J. R. R. and Christopher Tolkien
Mariner Books, August 2015
A thousand years on, the sharpness of Beowulf‘s images still strikes us. Longships cruise amid icy spray. A king stares with fear amid the riches of his hall. Then comes the fiend Grendel stalking across the moors. Tolkien’s translation weds to these visions the rhythm and grandeur of language that rumbles even as it exults, which rolls like the swells of the sea. Continue reading
ARCHIPELAGO OF SOULS
Picador, June 2015, RRP $32.99
Archipelago of Souls appealed to me at first glance. Its main character, Wesley Cress, arrives as a soldier settler on King Island and provides an instant link to my own family history. My father and his brothers and sisters grew up for the most part on King Island after my grandfather took land there as a soldier settler himself. Though the book is set probably 15 years or so before my family arrived there, I couldn’t help wondering if the (in)famous Kelly Quirk might make an appearance somehow. That’s the power of half-remembered family legend, I suppose.
When I was 18 or so, we took a family trip to King Island to look at the old farm, which had been sold on to another family some decades again. We went in June or July, for peak wind effect, and spent a few days in family reunion. I never met my grandfather. I’ve heard some of his ludicrous stories, tales about his … let’s call them “adventures” on the island and his youth, of his alcoholism and his time during the war. My dad and my grandma, Na, also died when I was five and 14 respectively; and on the island I felt very connected with them despite their absense. So the cold trip on the isolated island remains a powerful memory. King Island is part of the family mythology.
WHEN THE DOVES DISAPPEARED
Sofi Oksanen, translated by Lola M. Rogers
Atlantic Books, May 2015, RRP $27.99
When the Doves Disappeared is a thoughtful glimpse into Estonian life during occupation by Nazi Germany, and the subsequent USSR rule. It is a study in the meaning of political conviction; passion; loyalty; and love, amongst many other things. Estonian-Finnish poet Sofi Oksanen’s second novel, it is both espionage thriller and literary reflection, with a gripping plot, elegant language, and carefully crafted, deeply flawed characters.
FLOOD OF FIRE
John Murray, May 2015, RRP $29.99; eBook RRP $16.99
Flood of Fire is the final book in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy and concerns the first Opium War, the eventual Chinese defeat, and the seizure of Hong Kong by English forces. Sorry, um, spoilers I guess? It introduces some further new characters in Kesri Singh, the brother of Deeti, Bahram Modi’s widow Shireen, and Neel’s son Raju. We also catch up again with Zachary Reid, who’s had a bad time of it since last we saw him, after taking the fall for events at the end of Sea of Poppies.
SEA OF POPPIES
First published 2008
Let me tell you about buying this book. After being provided with a review copy of the third in this Ibis trilogy, I sought the first two books. I initially purchased them from the Book Depository, since despite its purchase by Amazon, it has served me well in the past, and given the size of the books, time was somewhat of the essence. Unfortunately, my order for the second book was cancelled after a few days and I was refunded. The first book, though, was ostensibly sent in early March. By the beginning of April, I had not received it. So I contacted the Book Depository and received a swift refund for that too. And I turned to Booktopia, which delivered both books promptly, albeit in rather strange jaffle-style packaging. Surprise, surprise, John Murray is a trading name of Hachette, with whom Amazon and by extention the Book Depository have been having a well-publicised tiff*.
Book finally in my hands, I expected something of a dour book. Nominated for the Man Booker Prize, Sea of Poppies is firmly targeted at a literary market. I feared it would be a worthy†, possibly depressing novel about serious issues. But while this book is certainly about the slightly serious issue of the first Opium War, it is neither dour nor worthy. In fact it is frequently hilarious.
THE GRAND SOPHY
Heyer, Georgette (The Book Club, edition 1951 (orig 1950), ISBN – n/a)
I was at a social event back in the 1990s and someone was reading a copy of The Grand Sophy. Soon there was a collection of us standing around laughing and giggling in reminiscence of it’s amusing scenes. The boyfriend of one of the girls wandered over to see what we were talking about.
“Oh,” he said. “A romance book.” And he attempted to walk off. The poor man, he never understood till then exactly how offending a bunch of nerds can go down so very badly. He was sat down and lectured for about two hours on the merit of Georgette Heyer and how, while romance was part of it, it was a genius comedy he was dissing out of hand. I believe I recall his feeble excuse was that his mother had some Georgette Heyers. We all then agreed his mother must have excellent taste in books. Continue reading