February 28, 2012

A Common Loss - Kirsten Tranter

I read Kirsten Tranter's debut novel, The Legacy, in 2010 and it was a hit for me. Even more so after meeting the author and hearing her talk about her process of writing fiction (why does this always seem to make a book or an author's body of work more appealing??).
Tranter's most recent novel, A Common Loss, follows a lot of the same themes as The Legacy, and like that book it also draws on a number of other literary inspirations but unfortunately for me it doesn't quite live up to the promise of the first book.
A Common Loss is set in the USA and tells the story of five friends who meet in college and continue a sometimes tentative and fraught friendship into their adult lives (Tranter talks about drawing on Donna Tartt's The Secret History in the formation of her novel). The main event for the group is the annual trip to Las Vegas where they enjoy the delights of that city while catching up on each others lives. As the book starts the group are planning their trip to Las Vegas but without one of their members who has died suddenly in the preceding year. It is the loss of this person that sparks a new dynamic within the friends - highlighting rifts, connections and secrets that were previously hidden.
Once again Tranter's writing style, characterisation and ability to weave a strong narrative captured me straight away - this is a book that you want to keep reading long into the night. The thing that didn't really capture me was the story itself - none of the characters were particularly likeable - and although this is something that doesn't normally bother me in a book for some reason it did with this one!
I would certainly recommend this book if you are looking for an engaging story that keeps you reading along but if you are looking for characters to connect with this might not be the book for you.

February 14, 2012

The Chemistry of Tears - Peter Carey

The latest Peter Carey novel, The Chemistry of Tears, seemed to be released with very little fanfare in Australia but I was totally captivated by it's title and cover and I bought it without even knowing a thing about it - very rare for me.
The book is the story of Catherine, a woman in her early 40's who works as a conservator with London's Swinburne Museum. As the book opens Catherine has just discovered the sudden death of her married colleague and secret lover of the past 13 years. The relationship has been a defining one for Catherine, even though the existence of it has not been able to be spoken about outside the two of them, and she is devastated by not only Matthew's death but by her inability to grieve openly for his loss.
In an attempt to console and distract her, Catherine's manager passes on to her a complex project involving the reconstruction of an elaborate mechanical bird. Catherine becomes obsessed with the project and by the the man who commissioned the machine in the 1850's, Henry Brandling. Henry's diaries are discovered by Catherine in amongst the boxes of the birds various parts and she becomes attached to them and the story they tell - the story of a father trying to cure his seriously ill child through the gift of a miracle.
This is a beautiful story, obscure and difficult to follow in parts but no less magical and transformative for the effort it takes at times to persist with the story. I was captivated by Catherine as a character - her pain and flaws as much as her courage and resilience.  Peter Carey does not always hit the mark for me but this time he absolutely did - I couldn't put this one down until I had read the last word.

February 08, 2012

Hugo - The Movie

I have not read The Invention of Hugo Cabret but I remember seeing it in bookshops when it was first released and thinking was a clever, gorgeous looking book it was. Now that I have seen the movie I may have to go back and make a purchase I think so that I can experience it all over again..
The Martin Scorsese film has been nominated for a raft of Academy Awards including best picture, best director and best score and after seeing the movie for myself over the weekend I can see why.
The story centres around a boy named Hugo Cabret who is living in the walls of a Paris train station after the death of his family. Hugo survives by stealing bits of food from the shops within the station but his driving force is the repair of an automaton machine that his father discovered before his death and was helping to restore. In order to find the parts to complete the machine Hugo steals from the owner of the small mechanical toy shop in the station and is eventually caught leading to all sorts of ramifications and adventures.
This is a really simplistic telling of the plot which is slow to get going at first (although the opening scenes where the camera sweeps over Paris and into the train station are simply gorgeous) but then erupts with action, romance, friendship, heartbreak and twists and turns. The film is visually stunning - it would be interesting to hear what lovers of the book think of the way in which the scenes have been interpreted - and the musical score adds to the magic of the story and the characters.
Absolutely loved it!

February 07, 2012

Berlin Syndrome - Melanie Joosten

I am always a little wary of books claiming to be "psychological thrillers" - I start them eagerly only to find that they don't really fit my criteria of either psychological or thrilling - they become predictable and boring. I think that is one of the reasons why I am so excited by Melanie Joosten's debut novel, Berlin Syndrome - it claimed to be a psychological thriller and in my reading eyes it definitely was.
The book starts with the meeting of Clare and Andi. Clare is an Australian photographer on a backpacking/work trip through Europe and she is in Berlin when she meets a local man, Andi while waiting to cross a road near Checkpoint Charlie. There is an instant physical attraction between the two and they quickly form a sexual relationship and friendship.
The book alternates between the narration of Clare and Andi and also between the present and the past. The reader slowly learns about the sequence of events that have led to the present time in the story as well as the more recent, and distant past. It sounds like a complex structure but it reads so easily - I never felt lost or confused by where I was in the story. It was also a structure that allowed for tension and drama to build. This was a book I just couldn't put down - I had to keep reading to find out what would eventually happen to these characters. I don't want to say too much more because I think this is one of those books you just have to discover for yourself - and I would definitely recommend that you do. The only flaw I found in this book was perhaps the ending - but maybe that was just because I was enjoying the ride so much I didn't want it to end!