Tag Archives: Book Review

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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Life or Death by Michael Robotham

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I started reading Life or Death by Australian author Michael Robothamon on the train to work, and on arriving at Flinders Street Station seriously considered calling in sick to ride the trains all day while I finished the story. Because I am a responsible member of society I went to work, but read at lunchtime, again on the train home, and then sat up in bed half the night until I finished.

Life or Death won the 2015 Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award, and I liked this story even better than The Wreckage, which I read last year.

The big mystery of Life or Death is why Audie Palmer, who has been in jail in Texas for over ten years for armed robbery, would escape from prison the day before he was due to be released. The story starts with a flashback to Audie’s childhood, when Audie was fishing and learning life lessons from his father. As a result, the reader is on Audie’s side of the story from the beginning, even though we soon learn that as well as him being a criminal on the run, four innocent people died during the armed robbery.

Audie is helped by some kind-hearted people who probably would have reported him for the reward had they realised who he was, as he makes his way to Houston with a posse of police, FBI agents and gangsters on his tail.

The combination of wondering where the missing seven million dollars from the armed robbery got to, and why Audie, who seems to have selfless and kind nature but was involved in a crime which killed four people was driving me crazy with curiosity, and the more I read, the more questions I had.

Audie is the biggest underdog I’ve ever come across in a story, but time and time again he scraped out of dire situations.

He was regularly beaten in prison by people who wanted to get their hands on the money, he had a no-hoper brother who led him into disaster and tarnished his reputation and he fell in love with a gangster’s moll and she with him. Not to mention that he was shot in the head during the armed robbery. Things didn’t improve much for Audie after he escaped from prison, but as the plot unravels, all of my questions were answered, although right up until the very last few pages, I could not see how this story would work out.

Each of the characters in this book become real to me in just a few sentences. Besides Audie, there is another prisoner called Moss, whose name would have been Moses except that his mother didn’t know how to spell his name, Special Agent Desiree Furness, who is fantastic at her job but patronised by the whole world because she is female and five foot nothing, a politician who is doing his best to avoid former associates, a police officer and his family and a single mother who is living in her car with her daughter.

Believable characters, exciting plot and good writing have made me a big fan of this author’s works. While I’m hanging out for the next Michael Robotham book, in the meantime, I can always go back to some of his earlier works which feature the same characters as The Wreckage, although it might be best if I save them to read on the weekends.

 

 

 

 

 

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Munster’s Case by Hakan Nesser

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Clearly, the carving knife on the cover of Munster’s Case by Hakan Nesser is a clue to something that happens in this story. Crime isn’t usually my first choice of reading genre, but since I just love the name Munster, I couldn’t go past this book.

The author is Swedish and the book was translated into English by Laurie Thompson. Some of the words and phrases used were awkward and clunky, and I expect this book would have been better in the original. There was a lot of swearing and crude language used too, and again, I’m giving this author the benefit of the doubt in suspecting that the language may have been milder before being translated into English.

This book is part of a series featuring Inspector Van Veeteren, however the great man is on extended leave, leaving Intendent Munster to get on with the job in this story.

The first sentence of Munster’s Case is intriguing;

“The last day of Waldemar Leverkuhn’s life could hardly have begun any better.”

72 year old Waldemar Leverkuhn had the extraordinary luck on his last day on earth to learn that along with three friends, he had won a significant amount of money in a lottery. He went out to celebrate with his friends without telling his wife that he had won the lottery, stumbled in about 1am, hopped into bed and woke up dead, having been stabbed 28 times while he slept. Leverkuhn’s wife, who is 69 years old, was out with a friend that same night and didn’t get home until about 2am.

This brings me to the first point in the story that annoyed me. How many people in their 70’s are regularly out at night until well after midnight? Maybe some are, but I don’t know any.

Intendent Munster and his co-workers become involved in the investigation and learn that on the same night that Leverkuhn was murdered, one of the other men who won the lottery with him also went missing. Soon after, another neighbour of Leverkuhn’s goes missing too. Red herrings everywhere!

Leverkuhn’s wife unexpectedly confesses to killing her husband but Intendent Munster isn’t convinced of her guilt, so he seeks the advice of Inspector Van Veeteren who also has doubts about what actually happened to the victim.

Not surprisingly, considering the type of work they do, Intendent Munster and his workmates are a jaded group of characters. They are almost universally disliked and looked upon with suspicion, despite their aim to simply learn the truth in the matters they are investigating.

The author gives away a big clue early in the story about who the murder is, but the reasons why the murderer acts were unknown to me until the author told me in the last few chapters of the book. As is often the case, the reasons why the murderer in this story acted are nasty.

Intendent Munster has a lovely wife, Synn, but he has a thing for his co-worker, Ewa Moreno. This book is titled Munster’s Fall in other countries, and references to previous stories make me think that falling in love with his female colleagues is a habit with him. Suddenly, I don’t like him as much anymore…

I probably won’t go out of my way to read any more books by Hakan Nesser, with or without Intendent Munster, but only because crime isn’t my first love.

 

 

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A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

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I cannot praise A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving highly enough. I usually finish one book and open another right away, but I still feel so attached to these characters that I am not ready to let go of this story yet. I’ll either have to bury myself in cookbooks for a week or so until I get the urge for something else, or start back at the first page of this book and go again. I don’t even want to read another John Irving book, I just want more of A Prayer for Owen Meany.

The story is narrated in the first person by John Wheelwright. The story is told in two sets of times, starting with John as a child and alternating with the present-day John who lives and works in Canada as an English teacher. The very first sentence of the story tells us that Owen Meany is no longer alive, had a “wrecked voice” and was physically the smallest person John ever knew, that he had been responsible in some way for the death of John’s mother and was also responsible for John’s Christianity. That is a big first sentence, not in the sense of being overlong, but it certainly tells us what the story is about.

John and Owen, who lived in Gravesend, a town in New Hampshire, were friends since childhood. Owen was so small that John and his fellow Sunday School classmates used to physically pass Owen around over their heads when their teacher was out of the room, against Owen’s wishes.

Owen’s words are always in capital letters, At first I found this irritating, but I quickly became accustomed to their use as the capitals emphasized that Owen’s voice was a strangled falsetto, even after he became an adult. Once, after John frightened Owen, his grandmother told him,

“I don’t want you to describe to me-not ever-what you were doing to that poor boy to make him sound like that; but if you ever do it again, please cover his mouth with your hand.”

Yes, this sentence made me laugh – on the train…  Honestly, until you have laughed out loud to yourself while you are on your own in a public place, you can have no idea of how socially awkward this can be!

Despite being the size of a five-year old, Owen was mentally the leader of his peers and was also the object of the affections of most of the girls he ever met. Owen’s teachers and the adults in his life generally loved him too and went out of their way to assist with his education and in other ways. Adults and children alike, apart from a few exceptions which became part of the story, fell in with Owen’s plans and arrangements, particularly as he and John became older and Owen became the voice of his graduating year.

When John and Owen were 11 they were playing team baseball when Owen went out to bat and hit a foul ball which hit and killed John’s mother, Tabitha. John, Owen and John’s step-father, Dan, grieved together. John never attributed any blame to Owen, who himself believed that there was a reason for everything and that in this case, God had used him as the instrument of Tabitha’s death.

Owen’s belief in God, or faith is extraordinary. His parents left, or in Owen’s words, “escaped” the Catholic church for reasons which become clear later in the book, and as a child, Owen certainly has it in for the Catholics. Gravesend has plenty of other religious choices though, for example, John begins life as a Congregationalist and later, along with his mother, becomes a Episcopalian when she marries Dan.

Owen is an Episcopalian who sees angels and his own future, and knows from a very young age that he is destined to save a group of Vietnamese children at the expense of his own life. John sees himself as a ‘Joseph,’ the fellow in the background who is just there, no more and no less.

As a child, Owen made an interesting point when he complains that the girl chosen to be Mary in their Sunday School Christmas play is always the prettiest girl. “WHO SAYS MARY WAS PRETTY?” He also complains about the Pastor’s lack of belief, “IF HE’S GOT SO MUCH DOUBT, HE’S IN THE WRONG BUSINESS.” The book is full of Owen’s observations and suggestions.

About three quarters of the way through the story I realised that each character’s name has at least one hidden meaning. Owen’s first name, which he doesn’t use, is Paul and means ‘little.’ Very apt. Saint Paul began by persecuting Christ’s early followers, but turned his life around to live for Christ and to advance Christianity, which also reflected Owen’s path in life. John’s name is also biblical, and in this book his character is probably closest to the apostle John, who gave us the fourth Gospel and Revelations. Again, a fitting name for this character. John’s mother, Tabitha is ‘good works’ and Hester, John’s cousin and Owen’s lover is a ‘scarlet woman’ and both of these names also suit the characters. I expect if I delved into other names in the book, I would find more meanings which tell us who each character is at their heart.

Owen, who knows he is destined for Vietnam, takes a scholarship from the Army during the 1960s while the war in Vietnam was raging. Once he graduates, his work is bringing dead soldiers home to their families.

Owen is instrumental in preventing John from going to Vietnam and when I read how, I was on the train going to work. I read a few words and couldn’t bear it any more so looked out of the window for a while at people’s backyards, read a few more words, then went back to looking out the window, trying not to shiver and shudder. It took me the whole trip in to Melbourne to get past this section.

This is such a big book that I’ve only touched on some of the themes and entirely missed other important parts of the story. Saying that any review I could write won’t do justice to the book is a cop-out but it is true.

By the end of the story John says that Owen was a ‘miracle.’ A Prayer for Owen Meany is almost enough to make me believe in miracles too. I’ll certainly be looking out for other books by John Irving once I get over this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

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Honey-Bunny recently gave me the good news that L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables was being made into a television series, Anne With An ‘E’. Funnily enough, He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers and Miss S, who have never read the book, loved the television series. Honey-Bunny and I differed.

The characters who played the roles looked exactly as I had always imagined them and I also thought Green Gables and Avonlea in Anne With An ‘E’ looked perfect, but the story going off in it’s own direction rather than sticking closely to the book drove me crazy. In order to restore my equilibrium, I thought it was time for a re-read of my favourite book from my childhood. And Honey-Bunny, your middle name is Anne with an ‘E’ for a reason.

Reading Anne of Green Gables again was like catching up with a dearly loved friend who I hadn’t seen for far too long.

I don’t think I’ve ever read the book so thoroughly. When I was given the book by Santa Claus at about the age of ten (judging by the curly signature I wrote on the inside cover) I nearly didn’t get through the first page. The first paragraph, with the description of the dip in the hollow where Mrs Rachel Lynde lived, nearly put me off the book forever. Obviously I made it though at some stage, but I remember lending the book to a school friend and advising her to skip the first page!

This time, I read that descriptive first paragraph, and the whole of the first page and enjoyed them. I read and thought about all of the quotations throughout the story, which I had always skimmed over as a child, when I was too anxious to get back to Anne’s adventures to stop and look around at where I was.

I couldn’t remember Anne talking quite so much, but I remembered most of the events, such as Anne breaking her ankle while walking the ridge pole of Diana’s roof, Anne and Diana jumping onto Miss Josephine Barry in bed in the middle of the night, Anne reciting at the concert at the White Sands Hotel and being encored, Anne dying her red hair a horrible shade of green after buying hair dye from a peddler and eating ice cream for the first time;

“Words fail me to describe that ice-cream. Marilla, I assure you it was sublime.”

I read the book on the train to and from work, and was horribly afraid that Matthew’s death would leave me with a seat on my own once and for all, but I managed to hold it together. I did get teary when Anne finally made up her quarrel with Gilbert after he gave up his teaching position at the Avonlea school so that Anne could stay and look after Marilla (I don’t know why, but I had forgotten that part) and I laughed to myself when Anne made herself cry by imagining Diana as a beautiful bride, and “bidding Diana good bye-e-e—-.”

Obviously I love this book. If you missed reading this during your childhood, it isn’t too late now. If you do, I hope you will be left feeling happier for getting to know Anne of Green Gables for yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

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There is no way of knowing what goes on in other people’s heads unless they are writers, and based on the two novels I’ve read by Margaret Atwood, stranger stuff goes on in her imagination than what happens in mine. The Heart Goes Last has one of the most bizarre and entertaining plots that I’ve read in some time.

I haven’t read a Margaret Atwood novel since reading The Handmaid’s Tale thirty years ago, probably because that story completely freaked me out. In saying that, I probably should be reading everything this author writes, because remembering the plot for three decades is my definition of a good book. I expect I will be thinking about The Heart Goes Last for some time too.

The story follows an American couple, Stan and Charmaine, who in the beginning of the story are living in their car after losing their jobs and their home. At first, their America seems quite real and recognisable, although it is still not a place I would want to live. Australia is kinder to people who are down on their luck.

When Charmaine sees an advertisement on television for applicants to take part in the Positron Project, where she and Stan would have the opportunity to work and live in a home of their own in the town of Consilience, she convinces Stan to apply with her. They are accepted into the project and have very few doubts about going in, despite the fact that they are signing up for life and that for half of their time they will be prisoners in the town’s prison. After living in their car for so long and fending off other people who wanted to take what little they have, the Positron Project offered them security.

A year later, and Stan and Charmaine have settled into their new life in Consilience. They both have jobs and they are happy in their home. Stan enjoys trimming the hedges and mowing the lawn, while Charmaine revels in their home, particularly the kitchen appliances and fluffy white towels. At the end of each month in their home, they tidy up and stash their personal possessions into a colour coded locker in their basement, and enter the Positron prison, while their ‘Alternates’ live their lives in what is also their home for the next month. In prison, Stan looks after chickens and Charmaine has a job cannot be discussed or even thought about.

Despite the relative comfort and security of living in Consilience, Stan and Charmaine’s marriage has become stale and they both become infatuated with their Alternates. As they become obsessed with their fantasies, the strangeness of their world starts to come out more in the story, and there is some really weird and unpleasant stuff going on. The people running the Positron Project are clearly making money from the town and prison and their business is nasty. The sexual fetishes are not for the faint-hearted either, although some of them are very funny. I’ll never look at a blue, knitted teddy bear in quite the same way ever again…

The story itself is funny too, in a very dark way.

I was so caught up in The Heart Goes Last that the train taking me home from work arrived at my station and I didn’t realise. Luckily, my station is the last one on the line, because I could have ended up anywhere. Next stop, Dystopia Meadows?

I can’t wait to read another book by Margaret Atwood. I am grateful that she is unafraid of what anybody else thinks about what goes on in her mind, and is happy to share her frightening but funny thoughts with readers.

 

 

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The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon

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The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon won The Australian/Vogel Literary Award, an award for an unpublished writer under the age of 35. Fair enough, the writing is good. But I didn’t like the story.

You can probably tell from the cover art that there is a Russian element to The Memory Artist. I certainly could, which is why I shouldn’t have chosen to read this book. I’ve never read any Russian fiction (by a Russian author or an Australian author) which hasn’t been miserable. Not surprising really, considering Russia’s history. The Russian people have suffered through horrific times and in weather that is far too cold for my bones. No wonder their stories are melancholy.

The Memory Artist is narrated by Pasha, a young man who grew up in Moscow. His mother and her friends were activists who gathered regularly at Pasha’s home during the late 1960’s to write articles exposing the cruel treatment of dissidents and to remember people and poetry which would otherwise cease to exist in anyone’s memory. Pasha can barely remember his father, who was imprisoned in a mental asylum along with many other dissidents whom the government called insane.

Pasha was an adult living in St Petersburg when his mother died. He is a would-be writer, who doesn’t write much during the course of narrating this novel. After his mother’s death, he tries to make sense of Russia’s past and present, ‘glasnost,’ where people are finally free to openly discuss the wrongs of the past. Mass graves are being found everywhere and people are openly talking about the people who disappeared to prisons, and cities which were built and never used.

Pasha is offered the use of a friend’s dacha for a summer holiday, where he intends to write the story of his family and friend’s times. He gets to know an elderly neighbour who tells him stories of the past, although the neighbour’s wife is silent and afraid that her husband’s verbosity will get them into trouble. Pasha’s girlfriend’s parents behave similarly when Pasha sets about interviewing them too. Older people who remember the violence of Stalin’s years, and middle aged people who lived through the Brezhnev years are often unable or unwilling to speak, and Pasha also seems unable to write openly and honestly.

The time this novel is set is enormously interesting. Glasnost was during the 1980’s, and I liked learning about young Russian people’s thirst for western clothing such as jeans and t shirts, and found it funny when Pasha likened people queueing for McDonalds when it first appeared in Moscow as being similar to people queueing in the past for food. I was also interested enough to listen to some Victor Tsoi punk rock, as Pasha described his music as the voice for his generation, however I didn’t feel very connected to Pasha or the other characters. Pasha’s inability to finish anything annoyed me, although that characteristic may have been symbolic of his generation’s lack of a sense of purpose, since they no longer had something to fight for.

I think that the writing makes The Memory Artist a worthy winner of The Australian/Vogel Literary Award, however the sadness of Russian stories just aren’t for me.

 

 

 

 

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