The Lessons by John Purcell

John Purcell’s The Lessons is a perfectly adequate novel about the entangled lives of a group of people, with enticing historical details, glamorous locations to set the scenes, and coming-of-age themes thrown in.

Told from various points-of-view and zig-zagging back and forth from the past to the present, the motivations and the deceits of each of the characters is slowly revealed. Continue reading

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

By all accounts, Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson should not have been my kind of book. Way to much weird magic realism/ paranormal stuff going on. And yet, I absolutely loved it.

The story is focused on Lillian, who is contacted out-of-the-blue by her high-school roommate, Madison, with an unusual job offer – for Lillian to look after her twin 10-year-old stepchildren, Bessie and Roland, for the summer. Before accepting the job, Madison explains to Lillian that the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin. Continue reading

The Echo Chamber by John Boyne

I enjoy live comedy. The very best comedians are masters of the narrative – introducing a theme early, meandering around related topics, only to loop back to the initial idea for that final punchline. Done well, it’s immensely satisfying.

The Echo Chamber by John Boyne is like a 420-page comedy skit. The broad themes are political correctness and social media, and from there Boyne weaves a deliciously sharp satire that had me laughing out loud – and all those threads came to a neat ending with a brilliant final line. Continue reading

A Separation by Katie Kitamura

A Separation by Katie Kitamura is presented as a mystery (woman goes to Greece to locate her husband, despite the fact that they had separated months before), but is actually a story focused on grief, absences, and our expectations around the longevity of love.

I picked up A Separation after reading Kitamura’s Intimacies, which I particularly enjoyed because the main character worked as a translator, and this provided an interesting perspective on the nuance and intention of words. I was pleased to discover that the main character in this book was also a translator –

Translation is not unlike an act of channeling, you write and you do not write the words. Continue reading

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers.

And it is around mothers and fathers that Celeste Ng weaves the intricate story of a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio, in Everything I Never Told You.

The story begins with the disappearance of Marilyn and James Lee’s ‘favourite’ daughter, Lydia. The family and police begin searching for her immediately.
Continue reading

None of This is Serious by Catherine Prasifka

Are we riding a tsunami of twenty-something-angst-filled-relationship-stories-a-la-Sally-Rooney? I reckon we are. It’s the new version of Irish misery porn, and I’m okay with it. It’s ‘comfort reading’ – not overly challenging and largely predictable. None of This is Serious by Catherine Prasifka fits the mould.

The story follows Sophie and her friends. Their time as students in Dublin is coming to an end, and while many of them have figured out their next move, Sophie is at a loss.

I don’t want them to leave me behind for their shiny new adult lives. Nearly everyone is emigrating somewhere: London, New York, Sydney. Part of me wants to go with them; it would be nice to abandon my past life for a state of constant present. 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

Olga by Bernhard Schlink

You know when a book is a three-star read and then suddenly in the last few pages it turns into a four-star? That, with Olga by Bernhard Schlink.

The story is set in Prussia at the turn of the 20th century. It is structured around a woman, Olga, who has been raised by her aloof grandmother. Olga fights against the norms and expectations of the time, obtains an education, and eventually trains to become a teacher. An important part of Olga’s story is her enduring love for Herbert, a local aristocrat. Herbert’s family have plans for him to marry someone of equal social standing, and to take over the family estate. However, Herbert’s love for Olga, and his own obsession with adventure and glory result in a different path for him – exploring foreign countries and periodically returning to Olga. 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