June Reading Roundup
My reading brain muscle has been pretty mushy of late - I think I use up all my reading energy just keeping up with the news. But within it all I gobbled up six books in June.
Let's look at the grown up books first:
Weather by Jenny Offill
I have been anticipating this book. I read Offill's debut, The Department of Speculation, in one sitting. Capitvated by the voice but also the alchemy of small moments making up something more than the sum of it's parts. Weather has a similar power of being incredibly sparse and deceptively small while communicating a complex interconnected world and vast themes. These intricate paragraphs build a story that captures the profound in the domestic, the infinite in the minutiae, all while not being overly pretentious. Weather demonstrates this ability of Offill's is no fluke. Seemingly fractured paragraphs of moments layer into a novel examining family, love and relationships in the time of climate crisis. In fact the form seems to become increasingly potent for the times. The story is strangely brief and small while managing to be close and vast. A little paradoxical marvel of a book.
Which brings me to Rise and Shine by Patrick Allington. This is new Australian novel thrusts the reader into an apocalyptic tale of two cities called Rise and Shine, inhabited by the only survivors of an unspecified series of disasters that are summed up in a few pages. They no longer matter. What matters are the people who can no longer eat because there is no food but have evolved to survive on a sustenance of violence and empathy delivered daily via screens in the form of a staged war between the city states. And there is a new disease taking hold.
The book does little in the way of world building. Instead it is an intensely political examination of the worlds through the city leaders Barton and Walker and their staff and this is mostly uncovered through wry dialogue. Like a dystopian episode of Yes Minister.
The story is pushed out with a fractal like pattern of connected characters, each developing more of the puzzle of this world. A soldier, a rebel, a gardener, all in turn expose more Kafkaesque absurdity in this imagined future; the dangers of absolute power, even when the origin of power is altruistic. I came away wanting a prequel about Barton and Walker and their friendship. And a sequel. I came away with the feeling I had a slice of a world but wanting more of the cake.
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
O'Farrell is another author I have followed since her mesmerising debut, After You'd Gone which I read in a single train journey, arriving at my destination completely distraught with grief. She is an emotive writer who just gets better and Hamnet is an immersive, transporting read. This is the story of a marriage, a love between wife and husband and the loss of a child. The story has so much tension in the structure, juxtaposing chapters of the couple falling in love with the present where, unknown to them but known to the reader, their son is about to fall ill with a plague virus. The year is 1596 and the parents are William Shakespeare and Ann Hathaway, although she is called Agnes in these pages, and the son is Hamnet and this is the fictionalised account of the 11-year-old's death. A few years later, Shakespeare gave the slight variation of his son's name to the tragic hero of the play many consider to be his greatest work, Hamlet.
The story tells of the high stakes in every family fraught with love and loss and the mercies of fate with the added tension of the high stakes in an ambitious artist's heart. A very timely story of love loss and the consolation of art even in times of deepest grief.
In Children's literature this month I read an English classic and a new book with a classic feel.
The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
This is classic adventure set in the 19th century with wonderful villains, atmospheric settings and plucky children heroes. It's wonderfully dark and Gothic including neglectful parents (very Victorian!) leaving strangers in charge of children who turn out to have dastardly plans! And the whole adventure is set in a frozen landscape crawling with viscous wolves. It's all wonderful!
Eloise and the Bucket of Stars by Janeen Brian
While being a new release, this novel has a classic feel, thanks in part to the setting in a 19th century orphanage run by the mean Sister Hortense. Orphan Eloise was found in a bucket as a baby and is victimised by Sister Hortense at every turn. Now at almost 12 she is constantly doing chores and not allowed to have lessons, although kind Sister Genevieve manages to sneak in a few stories, the favourite one being about a unicorn. Eloise vividly daydreams of a family and what lies beyond the walls of the town. She befriends a horse Dancy and his owner the blacksmith and the who shares a mystery written in code. What does it have to do with the poisonous pond and unicorns. And is that a lump on Dancy's forehead? When a new girl of around the same age, Janie, arrives at the orphanage, Eloise has to learn to let down her defenses. For if she let's Janie in, could they solve this mystery together? A solid story uplifted with magic and satisfying conclusion infused with great warmth and emotional intelligence.
The End of the World is Bigger than Love by Davina Bell
I don't know what to say about this book. Except that it is so so so so good. I just want to rave like a lunatic about how good it is! It is so overwhelmingly bursting with bighearted love while being cerebral and smart in the plot, complex in structure and breathtaking in language. Davina bell is an outrageous talent who has written a big bold book that is devastatingly and earth shatteringly wonderful. It invaded my dreams and, like many of the books referenced in the pages, changed the way I see the world.
It is a post pandemic tale of survival where teenage twins Summer and Winter live on an island in an abandoned church alone since their scientist father disappeared. Told in alternating chapters, the story flashes back to the past, each glimpse adding weight and enlightenment to the present. Bold magic realism delivered in wry humour take the reader on an unforgettable journey of love, betrayal, survival and spirit. I loved it.