Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

 “Perhaps that is what it is like being with other people. Perhaps even people you like and admire immensely can make you see the World in ways you would rather not. Perhaps that is what Raphael means.”


Giovanni Battista Piranesi, a Venetian artist and architect,  lived in 1700s Italy and is famous for his Caceri or Prisons series of prints that depict strange, impossible, labyrinthine structures.

I've done a little bit of internet research and discovered this great video that epitomises his work.

Piranesi Carceri d'Invenzione from Grégoire Dupond on Vimeo.

Much like the eponymous artist, Piranesi is a fantastically puzzling tale that twists and turns through a strange world before its secrets are revealed. I have to admit it took a long time to acclimatise with the world building of the novel and my confusion and sense of displacement was mirrored by the protagonist in a novel and impressively rendered manner.

Patience they say is a virtue... so hold on tight, keep your mind open and keep reading.This one is definitely a slow build, but worth it. Unlike the absolutely weighty tome that was Jonathan Strange and Mr Norris by the same author, Piranesi is a relatively quick read at under three hundred pages. The rather large gap between novels attributed to the author's ill health according to this interview I tracked down online. I sincerely hope her health improves and we can enjoy more wonderful works in the future.

5 out of 5, disappear into another world.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

“These teenagers around her, all of them from New York City, were like royalty and French movie stars, with a touch of something papal. Everyone at this camp was supposedly artistic, but here, as far as she could tell, was the hot little nucleus of the place.”

Every now and then you pick up a novel and feel understood. Its as if the author has dug into your deepest fears and insecurities and spilled the beans for all to see. Wolitzer is that kind of author for me. The blow is softened by how clever, funny and entertaining she is. The embarrassing or downright mortifying is served up in a neat package that points out the ridiculousness of it all.
Growing up as a complete nerd who always felt like a fish out of water, I could relate to the way Jules is magnetised by her new friends from camp who come from a different world.

The friendships established during that first summer of 1974 have ramifications that reverberate throughout her and her friends lives, There's the uncomfortable comparisons with people living a seemingly 'charmed' life of monied success along with the emotional ties that bind and divide.
I absolutely love the way Meg Wolitzer writes and my hero worship of her began when I attended a panel she spoke at for the Sydney Writer's Festival some years ago. What a woman, what an author, what a mind!!

So far I've enjoyed everything of hers that I've read and this was definitively no exception. I literally devoured its content over 2 days ( admittedly I didn't go to bed on time because I had to finish).
Youth is a time of endless possibilities that narrow with age and I think this is beautifully captured here. Unrequited love, the secrets we keep for our friends, the moral fog that our relationships can draw us into, are all engaging themes that emerge throughout the text.

Can you remain best friends with someone when wealth disparity pushes you apart? The exploration of this tension is particularly enthralling, especially in the impact it can have on partners and family.
The question of what love is- familial obligation, aspirational longing for a true mind/ body connection, or settling for comfort and stillness? Her characters grapple with the gamut of these emotions and are so well wrought that you feel like you've grown up with them from camp teepee discussions through to shared overseas holidays. Personally this novel seems to exemplify that feeling of middle aged ennui and the realisation that the excitement and possibilities that existed in youth have morphed into an existence that you can only try to make sense of.

In case it isn't very obvious by my effusive praise, I absolutely adored this book and was so glad I turned off the television for some dedicated reading time.

5 out of 5 - wild about Wolitzer.

Sunday, 10 January 2021

The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey with Michaela Angela Davis


"He was fun, fine, and just the thing to lick my wounds."

To be completely honest, this was kind of exactly what I expected. As overblown as a Spanish telenovela with a massive selection of hyperbole. In summary her life was difficult, her first marriage felt like prison ( she calls their house 'Sing Sing') and the last chapter is where the name dropping occurs.
I'm not sure I learnt anything I really wanted to. No dirt on James Packer, only sledging of Tommy Mottola. Everything seemed like a Hallmark Movie of the week and the italicised 'dahling' drove me batty. 
I enjoy more backstage gossip, but Mariah paints herself as more of a bird in a gilded cage who is now breaking free, minus a lot of exciting detail.

1 out of 5 - one for the fans I suspect.

1 out of 5

Dubliners by James Joyce


"Well...! That takes the biscuit!"

Hurrah, ladies and gentlemen... I've finished reading my first novel for 2021 and a classic to boot! Ignore the gorgeous pulp themed cover ( it is gorgeous isn't it?). This novel dates all the way back to 1914. A collection of short stories that reads as if you're walking down the streets of Dublin of that time and seeing little vignettes of life. It is almost akin to jumping into the Tardis and then just watching what people get up to.
Much like life offers up flickering images that quickly flee, I didn't retain any of the stories. Rather, I finished this novel feeling like I'd been transported to a place and now only possessed vague recollections.
Looking for further confirmation of my feelings about the book, it was interesting to see it described as
"studies in stark realism", which is exactly how I felt about it. Now if you feel like exploring the book without shelling out for the fancy paperback, you can grab yourself an e-pub at Project Gutenberg.

4 out of 5 - take a walk around Dublin... I aim to some day.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey


"Sometimes we don't need advice. Sometimes we just need to hear we're not the only one."

Is there anything McConaughey can't do? He can deliver an absolutely unforgettable line "alright, alright, alright", deliver in the serious drama department and convincingly hypnotise us with his dance moves and patter ( hello Magic Mike). Now he's really gone and done it — the man can write too.

Initially I was rubber necking by buying this autobiography / collection of musings and yet I basically couldn't put it down. There are some typically oddball moments such as the way his father dies, and soul searching in the desert, yet in the main, this is great. His writing voice is as affable and endearing as any great appearance on the Graham Norton show or similar.

While McConaughey has always been blessed with good looks, it is his manner that sets his apart from just another pretty boy actor. At 50, he reveals the struggles and adventures that have formed his character and he reaffirms the sense that this is a man who could spin an amazing tale at a barstool near you. 
He's the kind of guy whose positive energy and joie de vivre is magnetic, even if his lifestyle ( I could never live in a trailer) is completely counter to my own. I just wanted to befriend him after reading this, rather than harbouring any latent lusty thoughts care of Magic Mike.

 5 out of 5: green lights only from now on.

Tremor of Forgery by Patricia Highsmith

"A profound bitterness was audible in Jensen's subdued tone. Ingham was at that moment calling himself an idiot for not having realised than Jensen was homosexual."

What's not to love about Patricia Highsmith? The author of The Talented Mr Ripley and Strangers On a Train always delivers. Not only that, but her novels are often set in some pretty impressive locales.This novel is no exception, set in Tunisia, our protagonist is escaping the ghost of his divorce while he crafts a new screenplay for a never to arrive Director.
When his project fails to materialise, Howard decides to stay on, befriending the Danish painter, Jensen. When an intruder to his hotel room comes to a rather permanent end thanks to a thrown typewriter, Howard seeks a less obvious abode with the help of his Danish new friend, while he awaits word from his girlfriend.

Suspense, failed romances, exotic locales, all amount to a damn good read!! While this isn't my favourite of her novels, it makes for an intriguing ride nonetheless.

4 out of 5 - be careful with typewriters... they can be dangerous.


Thursday, 7 January 2021

Aunts Up the Cross by Robin Dalton


"I remember Nana woke me up to announce the news and insisted on cracking a bottle of champagne by my bedside—not in celebration, but as her means of greeting any crisis."

Take a trip back into the cross of the 20s and 30s. Your narrator delightfully regales you with tales of her extended family and their large, eventful house, Maramanah. Her father, her dog Samual Pepys and a large cast of maiden aunts live in a massive terrace at the end of Darlinghurst Road, at the other end lies the "dirty half mile" inhabited by "soiled doves" as her grandmother describes them.
This is really like climbing into a time machine and walking along familiar streets under a very different lens, expressed with a delightfully humorous feel that reminds me of the tales my nana used to tell.
The illustrations in the edition I have adds to the book's charm, as does the forward by Clive James.

4 out of 5, now every time I alight at Kings Cross Station I'll think of it as the former site of Maramanah.