What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.

March 2019

Gleebooks Bookshop - Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Stef: The Aunts’ House by  Elizabeth Stead— Set in Sydney, 1942. Angel Martin,  just 11 years old and recently orphaned, is settling in at Missus Potts’ boarding house.  Angel is an unusual child, who perceives the world around her through music and colour, and is often thought of as a strange child—not quite right in the head. She may be a little unusual but there is nothing wrong with her ability to read those around her and find her way in the world, and she is determined to have a different life than the one fate has handed her. Stead has created a world of eccentric characters and captured the time, place and unsophisticated society with both naivety and charm. (due out in April).

Also I found John Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky to be perfect summer reading. He has created a wonderful malevolent tale of one man’s ambition to achieve his long held desire to be a prize winning author of international acclaim— no matter the cost to others. The book had me squirming uncomfortably from start to finish,  as the story unfolded with aspiring author, Maurice Swift trying any manipulation or manoeuvre to get his story published. A deliciously dark exploration of ambition and greed.

Andy: The Friend by Sigrid Nunez—The premise of The Friend was (for me) immediately captivating—a New York writer living in a small apartment is obliged out-of-the-blue to adopt the mature Great Dane of a suddenly deceased friend. The blurb suggests it is a meditation on loss and loneliness and so of course, my heart all aflutter, I began it thinking  the book was going to be some sort of heart warming tear-jerker. A sort of highbrow literary Marley and Me. I think my false expectations put me on the wrong footing with the book for a while; it is well worth the read but it a spiky, discursive, measured and contemplative little affair, and it spends as much time wryly examining the art of writing, literature and academia as it does dwelling on canine companionship and animal intelligence.  There is a bit of the autofictive about it, and it reminded me a bit of the Rachel Cusk trilogy in its clever, playful, voice. And, yeah, whilst the book is much much more than this, there is a bit of cute dog observation in it too.

Sophie: Right Amount of Panic: How women trade freedom for safety by Fiona Vera-Gray—Based on Vera-Gray’s research and women’s real experiences, this book details the largely unnoticed “safety work” and energy women put in to avoid sexual violence everyday. Written in an accessible and thought provoking manner, a book to be read by all genders to understand how rape culture and the threat of sexual violence effects women’s everyday enjoyment of the world. Gaysia by Benjamin Law—Law’s humour and wit makes this often sad and troubling journalistic style exploration of Asian queer culture a fun ride the whole way through. From the ladyboys of Thailand to the fake marriages of China, this book gives an insight into how queer cultures are resisting, thriving and surviving in countries that aren’t always forthcoming in their acceptance. An insightful read.  

Morgan: Zebra, a collection of stunning short-stories and one novella. The latter is a small tour-de-force written with a dead-pan humour about an imaginary female Prime  Minister who is sent a Zebra to live in the extensive gardens of, one assumes, the Lodge—or maybe it’s Kirribilli House, or more probably,  a fictional garden. And it’s in this garden that a strange and remarkable friendship is formed. In Festive Food for the Whole Family, a woman has a hideous Christmas Day catering to everyone’s dietary needs and peccadilloes only to realise certain betrayals are going on behind her back. Adelaide’s writing is  marvellous—there’s not one bad story in this collection and not a word out of place. She manages to juggle a wry humour with pathos and intellectual rigour.   

Louise: Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. An extraordinary book. Set in an inhospitable camp site in Northumberland, Silvie, the narrator,  is there with her mother and father, as part of an archaeological, pre-Roman life re-enactment. The family are there with a group of university students and their professor. From the very beginning a sense of dread pervades the story, although how that dread will manifest is kept just out of sight by the author. Silvie’s father is a piece of work—an extremely abusive man who has managed to persuade his family to submit to his bizarre wishes, but someone with enough credibility to team up with professional archaeologists who actually listen to him. The expression ‘the banality of evil’ came to mind the whole time I was reading this, but Sarah Moss created enough suspense to keep me reading—her spare but vivid descriptions making the story come alive in a really compelling way.

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