At once highly original and deeply familiar, this enjoyable book takes the form of a diary but, instead of detailing the events of the life of the wriAt once highly original and deeply familiar, this enjoyable book takes the form of a diary but, instead of detailing the events of the life of the writer, it chronicles the life of Daniel Pennac's body. It's like the TV show Embarrassing Bodies crossed with The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ - written by a French philosopher.
This doesn't seem as strange as it sounds once you get going, because, as this book quickly reminds us, we are obsessed with our own bodies. To the point where our lives are almost reactions to the changes our bodies undergo.
Childhood is almost all body. Our strange behaviour as adolescents is fuelled by hormones. Our early adulthood is nearly entirely driven by desire. We reproduce. Then our bodies begin to play cruel tricks on us. We get older and older, start falling apart, then die.
Pennac's diarist is refreshingly open about all of the subjects few of us ever share. Even with our partners. And as the book covers an entire lifetime, we get to explore a great many of life's challenges and joys.
Daniel Pennac is a star in France and Europe but little known here, which is a shame. Diary of a Body has the potential to change this....more
I completely missed the talk aboutStonerby John Williams. Originally published in 1965 to critical praise and few sales it sank like a stone until 200I completely missed the talk about Stoner by John Williams. Originally published in 1965 to critical praise and few sales it sank like a stone until 2003 when it was rediscovered and celebrated as an American classic.
I don’t know what I was doing at the time. Probably sitting in my second-hand bookshop reading and taking no notice of the world. Blissful memories.
Without me noticing, Stoner rose from the dead, was praised by all and, in the great tradition of bookselling, after a decent passage of time, was escorted back to the grave again.
That’s where I found it.
As the preface proudly declares, Stoner is the story of an unexceptional man who lives an unexceptional life – a farmer’s son who becomes a lecturer at the state university. A footnote, if he is lucky. But then author John Williams leans in to take a closer look.
No novel in recent memory has elicited so many emotions from me. Reading Stoner, I was in turn desperately sad, impotently angry, utterly despondent and then, strangely hopeful and elated. I closed the book feeling grateful and invigorated.
I was imagining myself a foot soldier in a battle against the unthinking horde with Stoner standing beside me whispering, ‘Stand your ground and we’ll all get through this.’
Stoner is a wonderful surprise. I am very happy I stumbled across it. I will be re-reading it very soon.
Just in case, like me, you missed the second coming of Stoner, I thought I would just draw attention to the book again. I hope you don’t mind....more
Been wanting to read this for years. Finally found the right moment. And then, well, I didn't like it. I don't even think it was well done. I'm very sBeen wanting to read this for years. Finally found the right moment. And then, well, I didn't like it. I don't even think it was well done. I'm very surprised....more
Why do I put off reading books which come with a great many excellent recommendations? Is it some residue from my adolescent self, standing firm againWhy do I put off reading books which come with a great many excellent recommendations? Is it some residue from my adolescent self, standing firm against the coercion of the group?
Probably something as stupid as that.
Well, I’m glad I overcame that foolishness when it came to picking up My Brilliant Friend, the much lauded, discussed and recommended novel, which is the first in a series of novels by that strangely secretive author, Elena Ferrante.
My Brilliant Friend doesn’t grab you by the throat and demand to be read. It is far too self-possessed for that. This is a story told with quiet precision, a story which unfolds effortlessly, placing you firmly in the setting, the outskirts of Naples, introducing you to two very different little girls who become friends before your eyes. Surrounding them is cast of fully realised characters, with backstories and heartbeats, who continue to live richly even when not directly part of the narrative, their stories continuing offstage, as it were.
There is something uniquely compelling about this cool approach. This is a story which seems to declare – I don’t need you, dear reader, to exist.
A book that doesn't need me to read it? Well, that's just too attractive to resist.
(By the way, I call balderdash on those who claim that these books are better suited to a female audience)....more
Elizabeth Strout's book Olive Kitteridge takes Sherwood Anderson's Winesberg, Ohio approach to storytelling giving us interlinked stories centred arouElizabeth Strout's book Olive Kitteridge takes Sherwood Anderson's Winesberg, Ohio approach to storytelling giving us interlinked stories centred around one community but takes a slightly different path by also managing to give a near complete history of one of the town's most complex inhabitants, Olive Kitteridge.
With the clarity and honesty of Carver but with an emotional intensity all of her own, Stroud doesn't flinch when staring into the void.
This is a tough read. Not because it is experimental writing or dense or long, but because it leads us to questions we dare not ask ourselves and gives us answers we just don't want to hear.
Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitterage is a book I will remember. Brilliant....more
Mothering Sunday reveals Graham Swift to be a master at the peak of his powers. Imagine an artist, a MaDelicious. That's what this book is. Delicious.
Mothering Sunday reveals Graham Swift to be a master at the peak of his powers. Imagine an artist, a Matisse or a Picasso, deftly sketching a scene or a portrait - a line drawing, seemingly effortless for them to do, just something to capture a moment, to capture a mood. It looks like magic to us, and yet to them, a commonplace. The result of genius and experience.
I imagine Graham Swift talking to his editor about Mothering Sunday. The editor grasping it like it was gold. And Swift saying, Oh, you like that do you? I have many of those laying about.
We need to celebrate books like this. We need to encourage these writers to write more. Great writers get better with age. Our obsession with the new can obscure this simple fact.
Mothering Sunday is erotic, moving, honest and beautiful. A very easy read. With the lightest of touches. But it also has the power to surprise. A hymn to youth, a meditation on ageing and a study on the value of experience. ...more
Charlotte Wood's latest novel,The Natural Way of Things, seethes with an anger the source of which doesn't seem to be the text itself. Speaking with hCharlotte Wood's latest novel,The Natural Way of Things, seethes with an anger the source of which doesn't seem to be the text itself. Speaking with her, she does admit on reading an early draft to being surprised at discovering this underlying anger in her novel.
Charlotte's last novel, Animal People, sought out the smoothed over hypocrisy of modern life. The sound of muffled laughter accompanied each page.
The Natural Way of Things is different. Different to her other work in many ways. There is Charlotte's crisp realism, her economy of words, her precision, but she has used these tools to conjure up an alternative present, one which sits frighteningly close to reality. A plausible dystopian vision.
The books opens with two women waking in some sort of prison, they have been drugged and are groggy. Neither woman can conceive of how they might have come to be in prison. Neither woman can make sense of the way they are being treated.
A few pages in and we find that these women are not alone. There are other women, and the one thing all seem to share is that they have been involved in some sexual scandal, or were the victims of sexual abuse, or were young women having fun. Too much fun, their incarceration seemed to declare.
Born of the incessant reporting of sexual crimes against women where the victim is made out to be the perpetrator, The Natural Way of Things takes this world only one or two steps forward. Shaming women in the media might not be enough for the next government. Australia has been guilty of locking up women for less in the past, and a future government might find it expedient to punish women for being victims of sexual crimes. This makes Charlotte angry, it seems. So she wrote The Natural Way of Things from this reservoir of anger without quite realising it. And what she has written will be one of the most talked about novels of the year. Because unlike a lot of us when we're angry, Charlotte kept her cool....more
Pretend you have never heard the name Magda Szubanski. I know it's difficult. You're probably already picturing her as Sharon Strzelecki inKath and KiPretend you have never heard the name Magda Szubanski. I know it's difficult. You're probably already picturing her as Sharon Strzelecki in Kath and Kim, or as Esme Hoggett in Babe, or as Pixie-Anne Wheatley or Chenille fromFast Forward.
But do try. Reckoning isn't a celebrity memoir. Magda's story is rich, beautifully told and moving. The daughter of Polish and Scottish migrants, it's a thoroughly Australian story. Like Raimond Gaita's Romulus, My Father, Madga's memoir centres on her relationship with her father. The thing is, the man who was Magda's father, the man who mowed the lawn, joined the local tennis club, wore shorts and long socks, wasn't your regular suburbanite.
He was an assassin.
You know, the usual story.
A migrant's daughter's memoir, Reckoning is at once light and dark, the way we ourselves are light and dark. It is the work of a writer whose own family's story led her further and further into a past that was complex and strange, dangerous and surprising, and of her own story which led her out into the spotlight. ...more
A necessary reminder of the need to pull together to protect the values and rights many of us hold dear. Clear, concise and informative, The Age of SeA necessary reminder of the need to pull together to protect the values and rights many of us hold dear. Clear, concise and informative, The Age of Selfishness is a book the young need to read, the old need to read and the bastards need to read....more
This is a very readable, thought provoking book. It is certainly a book for lifelong lovers of Shakespeare and yet, is also, due to Jonathan Bate's en This is a very readable, thought provoking book. It is certainly a book for lifelong lovers of Shakespeare and yet, is also, due to Jonathan Bate's enthusiasm and his light-hearted approach, a perfect introduction to the life and work of the Bard for those who have decided its time to know more....more
I absolutely lovedThe Other Side of the World. It reminded me of the writing of Rosamond Lehmann and of Elizabeth Bowen.
Psychologically accurate, movi I absolutely loved The Other Side of the World. It reminded me of the writing of Rosamond Lehmann and of Elizabeth Bowen.
Psychologically accurate, moving, brave and honest, withThe Other Side of the World author Stephanie Bishop peers unflinchingly into the abyss that can form in the very heart of a marriage, in the soul of a mother. This is a beautiful, sad, revealing novel, something I hadn't realised I had been yearning for in my reading.
If you love to read while listening to music, the perfect accompaniment is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' No More Shall We Part. Need I say more?...more