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review 2017-08-28 00:37
The Night Guest, Fiona McFarlane
The Night Guest - Fiona McFarlane

The Night Guest opens with elderly Ruth fearing she can hear and smell a tiger in her house--in Australia. One of the great pleasures of this book is its unreliable narrator, unreliable not because she's deceptive but because her mind isn't what it used to be and may be getting worse. Yet the phantom of the tiger presages what may be a real danger: the arrival of a woman named Frida who claims to be a government carer. Is she, or is she fleecing Ruth?

 

Ruth's narration leaves just enough room for the reader to come to their own conclusions about her and Frida. Some things are left diaphanous, but not so hazy as to cause confusion. On top of that, the prose is terrific: distinctive but not overbearingly poetic. McFarlane capture fine states of feeling or consciousness with her language and imagery. I really delighted in reading it.

 

Not so delightful is the nature of what's going on, or even the suspicion of it. My grandmother, who died a few years ago, suffered from dementia. She had an excellent aide, but my parents eventually had to put her in a nursing home close to where they live. Even the best of those places upset me, and it was hard for me to see my grandmother--the smartest person in my family--lose herself. This recent experience made it difficult to continue at times.

 

I also found myself thinking about Frida's race and physicality--she's a brown-skinned and heavyset woman. Ruth is tiny and was fair-haired. What's being said about Frida and race? I searched reviews and finally found one that addresses the issue by referencing the author's own explanation (in the Sydney Review of Books, here). This explanation satisfied me, though I'm still wondering about Frida's size.

 

Finally, it was lovely to see a bit of romance between Ruth and her almost-love from the past, who's even older than she is. A delicately handled rarity in literary fiction.

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review 2017-03-07 06:45
The Rosie Effect: A Novel - Graeme Simsion

At first this book had me worried. There were problems presented that seemed insurmountable, and although I expected the usual disasters caused by Don's unique responses to social situations, the magnitude of one of them in particular, was a bit overwhelming. Also the tension rose and rose and rose in relation to the most crucial problem Don and Rosie faced but the resolution was slipped in in such a way it would have been easy to miss. Fortunately, the lead-up to the resolution was a good one and made it believable.
I was quite a bit more emotional in my response to this one than to the first. While hardly as socially inept as Don, we do have some similarities, and watching him struggle through the problems presented in The Rosie Effect was heartbreaking. I also appreciated, as I had in the first, the fact that Graeme Simsion can, through his skillful writing, demonstrate just how much Don cares about others even though he finds it difficult to relate to them on any emotional level. Well written and enjoyable.

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review 2017-03-01 09:31
The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion

When I began it, I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book or not, as the narration was heavy with lots of 'telling'. However, I quickly realised that that was an appropriate style for a character who is most likely Asperger's or leaning towards autism, with his heavy emphasis on routine, structure and over-analysis of everything, and his fear of emotional situations and inability to behave in a socially acceptable way. Don Tillman, the protagonist, quickly became sympathetic and his journey though the novel was endearing and at times extremely moving. A very enjoyable story.

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text 2017-01-27 23:09
Book haul for word nerds!
The Australian National Dictionary: Australian Words and Their Origins - 2 Volumes A-L and M-Z - Bruce Moore

I've been lusting after this 2 volume set since Oxford announced its scheduled publication and today MT gave it to me for my birthday!  It's so very, very beautiful.  I just keep staring at it.  It's 2 volumes of 16,000 Australian specific words, so MT is also hoping now I'll be able to understand him.  ;)

 

He also ordered a new timber bookcase for the 'library'... so expect some shelfies in a few weeks.  :)

 

 

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review 2017-01-23 18:30
Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett
Rush Oh! - Shirley Barrett

This is the second novel in a row I've read (after Enchanted Islands) that's written as a sort of memoir from the perspective of an older person looking back. I'm not overly fond of traditional memoirs and wonder if this may in part account for my less than enthusiastic reaction upon finishing.

 

What this book does have going for it is a charming, somewhat unreliable narrator. Her asides and style as a storyteller often delighted and amused me. Mary is a naive girl at the start, and as an adult seems not much wiser. As a reader you may arch your brow at the gaps in her knowledge or what lies beneath her personality quirks (e.g. as a woman in her 50s at the end, she has developed a kind of fetish for reverends, owing to her first love, explored throughout the book). Mary is so plucky (and often critical of others) that I assumed she was still a child when the story began (in fact, she's a young lady already).

 

Returning to what I'm describing as memoir-ish--and an author's note explains that Mary's father was a real person, if not the whole family--there's only so much narrative thrust to the story. The plot advances in short chapters interspersed with others that give some background to the characters and to whaling. Essentially, Mary relays an account of a particular whaling season in Australia, most significant for her because she meets her first (and only romantic) love.

 

The novel was pleasant enough to read, but I needed something more and was also left confused by the end. Why end on that moment?

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