book reviews

Writers Writing Writers: Slush Pile

I always find books about authors really interesting, it’s a little bit like a dream within a dream – an author created by an author. Slush Pile by Ian Shadwell (Puncher and Wattmann Fiction) is a perfect example of just this phenomena. Kathy Petkoff went on this ride through the world of writing, publishing and plagiarism. Here’s her thoughts on Slush Pile

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Michael Ardenne is a very successful intellectual writer, just ask him.  His one and only published novel (it is not a book and most definitely not a text), ‘Ephesus’, is, in his opinion, very intellectual and inspiring…

Slush PileFourteen years ago Michael Ardenne dazzled the world with Ephesus, a brilliant debut that won him the respect of his peers, plenty of easy sex and the coveted Booker Prize.  Since then, there’s been nothing but false starts and dead ends.  He can’t even finish a short story. 

With debt collectors at the door, the cellar empty and the mortgage on the line, it’s crunch time.  His wife, Tanya, issues an ultimatum: get a job or get a divorce.  Forced into assessing his literary agent’s slush pile to help make ends meet, Michael discovers a dark gem.  He rewrites it as his own.  His publisher loves it.  Fame beckons and his literary standing soars… until the real author appears. 

But sadly, ‘Ephesus’ is all Michael has ever managed to write.  It has been 14 years since it’s publication and not a scrap of decent writing has he produced since.  The internet provides him with outlets, plenty of distractions, that allow him not to write.  His dedication to ‘managing’ his own Wikipedia page, his love of researching wine and his need for ‘release’ through soft porn sites makes it hard for any reader of Slush Pile to love this character.

Michael owes money to everyone.  His friends, the bank, the local grocery store, he can’t even convince his friends to shout him a round of beer at the RSL trivia night.

Shadwell does the most beautiful job of creating a dirty character.  The way he creates Michael makes sure that you feel his laziness, his sense of self importance and how really to Michael, no one else matters.  He is the great Michael Ardenne, Booker Prize winner, Michael Ardenne.

“And the winner of the 1995 Booker Prize was…”

Something in Michael propelled him from his chair.  Arms raised in triumph, his feet hopped a little victory dance.

“Me.  The answer is me, Michael Ardenne.”

Alongside Michael is his hard-edged wife, Tanya.  She is a workaholic and has finally had enough.  For the most of the book you see Tanya through Michael’s eyes.  It would seem that she is there primarily to prop him up, to make him feel good about himself, but Michael also sees her as closed and unadoring.  But, Shadwell cleverly allows the readers glimpses into who Tanya really is.

She looked at him incredulously.  Then burst into uncontrollable sobs.

“I really, really thought you would want to write a love story about us like you wrote Ephesus for that other girl”

Out of desperation, in an attempt stop himself from losing everything, Michael gets a job working for his next-door neighbour installing roof insulation under the governments Pink Bat Scheme.  Complaining and moaning the whole time he works, he offers his great and sage-like advice on writing to a co-workers.

As well as this manual labour, Michael finds himself a gig with his literary agent helping to sift through his ‘slush pile’. Very much to his surprise, he finds one manuscript in the pile that grabs his attention. It is brilliant.  It is chilling.  It is plagiarised and rewritten for Michael’s chance to become great again.

Of course, as one might expect, things such a plagarism rarely go unnoticed, and when then the real author seeks out credit for what is rightfully his, trouble comes Michael’s way.

This is Shadwell’s first novel.  For me his character building is fantastic, he’s written a despicable protagonist who I didn’t like at all, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed his novel, it was a great book.  It opened all kinds of questions for me – how long from when you held a role can you still call yourself by that title?  How long can we really maintain the look and feel of youthful irresponsibility and not look completely idiotic?

Slush Pile is a great read.  It will get under your skin and encourage you to ask all kinds of questions.  I’d highly recommend it.

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Find out more about Slush Pile by Ian Shadwell here…

 

Gifted Liar? Rachael’s Gift

I had a chat to Narelle Connell about this novel before she wrote her review, and I think it’s fair to say she was quite conflicted. She told me that this book had really challenged her, presenting some really interesting questions regarding truth, trust, childhood and parenthood. We always have to believe our kid, don’t we? Her review today sums up the conundrum that Rachael’s Gift presents to the reader, a conundrum that you’ll keep turning over in your head long after you’ve put this book down. Here’s Narelle’s thoughts…

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 What would you do if you suspected your child was a gifted liar?

Rachael's GiftThis is the premise of Rachael’s Gift, the debut novel by Alexandra Cameron (Pan MacMillan). Rachael is fourteen years old, beautiful and a talented artist creating work well beyond her years. Her mother, Camille, is focused on securing her daughter a place at a prestigious Parisian art school so as to nurture and develop her gift. But, her carefully planned future is thrown into a tailspin when Rachael accuses one of her teachers of sexual misconduct.

Camille is horrified and leaps to the defense of her daughter.  However, questions within the school community, especially those regarding the whereabouts of a rival student’s painting, call the reliability of Racheal’s testimony into question. Unlike her mother, Rachael’s father, Wolfe is far more wary. He has his own questions about what the truth might be and, in turn, what his daughter may be capable of.

 

“She inhaled sharply and then reached out, touching my arm.

“Wolfey”, she said, her voice softer. “Honey, please. Please. There’s something else….” 

I looked away. Another bloody excuse. I was not budging. Not this time. I shook her hand off me. “I’m scared there’s something wrong with her, Cam, and I’m sick of dicking around.’ 

She shook her head in disbelief. ‘You’re going to ruin her. Don’t you realise? I can’t let you do it.’ 

Her chest heaved and then some kind of realisation dawned in her face. ‘Oh my god, you don’t love her. You wouldn’t do this if you did.’ 

It felt as if my veins were bursting. ‘Of course I love her’, I shouted. ‘Its because I love her!’ 

‘This is not love.’ 

I stabbed my finger in her face. ‘You love her too much.’ 

Her expression transformed, a light went on in her eyes and her breath evened out. ‘You’re a fucking traitor’, she hissed. ‘I won’t let you do that to her’ 

We’ll see about that, I thought as I walked away from her. ” 

 

The novel alternates narration from Camille and Wolfe, as they navigate their way to finding the truth of Rachael’s story. From the surf beaches of Australia to French art galleries steeped in history, Rachael’s Gift unfolds into a compelling story of the webs we all weave ourselves into and how our past can impact on our present no matter how far we think we’ve left it behind.

I found the storytelling a little clunky in the beginning; it took me a little while to settle into moving between the two very different voices of Camille and Wolfe. Interestingly, while the story revolves around Rachael I found myself particularly drawn to Camille’s voice, I watched her story deepen as she confronted her past and Rachael’s future. Inhabiting a world where her aunts and grandparents have Degas adorning the walls of their Parisian homes, she watches with a mixture of pride and trepidation as Rachael embraces long-lost family wholeheartedly in a ruthless bid to achieve her goals.

Towards the end I was racing to the denouement, watching the threads come together and worlds collide. Now that I’ve finish the book, it’s a novel I’m itching for others to read so I can chat about it with them. An excellent book club pick and one to share with friends who love a story they can sink their teeth into and contemplate long after finishing.

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Find out more about Rachael’s Gift, by Alexandra Cameron here…

 

Don’t Get Too Cocky: You Should Have Known

Sometimes those who purport to be an exhibitor of the gold standard in a field or an oracle on a topic, end up being blinded by their own expertise, to the true facts around them. As TBYL Reviewer, Tam found out while reading You Should Have Known, by Jean Hanff Korelitz (Allen and Unwin), those who think they know best, often don’t, they’re just as in the dark as the rest of us…

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Grace Sachs is a happily married woman living in New York with her husband, a popular paediatric oncologist. Together they have a young son, Henry.

you should have knownGrace runs a successful therapy clinic and is about to release her first book titled ‘You Should Have Known’ aimed at women, full of tough talk on how women should be making the right decisions when it comes to finding their partner for life, and the common traps that women fall for. She is cocky, self-assured and completely convinced by her theory. Despite this, early in the novel, as she sits for an interview to promote her new, hard-line way of thinking (or is that judging?), I got the sense that perhaps Grace was about to learn her very own lesson about judgement – both how to make good ones and how to avoid making rash ones.

Early in the piece I was wondering, is Grace about to find herself in the unfortunate position of not really knowing who she has been married to for so many years? Did she miss the signs from her husband? Signs that she has been telling women to look for? It’s true, even the smartest of women can fall for the wrong man, they too can miss the tell-tale signs that not is all it seems to be.

When a young mother from Henry’s school is found murdered it would seem that Grace is more connected to crime than she is initially aware. Her husband is missing, she is questioned by the police and Grace is beginning to feel that perhaps her reputation as a therapist and an author are all in jeopardy.

The twist of this novel, the predicament that Grace finds herself in should have made for a really gripping read, but personally, I found this novel a bit too detailed. I felt that I had to spend too much time sifting through the back-story and conversations and I was finding it hard to hold onto the story. I wasn’t feeling the suspense that should come with a psychological thriller as I was being distracted by too many details.

There were so many threads off the main story and this made the story complex, and intriguing to a point, but overall I have my suspicions that it just made the novel a bit longer than it needed to be.

In saying that, I did enjoy the story. It was twisty, and its slow-reveal built a tension for the reader. Grace was a strong female lead and the narrative delivered a powerful message that even the smartest person can still be wearing blinkers when it comes to the one they love. It’s warning, any one of us could be seeing only part of the story.

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Find out more about You Should Have Know, by Jean Hanff Korelitz here…

Copycat: All Day and A Night

Without really meaning to I challenged TBYL Reviewer Adam Jenkin to read a little bit differently this month. Although crime isn’t usually his genre of choice, it would seem that he got pretty sucked into his recent read, All Day and A Night by Alafair Burke (Allen and Unwin). Here’s what he made of this gritty mystery…

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Anthony Amaro is a convicted serial killer, behind bars serving life without parole. His signature move of breaking the arms and legs of his victims placed him beautifully for the murder of five women in the Utica area and one in nearby New York City itself. Five of the working girls were found in the same park. He even boasted about it to a cellmate. His guilt seemed unquestionable. Or so they all thought.

All day and a nightWhen Helen Brunswick, a New York psychologist, from Utica is murdered in her office 18 years later, using the same MO as Anthony Amaro, just as a letter turns up at the District Attorney’s office outlining elements of the Amaro case that remained hidden from the public and protesting Amaro’s innocence, suddenly two and two no longer add up to four.

Enter Ellie Hatcher and JJ Rogan, pulled in as a set of fresh eyes to look at a case that at every corner seems to point towards a copycat and a leak in the department; and Carrie Blank, a successful and very sought-after lawyer at a prestigious law firm, who just happens to be the sister of one of Amaro’s victims.

Carrie quits her prestigious post to join Amaro’s newly assembled defence team, telling herself her reasons are more noble than simple curiosity about what happened to the badly misled Donna Blank, victim number four. Carrie’s interest in the events in Utica are brought to a peak when the evidence surrounding Donna’s last movements don’t match up with her own memories.

Ellie and JJ roll in to Utica to tie up a few loose ends, and find more than they can tie up alone. Helen Brunswick’s earlier clientele from the old neighbourhood, the local senior police officer and his aspiring politician son and a more than enthusiastic defence lawyer seem to continually jump up in their path until what started out as a simple case of “one killer, six victims” is now nowhere near that simple.

Going through the saga behind the characters of Ellie and Carrie, the insights they both have of different sides of the case present two unique perspectives, each searching for their own truth. Even though their tales are told as opposing battles, the search for what really happened to all the victims is really attention grabbing, it had me hooked. My loyalties for characters and ideas of what occurred tended to sway from one to the other, so that I was kept in the story so thoroughly that even once I had worked out who did what, I was still hanging on every page to find out how, why, where and when.

The detective-trailing murder-mystery is not usually a genre I follow, as the plot lines either tend to be too vague, right up until the final few chapters or so see-through that what the writer thinks are plot twists you can see coming a mile away. All Day And A Night did neither of these things. Feel free to ignore the comment on the cover about the female characters’ private and public battle for acceptance, as I did. I noticed the tagline once I’d read about half the book and really couldn’t see how the story had very much to do with that. Ellie was a head-strong tomboy and Carrie the intelligent and still-grieving sister, but neither character’s storyline dragged anywhere near internal feminine battles with trauma. I was pretty satisfied though with its focus on the crime, the clues and the work being done by Ellie and Carrie.

In short, I loved it because it was neither a catch the real killer or a genius behind the scenes madman relative story, putting enough twists and turns into an old fashioned whodunit (or whodunwhat…) to keep you perched on both Ellie and Carries shoulders for the whole ride.

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You can find out more about All Day and A Night by Alafair Burke here…

 

 

Grit and Determination in Crimson Dawn

I think it’s fair to say that Tam Jenkin has become our official Rural Romance expert, she’s read so much Chook Lit now I’m surprised she’s not clucking. She loves it of course, hence her specialisation, and today’s book was no exception. Here’s what Tam thought of Crimson Dawn by Fleur McDonald (Allen and Unwin)…

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Laura Murphy will need to call on all her grit and determination to retain her beloved farm… But will her fierce self reliance close her off to the possibility of love?

crimson dawnSince inheriting Nambina, the property that’s been in her family for generations, Laura Murphy has worked wonders. Rather than just focus on farming she has set up a successful school teaching women the basics of managing a property – from fencing and mustering to handling the financial side of the business.

But the notoriously self-reliant Laura is lonely and still scarred by a tragedy from her past. She’s also grappling with the hostility of her nearest neighbour and former best friend, Meghan Hunter. The fact that Laura’s ex-boyfriend Josh is Meghan’s brother only makes things worse.

When a solicitor contacts Laura saying his clients may have a claim over Nambina, her entire world is turned upside down, and she has to call on all her determination to hold on to the property she’s worked so hard to build. In the process she realises she must reach out to friends and loved ones or risk losing everything.

Crimson Dawn is Fleur McDonald’s fifth novel and once again it reflects her own experiences of living in remote Australian farming area. McDonald’s writing paints a picturesque scene of the Australian outback, and of what it is like to grow up rural and how challenging it can be working on the land.

Laura is a young woman who has had a wonderful upbringing on Nambina, being raised by her dad and grandfather. On the day that her grandfather announces that he is signing over the farm to Laura, all her dreams have come true. Still, in her heart of hearts she is scared that she will not be able to take care of the property – it’s such a huge undertaking on her own. Laura’s father, step-mother and two half sisters all now reside in Adelaide, and she has just discovered that she is pregnant.  Despite these substantial challenges, she is determined that she will succeed.

What she didn’t know was that more than her fair share of heartbreak awaits her.

After her grandfather dies she is left feeling very alone. To make matters worse she breaks up with her boyfriend, falls out with her best friend (her ex-boyfriend’s sister) and subsequently shut herself off in order not to get hurt again.

Laura throws herself into the task of turning the farm into a school, teaching other young girls about farming and managing property. The school is going well until she receives threats from her ex-best friend and a letter from a lawyer advising that someone has reason to believe that they can claim ownership of Nambina. Can Laura keep the farm? Will the help of her family and the handsome vet, Tim be enough? Will she open her heart to Tim, even if it means risking getting hurt again?

I’ll admit that it took me a little while to get into this book. It took a little longer than I like to get to crux of the story, however, I am glad that I persevered as once the story picked up it was full of twists and turns and kept me turning the pages! Laura is a courageous, strong, sometimes pigheaded, but determined leading lady.

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You can find out more about Crimson Dawn by Fleur McDonald here…

Taking us Back of Beyond

Today’s review from TBYL Reviewer, Stephanie Hunt takes us to the back of beyond

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Former sheep shearer, dingo trapper and horse breaker Hugh Tindall reminisces on his extraordinary life in outback Queensland…

backofbeyondBack of Beyond by Freda Marnie Nicholls (Allen and Unwin) is a great read, one I thoroughly enjoyed. If you have ever had an older member of your family who told great stories, true or not, reading this book will bring back memories of listening to them tell their tales. Part history book, part biography, you don’t have to have a rural background to enjoy Hugh’s story as the history and his insight into the past are fascinating. His experiences give you a great respect for those who persevered in the face of adversity in the early years of agriculture in Australia.

Hugh Tindall has had a rich and interesting life and from the very first chapter I was hooked. Freda Marnie Nicholls has captured his voice perfectly and you feel as though you are sitting listening to Hugh tell his story in person. I am so pleased that Freda has recorded Hugh’s memories as all too often, gems like Hugh don’t have the chance to pass on their stories to a wider audience. Reading Back of Beyond reminded me of listening to my grandfather tell stories about his life growing up in rural Tasmania, doing many of the same things as Hugh.

The descriptions of life in the early 1930s and 40s are fantastic and Hugh’s admiration and love for his mother, a woman who raised six children in very tough conditions, shines through in every word. Later, we hear about shearing and the big strike in 1956 and again we see the admiration and respect Hugh has for rural women, this time his wife. It’s a fascinating first hand recount of the debate and strike over wages, conditions and roles. Hugh’s descriptions of how he learnt to shear as a teen, events that occurred during the strike and the effect the strike had on his family and friends is insightful and non-judgmental. Incidents are recalled matter-of-factly, that’s just how it was.

In the latter part of the book we learn about dingos and sheep and Hugh’s life after retirement, not that old farmers ever really retire!

Back of Beyond is a book that anyone can read and enjoy. Hugh not only recalls his personal experiences in the outback but also gives us a fascinating glimpse of how rural Australia emerged and what life was like for the extraordinary men and women who lived on and developed the land. It’s important for all of us to understand how people like Hugh and his family shaped the Australia we have today.

This book will be top of my list of books to give to my Dad, as I know he would enjoy reading every word.

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You can find out more about Freda Marnie Nicholls’ Back of Beyond here…

A Curiosity: Actors Anonymous

Well, what can I say about James Franco’s Actors Anonymous (Faber)? Should I say, for a writer, he’s a pretty good actor? Should I say, by many accounts, his prose outshines his poetry? Should I say that this book is an absolute curiosity? Is it real, or unreal, or somewhere in-between?

One thing I will say is that James Franco is a strange bunny. And of course, that’s what makes him fascinating and in turn, what makes this book worth reading.

actors anonymousInspired by Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Actors Anonymous is a dark, genre-bending work that mixes memoir and pure invention – an audacious examination of celebrity, acting, and the making of Fiction.

Actors Anonymous is unsettling, funny, and personal – a series of stories told in many forms: a McDonald’s drive-thru operator who spends his shift trying on accents; an ex-child star recalling a massive beachside bacchanal; hospital volunteers putting a camera in the hands of a patient obsessed with horror films; a vampire flick starlet who discovers a cryptic book written by a famous actor gone AWOL, who may have killed his father.

The book contains profound insights into the nature and purpose of acting, as well as deeply moving portraits of aspiring actors who never quite made it.

Franco mercilessly turns his “James Franco” persona inside out while, at the same time, providing fascinating meditations on his art, along with nightmarish tales of excess. “Hollywood has always been a private club,” he writes. “I open the gates. I say welcome. I say, Look inside.”

I’ll be honest, I didn’t always get what this book was doing. I had to skip bits here and there, parts that I found just a bit too awkward. Still, in the same way that books like The Hottest State by actor Ethan Hawke, and Horse’s Neck by Pete Townshend do, Actors Anonymous gives the reader a glimpse of a new side of a person that you know through a completely different medium.  Interestingly, it’s not the sort of glimpse you get from a memoir or a straight autobiography. Rather, it’s a view of the author’s imagination, and as creative people, this view is usually pretty wild.

Actors Anonymous is a very candid look at Hollywood, at acting and at fame. As I mentioned earlier, it’s really difficult to pin down what’s true to life here, and that can be quite disconcerting. At times I felt embarrassed, almost worried that Franco would be taken to task for exposing something ugly – about himself, about his peers, and about his craft. But then, to my relief, something would happen on the page that was so exaggerated that it’d prove that this story could not possibly be real, and I’d relax. A little.

Now, Franco’s not the best writer. His writing isn’t horrible, but it is a little clunky at times, and a bit self-involved. But, for me, the curiosity factor of this book well and truly makes up for that. It’s entertaining, and as long as you can suspend your disbelief for a little while, quite enjoyable.

If you’re a fan of James Franco, have a fascination for celebrity or just enjoy a quick, quirky read, take a look at Actors Anonymous. You can find out more about the book here…

Do you like straight books, or something a little more on the unusual side? 

To Inspire: The Priority List

I wasn’t brave enough to read today’s book, David Menasche’s The Priority List (Allen and Unwin), I thought I might struggle with the subject matter a little, and so I passed it on to TBYL Reviewer Narelle. She’s made me wish I’d read it, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same way too. Here’s her thoughts…

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I picked up David Menasche’s The Priority List and immediately warmed to the premise outlined on the cover: “A teachers final quest to discover life’s greatest lessons.” With an endorsement from Elizabeth Gilbert and the back cover questioning “What truly matters in life?” I had mentally slotted this in somewhere alongside Tuesdays with Morrie and Life’s Golden Ticket, as an uplifting, moving read that would warm my heart. What I read was altogether more intriguing and absorbing than first glance suggested.

the priority listWith two retired school teachers as parents, the teaching world that Menasche inhabits is a familiar one, I’ve seen first-hand a similar dedication and passion for teaching. As Menasche begins his story though, life throws a huge boulder in front of him – a diagnosis of an aggressive brain tumour. It’s his response though, that shows his strength and courage, telling family, friends and beloved students “Don’t worry – I’ve got this.”

Menasche weaves his story back and forth, telling stories of students and his encounters with them alongside a history of his teaching career. His passion for learning and for igniting a similar passion in his students is evident throughout his story. He tells of his excitement of having a classroom and students to call his own at Coral Reef Senior High.

“But as much as I wanted to make a good impression on my coworkers, what mattered to me most were the kids. I couldn’t wait to meet them. “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”, the author and scholar William Arthur Ward wrote. I wanted to be great teacher. The best they’d ever had.” 

David candidly shares the terror of his diagnosis and the at times brutal toll his cancer treatment takes on his body. Throughout his illness, his unwavering passion for teaching and inspiring his students keeps him afloat, and indeed he credits them with giving him the will to continue. As his health deteriorates, he reaches a crushing realization – that he can no longer continues his classroom teaching. His body and eyesight failing, but his determination firm, he begins a new quest – to visit his former students and find out where life has taken them.

And in this modern age, how best to connect with his now scattered flock? Why, through Facebook of course! With a swift response from all over the US, David sets out to meet and learn about the many students he inspired in his classroom. Along the way, he faces physical and personal challenges that will alter his life forever.

Ultimately I found The Priority List many things – inspiring and moving, deeply sad at moments and joy-filled in others. Menasche’s love of teaching, learning, and life shine through, reflected through the testimony of many students that experienced first hand his passion for learning. A quirky mixture of John Keating (Dead Poets Society) with a dash of rebellious Walter White (Breaking Bad), David Menasche’s story is unique, and one that deserves to be shared.

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You can find out more about David Menasche’s The Priority List, here…

Voice of souls: Only the Animals

Interestingly, I almost didn’t pick up Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals (Penguin). I had a lot of books on the go when it hit my desk, and I really wasn’t quite sure about the premise – a book told from the point of view of dead animals? Still, the book’s cover brimming with wandering green cats piqued my interest, and so racing out of the house one morning I grabbed it, starting it on the way to work. I’m so glad I did, what a treat!

only the animalsOnly the Animals is a strange endeavour:

The souls of ten animals caught up in human conflicts over the last century tell their astonishing stories of life and death. In a trench on the Western Front a cat recalls her owner Colette’s theatrical antics in Paris. In Nazi Germany a dog seeks enlightenment. A Russian tortoise once owned by the Tolstoys drifts in space during the Cold War. In the siege of Sarajevo a bear starving to death tells a fairytale. And a dolphin sent to Iraq by the US Navy writes a letter to Sylvia Plath…

… An animal’s-eye view of humans at out brutal, violent worst and our creative, imaginative best, it asks us to find our way back to empathy not only for animals, but for other people, and to believe again in the redemptive power of reading and writing fiction.

I’ll admit to being a little fearful that the book might be a little didactic, a bit preachy. To my relief, Dovey avoids this on all accounts, instead creating a series of short stories that are ‘playful and poignant’. Their comments on humanity – on its writers, its artists, its soldiers and their conflicts – subtly highlight their absurdities without out ever screaming out loud ‘you are wrong, you are misguided, war is bad, bad, bad.’

The stories don’t have to, the message is self-evident. The starving bear in Sarajevo never has to say; ‘War is killing me’, we just know it to be so.The Paris house-cat lost on a World War I battlefield effectively illustrates the horror of the frontline, its brutality against humans and quadrupeds alike. The sharp wit of dolphin Sprout, daughter of Blinky, draws our eye to the travesty of conflict, the ridiculousness of justifying abuses in the name of protection. This done through recollections, not lectures.

I’m a fan of short fiction, so I thoroughly this collection of skilfully constructed stories. Linked by theme, each story picks up on a new time period. We’re guided through each period by a unique voice – a chimp, a bear, a dog or a tortoise. Dovey cleverly captures authentic animal personalities. She has a deft touch, and her characters are dealt with sensitively and often quietly humorously. Each tale is written in a style suitable to their time, none more so than the story of the soul of a mussel (died 1941, United States of America) written as a Beat tale…

In the morning, looking bloated with too much seawater, her gills not functioning so well anymore, she said, ‘You stay hungry, boy. You’re onto something. I’ll give you that, living so spontaneous and all, improvising, making it up as you go. It’s the only way to endure this grubby life, turn it into something sparkling. You’ll get there if you can survive this. But there’s no virtue in rushing towards death, remember that. Let the others live fast and die young. You live slow and die old.’

It surprised me how well this worked. I got no sense of parody, it seemed completely appropriate, even if just a tiny bit absurdist.

archyOnly the Animals reminded me many times of the obscure classic Archy and Mehitabel,  a quirky tale by Don Marquis. His story of a cockroach and an alley cat planted itself firmly in my mind after a single read and comes to mind often. Similarly, I think this collection of voices from Dovey will resonate with me for some time. 

You can find out more about Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals here…

A Lucky Life: Where Earth Meets Water

It always amazes me how some authors are able to capture colour, movement and feeling, to tell a story so rich and real. Today’s review from Jennie Diplock-Storer tells us of a story that captures all these things and more. Here’s her thoughts on Where Earth Meets Water by Pia Padukone (Harlequin)…

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Pai Padukone’s debut novel, Where Earth Meets Water, takes us to dichotomous parts of the world and introduces us to the lives of four intrinsically linked people. Pia has written a novel that successfully wraps the reader around it’s finger, and all within the first few paragraphs.

where earth meets waterTelling the story of Karom Seth involves more than Karom alone. His life holds several traumatic events, some of which we are made aware of very early in the book. Despite this trauma, if fact almost as a result of it, Karom appears to have lived a very lucky life. As a college student in New York, he remains behind on campus when his class attends a conference at Tower One on September 11th, 2001. That day the world is changed for ever by two planes hitting the Twin Towers. Karom, of course, survives, but loses many friends from his student group.

As a senior at college, with his final exams coming up, a family reunion is organised at the coastal town of Bhupal in India. Seth relatives are flying and travelling from all parts of the world and Karom is excited at the prospect of meeting all of these blood kin, many of whom he has never met before. As fate would have it, he delays his arrival in India by one day, so as to complete his study. When he gets to the airport he finds flights to India cancelled but can find no information as to why. Phone calls to family members are unanswered and he ultimately returns to college.

After a time, Karom is notified by a cousin that a “freak wave”, emanating from an underwater earthquake has hit coastal areas of Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka & India, decimating the region. His parents and most of his relatives are lost in this disaster.

Fortunately, Karom’s room-mate, Lloyd, is there for him during this time. He hears the nightmares and Karom’s cries in the night and supports him as best he can. This relationship is a pleasure for the reader to share. The two men become best friends and years later, Karom is to be Lloyd’s best man in his wedding to Malina.

We are introduced to Gita, Karom’s long term girlfriend. Although she wasn’t in Karom’s life during these earth-shattering events, she is certainly impacted by them. They are a very happy couple and enjoy their life together – all but for one behaviour pattern of Karom’s. He plays, with worrying regularity, what he terms “a game”. We see an example of this ‘game’ in the first few pages of the book…

While waiting at a train station in India with Gita, Karom edges himself closer and closer to the edge of the platform until finally, he jumps down onto the track and walks up the train line. It takes some time before Gita realises what he has done and drama ensues as Karom returns to the platform unharmed. His words of reassurance to Gita fall on deaf ears, as she is scared and sick of the game, behaviour which she only sees ending in tragedy.

new york trainWe learn that in New York Karom often stands as close as possible to the edge of the station platform and also plays “chicken” with cars on the road. It appears that in escaping death, dodging terrorists and earthquakes, Karom feels he is either invincible or he is tempting fate.

Where Earth Meets Water is written in components dedicated to the major characters involved in Karom’s world.

We start in India, where Gita and Karom are staying with Gita’s Ammama, her Grandmother. Gita shares her anxieties about Karom’s behaviour to Ammama and Ammama herself sets upon the problem in her own way. There is much love and colour here and we are fortunate to be gifted  by the author, Ammama’s story.

We learn about Lloyd’s relationship with Karom also, how Karom’s fears have influenced their friendship.

Gita’s story shares with us the complexities and vulnerabilities involved in being in a long term relationship with Karom. What does this mean to her? How is his fears and behaviour affecting them as a couple?

As a reader I was grabbed by Where Earth Meets Water in the first paragraphs. Padukone writes with colour, melody, vibrations and deeply exposed emotions. Many sections of the book are pure prose. We, the reader, are where the characters are, at any given moment. On occasions I found myself holding my breath, unable to turn pages fast enough. At other times I was wary moving on, scared to travel with a character on the path they had chosen.

There are phrases of pure beauty, with Padukone having the gift of putting on paper movement and touch that the reader can feel.

Every character is so completely developed, it is impossible not to be fully invested in them. This makes the reading of the last half of this book riveting. Secrets are exposed, fears are shared and feelings confessed. I raced to the last pages and was not in the least bit disappointed.

I highly recommend Where Earth Meets Water. Although intense feelings and events are contained, there is nothing threatening or difficult in the reading of this book. I truly hope that this is the first of many for Pia Padukone.

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You can find out more about Where Earth Meets Water by Pia Padukone here…