Book Review of Home Fire

home fire.jpgIt’s easy to write simplistic literature around terrorism today, and just as easy to focus on the many, many victims – whether of real threats or of the fear of threat. But what Kamila Shamsie does in Home Fire is so much more complex than this.  She looks intimately at the impact on two families when one son decides to follow his father into the darkness.  One sister abandons him immediately, while another does what she can to be there for him as he finds himself in a frightening and dehumanised world, which no longer makes any kind of sense to him.

Connected to this is a political family who become connected to his disappearance through the sisters, and to his desire to come home.  As Muslims and Middle Easterners under public scrutiny in modern London, the father uses his political power to make an example of those boys that renounce their citizenship in order to show himself to be a figure of unassailable morals.  But his staunch political correctness is trumped by a sister’s love, and her quest for her family to be reunited in any way possible.

Home Fire is a story of love, family, fear, regret, politics and sacrifice.  It’s hard to look away from, and clearly the work of a real talent.


Book Review of A Ladder to the Sky

ladder“And you’ve heard that old proverb about ambition, haven’t you?  That it’s like setting a ladder to the sky.  A pointless waste of energy…”

There are few books that I would describe as electric. But John Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky, the story of an ambitious young writer who struggles to find ideas and so has to steal them from others is compulsively readable.  It’s the book you do not want to put down as the minutes tick past your self-imposed bed-time.

Maurice Swift is determined to be a writer.  And when Erik Ackermann, surprise winner of a literary prize meets him in his youth, he sees potential.  No mind for ideas, and too wordy, but potential.  He also sees the beauty and drive in the young man and falls in love with him.

What Swift does to Ackermann to cement his own career is a cruelty that borders on unspeakable.  It could be a novel in and of itself if even further explored.  But this moral tale has only just begun – and there are many more tales to tell.  And the readers will shake their head in disbelief at times at what ambition, jealousy and desire allow us to justify to ourselves.

The first two parts of this novel observe Maurice from those around him, so we never really know his plans and motivations – we just watch the more shocking acts of the novel unfold blindly,  The second two parts are narrated by Maurice, filling in what we never knew before.  He’s not a likeable character, but as another old adage says, fortune favours the bold.  And Maurice always seems to come out on top. Somehow.

A great read, and of no doubt particular interests for those with a fascination for the world of books, either reading or writing them.  One of my best for the year.


Book Review of Paris Echo

paris echoSebastian Faulks’ Paris Echo is a beautiful study of the connections we make when in other countries and when we open ourselves to seeking what we need.

Hannah and Tariq come to Paris for very different reasons.  Hannah is a lonely soul who doesn’t understand herself, or a love affair that ended in Paris many years ago.  She seeks understanding of the human spirit in the stories of Parisian women in the second world war.  The stories are both beautiful and horrifying, showing the best, worst and even the most mundane that we are capable of.

Tariq comes to Paris penniless and without plan – just wanting to connect to the French mother he never really knew.  He finds glimpses of her on every magical street corner and in every stranger he talks to.  But nothing concrete.

Hannah and Tariq come to befriend each other and Tariq assists Hannah in her work – until he sees glimpses of her women on every street corner too.

The beauty and mystery of Paris, and the pain of war and loss of all kinds resonates through each page of this quiet but fascinating novel.  I loved how it found connections and kinship amongst characters you would think had nothing in common.

This book was a gift and a very thoughtful choice that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Book Review of High Five To The Boys

high five boys.jpgThis is a cute and inspiring read aimed at young people, arguably young men.

It celebrates male Australians who have made a difference in a variety of areas – from the entertainment industry to science, politics, charity and the environment. Some are well known, like Hugh Jackman, and others are lesser known but equally as fascinating.

This is a great gift, and a great staple for school libraries.  It shows men a variety of ways to be successful and challenges some of those stereotypes about masculinity that can be so damaging to them living fulfilling lives.

Book Review of Pulitzer Prize Winning Less

LessI picked this up a recent trip to Readings in Carlton, and there was just something so endearing about the blurb for this novel… and then the giant sticker proclaiming that it had won the Pulitzer Prize this year.

Andrew Sean Greer’s Less is just as expected – a well-written and endearing novel about an aging gay writer – Arthur Less – who in a desperate attempt to have a legitimate excuse to skip the marriage of his long-term lover, accepts every offer possible that takes him out of the state- and even out of the country. Less just happens to be turning 50 around about the same time. And his latest novel, has been rejected by his publisher.

Witty, affable and charmingly sincere, Less is an engaging subject. It’s also lovely to enter his world of writers – and the mindset of writers who can never be sure of their own genius. But it’s apparently not that Less is a bad writer – his second last novel wins an international prize on his strange journey. It’s apparently that he’s a bad gay – always making his characters suffer. Somewhere on his journey amidst the broken heart, the self-flagellation, the nostalgia, the injuries, the madness and the alcohol, he completes a re-write of the new novel, and in turn, rewrites himself.

The novel is also intriguingly narrated by a disembodied narrator who moves closer and closer to the action of the narrative as the novel progresses, only to be revealed just as the story closes. Sweet, smart and honest – while this won’t be the book of the year for me by a mile, I dare you not to like it.

Book Review of The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

sophie-stark-e1448060209378One of the real luxuries of holidays is to throw all serious reading aside and pull out a book of relaxing fiction. 

First I started with a Lianne Moriarty, but that turned out to be too light. I settled instead for Anna North’s The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, a book that had been on my to-do list for a while. I ungraciously pounced on it when a friend revealed a whole bag full of second-hand book goodies she’d managed to pick up .. and she much more graciously allowed me to take this, offering that she had plenty more to keep her going.

So the story of film-director Sophie Stark… it’s quietly intriguing and cleverly crafted. Told in sections by the people closest to her – and not entirely chronologically, they each paint a picture of that tortured artist trope – a woman trying to communicate with the world via film and through appropriating the powerful stories of those in her lives. Equal parts genius and destructive, Sophie is a vivid figure who none – including the reader – are likely to forget. 

I absorbed this with a quiet fascination over about three days. It’s a book with few likeable characters and some clever storytelling. Although trite in places, it’s the kind of book you wished you’d come up with the concept for yourself. Worth picking up

Book Review of The Female Persuasion

Female persuasionI’m still pondering this eleventh novel by heavenly novelist, Meg Wolitzer. From Wolitzer I can normally expect a kind of fast-paced tour-de-force of the human condition…. Often with very young characters coming into adulthood. The Female Persuasion feels more grown up, more of a thinker, but certainly it lacked the obsessive must-read quality many of her other novels have been characterised by.

In a well-timed move, The Female Persuasion looks at women – their relationships with each other, and beyond this, the women’s movement. At the centre of the novel is Faith Frank, a 60-year-old iconic feminist known for her sexy high boots – a women who has meant a lot to the movement over the years, but is approaching the point of irrelevance. The main character, Greer Kadetsky, meets her at a talk as a Freshman at Ryland University, where her feminism is just awakening after being sexually harassed by an older classmate. Greer’s best friend Zee introduces her to Frank’s work and legacy, but when Frank and Greer make a connection during the event, it is Greer who eventually goes on to work in Faith’s new organisation, sponsored by big business. Zee is left somewhat behind to forge a new meaning in her life, shut out by Greer from access to Faith and as such, the feminist world she longs to live in.

All the women struggle with definitions of feminism here – Zee must find a new way of making a difference without being an activist. In the end, she is the most balanced of the three. Frank’s big business backers radically change her practices as she finds she need to make compromises to keep the money rolling in. Greer’s naivety leads to an inevitable clash with Frank, although doesn’t stop her from having to re-evaluate herself and her attitude to feminism throughout the text – especially in regards to Zee and to her long-time boyfriend Cory whose life is derailed by an unexpected death.

The story is definitely a journey, particularly for Greer who steps into the spotlight of the new feminism at the end of the novel. Finely crafted and thought-provoking, an interesting change of pace from this author.