Books I read in January.
- The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
A Victorian Gothic novel of friendship and romantic love. Turns the image of the late Victorian period as a time of contrasts and opposites: science/religion, men/women, poverty/wealth, on its head. Divides are bridged. There is a mythical beast menacing Colchester, and the miasma from the Blackwater estuary sends school girls into fits and pastors from their vows. Though the writing is beautiful, with a strong sense of place, I never really found myself immersed in the story.
2. Maggie’s Kitchen by Caroline Beecham #aww2017
Set in WW2, Maggie Johnson starts a British Restaurant, a Ministry of Food initiative to feed starving, food-rationed Londoners. This story follows the ups and downs of food shortages, and dealing with her employees. Maggie befriends Robbie, a young boy fending for himself, and Janek, a Polish refugee. I would have liked to have been more invested in Janek’s story, but there wasn’t as much weight given to a storyline that was potentially interesting.
3. Shadows on the Nile by Kate Furnivall
I was immediately pulled into this mystery by the heart-wrenching choice of Jessie’s parents to institutionalise her 5-year-old brother Georgie and replace him with an adopted brother Tim in 1912. Fast forward to 1932 and Tim has gone missing and left clues for Jessie to follow and find him in Egypt. Little does she know that since he was a young teenager, Tim has been visiting Georgie. Twists and turns, page turner, though there are some plot holes.
4. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Devastating in its simplicity. Seventy-year-old widow, Addie, invites her elderly neighbour, Louis, to her bed for companionship. But they must fight the prejudices of the town and Addie’s family to maintain their last relationship.
5. Gilgamesh by Joan London #aww2017 ♥
Another short novel, but an epic. Set in 1930s/40s, following three generations across the world, from SW Australia to London, Turkey, Armenia, Syria, and back ‘home’. Edith Clark yearns, and does want she wants, taking her baby to places that exist as mythological fantasies, to search for a father for her son. I cried so hard on the second last page as I didn’t want to finish. Because I knew that when I did, I would be wracked with longing to ‘take off’.
6. Finding Eliza: Power and Colonial Storytelling by Larissa Behrendt #aww2017 ♥
Behrendt recognises that “often there is a motivation – a politics – that accompanies the telling of any story”. The various narratives of the Eliza Fraser story fitted within a canon of cannibalistic literature and rhetoric already at work in the world.
7. Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave ♥
I gave up sleep, work, responsibilities for this story. The dialogue was witty, the characters flawed, and the setting sweeping. Against the Blitz of London and the Siege of Malta, the human heart is the battleground.
8. Brisbane by Matthew Condon
Ostensibly for book research, but I was drawn into this multilayered, overlapping, story of the author’s search for both Brisbane’s European origins, and his family’s. Both histories are blank — ‘books without an index’ — and he follows memories, documents, and names down gullies and across valley floors. Brisbane is a mud map, made from the surrounding environment, and washed away to be made new again.
9. Down the Hume by Peter Polites
Gritty novel of a Sydney I’ve never seen before. Narrator travels his city punctuated by landmarks of addictions, bashings, childhood memories, and failed relationships.
10. The River House by Janita Cunnington #aww2017
Beginning in 1949, and spanning the lives of the Carlyle family until 2005, this novel is richly evocative and anchored in the Brisbane and surrounding environment. A fictional equivalent to Matt Condon’s book above. This book could only have been written by a Queenslander who lived and breathed the politics of the 1960s-1980s. The story functions to weave together the memories that are inextricably linked with the local people and area–much like the Broody River.
11. The Hidden Hours by Sara Foster #aww2017 ♥
A suspenseful whodunit. Eleanor Brennan escapes Australia to London where she stays with her uncle’s family, almost strangers to her. But within weeks, she is embroiled in a murder case, forcing her to question what happened the night of the murder and why she can’t remember any of it.