Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

I’m limping to the reading finish line this year, and in order to get there, I’m choosing books that demand very little from me. Ghosts by Dolly Alderton fitted the bill nicely.

‘Chick-lit’… ‘Women’s fiction’… I’m not even sure what these labels mean now. When I was in my twenties, it meant you could walk into a book store, pick up a novel with a hot pink cover and a picture of a stiletto shoe on the front, and be sure that you would have a fun bit of reading ahead. This genre has not been my choice in the last 15 odd years, but 2020 seems to have changed all sorts of things. Continue reading

Very Nice by Marcy Dermansky

Satire isn’t my go-to when I want a laugh but I did enjoy this spiky little story about relationship triangles and over-inflated egos.

Marcy Dermansky’s Very Nice is told from the perspective of three characters – it begins with Rachel Klein, who never meant to kiss her creative writing professor. Said writing professor is Zahid Azzam, and he never planned to become a house guest in Rachel’s sprawling Connecticut home, but he does. Rachel’s mother, Becca, never thought she’d have a love affair so soon after the end of her marriage, but when Zahid arrives, she does… Continue reading

Disturbing the Peace by Richard Yates

It’s time for my AY (that’s Annual Yates, not Young Adult).

I limit my reading of Yates because I find his stories intensely depressing. But I admire them for exactly the same reason.

Given that most of the year has been spent in lockdown, I decided I hardly needed to add a Yates-induced-existenital-crisis to the mix, so chose to re-read one of the first books I read by him (pre-blogging) – Disturbing the Peace. Continue reading

Grief Works by Julia Samuel

In our household, death and dying are not ‘taboo’ subjects. This is largely because much of my volunteer and professional work is with people who are near the end of their life; experiencing grief; or are bereaved. I made a comment about something grief-related at dinner one night and my then 13-year-old rolled his eyes and said “Yes, Mum, we know it’s okay to talk about death.” Not sure he appreciated the fact that in some families, it’s not okay to talk about death.

Similarly, I know a family that go around the table at Christmas and answer the question ‘Bury or burn?’ – this sounds flippant but in terms of a family understanding of death, they’ll have a less painful time in bereavement than those who have never spoken of it.

Grief Works by grief psychotherapist Julia Samuel, is a collection of case studies about people who have experienced significant loss, and how they managed their pain. I stress the word ‘significant’ – some of the stories are traumatic and unbelievably tragic. Continue reading

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird

I didn’t need much convincing about the importance of feeling ‘wonder and awe’ when I started reading Julia Baird’s part-memoir-part-essay-collection, Phosphorescence. The book begins with Baird’s experience of ocean swimming. I know the feelings she describes. I know those feelings from the sea. I know those feelings every time I look up at the clouds. I know those feelings when I gaze at the muddy sweep of the Yarra.

Something happens when you dive into a world where clocks don’t tick and inboxes don’t ping. As your arms circle, swing and pull along the edge of a vast ocean, your mind wanders, and you open yourself to awe, to the experience of seeing something astonishing, unfathomable or greater than yourself. Continue reading

The Details by Tegan Bennett Daylight

I think Tegan Bennett Daylight added the subtitle ‘Reading, Love and Death’ to her memoir/essay collection, The Details, just so that I’d buy it. Obviously I did. Immediately. What’s better than reading about reading, love and death? Nothing!

And this book delivered. Continue reading

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

I will preface this review by saying that I very much admire Curtis Sittenfeld’s work… But Rodham was not the book for me.

In summary, the novel is a ‘sliding doors’ look at Hillary Clinton’s life, and what might have happened had she not married Bill, and instead ‘remained’ Hillary Rodham. Sittenfeld gives Hillary a career as a law professor and a successful life in politics, but these things come at a cost – she has no family of her own, and few intimate relationships.

The story exposes the double-standards between male and female politicians, imposed by the public, the media, and society in general.

…complaints about sexism were perceived as sour grapes. Proof was elusive, situations subject to interpretation. Continue reading

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Every year I look forward to the announcement of the ‘word of the year’ – some years I agree with the choice, other years they’re less meaningful to me (‘youthquake’ didn’t shake my world in 2017 but I’m pleased ‘climate emergency’ was recognised last year).

Pip Williams’s novel, The Dictionary of Lost Words, explores the development of the Oxford English Dictionary through the lens of gender, historical events, and social structure. Williams uses real and imaginary characters to tell the story, which spans the women’s suffrage movement and the beginning of the Great War. Continue reading