What we're reading

Karen, Rita, Ku and Prem occasionally muse on books they have just read

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Had a rush of reading recently, helped by being in bed with strep throat.

Loved 'The conductor' by Sarah Quigley, about Shostakovich writing his 7th Symphony and the Leningrad Radio Orchestra playing it during the seige of Leningrad. Lovely insights into the family life of Shostakovich and I really enjoyed listening to the CD in the back cover of the symphony - especially liked the first movement.

On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry was on the long list for the 2011 Man Booker Prize which Julian Barnes actually won with The Sense of an Ending. I enjoyed both of them - both narratives told in retrospect by an elderly person, detailing their life. Barnes especially played with the idea that we remember things in part and forget the bits of our life that we aren't especially happy with.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday reading

It is clear from the major gap in the entries that I have done little for the last two years in the reading line other than books related to study - language learning, learning, computer assisted learning, research methodology and so on. Fascinating as this might be, it is a relief to have had a holiday following my candidature confirmation and being able to visit my friend who also reads, and so had waiting by my bed a pile of books that she thought I might be interested in.

Of course, reading for several hours each day for a period of several weeks meant that a lot of the plots are jumbled in my head, so this is an aide-memoire, so I can perhaps, look back and remember not just the books but their contents!

1920 P.G. Wodehouse Jill the Reckless
1936 Lettice Cooper The new house
1951 Georgette Heyer The grand Sophy
1953 Barbara Pym Jane and Prudence
1962 Alison Lurie Love and friendship
1992 Iain Banks The crow road
1992 Janet and Allan Ahlberg The bear nobody wanted
1997 Penelope Fitzgerald The golden child
1999 Anne Tyler A patchwork planet
2000 Gary Chapman The five love languages of teenagers
2001 Anne Tyler Back when we were grownups
2002 Clive Beggs Energy: Management, supply and conservation (only read the first chapter!)
2002 Libby Purves Mother Country
2004 Joanna Trollope Brother and Sister
2006 Stephanie Calman Confessions of a failed grownup
2008 Toni Jordan Addition

Monday, January 01, 2007


In Transmission, Hari Kunzru plaits together an unlikely threesome as he explores some aspects of globalisation: the computer industry, an entrepreneurship bubble and Bollywood. An Innocent Abroad, Arjun (BadmAsh) fumbles his way across borders, both real and metaphorical, as he grows up through the novel. Guy is pure satire - self-deluded at work and inept at relationships (his last-ditch attempt at retrieving Gaby, his girlfriend, is a hugely expensive necklace, bearing his note ‘Impressed? G.’) – he reminded me very much of the character Adam in Carol Shield’s Box Garden. The women are less clearly depicted. Leela, the Bollywood starlet, is probably the weakest – seeming elusive and petulant. Her mother Faiza briefly appears as an archetypal controlling Indian mother, while Gabriela, Guy’s girlfriend, epitomizes the post-modern at its most aimless.

I loved the description – its beautifully written, and captures the Indian element well, but felt the plot fumbled, especially towards the end. The loose ends of the narrative tangle themselves into a knot which Kunzru unravels by the simple expedient of cutting them off.

Read more of Kunzru at his own website with some of his shorter writing - articles and fiction.

Lots of reviews to check out, but one comment that I liked was "Transmission seems to us an ideal example of what popular literature could or should be: accessible, entertaining, and a bit of food for thought. It's mainly froth, but of the solid, satisfying sort, and good fun."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Master Butchers Singing Club

by Louise Erdrich

Characters: are interesting and occasionally unusual, it takes the whole book for them to develop
Plot: drawn with brush strokes where you fill in the details, it develops in leaps rather than consecutive steps, although I found the murder mystery a bit unswallowable. Details of plot
Theme I thought most interesting: cultural integration
Overall: Good read and want to read more Erdrich to see if I like her

Mixed reviews from others

Monday, July 10, 2006


Responsibility is Nigel Cox's most recent novel. Last year I read Tarzan Presley, the most implausible concoction ever and found it hugely entertaining and at times, thought provoking. The copyright battle fought over it with Edgar Rice Burroughs estate is another story entirely!

Responsibility is in more serious mode, although with that same quirky sense of humour (cliches of detective novels sweetly mocked), and also occasional Kiwi references (curious as to how these make sense for overseas readers). The story is set in Berlin, and Cox has drawn on his own work experience for the context of the story. Midlife crisis (why are so many of the books I read about this?) in the context of the glittering glamour of risk and danger forces Martin Rumsfield to question his responsibility in various ways, including friend, husband and father.

Brief comments from professional reviewers which I am NOT! See the Dominion Post interview for his positive take on his terminal cancer. I look forward to reading his next book, which he is editing at the moment - a Western.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The captive wife

In a moment of enthusiasm, borrowed all the contenders for the NZ Montana book awards, fiction section, from the library. So have spent the holidays making a start on these.

Fiona Kidman is a well known Kiwi writer (well, well-known in NZ!) I haven't read much of her at all, but enjoyed this book. It is based on a true story of a woman who was captured and lived with a Maori tribe for a while when NZ was just starting to be settled by the Pakeha. (Interesting word - settled. Does this suggest that all was chaos and the West had a 'settling' influence? Or am I excessively PC aware?)More plot details if you're interested. I don't think you would have to know much about early NZ history to enjoy this book - I certainly don't!

The book had less about the living with the tribe, and more to do with events before and after her capture from the perspective of life in Sydney society, and also the whaling stations set up round Cook Strait, from where she was kidnapped. There were three perspectives on the story, the wife (who was telling her story), the friend she told it to, and her husband's journal. This latter was the weakest part I felt. For insightful details about the writing, themes etc.

Overall, I felt it was a good read, convincing story, with at the essence the question of at what point did the wife (variously called Elizabeth, Betsy, Betty and Peti) become a captive?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Mermaid Chair

I think I preferred The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, who wrote this. But there are some lovely moments in the Mermaid Chair - lovely 'painty' moments of colours and description of scenery and people and places.

Difficult to write anything about the plot without giving away the story. To stray or not to stray, that is the question. Add in a monastery, a trio of close friends of YaYa vein, and a woman's midlife crisis - and you're away. I did like the book. And do second fiction novels always have to live up to the first?