Eleanor Catton – The Rehearsal
It took me a while to get into this – there’s some great writing in here, but it is a tad on the experimental side, not just with the shifts between what’s going on at the drama school and what’s going on at the girls’ school and with the saxophone teacher, as well as the time, but the way in which it blurs reality and performance (which is sort of the point, but it does make reading it a little frustrating at times). There are lovely concepts in there, from the idea of the life insurance to the broader concept of adolescence as a rehearsal for real life, but the real strength is in the way Catton captures the mentality of adolescence, the way the girls treat the victim of sexual assault and how they treat each other… it’s gorgeously done. I’d love to see more from this author on these themes in the future.
Emma Donoghue – Room
Having read approximately ten bajillion reviews of this book over the last few weeks, there isn’t much I can really add… yes, it is brilliant. (Not quite sure if it’s my favourite, however.) It is also one I would recommend to read without reading reviews of it, and having its strengths explained away.
Amy Silver – Confessions of a Reluctant Recessionista
Fun and quick read about a girl working as a PA whose life falls apart in quick succession – she loses her job, her boyfriend, and her best friend within a week – and then has to come back together. Added bonus points for this being a recession-ish tale, where a twentysomething working in the City and used to the finer things in life – designer shoes, clothes, champagne, expensive beauty treatments – must learn to downsize, but is appropriately reluctant to do so. It’s not preachy, but it is a nice commentary on moving away from absurd spending and towards finding meaning in one’s life or job or whatever it might be. (I have such a weakness for girl-finds-fulfilling-job stories…)
Megan Crane – Frenemies
Another fabulous offering from Megan Crane, this time featuring Gus (Augusta), a librarian living in Boston who’s still close with a range of friends from college, including the lovely Nate, who was her boyfriend until she saw him kissing Helen – her freshman roommate and one of those girls that are just that teensiest bit evil and yet also somehow still your friend. Mean Girls for grownups. No one quite captures the complexity and dreadfulness of certain kinds of women like Megan Crane does. The pop-culture references pleased me immensely, too – perfectly placed and apt. Eagerly awaiting her I Love the 80s (spring 2011).
Rebecca James – Beautiful Malice
A young mother looks back at an intense teenage friendship. Katherine, the central character, meets Alice at her new school and they become friends, together with Alice’s sort-of boyfriend Robbie. All three have troubled pasts, but Katherine keeps hers a secret for as long as she can, avoiding any discussion of her dead younger sister, Rachel. This is a compelling book, teetering between young adult and adult, an astute psychological thriller in a somewhat inexplicably shiny cover. Debut novel from Australian writer Rebecca James, who has a second novel out next year, I do believe.
Richard Matheson – I Am Legend
This one had been on my ‘I really should read this…’ list for quite some time. Science fiction and vampires. How could it go unread for so long? Neville is the last man alive in a world filled with vampires – what can science offer up to help him in his quest to defeat them, or at least, continue to survive? Nifty read, neat ending.
Siobhan Vivian – A Little Friendly Advice
I adored Siobhan Vivian’s Same Difference, which I think may still be my favourite, but her first book is nevertheless pretty nifty – Ruby’s dad reappears on her sixteenth birthday, after years of absence. Her best friend Beth is insistent in what she should do – ignore him, move on – and, after all, Beth has been there for her throughout the most messed-up parts of her life. A nice take on friendly advice, complicated friendships, and family. SV’s third YA novel, Not That Kind of Girl, is out later this year.
C.K. Stead – My Name Was Judas
Judas, nearly forty years on, looks back on his youth and the myths and misunderstandings that have grown up around his boyhood friend. A nice take on how stories change with the telling, without being too gimmicky.
Noel Streatfeild – Ballet Shoes
I do have a vague recollection of being aware of this book as a child, but never read it, quite possibly because it seemed as though it was going to be about ballet. It is, in part, but it’s also about performance and families-you-make and making-a-name-for-yourself and all that jazz. I loved all the details about money and working hard – there’s just something so wonderfully satisfying about it.
David Nicholls – One Day
I hadn’t read any of Nicholls’ stuff before, though Starter for Ten is now looking terribly appealing, but I absolutely adored this book. The basic premise is that we get nearly twenty years in the lives of Emma and Dexter, who have a sort-of hook up on their graduation night and then stay friends, but as filtered through one single day each year. The observations about the changing times and the culture are spot-on, and the characterisation is terrific. Highly highly highly recommended.
Jodi Picoult – Picture Perfect
Jodi Picoult’s third book, and one I held off on reading for a while because I read something about her feeling like she’d been nudged into making it more commercial and glitzy. Certainly there’s a hint of that – there’s showbiz and Hollywood and general fancyness – but as with Picoult’s later novels, the work people choose to do casts light on the rest of their lives, with the actor in this case being an abusive husband who plays the part of a gentleman most of the time. Not Picoult’s best book, but not bad, either.
Philip K Dick – The Man In The High Castle
Another one of those ‘always meant to read…’ books. Alternate history – the Nazis won World War II – and lots of nifty twists and speculations as to how that might have gone. Not quite sure if I liked it or not, but an interesting read.
Lisa Lerner – Just Like Beauty
Dystopian coming-of-age story set around a beauty pageant. There’s a lot of nifty stuff in here, but mostly I feel like I should have enjoyed it more than I actually did.
Holly Schindler – A Blue So Dark
Terrific, terrific, terrific YA novel. Aura is turning sixteen, and her mother, Grace, a non-medicated schizophrenic, is getting worse and worse. Grace is an artist, daughter of another schizophrenic artist who committed suicide – Aura’s own creativity, and her similarities to her mother, frighten her. The supporting cast of characters is fabulous, all complex and flawed (loved Janny, the best friend, as well as Nell), and the prose is gorgeous.