Blog Archives

Sample Sunday: Off To The Antipodes

Saturday disappeared in a blur of cooking and cleaning in preparation for a family visit ‚Äď the first since the pandemic hit the UK. So Sample Saturday has morphed into Sample Sunday – lucky me that both days begin with the same letter of the alphabet. I’d have been in a mess otherwise ūüôā

This week sample is of three books all by authors from what we northerners call The Antipodes: Australia and New Zealand.

This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman

This novel explores the story behind the real-life death of Albert Black, one of the last people to be executed in in New Zealand.

Black, known as the ‘jukebox killer’, was only twenty when he was convicted of murdering another young man in a fight at a milk bar in in 1955. His crime fuelled growing moral panic about teenagers.

Kidman asks whether this case was indeed the result of juvenile delinquency or was it a reaction to outsiders ‚Äď Black had migrated to New Zealand to get away from an impoverished childhood in Belfast, Ireland. Or was the young man simply unfortunate enough to fall in with the wrong crowd in Aukland.

I first heard of this book from Lisa at ZNZLitLovers who thought it “rivetting” and then found an interview in which Fiona Kidman explained the inspiration for the novel.

The Verdict: Definitely One To Keep

Remembering Babylon  by David Malouf

David Malouf won the inaugural International Dublin Literary Prize in 1996 with this novel. It was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Miles Franklin Award.

Malouf’s tale focuses on a young English cabin boy, Gemmy Fairley, who is abandoned in Australia. He is raised by a group of aborigines but when white settlers reach the area, he attempts to move back in the world of Europeans. To them, Gemmy is a force that both fascinates and repels. The boy is also unsettled by his identity and place in this new world.

The few pages I’ve sampled give a really good sense of the way the novel reflects the clash of cultures and the fear of the unknown. I have a feeling this is going to be a superb book.

The Verdict: Keep

The New Ships by Kate Duigan

It’s back to New Zealand for my final choice. I hadn’t heard of this author but I went into an independent bookshop in Nelson, New Zealand, determined not to return home to the UK without at least one book by a local author in my suitcase.

After a long and delightful discussion with the shop owner (a patient man) I settled on The New Ships.

It’s the most contemporary of the three books sampled this week, being set shortly after the fall of the Twin Towers.

It concerns Peter Collie, a lawyer who feels adrift following his wife’s death. His attempts to understand the direction of his life, lead him to the past and the days when he was a backpacker in Amsterdam. His girlfriend in those days give birth to a daughter who died at just six weeks old. Or so Peter was given to understand. But now he is not so sure she did die. His attempt to find the truth takes him across London, Europe and the Indian sub continent.

I’m getting the impression the book considers not only the response to grief but how the choices we make or do not make, ultimately shape our lives.

No doubt about my decision on this one.

The Verdict: Keep!

Unusually, I’ve decided to keep all three featured books. The TBR is thus staying at its current level but that’s ok – the objective of Sample Saturday isn’t to get rid of books, but to make sure my shelves are full only with books I do want to read. What do you think of the decisions I’ve reached – if you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear from you.

Sunday Salon: New Aquisitions

A combination of announcements about¬†some of the leading literary prizes and a some browsing of favourite bloggers’ sites resulted in a bit of a splurge on the book buying front this week.

First up are two authors who came to my notice when they were named last week as finalists for this year’s¬†Man Booker International Prize.

The Way of the Women by Marlene van Niekerk

Way of the Women Van Niekerk is a South African author who has been feted in her country in 2011 for her outstanding intellectual contribution to literary arts and culture through her poetry, literature and philosophical work. The Way of the Women was originally titled Agaat but  renamed when the English translation was published. It went on to be shortlisted for the 2007  Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. The novel is set on a farm in the Western Cape of South Africa whose aged occupant Milla de Vet lies dying from a  wasting disease. Paralysed she has to depend on another woman Agaat Lourier with whom she has a close but ambiguous relationship forged over half a century of apartheid in South Africa.

Tree of Life by Maryse Conde

Tree of LifeMaryse Conde is a¬†Guadeloupean author¬†also named as a Man Booker International finalist. ¬†I was hoping to get one of her earlier and most acclaimed novels¬†Segu but couldn’t find a reasonably priced and decent quality second hand one. So I settled for Tree of Life¬†instead,¬†reassured by a comment¬†¬†by Victoria at LitLove on my post about the prize, that she hadn’t been disappointed by any of Conde’s work. In this novel, Conde¬†traces the personal story of how one Guadeloupe family rises from poverty to wealth over several generations. This has a wide range of settings, from¬†Guadeloupe and Harlem, to the slums of ¬†Haiti and¬†the exclusive enclaves of the Parisian upper class.

 The recent announcement of the Folio Prize for 2015 was responsible for my third purchase:  Family Life by Akhill Sharma

Family LifeThe Folio Prize was the latest accolade for Akhill Sharma’s novel ‚ÄĒ last year it was selected¬†as one of The New York Times Book Review‚Äôs 10 Best Books of 2014. ¬†It’s a¬†semi-autobiographical work that documents¬†the young life of Ajay Mishra, a child in a young middle-class family in Delhi. His father decides the family must leave¬†the uncertainty of a country living under emergency rule for the ¬≠prosperity of the West. Settled in New York the family struggle to cope with a personal tragedy and the challenge to their idea of the American Dream.

Prize announcements aside, my final two purchases were prompted by a guest post I published last year about Australian literature. Whispering Gums mentioned many authors but I chose just two to begin with: David Malouf and Patrick White.

Remembering Babylon by David Malouf 

Remembering BabylonThis novel won the inaugural IMPAC Award in 1993 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Miles Franklin Award.  Its the story of an English cabin boy who is cared for by Aborigines when he becomes marooned in the far north of Australia. Sixteen years later me moves back to the world of the Europeans, relatively new settlers who find their new home an alien place. What attracted me to this book was how its themes of living on the edge and of Australia as a fearful land reflect some of the ideas in the course on Australian literature I started a few weeks ago.

 

Voss by Patrick White

VossWhispering Gum called Voss her “absolute standout” novel from her youth, a novel which ¬†“had it all for a teenage girl ‚Äď outback drama, romance (of a cerebral and spiritual nature), and angst about life and society.” I’m long past my teenage years but this sounds like one of the classics from Down Under. The publishers’ blurb made it sound too good to miss:”Set in nineteenth-century Australia,¬†Voss¬†is the story of the secret passion between an explorer and a na√Įve young woman. Although they have met only a few times, Voss and Laura are joined by overwhelming, obsessive feelings for each other. Voss sets out to cross the continent, and as hardships, mutiny and betrayal whittle away his power to endure and to lead, his attachment to Laura gradually increases. Laura, waiting in Sydney, moves through the months of separation as if they were a dream and Voss the only reality.”

That little haul should keep me quiet for a while…..

%d bloggers like this: