Girt: The unauthorised history of Australia

Handwritten review of GirtDavid Hunt

Australia’s coming to be Australia is a gory and peculiar tale and it has never been told with more wit and sarcasm as by David Hunt.

Hunt gives the history and the timeline of Terra Australis and beefs it out with all its eccentricities, all the mistakes, mocking and jesting all the while.

His introduction alone is enough to capture a reader – the definition of girt. What is girt? And why does an arcane word describe Australia so aptly?

He explores the many attempts to “discover” Australia, “the unoriginal non-inhabitants”, Captain Cook, Macquarie, convicts, whores, rum, and ridiculousness.

A book to heartily enjoy and snigger at; Australian wit at its best.

Memorable quote: “Well, that’s the Aborigines and foreigners out of the way. Thank God for that. Now we can get back to some real Australian history: jolly convicts, villainous governors, rum, squatting with sheet, rum, gold diggers and other token women, geographically and nutritionally challenged explorers, rum, plucky Irish outlaws in scrap-metal couture, stump-jump ploughs and Coolgardie safes (stocked with rum).

Published by Black Inc, 2013.

Available from: Blue’s Point Book Shop (Australia), Amazon

The book thief

The book thief handwritten reviewMarkus Zusak

The book thief is a humble twist on a war-time narrative. Poignant, hard and effortlessly readable.

Death as the narrator is a novel concept and it is interesting to have an omnipresent voice that also chimes in with pinpoint asides, ranging from sad comments to brutal observations on mankind.

The tale of the book thief, Liesel Meminger and her light-fingered but ill-fated friends, is tragic from start to finish and acted out on the ironically named Himmel Street. It is an off-centre book that offers human insights into war-time Germany, death, anti-Semitism, becoming an adult under Hitler and the desire to steal books and escape.

Zusak’s presentation of Liesel and her friend and partner in crime, Rudy Steiner, is flatly the conversation of the young. The dialogue that passes between them is inane, jaunty and callous; authentically young but twisted, a teenager of war time.

The book thief and her hidden friendship with, Max Vanderburg, is painstaking – the compassion that exists between them is excruciating and made more so by the Hubermanns protecting Max, the Jewish Fist Fighter, from the outside world in their basement.The book thief handwritten review continued

The hosts of Himmel Street, are complex and deep characters. The Hubermanns, The Steiners, Max the Jewish Fist Fighter and Frau Holtzapfel, amongst others, interact wonderfully and miserably as they are whittled down slowly one by one and visited and revisited by Death, until only the book thief remains. Until Death’s final visit.

The book thief is a strong narrative of fragile life. Wretched and stirring and one that will inspire tears.

Memorable quote: “Now I think we are friends, this girl and me. On her birthday, it was she who gave a gift – to me. It makes me understand that the best standover man I’ve ever known is not a man at all.”

Published by Black Swan, 2007

Available to buy from Waterstones, Amazon, Foyles

Music for torching

Music for torching handwritten reviewA M Homes

Music for torching is a battering ram of destruction driven headlong through American suburbia.

Homes presents the raw, unexplainable, messed-up emotions of a bitter modern marriage. The narrative hurtles unashamedly and without pause through a myriad of modern-day complaints.

Homes scratches her literary fingernails over the surface of American home life and reveals housewife erotica, adultery, momentary madness and neuroses aplenty.

Music for torching is scintillating. Characters and hidden relationships burst out from behind the charred woodwork of the protagonist’s, Elaine and Paul’s, house on every other page.

Handwritten Music for torching review continued

Homes addresses the fundamental issues that are the forefront of cul-de-sac society—maintaining appearances, The American Dream, keeping up with the neighbours, all of which culminates in a now-commonplace thorn in the side of schooling: a high school shooting. Homes rounds off her tale with this dark and unforeseen twist and in this respect, Music for torching is a contemporary of Lionel Shriver’s We need to talk about Kevin.

For the reader who enjoys a dark and close-to-the-bone narrative and enjoys uncompromising character portrayal and reading into others’ raw, complicated lives.

Published by Granta Books, 1999

Music for torching is available to buy from Amazon, Waterstones

Eels

Handwritten Eels reviewJames Prosek

Eels is captivating and as enchanting to read as witnessing the eels described.

Prosek’s writing is like the river of his beloved eels—every page is gushing with knowledge, traditions, superstitions and morality play re-enacted in reality and running through cultures.

The image of the eels, strong and muscular, carves itself throughout the text.

Prosek’s writing is relaxed and has something of a storyteller vibe—imparting

Handwritten Eels review continuedknowledge from author to reader in a smart, appealing and conversational tone.

His artwork has a lovely rustic, salt-of-the-earth feel and is well matched to the tone of his eel tales.

For the reader who enjoys reading about real experiences and real adventures and joining a worldwide mystery. As the title page aptly describes, it is an “exploration from New Zealand to Sargasso of the world’ most mysterious fish”.

Memorable quote: “We’re not here to stop the river; we’re here to catch eels”.

Published by Harper, 2010

Eels is available to buy South Kensington Books, Troutsite, Amazon

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a cool and slick novella; a crazy amalgam of hardcore gangsters and drug cartels smashed together with a ‘how the other half’—socialites and high ballers—live.

It has an oddly prickly vibe which is much like the leading lady. Capote displays her ridiculousness, her allure, her flighty but irresistible nature well through short, snappy dialogues and intense descriptions of Miss Holiday “Holly” Golightly, the enigma, the precocious, under various forms and various aliases (plus entourage).

Golightly is the new breed of protagonist—the reader yearns to be her and yet still relates to the narrator’s and Joe Bell’s obsession with her.

Given Holly’s notoriety, which is filtered through the eyes of the narrator, the subtly-suggested homosexual downstairs (“Fred”), it is no wonder every New York socialite of the time was grappling to lay claim as Capote’s muse.

Capote brings together two worlds, and delectably so. The narrative is intrepid and  so easy flowing that it is almost edible.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is on the cusp of being a meet cute for a brash, modern New York. For the reader who indulges or imagines they do so, in a life of fame, gossip, booze, drugs and spontaneity.

Memorable quote: “They would never change because they had been given their character too soon; which, like sudden riches, leads to lack of proportion: one had splurged herself into a top-heavy realist, the other a lopsided romantic.”

Originally published by Random House, 1958 (published by Penguin, 1961)

Available to buy: Amazon, Penguin, Waterstones, Foyles

Sleeping patterns

Sleeping patterns handwritten reviewJ R Crook

Sleeping patterns is a solid, provoking book and a slim volume. Its puzzles and mindful musing are compressed into its slight pages.

Crook has constructed an odd narrative universe which is unsettling from the off. It is unsettling in the sense that it is unusual and for this reason it is an excellent ploy in capturing the readers’ attentions.

The unsettled feeling is maintained throughout because of the ceaseless flitting between chapter numbers (from 13 to three and so on), allowing the reader a better understanding of the characters—Annelie Standli, the alluring and confusing Finn, and Berry Walker, the insomniac and romantic who eventually loses out. It delves into their ‘sleeping patterns’, relationship, and their unstable, undefined attachment.

The undefined relationship between the lovers, piece by piece and out of order, slowly comes together through a series of allegorical writings and events, which is clever and fulfilling.

Crook creates an alternate fiction within a fiction running throughout the body of the narrative, which is pleasingly confusing until the “point of resolution.”Sleeping patterns handwritten review continued

For the reader who likes to sit back and think about the implications of the book after reading. Sleeping patterns is a short and thought provoking. A cerebral unconventional love told in many different modes.

Memorable quote: “Sleep is just a prelude to death. The act of sleep, you must understand, is in itself a half-death, a dress rehearsal for the big black. Sleep is the fall into unconsciousness and death is only ever a matter of falling too far…”

Sleeping patterns is published by Legend Press, 2012

Available to by from Amazon

Faceless killers

Faceless killers handwritten reviewHenning Mankell

Translated by Steven T Murrary

The first in the inspector Kurt Wallander series, Faceless killers (Mördane utan ansikte) is the perfect start in whetting the appetite of  the Swedish crime fiction lover.

Faceless killers is a gruesome and harsh narrative, in which Mankell presents a growing chasm between ‘old’ Sweden and modern Sweden—a place where drug lords take up their business in rural areas such as Ystad and old farmers are bloodily beaten to death—a “new era, which demanded a different type of policeman.”

An interesting aspect of Mankell’s work is that the complexity of the mystery increases with the disintegration of the protagonist’s life. Two murders, a racially motivated execution and a wife-less, daughter-less, unstable, quasi-alcoholic inspector make for an exciting read.

Wallander is a relatable inspector—overweight, works too hard, eats too much, drinks too much—whose life has imploded at the same time his biggest and most gruelling case emerges.

For those generally interested in Sweden, Mankell cuts to the core of a faceless, racist microcosm in Sweden and tackles delicate and brutal circumstances alike, such as policing in rural Sweden, immigration through Malmö, language barriers, racial hatred and crimes thereof. Simultaneously he weaves an ingenious knot of crimes, suspicion and twists into the plot which creates a thrilling and delicious crime novel.

Faceless killers handwritten review continued

Mankell’s Faceless killers breaks down the first tantalising barrier into Wallander’s world and leaves the reader blissfully engaged, ready for the next installment: The dogs of Riga (Hundarna i Riga).

For the reader who likes to sink their teeth into a meaty mystery and not stop reading until it unravels.

Memorable quote: “There is no such thing as a murderer’s face, he said. You imagine something: a profile, a hairline, a set of the jaw. But is never matches up.”

Faceless killers is published by Vintage, 2009

The dogs of Riga, Vintage, 2012

South Kensington Books

South Kensington Books is sweet place. Its olive-green facade is charming and smart.

When entering South Kensington Books it is instantaneously apparent that quietness is high on the agenda. The impression the shop gives is of an old library, where the reader not only looks through the books but enjoys the dust particles falling through the streams of light from the front windows. Not that this is detrimental to South Kensington Books—it is an enjoyable experience to pick silently through the shelves, tables and other equally-quiet customers, and to be alone in one’s own thoughts and personal preferences. South Kensington Books is also close to the V&A and the Natural History Museum and serves as a peaceful escape from the gaggles of tourists.

South Kensington Books offers a lovely array of material. There is an excellent arts and history section and an interesting cross section of literature.

The crowning glory of the bookshop is its travel section, which is impressive, not only in its selection of travel books and guides, but also the sheer height—books from floor to ceiling.

There is a table dedicated to what is currently in vogue—including the new David Bowie is— is a nice touch.

Other notable thoughtful touches were the oversized books atop the shelves and lining the walls. There is an excellent card and postcard section which range from the hilarious to the Tate Modern art collection. There is also a dainty alcove outside by the front door where a few shelves carry the sale books, which was a perky addition to the entrance.

South Kensington Books is reminiscent, in the imagination, of what Waterstones may have been in the beginning. Bare apart from the books, beautiful nonetheless.

Nota bene: I bought The flavour thesaurus by Niki Segnit at South Kensington Books along with The Lebanese kitchen by Salma Hage. Across the road is a fantastic Lebanese café—Le Comptoir—which is highly recommended. I particularly enjoyed their breakfasts and bought some of their delicious fig jam.

South Kensington Books, 22 Thurloe Street, London, SW7 2LT

The flavour thesaurus is published by Bloomsbury, 2010, available to buy from Amazon, Bloomsbury

The Lebanese kitchen, Phiadon Press, 2012, available to buy from Phaidon, Amazon

David Bowie is by Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, V&A Publishing, 2013, buy from Waterstones, V&A, Amazon

The girl with the dragon tattoo

Handwritten The girl with the dragon tattoo reviewStieg Larsson

Larsson is the author who served as the catalyst for arousing the the world’s readers’ lust for Scandinavian crime translation. The girl with the dragon tattoo, or the more appropriately named Män som hatar kvinnor (Men who hate women in the native Swedish), is a masterful and gripping novel. An incredible gold-sifting find by Quercus.

Larsson, the enigma and the deceased, presents an undeniably grim sexual narrative which really pulls on the readers’ morality strings. The pairing of violence and sexuality, applicable to both sexes, is horribly graphic and morbidly magnetic.

The tale of the Vanger family and the missing Harriett is well threaded into the life of Blomkvist, Salander and Millennium.

The girl with the dragon tattoo is undoubtedly over-reviewed, critiqued and analysed but there is good reason for that. Seldom does, from a personal perspective, a crime novel appeal but Larsson’s creations, his in-depth character base—Salander, Vanger, Blomkvist, Berger, and a host of other players—and his pacy narrative is thriller gold, which is deservedly highly praised.

The novel gives the impression of verisimilitude and is gritty enough to represent reality but is equally bold, fantastical Handwritten The girl with the dragon tattoo review continuedand hurried enough to be constantly engaging.

The girl with the dragon tattoo is perfect for immersing oneself in and is impeccable for a long journey when the reader requires constant enthrallment.

For the reader who liked to be gripped and buffeted about by the narrative.

Memorable quote: “Salander fixed her gaze on the letter opener for several seconds before she stood up and went over to him. Consequences. He took her hand and pressed it into his crotch. She could feel his genitals through the dark garbine trousers.

‘If you’re nice to me I’ll be nice to you.’”

The girl with the dragon tattoo is available to buy: Quercus, Play.com, Amazon, The Book Depository, Waterstones.