Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Gathering by Anne Enright - Or How To Not Read A Book Club Book

Originally written 13 February 2015
The Gathering
Anne Enright

Reading Challenges
Book Club

About The Book
The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. It wasn’t the drink that killed him – although that certainly helped – it was what happened to him as a boy in his grandmother’s house, in the winter of 1968. His sister Veronica was there then, as she is now: keeping the dead man company, just for another little while.

The Gathering is a family epic, condensed and clarified through the remarkable lens of Anne Enright’s unblinking eye. It is also a sexual history: tracing the line of hurt and redemption through three generations – starting with the grandmother, Ada Merriman – showing how memories warp and family secrets fester. This is a novel about love and disappointment, about thwarted lust and limitless desire, and how our fate is written in the body, not in the stars.

My Thoughts
Congratulations to Anne Enright for being named the inaugural Irish Fiction Laureate. By coincidence the February book for the 1st Wednesday book group is The Gathering by Anne Enright.

I started reading The Gathering three weeks before book club and then put it down when I got to 18% because I didn't want to finish it too soon. I read 18% quite quickly and was enjoying the story. In the meantime I read The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, and The Waiting Room by Gabrielle Carey. Right, back to The Gathering. I picked it up where I left off, but had lost the flow. Just as well I had the day off on the Monday before book club. I'll just read something else and finish it on Monday... So I started The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, but put it down again on Sunday to pick up The Gathering again. Only I didn't get to sit down to read like I wanted to as we had to fix our broken toilet. This required two trips to Bunnings on Sunday and another trip on Monday but has resulted in a nice leak free toilet! When I did sit down to read, I just couldn't get into the story.

So on Monday I didn't get to sit down and read either. Although I did progress to 49%. I was starting to get back into it on the train trip to work this morning, but the train trip wasn't long enough. It is now Tuesday afternoon, book club is on Wednesday at 10.30am.

Luckily I have read this book before. I can remember the overarching story but, as I've been reading, I feel like I haven't read it before at all.

On a side note... The latest negative thing about e-readers is that people don't remember what they've read because of distractions, namely the internet on their device. I say, it has more to do with the reader being distracted whatever it is they are reading on! As the above can testify to. It has nothing to do with my ereader, or book and everything to do with my lack of motivation to read to a dead line and my outstanding ability to procrastinate! Did I need to go on every trip to Bunnings? No. I should have just got on and read the book instead of reading anything else!

I did feel an odd connection with the main character in the book, because she is about my age. Only we are at completely different stages in life. It is weird feeling a connection like that with a fictional character, but at the same time not so weird.

The Gathering did generate a great discussion in the book group, although one member was wondering why someone would write a book about death and having a dead body laid out in their home. The others however, didn't agree. They enjoyed the book. Although enjoy seems to be the wrong word for it.

I must have like the book when I first read it, as I have in my collection two of her short stories collections, one I'm sure I've read. I have also read and enjoyed her novel The Forgotten Waltz.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Waiting Room by Gabrielle Carey

The Waiting Room
Gabrielle Carey
Scribe, 2009

About The Book
Intimately exploring the complex dynamics of a complicated mother-daughter relationship, this sharp and honest memoir tells the story of a woman who is forced to begin asking some of life’s difficult questions—such as to what extent are people's lives determined by their genetic heritage?—when her mother is diagnosed with a serious brain tumor that must be operated on immediately. While biding the dreadful passage of time in the hospital waiting room, Gabrielle Carey begins to realize how much her mother has left untold, how many questions she still wants to ask her, and how little time there is left for the answers. Amid organizing appointments, looking after her own children, and battling her mother’s stubbornly principled idea that she should be left to die, Gabrielle begins to voice the unasked, attempting to discover the mother she has lived with all her life but never truly known and ultimately uncovering just how much her family stands to gain when they let each other in

My Thoughts
Last year I read Walking With Strangers by Gabrielle Carey, which is a sort of sequel to The Waiting Room. I enjoyed reading Walking Amongst Strangers as part of it was about Australian writer Randolph Stowe. It is about Joan Carey's relationship with her family in W.A and in particular her relationship with Randolph Stow. In The Waiting Room, Joan has been diagnosed with a brain tumour. This book is also about family relationships, with Gabrielle realising that she doesn't know much about her mother's past. This is in part due to the fact that her mother isn't a talker. She hasn't come from a family tradition of talking about things.

This is one respect I completely identify with Gabrielle's relationship with her mother. Although, I suspect that is my fault as well, that in my family there wasn't a tradition of talking about things in my family either. As we have gotten older though, in particular since my husband who is a talker came on the scene, there has been more storytelling.

This was a very touching book about the relationship between daughters and mothers. As Gabrielle examines her relationship with her mother, she is also forced to look at her relationship with her teenage daughter.

I really enjoy reading Gabrielle's memoirs, although enjoy isn't quite the right word. I think I will continue to go backwards through her books.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn
Read in 2015


About The Book
In 1349, one small town in Germany disappeared and was never resettled. Tom, a contemporary historian, and his theoretical-physicist girlfriend, Sharon, become interested. By all logic, the town should have survived, but it didn't. Why? What was special about Eifelheim that it utterly disappeared more than 600 years ago?
In 1348, as the Black Death is gathering strength across Europe, Father Deitrich is the priest of the village that will come to be known as Eifelheim. A man educated in science and philosophy, he is astonished to become the first contact between humanity and an alien race from a distant star when their interstellar ship crashes in the nearby forest.
Tom, Sharon, and Father Deitrich have a strange and intertwined destiny of tragedy and triumph in this brilliant novel by the winner of the Robert A. Heinlein Award.

My Thoughts
I wasn't sure how I felt about this book while reading it. It didn't live up to the standards set by The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, but after I finished it I missed the characters. As we drove to dinner with friends on Saturday night I felt a bit dazed at being in 21st century Sydney and not 14th century Germany. I particularly liked Pastor Dietrich, who like all good religious men of the time have a bit of a non religious history. We don't find out completely what that past was, but are given tantalising hints. He sort of reminded me of Brother Cadfael from the Ellis Peters series.

I am beginning to feel that the novel could have been written without the contemporary storyline. Although I quite enjoyed the physics and history parts of it, the relationship between Tom and Sharon was confusing. And half the time I couldn't understand what Tom was saying because he spoke in German? I think it's German... but I may have missed the bit where it explained his cultural background... Anyway I don't read German.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Moving Among Strangers: Randolph Stow and My Family by Gabrielle Carey

Moving Among Strangers: Randolph Stow and My Family
Gabrielle Carey
UQP, 2013

100+ Challenge

About The Book
Longlisted for the 2014 Stella Prize.

As her mother Joan lies dying, Gabrielle Carey writes a letter to Joan’s childhood friend, the reclusive novelist Randolph Stow. This letter sets in motion a literary pilgrimage that reveals long-buried family secrets. Like her mother, Stow had grown up in Western Australia. After early literary success and a Miles Franklin Award win in 1958 for his novel To the Islands, he left for England and a life of self-imposed exile. 

Living most of her life on the east coast, Gabrielle was also estranged from her family’s West Australian roots, but never questioned why. A devoted fan of Stow’s writing, she becomes fascinated by his connection with her extended family, but before she can meet him he dies. With only a few pieces of correspondence to guide her, Gabrielle embarks on a journey from the red-dirt landscape of Western Australia to the English seaside town of Harwich in a quest to understand her family’s past and Stow’s place in it.

Moving Among Strangers
 is a celebration of one of Australia’s most enigmatic and visionary writers. (from

My Thoughts
The only novel I've read by Randolph Stow so far is Merry-Go-Round in the Sea. We read it for book group a few years ago and I remember being impressed by his writing. There is something about Western Australian writers and their way with words!  I also felt a bit of a connection with him when I found out that we share a birth day and month and that he was interested in the shipwreck of the Batavia.

After reading Moving Among Strangers, I really want to read more of his writing and to find out more about him. It is such as shame that most of his books are out of print... and that there are so many books that I want to read. 

The book isn't really about Randolph Stowe, it's about how Gabrielle Carey got to know her mother through her relationship with Randolph. I haven't read her previous book about her relationship with her mother, but I'll add it to my To Be Read list.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife

Audrey Niffenegger
Vintage, 2004

Reading Challenges
100 + Challenge

About The Book
This extraordinary, magical novel is the story of Clare and Henry who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. His disappearances are spontaneous and his experiences are alternately harrowing and amusing. The Time Traveler's Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare's passionate love for each other with grace and humour. Their struggle to lead normal lives in the face of a force they can neither prevent nor control is intensely moving and entirely unforgettable. - See more at:

My Thoughts
We are reading this book for book club this month. It is only the third or fourth time I've read it and it feels like I've come back to visit old friends. Yet there were still parts that I had forgotten about, as well as parts that I remembered quite well.

We've talked about this book in both of the book groups I run at work and I think there have been mixed responses each time. This time one lady was rather concerned about the fact that Henry appeared before a very young Claire without any clothes and her thoughts immediately went to child a. Other responses have been that the characters aren't very nice and that it isn't a happy love story.

All of these views are valid. Although I don't happen to agree with them... well ok they aren't nice people... but they aren't completely repellant, so that I am able to suspend belief enough to really enjoy the story... And well hello it's about time travel!! Really the characters could have been really bad and I still would have enjoyed it because it makes time travel some what of a fictional reality.

It isn't a happy love story and this time I guess I was struck by the fact that both Henry's father and Claire don't recover from the death of their spouse. By recover I mean move on with their lives. I believe in true love but I don't believe that there is just one person for everyone. We don't really see enough of Henry's parents relationship to know why his father never moved on. With Claire, we know that there is the possibility that Henry will see her again, that keeps her waiting for him. Perhaps Henry telling her that he will come back was his perverse way of keeping her for himself.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane

The Night Guest
Fiona McFarlane
Hamish Hamilton, 2013

Reading Challenges
100+ Challenge
AWW Challenge

About The Book
Shortlisted for the 2014 Stella Prize
One morning Ruth wakes thinking a tiger has been in her seaside house. Later that day a formidable woman called Frida arrives, looking as if she's blown in from the sea. In fact she's come to care for Ruth. Frida and the tiger: both are here to stay, and neither is what they seem.

Which of them can Ruth trust? And as memories of her childhood in Fiji press upon her with increasing urgency, can she even trust herself?

The Night Guest
 is a mesmerising novel about love, dependence, and the fear that the things you know best can become the things you're least certain about. (from

My Thoughts
The back of this book intrigued me with the talk of a tiger being in a house by the beach in Australia. I don't do well with unreliable narrators at the best of times, but found myself questioning things through the novel. When I finished it I wasn't at all sure how I felt about it. I think I was a little underwhelmed as I quite like knowing what is going on in novels and I wasn't sure I did with this one.

 I am writing this review now a few weeks after having finished the book and am now thinking that it was quite well done. As I read the book I always had the feeling that I wasn't quite sure what was going on, and what was real. For a while I thought that Frida might have been like the tiger, a figment. However she did interact with Ruth's son and the neighbour who found Ruth's husband. There were scenes that had me flicking back through the book to check I hadn't missed anything. I thought that Frida was such an interesting character. I really wanted to like her but felt that something wasn't quite right with her.  I think that is how readers are supposed to feel about her. The whole feeling of confusion or uncertainty about what was going on is I guess meant to show Ruth's decline.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman

The Third Angel

Alice Hoffman
Random House, 2008

Reading Challenges
TBR challenge
100+ Challenge

About The Book
This haunting, poignant and addictive story travels effortlessly across three generations and through time. Unravelling the years from the present to the 1950s, The Third Angel is a compelling novel, set mainly in London, about girls and women who make the wrong choices and have to live with the sometimes unbearable consequences.The Third Angel opens in London in the present day, when an envious sibling comes to her sister's wedding. Their mother's illness cast a shadow over their childhood, and both Madeline and Allie are still searching for something missing in their lives. Back in the Swinging Sixties, the bridegroom's conventional English mother, Frieda, behaves in a wholly unconventional way, and the ghosts of that era still haunt all their lives and a Knightsbridge hotel. Even before that, the seeds of tragedy are sown in the Fifties, when twelve-year-old Lucy first visits London and the same hotel. Precocious, impatient, wise beyond her years, Lucy becomes a go-between for two star-crossed lovers and then holds herself agonisingly responsible for what happens... - See more at:

My Thoughts
The first Alice Hoffman book I read was Ice Queen. It was about a woman who got struck by lightning who has a love affair with another lightning survivor. However, where she feels she is turning to ice, the man burns. I'm not sure I understood everything in the novel, but I liked the world that the author creates. There is always the sense that the supernatural is simmering just below the surface. I have read a couple of other books by Alice Hoffman and quite enjoyed them all.

I really enjoyed reading The Third Angel. I liked the three stories and how they were all interlinked by the hotel and the events that happened there. Although I have to admit to feeling a little cheated towards the end, which I won't go into. The book, I think was about love - not just romantic love, but love and relationships between siblings and parents. Although in most cases in this book, it is about how love goes wrong and the consequences of that.

When entering the world of Alice Hoffman's books, everything feels a bit lyrical. The stories come alive and anything is possible. I didn't really warm to any of the characters in the first story. Reading about sisters always makes me think about my relationship with my sister. I think my favourite story was the second story. Frieda, when she was young, made things happen and didn't just go along with things.