Book Review: Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Jody and I are self-confessed Liane Moriarty fans. We both think she’s a wonderful Australian author. She’s another on our list of fabulously, fantastic people. Her books are imbued with a certain Australianness, relaxed and humorous on the surface, with a deeper undercurrent lurking beneath. We have read all her books and followed her writing journey (along with her two very talented sisters) over the years.

Naturally, we were ridiculously excited when her new book came out. We were waiting and waiting and had the date marked in our calendars. We rushed into the bookstore and bought a copy each. That in itself is unusual these days. We’ve been making sure to read different books so we can write more reviews, but we decided this was an exception (well, neither of us were willing to say we wouldn’t read it and read something else instead hehe).

Right. Get to the point, you are screaming at me, I know. Get to the book!

It was great. Really, it was. When we started reading and there was a mention of libraries we quietly fist-punched the air. Yeah! Go libraries! Liane wrote about them as if she’d been in many, and we know she has (please come to ours next?). It’s her light, effortless style of writing that grabs you though, such a relief to read after heavy, heftier books that throw language and imagery in your face, flaunting their technical skills. Sometimes they just seem to try too hard.

Truly, Madly, Guilty is about an incident at a neighbourhood barbeque, but the nature of the incident isn’t revealed until later in the book, with the full details coming to light as the story progresses. There are six adults at the barbeque, each with a story of their own, each with their own guilt about the incident, each reacting to it and being affected by it in different ways. Their reactions draw from their back stories, their upbringing and on the degree of responsibility they feel.

Liane’s books are always very character driven and this one was no different. We found the two main female characters, Erika and Clementine, were harder to connect with this time compared to the characters in her previous stories. They have a fraught, rather forced friendship that was not as easy to identify with. On the other hand, the male characters are great, particularly Oliver and Vid. You completely get them, they came alive in your mind immediately and made you think, yeah, I know these people.

About halfway through we really started to engage with the story, really wanted to know how the characters resolved their feelings over the incident. From then on we were flipping the pages and texting and chatting about it. The characters became a bit more nuanced as their back-stories came to light and their relationships built to a climax.

This is certainly a Liane Moriarty read, she is developing a very distinctive formula, a distinctive voice and personality to her writing. The worry for us is whether she can continue to do so without becoming formulaic, if that makes sense.

All in all, it’s not our favourite Liane Moriarty book (if you want to know about her other books, you can read this review from earlier in the year). We are still debating about our favourite (mine I think is Big Little Lies, Jody’s is What Alice Forgot) But Truly, Madly, Guilty is still an engaging, enjoyable read.

Amanda & Jody

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Book Review: The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna

1

To show my support for the Australian book industry in the wake of the Australian government’s proposed changes to copyright, I decided that in June I would read only books written by Australian writers. This wasn’t hard, as there are so many great books to choose from. The one that stands out as my favourite is The Eye of The Sheep by Sofie Laguna. I had heard lots of talk about this book as it was the winner of the 2015 Miles Franklin Award, and now having read it I can see it was a worthy winner.

Never have I read a book that had me gulping for air and holding back tears one minute and at the same time smiling to myself!

The Eye of the Sheep is a story of a family in crisis.

Meet Jimmy Flick. He’s not like other kids – he’s both too fast and too slow. He sees too much, and too little. Jimmy’s mother Paula is the only one who can manage him. She teaches him how to count sheep so that he can fall asleep. She holds him tight enough to stop his cells spinning. It is only Paula who can keep Jimmy out of his father’s way. But when Jimmy’s world falls apart, he has to navigate the unfathomable world on his own, and make things right.

Jimmy is an amazing character whose story grabs hold of your heart and splits it into tiny pieces. This is not a book to read if you want something light. It is however the perfect book to read if you want something with a little more depth and heart. While the subject matter is heavy, there is always a little light at the end of the tunnel as they say. That light is Jimmy! Without his thoughts and voice it would have been hard to read a book like this; Jimmy gives the book its heart and soul.

This book may be fiction it felt very real to me and so did all the emotions I felt while reading it. It may not be a book I will read again (I don’t think my heart could take it), but it will definitely rank among my favourite books of all time.

The Eye of the Sheep is truly one of those special books that masterfully creates real flesh and blood characters. Where you feel so lucky to have shared their story. I even have a lump in my throat writing this. An amazing book!

Jody

 

Book Review: A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

To tell you the truth, I usually steer clear of classics. I like to keep on top of trends and current reads because I think they can teach you a lot about the world as it is today. For some reason though, I was drawn to A Town Like Alice when I was in the Dymocks city store recently. I’m interested in Australia’s history at the moment. I want to learn more in order to better understand how it is we’ve got to this point. I believe you can learn a lot from fiction; just because the characters aren’t real, doesn’t mean the sentiment isn’t.

So I picked it up. And when I told Jody I was reading an Australian classic, she immediately got on board, rushing out to buy Picnic at Hanging Rock.

A Town Like Alice was first published in 1950 and is written by Nevil Shute. It’s the story of Jean Paget, a young Englishwoman taken prisoner during the Japanese invasion of Malaya in World War II. The Japanese force a small band of women, including Jean, to march across the country and they endure many trials and many die. Jean’s ability to speak Malay makes her the reluctant leader of this tribe, and her strength and lateral thinking enable many others to survive.

During their ordeal, the group comes across a rag-tag bunch of Aussie blokes who attempt to steal food and medicine for Jean. One of these is Joe Harman, a ringer who lingers in Jean’s mind for many years after. After she inherits a small fortune, she sets out to find herself again in Malaya, and later Australia.

The story is told by an old man, Noel, who is enamoured by Jean and her story and stays in contact with her as she travels across the world. He’s a lonely figure who lives to receive Jean’s letters and help her with her finances. He tells the story as if it’s his last, and this lends poignancy and richness to the writing.

I have spent the winter writing down this story, I suppose because an old man loves to dwell upon the past and this is my own form of the foible.

I loved this book. I devoured it for its glimpse into Australian history, into small-town life, into the trials of being a strong female in a period where that was considered downright strange. It’s the perfect book to read if you’re ever touring the top end of Australia because it gives you an understanding of how the country developed from the gold-rush to farming, to big-city life and the trials in between. There are certainly aspects I found uncomfortable, particularly the treatment of Aboriginals – the language used, the slave-like exploitation, and the segregation. It rings true to the period though, and it’s written matter-of-factly. It helped me realise how far we’ve come since then, but also how much further we need to go to repair the bonds so shattered by colonial settlement.

A Town Like Alice is a fantastic Australian classic and I’m glad I picked it up! I think I might reread Seven Little Australians next. Does anyone have any other recommendations?

Amanda

 

Book Review: The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon

The Memory Artist is not a book to read in fits and spurts. It’s not a book to read with a deal of background noise. With any background noise to be fair. It is a book to be read when time is of no consequence, when there are no demands for attention from others. When you can sit quietly, in your favourite chair, in your favourite setting, with a big pot of tea, ready to take it all in.

It’s not an easy book. At least, I didn’t find it an easy book, partly because I’m not all that familiar with the historical setting. The main character, Pasha, was born in Moscow during Brezhnev’s repressive rule. His mother and father were dissidents and he grew up around those suffering under Stalinist violence.

Later, in 1999, we follow Pasha as he lives alone in St Petersburg. He struggles with his desires to become a writer and the lack of evidence to suggest he might one day make money doing so. When his mother dies, he returns to Moscow and tries to capture the memories of those who lived through those horrible years that haunt him and those around him.

The book hops from time to time in a way which makes it difficult to follow if you don’t have a precious hour or two to sit and read it in big chunks. It doesn’t follow traditional narrative convention, crisscrossing between story lines and characters. The Russian words, names and surnames slip and slide through your brain until you get a grip on the story – then before you know it it has shifted again. Maybe that was just me though, I was struggling to get that time to just sit and concentrate.

But The Memory Artist is a beautiful statement on how the past leaves an imprint on the pages of the present. ‘Though memories don’t always have words, they usually have a place,” Brabon writes. Like that feeling you get when you walk into an old house, or return to your childhood school. When you look at an old photograph, when you try to understand your family history. Like somehow it’s all connected.

I might have put The Memory Tree down if I hadn’t been entirely caught in the beautiful imagery dotted through the pages. The stark profundity of it:

I thought of my father and all the silent spaces in our apartment where he still lived, despite his death, where every day he still breathed.

Where small currents pulled or sandbanks rose up, the watery sheet looked like a blanket unfolded, a bed unmade.

 The dusty roads seemed no longer useful, just lonely, pale snakes twisting through a ghost town that held only the subtlest evidence of past occupants.

 Perhaps we return to words because a human needs their experience reflected somewhere. We return to art because it reflects our incompleteness; true art is full of gaps, and so we need it again and again, because that is how we live and remember.

Brabon writes so poignantly about death, about memory, about life, that you roll along with her, waiting to see how the threads will be caught up and yet knowing they just won’t be. Couldn’t be really. She writes about the human condition and the suffering inflicted on generations after repression. What lingers on despite a relaxing, an opening of the boundaries of such stringent rule. A kind of generational palimpsest which leaves loneliness and loss in its wake.

Maybe when we are pushed to the limits, art and death are so similar. Maybe art, like people, cannot escape the conditions around it. To consider whether my father’s death was art might have been the ultimate unspeakable question, born of a system that crushed all logic… Perhaps they were all artists of memory.

I’d like to think we all carry with us a little piece of those we have lost. The Memory Artist makes that clear, and that it can impact us so much more than we realise. A kind of quiet, collective grief. Read this, especially if you are familiar with the context, if you love beautiful imagery, if you like books that make you ponder.

Amanda

It’s a wrap! June reads and mini-reviews

It feels like it’s been a big reading month, and we’ve been struggling to keep up with writing reviews for them all, so we thought we’d try a June wrap-up! The full book reviews should come later, but here’s a snapshot of what we’ve read this month:

Jody

The Wife’s Tale by Christine Wells: A really enjoyable dual timeline read. One of those rare books that manages to have you totally absorbed in both storylines and leaves you aching to know how the main characters’ stories will end. I loved this book and since finishing it have been on the lookout for something similar; but nothing seems to live up to the standard!

I went a little Nicole Trope crazy this month. I read three of her books, Three Hours Late, The Secrets in Silence and Hush, Little Bird and I liked every one. Although all of the books dealt with some confronting subject matters – which at times made me question why am I reading them – I couldn’t stop. I found the characters grabbed hold of me and I just had to find out how their stories ended. While these books may not be light, I enjoyed reading them and stepping outside my comfort zone.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty: Yes I admit this isn’t the first time I’ve read this book. But you know what – I don’t care. I’m laughing, cringing and enjoying it even more the second time round. Hopefully this should satisfy my never ending need for Liane Moriarty books before Truly Madly Guilty is released in the next few weeks. My name is Jody and I am Liane Moriarty crazy!

Amanda

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave: I loved Chris Cleave’s Gold when it came out a couple of years ago and while this book deals with an entirely different subject, it’s just as much of a page-turner. It’s a fascinating glimpse into life in London during World War II, seen through the eyes of the female protagonist, Mary.

Kakadu Sunset by Annie Seaton: A long-form romance recently nominated for a RUBY award (congratulations Annie!). There’s a depth to it I wasn’t expecting, particularly in dealing with current issues around environment and mining.

The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith: There’s been stacks of excitement around this book and I enjoyed it, although for me it didn’t really live up to the hype. I’m sure it will be nominated for various awards though. I just felt like there could have been a deeper exploration of the characters and the setting.

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch: The second in the Peter Grant series which I started reading earlier this year. While the books are considered a kind of criminal fantasy, they’re really funny and entertaining. A great holiday read!

The Dry by Jane Harper: A crime novel set in rural Australia? I’m sold. What seems to be a fairly straight-forward murder-suicide turns out to be so much more. A gripping read for those who loved all those mega-popular, fast-paced crime novels like The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl.

The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon: Winner of the 2016 Australian Vogel Prize. Set in Russia during the Freeze and then later, throughout Gorbachev’s promise of openness. I wasn’t familiar with this period of history, which made it a little hard to follow at times. A book about memory, and grief and the impact it has on our lives over generations. Full of beautiful, powerful imagery.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas: A young adult fantasy book so different to anything else I’d read this month. I picked it up for exactly that reason, needing a break from the seriousness of what I’d been reading. Sarah J. Maas has an incredible talent for drawing you into the story and keeping you there even if you feel a little like ‘oh, another strong, female character battling against the odds’ – where have I seen that before? *eye roll*

I think we’ve probably forgotten some, but it’s definitely been a great month for reading. If only there were just more hours in the day and we didn’t need to sleep… or work!

Happy reading!

Jody & Amanda