What We’ve Been Reading -January 0 Comments

What We’ve Been Reading -January

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kat:

This month I got around to reading two much-hyped 2015 novels: Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, and Sloane Crosley’s The Clasp. I picked up a discounted copy of The Clasp at an airport, and had fairly low expectations as a result – it immediately won me over, though, with one of the best first chapters I’ve read in a while. Crosley is a master humorist, a crafter of snappy sentences and asides. She drops pithy little allegories all over the place. The plot of her novel is preoccupied with a group of college friends who have grown distant in the decade following their graduation from a small liberal arts school. They’ve each followed fairly dismal career trajectories so far (which I found depressing, as a recent arts graduate), and each of them is struggling to remain in touch with old friends and cope with life’s changing seasons. The friends come together after a period of estrangement at a former classmate’s wedding in Florida, and emotional chaos ensues. Fairly standard stuff, but Crosley also throws in a bizarre ‘Americans in Paris’ plot that takes inspiration from Guy Maupassant’s famous short story The Necklace, in order to keep things interesting. I didn’t love this novel, but it did inspire me to revisit the works of Monsieur Maupassant (he’s basically a syphillis-ridden French version of O. Henry).

Oddly, like The Clasp, Fates and Furies is preoccupied with the unlikely settings of Florida and France. It also features flashbacks to the college experiences of its protagonists. But that’s where the similarities end; this is a far grander book than Groff’s, broader and more ambitious in its scope. I warmed to it a lot more, probably because I’m boring, and a total sucker for this style of Great American Novel MFA grad type fiction. The book plays out the decades long romance of charismatic Lotto and enigmatic Mathilde, who meet and marry each other within weeks of graduating from college. It’s a novel split in two – beginning with the perspective of Lotto, ending with that of Mathilde. Lotto’s version of the couple’s life together is thrilling, whereas Mathilde’s is coldly revealing – beneath the surface of the lovely portrait Lotto has created of their marriage lurk several awful, unspoken secrets. This book is so epic that you’ll be a bit tired of it by the time you reach the halfway point – but it’s definitely worth persevering with, especially when Mathilde starts dropping her crazy truth bombs. Don’t get married, ever.

 

Ella:

I recently read Cameron Lowe’s delicate and lucid collection Circle Work, which is deeply embedded in observations and experiences of contemporary Melbourne. I love the recurring images of domesticity in these poems – back fences, gardens, the sound of a person cooking or sleeping or working in the next room – Lowe draws you gently through the circular movement from one space to the next, making complex patterns out of the rhythms of everyday life. The poems are for the most part strikingly understated and occasionally wryly funny. The best pieces are his brief, hypnotic excursions into the natural world that exists inside the domestic landscape – ‘the blue echo of a male wren’, or how ‘the night clings to the yellow moon’. People inhabit the fringes of this book – neighbours mowing their lawns, council workers, friends – but the poems are more of a search for order, an attempt to sketch out the patterns or cocentricities of daily life and explore moments that elevate the mundane into the transcendent. The poems act as an articulation of Lowe’s sense that ‘nothing just happens’ and I love the way each of the pieces in this collection falls so gently into place.

This month I also picked up J.G. Ballard’s novel High-Rise to read while I was on holidays. It turned out to not be in any way a relaxing holiday read, but it certainly transported me to another place – a violent, frightening, primitive version of our own world, where the thousand well-to-do residents of a commercial high-rise apartment building devolve into murderous clans of hunters, scavengers and cruel manipulators. As a hierarchy develops, separating the residents of the lowest floors from the wealthier, more powerful residents of the highest floors, life in the high-rise becomes increasingly grim – factions of stockbrokers and senior academics battle impoverished TV production assistants and masseuses. It’s a brilliant piece of speculative fiction, close enough to real life that the parallels are chilling and by the end of the book, the fragility of our own social order becomes uncomfortably clear. It’s definitely not a book for a lazy day at the beach, but once you start it’s very difficult to stop.

 

Liz:

I have a vague dream of eventually owning all of Agatha Christie’s books under all their different titles, but I have made this goal infinitely harder to achieve by deciding to only ever buy them second-hand. As a result, I have an eclectic pile of her novels ranging from 1930s covers to the particularly ugly designs from the ‘70s – one of which is Murder is Easy. The cover features what looks like a taxidermied cat staring off into the distance. In the foreground is a bottle of mystery liquid. It’s a bad introduction to a good book – and one of her less famous ones as it features neither Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot.

The book starts with Luke Fitzwilliam encountering an elderly woman on a train who is certain there is a murderer in her village. She’s on her way to Scotland Yard to report her theory. Luke takes her story with a pinch of salt, but then later reads in the paper that she was hit by a car and killed before she made it to the police. He then decides to investigate.

Christie’s novels are also always a satisfying read because they always catch the bad guy and you are given the challenge to try and figure it out before the detective does. They’re also always an interesting insight into the era in which they were written. Murder Is Easy is a good, quick read – it’s worth pushing past the creepy cover.

 

Ellen:

I have continued my torrid love affair with Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, with only one left to read. Ferrante’s characterisation is so vivid, you get to know her extensive cast extremely well. These novels have really got under my skin – I’m certainly dreading the day when I finish the fourth and final book. While it’s something a little outside of my general taste, I read Adrian McKinty’s Rain Dogs, a Christmas gift to my dad that he kindly lent to me to break the Ferrante fever. Set in Northern Ireland at the peak of the Troubles, it follows Catholic detective Sean Duffy as he investigates a potential serial killer, navigating his way through a world full of big, bad protestants and gangsters. Somewhat cheesy, but this an addictive read with a great plot. I’ve also recently re-read one of my teen favourites ­– Sylvia Plath’s stunning semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar. I try to revisit this book once every few years, and always find something new to appreciate.
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