Thought for the day

Only Robinson Crusoe had everything done by Friday.

books everywhere(photo credit: unknown; it’s been lurking on my computer for too long)

Richard Flanagan, Booker Prize winner, guest review

Richard Flanagan won the Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North a few weeks ago. The Book Accumulator read it in April and raved about it then, and I have put below a very brief guest review. I’d better get myself a copy!

I judged it a serious contender for the title of the GAN, the Great Australian novel.  I was surprised after reading the Miles Franklin winner that the Flanagan novel missed out (though All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld was not an unworthy winner of the Miles Franklin).

Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2013), a serious attempt to take the title of the Great Australian Novel, as it comes to slippery grips with big themes of suffering, death, love and loyalty, while also depicting the terrible life of the prisoners on the Burma railway in the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Disturbing is the hero’s inability to love, even though he has scores of romantic relationships as well as a family, and even though he as doctor and officer is deeply committed to the soldiers under his care and command in the camp. A book that moves at vastly different speeds, often too tediously in parts which needed editing.

Have you read it? What did you think?

All That I Am – Anna Funder – 6/10

“Hans, who was shy speaking to the English, spoke of them as they fitted his preconceptions: a nation of shopkeepers, tea drinkers, lawn clippers. But I came to see them differently. What had seemed a conformist reticence revealed itself, after a time, to be an inbred, ineffable sense of fair play. They didn’t need as many external rules as we did because they had internalised the standards of decency.”

all that i am

(from the blurb) When Hitler comes to power in 1933, a tight-knit group of friends and lovers become hunted outlaws overnight. United in their resistance to the madness and tyranny of Nazism, they must flee the country. Dora, passionate and fearless, her lover, the great playwright Ernst Toller, her younger cousin Ruth and Ruth’s husband Hans find refuge in London. Here they take breathtaking risks in order to continue their work in secret. But England is not the safe haven they think it to be, and a single, chilling act of betrayal will tear them apart.

Often a book seems driven by one of three things to me – plot, characters, or beautiful writing. This seemed a half-and-half study of plot and characters. The plot moved at inconsistent speed (and jumped around – but more on that later), but while we stayed in one place and time, particularly in the early 30s in Germany and then in the mid 30s in London, it was well-crafted and progressed. A level of tension is well-maintained without being exhausting. I didn’t see the plot twist coming at all. I was surprised when it came, who it was that was responsible, and the effects.

I already protested about the back-and-forth perspective, the way we flick from Ruth as an old woman, to Ruth as a young woman during the Nazi years, to Ernst Toller at the start of the war, and back again. I still maintain that Ernst’s story served no purpose at all – it was necessary that some of the information about Dora came through him, but that was really it.

Young Ruth was my favourite character (I suspect this is Funder’s intention); gentle and idealistic, committed and loving. I found Dora more difficult; headstrong, impetuous, strangely unconcerned with consequences. Ernst was sanctimonious and selfish, and Hans was strangely nothing. He was inspired and gregarious as a young man, but he petered out into nothingness in a new country. I loved old Ruth’s observations on Bev (her carer) – a little comic relief in the other timeline.

This is such a depressing book. So naturally I read it on holiday in Rome in the sunshine. But still. I can’t decide whether it needed heavier editing, redirecting, or whether I was never going to like something so dark.

One thing this book did teach me was the experience of living in 20s Germany. At school we only heard about the rampant inflation and needing a wheelbarrow full of cash to buy a loaf of bread; this book managed to convey the joy and freedom and idealism and optimism of the early 20s. No mean feat.

Not bad, and others will enjoy it more than I. But so, so depressing.

Additional info
Copy borrowed from the Book Accumulator quite some time ago. Now finally I can return it. 
Publisher: Penguin, 363 pages (paperback)
Order All That I Amfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Sunday Salon – Scrabble & Shu Mai

TSS

Tired now. This weekend has included: lunch and hot chocolate with 3G, Scrabble and cream tea with a friend and then dim sum with two work friends today. Then I walked from Chinatown from Victoria (which is really not very far!) to do a spot of shopping, and am now totally exhausted.

I haven’t read anything this week; I’ve got four or five books lying around but can’t really get into any of them. In a bit of a reading slump.

Chocolate

Now corrected – chocolate BARS not chocolate bras…

Totally off-topic today.

Is it any surprise that I like chocolate? It fills the gap between cups of tea very nicely. Some of my favourite chocolates, all of which aren’t made in the UK and therefore either have to be bought at ridiculous import prices or bought overseas and saved up, are:

Ritter Sport, especially the dark chocolate and marzipan one. It is totally impossible not to eat the entire 16 squares at once.

Mint Slice biscuits, made by Arnott’s in Australia. These, believe it or not, are greatly improved in taste, texture and longevity (at least, duration of time they can be in my house before I eat them) by keeping them in the freezer.

Violet Crumble and Cherry Ripe chocolate bars, again Australian. These are The Musician’s and The Book Accumulator’s favourite Aussie chocolate bars respectively so always seemed like a huge treat. And they’re so yummy.

Golden Rough (again, Australian) – this is a pretty cheap 6/7cm disc of milk chocolate with coconut mixed through it. So good.

Oh, and Choco Leibniz and Ohne Gleichen biscuits from Germany as well.

The common factor for most of these is dark chocolate. Do we just like dark chocolate less in the UK?

What are your favourite chocolates?

Book admin – and books I had forgotten

Obviously, what you do on the first morning you’re feeling better after a cold, is to sit and go through your LibraryThing and Goodreads histories, cross-referencing to blog reviews and spreadsheets.

Obviously.

Anyway in the process I discovered a load of books I had totally forgotten I had read. By this I don’t just mean I didn’t remember what I thought of the book, but that if you’d asked me, I would have said that I’d never read it. Even looking at my records, I don’t remember reading the book, despite having given them good marks! They include (links to reviews!):

The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory – 8/10

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards – 7/10

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin – 8/10

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips – 7/10

Does this happen to anyone else?

(buying a book you have forgotten that you own is totally normal and acceptable, right?)

Top Ten Tuesday – New Series

TTT

Because Booking Through Thursday often doesn’t post until too late in the day for me (thanks to time differences), I have decided that on Thursdays I’ll either answer a Booking Through Thursday question or a Top Ten Tuesday question (the latter are run on The Broke and The Bookish blog), although I might let myself stop at 5 rather than going all the way to a list of 10! This week’s:

October 21: Top New Series I Want To Start (New..let’s say within the last year or two)

Well. What new series do I want to start?

I can definitely think of some series that I have started in the past and would love to complete or re-read. Anne of Green Gables, the Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone “A is for Alibi” series, Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series… in fact:

1. Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series. I’ve only read the first one (Crocodile on the Sandbank) so that definitely nearly counts as a new series.

Crocodile on the Sandbank

2. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I’ve heard so much good stuff about them, how can I resist?

3. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall series (is it a stretch, at two published and one more intended, to call it a series?). I’ve had The Musician’s copy of Wolf Hall for at least 2 if not 3 years now. No excuse that I haven’t read it.

wolf hall

4. Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series. I love the TV series, when I get a minute to watch it; I suspect I’d get through the books faster.

phryne

and finally, though perhaps not quite within the next 2 years,

5. The Little Golden Books series – I had some of these as a child and have no doubt I’ll be reading a lot with baby RWT eventually!

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