Advance Copy

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.

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Excited Book Review of The Choke

the-chokeSofie Laguna’s The Eye of the Sheep won the 2015 Miles Franklin – and is one of my favourite reads of recent years.  So when I was offered a review copy of her latest, The Choke, I could not say yes fast enough.

The Choke is destined to win awards too.

Laguna excels at writing complex child narrators, and placing them in dangerous worlds.  But thats where the similarities between these two books end.

Justine is a girl abandoned by both father and mother and living with her ailing grandfather in a remote place known as the choke – where the bush meets the river.  She’s not neglected, but certainly lives a simple lifestyle in a man’s world.  It’s a violent world too – and Laguna makes this apparent even in describing children’s play in the opening chapter.

School is no refuge either – at least, not until she befriends a young disabled not who is also an outsider.  But not even this can save her from the violence in her world.  Before she is 14 she has witnessed and experienced abuse.  And your heart will break.  I doubt anyone could read this story and not be moved by what Justine experiences – and perhaps more powerfully, how she turns something just awful into something potentially beautiful.  There were tears in my eyes as I closed the final pages.  This is not to be missed.

Book Review of Julie Bucktin’s Debut – Marlena

Two friends juMarlena_new.inddst don’t know that disaster is waiting for them around the corner.

While we all try on new identities in our youth as a way of trying to manage the enormous possibilities of who
we are and what we will become – sometimes we make damaging choices that never leave us.

When studious Cat finds herself in Silver Lake, a tiny town in rural Michigan, she could not be further away from her New York private school.  Just as the loss of the life she imaged begins to hit her… a new best friend stands ready and waiting.  Marlena.
Marlena is daring and exciting – but also troubled.  She introduces Cat to a fast-paced life of drinking, soft drugs, boys and skipping school.  And while we see Cat’s downward spiral, even more alarming is the reader’s realisation that what is happening to Marlena is even more profound.

Marlena was a book that was difficult to put down. It’s a novel about friendship and youth and that feeling of indestructibility that sadly we must learn just isn’t real.  This is an impressive debut novel that read flawlessly.

Book Review of History of Wolves

Emily Fridlund’s debut novel, History of Wolves is pretty impressive.  30183201-_uy200_

Although many would argue this is a “coming of age” story, I’d argue it is a pretty original one.

Yes, we have a young and naive girl looking to make connection. Isolated even from her cultish parents, she spends much of her spare time in the rugged northern Minnesota landscape.She stumbles onto a young mother and son and insinuates her way into their lives.  Patra, the mother is lonely too.  And then the husband arrives… and the sense of impending doom increases.

The novel flashes back and forward to indicate that something life-changing is about to occur – but what will it be?  Fridlund controls this well.  And on top of that, she weaves in a second minor storyline that sheds further light on her main character.

Slow and rewarding – but you won’t be bored.  Fridlund’s craft is excellent.  I can imagine her developing into someone really worthy of our attention – and even this first novel is absolutely worth your time.

Book Review of The Horseman

9781408876879Tim Pears’ The Horseman is one of those quiet books in which not much happens, but you can take a great deal of comfort.

Set in Devon in 1911, our narrator Leo Sercombe is a twelve-year-old boy dedicated to horses.  Raised on a great estate as the son of the ostler, Leo is drawn to horses too and longs to follow in his father’s footsteps.  Although his brothers are grown up enough to play a variety of farming roles around the community, none share his curiosity or passion. He does find a kindred spirit in the young daughter of the master who wears boys clothes and shoots a gun and eventually is willing to allow Leo to ride her horse.

This is a first in a series – and this is pleasing as the abrupt ending is a bit of a shock and even though this wasn’t entirely my cup of tea (review copy) I do want to know how poor Leo gets on. Definitely one for those who like to read historical fiction of this era.

Book Review of 4321

9781627794466I have to apologise to everyone who I complained to about this book. At the end of the school year I was given this to review – a brick of 860 pages. It’s the story of one life lived through four different possibilities – so the first couple of hundred pages were a bit repetitive until the storylines began to diverge more radically.

Despite my frustrations, I persevered and by page 400 I was hooked. This was brilliant. Auster explores what is at the core of each of our lives – the things that canot and will not change no matter which path we take. In the lives of Artie Ferguson these are his love for books and movies, and his commitment to the written word. He always becomes a writer in one way or another, although the type of writing varies greatly. Many of the same people populate each life – perhaps in slightly different roles, but they are always there. The woman he lives weaves her way throughout, and while he can never truly possess her, in one life he holds her for longer.

It’s a hard read – as each life takes its turn unveiling a section of years. You’ll have to keep looking back to the previous chapters not only to keep track, but also to check the connections between each possibility. If you have the time and energy to spend on it, this is a book well worth taking into your soul.

Book Review of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am

This was a book I really didn’t want to read. It’s not often a book – even one as long as this here-i-amone – will take me a month to get through. But the subject matter was dense, painful and far too real.

The first level of the novel is the story of a marriage breakdown – Jacob and Julia are entering middle life to find that after working so hard to be good parents to their three sons and good Jews, they have forgotten how to be real with each other. This is raw and brilliant writing – but not for the faint-hearted. Safran Foer pulls no punches here. This is human nature in all its complexity – the beauty of forgiveness, the shallowness and frailty of betrayal. You won’t question him as a writer.

While this might seem like enough for any modern novel, it is also very tied up with Jewish identity. Although Jacob and Julia want to be seen as good Jews – even forcing their unwilling son Sam to have a bar mitzvah because “this is what we do”, they themselves acknowledge they don’t hold as fast as they should to their traditions and customs. Yet Jacob’s grandfather – a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to America – reminds them of the importance of protecting those traditions each day. In addition, Jacob’s Israeli cousins espouse the view that all Jews should have stayed in the Holy Land and that living in America is a kind of betrayal to their heritage.

When an earthquake devastates Jerusalem and her enemies look to make war, will Jacob answer the call of his cousins? Like Abraham before him, when called upon to sacrifice all that he loves, will Jacob answer his God with “Here I Am”, or will he be incapable?

Complex, brilliant, too much.