My Latest Listens

Dear Dolly by Dolly Alderton

Dolly Alderton continues to hit the right note for me – somewhere between your bestest, most reliable friend and the person you can have a screamingly wild night out with. I guess that’s the perfect person to have writing an advice column! In Dear Dolly she brings together the topics that crop up most frequently when people are seeking help and unsurprisingly the focus is on relationships.

What I most appreciate about Dolly’s approach is her ability to normalise what troubles others, and she often does this with a funny or revealing anecdote. She says that her aim is to take the shame out of a person’s question, so that they can focus on a solution rather than getting caught up in self-loathing. It’s a solid approach to any problem.


Faithless by Alice Nelson

Don’t be fooled by the cover of Faithless. It appears to fall in the category of ‘thirty-something-woman-with-relationship-problems’ but is actually about Cressida, a woman grieving the death of her husband (Leo) and the death of her lover (Max). There’s also a child with a complicated history in the mix, and loads of references to literature, poetry, philosophy and art. So, not a light read.

This was a book of hits and misses for me. I very much enjoyed the layered and nuanced perspective on disenfranchised grief (who witnesses and legitimises the mistress’s grief?). This grief was given more weight when it is revealed that Cressida herself was the product of a long-term affair.

There is another perspective on disenfranchised grief when we learn that Max had reckoned with his German heritage, describing Germans, post-WWII as ‘…reeling from sorrow, but it was a sorrow they felt too ashamed to lay proper claim to…’. This sentiment reverberates through his work as an author.

The story is told from the perspective of Cressida, writing a letter to Max. One of the problems with this structure is that any backstory or filling-in-of-gaps is redundant, because Max was there and presumably doesn’t need the history. It’s akin to how character names are used constantly in soap operas, allowing new viewers to pick up the story – but in real life, it’s not how we talk. In Faithless, some of the detail is clumsy and strained.

As mentioned, there are many references to art and literature. For the most part, I enjoyed them but it verged on being a bit full of itself, even academic. Nevertheless, for a good portion of the story, I was happy to go along with whatever Nelson had included. And then there was a reference to the The Sound of Music. Cressida says that the child, Flora, happily sat through all two hours of the film.

Cue alarm bells. The Sound of Music goes for almost three hours. With ads, it’s four. Everyone knows that, right? Then I thought, maybe she sent Flora to bed before the Nazis arrive… That might scrape in at two hours (without ads). Maybe I’m overthinking it….? Basically, when stuff like this is wrong in a book, I lose faith.


A Question of Age by Jacinta Parsons

Parsons makes it clear from the outset that A Question of Age is not a self-help book. Instead, it’s an exploration of women’s ageing from a personal perspective. I think Parsons is a solid writer (and Unseen was terrific) but I struggled to connect with what she was saying in this book for a couple of reasons.

Parsons asks how to age ‘well’ without being drawn into the social constraints of ‘women’ and ‘age’. Firstly, it presupposes that we care about ageing (and there’s a lot about the ‘invisibility’ associated with women past a certain age). Secondly, I’m not sure we can avoid the social context in which we respond to ageing or any issue for that matter – we’re relational creatures after all.

She also asks how much change (in our bodies) do we tolerate before we push back. Clearly I can tolerate a lot (I’m a ‘filler-free zone’ and actually really like my laugh lines). Essentially, a bunch of questions are posed and I had a strong response to them (which didn’t really match the direction of the book that was weighted heavily toward being worried about ageing). On reflection, I worry about health rather than the visible signs of ageing.

Although I enjoyed the organisation of the material (around the elements of fire, air, earth and water) some covered old ground (I reckon Jess Hill examined many of the same issues around gender, violence and social constraints in See What You Made Me Do).



4 responses

  1. That’s definitely the wrong cover for Faithless from my point of view – I would never think it was about grief, much more thirty-something-woman-with-relationship-problems! The Sound of Music is never-ending, I was surprised when you said it was almost 3 hours, I thought it was at least another hour or more after that 😀

    • I think when I watched Sound of Music when I was little, there were ads, so it certainly would have hit four hours or more. So many people I know were, as children, sent to bed ‘before the Nazis came’ (I wasn’t – my parents let me watch the whole thing!).

  2. I agree with you that it seems more prudent and more fun, frankly, to concentrate on health than on aging, per se. I turned 60 last year and I picked up some books about aging, just because it seemed like a good moment. But none of them seemed all that useful to me partly because I’m comfortable with who I am, how I look, and how I treat other people (which seems to have a lot do with whether or not I’m visible to them).

    I’m hopping in from the Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

    • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about how we treat people and whether we’re visible or not. I’ve had discussions with friends about this, and there is also an element of the middle-aged-woman-invisibility that is GREAT. It has it’s benefits as well 🙂

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