Book Review of Exit West

UnknownThis is another Man Booker nominee, a slim kind of a volume with plenty to say within its pages.  Mohsin Hamid comments of love, refugees and out culture of fearing the outsider in Exit West.

Nadia and Saeed meet in a country on the brink of disaster.  Although the name of this place is never revealed, it appears to be somewhere in the Middle East.  He is traditionally and she – despite her traditional outerwear – a progressive.  They seem an unlikely couple, but are drawn together during the crumbling of their worlds.

They flee their homeland and cling to each other in various refugee camps – the way to many of which are opened though magical doors that lead you to another part of the world – an odd but fascinating little aspect of this story that Hamid tells in such a commonplace way that you would expect the door to your spare bedroom to lead you to London too.  It leads to an interesting sense of dislocation for the characters – and allows for fascinating depictions of the inhabitants of those lands who are suddenly overrun by refugees.  Hamid has a sharp eye and while it’s clear he condemns those who would reject those who need it a place in their country, in his magical world even these strange intrusions are eventually forgiven and ways forward are found.  And surely if they can, we an ourselves?

A fascinating and thought-provoking read – definitely one for our times.


Book Review of The Ninth Hour

title-9th-hourAlice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour is one of those soft, rewarding and well-written novels that doesn’t inspire great excitement, but is worthwhile and fulfilling. It’s real and well, good.

The Ninth Hour starts with a death – the suicide of a young husband who leaves behind a pregnant wife. In Catholic Brooklyn, the wife is left with a stigma of shame and with few supports or resources. Taken in by the nuns, the lives of Annie and her soon-to-be-born daughter are entwined with the nuns of the convent from that point on. Annie works in the laundry and Sally grows up amidst the clothes and the wise words and kind deeds of these remarkable women. She comes to see their calling as a noble one.

But not all lives are as they seem. Annie has a secret – one that will make Sally fear for her immortal soul and question what she will and won’t do when it comes to those she loves. It’s a questioning that challenges her very decision to join the good sisters.

Worth a look if you like this kind of thing. McDermott is obviously a beautiful writer.

Book Review of Release

Unknown-1Patrick Ness can write.  There is a real sensitivity to his stories both in their content and in the way they are written.

That beauty is evident in Release, his latest novel.  However, there is probably more here than needs to be.  There are two parallel storylines – one of Adam Thorne, a young man coming to terms with his sexuality and his romantic feelings for two men.  This is complicated by his religious upbringing; his father is a local pastor focussed on ensuring the family sets some kind of example in the local community.  They have been ignoring the signs of Adam’s sexuality for years.  Fortunately, Adam is surrounded by other friends whose love and support allow him to navigate some of these waters.

The other storyline involves a local girl who dies in tragic circumstances – a girl with a substance abuse problem and a violent boyfriend.  Her body is dumped in the lake where it joins with an ancient spirit to seek out the details of her death.  I’m not really sure of the purpose of this – it’s barely comprehensible and the Adam Thorne storyline is strong enough to stand alone without this.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who has read this, to hear their take on the second storyline.

Book Review of Positive Education: The Geelong Grammar Journey

Oxford_PosEd_coverThis was wonderful work read charting Geelong Grammar’s journey to embed positive education into their curriculum and school ethos. It’s wonderfully done – laid out in a way in which those of us who are interested, could follow their steps and hope for the same kinds of wonderful outcomes.

I’m really inspired by what I read here. It covers details on the PERMA model, character strengths and all the things I would love to embed in my current workplace.

A worthy investment.

Book Review of The Last Tudor

In the afterword to The Last Tudor Philippa Gregory says she may not revisit what haslast tudor been an incredibly successful series of novels about women during the War of the Roses and the Tudor Ascension. And while I have really enjoyed this series – its easy to see why. She is stretching a little here in this final installment.

There are actually three narrators in The Last Tudor – all of which have part of a story to share about Elizabeth’s coming to power. The first is Lady Jane Grey – who was crowned queen for all of nine days. She was then imprisoned in the tower by Queen Mary and later executed for treason. Lady Jane is an uninspiring narrator, and it is actually a pleasure to move on to the second narrator, her younger sister Katherine.

When Elizabeth comes to the throne it is still amongst talk of her unmarried status. And as time speeds by and she remains unmarried (clearly due to her love for Robert Dudley in this text) pressure mounts for her to name an heir. Unfortunately for Katherine, she is too likely a successor. Elizabeth, portrayed as tyrannical queen desperate to hold on to the throne at all costs, sees Katherine as a threat. When Katherine marries into another high-ranking York house for love and in secret, she makes herself a target. Elizabeth imprisons her, her husband and her children.

Although we follow Katherine’s tragic yet touching history for some years and long into her confinement, the youngest sister Mary takes her turn narrating. Mary is the most interesting of the three sisters – a pragmatist with a unique perspective. Pretty as a doll but likely what would have been referred to as a dwarf in those times, Mary is incredibly wary and astute about Elizabeth – who never let any of her ladies marry. Mary too weds in secret, but far below her. She too incurs Elizabeth’s wrath.

It is interesting to see each of the sisters through each other’s eyes, and their damning portrayal of Elizabeth, who is long considered to have ushered in a ‘golden age’ in British history. The last section is by far the best, but it’s clear this is wearing thin. A novel parallel to this, set from Elizabeth’s perspective, would be most welcome though.

Book Review of Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House

golden houseIn a detour from his recent forages into fantasy and magical realism, Salman Rushdie presents us a with a clever realistic fiction in tune with modern politics.

The Golden House is the story of Nero Golden and his sons – a mysterious family who immigrate to New York escaping a shadowy past. Their great wealth, and the unusual characteristics of each of his three sons; Petya, Apu and D make them irresistibly interesting to their neighbour Rene, who aspires to make a film about their lives. Indeed he does, but in doing so he becomes far too embroiled in their dramas and the past that is about to catch up with them.

Behind all of this rather excellent storytelling is some very funny foreshadowing of Trump’s eventual – and surprising – presidential win. Much of this is entertaining enough on its own. Rene and a girlfriend create a series of short films portraying Trump as the Joker… and become increasingly alarmed is this joke seems to turn into a reality.

Its certainly not one of his better novels – but engaging and reasonably clever. Nothing unexpected here – nothing in his usual vein. This will likely disappoint some fans, but might buy him some new ones – especially with the current political commentary.

Review of My Dad Wrote a Porno Podcast

UnknownImagine if your ageing father wrote an erotic novel.  And not even a good erotic novel… what would you do?  Would you avoid family dinners?  Pretend it doesn’t exist?  Or – like Jamie Morton – would you get together regularly with your friends and read it aloud, laughing the whole way through?

Author Rocky Flintstone (definitely a pen-name) delves into the sexually-charged pots and pans industry, and his main character, Belinda Blumenthal, is a woman who isn’t afraid to use her sexuality to get ahead in this cut-throat world.  Or actually, she’s quite happy to use her sexuality anywhere, any place, at any time and literally WITH ANYONE.  Through scenarios sexy, saucy and sickening, Belinda is always on her game.

Rocky however, is a terrible writer and there is a lot of questioning to be done in regards to his knowledge of Biology – especially the female body.  Fortunately, Jamie, James and Alice are all on hand with their commentary.  And it’s brilliant.  Witty and no-holds barred, they spare no thought for Rocky’s feelings.

My Dad Wrote a Porno is the podcast sensation I’ve been waiting for all my life.  For weeks before I began, I kept hearing people raving about it.  I’ve ripped through the first three seasons (and Season 3 actually ended on a riveting cliffhanger – who would have thought!).  Looking forward to experiencing Season 4 as a weekly production!