Top 10: Fiction

1) “Go Set a Watchman,” Harper Lee

2) “All the Light We Cannot See,” Anthony Doerr

3) “A Spool of Blue Thread,” Anne Tyler

4) “The Girl on the Train,” Paula Hawkins

5) “Stay With Me,” Maureen McCarthy

6) “A History of Loneliness,” John Boyne

7) “The Song Collector,” Natasha Solomon

8) “The Buried Giant,” Kazuo Ishiguro

9) “The Paying Guests,” Sarah Waters

10) “When There’s Nowhere Else to Run,” Murray Middleton

Julie’s Shelf-Talker: “The Green Road,” Anne Enright

green rd

Oh Anne Enright, how masterful you are! You took a seemingly clichéd Irish scenario and turned it on its head to create a wonderfully insightful story of abandonment, loneliness and compassion.  Yes, yes, on the surface it may seem that we’ve all been here before – dysfunctional family, talk of the priesthood, alcoholism, manipulative mothers, a small Irish town  – but the author’s aphoristic prose will shock and delight in equal measure.

The novel is in two parts – Leaving and Coming Home. In ‘Leaving’ the chapters could easily stand alone as short stories, such is their evocation of time and place. It’s here  we meet the Madigan family one by one at different points in their lives. The beauty of these fragments is that the reader gets to know each sibling better than they know each other and when finally they all gather for a Christmas reunion in  ‘Coming Home” there is something quite delicious about having this knowledge.

Christmas Day does not go well. There is something missing in each of the children – an empathy, a willingness to love, a sense of feeling loved,  – how do they fill that gap? Their mother Rosaleen is demanding and feels abandoned by her ungrateful children. Readers will recoil from her manipulations or will have sympathy for a woman who gave up her own dreams to rear a family. The interactions in this section read like a stageplay and everyone falls easily into their role – the adored prodigal son, the “put – upon” daughter, etc.

Is this book bleak and dreary? Not at all – there is a wry humour and an abundance of acutely observed situations that readers will find provocative and amusing. There is no neat tying up of loose ends but you will feel satisfied with the glimmers of love and better understanding.

-Julie

Happy Birthday, Clueless!

clueless-quotes

This weekend marks the twentieth anniversary of indisputable superlative Jane Austen adaptation, Amy Heckering’s 1995 classic “Clueless.” Arguably one of the smartest dumb movies ever, “Clueless” reimagines the confounding protagonist of “Emma” as a zeitgeisty MTV generation brat, the ludicrously named Cher. To celebrate this ingenious update on a much-loved novel, we’ve come up with a list of other classics that could do with a cinematic makeover.

Breakfast at Biffany’s: Society girl Holly Golightly becomes bored with the inertia of New York’s hipster scene and channels her existential malaise into an all-female underground fight club.

Anna Kalenina: Frustrated housewife Anna defies her oppressive husband by opening a paleo food café, running away with Pete Evans and promptly throwing herself under a train.

The Picture of Dorian Whey: Protein junkie and general bruss discovers that as he continues to dirty bulk, his Instagram selfies become increasingly scrawny.

The Great Catsby: Seemingly normal, twenty-something male buys enormous house in West End, proceeds to populate it entirely with designer felines.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Flan: A youth rejects his Christian Brothers education in favour of becoming an artisanal baker.

Wuthering Oath: Emily Bronte’s Gothic classic set in Arana Hills. Heath, a member of a bikie gang outlawed under the Newman Government, bangs his head against a Jacaranda Tree whilst mourning the death of his high-school sweetheart, nail technician Kath.

Great Expectations: Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow star in…oh wait. No, this already exists.

Vicky’s Shelf-Talker: Go Set a Watchman

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It was with much apprehension that I read Go Set A Watchman. To Kill a Mockingbird has always been my favourite book, and I was scared, after hearing reports of a racist Atticus Finch, that my all time favourite literary hero had been knocked off his pedestal. But to forgo reading anything by the pen of Harper Lee was unthinkable, so, with great trepidation, I started to read. And I did not stop until I finished at 4am. I still cannot quite find the words to describe how I feel about this book, except to say that I fell in love with Harper Lee’s writing all over again.

It’s true that the Atticus Finch Lee dreamt up in Watchman does not age in the way one would hope or expect, and while this left me feeling somewhat bereft, there is so much else to love in this novel.
Scout, (or Jean Louise, as her adult self is more commonly referred to) now in her twenties and living in New York, returns to Maycomb, Alabama for her annual visit with her family. What follows is, at it’s core, her coming of age story. In Scout, now the strong willed, sharp-witted, engaging woman you always dreamt she would become, Lee offers up a new hero. The book builds on the deep, abiding love and respect Scout has for her father and her town, and then tears it to shreds, leaving her, and the reader, confused, angry, betrayed and lost. However, Lee’s inimitable prose carries you through Scout’s transition from doting child to free thinking adult, who must examine her own prejudice, so beautifully that you can’t help but smile as your heart breaks.
Though the characters are now grown, Lee’s mastery at writing through the eyes of children is not lost in this book, as peppered throughout are Scout’s recollections of her childhood with her brother Jem and their old friend Dill. To revisit these characters as you once knew them is an incredible gift, and I urge fans of To Kill a Mockingbird to set aside their doubts and read this book, if only to see the world through their eyes again.
In Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee unflinchingly tackles racial injustice with what is often an uncomfortable honesty, particularly as views have vastly changed since the time of her writing. Without doubt this novel will leave you with mixed emotions, but don’t be scared – it’s worth the heart-ache, I promise!

Top 10: Fiction

1) “Brother of the More Famous Jack,” Barbara Trapido

2) “How to be Both,” Ali Smith

3) “Day Boy,” Trent Jamieson

3) “A Spool of Blue Thread,” Anne Tyler

4) “The Green Road,” Anne Enright

5) “Apple Tree Yard,” Louise Doughty

6) “The Festival of Insignificance,” Milan Kundera

7) “The Girl on the Train,” Paula Hawkins

8) “The Rosie Project,” Graeme Simsion

9) “Forever Young,” Steven Carroll

10) “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” Karen Joy Fowler

Ralph’s Shelf-Talker: “Gut” by Giulia Enders

gut

We all know about YouTube and wasting hours gazing into its shallows, but what about Your Tube? A far more important tube than the pixelated human buffet on our devices. I speak of the meandering wonder that begins in an opening right under your very nose and wanders through your torso to emerge six or seven meters later at our bottoms. This intriguing food highway is your gut.
The goings-on in this wonder of fleshy plumbing have more effect on our well-being than any other system in our complex bodies so we should all know about it and now there is a very pleasant way to do that. Giulia Enders’ book “Gut” is an entertaining, frank and information rich look at our most vital organ.  Please read it. ( Visiting the toilet will become far more meaningful.)

Top 10: Fiction

1) “Brother of the More Famous Jack,” Barbara Trapido

2) “All the Light We Cannot See,” Anthony Doerr

3) “Forever Young,” Steven Carroll

4) “How to be Both,” Ali Smith

5) “The Children Act,” Ian McEwan

6) “The Girl on the Train,” Paula Hawkins

7) “The Rosie Project,” Graeme Simsion

8) “Day Boy,” Trent Jamieson

9) “The Green Road,” Anne Enright

10) “The Secret History,” Donna Tartt