Friday, 24 November 2017

Fever Dream

I'm not sure that I know how to even start thinking about Fever Dream. It is such a sparse and haunting tale. It is a small morsel of a book. 151 pages. 

Fever Dream is written as a conversation. Our main narrator Amanda, is unwell, possibly dying, and lying in an unnamed, under resourced hospital bed in an isolated clinic. At her side is David, a boy, not her son, who is urging her on to tell her story. Here is the story opening, David is in italics, Amanda not. 

They're like worms. 
What kind of worms?
Like worms, all over.
It's the boy who's talking, murmuring into my ear. I am the one asking questions. 
Worms in the body?
Yes, in the body.
No, another kind of worms.
It's dark and I can't see. The sheets are rough, they bunch up under my body. I can't move, but I'm talking. 

Amanda and her daughter Nina have recently rented a holiday cottage and things have gone very, very awry. Amanda meets Carla, David's mother, at the holiday house. Carla is a local and tells Amanda of strange local goings on. 

It really isn't clear what is happening throughout the book. Why Amanda is sick. What has happened to children and animals in the local area. And yet Samanta Schweblin creates a wonderful sense of unease and foreboding as the book progresses. I'm not sure that I've ever read anything translated from Spanish before, and I really don't think that I've read an Argentinian author. I do wonder if the names were really Amanda, David, Nina and Carla in the original Spanish, it seems improbable to me. 

I came across Fever Dreams in a few videos recently on Russell's Booktube channel Ink and Paper Blog, where "trippy cloud with horse heads" is as good a summary as anything. So when I found it at Basement Books in Sydney this week (I spend hours in there every time....) I snatched it off the shelves (with quite a few other books it seems) and then read it in my hotel room. 

Fever Dreams was shortlisted for the  2017 Man Booker International Prize. After some moments of confusion I'm not sure that I've ever realised that there is now (and has been for quite some time mind you, over a decade) a Man Booker Prize (books published in English), and a Man Booker International Prize (books translated into English). Très embarrassment. The Guardian recommended an immediate second reading- I do see how that would help. I've only ever done that with one book- The Road, back in 2007. Also read in a hotel room from memory, although in Melbourne. 

One World Publications is a new publisher to me. They have a rather intriguing catalogue of authors and books with lots of translated fiction. But perhaps, they're not completely new to me, I see that I recently bought another one of their titles The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman (mainly on title it must be said), although of course I haven't read it yet. 

You will notice that Fever Dreams is neither Australian, nor Non Fiction (my stated November aims). C'est la vie. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

Nonfiction November 2017 Week 2 Book Pairings

Here, slightly late, are my Nonfiction November Week 2 Book Pairings. This is such a fun concept. I've really enjoyed trawling my way through everyone's pairings over at Sarah's Book Shelves

A few weeks ago I started listening to the Moby Dick Big Read on a whim. I'd never given serious consideration to reading Moby Dick. It's too big, I don't like big books and I cannot lie. Anything over 500 pages is a big struggle for me. I don't like starting them. The Penguin Classics paperback of Moby Dick is 720 pages. That would take me quite some time. Literally months if I was to read a print version. But I was really keen to give a free podcast a go. And much to my surprise about a third of the way through I'm still really enjoying it, although they're just launching the boats for the first time and I'm really not looking forward to the grittier parts of whaling. 

My somewhat unexpected enjoyment of Moby Dick has made me ponder other things. Will I come to read Nathaniel Philbrick's Why Read Moby-Dick? I hope that I would if I get through Moby Dick, or perhaps the argument to read it is even stronger if I don't get through Moby Dick. And it's only 131 pages! Of course Nathaniel Philbrick also wrote In the Heart of the Sea, maybe I should read that too....

I read The Hate You Give a few months ago preparing to see Angie Thomas at Melbourne Writers Festival. You can listen to that session here. It was just as fabulous (and important) as everyone says.

I also saw Reni Eddo-Lodge speak at Melbourne Writers Festival in a fabulous talk with Benjamin Law. You can listen to it online here. I bought her book after I got home. 

Although I could finally get to reading Maxine Beneba Clarke's The Hate Race, which I bought last year, it's a memoir about growing up black in Australia. 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Burial Rites

I've been meaning to read Burial Rites since it came out in 2013. It was huge, everyone was reading it, everyone was saying how amazing it was. I listened to the buzz, but didn't get to reading the book.  I asked for a copy of Burial Rites that Christmas and that copy been sitting in my bedside stack ever since. Debut author Hannah Kent even had an episode of Australian Story which I watched and was even more fascinated. (I just rewatched it via the magic of Youtube). Recently I had the opportunity to see Hannah Kent speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival 2017 and that finally spurred me on to read it. Actually I was trying to fit in other festival reads so I borrowed the audiobook from my library and popped it on in the car.

Oh, I'm so, so glad that I did. I absolutely loved it. Burial Rites is perhaps an unusual tale from a debut Australian author, and a young one at that. Set in Iceland in the 1820s it tells the rather sad, and oft times completely harrowing tale of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman executed in Iceland.

Agnes was a poor servant, in the cold, desolate north of Iceland. She lived and worked on the remote farms of the area. She is charged with murder and arson along with two others for her role in the deaths of her boss, farmer Natan Ketilsson and a guest on the farm, Pétur Jónsson.

Hannah Kent has done an amazing job telling this story. She uses an interesting structure to great effect. Much of the storytelling is in third person, with smaller sections first person in Agnes' voice, 

Those first person segments are particularly poignant and compelling. Interwoven are historical documents and letters regarding Agnes and the events at Ilugastadir.

The writing is ethereal and atmospheric. Hannah Kent invokes the sparse, barren landscape of northern Iceland. It is lyrical, it is moving. I sat listening to Chapter 6 as I arrived at the work car park, mesmerised as Agnes described a particular defining moment in her childhood. I think I held my breath. The audiobook is beautifully read, and helps with the difficult Icelandic names (well to an Australian mind at least) roll ever so easily off the tongue, where I feel I would have stumbled over them reading the actual book. 

Burial Rites makes you consider the clustered, hard lives of the people living in remote Iceland at the time. Such a harsh, difficult, inhospitable place to live. So hard just to survive there. Hannah Kent does an amazing job of making you feel like you're right there in the cramped badstofa (a combined living/sleeping area where all the people of the farm lived, masters and servants alike). Hannah makes us realise what a stifling existence their lives were, with no privacy possible.

The other thing that I thought about a lot while I was listening to Burial Rites was the history of "justice" over time. We get things wrong even now with all of our forensics and technology, how many centuries of injustice have been handed out by superstitious folks?

Burial Rites is deservedly already being studied in schools. 
It's so fantastic. See Hannah's FAQ.  If like me you are one of the few people left who hadn't read it then rush to your bookshop or library right now and get a copy. At first I wasn't sold on the premise of Hannah's second book, The Good People, also set in the 1820s but in Ireland this time- the story of three women and a child with some magical elements I believe, generally not an appealing type of story to me, but I'm so in love with Burial Rites that I'm now intrigued and will trust Hannah to tell another amazing tale with her breathtaking prose.

In Iceland in September there was a retrial of Agnes and her Fridrik Sigurdsson, news reports say that Iceland was "riveted". Although it seems that the murders of Natan and Pétur and the subsequent executions of Agnes and Fridrik are not forgotten in Iceland I do wonder if the retrial would have garnered such interest without such a sympathetic portrayal of Agnes in Burial Rites.

I was surprised to read in the Author's Note at the end of Burial Rites that Hannah says that she wrote the book to write a "more ambiguous portrayal" of Agnes. Which I was confused about initially, but most of the portrayals of Agnes have apparently conveyed her as an evil figure and she has repeatedly said that she wanted to create an empathetic, rather than a sympathetic portrayal of Agnes. I thought the book did give a rather sympathetic  view of Agnes, not in a sentimental way, just that Agnes was trapped by the circumstances of her birth, her personal history, her gender and status as a servant. 

We live in such a magical age wherein we can so easily see some of Hannah Kent's own photos of Iceland, the site of the murders, the site of Agnes's execution. There is lots of content online.

I will treasure my now autographed copy of Burial Rites, and will hope to reread it sometime.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Nonfiction November 2017

I'm rather excited to be joining in with Nonfiction November for the first time. Nonfiction November is all over at the moment. Bookbloggers and booktubers are both joining in with great enthusiasm it's wonderful to see. I do read nonfiction from time to time, but am looking forward to focusing on it this month, I'm not sure how much I'll get read, but will plunge in anyway.

The questions this week are from JulzReads

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? 

Hands down my favourite nonfiction of this year so far is The Hidden Life of Trees (see my review). I listened to the audiobook and was in thrall of it from the very start. 

Peter Wohlleben has a new book just out - The Inner Life of Animals. I'm undecided as to whether I want to read the book, or listen to the audiobook. 

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Magda Szubanski's Reckoning is astonishing (see my review). This was another audiobook "read" for me. Magda reads the audiobook and she puts her full vocal talents to use. 

I love nonfiction (and fiction too, let it be said) about Paris and Joan of Arc. I've read lots. 

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? 

Most of the nonfiction that I've read (especially recently) has been memoir. There's been amazing memoirs in the past few years, lots of them Australian. I have a whole self of bird nonfiction that I need to read sometime- and yet I still keep buying more. I don't read much (any) history, although I do buy it. 

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I'm looking to broaden my reading. I have a few stalled nonfiction books on my Current Reads on goodreads, and I'd like to get them finished. I'd also like to put AusReading Month (over at Brona's Books) to good use and get some Aussie Nonfiction done. 

I'm really looking forward to discovering lots of new books, new blogs and new booktubers. 

I've already done a Nonfiction November TBR (of sorts). I'm not good at sticking to TBRs, and indeed the first book that I'll finish this month is not on that TBR, it wasn't actually in the house when I made that TBR...

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

November 2017 TBR

I don't normally publish a monthly TBR, and November 2017 isn't going to be a normal month. Mainly because my eyes are always bigger than my stomach. I make massive piles of books and know that I will only get through a handful. It can be somewhat dispiriting.

I'm going to participate in two readerly activities this month, so I thought I would think about what I would try to read. Firstly it's AusReadingMonth at Brona's Books. A month long reading celebration of all things Australian. What's not to love? Actually I could probably just participate by blogging all the books I've read but haven't blogged yet, but where's the fun in that? So I scanned the nearest stacks and found these books.

I'm also looking to participate in Nonfiction November. This is a new one for me. I have quite a bit of  nonfiction lying about in the TBR. I'm not a regular nonfiction reader but enjoy it when I do. I'm hoping to get a few of these read this month.

Happily some of them are crossovers, some Aussie nonfiction. And I'm still working my way through my #springreadingstack. Actually I'm not doing too badly with this one. I've read 5/10 so far.

Friday, 27 October 2017

War on Waste

A few months ago I watched the ABCs War on Waste. Twice actually. I've always been careful with recycling, trying to be responsible, but this three part series was eye opening in so many ways.

Seemingly simple objects such as bananas are subject to so many rules. The supermarkets have strict size and shape guidelines to make our bananas uniform. The most common banana, the Cavendish, can't be too straight, while the Lady Fingers can't be too bendy. Neither can be too long, or too short. Of course bananas don't know this and many bananas are rejected, and never sold by the growers resulting in literal banana mountains of waste. 

It was completely shocking to me to see teenage girls who only wear clothing once! Who do they think they are? They are certainly not Kardashians. It is difficult I guess where weekly magazines will often ridicule, or at least point out, when celebrities wear the same piece of clothing more than once. It never occurred to me though that "regular" people would take that on though.

The real game changer for me though was the notion of soft plastic recycling. I'd never really heard of this before. I knew that you could take supermarket plastic bags back to special bins at the supermarket for recycling, and did that when I needed to, but I had no idea that Coles particularly was running a scheme called Redcycle. It's fantastic and a great way to keep soft plastics out of our oceans, rivers and landfill. Soft plastics are most dangerous to marine life, a floating piece of glad wrap or plastic bag looks just like a jelly blubber and lots of animal species will try to eat it.

My Coles supermarket had a nondescript green bin, which now post War on Waste has a new sticker proclaiming the full purpose.

I've taken to soft plastic recycling with such gusto, it's pretty much become a new hobby. Of course it is more important to try and avoid plastic use in the first place, rather than just recycle. The plastic we recycle is sent to China by boat, at tremendous cost, and incredible use of resources. 

War on Waste is still available on iView until 18 Jan 2018. 

Monday, 23 October 2017

Five Give Up The Booze

I was openly coveting Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups since the first time I saw them about a year ago, even though I was worried that the joke might wear a little thin over a whole (short) book. A lovely friend of mine bought me two of the books when I was in Sydney a few months ago. This week I finally had the time to get to one, so I picked up Five Give Up The Booze. And what a hoot it is. 

The four cousins of Blyton's Famous Five- Julian, Dick, Anne and George are now all grown up. They're in their late 20's, they've finished uni, they're living and working in North London. They all share a flat and have developed a bit of a big drinking lifestyle. Dick pops into the pub for pint without thinking about it. Julian slugs away at port over Christmas. 

Five Give Up The Booze starts as many similar resolutions do with a very big night out at a New Years Eve party that gets just a little out of hand. They all preload with champagne cocktails before heading out to what they expect will be a bit of a dull party, one that will end up as an early night. 

'That's settled, then,' said Julian. 'Let's see if we stick to them. And guys, how about we aim to get out of here good and early? Stick around for the glass of champers at midnight, two verses of "Auld Lang Syne" and then back into a cab? I'm fond of Jessica, but her parties are tame, even by our standards.'

Oh haven't we all been there and done that? Anyway, the night turns much bigger than they expect, and the next morning is not pretty, it's not comfortable. So the cousins decide to do a dry January, giving up the drinking and the alcoholic blackouts for the month. 

The reworked original illustrations are just perfect. 
Click on the image to read the caption. 
Five Give Up The Booze is a perfect cautionary tale- both of the hard living lifestyle of so many young people, and how tedious it can be going a whole month without the grog. 

He loved booze. He missed booze. Just a few more hours of sobriety, to prove I don't need it, he thought. 

Timmy the dog is still with us, even though he must be about 75 years old, and much humour comes from his view of things, and his elderly digestive system. 

I'm sure that my childhood devotion to Enid Blyton's Famous Five as a child helps colour my reaction to this book, but I think you could approach it with less knowledge. I read all of the original books in my own childhood, and remembered them very fondly. Then about 10 years ago I read all 21 books aloud for night time reading for Master Wicker. Now that's maternal devotion. Even I was really struggling by #13. 

Like most things there's an interesting back story to the creation of the Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups series. And the famous "lashings of ginger beer" actually comes from an early 80s TV series Five Go Mad in Dorset which I'd somehow never heard of. But Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French and Adrian Edmondson (who all look terrifyingly young) reworking the Famous Five! Wow, I'll be chasing that down very soon. 

I can't wait to get to Five Go Gluten Free.