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

Hysteria by Katerina Bryant

‘…the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.’ (H.P. Lovecraft)

Katerina Bryant’s memoir, Hysteria, recounts her search for a diagnosis for chronic illness. Bryant was experiencing seizures, episodes that struck without warning and where she felt disconnected from her body.The seizures left her feeling anxious, exhausted and increasingly fearful of participating in ordinary activities. Continue reading

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

I am genetically blessed with what some refer to as ‘good skin’. I never had pimples as a teen and I’ve never worn makeup. My skin routine is essentially washing my face with water and using a supermarket moisturiser when I remember. When I was 42, a cosmetic-surgeon-acquaintance told me that Botox at my age was ‘pointless because the wrinkles were already there’. Apparently you need to start young so that you never have any wrinkles to smooth out in the first place. Thankfully I don’t care about wrinkles* and nor was I in anyway offended that the acquaintance assumed Botox was on my radar!

Anyway, this is a long introduction to Frances Cha’s accomplished and fascinating debut, If I Had Your Face. Continue reading