Two books, high expectations for both – unfortunately I was underwhelmed…

The Mothers by Rod Jones

During my undergraduate studies, I did an urban history / town planning subject. Part of our assessment involved choosing a street in an inner-city suburb of Melbourne and, using historical maps, records and census data, we had to research how the social fabric of the street had changed over time.

The Mothers felt a like I was reading an urban history project. A very-well researched urban history project. There was a lot of information in this book –

On the corner of George Street there was a milk bar run by a family of Greeks. At one end of Napier Street, near Gertrude Street, were the grim blocks of flats. Across a front wall, someone had daubed in black paint: Smash the Housing Commission. Towards the other end of the street was the Perfect Cheese factory, with its faintly nauseous aroma of parmesan.

The problem with all the information was that it did little to further the stories of the characters – three generations of women and their role as mothers – and instead became tedious. It seemed that it was easier to describe life in Fitzroy and the township of Cockatoo than the pain of giving up a child for adoption. I want the pain, not the history. I want the interior lives, not the exterior.

My understanding is that the book is semi-autobiographical. I was left thinking that Jones has kept his own story at a safe distance, where it can be analysed and described but not entirely felt.

I accept that I may have completely misinterpreted this book so pop over to ANZ LitLovers where Lisa gave it a four-star review.

2/5 Dry.

I received my copy of The Mothers from the publisher, Text Publishing, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The Last Wave by Gillian Best

Firstly, that cover is everything I want in a book. Instantly appealing. I really love stories about swimming and the sea, and The Last Wave promised much – a multi-generational family drama focused on one woman, Martha, and her attempts to swim the English Channel. Despite what’s happening in her life, Martha’s one constant is her relationship with the sea.

Where this book failed was in the descriptions of the sea – there was nothing new or evocative, nothing that had me re-reading passages. I wanted to understand why the English Channel was different to my swims on the Mornington Peninsula but apart from references to the cold, the descriptions were generic –

The water was so cold it burned. The sea was in motion. It was a living thing, she used to say. More alive than any of us.

What I knew was big and in constant motion, changing as and when its moods dictated. It was cold and wet and strong, a part of the world in a way that I was not…’

Perhaps I’m being overly critical but I have read passages about the sea in other books that have stayed with me for a long time (for example here and here). Unfortunately Best’s contribution didn’t hit the mark for me.

2/5 Disappointed (but it could be my favourite cover this year).

I received my copy of The Last Wave from the publisher, Freight Books, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

11 responses

  1. Thanks for the mention! I did like this book, though your point about the research is true, I think, about the first part of the book. But, oh, those relinquishing mothers broke my heart.

    • Info-dumping is my absolute pet-hate when it comes to historical fiction – I find it incredibly distracting.

      The parts of the story set at The Haven (Anna’s story) was certainly the most interesting but then the emotions behind David’s story (which I think is Jones’s semi-autobiographical bit) didn’t seem explored enough to explain/ justify his behaviour. It just felt a bit underdone.

  2. When I was a young Melbournite the words Gertrude St meant VD clinic. (And Berry St meant home for unwed mothers, it took me a while to realise there were others, one for each religion probably)

  3. As for the last wave, having had a few goes at the Rottnest swim, 19.7 km, I can only imagine what a Channel crossing would be like, colder and rougher for a start, you would be ‘out of it’ for hours at a time. Shame if the author didn’t manage to convey any of that.

  4. I’d been eyeing The Last Wave myself. Multi-generational tales are always fantastic… well, okay, maybe not always. haha

  5. Pingback: 2017: What I Read | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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