An unusual collection of characters are found in this story that has several dark mysteries to explore. There is a strong sense of place, the wild around Cairns, which matches the tone of the story. There are some really nasty people out there, able to hide their secrets – for a while!
Swing Time is the story of two brown girls from London, who love to dance and have a complicated relationship. We follow them from childhood to adulthood, in London, New York and Africa. It is, as you would expect from Zadie Smith, beautifully written, and I never found it dull, but I was not entranced, either. The narrator, not named, is detached, without ambition, even shiftless, so I found the themes of parenthood, race, belonging, poverty, charity, fame, purpose, and meaning not, perhaps, as powerful as they might have been.
For lovers of language, not action, this book is about life and those who live it; it’s a river flowing through the mundane, the every day, picking up the thoughts, motivations, loves, losses and every little foible of those it carries along. It is beautiful, lush, stark, funny, uncomfortable, and tenderly beautiful.
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.