Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

Dani Shapiro’s memoir, Inheritance, tells of her discovery at age 54, that her devoutly Orthodox Jewish father (many years deceased), was not her biological father. The discovery was made via genealogy testing, done for interest, almost a lark.

It wasn’t so much my future that was being irrevocably altered by this discovery – it was my past.

Apart from my long-held interest in genetics and epigenetics, this book gripped me for other reasons – Continue reading

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

Do you remember a time in your childhood when you went to someone else’s house and you realised that their family life was completely different to yours? I have a few such memories. One took place when I visited a friend for the day, and her mother sent us to the shops for bread for lunch. My friend immediately informed me that we would spend the money on things other than bread – we went to the toy shop and bought scratch’n’sniff stickers, and the milk bar for ice creams. On our return, her mother rolled her eyes, as if no bread was expected. My mum would have cracked it (and sent me back out for bread). Seems small in the retelling but the audacity of the stickers and ice cream left an impression.

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau is a coming-of-age novel about fourteen-year-old Mary Jane, who has a summer job babysitting for a local family, the Cones. Mary Jane’s own family is straight-laced – her mother is a homemaker; her father has a portrait of Nixon on the wall, and reads the newspaper during dinner each night; and family outings are to church, where Mary Jane sings in the choir.

In my own house, each day was a perfectly contained lineup of hours where nothing unusual or unsettling was ever said. Continue reading

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

When I started this blog almost ten years ago, I had an idea for a meme (it’s still sitting in draft posts). The idea was to read the books that my friends considered their ‘favourite’. I never progressed the meme, but I did get a nomination from RoryEmpire Falls by Richard Russo. Yes, shameful that it has taken me so, so long to read this book. And Rory commented on Goodreads that she was nervous that I wouldn’t love it as much as she did. Well… Continue reading

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas

Don’t be fooled – or put-off – by the cover of Julia May Jonas’s debut novel, Vladimir. Sure, it looks like something featuring Fabio but it is in fact a twist on campus-lit.

The 58-year-old unnamed narrator is a popular English professor at a small liberal arts college in New England. Her charismatic husband, head of department at the same college, is under investigation for a number of inappropriate relationships with former students, that had taken place decades prior. Although the couple have long had a mutual understanding when it comes to their extra-marital pursuits, the allegations sit uncomfortably in the present day where the #MeToo movement has created a new paradigm.

At one point we would have called these affairs consensual, for they were, and were conducted with my tacit understanding that they were happening. Now, however, young women have apparently lost all agency in romantic entanglements. Now my husband was abusing his power, never mind that power is the reason they desired him in the first place. Continue reading

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Much has already been said about Joan Didion’s memoir, Blue Nights. Equally, much has been said about grief, ageing, parenting and health – by Didion and hundreds of other authors. For that reason I won’t dwell on every element of this book. However, one part stood out – ‘the chosen child’ narrative.

To provide context, Blue Nights examines the period after the sudden death of Didion’s husband, playwright John Gregory Dunne, AND separately, the slow death of their daughter, Quintana. It’s not about the raw and immediate grief, but rather the fragments – the bits we’re left with after everyone else is ‘getting on with life’. And it is these bits, scattered memories, that Didion interrogates in Blue Nights, looking for clues as to whether she was a ‘good’ mother and wife.

Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember. Continue reading

No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

I spent the first half of Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This thinking “What…?” (similar reading experience to Fun Camp by Gabe Durham). And at some point I updated my progress on Goodreads by noting that I didn’t think I was cool enough for this book… because what the hell was going on? And then SUDDENLY it shifts gear, and the first part of the book sits in stark contrast to the second.

Something in the back of her head hurt. It was her new class consciousness. Continue reading

Catching up on reviews

I always have the best intentions to write thorough reviews of the books I read, but time is in short supply in December and I’m nine reviews behind… So, quick thoughts on a bunch of books: Continue reading

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

There are a handful of books that I enjoyed so much when I first read them, that they have taken a reverent place in my reading life. And while I want to experience that particular reading pleasure again, re-reads can be like returning to the ‘perfect’ holiday spot – somehow it’s not quite what you remembered, despite the main ingredients being the same.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is one such book. I first read it when it was released in 1992. Like the characters, I was at university, wholly absorbed in campus life and a circle of friends who were new, but immediately close. I recall being engrossed in the story, but not much of the detail other than the fact that one of the students was murdered, stayed with me.

Religious slurs, temper tantrums, insults, coercion, debt: all petty things, really, irritants – too minor, it would seem, to move five reasonable people to murder. But, if I dare say it, it wasn’t until I helped to kill a man that I realized how elusive and complex an act of murder can actually be, and not necessarily attributable to one dramatic move. Continue reading