Attraction – book review

Attraction, by Ruby Porter

This is a fabulous looking cover, which compelled me to buy Attraction on sight. I dived in and found the writing as terrific as the presentation. I am now going to read everything Ruby Porter writes on any subject at all. Attraction is just such an incredibly stylish read and I loved every page.

I mention the subject of the book, because although the kiwi setting appealed, the story itself wasn’t for me. Three young women are on a coming-of-age roadie around small-town New Zealand, with lots of well-thrashed issues about relationships and sexuality and illness and colonial angst. I felt out of place with the characters, perhaps a little voyeuristic, a bit bored with the self-obsession, and the plot took me nowhere new. Didn’t matter. The fact that these conversations aren’t mine did not in the least detract from the beautiful way Porter expresses herself. You might not love the subject of a painting or way it is framed, but the power of the artist can still blow you away.

Continue reading “Attraction – book review”

Congratulations Isabel Thorne

It’s just 150 years too late

I’m writing a book about a young student who goes from New Zealand to England to study medicine. Nothing unusual about that now, but this was 1883 and the student  – shock horror – was a woman!

My heroine, an invented young woman called Lenne, meets up with Isabel Thorne, a real pioneering women’s activist and one of the Edinburgh Seven, a group of feisty women who had been blocked from graduating from the University of Edinburgh because of their sex. The seven women go on to form the London School of Medicine for Women in 1874 and Thorne, still unqualified, becomes Honorary Secretary. She devotes her life to helping other women achieve the goal denied to her.

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An Officer and a Spy – book review

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

J’accuse!” says Emile Zola, on the front page of a Paris newspaper in 1898, and the headline throws France into disarray over the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus for treason. Or for being a Jew.

This novel was a great hit with the book club boys. It’s a fascinating period of history and Robert Harris digs around in the ugly end-of-century society, with the rise of anti-semitism in Europe, witch-hunts, the manipulation of documents, false reporting, corruption, whistle-blowing, the power of state intelligence. It all sets the scene for 20th Century history and has a uncomfortable resonance even now, when we should know better.

In An Officer & a Spy, Robert Harris creates a gripping story around real events. Continue reading “An Officer and a Spy – book review”

Lincoln in the Bardo – book review

A caveat before I put this on the book club list. It may be just too weird for many people, and there is no shame in that. It won the Booker in 2017 and follows my usual rule: read everything on the Booker short-list and avoid the winner, which will be be too edgy for its own good (it is sandwiched between Milkman & Sellout, two obvious cases in point).

However, if you’re willing to try something a bit different, and your book club has been a bit samey for a while and needs a re-boot: here you go.

Lincoln in the Bardo is the kind of book best read drunk. Continue reading “Lincoln in the Bardo – book review”

Brickbat for Jerningham

For his 199th birthday

Today is Jerningham Wakefield’s 199th birthday. Happy Birthday, you old thing.

Jerningham came to Wellington with the New Zealand Company in 1839, the thin edge of the colonial wedge.  For that we can throw many brickbats. And hey, it’s his birthday! So here is my favourite Jerningham brickbat: a letter to the editor from a missionary, in reaction to Jerningham’s recently published Adventure in New Zealand.

It’s a hell of a book review. Jerningham and the missionaries never did see eye to eye Continue reading “Brickbat for Jerningham”

Converstations with Friends & Normal People – book reviews

Sally Rooney is my new discovery. Sure, I’m behind the play on this one, the last two years have seen her plastered with awards. Don’t ask me why she is so good, I find it hard to say why I find the lives of twenty something Irish students and their friends so compelling. They don’t go on adventures or do remarkable things. Their journeys are mostly internal and all about relationships. They’re going through the  pretty mundane stuff of growing up, involving incidents that you’ll probably recognise, things that you or your friends might have struggled with.

The two books are similar, each with the main character a very bright girl at university in Dublin, with family issues pulling her emotional strings and intense friendships. Continue reading “Converstations with Friends & Normal People – book reviews”

The Cyprus Tree – book review

The Cyprus Tree, by Kamin Mohammad

Let’s add a bit of fire to your book club reading with this book about Iran by Kamin Mohammadi.

It begins, rather dauntingly, with dense chapters of Iranian history and Kamin’s family history, both of which are complicated matters. I admit I stopped trying to make sense of it and lost track of all the uncles’ names (the book shows a family tree though the kindle version doesn’t), but I did enjoy the way these chapters give a rhythm to the story which was unlike western fiction. I got a real sense of how details are so important to this culture and understood why Kamin was introducing us so diligently. In the same way Māori will tell you an iwi history to give you a real sense of who they are and where they came from, Kamin carefully lays out the past for us. Continue reading “The Cyprus Tree – book review”