Water by John Boyne is the first book I’ve read by the respected Irish novelist. And it’s going to be a difficult book to describe because much of made is special is the way its secrets unfold, which means I don’t want to share any here. It was also a deceptive read – slow, meandering between the present and past – but here’s an almost-addictive rhythm to Boyne’s writing and the way this book reveals itself.
I very much enjoyed Days of Innocence and Wonder by Lucy Treloar. It was unexpected in some ways. The backcover blurb made it sound like the kind of mystery I like to read, but it was deeper and more thought-provoking than I expected. A well-told story of loss, grief and guilt and what happens if they’re left to fester.
Stone Yard Devotional by Charlotte Wood is yet another stunning piece of prose from this masterful writer. Her writing is superb. Splendid. Beautiful. And Wood is an excellent storyteller. The strangest thing for me about this book however is that I was waiting to understand what the book was about. Unlike The Natural Way of Things, I didn’t think it was a huge metaphor that eluded me, rather I kinda understood it was about a middle-aged woman undergoing a crisis of identity. Not a mid-life crisis, but one in which she’s questioning her purpose. There’s a part early in the novel where she talks about the nuns constantly interrupting their work each day to attend services in the church. But then realises that IS their work. I think I felt the same way about this book. I was waiting for the story arc to kick in amidst the quiet reverie of life at the retreat and memories of our narrator’s past. But it never did. Her contemplation – of the past and present IS the story.
Green Dot by Madeleine Gray is a book based on a premise that will possibly divide its readers. Essentially it’s about a woman who falls in love with a married man and continues to have an affair with him, even after finding out. It’s cliched in some ways because she’s sure he’s desperately unhappy in his marriage and just waiting to escape in a way that doesn’t hurt his wife. Too much.
The thing I liked most about this book however is that Gray doesn’t take the easy way out by making our leads cliches. Hera knows she will be harshly judged by others for her behaviour. She knows it’s viewed by everyone – including herself – as ‘wrong’ but she loves Arthur desperately and cannot imagine life without him. And Arthur – doesn’t make a lot of false promises. He doesn’t diminish his relationship with his wife. But he falls in love with Hera nonetheless.
This is a beautiful story and reminded me of Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe which I also loved. Dalton’s writing sings but he can also spin a yarn and this one – about a 17 year old girl with no name – is enchanting and addictive. The book opens as she’s waiting for her 18th birthday when her mother will turn herself into the police after being on the run for all of their lives, and then – only then – will she know her name.
Lioness by Emily Perkins is a beautifully written book. I’ve bookmarked a lot of pages featuring phrasing or passages that leapt out at me – as being eloquent, or perhaps relatable for me personally. Which is interesting, as though I could relate to some elements of this and its lead characters (who are similar in age to me), I really did not connect with them in the way I expected. In fact, I did not like them at all. Therese our narrator seems surprisingly enamoured by her neighbour Claire and I confess I did not see the allure.
A Bird in Winter by Louise Doughty is a difficult book to describe. Ostensibly it’s a slow burning thriller – about a woman who goes on the run, slowly sharing with us the ‘why’. What elevated it for me was the (almost) syncopated way in which Doughty doles out details, as well as her beautiful writing. Sentences and phrases leapt out at me. It’s also most definitely not the book I was expecting it to be, and it unfolds in a way that’s weirdly unsettling.
I was initially reticent to start My Father the Whale by Gina Perry because I’d just read another book (Tell Me What I Am by Una Mannion) about a young girl being raised by her father amidst secrets about her mother’s fate and I was concerned the two books would become intertwined in my little head. As it happens however, they are (ultimately) quite different though similarly themed around family and relationships. Perry’s book is also set in two distinct timeframes: 1984 and then 2000.
The Yellow House, the debut novel by Emily O’Grady was one of my favourite books of 2018. I adore child narrators if they’re done well and O’Grady was able to bring that balance of innocence and knowing to our 11 year old storyteller. I obviously wasn’t alone in my love for her work as the book won The Australian/Vogel Literary Award that year.