Books I read in July.
- The Traitor’s Girl by Christine Wells #aww2017 ♥
From the outset, this novel reminded me so much of one of my all-time favourites — Restless by William Boyd — that I could not help but love it, turning the pages late into the night. Australian Annabel receives a phone call from a woman claiming to be her dead grandmother, Carrie. And she is in danger. So Annabel drops everything to cross the world and meet this long lost relative, finding her mysteriously vanished, and uncovering secrets of why she’d grown up believing a lie. Other secrets are revealed as the narrative weaves the past with the present, with storylines telling of Carrie’s exploits as a spy in WW2 and her friend, Eve’s. In the present day, Carrie’s secrets are protected by Simon, a journalist, who helps Annabel investigate the mystery surrounding Carrie’s disappearance. A tale of betrayal and double-crossing, love and loyalty.
2. This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell
The narratology in this book is fascinating. Ostensibly the story of Daniel Sullivan, an American living in Donegal, Ireland as he struggles to keep his marriage, family, and life together; however, there are multiple points of view here, and told in the first, second, third person, in footnotes, via a catalogue, as well as straight prose. The structure is equally as disjointed as the relationships in Daniel’s life, skipping back and forth in time. In the present, Daniel is about to go home to New York for his father’s birthday party, taking in a side trip to LA where the children from his first marriage live, and whom he hasn’t seen for 10 years, when he chances upon a radio interview of a woman he knew well in the 1980s. On a whim, he extends his trip by a day to find out more. However, this sets off the unravelling of his second wife Claudette, who is not averse to doing a runner from marriages herself. She thinks Daniel is off with another woman. I could not help but love this book; however, unlike Daniel I could not love Claudette and found her needy and selfish, when Daniel was the one experiencing so much trauma. No wonder he turned to drink.
3. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth #aww2017 ♥
I’ve been waiting for this book for a very long time. For 26 years, in fact, ever since I received a framed print of Rossetti’s Proserpina for my 15th birthday. I’m pretty much a Pre-Raph Tragic, so when Kate Forsyth announced she was writing a book on the PR Sisterhood about 2 years ago, I was beside myself. And then I got it into my hands a few days ago and devoured it. Told from multiple points of view — Lizzie Siddal, Jane Morris, Georgiana Burne-Jones and Margot Burne-Jones, the wives and a daughter of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ned Burne-Jones and William Morris, the story weaves a richly sad tale of 19th Century morality, with the thorns of sin that bound women behind high walls at the time, and the pain that was inflicted on them and their loved ones if they should try to pursue their true loves. It is from this suffering of social stigmatisation that I feel the good fairy saved Margot Burne-Jones, as the sleeping beauty of the fairy tale. This is a true romance, in terms of evoking heartbreak and passion, the slough of despondency and obsessive love, when those you love don’t love you, and you cannot love those who do.
4. The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey #aww2017
Australian crime novels are having ‘a moment’, and this is another good one for the canon. Gemma Woodstock and her police partner Felix take on the crime investigation when local teacher Rosalind Ryan is found dead in a lake. Gemma is an interesting, multifaceted character with one of the better opening scenes introducing a character that I have seen for a while. The reality of what has just happened to her and her lack of emotional response are so wonderfully telling. Gemma’s relationships are complicated. She is a mother of a small boy, but struggles with feelings of motherhood, especially when her dedication to her job is so strong. But there is more than just a professional attachment. She is an emotional person, becoming attached to what is probably not good for her; in a way, stuck at a point of emotional development in her life as a teenager when her highschool boyfriend killed himself. This event in her path colours more than her emotional relationships with the key people in her life, as that event reaches into the future, becoming significant in her latest case. I found that The Dark Lake didn’t work as a crime novel for me, as the moment the murderer was introduced, I was able to guess what their motivation for murder was, and every appearance confirmed rather than deflected their guilt. However, this novel did work well as a mystery, as the secrets surrounding Gemma’s relationship with Rosalind Ryan are revealed.
5. Wimmera by Mark Brandi
The comparison to Mystic River is particularly apt, though it did create certain expectations of narrative structure for me, that at first disappointed when they weren’t met. But this is a quintessentially Australian and unique story, and once I settled into the stride, I was immersed, partly because of the nostalgia trip via TV shows, though the insight into a male teenage mind is unsettling. The first part is told from the perspective of Ben as a boy in 1989, where his best friend is Fab, bullied probably because of appearing ‘different’ because of his Italian heritage. In Ben’s street, a girl commits suicide, her family moves away, and a stranger moves in. Soon, Ben is mowing his lawn and being given porno mags. The weight of what is occurring is all the more suffocating for me as a reader, knowing what is happening, but Ben is unaware, still awakening to his own (healthy) sexuality. Cut to the present in part 2, and Fab is still stuck in town, trying his luck with an eBay junk business, in love with a married barmaid, with whom he seems to have a genuine connection. Then a body is found in a rubbish bin in the river. The final part is devastating in revealing the depths of human depravity and a boy’s friendship.