Let Go My Hand — book review

Don’t worry about the blurb, just start reading. This is a clever and erudite read but accessible! Makes you feel like these whip-smart dark comics have packed you into a van with them and are taking you for a ride across northern Europe, letting you sit in on their banter, their arguments, their weird discussions. The story is told mostly by the dialogue between three men and their father: all of them perceptive and intelligent in that very English way that produces such fantastic stand up. Sure, the boys are taking their father to Dignitas, but it’s not a quiet journey. The boys are brought up to talk, and they do. Brilliantly.

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The Midnight Library—book review

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

Matt Haig is an extremely popular modern writer and I can see why. He writes about the idiosyncrasies of being human and what makes us tick. What is normal, what are other people’s lives like, what are we here for, what’s the point? And he covers these big, existentialist questions in a blithe, chatty way to disguise where he is taking you. I’ll be slammed for suggesting that he diminishes important ideas to the level of pop culture, but there we are. If you want to spark a deep conversation when you’re sitting with your mates on sofas and pouring out the chardonnay (and that’s a yes from me), this book might start you off.

Actually, I have moved this review into my books that don’t make the cut section because, while Haig is a popular author and The Midnight Library an interesting read, I did have a few qualms about the subject matter treated in such a way. SPOILERS FOLLOW. Continue reading…

State Highway one — book review

State Highway One by Sam Coley

State Highway One is a disturbing read. Gripping, though. As fast paced as the car roaring down those familiar NZ roads at death defying speed with the deranged, drunk, sleepless boy at the wheel and his harpy twin sister lighting his cigarettes and talking in his ear. He loses her occasionally but she always finds him again. Weird, that.

They’re both selfish, unlikable kids. They’re made that way by their selfish, unlikable parents who are Auckland mega-celebs: rich movie moguls who trot the globe and abandon their kids in the swanky party pad to finish their private schooling free-range. Do people like this really exist? Feels very LA, but perhaps Auckland is heading that way and growing a generation of rich, entitled brats.

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When to kindle

To kindle or not to kindle?

I know, I know, — holding a paperback is lovely. It’s full of nostalgia for your lost childhood, it seems more authentic, somehow, than reading from a screen, there’s the weight of it in your hand that tells you how bloody big the book is and you know when you’re nearing the end. You can flick back to the name of the bloke you’ve forgotten which was on the top left a few pages back and balance it on it’s spine to see if it falls open at the saucy bits (everyone does that, right?)

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Love — book review

It’s pretty bold, calling your book Love. You’ve got to be confident to think anyone will find you on google with that title. So this is a destination book, for those of us who already love Roddy Doyle (me). And the cover is unbelievably gorgeous.

This is a modern day love story, where loves are described by two increasingly drunk old friends across a collection of Dublin’s pubs. The love is off the page, we don’t meet any of the beloved. It’s one guy talking most of the time — that’s Joe gabbing about meeting up again with a girl the men both fancied way back and leaving his wife for her (don’t get him wrong, he loves his wife but this is different); and our man listening — that’s Davie, frustrated by Joe’s circuitous story, thinking of his wife at home in England, how they met, why he loves her.

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The Dictionary of Lost Words — book review

The Dictionary of Lost Words, by Pip Williams

Not a light-hearted book, this one. It’s a long, slow burn, perhaps a bit over-written, a 300 page story stuffed into a 400 page one. I did get into it, but at the start the writing felt contrived — quirkiness which missed authenticity by a beat.

At heart it’s the story of women coming of age through the 1900s and the long slow finding of their seat at the table. This much I loved. The men are kindly old academics but blind to their blindness and the women have an unspoken hunch that equality would be nice. They work as hard as the men with the brains of the men but get no credit for any of it and pretty much everyone accepts that. Rebellion is very much on the fringe which is spot on.

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The Bright Side of My Condition — book review

The Bright Side of My Condition, by Charlotte Randall

I’ve just spent a year writing a book about castaways on a remote, southern New Zealand island in the early 1860s and sent it off for consideration, when a friend told me about Charlotte Randall’s The Bright Side of My Condition, set about 50 years earlier on the Snares, with seals and storms and miserable conditions. I almost died. She’s already written my story – I wailed.

But of course, she hadn’t. There is more than one story set in the frozen southern oceans and many ways to tell ’em.

Randall’s is based on a true story of four convict men who have escaped Norfolk penal colony, without much planning or foresight, stowing away on a sealing ship. The captain drops them on a desolate island with a trypot and some basic necessities and tells them to collect a payment of seal skins. He’ll pick them up in a year. The felons are so pleased to be free of the jail that this seems a reasonable exchange. A decade passes.

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Glass Houses—book review

Glass Houses and other stories, by Karen Phillips

Each story in this collection is a piece of sea glass: a tiny part of a much bigger story, hard edges worn away, polished and immediately recognisable as precious.

There are fourteen stories, mostly about family relationships and all very kiwi in place and culture, related by someone in their later years. In every story life has thrown up a glitch: dementia of a loved one, death of a child, a son travelling in a danger zone and out of touch, observations in a supermarket queue. I met Karen Phillips last night and asked her about her characters, who often seem to be peripheral to the main story going past at a faster clip and she agreed that she sees and wonders about the people on the edges.

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The Tally Stick—book review

The Tally Stick, by Carl Nixon

Here’s one I strongly recommend as a Christmas present. It’s got a very wide appeal, it’s a mixed genre—mystery-ish, crime-y, survival, literary fiction—whatever category it falls into, it’s a gripping read, the sort of book you take on holiday to justify staying all day in the hammock.

The story starts horrifically with a car coming off the road and plunging through the trees into a river below. It has a real “there but the grace of God” feeling to it—who hasn’t taken a corner too fast on some remote bush road and put a hand to their heart when the tires held? John Chamberlain’s last hope, as they leave the road and he reaches for his wife and baby in the passenger seat beside him, is that his children in the back are still asleep.

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Shuggie Bain — Book Review

Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart

The poor wean. There’s love, but it’s inconsistent and unreliable, a selfish love given up in tiny doses. There’s food, occasionally, perhaps a tin of custard. I’m thinking of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and realise Shuggie doesn’t even get off the ground floor. He can’t tick off a thing.

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