Kokomo by Victoria Hannan

I really, really wish Victoria Hannan hadn’t started Kokomo with a sex scene. The tone of the scene is not representative of the remaining 294 pages, which are insightful, subtle, and wonderfully atmospheric.

On the other hand, maybe that sex scene is exactly representative of the book – that all is not as it appears. The book takes it’s name from the Beach Boys song. Apt, because while we think Kokomo is a song about a tropical island paradise, it is in fact “…not even a real place … Well, it is, but it’s an industrial city in Indiana…” And like the song, the characters in Hannan’s novel appear one way, but their inner lives reveal something quite different – full of complexities, insecurities, desires. Continue reading

The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon

Well, The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon is a little power pack of a novel.

I didn’t know much about this book heading in but I was engrossed within the first few pages. In fact, it was perfect welcome-to-lockdown-#4-reading – taut writing, big themes, and a plot that begins with a climatic event and then rewinds to reveal how things unfolded. Continue reading

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

When I was in Prague a couple of years ago, I was struck by how completely foreign the language (and alphabet) was. Yes, you’re probably saying ‘Duh’ but despite attempts, I came away with no more Czech than I started with (i.e. zero). Nothing stuck. Even things as simple as recognising the name of the train station near to where we were staying – I simply couldn’t find a way of retaining any of it.

I was reminded of that feeling of absolute foreignness when I read Elif Batuman’s oddball novel, The Idiot. Continue reading

The Loudness of Unsaid Things by Hilde Hinton

Child characters with troubled attachments? Sign me up.

The Loudness of Unsaid Things by Hilde Hinton won me from the very beginning. We meet seven-year-old Susie, who lives with her dad in Melbourne. Her mum lives in the ‘mind hospital’, where Susie visits her on weekends.

All the times her father had picked her up and … told him that she had a nice visit, even when it wasn’t nice. Because it made it easier for her. It meant she didn’t have to talk about how hard it could be in there. How character building. Continue reading

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart – a literary mix tape

There’s nothing I can say about Douglas Stuart’s 2020 Booker Prize winning novel, Shuggie Bain, that hasn’t already been said. Know that I laughed, I cried, and I ached for Shuggie, his alcoholic mother, Agnes, and his siblings. This story is raw and tender and hopeful and heartbreakingly sad.

In my tradition of not reviewing books that have a squillion reviews on Goodreads, I have instead put together a mix tape, drawing on some favourite passages in the book. Needless to say, I had dozens to choose from in Shuggie.

5/5 Shuggie has my heart. Continue reading

Revenge by S. L. Lim

When you call your book Revenge: Murder in Three Parts, you’re giving your reader a fair idea of what is to come. And S. L. Lim delivers precisely what the title promises, although this is far from a traditional murder story.

So why read this book when the title is a spoiler? Because the tension, the bitterness, and Lim’s restraint is evident from the very first line (‘I’m the one who’s in charge around here’) – it is strangely compelling to inch toward a known outcome. Continue reading

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Have you ever been to a psychic? I’ve dabbled. They’ve said things, very specific things, that they couldn’t know about me, and therefore I can’t completely rule out the possibility that psychic ability exists. And while much of my formal education has focused on the sciences (and therefore I should dismiss psychic-mumbo-jumbo), I always circle back to the role of ‘gut instinct’ and our sense of intuition. These things can’t be explained simply.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel, Sisterland, focuses on identical twin sisters, Violet and Kate, who are born with psychic abilities. Violet embraces her visions, and Kate does her best to hide them. When Violet appears on television sharing her premonition of a major earthquake striking their hometown of St. Louis, the lives of Violet, Kate and their family and friends are disrupted, as people quickly sought into ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’.
Continue reading