Book Review of Outline


“…In everything he said about himself, she found in her own nature a corresponding negative. This anti-description, for want of a better way of putting it, had made something clear to her by a reverse kind of exposition. While he talked, she began to see herself as a shape, an outline, with all the detail filled in around it, while the shape itself remained blank.”


Outline is a story in ten conversations in which the narrator and central figure is a passive listener rather than the focus of the action in the story.  The quote above, while told by the tenth storyteller, actually describes the role of the narrator perfectly.

It’s not as if we know nothing about her though – we know she is a novelist and she is taking some time out in Greece to teach a creative writing course.  There are hints too of a family breakup and a deep sadness that has resulted from this.

Cusk has received a lot of praise for this book and the two that follow, Transit and Kudos  – and certainly the style is distinctive and intriguing.  But I’m not left with a burning desire to pick the second one up immediately.  I’ll put them on the list for some time in the future to see if my interest can be a little further piqued.


Book Review of The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell

sam hellThis satisfying but easy-to-read novel tells the story of Sam Hill, a young boy born with ocular albinism, giving him eerily red eyes. This earns him the nickname ‘Devil Boy’ in his difficult formative years spent at a Catholic primary school.

Prejudice is something Sam encounters his whole life – but with the help of his loving parents and his two best friends and fellow outsiders Mickey and Ernie, his character is tempered by forgiveness and kindness. Spurred by his mother’s desire for him to live an extraordinary life, he becomes an optical surgeon, and eventually takes his skills to the poorest areas of the world.

But love will always call Sam home – if only he can come to see himself as worthy of it. His family encounters serious challenges on the cusp of his adulthood which changes his pathway, and there is always Mickey – the girl he thinks he loves but who may not be able to love him back.

An easy and satisfying listen on audio. Worth a look.

Book Review of Killing Commendatore

killing commendatoreI’ve seen reviews describe Haruki Murakami’s latest opus as ‘rambling’, and I would have to agree.  Killing Commendatore is a slow-paced and lengthy odyssey into a traditionally mysterious and unresolved Murakami wonderland.  This time, I struggled to keep my eyes open for long sections in the early and middle sections of the book. But this is just something you have to accept about a Murakami novel – he spends painstaking time creating both the ordinary and the extraordinary worlds his characters inhabit.  But I’d suggest this is one for the fans only – his earlier works are a little punchier.

Isolation is a key theme of many of Murakami’s novels, and the unnamed protagonist here is a portrait painter unceremoniously rejected by his wife.  Seeking refuge and solitude, he ends up living in the remote mountains of Odawarra, in the home of a once famous painter, Tomohiko Amada.  There he uncovers a painting that was never made public.  It depicts a Japanese portrayal of a murder in Don Giovanni (opera being another key element in many of Murakami’s works).  The discovery of the painting sets off a chain of unusual events that are never really brought completely into the light.  he befriends a rich stranger , who encourages him to paint the portrait of a young girl – a girl he believes may be his daughter.  Alongside this, a mysterious bell chiming in the middle of the night leads him to a tomb and a mysterious little figure, an ‘Idea’ personified in the form of the Commendatore of the picture.

While the painter is inspired anew and begins several new works, yet each disturbs him somehow.  He senses he is being drawn into a mystery that ties together Amada’s piece, Amada himself and the young girl he befriends. Eventually he must quest to save her when she disappears from the world to a place only he can enter.

The painter likes to keep many of his portraits unfinished – a reflection of Murakami’s own desire not to tie up the ends of his narrative neatly. Once again this is a lyrical, strange and beautiful novel, but one that may have been more satisfying.

Book Review of Rose Madder

rose madderI decided to fill in one of my Stephen King gaps by listening to Rose Madder, a title that hadn’t caused a lot of interest in the past.

Rose Madder differs from many other Stephen King novels in two ways; firstly, it is largely set in an um-magical world.  The focus is on Rose, a woman who escapes her abusive husband a corrupt and violent policeman.  Secondly, the supernatural element is closely connected to Greek Mythology which isn’t a clear direction for much of King’s work.  This is brought about through a visit to a pawn shop to sell her engagement ring (which turns out to be cubic zirconia), where Rosie encounters a painting of a woman wearing Greek dress.  She is drawn to the power and self-possession of the figure and takes the painting home.  She is later drawn into the landscape the painting depicts and sent on a mission to rescue a baby from the maze of the bull Erinyes.

Eventually the two worlds collide and Rosie’s husband Norman becomes Erinyes and must be confronted and destroyed in the world of the painting to protect those Rosie loves in the read world.

Readable, dark and mildly disturbing, this isn’t one of King’s best (apparently he agrees) but it is a reasonably good way to spend a few hours.

Book Review of Drew Dudley’s This Is Day One

day oneI love Drew Dudley’s TED Talks – the one about creating lollipop moments and the one about Larry the homeless man… both give us real food for thought about character and leadership.  I show them to senior boys every year.

So when I saw he had written a book – subtitled ‘A Practical Guide to Leadership That Matters’, I thought I had better get my hands on it.

This isn’t really a book on leadership though – I actually think its a book about living your best life.

It starts by encouraging you to always see yourself as living day one of something – reminding you how you are never more passionate or efficient than on your first day of a job, a diet etc than on the very first day you do it.  Then he goes through a bunch of other really great advice – on changing the way you view rejection, on how you measure the impact you make each day, on appreciating all the great moments of life and identifying and putting into words that values that guide your actions.

It’s very readable and full of the moments in Dudley’s life that resulted in the development of his philosophies.  Very enjoyable – like a longer extension of his TED Talks.

Book Review of Atomic Marriage

atomic marriageRunning at just 58 minutes on audio, Curtis Sittenfeld’s Atomic Marriage is a story within a story.

Movie producer Heather travels into the South to meet with Brock, author of the best-selling self-help book, Atomic Marriage. Appropriating the atomic clock to doomsday and translating it to divorce, the books advises married readers about what is required to stay married.

In the movie version, Heather wants to include a gay couple which has offended the staunchly conservative artist’s views.

While visiting the man she dubbed beforehand as a ‘homophobe’, Heather becomes inexplicably attracted to him and ponders her own failing marriage.

An engaging hour or your time well spent and free this month on Audible.

Book Review of The Lost Man

lost manI was disappointed when I found out that The Lost Man wasn’t another Aaron Falk book – but then a friend whose reading opinion I value mentioned that this was actually her favourite of Jane Harper’s outback Australian mysteries.

She was right – this family drama can only be told from within the family.

Nathan Bright is a lonely, divorced outcast called back to the family property when the body of his closest brother Cameron is discovered near a local landmark. It’s looks like suicide – like he drove into the desert and gave up. But why? What drives a family man to leave his wife and daughters behind?

What follows is an examination of our assumptions about Cameron’s life – as well as hidden elements of the lives of he other Bright brothers too. Bub, the youngest, longs to both prove himself but also separate himself from the family legacy. Nathan has been shunned by the community, and retreated so far into himself that his teenage son believes she will be the next to give up the ghost. And then there is Ilsa, Cameron’s wife but a woman Nathan met and loved before Cameron. Do second chances really exist? And under what circumstances?

The Lost Man took a little time to get into, but was well worth the time spent in pondering and profiling these quintessentially Australian characters. Well-crafted and well-considered.