The Invisible Woman is the story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens. With so many letters destroyed, and lies told to maintain the public’s view of the great author, much of this story is guess work, or background history. I quite enjoyed the social history, and the details about Dickens’ work, but the lack of information about Nelly, the way she was erased from history, left her largely without personality, and the relationship between her and Dickens, without heart. I think I would have enjoyed an imagined version, told as a novel, better than this bringing together of scant facts and possibilities.
What a brilliant idea, to ask a diverse range of Aboriginal people to tell their stories of growing up. Through these stories we experience the connection to country, and revel in the beauty of Australian places, we gain an insight into the oppression of racism, overt, casual, relentless, and the terrible pain and damage suffered by the Stolen Generations and those who followed. It’s enlightening, joyful, angry, poetic, tragic, proud and hopeful. A really important book.
David Bowie was so many things. That’s obvious from the most basic understanding of his career. He was also, as we all are, different things to different people, and I suppose that is the strength of this book, that it is a collection of stories or recollections about Bowie at different tones in his life, from a huge range of people. It’s a weakness, too, though, in that it can be, as you would expect, contradictory, and sometimes repetitive. Reading about the early years was a slog, because while I loved the music, his lifestyle was pretty repugnant. I am glad I stuck it out, His was certainly a fascinating life with a massive impact on so many, but I didn’t find it an easy, or even greatly enjoyable, read.
This was an interesting look at the development of women’s policing in Australia, focusing on Lillian Armfield. Imagine being a police officer with no uniform or weapon and no power of arrest? The huge amount of research that went into this book is evident. It did fall down for me as it was a bit repetitive in places.
I read Paula Byrne’s biography earlier this year, one concentrated mainly on his friendships and influences for Brideshead Revisited, and enjoyed it so much I was keen for more of Evelyn Waugh’s extraordinary life. Eade takes the more traditional, birth to death approach, and comprehensively presents Waugh’s life in all its complexity. Like Byrne, he shows that snobbery was not Waugh’s defining trait, though his rudeness, arrogance and cruelty are more obvious in this book, but he also emphasises his humour and extraordinary writing. This is a fascinating look at the man, but also at the time in which he lived and his literary legacy.
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.
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.
Caitlin not only covers her work at a crematorium, but also how societies view and deal with death. Although covering a morbid subject it was interesting and engaging.
Maggie O’Farrell is one of my favourite authors, so I was really looking forward to this, her unconventional memoir. Seventeen brushes with death sounds like an awful lot, and it is, but some of them are the sort we all experience. For all that is about her near death experiences, the book is a reflection on life; its tenacity, young people’s carelessness with it, the difficult, the baffling, the beautiful. It is very personal, very relatable, and beautifully written as always.
“Wildflower” by Drew Barrymore is not, she insists, a memoir, as that seemed too heavy for her. She wanted something light, so this book is a collection of short stories about her adventures, challenges and incredible experiences of her earlier years. Being aware of her life as a troubled Hollywood child star, this collection is very light-hearted, and not being in chronological order, it can be a little confusing to determine when each story takes place compared to the last. But if you are fond of Drew, it is an entertaining, funny and insightful glimpse into how she evolved into the happy mother, actress, author, director, model and producer she is today.