A dense forest; a house on a hill; a beautiful woman pining for her husband and the music they once shared; her story simply told… Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill by Dimitri Verhulst has the hallmarks of a fairy-tale, however, what transpires is a delicate and surprising reflection on grief and the things we do to go on living after losing the person we love most.
Madame Verona and her husband built a home for themselves, tucked away on forested hill slopes above a small village. There they lived in isolation, practising their music, and chopping enough wood to see them through the freezing winters.
Fire was the primary fruit of these trees and warmth was the harvest. After three years’ seasoning, the wood gave them the smell that all gods undoubtedly use as a perfume and heat that makes anything produced by electric devices look like a joke.Continue reading →
The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe is a short, grim story about an Indonesian girl, Mina, whose life changes when her father sends her to work for a Dutch merchant.
And what will she wear? What is the town like? Who will she work with? She asks herself these questions, a tremor of excitement finally mingling with the dread in her stomach, making her feel pleasantly sick like when she eats too much sirsak, the sweetness of the custard apple curdling in her stomach.Continue reading →
I need to start by saying that Red Dog by Louis de Bernières is one of those rare books that I recommend to #ALLTHEPEOPLE (and ‘animal stories’ aren’t really my thing). So from the outset, Blue Dog was a big collar to fill.
I also need to start with the Afterword. Blue Dog came about after the success of the film version of Red Dog, when the producer approached de Bernières with ideas for a prequel. It was suggested that the story be novelised, for dual release with the Blue Dog film. Initially, de Bernières resisted – “I was hostile about it, as I am far too grand and snobbish to turn other people’s stories into novels…” but he liked the script, loves the Pilbara and loves red cloud kelpies, hence Blue Dog. Continue reading →
No secret that I love the Royal Family. And I love stories about books. Stands to reason then, that Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader was a smashing success for me.
The story is simple – late in Her Majesty’s life, she discovers a love for reading. This new hobby is somewhat annoying for her staff because she’d rather be reading than cutting ribbons/ giving speeches/ opening buildings.
…she had begun to perform her duties with a perceived reluctance: she laid foundation stones with less élan and what few ships there were to launch she sent down the slipway with no more ceremony than a toy boat on a pond, her book always waiting.Continue reading →
Lily Tuck’s latest novella, Sisters, opens with a quote from Christopher Nicholson’s Winter – “First and second wives are like sisters.” The quote sets the scene for the unnamed narrator’s story, who describes life with her new husband, his two teenagers, and the unbanishable presence of his first wife, ominously known only as ‘she’.
A partnership that stems from a betrayal is on uneven ground from the outset – history is on the side of the ex; there will always be nagging doubts about trust; and comparisons will be made. Continue reading →
Sometimes a very, very short book is just the ticket – reading slump, testing a new genre, choosing something for your book group (because you know they don’t have the stamina for anything over 200 pages), a long train ride…
Marguerite Duras’s The Lover is the second book I’ve read in as many weeks that’s a memoir, thinly disguised as a novel (the other being by Lily Brett).
The story is set in Saigon in the 1930s, and describes the tumultuous affair between a relatively poor adolescent French girl and her wealthy, older Chinese lover. Interspersed between details of their clandestine meetings are descriptions of the unnamed narrator’s mother – headmistress of a girls’ high school and prone to bouts of depression, and her wayward brothers. Continue reading →