I avoided reading this incredibly popular book for quite some time, assuming it might be pretty average chick lit written only for mass appeal. But I have to admit, I listened to this on audio and was completely spellbound. I listened to it every moment I could and towards the end actually found myself sitting and doing nothing just so I could listen.
There are probably two reasons for Liane Moriarty’s success with this novel. The first is with clever storytelling. The blurb will tell you the book focusses around a death at a school trivia night, and this is true – but there is plenty of drama in the lead up to this, and Moriarty cleverly capitalises on this by revealing just a little bit of detail at a time. the story of the months before the trivia night is interspersed with the interviews and investigations after the fact. Every little tidbit gets your brain going – who died and how?
Secondly, there are actually some incredibly serious issues at play here – the foremost of which is violence against women. You’ve probably heard about this already. And also the difficulties of class, family and divorce. So no, not as light as I thought it was. And more importantly, Moriarty seems to actually have something to say about all of these issues. All are dealt with in complex ways, and believable ones. The characters in this novel could have been incredibly two-dimensional, but they’re not. There is a kernel of emotional truth in all the choices that they make.
I’m glad I finally got to Big Little Lies. If you haven’t yet, I would definitely recommend it.
When I heard that one of the nominees for the Man Booker this year was a collection of poetry, I was surprised. How can a collection of poems compare with some of the rare and beautiful stories that have taken the title before?
But Milk and Honey is exceptional. Every so often you pick up a volume of poems and feel like the poet is speaking your language. Rupi Kaur is such a poet for me. Concerned with themes of love, loss and feminism, almost every page of poetry was relatable and exquisite – from the short four-line poems to the longer epics charting whole relationships. I have included some in this review just so you can experience it yourself.
I was inspired by this collection – and have thus made two promises to myself. The first is to write more poems – because if a volume like this can have this impact on me, then maybe poetry is worth pursuing. Secondly, I will pick up any volume of poems that resonates with me like this.
I haven’t read the title that eventually won – Lincoln in the Bardo – but I have picked up Kaur’s second volume of poetry. And that says something powerful.
Stephen King co-wrote this novel with his son Owen, passing the chapters between them and re-writing each other. The result is a novel that feels very much like King himself – his stamp is all over it.
Sleeping Beauties imagines a world in which women fall asleep and begin constructing some kind of cocoon. It’s a dangerous kind of slumber – when someone attempts to wake them unnatural strength and aggression is the result. The world of men goes pretty much as you would expect – sense and reason fall very much by the wayside. King is clearly a feminist.
Meanwhile, the women wake up in an alternative setting and begin setting up their own society which, while technologically behind the times, is pretty successful. Time passes differently there, and while the Aurora virus has only taken hold in the real world for a few days, a year or more passes in the world of the sleeping women.
Behind it all is Evie Black, the supernatural force you would come to expect from a Stephen King novel. Both malevolent and insightful, its hard to cast her as either hero or villain. She clearly sits somewhere in between. Awake and safe in a prison cell, she forms much of the conflict in the text as the characters battle for what to do with her.
Nothing extraordinary here, this novel is very much “in the pocket” for King. No more than a comfortable read.
In the afterword to The Last Tudor Philippa Gregory says she may not revisit what has 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.
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.
Many authors stumble when it comes time to follow up a phenomenally successful first novel – but instead, Paula Hawkins has no doubt given her legions of fans more of what they are looking for in the intriguing, if lightweight, Into the Water.
Into the Water is set in the fictional town of Bickford in the gloomy north of England, famous only for it’s drowning pool and the dark history of troublesome women finding their end in it. Years ago, it was accused witches but more recently, a young mother and in just the past few weeks, a young local girl and the mother of her friend. It is the death of this final woman, Nel Abbott – a writer and photographer fascinated by the history of the drowning pool – that sparks this story. Although Nel’s death and the one that proceeded it, have all the earmarks of a suicide, the motives for such actions are a mystery to those closest to them.
The story eventually unravels through multiple narrators, and it has the same feminist bent of The Girl on the Train, where poor women are suffering for the choices of violent and disturbed men.
Behind all of this though, is the story of two sisters. Estranged for years, as one uncovers the reasons for her sister’s death a tremendous family misunderstanding is revealed, leading to a period of renewal amongst the grief.
There’s a lot to like here and Into the Water won’t fail to engage Hawkins’ legion of fans. The same dark sense of mystery and foreboding accompanies this tale. It might even pick her up a few more.
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.