Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dirt Music by Tim Winton

I read online somewhere that Winton is considered one of the foremost fiction writers in Australia. I made up my mind to read something of his immediately, because I have to admit I had never heard of him before.

Dirt Music tells the story of Georgie Jutland, a woman who realizes that her three-year relationship is coming to an end, and Luther Fox, a man who is adrift after losing his entire family in a horrific car accident some years earlier. As two outcasts in a tight-knit Australian fishing village that doesn't take kindly to outsiders, the two meet and begin a tentative relationship.

Winton explores the thoughts and actions of these two characters and the people who surround them with skill and empathy (and with a complete lack of quotation marks -- he doesn't even use long dashes to show dialogue the way Roddy Doyle does! It's confusing, but eventually I got used to it). I found I was enjoying this book on two levels - it's a sympathetically-written novel about two people trying desperately to find their place in the world and to find a direction in life but it's also a vivid portrait of the vast, diverse beauty of western Australia. Winton made the landscape come alive as much as the characters.

I will definitely give more of Tim Winton's books a read.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson

Wow. When I got an email advising me that my name was up for this book at the library (thanks very much to my local librarians for ordering the UK edition and not making me wait for the release of the American edition in May!!) it completely made my month.

This was a fantastic conclusion to one of the best trilogies I've read in years. It jumps right in where book two (The Girl who Played with Fire) left off, and events continue to escalate. I am so glad that I was on winter break and could afford to ignore the world so that I could immerse myself in watching the story of Lisbeth Salander unfold.

I am not going to try to condense this novel without giving away plot points, but if you enjoy an interesting mystery with unusual characters and aren't put off by the occasional unpronouncable Swedish words, I'd suggest you get your hands on this trilogy and clear your calendar.

Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer

My daughter loaned me this one, a sort of historical sci-fi novel for children that she thought I might enjoy. Two British children, Kate and Peter, become victims of the unexpected side-effect of an experimental gravity machine which throws them (and the machine) back in time to the mid 18th century. While their parents, including Kate's scientist father who was working with the machine, sit at home in the present waiting for the police to uncover their children's whereabouts, the children struggle to find a way back to their own time.

I enjoyed reading this novel, but I can't say it was one of my favourite children's books. To me the mark of a great kids' or young adult novel is that I can enjoy it every bit as much as any adult novel that I read, yet with Gideon the Cutpurse I couldn't forget that I was reading a kids' book. The story was just a little too simplistic, I guess, and too many conveniently helpful events took place at *just* the right time. I would have liked to have seen Kate and Peter treated with a tad more suspicion by the adults they encountered back in 1763. Aside from the obvious "bad guys", everyone else was glibly helpful and accepting of the presence of two children from the future.

At any rate, I have decided to follow up with the second book in this trilogy and see whether the series warms up a bit. If I finish it, I'll try to post my thoughts here.

The Believers by Zoe Heller

I found this book on a "best of 2009" list online, thought it sounded interesting and decided to give it a try. It's well-written, but I found it hard to become absorbed in this book. The premise is that a family of liberal, social activist, militantly atheist ex-jews in New York City becomes unravelled when its patriarch is struck down with a coma. Big secrets are revealed, people's lives change, etc etc.

The thing that made it hard for me to get into The Believers was the characters -- they were just so aggressively unlikeable. Although they each underwent some growth during the course of the novel it seemed like most of that took place "off-page", so to speak, and in many cases I felt there wasn't enough explanation of the characters' choices. For instance, one daughter, Rosa, is experimenting with orthodox Judaism. Over and over again she has negative experiences that seem like they should turn her away from this strict religious path, yet she continues to pursue the religion. I was baffled by Rosa, as I was by most of her family members. I really wanted to know why these people did what they did but the story just seemed to leap from one scene to the next, showing what everyone was doing without giving me enough insight into what motivated them. It's frustrating to read a novel by someone who clearly can write well, to want to like the book but to be turned off so immensely by its characters.