Sunday, August 11, 2013

Have just finished the last sentence of Robert Galbraith's The Cuckoo's Calling, and it's a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise satisfying read. I don't want to spoil the ending for those of you who haven't yet picked it up, but ... honestly... the final denouement is all rather convoluted and far-fetched, if you ask me. But, never mind. It's obvious J K Rowling (now writing under her not-very-secret pseudonym) has got a whole lot more of these whodunits up her inkwell-stained sleeve, and I'm not complaining.

I read her debut crime novel in under a week, and most books I can't even finish. So there.

   Importantly, her chief protagonist, private detective Cormorant Strike, is utterly likeable despite his grumpy, dishevelled and mildly insecure moments. His sidekick, Robyn, is efficient, humble and charming. Phew, what a relief. And for the novel's setting, JK Rowling has chosen today's world of fashion, film and paparazzi predators and that adds to the colour and fun. My word, JKR is  a cracker at dialogue!!! I could hear a lot of the characters' conversations as if they were happening right in front of me...
    So if you like a lazy, fun, intelligent read, you could do worse than this Agatha Christie-like crime thriller. Looks to me like Ms Rowling is going to get even richer!!!!

Friday, June 28, 2013


Hi! Was thinking the other day how tired I am of people telling me I MUST go see this film, and I MUST read this fantastic book, and I really SHOULD go see this magnificent piece of theatre.
   Often, the recommended film is trash; the book boring; the play so-so. "One man's meat is another man's poison" etc. etc. So, enough about what I have been reading and what I think, here is a list of 5 books you can miss if you like - it's entirely up to you!
1. Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet. My father gave this to me when I was about 20 and I treasure it. It's not merely sentimental, when it comes to wisdom, this tome is gold. People ask "the Prophet" his views on marriage, love, fidelity, friendship, giving and the Prophet's response on each topic is profound. Pick it up next time you're in a bookstore - it's a classic.
2. Nora Ephron, I Feel Bad About My Neck. Nora Ephron is dead now (RIP, funny lady) but she has bequeathed humankind some memorable zeitgeist moments - like the classic line from her When Harry Met Sally screenplay: "I want what she's got...!" If you want to have a laugh at life, pick up any Ephron collection of essays. They're all top-class offerings - funny, poignant and touching all in the same remarkable package.
3. Rob Lowe: Stories I Only Tell my Friends. This is one of the loveliest, easiest Hollywood bios I've read. It isn't full of pap - there actually beats the heart of a decent, intelligent human being behind that handsome facade. If you're seeking affirmation that the love of family and good friends beats fame and fortune any time, you'll love this.

4. M Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled. This book starts with the line "Life is difficult" and it just keeps on telling it like it, never bending the truth for a second. If you want some reassurance that you're okay, even when life is feeling incredibly rocky, then read this. It's hot chocolate and marshmallows for the soul, and you can dip in, one chapter at a time, whenever you need solace.

5. Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This is the ultimate psychological thriller with a fantastic heroine who is deeply scarred and flawed, and all the more fascinating for it. Not
for nothing was this made into a blockbusting celluloid
trilogy - the narrative is dense, evocative and deeply
believable. A true page turner!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The inner machinations of an almost invisible life

Claire Messud
Writer Claire Messud, who has won acclaim for her books including the
best-selling The Emperor's Children, made the closing address at the Sydney Writers' Festival this year.

     Her husband, James Wood, the New Yorker book critic, also made several guest appearances at the festival. We were lucky to host them. In the U.S, the duo are feted as "the first couple of American fiction".
     Perhaps that's why some critics - rivals possibly in the rarified world of book reviews and awards - have been damning of Messud's latest novel, The Woman Upstairs, the story of a lonely spinster who looks back on her friendship with a glamorous couple and their adorable child with anger and a strong sense of betrayal. While one critic has described Messud's latest work as "dazzling", another has described it as depressing and "awful".

I lean more to the "dazzling" as opposed to the "awful" viewpoint, swayed by the quality of Messud's writing.
Messud is not a creative writing teacher by profession for nothing; au contraire, she describes totally believably her somewhat charmless heroine, Nora, a 42-year-old spinster who has all but 'disappeared' from human view.

One critic suggested she would find it hard to befriend Nora Eldridge if she materialised in real life to which Messud responded, understandably, with disbelief. Who ever said we had to like the heroes or heroines of our non-fiction, asked Messud, and the answer is: we don't.
In fact, you would have to be part-zombie not to realise that countless people like Nora exist and that she would indeed, in all likelihood, become galvanized out of her shadowy existence once she came into the orbit of beautiful, glamorous folk like the Shahids from Paris.
Messud weaves a tender, touching, tragic tale that unravels masterfully as we witness the interactions of the lonely teacher and the parents of her eight-year-old pupil. I'd be surprised if readers who like minutely detailed psychological portraits, like me, don't lap up this revelatory account of friendship gone awry.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The oral tradition of storytelling

Storyteller extraordinaire, Daniel Morden
We live in a country where the indigenous people of our land tell the story of their culture through word of mouth, music, art and performance. There are less books written by Aboriginal folk than, say, there are books written by the Spanish, the Italian or the Chinese... but that doesn't make the stories less compelling.  Stories don't have to be documented to nevertheless capture the imagination.
     Listening to Daniel Morden at the Sydney Writers' Festival this week, the importance of story-telling as a way of engaging people and creating myth was indelibly hit home.
As Morden pointed out, "No one is forgotten when they die; they're only forgotten when they are no longer remembered." 
      Morden then went on to put on a spell-binding performance illustrating the potency of story-telling. I was mesmerised as he recounted the story of a man who was banished by his clan because he was unable to tell a story, any story.
      During his exile, the man hits his head on the side of a boat and turns into a woman, eventually marries, and gives birth to three sons. Many years pass and the woman falls and hits her head again and comes round, only to find herself a man again, back in the same place where the original transformation took place.
       The man returns to the campfire where the original story-tellers are still sitting, and tells his story of turning into a woman, marrying and having three sons. And when he is finished, the chief of the clan points out that "to have a story, you have to go and live a life worth telling".
         What a story, what a truth! Which is another point Morden makes, namely that humankind tends to shrink from truth. That is why story-tellers thrive, capturing truths for listeners to unpackage and unveil for themselves.
        Ideas! Imagination! Performance! Morden has travelled from Haiti to Papua New Guinea in search of stories.
        Last night, he sprinkled some story-telling dust on us all. Catch him if you can during the rest of the Sydney Writers' Festival week. Visit

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A great collection of short stories

I've never heard of Irish writer Mary Costello but I have loved her collection of short stories. Reading one every night before falling to sleep, the stories have been just the right length, just the right pace, and with just enough suspense to keep me moving inexorably to the final page of that short story.
    "Each tale resounds with the extraordinariness of everyday experience."
      One critic has written of Costello that she is masterful in what she leaves OUT of a story, and I can only agree. The stories are deceptively simple, yet profound, delicately enfusing an apparently ordinary suburban landscape with an undertow of sadness, regret or envy...
     If you feel like something light, but divine, pick up this collection, and relish that mind-massaging feeling as you sink into words crafted by a master craftsman. The atmospherics of each story are palpable... >>>

Monday, April 29, 2013

A true story about Mumbai...

Online book clubber Claudine Bakker of Gettysburg in the United States - yes, our online book club has members all over the world - has just finished reading a book that has haunted her ever since.
    Here is her review in her own words:

       Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a non-fiction account of life, death and hope in the slums of Mumbai written by Katherine Boo, an award-winning American journalist who mostly writes about the poor and disadvantaged in America. Katherine Boo spent three years in the Annawadi slums of Mumbai.
      "I quickly grew impatient with poignant snapshots of Indian squalour: the ribby children with flies in their eyes and other emblems of abjectness that one can't help but see within five minutes of walking into a slum. For me...the more important line of inquiry is something that takes longer to discern. What is the infrastructure of opportunity in this society? Whose capabilities are given wing by the market and a government's economic and social policy?"
Their dreams are only realised as long as they coincide with the goodwill of the powerful
      The central characters in this book are a family of Muslim scavengers in the Annawadi slum, the Husains. Annawadians live in constant fear of having their unsightly little slum in the shadow of Bombay's new airport demolished. Young Abdul Husain works in the garbage recycling business
and the story details the plight and dangerous scavenging of Husain and his friends.
       Abdul's impetuous mother Zehrunnisa gets into a fight with the lame Fatima, a neighbouring prostitute, who ends up killing herself. This entangles the Husains in the judicial system, out of which, according to the author, there is little hope of coming out in one piece.  India's judicial system is corrupt and personifies injustice... a sad state of affairs for a country desiring to join the economic superpowers.
      While some slum dwellers may achieve moderately peaceful lifestyles if they are lucky, their lives appear superfluous overall while their dreams are only realised as long as they coincide with the goodwill of the powerful who have arbitrary and overwhelming control over them. It was hard to finish this powerful book as it deeply saddened me to know that there that many people who suffer daily on this Earth. I rate this book 4 out of a possible 5 stars.




Sunday, April 28, 2013

The pleasure of reading

I don't read blogs as a general rule so it's ironic that I am now writing one, but I'm doing so because I can see a benefit for me. And no, I'm not going to apologise for my 'selfishness'; too many people live their life for others, and have lost sight of how to make themselves happy. That's not me.
London-born to Jamaican parents,
Zadie Smith wrote the best-selling
White Teeth at the age of 22
The pursuit of happiness is, in any case, a cliched, trite exercise that typically ends up making you feel worse rather than better. Far better to cultivate small everyday pleasures, as Zadie Smith (right) puts it in an exquisite piece of writing I read recently in the New York Review of Books.
       In her essay, Smith makes the distinction between pleasure and joy. Joy, she points out, is often more trouble than its worth and exacts its pound of flesh. Pleasure, on the other hand, is subtler and sweeter... an infinite source of unspeakable delights. Smith goes on to mention myriad sources of pleasure like food (ditto); canine companionship (ditto); or the company of a life partner that is as reassuring as a pair of well-worn slippers (ditto). She also mentions music. Ditto, again.
Ubertalented Ed Sheeran was nominated
for Song of the Year at the 2013 Grammys
Take this morning, for example. I was listening to singer/songwriter and guitarist Ed Sheeran on my iPhone when I was suddenly inspired by his lyrics and riffs to boogie right then and there in Centennial Park. My friend Merle, there to meet me for our weekly exercise a deux, caught me mid-rapture and grinned in recognition. The sheer pleasure of the moment barely lasted a couple of minutes, but oh man, I felt GREAT.
      Autumn days. A leafy park. A kind, wise friend. My dog, a water bottle and my fluorescent, super-cushioning Nikes. They're life's simple pleasures and in these following posts, I look forward to sharing more with you, not least on the subject of one of my great passions, books. >>>