’t afford these ‘indulgences’ anymore. There are no books, or print journalism, because anybody can say what they like on the internet. The lack of toilet paper is a serious problem. I’m considering stockpiling just in case…

I would be happier if the events in this novel don’t actually happen, but as one character says,

“Plots set in the future are about what people fear in the present. They’re not about the future at all.”

I skimmed over some of the character’s conversations about economics, but in some ways, not being interested in or understanding economics is the whole point of this novel. Those of us who can’t be bothered with or don’t understand finance trust other people to manage our country’s money for us, while we assume everything our governments and banks do is right and good. In this novel, the American way of life as we know it has ended because unsustainable financial practices used now have made the dollar in this version of the future worthless.

I did enjoy the irony of this plot, but struggled reading so many mini-essays about finance and economic theory. As always though, Lionel Shriver left me with plenty to think about.

 

 

 

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The Port Fairy Murders by Robert Gott

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The Port Fairy Murders by Australian author Robert Gott is a sequel to The Holiday Murders. The Port Fairy Murders continues the story of Detective Joe Sable, Constable Helen Lord and Inspector Titus Lambert, all members of the newly-formed Victorian Homicide Department in Melbourne in 1943.

In The Port Fairy Murders, the characters have to deal with the fall-out after they infiltrated Australia First, a particularly nasty political party in the previous book. I’m happy to report that Australia First are fictional, although no doubt there were real groups at the time who were genuinely horrible.

Joe was hurt quite badly physically and emotionally, as was Titus’ brother in law Tom, as they worked to stop a deranged madman and his crazy followers in The Holiday Murders. Several weeks later Joe returned to work, (clearly there was no counselling or time off work for traumatised police officers in 1943). Soon after, Joe’s apartment block was burned down by George Starling, an aggrieved member of Australia First. One of Joe’s neighbour’s died in the fire.

Of particular interest to me was the location of Starling’s family farm at Mepunga, half way between Warrnambool and Peterborough on the Great Ocean Road, which is very near to where I grew up. Starling is such a horrible character that I have mixed feelings about the use of this location as I didn’t like him coming from my part of the world, (NIMBY), but I also loved reading about places so familiar to me.

The photo below is of Murnane’s Bay, where The Port Fairy Murders tells us that Starling often went to as a child to escape his abusive father.

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I can’t imagine anyone being lucky enough to come from this part of the world to be a bad person, my imagination just won’t stretch that far. Robert Gott, however, managed just fine.

After the fire, Joe was billeted to stay with Helen, her mother and her Uncle Peter. Joe quickly connected with Peter and has some interesting conversations with him about art after noticing that Peter has had a portrait of himself painted in the style of John Singer Sargent’s famous portrait of Dr Pozzi in his bathrobe.

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Meanwhile, Starling is staying at The Windsor Hotel in Melbourne after a visit to his father’s farm. Starling was delighted to learn his father recently died, and visited the farm to steal cash and burn down the house. He also viciously attacked a number of animals on the farm so that the police would realise the fire had been set on purpose. (NIMBY, NIMBY!) Back in Melbourne, Starling killed a few gay men while waiting for an opportunity to kill Joe.

Meanwhile, Joe and Helen were sent to Port Fairy to investigate a double murder, completely unrelated to Starling and Australia First. The author set the scene in Port Fairy well, particularly when it came to the divide between the religions. All of the family stories I grew up hearing had religion in there somewhere, with one mob going to a particular church, school, dances and shops, while the other mob went to their own church, school, dances and shops, saying hello politely on the street but never going to each other’s homes. Heaven forbid anyone married out of their religion. St John’s and St Patrick’s churches in Port Fairy are pictured below…

I also enjoyed the references to other locations around Port Fairy which I know quite well, including Gipps Street, East’s Beach, Pea Soup and of course the pubs; the Caledonian (otherwise known as The Stump) and the Star of the West.

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As it turns out, Robert Gott was able to imagine horrible people in Port Fairy too. He does not shy away from describing grisly, violent behaviour, and thoroughly explores all types of nastiness.

The town of Warrnambool gets plenty of mentions too, with a very ordinary meal being had at the Warrnambool Hotel. I can confirm that the food served there is actually very good.

The Port Fairy Murders left the door open for another book in the series as there is plenty of unfinished business. Helen and her mother have secrets from each other, and Joe and Helen have chemistry. George Starling is still on the loose which means that all of these characters, plus Titus and his wife Maude, who I have become quite fond of, are still in danger…

 

 

 

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Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

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Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent was added to my list of ‘must reads’ after I read an enticing review of the book by Cathy at 746 Books.

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

The story starts with a shocking first line by a narrator who doesn’t pull her punches; “My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.”

The husband in question is Andrew, a respected judge, husband and father, who was sitting in his car with Annie late at night in the carpark of a deserted beach, while Lydia, Andrew’s wife, watched them from a distance. When Andrew began strangling Annie, Lydia leapt into the car to try to stop him.

Annie died however, and with Lydia’s assistance, Andrew bundled Annie’s body into the boot of his car before driving home. When they arrived home Lydia checked on their son, Laurence, before sitting down with Andrew to plan their next move; how to bury Annie in the garden and destroy all evidence of her murder.

Soon after Annie’s death Andrew’s conscience got the better of him and he killed himself, leaving Lydia and Laurence struggling to survive in Avalon, the mansion Lydia grew up in. Later, while working in the garden Laurence found Annie’s body, confirming his initial suspicions of his father’s involvement in Annie’s disappearance.

The story is narrated alternately by Lydia, Laurence and Karen, Annie’s sister. Karen and her family reported Annie missing, but when the police investigations found that Annie was a heroin addict and a prostitute, the police and the media lost interest in finding out what happened to her.

Time passed and Laurence, who was a socially inept, obese teenager, became an adult. By chance Laurence came into contact with Annie’s father and eventually, her sister Karen, with whom he fell in love.

The story is set in Ireland during the 1980’s.

The suspense of this story kept me in a state of anxiety for the more innocent characters right up until the end of the novel. Read this for yourself to find out what happens, and if you can tell how this ending unfolds before the author tell you, then you’ve got more imagination than me!

Liz Nugent has written another novel, Unravelling Oliver which I’m looking forward to reading too.

 

 

 

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Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes

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You know how you can pick up a novel by a certain author and instantly know who is telling the story? Marian Keys has one of these distinct writing voices. I’ve read most of her novels, and loved her cookbook, Saved by Cake, so was delighted to come across her most recent collection of stories and life observations, Making It Up As I Go Along.

Making It Up As I Go Along starts with a ‘who’s who in the zoo,’ where a cast of thousands are introduced with gorgeously funny descriptions, with special mention of Mam and Dad, brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews, dear friends, and Himself, who she describes as; “the fabliss man I’m lucky enough to be married to.”

Next is a dictionary of Irish words and expressions. There are few words that the author assures readers are not swearwords, but I still wouldn’t risk using them in front of my own parents for fear of receiving a clip around the ears. I am planning to use the words ‘spannered,’ ‘banjoed’ and ‘praties’ sometime, although possibly not in the same sentence.

The book is divided into sections of ‘Health and Beauty,’ ‘On My Travels’ (I never thought I would say this, but I think I am going to have to visit the Antartica sometime, read on for further details), ‘Soul Searching’ and other delightful groupings of funny little stories. I enjoyed all of them, but my particular favourites are as follows;

How To Deal With Hostile Hairdressers. Well, this story made me laugh, but only a little bit, because my own fringe is in my eyes and I’ve been pulling the rest into a ponytail for weeks because I desperately need a haircut but am too frightened to go, honestly, I would rather go to the dentist. Being ignored on arrival, then being seated in the window where everybody passing by can see you with your hair plastered down on one side and pinned up on the other, getting an entirely different haircut to the trim requested because you aren’t wearing your glasses and can’t see what the hairdresser is doing, getting sprayed in the face with something toxic, then handing over a ridiculous amount of money for a haircut that you are going to go home and cry about… I think I’m going to take the scissors to the bathroom when I’ve finished writing this and just take a little bit off my fringe so that I won’t need to go to the actual hairdressers for at least another three weeks.

Antartica Diary. After reading this, a trip to Antartica to see the penguins and icebergs has bumped the tour of the Cadbury Chocolate Factory in Hobart off my bucket list.

Writers I Love was a delightful account of a lunch with a group of Irish writers who are household names (we’ve even heard of most of them here in Australia!) to celebrate the launch of a new makeup range. The author writes openly about her issues with depression, which she calls being ‘mad in the head’ and was initially anxious about attending the lunch, but then decided to go and had a great time. Reading about the lunch was almost as good as being there.

All of the stories in the Friends and Family section are great, but my favourite was poor old Himself having to do physiotherapy exercises with the author’s encouragement. I know it isn’t kind to laugh at someone else’s misfortune, but I couldn’t help it. If I yelled “Round we go! Round we go!” or ‘Funky chicken! Funky chicken!” while He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers was doing his exercises, he would probably suggest that I leave him alone. I’m sure he wouldn’t think this was as funny as I did when I was reading this story.

Making It Up As I Go Along is a funny and relatable set of stories which is a must for Marian Keyes fans.

 

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Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

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Nora Webster is the second book I’ve read by Colm Toibin after being lucky enough to discover this author last year. I thought Brooklyn was a great book but Nora Webster even better. My rating system is going to need more stars…

The title character, Nora, is a grieving young widow who is mother to four children, two older girls who are away at school and two younger boys still at home. Nora lives in a small town in Ireland where her business is known by everyone. The amount of fear that Nora has about what other people will think of her is distressing, and simple, personal things like getting a haircut or buying a new coat is cause for concern for her that the people in her community might think less of her.

Nora has a large family who are mostly helpful and loving, although they can also be intrusive. Some relationships are difficult, just like in any family. The people who make up Nora’s community are mostly a blessing but sometimes a curse, as anybody who has lived in a small town will know.

Nora’s grief is almost overwhelming. Her husband, who died of cancer, was the love of her life and Nora doesn’t know how to make a life without him. She has moments of guilt when she realises she is free to make decisions without consulting anyone else or when she realises she can follow her own interests, such as her love of singing and listening to music, but she also struggles with practical decisions and worries about money. Nora is forced to return to a job which she was glad to have left when she married.

I don’t know if it is the grief or Nora’s own character, but she is an unusually detached mother. She doesn’t have open relationships with her children and avoids conversations which will remind the children of their shared grief. She is surprised to learn that the children open up to their aunts and uncles about their hopes and dreams, and their troubles. Nora avoids making decisions for her children, particularly for her sons, but is annoyed when other family members take charge. Despite the detached relationships there is a strong sense that both of her sons understand Nora and her solitary grief.

The story itself is gentle, despite being set in the late 1960s while ‘The Troubles’ in the background were absolutely ferocious. I don’t have a great deal of knowledge or understanding about Irish history and politics, but even the characters in this book are confused and anxious about their times, uncertain of how to make things in their country right. One character says of Northern Ireland, “That’s one scrap I wouldn’t like to be in. There will be no easy way out of that one.”

The language in this book is lovely. As I read I could hear the character’s voices saying their words and there is a strong sense of place and time. The story is about ordinary life and ordinary people, so I was surprised to find myself thinking about the characters and their lives for long after I had finished the book.

In a crossover between other novels, the mother from Brooklyn appears in Nora Webster, although each of these books stand alone.

Colm Toibin has written loads of other books and I am looking forward to them all.

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The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

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I’m a sucker for Nantucket which is the main setting of Elin Hilderbrand’s novels, but in The Identicals, the author added Martha’s Vineyard into the mix. This turned out to be a happy thing for me, because I got my fix with twice as many beaches, twice as many lighthouses, twice as many lobster rolls and twice as many ice creams. Happy days.

There are also twice as many heroines as usual since The Identicals features twins Harper and Tabitha, forty year olds who have been estranged for 14 years. Harper is the easy-going screw-up who lives on Martha’s Vineyard, a community where everyone knows everybody else’s business. Harper recently ruined her reputation by having an affair with the married doctor who had been treating her dying father.

Tabitha lives on Nantucket and is the elegant, stuffy twin. She is the mother of an out of control teenager, Ainsley, who has been brought up in the same disinterested way that her mother brought Tabitha up. (Harper and Tabitha’s parents divorced when they were teenagers, and in the style of The Parent Trap, each parent took a twin. Separating siblings didn’t work well for the twins in The Parent Trap or The Identicals).

When their father dies, Tabitha and Harper swap places, with Harper going to Nantucket to look after Ainsley and to work in her mother’s exclusive fashion boutique which is on the brink of bankruptcy, while Tabitha moves to Martha’s Vineyard to renovate their father’s house to sell.

These characters are flawed but I liked them regardless, I enjoyed the story and as always, loved the location. The Identicals is an easy summer read and I can imagine myself lying on a beach towel, feeling the warmth of the hot sun on my back as I read, in between dozing, paddling, collecting shells, swimming and riding the waves on the boogie board… pure bliss!

I’m always surprised by how badly Elin Hilderbrand’s characters mess up their lives, and yet, I still like them. They drink to excess, use drugs and mess around with other people’s husbands, all things that I would avoid and judge in real life, but I love these books, which are pure escapism.

As an Australian I’m not all that good with American geography, so before reading this book I had no idea that Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are neighbouring islands. This has opened up a whole new world of travel daydreams for me, as I intend to see the Gingerbread Cottages on Martha’s Vineyard for myself (one day…)

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The sections on the rivalry between the Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard was clever, with the islands comparing themselves using a combination of sweetly pointed remarks, leaving the reading feeling as if the island are siblings much like Harper and Tabitha, who have their differences but love each other anyway.

As always, I loved my annual fix of Elin Hilderbrand’s Nantucket, and am delighted to have gotten to know Martha’s Vineyard in The Identicals.

 

 

 

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Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks

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Sebastian Faulk’s homage to P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells is a happy read which captured the spirit of the real thing well enough to have pleased me.

Like most fans of P.G. Wodehouse, I go on reading jags where I immerse myself in these good-hearted, absurd stories, and have a particular fondness for Bertie Wooster and his man, Jeeves. I have read and re-read these books, so was both anxious and excited to find an author who had continued writing these stories for those of us who can’t get enough of them.

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells starts unusually, with Bertie awoken at 6am by that monstrous device otherwise known as an alarm clock, after lying all night on what he referred to as a bed of nails. Bertie then made his way to the kitchen of the house to make a cup of tea for his master, Lord Etringham. Even more confusingly, in the kitchen Bertie is addressed by the housekeeper as ‘Mr Wilberforce.’ Bertie then took the tea tray to Lord Etringham, who turned out to be Jeeves sitting up in a comfortable bed in a lavish room, wearing Bertie’s burgundy dressing gown.

The story then goes back a little bit, to explain how this exchange in situation happened. Bertie and Jeeves were on holidays in the south of France when Bertie met a girl, which, as all P.G. Wodehouse fans know, often happens. The girl who was met needed help with a ticklish problem. Say no more. Bertie and Jeeves to the rescue.

The language in this story is spot on. Bertie comes out with all of the sort of things you would expect him to say and so does Jeeves. The other characters are perfect too. There are aunts to be avoided, a delightful heroine, ridiculous friends and seldom-seen lords who are easily impersonated.

One of the characters in the story is a travel writer whose books are titled; By ‘Train to Timbuctoo,’ ‘By Sled to Siberia’, and so on. I brought this up with He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers and Miss S while we were eating our dinner and we enjoyed going through the alphabet to make up other ridiculous titles. My favourite was By Stilts to Serbia. We struggled with a few of the letters but we surprised ourselves with our creativity. Try it yourself, it’s fun (and slightly addictive).

I was surprised by the ending because this story ends in a way for Bertie and Jeeves which is entirely new. I’d love to say more but can’t, as to do so would spoil this story for future readers.

As the son of a judge and an actress, Sebastian Faulk’s bio reads as if he could be a character in these stories himself.

I didn’t laugh out loud reading this book, but I definitely smiled a few times. I recommend Jeeves and the Wedding Bells for P.G. Wodehouse fans and as a stand-alone novel, and am looking forward to reading further works by this author.

 

 

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Merciless Gods by Christos Tsiolkas

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Merciless Gods is a collection of short stories by Australian author Christos Tsiolkas, who is best known for writing The Slap. I read and enjoyed both The Slap and Barracuda, which although occasionally brutal, are well written contemporary stories which are set in my home town of Melbourne.

I finished reading Merciless Gods some time ago, and have been dithering about whether to post a review or not. The writing in Merciless Gods is up to the author’s usual high standards, but this book did not leave me feeling good about myself. I felt squeamish and anxious reading most of these stories, many of which depict physically and emotionally violent exchanges between characters, as well as graphic (and again, sometimes violent) sex between gay men. The characters in this collection are absolutely brutal to each other.

The first story in the collection is the title story and tells of a group of friends telling each other true stories. One of the characters tells a story of revenge which left me and the other characters feeling emotionally shattered. Merciless Gods is an amazing story, but had I realised each story in the collection was more confronting than the last, I probably would have stopped reading after the second story.

Reading so many stories about unhappy, sometimes unpleasant people behaving viciously towards each other flattened me. I wish this author would show people at their best more often, rather than always at their worst.

I’ll continue reading books by Christos Tsiolkas for the quality of the writing and for my enjoyment of the familiar locations and times, but this confronting collection of stories is not for everyone. I’m prudish at the best of times and if you are too, then give this collection a miss.

 

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