Review: The Overstory by Richard Powers

9781785151644 (1)A few years back, Annie Proulx published Barkskins, a vast multi-generational and ecological saga that was enormous in size and scope. I adored the books for its lofty ambition — to chronicle the world’s deforestation from the perspective of two distinct bloodlines — and figured I was done with environmental novels for a while. Then came The Overstory by  Powers — shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize, and loved by several of my colleagues — and lo and behold, here I am, another enormous novel about trees behind me.

The Overstory is about our relationship with nature, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. It has a cast of operatic proportions; nine characters share the spotlight as Powers’ unravels a full half century of their involvement with activism and resistance. Despite its scale, The Overstory never feels bloated it drags a little, maybe, for a hundred pages in its middle, but it’s always engaging thanks in no small part to Powers’ luminous prose — but there were times when I questioned its architecture. The Overstory is structured unlike any novel I’ve read in recent memory; its first section — “Roots” — reads like a collection of short stories, as nine characters are introduced, whose only association is their relationship with trees. “Roots” is a truly magnificent example of Powers’ unparalleled craftsmanship; and it’s here the book truly thrums. It then breaks from that style, and slows down, becomes less revelatory and more perfunctory; “Trunk,” “Crown,” and “Seed” sees these nine characters being inextricably drawn together, their lives entangled. The writing is still exemplary, but the narrative energy of “Roots” is lost.

The Overstory is impressive; masterful, even, as Powers weaves an impossible number of threads together. Its scope is fantastic, but its execution, in my view, is uneven. But if I could reread”Roots” again, for the first time, I would it’s exceptional storytelling.

ISBN: 9781785151644
ISBN-10: 1785151649
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 512
Imprint: William Heinemann Ltd
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 5-Apr-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

My Year in Reading – 2018

This year I managed to read 166 books, which is 25 more than 2017, and 24 more than in 2016. Each year I aim to read at least 100 books across a variety of genres and with my propensity for genre novels, it’s a manageable target.

Now, you might be wondering — what exactly do I classify as a book in my trusty, never-leave-home-without spreadsheet? Because everybody has their own rules. Some readers, for example, might include children’s picture books in their tally; I don’t. But I do include graphic novels, collected editions of comic books, and volumes of manga (the latter of which I’ve actually not read this year, but y’know, if I had read manga, it’d be included).

Let’s break it down.

Continue reading “My Year in Reading – 2018”

Review: The Other Wife by Michael Robotham

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In a genre overstuffed with pretenders, Michael Robotham somehow manages to crank out one winner after another. His latest — possibly the final book in the Joe O’Loughlin series, if we’re to believe the endnote — works as both a compulsive mystery and a meditation on fatherhood.

Clinical psychologist Joe, who struggles with Parkinson’s disease, is called to his father Michael’s hospital bedside following a brutal attack that has left him in a coma. But when he arrives, it’s not his mother or sister watching over William — a celebrated surgeon and family man — but a complete stranger; another woman, Olivia, who claims to be his wife.

His other wife.

Joe immediately refutes her assertion, but there’s too much evidence vindicating her relationship with his father. Somehow, William has maintained a secret life for twenty years; he has lied and deceived Joe and his family for two decades. But is his current situation a consequence of his dual lives, or something random? Is Olivia to blame, or her son? But then, where was Joe’s own mother on the night of William’s attack?

The beauty of Robotham’s thrillers is that they rely on human relationships rather than explosions and blasts from sawn-off shotguns to fuel their nerve-shredding tension. As events unravel, Joe’s investigation into his father’s attack spins out into a web that snares a wide cast of characters. Robotham expertly plants red herrings; every time the reader thinks the plot will fall into predictability, the ground shifts and the direction changes. And the end, when it comes, is a satisfying surprise, a pulse-pounding, breathtaking climax built on clues that were on the page all along.

If you have a taste for crime fiction and haven’t read the Joe O’Loughlin series, you could start here — this might be ‘the end’ for Joe, the book works perfectly as a standalone — while rusted-on fans will delight in Robotham’s latest; quite possibly his best.

ISBN: 9780733637933
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 26-Jun-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Girl on the Page by John Purcell

Girl on the PagePitch-perfect in every tone, note and detail, the (un)glamorous world of book publishing is an excellent lens for John Purcell’s examination of what it means to balance ambition and integrity. The Girl on the Page starts as a satire, but quickly subverts initial expectations, adding on layers of emotional depth and complexity to its characters with every page, creating evocative portraits of brilliant creative minds in crisis.

Amy Winston is a hot-shot young editor in London who made her name — and a fortune! — turning an average thriller writer into a Lee Child-esque mega-bestseller. But while her professional life is all roses, her personal life is a mess. Not to disparage her life of hard-drinking and bed-hopping, but it’s not exactly conducive to long-term happiness and continued success. Her new assignment — guiding literary great Helen Owen back to publication — isn’t an enviable one, but if anybody can fabricate a bestseller, or at least  something that’ll earn back a smidgen of Helen’s outrageous advance, it’s Amy Winston. But when she arrives at the doorstep of Helen Owen and her husband, Booker-shortlisted author Malcolm Taylor, Amy is confronted by more than just a questionable manuscript: the marriage between this literary power couple appears to have fractured as a result of Helen’s new book, which Malcolm as deemed unworthy of her true talent. Which puts this trio in a terrible position, where either decision — to publish, or to not publish — will result in ruin.

Purcell vividly realises his characters’ emotional journeys, and the reverberations of their fortunes and fates will be felt by readers long after they’ve closed the book. You could strip The Girl on the Page of all its publishing insider juiciness; what remains is a searing take on integrity, commerce, and the consequences of compromise. Purcell is a born storyteller, having spent a lifetime surrounded by books and learning from the masters of the craft. The Girl on the Page is moving, hilarious, and ultimately heart-wrenching. It’s a love-letter to literature, sure; to its creators, and its readers. But it’s so much more than that, too.

ISBN: 9781460756973
Imprint: 4th Estate – AU
On Sale: 24/09/2018
Pages: 352
List Price: 32.99 AUD

 

Review: Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

DdwXHx2U8AItCzZA hugely satisfying evocation about the complexities of family life, Clock Dance is wise, humane and always insightful.

One of the things I love most about Anne Tyler’s fiction is that she never lets style triumph over substance; the understated simplicity of her writing is artistry of the highest order. Her prose is assured, warm and graceful; never ostentatious. You sink into an Anne Tyler novel; it envelopes you, and you don’t realise how deep you’ve dived into her world, how invested you are in her characters, until something snaps you back to cold, hard reality, and you realise from the placement of your bookmark  that you’re nearing the end of your time with this incredible storyteller. Clock Dance is a novel to savour; equally enjoyed in the moment, and upon reflection.

Willa Drake is inherently placatory. The defining moments of her life — when she was eleven and her mother disappeared; being proposed to at twenty-one; and the accident that made her a widow at forty-one — weren’t instigated by her, but by others. At 61, when Clock Dance launches into its core, we understand Willa has not necessarily lived an unhappy life, just a bittersweet one; a life tinged with occasional regrets. When she receives a phone call telling her that her son Sean’s ex-girlfriend has been shot and needs her help, Willa drops everything and flies across the country, despite her second husband Peter’s dismay. It’s this decision — made entirely herself, uncoloured by the opinions of outsiders — that forces Willa to scrutinise her life, and the people in it, and contemplate change.

Clock Dance is an intimate and tender tale of marriage, family and home. Achingly observant and endearing funny, Anne Tyler brilliantly explores a woman’s steps towards reshaping her own destiny and choosing her own path. The book brims with insights that sum up entire relationships. I haven’t been so moved and in love with a book and its characters for a very long time.

ISBN: 9781784742447
Number Of Pages: 304
Available: 16th July 2018
Publisher: Vintage Publishing

Review: Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr

9781784296537At the stage of his career when many other thriller writers struggle for new ideas or settle on conventional, repetitive plots, Philip Kerr continues to crank out electrifying, utterly addictive novels of suspense. 

The thirteenth book in Kerr’s long-running series, Greeks Bearing Gifts opens in Munich, 1957, with Bernie Gunther, the one-time Commissar of the Murder Commission, now working under the pseudonym “Christof Ganz” as a morgue attendant, desperately trying to leave his past behind, and live whatever remains of his future in relative peace. But the past is something that won’t let go, and it reappears in the form of a dirty cop, and a lethal trap, which Bernie escapes, though barely. Thrust into a new career as a claims adjuster for a prominent insurance company thanks to the influence of powerful attorney Max Merten, Bernie is dispatched to Athens to assess the sinking of a ship. But his simple mission turns into something far more dangerous when he discover’s the ship’s owner, former Wehrmacht Navy man Siegfried Witzel, shot dead through both eyes. Compelled by the Greek cops to investigate, Bernie’s once again drawn back into the dark history of WWII.

Inspired by real people and events, Greeks Bearing Gifts is emblematic of why Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther books are far more than a guilty pleasure. There’s the central mystery to unravel, of course, and plenty of nerve-shredding tension along the way; but there’s always another layer to Kerr’s work, in this case an exploration and analysis of Adenauer’s amnesty for Nazi war criminals, and Bernie’s struggle to fit into this new Germany and its willingness to move on from its checkered past.

Brilliantly composed and elegantly constructed, Greeks Bearing Gifts is a masterful historical crime novel, and leaves Bernie Gunther in a tantalising place for the future that will assure readers this is not the end of our journey with one of the finest anti-heroes in literature.

ISBN: 9781784296537
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 464
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 3-Apr-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom