Discomfort books

Jennifer Byrne from the First Tuesday Book Club on ABC1 says her comfort book is Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk.

She read it when she was a teenager and it resonated.

It’s the story of a Jewish teenager  in the 1930s, living in New York with dreams of becoming an actress – she falls in love with this glamourous songwriter – look I could go on but perhaps Wikipedia has a more fulsome description…

…are you back with me?


Anyway many readers – in particular young teenage girls are completely disillusioned by the ending.

This is because Marjorie doesn’t fulful her dreams of becoming an actress, preferring to follow her dreams to marry this charming writer – who is a wastrel and a bit of a bastard if you ask me.

He skives off to Paris and she follows him, eventually finds him and when he asks her to marry him… turns him down.

She then goes back to New York and marries someone else, has four kids, goes prematurely grey and lives happily ever after.

Jennifer says she found this book very empowering as a teenager.

Here is this young girl with big dreams living in New York, a working girl.  A girl forgoing the hunt for a husband in order to be a broadway success.

Maybe you have to be a teenager to see that.

I read a completely different story.

I read about a young girl, very beautiful but with not that much acting talent in a co-dependent relationship with a cad and who is more concerned about marrying said cad than her acting career.

Eventually she becomes worldly wise, realises the acting thang just ain’t never going to happen and realises that Noel is a complete loser as well.

Maybe it’s because I’m a grey-haired (though dyed a fetching brunette) mama from the burbs reading this and not a young 17 girl full of dreams.

Or maybe as a 17 year old you can’t see the old and cynical tone of Herman Wouk’s world?

For me, this book is about acceptance.  Acceptance of your limitations and those of others.

Have you read it?

What do you think?

Careless in Red by Elizabeth George

Here’s the massive coincidence.

The last two books I’ve read have been The Islands by Di Morrissey and Careless in Red by Elizabeth George.

(I know I’m supposed to have been reading The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga – the Booker Prize-winning novel – but I just can’t get into it)

Now on the face of it these two novels have nothing in common.  The Islands is soap opera in book form and Careless in Red is detective fiction.

I read The Islands first.  It was a review copy that came into the office and I was looking for some light reading for the holiday break. 

Anyway it was Christmas and I wanted to invite some good friends of ours – now divorced – to our Christmas dinner.  Which I did and it was all very nice.

The day after Boxing Day, the male half of this couple flew out to Hawaii to have a holiday with his girlfriend.   The Islands is about Hawaii.

Then I sat down and read Careless in Red. 

Now technically I shouldn’t have been able to take this book out of the library.  It had been reserved and mistakenly put back on the shelf. 

The librarian had been giving me a lesson in self check out when it came up flagged as reserved which she over-rode I guess because I was a good student… or something.

Anyway I got the book with a “Please read it first” from the librarian (first of the seven I had taken out) and so dutifully I did so.

Get this.

Part of the action takes place in a small Cornish town with the same surname as the female half of this couple’s boyfriend!  In fact he could even come from that village.

How spooky is that?!

I thought it was spooky.

And both the books had a surfing theme running through them.  What’s up with that?

So to the review of Careless in Red by Elizabeth George.  

This is another Inspector Lynley novel and I love this series.  He’s an upper class Earl who works for New Scotland Yard or did until his upper class pregnant wife was murdered randomly by a twelve year old boy.

To cope he takes himself off for a walk along the Cornish coast and finds the body of a young man at the foot of the cliff.

Of course he is dragged into the investigation along with the fabulous Barbara Havers, his former partner at the Met. (and by that of course I mean the Metropolitan Police not the Metropolitan Opera)

It’s full of intrigue and inuendo.  Red herrings and plot twists, all set on the wild Cornish coastline.

I imagined Echo Beach style surf shops, Irish cliffs (okay I know they are probably very different but they are the ones I imagined) and plump, tasty Cornish pasties.

I always enjoy Elizabeth George’s books and this one didn’t disappoint.  She’s like a modern day Agatha Christie but her novels are a good deal longer.

And I like a good doorstop of a mystery.

The Islands by Di Morrissey

When you pick up a Di Morrissey book you are not expecting high literature, or even medium-high.

You are expecting a rollocking saga with beautiful women and unreachable men set in an exotic location with a nod to the local culture.

In this novel that is exactly what you get.  Young Catherine, off on a gap year – or what passes for a gap year back in the 70s, meets and marries a dashing US naval officer and ends up in the married quarters in Hawaii.

Stifled by the other navy wives and their strict, conservative lives, Catherine seeks freedom by meeting the locals and learning a new skill – photography. 

It doesn’t take long before she finds herself tempted by an enigmatic surfer.

This is the type of book you take with you on holidays – preferably in Hawaii.  You sit with it at the pool and while away a couple of hours while sipping on your fruit cocktail and gazing over your spray tan to the other beautiful people lounging in the sun.

You are wearing big sunglasses and probably a floppy straw sunhat.

It’s not challenging but it is a pleasant enough way to spend some time.  

It’s a bit like watching the Bold and the Beautiful I imagine.

Breath by Tim Winton

I think this is Tim Winton’s best novel.  He has lost his earlier pretentiousness.  His writing is spare, evocative and compelling. 

The tale is told by a paramedic in his 50s who attends an accidental hanging.   He knows it’s accidental because of events in his youth, and so you are drawn into this tale of coming of age.  Of a young boy becoming a teenager, who with his friend become acolytes of an enigmatic surfer.  A surfer who encourages them to risk everything for the rush that comes with living on the edge.

The rush that cuts through everything to make you feel alive.

It’s also the story of friendship, and of chips that we carry with us from childhood.

I felt a little creeped out by the book.  You want to like your hero right?  Instead I felt repelled.  But perhaps it was more that I was repelled at how easily he slipped into character traits that were less than seemly.  Maybe slipping into them is easier than we’d like to think. 

Groover thinks the book describes Tim.  I don’t like to think of him as that creepy myself.

Maybe that’s why I feel disturbed some hours after finishing it.

One other small niggle:  I hate the way Tim uses Angeles and Sawyer for the town names.  I find it a distraction and it gives me the irrits. 

I’d be interested in your thoughts.  Have you read Breath?

List of reviews

SMH article

The Australian

The Spare Room by Helen Garner

I had no interest in picking up Helen Garner’s latest novel The Spare Room. Helen has always seemed a little worthy, a little hard core for me.

I based this assessment on what I’d seen of her in the media and some vague memory of her writing something on sexual harassment… I haven’t actually read anything of hers before.

Such is the way opinions are made and held.

The cover didn’t inspire me either. It was hard cover. A quiet, worthy looking design.

However my boss offered me the book and I find it hard to say no, so I said yes and dutifully put it in the pile of books on my bedside table for later.

Later happened.

I picked it up preparing to read the first few pages and put it down again, distracted by the next shiny covered airport novel to catch my attention – within the first page I was hooked.

The Spare Room has been described as exquisite. I agree.

It’s been described as blunt, bold and evocative. Yep, I’m right there with you.

It’s the story of a dying woman, Nicola, who goes to stay at her friend Helen’s house in another city to fight her cancer at a dodgy clinic. She doesn’t want to admit defeat. She also remains defiantly cheerful in the face of death – which she in fact, doesn’t face.

It’s the story Helen who takes on her Nicola’s anger, absorbs it. Who is desperately caught between the role of supporting Nicola in her pathetic endless quest for a cure and wanting to shake her and stop the farce… and then of course feels guilty… and angry.

The mirror that shatters in the first pages symbolises the struggle. How can you face death if you can’t see it… and you have to walk pretty carefully if there is broken glass on the floor…

Nicola doesn’t want anyone to reflect her truth, but by denying it, she keeps Helen at arms length.

I really enjoyed the read. Couldn’t put it down.

It’s not a long book – 2-3 hours – but it stays with you.

Interview with Helen Garner

The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid

I like Val McDermid’s writing. I always have.  From Wire in the Blood to her lighter novels, they never fail to entertain.  Highly descriptive, great character profiles, a page-turning plot.

In The Grave Tattoo the action centres around the discovery of a 200 year old body in the peat of the Lakes District.  The body has South Sea tattoos, which gives our heroine new impetus to follow her theory that Fletcher Christian – chief mutineer on Bligh’s ship – you know, the mutiny on the Bounty – came back to the UK and told his story to his schoolmate – none other than William Wordsworth – the poet.

As our heroine Jane Greshem starts to interview descendents of Wordsworth’s maid, they mysteriously start dying.

This novel is part historical, part literature review, part forensic pathologist and 100% Val McDermid.

I’m not sure it’s her best novel though.  Perhaps a little far fetched, even for her.  And the end seemed to just peter out.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it.  I even caught the train to work to sneak a few extra minutes to read it.  OMG – yes I was that hooked.

I liked the historical element – and although I started off skimming the supposed Wordsworth bits, I found myself going back and rereading them.

This novel has something for everyone and is not gory – well, not compared to Wire in the Blood!

Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig

First of all, I LOVED Gone With the Wind. The sweeping saga, the feisty heroine, the dashing, rich, and rather butch hero… with a soft side. *Swoon*

And I’ve not loved sequels written by random authors.

It was there on the “new” table at the library and well, what was a girl to do?

I picked it up.

It sat on my beside table for four weeks, until the library asked for it back.

I renewed it.

I picked up Fierce Conversations and nearly finished it.

I picked it up again and started reading.

It’s not bad. I liked it. It was cleverly done. I believed it.

The book runs in parallel to Gone with the Wind for the most part – starting with Rhett as a young man, flashbacking his childhood and introducing us to his sister who is the glue in this story weaving the two together.

We find out more about the Civil War – from the blokes’ side.

We discover some of Rhett’s motivation.

And yes, we find out what happens after those immortal words “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”.

So yeah, if you like Gone with the Wind – read Rhett Butler’s People. If you didn’t, I’m not sure you’ll like this 500 page novel. And… I’m not sure it would work if you weren’t familiar with the story… but maybe I’m wrong… if you’ve read it and not the original – let me know.

NY Times Review
The Guardian

Motor Mouth by Janet Evanovich

So from Disgrace to Motormouth… well I needed a little light relief, a little escapism.

You know what I’m talking about?

Well that’s what I got people! [whoops… watching a little too much So You Think You Can Dance]

It’s about a feisty sassy young female mechanic and her NASCAR racing ex-boyfriend and how they get mixed up in Florida gangstas and racing technology. It’s bodies wrapped in plastic in unlikely places. It’s hijacking trucks. It’s danger. It’s funny.

This review talks about Carl Hiasson meeting NASCAR and you know what? It does have the feel of a Carl Hiasson novel. The Florida set, the high heels and gloss. The surprising quirky characters that you come across in that state.

I enjoyed it too because of course we’ve recently travelled between North Carolina and Florida so most of the locations seemed familiar to me.

Look it’s a romp, it’s fun, it’s highly unbelievable plot-wise but the characters are (if slightly caricature-ish) still engaging. Fun.

Snobs by Julian Fellowes

snobs by julian fellowesJulian Fellowes you might remember wrote the screenplay for Gosford Park – and won an Oscar for it.. In this novel of manners he tells the story of a social climbing young lady who manages to capture the heart of a young heir. Once ensconced in the aristocracy she puts it in jeopardy.

The story is told through the eyes of an actor who is himself “part of the establishment” and is an easy read. It’s a bit Jane Austenish in its portrayal of the upper classes but reads in fact as a bit of a manual. Fellowes observations seem incisive and accurate (how would I know that they are?) and because the narrator is one of the fold so to speak, you are able to both laugh at their foibles and sympathise.

I enjoyed the read.

A couple of observations in particular made me smile:

“To an Englishman or woman of a certain background the answer, ‘Well, I’ve met them but they wouldn’t remember me’ means ‘I have not met them.’ “

And this one:

“The normal manner one has come to expect from hosts and fellow guests alike in an English country house is a state of moderately amiable lack of interest, The guests loaf about, reading magazines, going for walks, having baths, writing letters, without making any great social demands of each other. Only when eating – and even then only really at dinner – are they expected to ‘perform’. This lack of effort, this business of people barely raising their heads from their books to acknowledge one’s entry into a room, may seem rude to a foreigner (indeed it is rude), but I must confess it brings with it a certain relaxation.”

This last especially resonates with me. This is the perfect kind of house guest. One who just “does their own thing”. Who doesn’t expect you to entertain them or to entertain you! Those kinds of visitors are exhausting.

Maybe there’s a thread of blue blood under the polo fleece and ugg boots after all.


Other reviews:
NY Times
Metacritic Reviews

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Book cover Angela\'s Ashes by Frank McCourtAngela’s Ashes won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997. Everybody was talking about it that year and mostly they were saying how sad it was. Oh brilliantly written dahling but oh soooo sad.

Maybe because of that and also maybe because I’m not into autobiographies I decided Frank McCourt’s memoir of his childhood was a book I could safely miss.

Last week, waiting for my Bloggers Book Club novel to arrive, I scanned Groover’s collection of bookclub books and saw it on the shelf. I’ve been thinking about Ireland lately because of Ken and because I’ve recently re-discovered my Ireland blog and photos and so thought maybe it’s time.

I. Loved. It.

What a brilliant book. Yes it is sad. The poverty of his Irish Catholic childhood in Limerick unbelievable. Grinding. Unimaginable.

But it is also inspirational. You know by the very fact it’s a memoir, an autobiography not a biography, that he survives and makes a success of his life. His indomitable spirit is a light in the grimy lanes of Limerick.

His writing is wistful, funny, sad, shocking and most of all engaging. So while the subject is sad the book overall is uplifting.

I was looking for the book cover image and I came across the film on imdb.com. What amused me were the key words:
Masturbation | Urination Scene | Eclipse | Sadistic Teacher | Social Commentary

There are a lot more but those five were the plot keywords mentioned first.

I might have to go out and see if I can find the dvd… was it any good?

Book reviews all readers
Judd Brothers

Interview with Frank McCourt