Literarily, my eyes are bigger than my belly. My want-to-read aspirations cannot, despite my best efforts and intentions, be matched by my able-to-read reality. I know this. And yet. I want to read them all. I intend to read them all. And yet. I'm not sure there's enough lifetime left to read all the books I already have, let alone the ones I haven't happened upon yet. So, here's this year's experiment (or public shaming, but I'm sticking with experiment for now). I'm going to record what I've purchased or been given and what I've read. Let the numbers speak for themselves *gulp*.
One of Us is the story of Anders Breivik and the massacre of 77 people in Norway in 2011. Breivik detonated a bomb in the carpark of a government building 22 July 2011 before travelling to the island of Utoya and shooting 69 people, most of them teenagers.
Asne Seierstad is a Norwegian journalist who has worked for many years as a foreign correspondent. She returned home to cover the massacre and subsequent trial. Her account is thorough, going back to the childhood of Breivik and some of his victims. It spends some time trying to dissect/understand Breivik's manifesto, which I lost interest in - I was far more interested in the lives and potential of the lives of those impacted by Breivik than the murderer himself. On some level it seems to me that to dedicate too many pages to the manifesto of a deluded individual is to satisfy the original motivation for the killings. I agree that some understanding of Breivik's motivation (however outrageous, unwarranted and ranty) is helpful, a 2-3 page summary would have been just as useful as the chapters devoted to the evolving ravings of a madman.
That said, this is a very interesting, engaging, and ultimately heartbreaking story. The victims' stories are told with compassion and respect. The number of times Breivik was almost stopped - from proposed psychiatric intervention when he was two years old, to interruptions during his bomb preparation, and particularly as he was caught in traffic between the bomb site and Utoya, gave this reader serious pause for thought.
Food has always been at the centre of Edie Middlestein's life, but Edie's relationship with food is making her sick and she requires surgery. Unfortunately for her husband, Richard, this coincides with his decision to leave Edie after 30 years of marriage. It then falls to Edie and Richard's children and their partners to try and save Edie from herself.
The book is described on the cover as 'an epic story of marriage, family, and obsession'. While I disagree with 'epic' I agree with the rest. In the style of Olive Kitteridge, The Middlesteins examines in detail the life of a woman and those around her in a series of intimate stories that gain far greater meaning when understood as a whole.
Dawn Schutt's college boyfriend, Rud Petty, was convicted of murdering her father Joe and attempting to murder her mother, Hanna, three years ago, but has won an appeal. Hanna cannot remember the night of the attack, but when the prosecution threatens to indict Dawn again Hanna undertakes to try and remember what happened. Dawn offers to move home to support her. If She Did It explores the nagging doubts Hanna has about her daughter's innocence and her efforts to remember the events of three years before.
Hanna is an unreliable narrator because of her memory loss, which she attributes to the horrific injuries sustained in the attack, but the reader is swept along with Hanna as she struggles to remember what happened. Did Rud do it, or was their disaffected teenage neighbour to blame? If Rud did it, could Dawn have known, and if she knew could she have stopped him? This is an intelligently written book which asks similar questions to those in We Need To Talk About Kevin, and while it deserves favourable comparisons to Lionel Shriver's book, If She Did It approaches the questions in its own way and reaches its own conclusions in a way that is absolutely satisfying from a reader's perspective.
The book explores a horrific crime and its aftermath, and Hanna's journey to firstly address the unspeakable possibility that her daughter was involved, then question her and Joe's parenting decisions and consider what possible motive Dawn could have had, and her determination to remember and resolve the questions raised - by herself, her daughters, the police, the prosecution, the media and the community - makes for riveting reading. It also asks the reader the question - what would you do? An excellent read - recommended.
On Father's Day in 2005, three young boys drowned when the car their father was driving went off the road and plunged into a dam in rural Victoria. This House of Grief is the story of the father, Robert Farquharson, the mother, Cindy Gambino, and Robert's trial for the murder of their three boys, Jai, Tyler and Bailey.
I remember when this incident was reported, and remember hoping this was an accident while acknowledging the possibility that it was not. In the first few pages, Helen Garner relates having similar thoughts, She covers the trial, as impartial an observer as she can manage, but shares her thoughts, doubts, hope and despair with the reader as the trial and subsequent appeal progresses. We are privy to more information than the jury, and this is a blessing and a curse. While struggling to understand the possible motives of a man to direct his car into a deep, icy dam we are also faced with the rules of law and the human errors in investigation that follow each potential crime. At the heart of the book is a deep, deep sadness at the fate of the Jai, Tyler and Bailey. Helen Garner captures this so beautifully that I held onto this image while reading the story of the trial:
The only way I could bear it was to picture the boys as water creatures: three silvery, naked little sprites, muscular as fish, who slivered through a crack in the car's rear window and, with a flip of their sinuous feet, sped away together into their new element (p.49)
Unlike her previous true-crime work, Joe Cinque's Consolation, there are no interviews with the family in This House of Grief. This allows some remove from both the pain and protestation of the family and the accused, but the brilliance of Helen Garner's writing is such that readers' hearts continue to break for the boys throughout the procedural nature of the trial - at all times the loss of these boys to the world overshadows arguments about the existence of cough syncope and lines marked on the side of the road by accident investigation police.
The Girl with all the Gifts is set in an English, dystopian future where much of the population is infected with a virus which turns them into zombies, or 'hungries' as they are referred to in the novel. The main characters are Helen Justineau, a teacher, and Melanie, a 10-year-old girl infected with the virus but able to remain in control of her 'hungry' urges as long as she cannot smell humans (those working at the facility are diligent about masking their scent). Melanie is imprisoned in an army-type barracks where experiments are conducted on the children in an effort to determine a cure/vaccine for the virus.
There are, of course, evil doctors, free-range revolutionaries and gung-ho military types in this tale, in addition to the kind-hearted teacher and the gruff-but-good-hearted soldier. The primary difference between this story and every other zombie story now filling shelves everywhere is that Melanie is sentient. When chaos erupts at the base and the typical rag-tag bunch of characters are thrown together on the run, Melanie tries to control her urges and to protect Miss Justineau in particular, who she sees as a mother-figure.
It was an interesting twist to observe events from Melanie's point of view, and the end had some surprises in store, but in many ways this is a typical zombie story, far from "the most original thriller you will read this year" touted on the cover. I was unsurprised to learn that the screenplay was written at the same time as the novel, as many aspects of the story are visual and will easily translate to the big screen. Ultimately, for me, the book did not live up to the promise of the excerpt or the cover blurb, but that is always a risk when you pick up a book - or watch a movie - touted as the next big thing.
Firstly, an admission: I purchased this audiobook because I, Claudius was our book group pick for April and most of the Tarts had given up a chapter or so in because it was too dense a read. I have found that a narrator who understands the story can add so much to it by inflection and so chose the easier route. And, yes, I purchased the abridged version (tsk, tsk).
So, having chosen what I believed was the easier path, I still struggled in the early part of the book to keep up with all the -iuses - Claudius, Octavius, Tiberius, Posthumus, Germanicus, Augustus - you get the idea. Add to that the intermarriage and penchant for naming children a version of their parent's name (Agrippa - Agrippina, Livia - Livilla, etc), and it's a hard story to get a handle on without a family tree in front of you. That said, once I got the hang of it - I'd liken it to watching a movie with subtitles - I really enjoyed the story, Not short on drama, the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Also, the characters became easier to follow as more and more of them were killed off.
Originally published in 1934, I, Claudius takes the form of a memoir of Roman Emperor Claudius, who became emperor following the assassination of Caligula. He is, essentially, the last man standing. It is surprising, listening to this tale, that the Romans had any time at all to wage wars and conquer the world, given all the political intrigue and backstabbing at home.
Derek Jacobi is an excellent narrator, and his crisp delivery helped my understanding of the novel no end. Jacobi played Claudius in the 1976 BBC miniseries and 2007 radio adaptations of the book, so his knowledge of the character informs his reading of the book beautifully.
Having listened through to the end, I started again at the beginning in order to get clear in my head who was related to who (and who killed who) at the start. This isn't a story for everyone, but if you are interested in ancient history, enjoy a reading/listening challenge and are after some political intrigue, then this might be one for you.
Heartburn was originally published in 1983, and is the fictionalised account of the breakdown of her marriage to Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein. Like her main character, Rachel Samstat, Ephron's husband had an affair when she was pregnant with their second child (indeed, Carl Bernstein threatened to sue over the book and subsequent film, but never did). Rachel's story is told with self-deprecating humour and interspersed with recipes as she is a minor celebrity chef of sorts. Some of the recipes sounded quite delicious, but one of the downsides of an audiobook is the difficulty of relocating treasures within once the narrator has passed them by.
As for the narration, who could ask more than Meryl? She is, as you would expect, brilliant, and adds much to the humour of the novel. My main criticism of the novel - and there's not much that can be done about it, given it was originally published over 30 years ago - is that the story is quite dated. I think it would have been a little more cutting edge in its time, but in the past 30 years the story of wronged partner making good on their own has been done time and time again.
I like the idea of this book. The first recollection Thomas Scott, 54, has, is waking on his deathbed in 2025, wracked with cancer. He dies. His second recollection is the day before he dies. His third recollection is the day before that. And so on. Thomas lives his life in reverse, without memory of what came before, jumping back 48 hours every morning at 3.00am (GMT).
It's a curious cross between Groundhog Day and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Gradually the pain, then the cancer, disappears, as he lives his life in reverse. Any financial gain possible with his knowledge of the future (gambling, stock market) is lost at 3.00am when the clock resets. This doesn't stop Thomas trying to change the lives of those he loves for the better. He researches his life through Facebook and text messages, aware of pivotal moments long before he (re)experiences them. The question of alternate futures is raised but not answered, and the reader is left wondering what will happen to Thomas when he gets all the way back to Day 1.
There is - and it seems unnecessary to me - a great deal of focus on Thomas's sexual adventures through his life in reverse. The lives of some characters in the book are changed by Thomas's actions, but the butterfly effect of these actions is not revealed as Thomas continues to move along his timeline in reverse. There are a number of interesting paths left untraveled here, which made the book somewhat unsatisfying.
I should note, however, that this book ties into some of the author's other works (TheTime Bubble series), so perhaps these paths are traveled elsewhere.
This is a bestseller in Austria, but I'm sorry to say this book wasn't for me. The book opens with the protagonist staging the murder of her adoptive parents as an accident. This was among the most likely premises of the story. It compares itself favourably to the television series 'Dexter', and in this it is very much mistaken. The main character is an unlikable psychopath, the storyline both improbable and predictable, and much of the violence within seems to be included for shock value only. Not the book for me, but if you enjoy violent crime fiction and escapist, revenge-driven storylines, it might be the book for you.
Books are one of my passions. It is fortunate that I read quickly because I find it impossible to leave a book store with just one treasure under my arm. I finance my habit by working full time and freelance editing. Reading bedtime stories to my children is one of my absolute favourite things. Another is finding a quiet corner with a cup of tea and new book.