January means sunshine, sea and as many books as I can possibly read without neglecting my family to the point of complete abandonment.
Holiday reading in January started with the lush retelling of The Odyssey in Circe by Madeline Miller. The story of witch Circe, descended from the titans, estranged from her cruel father, the narcissistic sun god Helios, and exiled to a deserted isle where she discovers and hones her powers. The story is of a powerful woman alone and her interaction with many infamous characters from Greek myth, how her powers draw the wrath of gods and the lengths she will go to for the love of her son. So this book was about mythical creatures, and yet was so ridiculously relatable! Mythical realism? I'm going with that!
Boy Swallows Universe by debut author Trent Dalton has been a huge hit in Australia and it is easy to see why. The combination of nostalgic details of life in the 1980's and 1990's, whimsical philosophy, gritty crime and magic realism, keeps the reader gripped right up until the very last page. Your heart breaks for young narrator Eli, but despite the drug crimes and poverty, this is a story completely infused with love and hope. It's special.
Man Out of Time by Stephanie Bishop has made the Stella Prize longlist and I think it is in with a chance. It is bold, unconventional writing that tackles father daughter dynamics and mental illness in a gut wrenching, authentic and original way.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is a strange little book examining the way work informs our identity and the needs society has to make us all fit.
Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan creates a sweeping folk tale of Rollrock Island where seal women are evoked by a sea witch for the local lads to marry. The story contains these wondrous elements and yet is so real and detailed and makes strong comments on the desires of men and the rights of women and family secrets that come to the fore.
Finally, I read Outline by Rachel Cusk. I loved how this book played with the idea of what a novel is - this book essentially is many stories being told to a writer while she relates them back to us, the reader. It subverts the whole 'show don't tell' idea with such alacrity and elegance. Can't wait to read the other two in this trilogy.
The children's literature I escaped within during January provided many treats. First of all Kate di Camillo - one of my all time favourite authors, delighted and broke my heart in Louisianas Way Home. this is a companion piece to Raymie Nightingale, told in the lyrical vernacular of Louisiana Elefante, as she is taken on a moonlight flit road trip with her strange Granny. While Granny recovers from having all her teeth extracted, Louisiana has to discover how to get home, and through is all, who she really is. It is a wonderful book. Flawless.
I liken Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly to being a rom com for tweens. It's about the romance of friendship and follows four characters whose lives are intertwined by destiny, bullies, astrology, folk tales and guinea pigs. it is brilliantly told and resolved, with memorable characters and rich underpinnings of Filipino folk lore. I loved it.
The Last Wild by Piers Torday takes place in a dystopia affected by a viral pandemic, with a large corporation has taking advantage of this and gained power and a boy who can no longer speak but discovers he can speak and hear animals. Kester is imprisoned without knowing why - his father was an eminent vet who tried to cure the sickness that destroyed the animal kingdom. But when Kester discovers he can speak to animals he finds out all he has been told is not true and he embarks on a adventure to save the last of the wild animals and find his father. Adventurous and thought provoking.