“My goal as a writer is to do as much as possible at one time. Life itself is so cacophonous and complex. It’s not that I want to create a cacophony, but I want to do justice to the complexity around us. I don’t want to oversimplify it. I want to take one thing and build from that, and then keep building, until I begin to approximate the complexity of the world and our perceptions of it.”
– Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit from the Goon Squad
As Christmas fever starts to boil and life becomes increasingly frenetic in the lead up to the end of the year, why not take some time out for yourself and escape into a book.
This week’s column is dedicated to books that offer respite from the hustle and bustle, the tinsel and trinkets and the endless end of year concerts. Enjoy!
Behind the Sun by Deborah Challinor
In the Newgate prison, four young women are allied by their need for friendship and protection in a world where life is fragile and, if no one is there to watch you back, it’s short as well.
Loud, brave prostitute Friday Woolfe is their protector. Pickpocket Sarah is rat cunning and Harriet ‘Harrie’ is the conciliator and mother figure. They all share responsibility for thirteen year old Rachel who is stunningly beautiful and who’s only crime is extreme naivety.
The four women are sentenced to transportation to New South Wales where the unknown awaits them. However, the seven-month journey confined aboard the women’s convict ship Isla presents new perils and new enemies. It is what happens on that journey that shapes their futures and introduces them to their nemesis; the spiteful, powerful Bella Jackson.
Historian Deborah Challinor is a compelling storyteller. Behind the Sun is a fascinating look at 1830s Australian history through women’s eyes, filled with rich descriptions of the realities of their day to day lives, the constant threat of ill health and death from disease, injury and childbirth.
The four characters may be at the bottom of the social ladder but their determination and resilience makes following their fates irresistible.
The Storyteller’s Daughter by Maria Goodin
Meg May’s childhood is a series of fantastical stories about spaghetti trees growing in window boxes, runner beans running amok and how as a baby Meg drank so much milk her mother had to keep a cow next to the bed.
For years Meg delights a wide-eyed audience of school friends with tall tales she believes are true until suddenly at age eight, no one finds them funny anymore and Meg is branded a liar and a baby. The humiliation shocks Meg into rejecting her dolls, her dress ups and her cookery-mad mother’s ridiculous stories. Grounding herself in science and proven realities, at twenty-one Meg is on the verge of a promising career in the sphere of human genomes when she returns home to nurse her dying mother, Valerie.
Meg knows her father was not really a French chef who died in a tragic pastry-making incident but the problem is, her entire life is based on fictions. Pressing her mother for the truth only seems to make Valerie more evasive or send her rushing to the kitchen to immerse herself in cooking. Meg despairs that once her mother dies, she will have lost her last chance to find out who she really is.
The Storyteller’s Daughter emerged from a short story Maria Godin had written, called Nutmeg. It was inspired by Goodin’s training as a counsellor and studies into psychological defences – the barriers people put up when reality is too much to deal with. From those beginnings she has created a whimsical, magical, funny book oozing with warmth.
While this is a Feel-good book with a capital F, it explores two important themes: what defines our sense of identity and the need people have to create barriers to protect ourselves from life experiences that shock and scar us.
It’s a perfect escapist read for this frenzied time of year.
On My Bedside Table Are…
There is no finer exponent of the short story form than Canadian writer, Alice Munro. Now in her 80s, this latest collection, Dear Life, is proof of why Munro has won literary awards and prizes galore, including the Man Booker International Prize in 2009.
This collection explores themes of departing and arriving, beginnings and endings and every tale is as evocative as the last. My favourite is To Reach Japan: about a young poet who is invited to her first literary party where she drinks too much Pimms and is rescued by a newspaper man.
Munro extracts so much from small, life changing moments distilling storytelling into its purest essence. This collection brings nothing but pleasure.
If you are already a Kate Mosse fan, you probably have been eager to see the release of her new novel, Citadel, part three of the Languedoc trilogy.
This is not one of those trilogies where you have to have read the first two to appreciate number three, as the books are set in different periods, it is the region that links them.
This time, Mosse sets the story during World War II, in the villages where the war is one of resistance and sabotage rather than in trenches and tanks. Mosse calls the Languedoc her second home and her novels are full of rich local detail and intriguing historical facts. These are big fat adventures that drag you in.
By the end of the first paragraph of Citadel, I was hooked.
Romance fans will be thrilled to get their hands on the new Erica James novel, The Hidden Cottage.
Owen Fletcher remembers The Hidden Cottage from his childhood and now, thirty years later, he is its proud owner. What he doesn’t expect is to meet and be charmed by local Mia Channing, married to Jeff with three grown children of her own. But Mia’s marriage is far from perfect and when her youngest Daisy drops a bombshell at a family gathering to celebrate brother Jensen’s birthday, Mia once again finds herself in the role of peacemaker.
At the centre of all the family’s problems is her husband, her children’s father Jeff, and Mia wonders what will ever make him admit he is responsible for the problems they face. James, who is very happy to describe herself as having ‘a schmalzy side’, embraces the issues that are familiar to so many women as they compromise and capitulate and try to find ways to prioritise their own needs and desires.
Booktopia’s Top 5 Bestsellers
Here’s what we are reading in November…
Jack of Diamonds by Bryce Courtenay BUY THE BOOK
A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy BUY THE BOOK
The Golden Land by Di Morrissey BUY THE BOOK
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling BUY THE BOOK
Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin BUY THE BOOK
That is the end of November and the end of our regular columns for 2012. But don’t worry, over December I hope to inspire your Christmas shopping with plenty of books for all ages and tastes, reflect on my favourite books for 2012 and share some highlights of 2013.
Until next week! Mx
*The Hoopla’s books editor Meredith Jaffe is a book reviewer and blogger. She lives in Sydney with her husband and four children. You can follow her on Twitter: @meredithjaffe.