The Camino is a point of fascination for me. Like many (so many in fact that it is even mentioned in this book), I saw the film The Way and become fascinated with the concept of this pilgrimage and the capacity of this particular walk to change the lives and perspective of so many. I’m not religious at all, but sometimes things like these act as opportunities to challenge ourselves and take stock of our lives. Maybe I will do it one day.
Authors Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist (his wife) have walked The Camino several times and it is these experiences that inspired the writing of Two Steps Forward, the story of two people who at a crossroads in their lives, are drawn to The Camino. Zoe and Martin, the narrators, each tell their story in alternate chapters, giving their background and beginning their Camino and their relationship with it and each other. Initially – as in all good stories – they don’t like each other. But the love story as such is not the focus of this novel, and neither character finds themselves capable of a relationship until they focus on the reason they came to the Camino in the first place.
Martin has designed a cart for walkers that he wants to patent and sell – but it needs a trial. The longer he walks though, the less this inspires his continued journey. For Zoe, it is a complete impulse after visiting a friend in France after the death of her husband. She needs to consider how to frame her life without his steadying hand – even if it was not much of a love match.
It’s endearing to see real human stories and affairs of the heart that surround people who aren’t in the early stages of their lives. I enjoyed this as a gentle read towards the end of the year. Worth a look.
Sofie Laguna’s The Eye of the Sheepwon 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.
There has been a lot of buzz about Holly Throsby’s Goodwood (especially as Throsby herself is better known for singing words than writing them).
And the buzz is well worthwhile – Goodwood is a finely crafted read that reflects real and engaging characters living that small-town life. You know the sort – where the local fish and chip shop is the centre of society, and fishing is one of the more popular pastimes.
But this quietness is disturbed when two residents go missing within a week of each other. One, a young woman, has vanished without a trace, but with plenty of mystery and discussion. The second, an older man who is well-respected within the town followed after just a week.
Are the two cases connected? Or is life just not as simple as it appears in Goodwood?
This was a really solid read that made me happy to pick up the book each night. Definitely worth a look. Throsby’s move into the literary world is a good one – and I daresay more novels will follow this.
Urged on by the light-hearted humour of The Rosie Project and it’s sequel, I picked up Graeme Simsion’s The Best of Adam Sharp as a bit of light holiday reading.
Light reading it achieves. Tick. It starts off as a fairly generalised story of a man in his 50s who is contacted by the love of his youth – an actress he met whilst holidaying in Australia. Her contact instigates an examination of his current life: his work situation, his nights playing trivia at the pub and his relationship which of late has been lacklustre.
Plenty of good novels explore these themes, although this one takes a bit of a strange turn as Sharp takes a holiday with his youthful paramour and her current husband and becomes part of a complex process of them testing their marriage. I found much of this a bit strange and overly complicated, as if Simsion was trying to be more edgy. But ultimately as satisfying a result could have been brought about without some of the awkward sexual antics.
Don’t expect much and you might enjoy this. It doesn’t have the originality of the characters in The Rosie Project and tries a bit hard. But some elements of Sharp will no doubt resonate for many, and the overall message is a pretty good one.
Like many, I was spellbound by the love of writing that was apparent in Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites – a detailed and meticulously researched portrayal of the last woman sentenced to death for murder in Iceland. Burial Rites was a novel destined to take the international stage – one that blended physical and emotional realities masterfully and explored a complex character and the reactions of those around her with sophistication and deftness.
The Good People, Kent’s follow-up, holds all the same magic.
Set in a remote village near the Flesk River in Killarney, The Good People explores the superstitions of simple folk – and the many ways in which they can lead to tragedy. Kent came across the real event in her research for Burial Rites– the story of an aged woman whose defence for murder was based upon her belief that the murdered boy was but a changeling and thus she should not be held accountable. While it is easy to believe this is madness or an excuse for cold-blooded murder, once again Kent creates real human warmth and invites readers to feel sympathy or at least acknowledge the complexity of such cases.
Beautiful prose, complex but real characters and thought-provoking ideas about being a woman in a backwards time make The Good People another likely best-seller. I challenge anyone who loved Burial Rites to not see this as yet another demonstration of Kent as one of the greatest writers of our time.
Yes, I know I’m gushing. But this is worth getting excited about. Comes out in October.
An intriguing and reasonably easy read, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos satisfies with two intertwined narratives.
One is the story of Sara de Vos, a fictional 17th century Dutch female painter and the tragic story of the loss or her daughter, and her subsequent abandonment by her husband. It’s a moving tale and also an interesting glimpse into how difficult it was to pursue your talents of a woman of this time – even one as exceptional as Sara is portrayed to be.
Interspersed with this is the story of a forgery. Ellie Shipley, a talented but unappreciated art historian and restorationist is flattered by the offer to ‘copy’ De Vos’ ‘At The Edge of a Wood’ for insurance purposes – and despite the unusual circumstances of the deal, accepts as a way to prove her skills. Eventually she comes to realise she is creating an elaborate copy for the black market – but by this point she is so engrossed with perfecting the project she cannot stop herself.
The owner of the original – Martin De Groot – uses a private investigator to find Ellie, but his plan to confront her with the truth is thwarted by his growing attraction for the solitary Shipley.
Many, many years later, the two are reunited again when two copies of ‘At The Edge of a Wood’ are sourced for an Australian exhibition.
Some beautiful storytelling and interesting questions raised about the value of art – and the value of a meticulous copy. Definitely worth a look.
There has been so much press about Charlotte Wood’s Stella Prize winning novel, The Natural Way of Things. And deservedly so – it is thought-provoking, lyrical in places and has well-rounded characters. It also has some serious concerns about how we treat women and sex scandals in the media.
Two women – Yolanda and Verla – awaken in a strange place. Far in the remotest part of Australia, they find themselves imprisoned by people they do not know. This is the start of a most unusual friendship.
Soon they realise that they are just two of a larger group of women being kept apart from the world – and the one thing they have in common is that they were all embroiled in some kind of sex scandal.
As time passes they are forgotten by the world, and their jailers find themselves just as isolated as the women. Verla seeks refuge in two things; a dream horse who she longs to ride off into the sunset on, and the hunt for mushrooms to murder the worst of the prison guards. Yolanda though embraces the isolation, turning into a wild creature. Her strength sustains the women – and although she retreats into herself, she provides them with meat to sustain themselves.
You think you will know how this book will end, but you don’t. And its nice to be surprised. This is definitely worth a look.