Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi

“Dad taught me to flirt with everyone I met, girls and boys alike, and I came to see charm, rather than courtesy or honesty, or even decency, as the primary social grace.”

Clearly a constant fixture on all the editions of the 1001 books you must read before you die for a reason, Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia is at heart an enjoyable, compelling and often transgressive coming of age tale. The recipient of the 1990 Whitbread Award for the best first novel, it centres on seventeen year old Karim, the offspring of an Indian father and English mother (much like the author), the impact of his father’s affair and his resultant attempts to fashion himself as a kind of guru for hire among the smart set frequented by his new lover, Eva. That serves as the launching pad for twisting side tales that will have you engrossed.

Take for instance, the man you can’t have but everyone wants – Charlie; Karim is smitten. It doesn’t help that Charlie is the son of the woman Karim’s father is romantically involved with. He is far more interested in securing international fame than responding to Karim’s crush.

Karim’s cousin and sometimes bed partner is a rather interesting character. The reader feels her constant struggle to reconcile the world around her and that imposed on her by her father. This leads to a rather disastrous arranged marriage which introduces the reader to the delightfully hopeless Changez. He steals the novel for me as a figure of such sadness and schadenfreude. He might be useless in his father in law’s grocery store but don’t let him loose with a sex toy!

There is quite a bit of sex going on in the book and that’s natural given that it is possibly the central preoccupation for a teenager. Sex is fraught with danger and despair here. It drives a wedge in Karim’s family life. It leads to some often hilarious circumstances  and yet to reduce the story to merely its sexual leanings would do the book a disservice. Growing up is all about questioning everything, where is this going, why do my parents act this way, who am I, what do I want? An endless array of questions and that sense of growing curiosity combined with the self obsession of young adulthood is fantastically captured here.
What is particularly remarkable are the aspects that resonate regardless of one's race, upbringing or circumstances there are central human truths about growing up we can all relate to. That sense of the forbidden, the inexplicable, the precociousness of youth is infectious. Life is a glorious mess and that is something this book so beautifully expresses.

 5 out of 5 people have moments where their parents are a source of embarrassment.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Holding by Graham Norton

"How strange that she could imagine sharing a bed with him again but couldn't envision looking into his eyes and asking him what it was he felt."

I am a massive fan of Graham Norton's talk show and his autobiographical writing to date has been as charming as his interview style. When I heard he had branched out into fiction, I was eager to get myself a copy. This is the perfect read for a cold winter's night. Settle down with a glass of Graham's Wine (I've not tried it, but its from New Zealand so I imagine  it is drinkable) and launch into this touching murder mystery set in a sleepy little corner of county Cork.
When property developers discover human bones on an old farm, the portly Sergeant PJ Collins will have more worries than mere traffic management. Everyone in the village has skeletons in the closet including three spinster sisters, an unhappy wife, a miserable husband, and a mysterious cleaning lady. The characters are completely engaging, a heady mix of angst, lost opportunity and insecurities. Their human frailties gorgeously explored.

Go get yourself a copy or you might end up chucked off the red chair. Thanks for lending me your copy Nicki

5 out of 5 villages can be deadly.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook

"Memory struck at him again - his suitcases, where were they?"

If you've had a few too many, just be glad it wasn't in the badlands of Bundanyabba. Fifties outback Australia runs on beer it would seem, the water in Bundanyabba isn't fit to drink they say. I was in such a good mood after dancing around at a concert of my favourite band,that I managed to read this and watch The Deer Hunter all in one day - a rather dark exercise and probably not an undertaking for a bad mood day. Don't expect something upbeat here, there is an oppressive sense of fear and of being trapped that spills forth from the pages.

Back to my review, for I digress. John Grant is an unassuming school teacher who dislikes to offend anyone and his inability to say no leads him down some dark paths.Losing all his money gambling is just the beginning of his woes. Will he make it out of town to Sydney? Will he make it out alive? Crack open the pages and see why this was voted as one of the top 50 Australian novels by viewers of ABC's Book Club. If you have a weak stomach for animal cruelty you might want to skip the hunting scenes.

5 out of 5 because there's no such thing as a free drink.

Lost Horizon by James Hilton

“The first quarter-century of your life was doubtless lived under the cloud of being too young for things, while the last quarter-century would normally be shadowed by the still darker cloud of being too old for them; and between those two clouds, what small and narrow sunlight illumines a human lifetime!”

So, I chanced upon the 1937 Frank Capra film adaptation of this novel one lazy Saturday at JB Hi Fi and promptly bought it. It sat on my ‘to watch’ pile for quite some time and then utterly charmed me one rainy afternoon. The images are amazing and for its time, the special effects are impressive.

 I wondered whether the source material would be even better (particularly since the current print of the film is missing some sections – they are replaced by production stills and overlaid with the soundtrack) and rushed onto book depository (that site is my lack of savings Achilles heel) to get a copy. If the state of the world leaves you feeling a little despondent, you too may need a trip back in time with some adventurous travels to a mystical place high in the Himalayas. The high lama is a mysterious man, but Shangri-La is a rather, mysterious place. 

Perhaps it is a testament to the Indiana Jones style adventure vibes that this novel gives off that it is still in print. I was particularly intrigued by the gender equality achieved within Shangri-La, given that the novel was published in 1933. Whereas other novels of the time might feature a little casual racism, here the protagonist grimaces at the disregard his travel companions display for their new surrounds and hosts. This can be seen here, when he counters Mallinson's assertion that all peoples of the East are slow to act -

"Yet to Conway it did not appear that the Eastern races were abnormally dilatory, but rather that the Englishmen and Americans charged about the world in a state of continual and rather preposterous  fever heat."

Now I suggest you grab a copy and tell me what you think. If you've watched the film you will note there are some differences between both stories and they can be appreciated independent of each other. Both possess an intriguingly contemplative tone and some days I'd rather be hanging out in the remote reaches of the mystical Shangri-La, head ensconced firmly in one of the many books of its library.

5 out of 5 sherpas are hard to find.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

"I know I keep harping on about the Erotic Book Club, but I'm sure something happened at one of their little 'meetings', quote, unquote."

Last night I couldn't sleep, thanks in no small part to some noisy night road works. On the plus side, I managed to read this entire book in one sitting. I'd been drawn to the book after having watched the amazing mini-series re-imagining which transports the action to the USA, far from local Australian shores and which may get a sequel. Needless to say, including or despite the heavyweight cast, it was amazing and so is the book.

The setting on the beaches of Sydney, where I grew up, is so familiar. Unfortunately I saw too much of myself in Madeline ( minus the children and the second husband), more the occasionally irrational jealousy, the calculated attempts at revenge and the age at her birthday ( how can I possibly already be that age - rhetorical question).

Every parent thinks their little treasure is perfect. Every one looks at the perfect couple and imagines they have a better life. Appearances can always be deceiving and this novel plays delightfully with that conceit. Moriarty's incisive depictions of the drama of the everyday and the dark side of life that can often get swept under the rug is beautifully realised.

Still entertaining, even if you have already seen the mini-series. You know my opinion, the book is usually better and here that's no exception.

5 out of 5 relationships are fraught.

Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabal

"I opened my eyes, Viktoria was still playing in my hair with a finger, and sighing."

Another tick on the 1001 list and this brief little read is a delight. A young apprentice working at a train station in the Czech republic during the German occupation has a humiliating sexual experience, well attempt at any rate, in sharp contrast with his work mentor. His horror leads him to attempt suicide, unsuccessfully and finally become a man and a bit of a hero. The winding sentences are a complete hoot and full of some novel and inventive imagery. The idea of the dispatcher printing the station's stamps on the telegraphist's naked backside is hard to forget. There is something about Czech literature that I've encountered to date, it is a rare mix of innocence and licentiousness that is both adorable and slightly naughty. What is not to love?

4 out of 5 trains that go bump through the tunnel.

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

"Throughout his life, Picasso went to bed late and got up late."

Undoubtedly the most inspirational book I have ever had the good fortune to read.  Reading it has taught me that no matter what your strange habits are, you are likely to find some genius out there who shares one or many of them. Does a glass of wine increase your word count, well you aren’t alone on that front. Is the morning or the afternoon the peak of your productivity, there’s good company for either option.

So many of my literary heroes and heroines (and other luminaries of the arts) are included here and it makes for fascinating reading.

The fact that Umberto Eco published his first novel at 48 years of age has given me hope that  there's still time for me to pull my finger out and come up with something amazing.

5 out of 5 amazing talents never fail to amaze.

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Power by Naomi Alderman

"As for Margot: all she needs to know is that she can keep it under control.They're bringing in testing at work."

Another electrifying Bailey's prize shortlist novel that you simply have to check out. This novel turns the gender divide on its head and the boys are terrified. Rather than a preachy diatribe on the injustices of inequality, this is a thrilling read that quickly draws you in.

Young women from different  corners of the globe are discovering an innate ability to draw on an internal electrical power that in extreme cases can kill. The novel manages to explore the way in which power corrupts, and the way an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.

The idea that the touch of a young woman could have such devastating outcomes, as illustrated by Roxy and her attempts to seek revenge for her mother's murder,  is such an interesting notion. It completely turns the table on the notion of the weaker sex. Rather than showing women as any better than men, poor behaviours abound on both sides of the gender divide, highlighting how similar we both are, our habit of making the most of our privileges and fighting tooth and nail when they come into question.

Engaging characters with a lack of black and white morality make this an especially intriguing read. Perhaps what makes the book feel so contemporary is the atmosphere  of outrage and hatred perpetuated by the social media obsessed, twenty four hour news cycle world we currently live in. I enjoyed the diversions from the narrative via the artwork, the letters and the internet forum; they act as an effective shorthand and provide and even greater sense of the world of the novel.

Many reviewers have drawn comparisons with Margaret Atwood's dystopian classic The Handmaid's Tale, and while I take their point, The Power also reminds me somewhat of  J.G.Ballard's work, albeit turned upside down on the gender spectrum.In any case, this would make an excellent book club selection as there is a lot to discuss. So my advice would be, go forth and get yourself a copy. Hopefully I've not given too much away ( I don't think I have) and I'd love to hear your thoughts once you've read it.

5 out of 5 electric shots are amped up.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

"Considering one's life requires a horribly delicate determination, doesn't it?"

There are times when a gritty exploration of a difficult romantic relationship full of alcohol, insults and vomit might be an intriguing idea. Digesting this little tale in between deadlines probably wasn't the best way to get an easy night's sleep. Ignore me,though, it is expertly rendered, if not difficult to read. 

Could this be the reason I had two days alcohol free ?- no that was budget related. Mind you if I had the protagonist's penchant for vomit, then perhaps I would refrain more often.
First love is an insightful and detailed exploration of an unhappy relationship delivered in a concise package and has been shortlisted for this year's Bailey's prize for fiction.
Do not expect an upbeat romantic comedy and you will be entertained by its incisiveness. Impressively crafted and certainly an author to watch.

5 out of 5 time painful relationships are better on the page than reality.

When Falcons Fall (Sebastian St. Cyr #11) by C.S. Harris

"Sebastian suspected he knew exactly what was suddenly troubling the vicar."

Some days I am just so grateful to have a friend like Nicki, who persuades me to explore new and addictive book series such as the Sebastian St Cry novels. I was initially a little ambivalent and am now a fully-fledged convert. That should perhaps be obvious by the fact that I’m on book 11 of 11 and now eagerly anticipating the next instalment. Basically I, like Hero, can’t get enough of the dashing Viscount Devlin and who could blame me?
The world he inhabits might be full of murder and the odd detailed autopsy, nevertheless there’s joy to be had. His wife is always a delight, such a feisty and resourceful character, who plays an equal role in investigating untimely demises as a true partner to her husband. It has been entertaining to see their relationship develop throughout the series, although this particular outing focuses far more on the mystery.

Who is the mysterious Emma Chance? Does she have some connection to Sebastian’s look alike (and **SPOILERS**) mysterious half-brother? One thing is for certain, Sebastian is convinced she did not die of her own accord. It seems visiting Shropshire is no respite from a body count for Sebastian and his wife, much to the reader’s intrigue.

There are a cast of likely characters here and the suspense certainly kept up through the entire novel. Let’s just say I could not go to sleep until it reached a resolution. Just as I take a sigh of relief and am about to put my head to the pillow, I’m tempted by the tantalising excerpt at the end of the book. I try and look away and yet it has me in its grip. Seeing as the hardback was just released I feel there’s quite some time until I get to soak in the pages of the next St Cyr outing, Where the Dead Lie paperback.

5 out of 5 times one should not go sketching without one’s Abigail.