Top 10: Fiction

  1. The Natural Way of Things, Charlotte Wood
  2. The Secret Chord, Geraldine Brooks
  3. The Lake House, Kate Morton
  4. The Dressmaker, Rosalie Ham
  5. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
  6. A Game for All the Family, Sophie Hannah
  7. A Strangeness In My Mind, Orhan Pamuk
  8. A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James
  9. The Promise Seed, Cass Moriarty
  10. Did You Ever Have a Family, Billy Clegg
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Shelf-Talker: Fates and Furies

fates and furies

Lauren Groff is a wonderful writer. Her sentences crackle with zest and energy, each one a masterclass in how to observe the ordinary in original and arresting ways. In Fates and Furies, her third novel, she tackles deep philosophical concerns – love, art, death, among others – delivers Dickensian third-act plot twists, and examines a marriage that is both faithful and childless, a refreshingly modern take on the institution.

The story follows Lotto and Mathilde, a preternaturally attractive young couple whose lives are as glamorous as their names would suggest. He is the heir to a bottled water empire with ambitions in the theatre; she a cool, sophisticated part-time model with a watchful intelligence that’s wasted on her contemporaries. They meet on the eve of college graduation, elope and are immediately disinherited. They struggle through their bohemian twenties, Mathilde emerging as the primary breadwinner.

One of the most striking things about Groff’s novel is the seeming artificiality of this story. Their poverty never feels immediate; a good chunk of Lotto’s dialogue is quoted verbatim from Shakespeare. In fact, for its first half, titled Fates, it’s impossible to tell what Groff wants us to think of these people: whether she is holding them up for ridicule, or, being a very serious writer, takes their cartoonishness seriously.

This changes with Furies, the second part. Here Groff shatters the façade she’s built so meticulously, shifts the focus of the narrative from Lotto to Mathilde, and in doing so deconstructs everything that has taken place up to this point. A central preoccupation of the novel is the power of what is not said, and in Furies these silences are filled, with answers that are often uncomfortable and raise even more questions.

The novel’s spiritual sibling is Gone Girl, which used a similarly tricky narrative structure to place marriage under the microscope. But thought Groff’s vision is just as dark, her heroine equally calculating and mysterious, her view on marriage is ultimately hopeful: that it can make a good person stronger, and a strong person more human.

Fates and Furies is a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction.

Shelf Talker: The Natural Way of Things, Charlotte Wood

natural way

Sometimes a novel refuses to be read autonomously: it transcends its form and speaks to the culture at large. In The Natural Way of Things, Charlotte Wood delivers a twisted riff on media misogyny, a darkly dystopian vision made all the more terrifying by how easily it fits into our own world.

That revealing its central conceit in no way spoils the book is a testament to Wood’s inventive approach to storytelling. After a group of frightened women awake at a brutal facility in the outback, we quickly learn that each has been involved in a high profile sex scandal. Derided in gossip columns and online forums, the women have been removed by the men who professed to love them, and in the scorching heat of the desert are made to work towards an obscure redemption.

The novel couldn’t be more timely. It refutes the culture of righteous thinkpieces and feel-good, popstar feminism, and is instead stunningly, unabashedly angry. Wood argues that misogyny is so entrenched that the only hope for these women is to return to primal instinct. As the pretty, young Yolanda hardens into a vicious hunter, she finds the freedom that has alluded her even prior to her literal captivity. Her bond with the obstinate Verda is unsentimental and raw, a friendship predicated on survival.

Wood’s characters become stand-ins for aspects of our society that aren’t always easy to identify. The girls’ captors, Boncer and Teddy, are the embodiment of patriarchal oppression: if loathsome Boncer is the kind of frustrated and violent figure we’re so used to hearing about in reports of mass shootings, then the softer Teddy is a no less repellent for his casual sense of entitlement. More difficult to pin down is Nancy, the sickly sweet incompetent who aids in the abuse of other women.

And then there are the girls themselves: desperate, damaged, delusional. Those who cling to their former lives are the ones who damn themselves, whilst by breaking down to her most essential self, Yolanda stands a chance at survival. As the lines between captor and captive become increasingly blurred, and the hierarchies of their small society shift with the deteriorating conditions, Wood moves past the story’s ostensible theme of the relationships between men, women, and even humans. It becomes a story about animals, what they will and will not do to each other.

To hear Charlotte Wood discuss the book on Friday, October 23rd, book tickets online or in-store.

Top 10: Fiction

  1. The Natural Way of Things, Charlotte Wood
  2. The Secret Chord, Geraldine Brooks
  3. A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler
  4. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
  5. The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante
  6. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
  7. The Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood
  8. The Promise Seed, Cass Moriarty
  9. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff
  10. Satin Island, Tom McCarthy

Alex’s Shelf-Talker: The Promise Seed

promise seed

A poignant and touching story from a local author, The Promise Seed is set in Ipswich and Brisbane and opens on a young boy being accused by his mother of the murder of his infant sister. He is taken to a home for wayward boys where he spends the rest of his youth paying for a crime he didn’t commit. Now seventy years later, the demons of his past continue to haunt him.

Next door, a ten year old boy continues to battle demons in the present, struggling to afford breakfast and running from a mother that has continually betrayed him. The two strike up an unlikely friendship, seeing that their stories are not dissimilar, and bond sharing a love of gardening. However the boy’s loyalties are tested and he must choose between his disloyal mother and a kind stranger tormented by his past.

The elegance of its prose makes it both easy and enjoyable to read. At some times similar to Helen Garner and at others Jonathan Franzen, this is a deeply enthralling read.