The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett
The portrait of the girl in the red coat is of Maeve, and this is her story.
We come at this fact obliquely, as the narrator is Danny, her much younger brother.
I love this painting, presented on the cover of the book. I referred back to it many times as I read to bring Maeve into the room with me. She looks a damn good kid, but with a bit of spirit. Sharp. Initially, the painter is brought to the Dutch House to paint Maeve’s mother, who decides she is having none of it. So Maeve stares out at the painter throughout several long sittings, a little bit in love with him, but she keeps to her seat, steady and calm, the still focus of the house while things go on around her.
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Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
This is one of those books like a pregnant women. When you’re lugging the great lump around, so, it suddenly seems, is everyone else. The thing is everywhere. In the course of one week my son recommended it, my husband was reading it, I met a bloke on a tramp who couldn’t look up at the trees because his head was in the book and his girlfriend said it changed her life. Yeah, yeah. I got a copy.
Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind is a big book. Lots of pages, yes, but I mean big in the sense that every chapter is packed with some thought provoking perception. I didn’t agree with all Harari’s ideas but they were all interesting enough to make me rest the book on my lap for a while and think…hmmm…maybe he’s right. This is designed to be a life changing book. Bill Gates and Barack Obama both recommend it on the cover. It claims to be the “thrilling account of our extraordinary history—from insignificant apes to rulers of the world,” Quite the thesis.
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Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan
This book delivers everything it promises on the cover: a surreal balloon ride through a tropical jungle, a black boy holding fast with no control over things and an pith-helmeted explorer with a telescope looking like he knows where he’s going.
Washington Black, as the name suggests, is a slave boy and the explorer is the eccentric brother of his owner on a slave plantation in Barbados. They are drawn together, Titch because of the boy’s uncanny drawing ability and Wash for the enticement of freedom. But what is freedom?
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The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
I’ve included Rachel Joyce’s The Music Shop because a dear friend says it’s her favourite book ever, and I am pretty sure she’s not alone in that.
It’s set in a fading record shop in a bypassed street where the owner, our Frank, magically recommends exactly the music that people need to make them feel fine. Nice idea. Bit of a fantasy.
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Before we were yours, by Lisa Wingate
This novel contains two stories that we know will connect. We can guess, but don’t know the full details until the end. It is based on shameful historical fact that makes us keep reading through the slightly klutzy text in the hope that, bloody hell, if this is true let’s make sure it never happens again. It goes on my “good holiday read” shelf. Probably wouldn’t take it to book club.
The interesting story is the one of a twelve-year-old river kid in Tennassee in 1939. Her mother is birthing twins on the houseboat and the black midwife walks out because she doesn’t want a dead white woman on her hands. When her father leaves for hospital in the skiff, the girl and her 4 siblings are kidnapped. This is a retelling of a bogey story as old as the hills (stabs me in the heart every time), with an orphanage, cellars, beatings, gruel, death and starvation until the cute blond kids get sold off to wealthy but infertile couples. The kids’ past disappears like the river and there is no psychological help for them ever apart from what they can cobble together themselves. It’s horrible.
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Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton
Oh my God. It’s true. This extraordinary story of Eli Bell growing up in suburban Brisbane amid drug addicts and gangs and criminals and the poignancy of children making sense of the mess…this is based on his life. Trent Dalton’s. The mother he loves so much he breaks into prison to be with her at Christmas. The best friend, Slim, who shares his stories of Boggo Road prison and may (or may not) have murdered a cabbie. The Vietnamese Golden Triangle heroin dealers and their hit men. Might be easier to read not knowing these things were based on a real life.
I SO love this book. It has that rare bit of genius that I search for in fiction: a mixture of quirky but believable characters, a story that grows, an unusual setting (actually, I hated the setting), and writing so sharp it makes you bleed.
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See you in September, by Charity Norman
I was so pleased to win this last week (and thank you Wardini Books, I’m sure you give donations all the time for fundraisers, and I want you to know this one ended up in appreciative hands). Charity Norman lives up the road. She’s quite famous but I’ve never read her before. Where have I been? This was great.
Some books are page-turners because of the writing, some for the plot or the characters, and some books just have a magic hook that drags you through the night (just one more chapter, just one more) because you are in so deep you just have to know how it ends. Arrggh! I put my life on hold while I gripped this book in my clammy hands. Continue reading “See you in September – book review”