A Massive Catch Up

Too much work, plenty of reading to relax and not enough time to catch up on the blog. So here is the big catch up.

Room - Emma Donoghue

Paperback, 321 pages, Published May 18th 2011 by Back Bay Books
There has been a lot written about this book and there is not much I can add.
Donoghue has crafted an interesting story using a five year old as the point of view character.
You see the world through his eyes and that is what makes this story really work. It is clever and works.
It is easy to see why this novel has been so popular. A good read.

The Watch Tower - Elizabeth Harrower
Paperback, 240 pages, Published 2012 by Text Publishing  (first published 1966) 
Laura and Clare are sisters who when we first meet them are attending boarding school with their entire lives planned out before them. Laura is a brilliant student with designs on becoming a Doctor and Clare is beginning to find her way at school. The death of their father sees the world of the two girls turned upside down as their extravagant mother Stella Vaizey decides that the continued investment in their education is no longer warranted. Clare and Laura find themselves back in Sydney and slaves to Stella’s whims and needs. Stella continually regales about being financial difficulty but slowly it emerges that things may not be all that seem. For Laura, she is forced into caring for Clare and working as a secretary in a factory. It is here that Laura develops a ‘relationship’ with Felix Shaw.
In a final show of complete selfishness Stella decides to depart for England and abandon her daughters to their own fate. With the prospect of Clare having to give up school and with no place to live, Laura reluctantly agrees to marry Felix Shaw.
What develops from here is a story that masterly delivers a lesson in manipulation and control. It is subtle, it is overt and it is frightening how each person attempts to wrest power from the others. There are times when what is not said is far more evocative as you realise the extent of what is actually occurring. Harrower’s skills is that she does not ram the obvious what is happening down your throat, no she allows you to discover the menace that surrounds Laura, Clare and Felix.
It would be easy to categorise who is a victim and villain but to do that takes away from the layers that Harrower folds into each character. Laura who as a young woman is thrust into a marriage does everything in her own limited power to survive. You watch with horror and disgust as her Laura’s dreams are eroded away as Felix physically and mentally abuses her. You suspect that Felix is not that emotionally stable and there are suggestions that his preference for the company of men hides his true sexually yearnings. You also watch Laura as she manipulates Clare by using the fragility of Felix as she promises he will improve, that he cares as she begs Clare to remain. Again do not be fooled as Felix is the primary manipulator, his charisma, his rage and his control make him an extraordinary study of a man.
As you read you really do wonder if this cycle they are in will ever be broken.
Harrower’s The Watch Tower is one of those books that draws you back time and time again days and weeks after you finished the novel. You find yourself lingering on the themes, the undertones and the cruelty. It is a masterpiece in the study of relationships that have become warped and twisted.

Murder in Mississippi - John Safran
Kindle Edition, Published September 25th 2013 by e-penguin 

This book was a real surprise and I really do need to type up that review I hand wrote. I am not a big fan of Safran's television work as he tends to be like a bull in a china shop. He rushes in to see how much shit stirring he can achieve. In this book, Safran does show some restraint and does some clever investigation into the background of two interesting people, the victim and the murderer.

The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd

Paperback, 375 pages, Published 2003 by Review
I really did not know what to expect when I picked this novel up but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.
Set during the period in the United States when race relations were strained due to the recent decision to allow African Americans to vote. We meet Lily Owens who has a past that is shrouded in mystery and a future that looks bleak. With her only prospect being the selling of peaches by the roadside. Her father is abusive and her protector is Rosaleen her nanny.
When Rosaleen decides that she wants to register to vote, the two head into town which sets off a chain of events that are both disastrous and heartwarming. Lily and Rosaleen find themselves on the run and for Lily it becomes an opportunity to find out the truth about her mother. They find themselves at Tiburon, South Carolina on the doorstep of the three Boatwright sisters who run a bee-keeping farm. it is here that Lily and Rosaleen find friendship, love and learn to deal with grief.
Kidd has created characters that lift off the page. They are all heaped with personal baggage, strong backgrounds and are all imperfect. There is humour is sprinkled and what I really liked was the story did not preach. It not make statements about the injustices for women and African Americans but allowed you to discover through the characters the unfairness of their individual situations.

Zorro - Isabel Allende
Paperback, 390 pages, Published May 3rd 2005 by Fourth Estate 
I love a good origin story and I had been wanting to read this book for sone tine. My previous exposure to Allende wss Kingdom of the Golde Dragon, a young adult novel that was quite enjoyable.

I started reading Zorro and I was hooked. I loved how his back story was created, the richness of his parents and their background. Yet at about a third of the way in my interest started to wane. I became less engaged and felt that the narrator was now slowing the story down. It felt like the forward momentum had been put into reverse.
I loved Allende's descriptions, her poetic prose is masterful and she beautifully imagined the world at that time. Although I truly appreciate Allende's talent as a story teller the novel was not for me.

Keating - Kerry O'Brien

Hardcover, 794 pages, Published October 21st 2015 by Allen & Unwin 
In short, a hand book on how to be a successful politicians. Doesn't matter what side of politics you are on, this a masterful insight on how to become a successful politicians.

Helen Garner - The Spare Room
Hardcover, 195 pages, Published July 1st 2008 by Canongate Books
Having just read Helen Garner's latest offering 'Everywhere I Look' I really wanted to read more of her works. I have had a copy of 'The Spare Room' for some time and I have to admit I have been too much of a coward to read it as it. It was a topic I was just not ready to deal with but I decided it was time to do so.
The Spare Room is written more like a memoir than a novel. The protagonist in the novel Helen is preparing the spare room for Nicola's arrival. Nicola a long time friend is coming to Melbourne for a three alternative cancer treatment. Upon collecting Nicola from the airport, Helen realizes the cancer is far more advanced and that the visit will require more from her. Nicola is a true force of nature as she sweeps up everything and everyone in her way.

For me at the core of this novel is who decides what is the best way to die? Nicola is looking for a cure and she will try anything that offers hope, even if it is dubious. Whereas Helen wants Nicola to accept that death is going to happen and accept professional help. The two friends are at polar opposites on their views and even Helen wonders if they can find a middle ground.

It is a powerful novel about how we deal with death and who really has the right to decide what dying with dignity means.

Helen Garner - Everywhere I Look

Paperback, 240 pages, Published March 29th 2016 by Text Publishing Company 

I came late to reading Helen Garner and it was only through a friend gifting me Joe Cinque's Consolation which I found to be a gripping read. I have since read a couple of her books and I
‘Everywhere I Look’ spans the last 15 years of Garner’s writing career with a collection of essays and observations. The collection is really like sitting down with a friend and having a chat that starts over morning coffee and ends somewhere near tea with cocktails.
As a reader I like to sit down with my trusty notebook, ready to jot down quotes or sections of text that make me ponder. With Garner I did not note down a single thing because I just read. I turned each page just wanting to take it all in. There is such a diversity of topics covered and so many wonderful moments of observation.
I could throw around a string of superlatives about just how amazing I found this book. I was engulfed by the descriptions and the honesty. At times Garner is so candid and it is refreshing to read. I should be writing some rather descriptive review but I am just going to say this, read the book. It is that simple, read the book. You will not be disappointed.