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.