I don’t think I’ve read one Six Degrees of Separation meme starting book yet this year! But that hasn’t stopped me giving it a go. Who said you have to read a book to write about it! Many a student has known that’s not necessary! (Never fear though, I always read the books I review on my blog. I’m not that brazen!) But now, before we get onto the post proper, I need to tell you to click on meme leader Kate’s blog name – booksaremyfavouriteandbest – if you don’t know the rules.
So, this month’s starting book is Ali Smith’s How to be both, a book I’d love to read, particularly given I read and loved, long before blogging, her second novel, Hotel world. Smith is an inventive writer, and this book was shortlisted for and/or won several prizes, including, in 2015, the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction
I have, over the years, read several of the winners of this Women’s Prize (under its various names), one of which being the 2014 winner, Eimear McBride’s moving, confronting, A girl is a half-formed thing (my review). It tells of a dysfunctional Irish family, comprising a mother, a daughter (the titular “girl”), and her brother whose mental capacity has been compromised due to surgery for brain cancer when he was young. Our girl is emotionally neglected as the mother struggles to care for her son’s needs.
Another novel exploring the impact on a sibling of living with a disabled brother is Sarah Kanake’s Sing fox to me (my review), though in this book the challenge is Down Syndrome and the brother is a twin. Kanake’s book is set in Tasmania, and with its forbidding – and mysterious – forest setting, it falls within a sub-genre we know here as Tasmanian Gothic.
Now it just so happens that I’ve read, since blogging, the book generally regarded as the first Gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s The castle of Otranto (my review). It’s quite a story, about the lord of a castle who … well, I’m not going to spoil it here, am I?
But, we all love a castle don’t we – even scary Gothic ones. We don’t have many castles in Australia – not surprisingly, given our relatively short built-history – but Sonya Hartnett does use a castle motif in her novel Golden boys (my review). There’s no real castle in her suburban setting but one of the main characters starts to
see that the world is a castle, and that a child lives in just one room of it. It’s only as you grow up that you realise the castle is vast and has countless false floors and hidden doors and underground tunnels …
I liked that metaphor, particularly because it suggests that life can be pretty “gothic” at times!
Sonya Hartnett is an Australian author who has managed to successfully straddle writing for children and adults. Another Aussie who has done this is Sofie Laguna, and it’s to her most recent book for adults, The choke (my review), that I’m linking next. The choke refers, literally, to the Barmah choke in the Murray River – a place where the river narrows and then pushes through, creating a paradoxical metaphor for both being squeezed and for pushing forward. It’s also, for protagonist Justine, a place of escape and tranquility.
Tony Birch’s Ghost river (my review) is a semi-autobiographical novel which, too, is set on a river – and a river which also has a physical presence as well as a spiritual and metaphorical one. This novel, though, has an additional environmental story about saving the river from a freeway development.
So, this month, I’m back to my usual gender division of four women and two men, and to my strong focus on Australia, with only two forays (excluding the starting book) to the United Kingdom. We’ve also spent almost all our time in the contemporary era, with a quick dip of our toes into Walpole’s 18th century. Not very varied I’m afraid, so
… over to you: Have you read How to be both? And, regardless, what would you link to?