It’s hard to resist a potentially salacious (and short) Australian anthology of “sexual and relationship debacles”, especially when Kate Langbroek and Molly Meldrum are fans. So, I had no hesitation in plowing through 2 Girls and a Camel by Paul Birman (2001). It was a fun romp that had me turning for the next chapter as soon as I’d finished one story. 4 stars.
Where I’m Reading From by Tim Parks (2014) – Now for something a heck of a lot more thoughtful and dry than anything I’ve looked at lately. A bit like that Robert Forster book about music criticism, I felt like I was in the hands of quite an original thinker; it was a pleasure to see literary norms challenged and debated, even if I disagree with him on e-books. Unfortunately for me, the last third of the book strayed into his professional realm (being an Italian translator) and took on some dry topics, so the book fell away a lot after a brilliant start. The bit on Jonathan Franzen being loved by Europeans was terrific though. Who would have known he’s lived in Italy for over 40 years now? 3 stars.
Even after flicking back through From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan (2018), I can recall little. I remember it being well written and engaging enough, but unlike Jonathan Frazen, the book has not “stayed with me” much at all. There’s a very dramatic and unexpected confluence of the three main characters at the end, which got my pulse racing and which was masterfully done. 4 stars.
After the last two books, something light, maybe a bit bitchy and saucy felt the right fit. The contrast was enormous, and having abandoned Eleanor Catton‘s The Illuminaries only a year or so back, I was worried about it a little. But nope, The Rehearsal (2008) was an entirely different beast; confidently written, intriguing and unpredictable, although having perhaps a bit more drama class content than I’d wanted. The flawed and manipulative teachers entertained and together with a spicy sex-with-a teacher scandal I somehow ended up enjoying this coming-of-age novel, just when I was sure I couldn’t read another. 4 stars.
Although I didn’t really buy the wealthy-middle-aged-woman-becomes-tattoo-fiend premise of Indelible Ink (2010), there were mid-life reflections that I identified with (and certainly wouldn’t have 20 years ago). Fiona McGregor has written a quietly excoriating critique of modern Sydney: it’s real estate and class obsessions, and highlights a families’ compartmental lives, selfishness and dysfunction. Beautifully done. 4.5 stars.
I really didn’t expect to find Old Filth (2004) to be about an esteemed gentleman lawyer (Eddie Feathers) in very late life, falling apart and revisiting past relationships in his final act. Jane Gardham writes a touching and sympathetic novel about a man righting some wrongs and seeking answers before it’s too late. I was never bored and the chapters jumped around in a nice unpredictable way. 4 stars.
There’s a terrific sense of drama, urgency and outright danger in the short Border Crossing by Pat Barker (2001). A psychologist, feeling guilt for an earlier unsympathetic assessment of a boy, is lured into breaking professional boundaries when coincidentally running into him in later life. It would have made a fantastic mini-series or movie I think, since I was on the edge of my seat throughout, however I suspect many modern readers would be disappointed with the open ending, lacking final revenge . It’s hard to believe that the author wrote the Regeneration series about WW1, I must be one of the few people who read and enjoyed both. 3.5 stars.
I’ll agree with a reviewer that Transit by Rachel Cusk (2016) is a page-turner. About half way I thought to myself, is this just going to be about repeat setups where the narrator runs into random people, elicits their story, and adds a touch of psychological insight whilst giving very little of herself away? It’s voyeuristic, compelling and insightful but also removed and clinical. The last section on cousin Lawrence and new wife Eloise (and children) was truly revolting and gripping at the same time. I’m not sure I’m a huge fan of Cusk, but I’d like to give her a third go sometime. 3 stars.