“I love nineteenth century novels that centre on a town or village. This is my attempt to do a modern version. As a writer you have to write what you want to write; or rather what you need to write. I needed to write this book.”
~J.K. Rowling on the writing of her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy.
Are people excited about this book or what? Apart from the buzz surrounding J.K. Rowling’s latest book, there are, not surprisingly, some other amazing titles released this week. I think once you read this column, it will be pretty obvious that I am a tad excited about this week’s offerings. Enough from me, I shall let the books speak for themselves. Enjoy!
Watch J.K. Rowling’s revealing interview with The Guardian HERE.
J.K. Rowling. Photograph via AAP.
Lola Bensky, by Lily Brett
“Miss Bensky, you look mighty fine to me,” he said.
Lola was startled that Jimi Hendrix would remember her name for a start, and secondly that instead of referring to her as Lola would call her Miss Bensky. There was something
strangely at odds about that with who he was, and something strangely appealing.
‘I started using hair curlers because I thought it was a groovy style,’ Jimi Hendrix said.
‘Now everyone is running around with these curls. Most of them are perms. I’ve got nothing against perms. I used to get my hair straightened and they use the same solution they use for perms.’
‘I know,’ Lola said. ‘I used to get my hair straightened, too. I hated the smell of perm solution.’
‘I didn’t like it either,’ Jimi Hendrix said.
Jimi Hendrix was very satisfying to talk to, Lola thought. ‘Do you arrange your hair curlers in rows?’ she said.
‘No,’ he said, ‘but I know exactly where I need to put them.’
Where to put hair curlers and whether they were in rows or not was not the sort of conversation Lola had expected to have with Jimi Hendrix. Lola wasn’t at all sure that this sort of stuff was exactly what her newspaper was looking for.”
In 1967, nineteen-year-old Lola Bensky finds herself far away from her hometown of Melbourne in London, in the employ of an Australian rock magazine interviewing up and coming rock stars.
Somewhat bemused by the experience, never sure what questions she is supposed to be asking and endlessly obsessing with how fat she is, Lola always seems to be missing the point of why she is there in the first place.
Perhaps, she muses, her Polish Jewish background raised by parents who had survived Auschwitz is to blame. Or perhaps it is because, whilst her parents barely spoke a word of English themselves, they insisted Lola speak nothing else in their adopted country. Whatever the reason, Lola feels she is often outside the conversations she is having and often missing the point.
Even as she grows up, marries twice, has children, moves to New York, writes bestselling novels about Jewish private investigators Pimp, Harry and Schlomo, Lola still fails to understand why at 63 years old, she still hasn’t resolved what it is to be human. As loved as she is by her husband and children, Lola cannot help but feel she is living under false pretences and everyone that she comes into contact with just haven’t noticed yet.
Lily Brett has written one of the funniest books I have read in ages. It is full of laugh-out- loud moments and not just because Lola finds herself in deep and meaningful conversations with rock stars on incongruous topics ranging from sex to diets or her mother’s misery at surviving Auswchitz.
Lola herself is so disbelieving of her own existence, certain her success is aberrant or at least temporary, that the way she engages with the world around her is always faintly off key. It is impossible to separate the fictional Lola from the real life story of Lily Brett and the thought stayed with me throughout the book that perhaps Brett was writing a thinly veiled memoir allowing her to not have to stick too closely to the facts.
Not that it mattered, her droll humour and her observations of the absurdity of life, being Jewish and being thin are what makes this book shine. Reading Lola Bensky reminded me of being twenty- something and discovering Martin Amis’ books Money or Success. Lily Brett is a clever, emotionally astute writer with a wicked sense of humour.
Lola Bensky is an absolute reading joy.
The incredibly fabulous literary magazine, The Tin House, which writes for readers not publishers and academics (I think that’s code for written in plain English!) posted this amazing picture on Tumblr. The Tin House Bookclub in a Box is the coolest bookish thing I’ve seen in ages.
Imagine your bookclub receiving this beautifully packaged box of books, reader’s notes, tea (or maybe the Aussie version could include a bottle of vino instead) and a Skype chat with the author? Surely this is a bookclubbers dream? Any publishers reading this, you are on alert. And anyone with further inspirational inclusions, put them in the thread so we can all share.
The Girl You Left Behind, by Jojo Moyes
“What is this?’
He held up the lamp, and it was dimly illuminated in pale gold light: the portrait Édouard had painted of me when we were first married. There I was, in that first year, my hair thick and lustrous around my shoulders, my skin clear and blooming, gazing out with the self-possession of the adored. I had brought it down from its hiding place several weeks before, telling my sister I was damned if the Germans would decide what I should look at in my own home.
He lifted the lamp a little higher so that he could see it more clearly. Do not put it there, Sophie, Hélène had warned. It will invite trouble.”
It is 1916 and the small village of St Pérrone is under German occupation. Sophie has returned from Paris to help her sister Helene run their hotel Le Coq Rouge and look after the children whilst her husband, artist Édouard Lefèvre is away at the front. The occupation has already seen the villagers robbed of their precious belongings and subjected to harsh rationing by Kommandant Becker but the arrival of his replacement signals change.
The new Kommandant appears more intelligent and less inclined to bully the locals into submission as his predecessor did. However, the moment he lays eyes on the portrait of Sophie marks the beginning of a complicated relationship between the pair. The portrait becomes the bargaining chip that can buy Édouard’s freedom from a notorious prison camp but the question is, is it the portrait or the flesh and blood woman that the Kommandant is most attracted to?
Skip forward 90 years to 2006 and Olivia Halston adores the small portrait her husband David bought for her ten years ago when they were honeymooning in Spain. An American woman was cleaning out her deceased mother’s apartment and had tossed the painting in the discard pile. All she knows about it was that her mother, journalist Louanne Baker, received the painting as a gift at the end of World War II. For a few euros the painting entitled The Girl You Left Behind became Liv’s wedding present.
When David dies suddenly, the small portrait is one of the few remaining connections Liv has with him. Years later, no one is more shocked than she is when an international art recovery firm claims the painting on behalf of the dead painter’s family, insisting they can prove the painting was stolen by the Germans. But Liv cannot give up the portrait so easily. She is sure the painting is not contraband and sets out to discover whatever happened to Sophie and how the French woman lost or gave up the painting that was the only connection to her husband.
So the two women’s fates intersect. Juxtaposing the story of Sophie and the story of Liv, Jojo Moyes uses the two characters to raise questions about the provenance of art works and the moral right of the original owners to assert a claim over them decades, if not centuries later. She explores how the value of an artwork is not only measured in dollars and cents but in its history; how it came to be painted, the subject and who it was for, all adding up to the true worth of the piece.
But at its heart, The Girl You Left Behind is a story of love and loss, and what love can make you do when you feel there are no choices left.
I have been eagerly anticipating the release of this book as the buzz in the US and the UK has been deafening. Everybody is raving about it, including me, because this is a truly compelling and rewarding read.
Give me my money back, you b**ch!
When I read this story, I jus laughed. It appears the New York based publisher, The Penguin Group is suing several writers for not finishing their books. If the court case goes Penguin’s way, and really, why shouldn’t it, advances paid to writers in good faith will have to be paid back.
According to e-zine, The Smoking Gun, the list of literary reprobates includes a whole stack of people I’ve never even heard of (perhaps because they didn’t finish their books??) such as author Elizabeth Wurtzel who apparently signed a $100,000 deal back in 2003 for a book “for teenagers to help them cope with depression” aptly entitled Prozac Nation. Wurtzel purportedly owes $33,000 plus interest.
Or how about this one? Rebecca Mead, a staff writer for the über prestigious, I-would-die-to-have-them-on-my-resume magazine, The New Yorker, failed to deliver a collection of her journalistic efforts and now owes the publisher $20,000 of the $50,000 deal she struck plus interest. Now excuse me, but if you’re a professional writer you are supposed to know about deadlines and surely collating your best ever works for a lousy 50 kilo is worth getting out of bed for?
But my personal fave is this one: Oprah Winfrey hailed Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat’s story as the “single greatest love story” she had told on her show. Rosenblat had apparently “survived a concentration camp because of a young girl who snuck him food. 17 years later the two met on a blind date and have been together ever since, married 50 years.” Awww, ain’t that romantic? Yes it would be but it appears Rosenblat made the whole thing up. Funnily enough, the publisher want their $30,000 advance and the ten grand interest back… pretty please.
On My Bedside Table Are…
First cab off the rank is J.K. Rowling with her first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy. Everyone can understand how an author can become thwarted by their own success. Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and J.D. Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye) spring to mind.
J.K Rowling could very easily had closed her laptop after the last Harry Potter and enjoyed the franchise until her dying day. Some might have been unable to resist having a dig but many would understand that there was certainly no financial imperative. So hats off for Rowling who has taken a deep breath and continued to following her writing passion.
This book is so fresh off the press that all I can tell you is this: In the small idyllic town of Pagford, Barry Fairbrother dies. His untimely death aged only in his early forties shocks the town but it also leaves Barry’s seat on the parish council vacant.
The ensuing election campaign exposes allegiances, enmity and what lengths people are willing to go to fill the vacancy left by Barry’s death. Sounds fun!
Everybody’s favourite, glamorous super sleuth Phryne Fisher is back in her new adventure, Unnatural Habits. Kerry Greenwood reached a broader audience with the hugely popular ABC1 TV dramatization of the Phryne Fisher murder mysteries earlier this year, no doubt uncovering a whole new audience for Ms Fisher.
We are back in 1929 when young girls are going missing in Melbourne. The common denominator seems to be that they are work at the Magdalen Laundry and all were poor and pregnant. When reporter Polly Kettle decides to investigate, she also goes missing and Phyrne Fisher steps in to save the day.
Kerry Greenwood’s novels are always so much fun. Unnatural Habits delivers the goods again.
Another favourite Australia author also has a book out this week. Monica McInerney is back with her 10th novel, The House of Memories. After a tragic accident, Ella flees Australia and seeks sanctuary with her Uncle Lucas in London. She blames the love of her life, Aiden and her spoilt half sister Jess but it is Uncle Lucas who shows Ella that forgiveness is more powerful and healing than blame.
As one of seven children, it makes sense that McInerney has made her name exploring the complex relationships that exist within families. It is this that makes her characters so alive and creates wonderful opportunities for tension and comedy. Monica McInerney is touring Australia during the first couple of weeks in October.
If you’re keen to see her, she may very well be coming to a bookshop near you. Check out venues and dates here.
And now I am at the end of this week’s column, The Casual Vacancy Facebook page has reached 87,000 likes. Let’s all read it over the next week and compare notes, shall we? Have you been reading anything super exciting lately? Any books creating a buzz in your world? I’ve got some beauties up my sleeve for next week’s reading list. I can’t wait to share them with you.
Until then! Mx
*The Hoopla’s books editor Meredith Jaffe is a book reviewer and blogger. She lives in Sydney with her husband and four children.