Stories of early Australia are a favourite of mine and this story I thoroughly enjoyed, so much that I read it over a weekend. Add strong female characters, good historical detail in dual story lines and you have a good story.
I love a story of belonging, and that’s what this is; one man’s sense of his family’s place in the world. It’s extremely local – shepherds in the Lake District – but very relatable. We go through the seasons on his family farm, getting to know its rhythm, his family members and an awful lot of detail about sheep. Somehow, it just works. It encourages us to look more deeply at landscapes we are drawn to, to value history and historical practice, and to be community minded. It’s cold, wet, muddy, bloody and smelly, but the view and sense of purpose, are glorious.
Cloudwish is the story of a girl whose parents came to Australia by boat, after the fall of Saigon. She has a scholarship to a fancy, private school in Melbourne, and tries to find her own space in two different worlds. There’s lots of typical, coming of age issues, but also plenty of diversity, a hint of magic, a sweetly complicated romance and Jane Eyre; a lot to like about this book.
There’s a lot to love about this book. In 1922 a Russian aristocrat is sentenced to house arrest in a luxurious hotel, spending the next thirty or so years of his country’s upheaval, confined to the hotel with a cast of quirky, loveable, dastardly, glamourous, powerful, and heart-warming characters. There are some beautiful, funny, and moving scenes as the well-travelled young man finds new worlds opened to him, while he cannot leave the hotel, though I found it surprisingly slow to get through, unlike The Rules of Civility.
In the 1890s, newly widowed Cora Seaborne leaves London for a village in Essex. She is now free; free to explore nature, to spend time with friends, old and new, and to be caught up in superstition and legend about the Essex Serpent. Slow to get going, it’s a book about intellect, the blurring of friendship and romantic love, faith and reason. There is a very strong sense of place, and such vivid characters.
The landscape of Tasmania is hostile and early colonial life there is also harsh. Bridget is a convict who walks out on a bad situation, becomes lost in the Tasmanian wilderness, and is found by a gang of bushrangers. It is incredible to read what she has to do to survive in the wilderness. There is not a lot of hope here, but that did not stop me from reading the story. The short, sometimes shuffled, chunks of the story helped create the feeling of harshness and grittiness.
It’s always a bit disappointing when you don’t enjoy the latest novel as much as earlier ones. The Sparsholt Affair begins in 1940s’ Oxford, then jumps forward in blocks of time, and changes perspective, until it gets to the current day. I was certainly sorry to leave Oxford behind, a favourite setting of mine, and I don’t think my interest was wholly recaptured. It reminded me a little of The Heart’s Invisible Furies, as it follows the lives of gay men across this period of history, but without the depth of understanding, and attachment, that comes from having one protagonist. It’s about complicated relationships, art, London, and secrets. I didn’t love it, but I did enjoy it.
I think I liked this book mostly because in it, the author does something I would very much like to do; she takes a year off work and regular life, to travel. The title makes it sound like she just floated on the wind, which isn’t true. She had plans for where she was going, but while she was there, she learned to relax and be open to adventure, friendship and love. It’s about a journey to rediscover self, but it isn’t preachy or new agey, neither is it about the destination. It is certainly a dreamy journey that I am glad to have shared.
I can see why some people have not enjoyed Nutshell. The idea of an eight month old foetus narrating from the womb, having learned about the world from podcasts and conversations, is definitely ludicrous. It’s clever, though, and while the other characters are less than likeable, I found it totally compelling. It’s about the state of our world, love, lust, and hope.
Howling Books is a second hand bookshop, with a collection of books for people to leave letters in. Rachel comes back to town and starts working there, with the boy she used to love. This is young adult fiction, with an Australian setting, references to so many books, sweet and complicated relationships, and not too much teenage angst. It’s about loss, connection and the power of books. There’s a lot to like.