Jenny is an avid reader and vocal supporter of libraries. Her reviews are always thought provoking and well constructed. A link to reserve each book appears at the end of her review. You can receive Jenny's reviews and other exciting news every month in our library eNewsletter by subscribing HERE.
The Year of the Farmer
by Rosalie Ham
Readers of The Dressmaker will have looked forward to the next book by Rosalie Ham, The Year of the Farmer. They won’t be disappointed.
Again, Ham writes a novel that is deeply satirical with fabulous characters, cutting observations of small town life and familiar themes of love, jealousy, corruption and revenge.
In a drought-ridden rural NSW town, Mitchell Bishop has married the unpopular Mandy, after his previous love Neralie Mackintosh up and left for a better life in Melbourne.
Now Neralie is back with a business certificate in hand, as the new owner of the local pub.
Most readers will recognise the significance of the local pub in bringing ‘the factions - townies, farmers and riparians’ together. Most will also recognise the challenges of drought, financial uncertainty, politics of water allocation and the longtime allegiances and loathings that permeate small communities.
If you’ve had the dubious privilege of hearing politicians in new Akubras speaking about long term sustainability and economic security, you’ll recognise the style and substance of Glenys ‘Gravedigger’ Dingle, head of the water board-and you will also understand the scepticism of the locals.
Ham captures it all with great humour. As in The Dressmaker, that humour is balanced by drama and tragedy. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it-and, like The Dressmaker, it will translate well to the big screen too.
Look for another book review next month!
You can reserve your copy of The Year of the Farmer on the library's catalogue HERE. Thanks again Jenny, we love your thoughts and recommendations!
Bridge of Clay
by Markus Zusak
Rarely does a book grab at my heart and bring tears to my eyes. Bridge of Clay is such a book. We’ve waited 13 years to read Markus Zusak’s next novel following the worldwide phenomenon of The Book Thief. This one is well worth that long wait. It’s a mammoth book of almost 600 pages.
The Clay of the title is the third of the Dunbar brothers who are growing up without their parents. Their mother has died and their father ‘the Murderer’ has left them.
The novel jumps back in time and to the present day as Zusak gradually fills in the gaps that explain this family, its menagerie and the people who touch their lives. It’s a multi-generational saga that will tug at your heartstrings.
The bridge in the title is real but it’s also about building bridges between people, particularly Clay as the builder of a bridge with his father on behalf of his estranged family.
Zusak worked on this novel for many years and rewrote many parts numerous times. He has crafted a masterpiece as solid and as beautiful as The Slaves, Michelangelo’s famed marble sculpture that is referenced throughout the book. Finding the beauty in the toughness of the Dunbar family takes a master craftsman like Zusak and his main character Clay. The story is told in the voice of eldest son Matthew.
Like some others, I found the first 65 pages pretty tough going. The gaps and unexplained events are confusing but please don’t despair. Once the story of Penny, 'The Mistake Maker' starts, there is a more defined shape to the novel and it is easier to follow.
This book will go down in history as one of Australia’s great literary masterpieces. Read it, savour it, and love it.
Look for another book review next month!
You can reserve your copy of Bridge of Clay on the library's catalogue HERE, and we thank Jenny for another stellar review!
The Greater Good
by Tim Ayliffe
There’s nothing like a crime thriller to get the pulse racing and one that’s set in contemporary Australia has added interest for me.
The familiar Sydney sites make the novel highly imaginable and ready made for a TV series. Tim Ayliffe is an experienced ABC journalist who has embarked on a new career with his chief protagonist John Bailey. Bailey is a print journalist with a complex past including having been a war correspondent who has been captured and tortured in Iraq. Added to that, is the predictable broken marriage and dependency on alcohol. Despite of, or because of his flaws, Bailey is a compelling and likeable character facing his demons and shortcomings while trying to find the story behind the murder of a high-end prostitute. Of course there are links to politics, power, international espionage, Chinese business interests, and police.
The Greater Good is the first in a trilogy featuring John Bailey. I for one, will be looking forward to the future books.
A good holiday read for those who like crime novels- and who doesn’t?
Look for another book review next month!
You can reserve your copy of The Greater Good on the library's catalogue HERE, and we thank Jenny once again for another one of her very well written and descriptive reviews.
The Trauma Cleaner
by Sarah Krasnostein
This biography about Sandra Pankhurst is a riveting read. Not only because it describes the little known work of a trauma cleaner but because Sandra’s personal life is so multi faceted and complex.
The author Sarah Krasnostein met Sandra at a crime and law conference where Sandra was displaying her business in the Trade exhibition area. The before and after photos of rooms that Sandra and her cleaners had cleared and sanitised sparked a conversation that resulted in the book.
The story that unfolded is a weaving together chapter by chapter of the cleaning and decluttering jobs and of Sandra’s life story.
The clean up chapters vividly describe the mammoth and often stomach churning task of cleaning up after a murder or suicide or for a chronic hoarder but they do more than that. In accompanying Sandra on her jobs, Sarah portrays the living and sometimes unwilling beneficiaries of Sandra’s efforts as real people with real anxieties.
During my years in local government, the problem of hoarding arose on several occasions either through a complaint from a neighbour or concerns over lack of communication with a property owner living a reclusive life with many years of unpaid rates.
Environmental health and rates officers were at a loss in attempts to engage with the residents and sought help from a local specialist in hoarding behaviour.
As I read The Trauma Cleaner, a greater understanding of the psychology of hoarding grew along with a deeper empathy for the hoarders themselves and a greater appreciation of the skills of those who work to help them.
In one chapter, Sandra helps hoarder Janice set a small achievable goal of ‘you and your kids and a cup of tea on the couch’ that gives some purpose and resolve to the massive task of clearing tonnes of putrefying rubbish from her home.
When asked what her work requires, Sandra responds ‘Great Compassion, great dignity and a good sense of humour ‘cause you’re gonna need it- and a really good sense of not being able to take the smell in.’
But as I’ve said, the clean up jobs are only half the story. The rest is about Sandra herself. Born a boy in Melbourne, a young husband, a father, a drag queen, transitioning to a woman, a sex worker, a drug addict, a wife, a funeral director and hardware shop owner and finally a trauma cleaner is, in a gross understatement, an amazingly complex life. Whether it’s the complexity, her personal life’s traumas or the effects of her drug taking, there are some gaps in Sandra’s story that Sarah was unable to fill. But rather than those gaps causing discomfort, they add to the sensation that one is reading about a life that is not neatly tied up with a bow. This book is raw, often ugly and sometimes disturbing.
Whether you read The Trauma Cleaner as a biography of a life or as an insight into the world of a professional cleaner of the messiest places, I’m certain you’ll learn a great deal.
Very highly recommended.
Look for another book review next month!
You can reserve your copy of The Trauma Cleaner on the library's catalogue HERE, and we thank Jenny once again for another one of her very well written and descriptive reviews.
Lincoln in the Bardo
by George Saunders
It’s rare to read a book that breaks the mould but Lincoln in the Bardo is unlike any book I’ve ever read and I am yet to hear of another reader who doesn’t feel the same about this unusual book.
The author, George Saunders, takes an historic titbit, the death of President Abraham Lincoln’s eleven year old son, Willie, and explores the concept of the Bardo, a Tibetan Limbo-like realm between death and the matterlightblooming or next stage- Heaven or Hell or something else?
The voices throughout this unusual novel are predominantly the characters caught in this strange suspended world as they interact around Willie and observe the grief of his father who visits the crypt to sit by his son’s grave. The Bardo characters, a Reverend, a gay man, a newly wed older man, a foul mouthed couple, and others, speak in distinct voices from the ‘sick mounds’ (graves) that they’ve occupied for years but it does take some concentration to follow their narratives. Some readers have observed that an audio version of the novel might lead to better differentiation of the multitude of voices.
In addition to these Bardo characters’ commentaries, there are quotations from primary and secondary historic sources throughout the novel adding depth and detail to the Lincoln story and Willie’s death from typhoid.
I can’t say I really enjoyed this novel, but I’m glad I read it. It’s clever, ground breaking and unique- undoubtedly reasons for its selection for the Booker prize last year. Read it and see what you think.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman
A local bookseller recommended this book to me and from the beginning, I loved it. Eleanor is a very unusual character who is socially inept, a creature of habit and with a past that is gradually revealed. The dark, secret explanations for her scars and her relationship with her mother are gently exposed as she deals with her work environment and the chance encounters of her limited life.
Eleanor spends her days working in accounts for an advertising company, her nights eating the same meals alone at home and her weekends drinking vodka - also alone and at home. And yet Eleanor says she’s happy, at least until a chance encounter with Raymond, who works in IT, broadens her world and she is confronted with and begins to embrace change.
The novel is funny and sad as we see social interactions through Eleanor’s literal, limited and reserved view of the world. Her cutting observations of the inanity of the conversations she observes and her bluntness are very amusing. Late in the book, her interactions ordering a Starbucks coffee are very funny. Her old fashioned verbal formality and dowdy appearance are incongruous with her 29 years of age.
This book is Gail Honeyman’s first novel and even as a work-in-progress it was shortlisted for a literary prize. On publication is was chosen as one of the Observer’s Debuts of the Year for 2017.
I understand that Reese Witherspoon will play Eleanor in a film of the book and readers will look forward to seeing it translated to the screen.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz
by Heather Morris
Knowing he was dying, Lale met Heather Morris in 2003 and as they became friends, Lale urged Morris to write his story. Morris originally worked on the hours and hours of tapes with the idea of producing a play before, after 12 years, reshaping it as this novel.
This novel is primarily a love story but as readers will guess from the title, it’s certainly not a light and breezy romance between Lale and Gita the young woman he meets in Birkenau-Auschwitz in 1942. Lale, a Jew from Slovakia, is selected to tattoo the numbers on the left forearm of all adult prisoners brought by the truck load to the infamous concentration camp. From the moment he sets eyes on Gita, also a Slovakian Jew, as he tattoos her identification number, he’s determined for them both to survive.
There were times when reading this novel that I felt ill at the distressing descriptions and brutality but there is no glossing over the horrendous acts inflicted on Jews, gypsies and others at the hands of the Nazis.
Running through the book is also the theme of survival and doing what one must to get through alive. For some of the characters, principles and morals by necessity gave way to bribery, buying favours, flattery of the enemy and submitting to degradation in order to simply survive.While some readers might think this novel would not be to their taste, I encourage all to read it. As disturbing as you will find many parts of it, you will also be uplifted by the will to live and the power of love.
The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge
by Kali Napier
The Naturalist's Daughter
by Tea Cooper
The Essex Serpent
by Sarah Perry
by Annie Proulx
The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
A Little Life
by Hanya Yanagihara