Happy new year! Just the one resolution this year: to keep notes, just brief ones, on the books I read. A memory aid, really. So here’s my first instalment, a few snack-size reviews …
Our book group read Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls late last year. It’s a retelling of Homer’s Iliad. We had all really enjoyed Barker’s Regeneration trilogy (1991), but we felt, to some degree, that she missed the mark with this new book. Barker’s story was chiefly about Achilles and his friend (lover?) Patroclus, whose stories Homer covered pretty well, when she could have taken the license to portray more thoroughly the fates of the women of Troy they took as concubines. Achilles’ concubine, Briseis, is the main character but her sufferings and aspirations, the relationships she forges with the other Trojan women kept in the camp, are only painted with a light brush. A missed opportunity, we felt.
In Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine Gail Honeyman employs one of those very satisfying slow-release narratives. Eleanor has an office job in Edinburgh which is turning out well, in her opinion. She’s very socially inhibited—I thought that she was (airquotes) on the spectrum. But then she meets some life challenges and her backstory starts to come through, hint by hint. Her transformation is endearing. Feel-good stuff.
Shell by Kristina Olssen is set in the mid-1960s. The building of the Sydney Opera House is set against the background of Vietnam War politics. It’s a seminal time for Australia – culture wars, conscription, sexual freedom, feminism all at the fore. Olssen writes beautifully but sometimes, for me, the story moved a little too slowly.
I’m not much of a crime fiction reader but a friend whose opinions I respect thrust Ian Rankin’s The Falls, a Rebus story, at me recently. The problem is, I had not long before read Peter Temple’s Truth and Broken Shore, after learning that he won the Miles Franklin for the former. I preferred Broken Shore, probably because there are dogs in it, but they’re both brilliant. The dialogue is sparse to the point of code and Temple offers a real eye-opener into Australian police culture. Ian Rankin writes well and tells a good tale but if, like me, you’ve harboured an aversion to crime due to the writing, try Temple.
Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko tells the story of Kerry Salter, who has returned to her hometown in Bundjalung country in northern NSW because her grandfather is dying. From the moment she arrives—the prodigal daughter on a stolen Harley Davidson—accusations fly and family secrets leak on a dripfeed. And to add to the tension, a nearby town’s rich developer mayor has designs on Salter ancestral land. This one just keeps moving and the Goorie language-enriched dialogue is snappy. Families, eh?