Clancy of the Undertow
Clancy of the Undertow tells the story of 16 year old Clancy, middle child of the apparently dysfunctional Underhill family. Living in small town Queensland is no fun for a tree-frog shaped misfit at the best of times but these are the worst of times (sorry Dickens). Do not be put off* by this though. It is not an earnest misery-fest, but a story told with such humour that I laughed out loud and quoted lines to anyone who happened to be in the same room at the time—and they laughed too.
Notes on the Death of Culture
Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. John King
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
I don’t mean to be alarmist or anything, but I have some terrible news. Culture. It’s… dead. It’s dead, Jim!
How do I know? Well, Mario Vargas Llosa told me so, and as the bastion of all that is Good and Right and Noble in this world, he should know. Oh, how he laments the loss of glorious enlightemnent ideals, aesthetic art and literature. A time when intellectuals were given their proper value, listened to and affecting the way society operated. A time, you see, that only exists in the misted eyes and rose-tinted glasses of the privileged few. Because apparently any kind of mass culture, any non-western-based culture, is just not worth your time. And forget about the devilish Internet or about any kind of Islamic culture. I mean really. Really. Continue reading
Andrea Molesini, trans. Antony Shugaar and Patrick Creagh
Allen & Unwin
Andrea Molesini’s Between Enemies is an eloquent tale of occupation, collaboration and resistance set in WWI. Based on true events, it follows the aristocratic Spada household as their property is requisitioned by German soldiers, then Austrians. Their village is occupied. Eventually the whole household as well as several villagers are drawn to resist the occupiers.
Told from the perspective of 17-year-old Paolo, writing as an adult some ten years later, the story is full of high drama, but also nostalgia and melancholy. Because the narrator is a teenage boy during the events, the story is also sadly filled with the objectification of Paolo’s crush Giulia. While this is probably realistic, it’s a little tiresome to read, especially when the novel purports to say something about the natures of men and women and their relationships*. This is usually by way of commentary delivered by Paolo’s eccentric but wise grandfather, and manages to be the same sort of thing supposedly wise men always say about women in stories of this kind. If authors** could stop doing that, that would be swell. Continue reading
My Sister Rosa
Allen & Unwin
Those of us unlucky enough to have grown up with younger siblings know how annoying they can be at times. But what if your little sister was more than annoying? What if she was a psychopath? I don’t mean psychopath in the metaphorical or hyperbolic sense but in the actual medical diagnosis sense. What if your ten year old sister was clever, charming, manipulative, callous and completely lacking in empathy? What if you had to ask her to promise not to kill anyone and not to trick someone else into killing anyone?
Paradise Alley is an epic novel tracing the events of the days of rioting in New York City in July of 1863. It follows a number of characters—refugees from the Irish potato famine, a escaped slave, a newspaper reporter and a child prostitute, to name but a few. Think of Martin Scorsese’s film, Gangs of New York crossed with the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution—only more violent and barbaric.
The Adventures of Miss Petitfour
Anne Michaels, illustrated by Emma Block
Digressions are things that should occur once things have begun. Don’t you think? One couldn’t possibly begin with a digression when there is nowt yet to digress from.
Of course, I could have begun and then gone off on a digression but I’ve always been a little contrary. I do love a good digression. It is in life’s digressions that one finds the adventure, the pith, the meaning. Does this have anything to do with the story at hand? No, not a whit. Continue reading
The Belly of the Atlantic
Fatou Diome, trans. Lulu Norman and Ros Schwartz
Fatou Diome’s The Belly of the Atlantic is a passionate story about the dream of migration and its harsh reality. Told from the point of view of Strasbourg resident Salie, the novel nonetheless focuses mostly on her brother Madické. Madické lives on the Senegalese island Niodior and dreams of being headhunted to join a big European soccer team. This dream is shared by many of his friends, persisting despite the warnings of Salie and the teacher Ndétare that neither the road to nor the life in Europe is as good as they believe. Continue reading
The Illuminae Files_01
Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Allen & Unwin
Illuminae is a visual wonder piece of science fiction narration. It straddles the undefined landscape between novel and graphic novel in a way that is almost cinematic in its execution. Rather than a story told in a series of words, what we have are words presented as in a dossier; “found” documents (e.g., chat room logs, mission reports, narrated surveillance footage) that show the bloody unfolding of one corporation’s ruthless attack on another. We’ve stumbled upon someone’s dirty little (well-documented) secret, the kind of dirty secret that the most cynical of us assume that all corporations must have, and we can only hold our breathe as the carnage accelerates, and ask, “Will they get away with it?”
Simon and Schuster
October 2015, RRP$32.99
Growing up is hard, for everyone, no matter the circumstances. At least that’s the impression I have taken away, and taken comfort in, from the many creative expressions which delve into the experience of growing up and coming of age. This theme is also at the centre of Todd Alexander’s novel Tom Houghton. Continue reading
I started reading science fiction with a copy of ‘Ringworld’ by Larry Niven that my brother owned. I went on to read the classics: Asimov, Clarke, Silverberg. When I attended the science fiction/Fantasy fan club meeting at university, I argued strongly on the side of SF in the debates ‘What is better, SF or fantasy?’ Clearly, it’s science fiction! Duh. Why is this even a thing? Though this was that days before Harry Potter and Mieville; I might have to concede defeat on those fronts.
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
Sun-Mi Hwang, trans. Chi-Young Kim
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a beloved story in South Korea*, appearing for the first time in English after its initial release in 2000. It follows the chicken Sprout, who has lived her life inside a battery farm and dreams of one day hatching an egg of her very own. She is given up for dead and thrown out. This is when Sprout finally gets the opportunity to fulfil her dream.
Targetted at both adult and child readers, at least in English translation, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a simple tale with a complex message. The writing is enchanting, evoking the seasonal changes and the dangers of living in the wilds. The story is concisely told, with drama and adventure in measured doses.
With easy comparisons to Charlotte’s Web and similar such tales, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a gentle and enjoyable read.
*According to the author information anyway. Since I don’t speak Korean, know any South Koreans, and have never been to South Korea, I cannot verify this first-hand.
The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings
Occasionally, when we are all very good, the story-gods are kind to us, and they send a writer whose voice and vision are so deeply felt, so confident and so intricately imagined, that the whole of their work is a wonderment from end to end. I experienced that electric wonder-shock to the senses on first reading Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners (for example), or Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories (which I read before reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell for reasons that made sense at the time, but are now forgotten). And now, I find myself experiencing the feeling of wonder-shock anew. The author is Angela Slatter and the work, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings. This collection of interwoven short-stories really is that good. I think even if I had only been allowed one page of this short story collection to use as the basis for my whole review, I’d still be recommending Angela Slatter unreservedly. The prose jumps off the page the way prose does when the person responsible is a master at their craft. Sometimes, you don’t need more than a sentence or two. Sometimes, you can just tell. But as it was, I had the luxury to be drawn in, and to step my way through all the tales within. And what tales they are.
THE STRANGER Harlan Coben (Hachette 2015; ISBN 9781409144649) Harlan Coben’s book, The Stranger, drops us into the world of a middle class family whose biggest priority is a sports scholarship for their kids. The reader soon discovers that this perfect world of soccer moms and white picket fences is a veneer, … Continue reading