Wednesday 16 September 2015


As a result of the overzealous pruning of garden ivy I have developed RSI in my right hand and arm. The doctor has told me to rest them, which means for a few weeks I will not be posting. However I am reading and there will be a flurry of reviews as soon as I recover.

My apologies.

Friday 11 September 2015

Siddon Rock by Glenda Guest

Filled with a rich cast of unforgettable characters, a powerful magical realist novel of an ordinary outback town made extraordinary.
"When Macha Connor came home from the war she walked into town as naked as the day she was born, except for well-worn and shining boots, a dusty slouch hat, and the .303 rifle she held across her waist."

 Macha patrols Siddon Rock by night, watching over the town's inhabitants: Brigid, Granna, and the melancholic men of the Aberline clan; the tailor Alistair Meakins, with his elegant fantasies; Sybil Barber, scrubbing away at the bloodstains in her father's butcher shop; Reverend Siggy, afraid of the outback landscape and the district's magical saltpans; silent Nell with her wild dogs; publican Marg, always accompanied by a cloud of blue; and the inscrutable new barman, Kelpie Crush. It is only when refugee Catalin Morningstar and her young son Josis arrive and stir up the town that Macha realizes there is nothing she can do to keep the townspeople safe.
Goodreads description

This is a novel by an author who clearly both understands and loves magic realism. You can see the influence of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude in this portrayal of a small town in the Australian outback. We are given the almost mythic birth of the town - I say almost mythic because of course this is magic realism and the magic mixes with the realism easily and without comment. Aborginal dream stories collide with Celtic legend, history becomes myth, perhaps through repeated telling, perhaps not:
stories are like people; they change shape as they get older.  Some get thinner with less detail, others pad out like the most comfortable grandmother.

And the magic continues into the time and setting of the main story of the two women, Catalin and Macha, who carry terrible memories of World War Two, and who discover that the horror that men are capable of can wait in the middle of the Australian bush. The landscape surrounding Siddon Rock with its stark beauty and brutal nature is in many ways a character in the book. Guest shows a small community that is almost trapped by it. Huge machines fail to work and rust like the hulking skeletons of dead dinosaurs in the salt-riddled land. Dust storms arrive and swallow the town. Dust is a theme in the book and there is a strong scene in which the Reverend Siggy bewilders his flock with a sermon about the dust. 

In this world it seems that woman are the stronger and more interesting characters - not just Macha and Catalin, but also Granna, the mysterious carer of the Abeline family, and Nell, the aboriginal woman who grows in stature at night. The men are less well drawn or are perhaps simply less strong. Siddon Rock comes with a large cast of characters and we move from one to the other, so it is perhaps not surprising if not all of them appealed to me equally. 

Structurally the novel is interesting. Perhaps taking a leaf out of Marquez's book, it does not follow the traditional three-part structure. Instead a canvas revealing the life of Siddon Rock is painted with the narrational climax coming late and without a conventional resolution, a climax which is foreshadowed throughout the book. 

I recommend this book to you.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Another Day by David Levithan

Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin, even established guidelines by which to live: Don’t be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.

Until the morning everything changes. Justin seems to see her, to want to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning. Confused, depressed, and desperate for another day as great as that one, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Then, one day, a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with, the one who made her feel like a real person…wasn’t Justin at all.

In this enthralling companion to his New York Times bestseller Every Day, David Levithan tells Rhiannon’s side of the story as she seeks to discover the truth about love and how it can change you.

Goodreads description

I suspect that many authors, in addition to developing their stories from the point of the view of the protagonist, also explore their stories from the point of other major characters. I know I do. This allows the author to give psychological depth to all the main characters. What they don't do is write a companion novel telling the story from the other person's point of view. Unless you happen to be David Levithan. Is this self indulgent on the part of the author? Does it add enough to the reader's experience? The jury's out on that one, if you look at the reviews on Goodreads. I can't comment as I have not read Every Day - although it is on my Kindle. I am not sure I will read it now, which is not David Levithan's intention I am sure. 

The concept behind both books is that the character A is a being who inhabits the body of a different person a day. In Every Day the story is told from A's point of view, in Another Day from Rhiannon's. On the day A meets Rhiannon he is in the body of Justin and he falls for her. I say "he" but A can inhabit the bodies of girls as well, and indeed of transgender people. This creates a strong driver of the story, but it also raises issues about sexuality and identity, and love as opposed to physical attraction. There is also the philosophical question about how much A's day in a person's body/life should impact on that person's wider life. Fascinating stuff, and this is a novel that leaves you pondering bigger questions. As this is a book for the YA market (although this 50+ reader didn't feel that this inhibited her enjoyment) that is something to be particularly welcomed. 

The central character of Rhiannon is very well drawn. Her self esteem is not high and her relationship with the selfish and damaged Justin is lowering it. Encountering A in his various forms and falling for "him" allows Rhiannon to question her unhappy liaison's impact on her life. The philosophical questions in the book are therefore integral to the storyline.

Another Day is an interesting, thought-provoking and enjoyable book and I am grateful to the publishers for granting me a free review copy in return for a fair review.