Sublime and seductive, The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

There’s alot going on in this garden!

Sublime and seductive, The Garden of Evening Mists has it all.
Intriguing characters in a fascinating historical context, written with lyricism and a deep philosophical heart.

Teoh Yun Ling is returning to her past before she loses her memory. A prisoner of the Japanese during the war, she and her sister had a dream that kept them going, the dream of creating a Japanese garden. Her sister didn’t make it, but after the war, against the backdrop of the Malayan Emergency, Yun Ling became the apprentice to the former gardener of Emperor Hirohito.
Now a retired judge, Yun Ling returns to the garden they created. As her story unravels, memories and secrets are revealed.

Malayan Communist soldiers during the Malayan emergency

Love, guilt and memory haunt this beautiful book. But don’t be fooled. Despite all the dreaminess, the story moves along at a cracking pace, sweeping across multiple characters. This book is immensely readable and beautiful. Not a simple combination to pull off!

I am in absolute agreement with Claire Armistead at The Guardian, this book should have won the Booker!
Vikzwrites is also a fan
I liked Matt’s insights on the book too.
It is my absolute favourite book of the year so far.

The book even has a kamikaze pilot love story subplot!

Hukosai’s Shower Below The Summit

An intriguing and inspiring look at Black Saturday

Sergeant Roger Wood, central character in Kinglake-350

Kinglake-350 is a non-fiction account of the happenings in and around Kinglake during the Black Saturday bushfire disaster of 2009. Hyland creates a ripping story around the experiences of Acting Sergeant Roger Wood, on duty in Kinglake on the day of the fires.
The book centres on Roger Wood’s experiences as he fights to save what he can of a town under extreme attack from nature. He goes about doing his best for the locals in his community, all the while cut off from his own family, unable to find out whether they are alive or dead.
Woven through the story are plenty of interesting, scientific asides. Covering topics like how bushfires behave, climate basics or, of most interest to me personally, how people behave in disasters and what makes a hero do what they do.
There are some tremendously sad events described. Hyland very sensitively handles the tragedy of the day’s events and individual’s experiences as well as the psychological aftermath for the survivors.
I expected this book to be grueling. But it wasn’t. Yes, it is sad. But beyond the sadness, I found this book uplifting. An intriguing and inspiring portrait of the heroes, fighters and survivors in this little community.

Read the Herald Sun article: “Intimate Look at Black Saturday”.

Watch Adrian Hyland talking about Kinglake-350 on the First Tuesday Book Club website.

by Adrian Hyland

Moving to the South of France- Swimming Home

Unfortunately not me, just my next Booker Buddies book.
I read “Swimming Home” by Deborah Levy.
It’s transported me to the south of France.
Rather nice backdrop, but I was a bit ambivalent about the book itself.

Swimming Pool at Chateau Marmont (yes, I know that’s not actually in France)
by Tyler Shields

I must say, for the first few chapters I was pretty ambivalent about this book. Insert crazy cat (Kiity Ket to be precise) into the set piece of two middle class couple staying at a home in France with the blossoming teenage daughter of one of the couples.
Tensions within the relationships are sharpened by the intruder’s presence etc etc.
But after a couple of chapters, the book really grew on me and an almost thriller like tension took over as I wondered how the twists and turns would impact everyone in the story.

A compact stealthy unsettling novel, I ended up not being able to put this one down.

For some other points of view, here are a couple of other reviews:
Hooked Bookworms review on Booker Marks
Reading the 2012 Bookers review
Penny’s Review on Booker Marks

Hotel Negresco in Nice

Leaving the smoky opium dens of Bombay. Reluctantly.

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil
“Narcopolis”, set in the opium dens of Bombay has a languorous and dreamy quality appropriate to it’s narcotic theme. Essentially the story of Dimple, a beautiful eunuch who prepares pipes in Rashid’s opium den, the story slides in and out of the following characters whose paths cross hers. From the Hollywood adventures of the angry man, Rumi, to the poignant tale of Mr Lee’s upbringing and flight from Maoist China, these are essentially stories of lives beyond control. As one of the characters puts it: “This is our reality. Anything can happen to anyone at any time.”
These are experiences that can only be subdued with the pipe. But it is the introduction of heroin that begins to destroy their dreamy world. The unravelling of Rashid and Dimple’s world is written with enormous dignity, grace and empathy. And a new India emerges, shiny and bright, but full of the old melancholy.

For all it’s dreaminess and langour, the storytelling in the book has a strong sense of momentum. At the heart of this book are stories love, affection and longing.

I loved this book, I was completely enthralled in it’s world and missed them all once I was done. This is a book I will return to again and again.

How I picture Dimple

Nb. There are some fairly confronting sex scenes in the book- perhaps not for the fainthearted. I wouldn’t give this book to my mum for example.

Whisked away to a Bombay Opium Den of the 70’s

Have started reading Narcopolis. It has sucked me in like a Bombay opium pipe- loving it so far.
I’m finding it very visual.
So it sent me on a search for some imagery around the topic.
An incredibly romanticised topic, visually. I think the book may be about to hit me with the ugly side…

“She was about twenty-five then and she had a habit in those days of shaking the hair into her eyes and smiling for no reason at all, a sweet smile as I remember, with no hint of the changes that would overtake her.”
But for now, some pretty pictures!

Source: George Barbier – Art Deco Fashion Illustration courtesy of Steven Poke

Dita von Teese in her Opium Den. Source: Teas-O-Rama

Have you read the book?
please no spoilers ; )

Booker Buddies

ImageWelcome to what my bedside table will be looking like for the next month and a bit.  I have given myself the task to read as many of the shortlist as I can between now and October 16 (when the winner is announced).  

I will most likely fail miserably!  

Though to bolster self esteem, I’m thinking to start with some of the smaller books on offer!

I’d love to have some Booker Buddies, other crazies who want to have a crack too.

Then we can truly decide, which is the best novel, in the judges opinion (the surprisingly simple criteria of the competition)

Anyone care to join me?


If enough people are interested, I’ll set up one of those linky thingies.
Leave a comment if you dare.


04.05. But who’s going to play Finnick Odair?

Source: via Robbie on Pinterest

I have finished Catching Fire, part 2 of The Hunger Games trilogy.
Just like The Hunger Games, this was gripping. But boy has it left me hanging. I must start book 3 immediately!
Not the best writing in the world, but Lord, Suzanne Collins knows how to suck you in to a story.
Filed under guilty pleasures, I really loved this book!

I’m just left pondering the question though, who will play Finnick Odair in the movie!?!?!?!
It’s already a hot topic on Pinterest:

03.05. Absolutely thrilled that Favel Parrett’s Past the Shallows made the Miles Franklin shortlist

I am so thrilled that Past the Shallows made the shortlist.
I would love this book to get as much attention as possible- it is an absolute gem- I reviewed it in January – Review of Past the Shallows.

Here’s what the judges thought:
“Past the shallows is a moody, gripping book about love and dysfunction. Three brothers – Joe the eldest at nineteen, Miles in the middle and Harry around eight – survive the death of their mother in a car crash, but cannot escape the fury of their father, whose anger is reflected in the moods of the oceans of southern Tasmania, where he is failing to make a living as an abalone fisherman. Joe has left home, and the story concentrates on Miles and Harry. Miles has to work on his father’s boat, while Harry tries to find balance in the normalcy of the everyday, befriending a town outcast and his dog or staying with his best friend. Miles and Harry try to avoid their father, and look after each other in small protective ways. Neither can see a solution, and Miles feels burdened by the responsibility, and love, for his young brother. The unresolved circumstances and fleeting memories of the crash which killed their mother drive the corrosive family dynamics.

This story is sparsely and simply told, with an unwavering clarity. Parrett’s controlled, unadorned narrative completely immerses the reader in the marginalised and isolating world of the boy’s circumstances: the all-pervasive, random violence of their father, the ocean which both supports them and drains them, and their own strategies for surviving their situation. Harry – despite what he has endured, still innocent, gently thoughtful and sustained by his love of, and trust in, his brothers – is the heart of the story. Harry is almost tangible, so truthfully does Parrett realise his character: he is indeed a remarkable achievement.

Past the shallows is an intensely moving novel, about the importance and sustaining power of love and responsibility, and the tragedies which can unfold in their absence.”

The other shortlisted books are:

Blood by Tony Birch
What the judges thought

All That I Am by Anna Funder
I loved Anna Funder’s Stasiland- I’m really looking forward to getting around to this one at some point too.
What the judges thought

Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears
What the judges thought

Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse
What the judges thought

I would love Past the Shallows to win- but maybe I should read the other books first!
Have you read any of the shortlisted books? Any particular favourite?

02.05. Knowing what other people are reading

I am always curious to know what other people are reading.
Especially authors.
So I was delighted when the lovely Jessica Stanley posted a link to a The Daily Beast post about Jennifer Egan’s favourite books.
I have to say, I was rather surprised. I expected more contemporary books, but she is obviously a fan of the classics.
I like her one sentence blurbs about each book. Precise.

Of all the books, I have only read 2, Emma and Underworld by Don Delillo, both of which I loved. Both books really nail the machinations of human/ social interaction- so I can see the connection to Egan’s own writing.
I think of all the books on her list, I am most curious to read The Image.

Any of these books you’d be curious to read?

The List
Emma by Jane Austen
Politics masquerading as matrimony. Austen was a mathematician of social interaction, and her novels are impossibly, preposterously good. Emma happens to be my favorite.

The Image by Daniel J. Boorstin
In 1961, before the Vietnam War was close to being televised, Boorstin identified the basic laws and contours of image culture—among them, a longing for authenticity that naturally results from increased mediation of human experience. His observations hold eerily true even in the era of Facebook and YouTube.

Don Juan by Lord Byron
Who can resist an epic poem in which the protagonist gets shipwrecked, hides in a harem (and then is chosen by the sultan for an evening of pleasure), has a fling with Catherine the Great, and endless other romps—all narrated in Byron’s slouchy, sinuous poetry?

Underworld by Don DeLillo
My favorite American novel of the past 25 years. A gigantic vision of the Cold War and its aftermath, in which DeLillo manages to be sweeping, intimate, political, hilarious, and sad.

Middlemarch by George Elliot
A quintessentially swaggering 19th-century English novel, thrillingly attentive to a sweep of diverse characters, and impossible to put down.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
A surreal tale that exposes the ravages of racial persecution, yet ultimately subsumes them in a meditation on identity and transformation, whose proportions are nothing short of mythic.

The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
Utterly unique; a flexible, sharply written, wide-ranging story that encompasses the life of a young Australian woman who comes to England.

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
An epic, experimental yet utterly human work that manages to fuse a political vision (disillusionment with communism) with a social one (women, men, and the collisions between them).

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys
Tough, bleak, and deeply atmospheric; Rhys wrests a gripping—even phantasmagoric—narrative from the solitary perambulations of an alcoholic woman in Paris.

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
One of the first novels in English … and a buoyant, postmodern romp. A hearty reminder of the power, malleability, and deep playfulness of the novel form.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Tragic in the classical sense, yet also hilarious, nuanced, and socially astute; the novel’s cool assessment of the calculus of beauty and wealth rings true even in our radically different era.

Germinal by Émile Zola
My favorite reportorial 19th-century novel. A vivid story full of spectacular set pieces—like a horse being lowered into a coal mine—and also a brutal indictment of the mining industry’s exploitation of its workers.

04.04. Cormac McCarthy Blood Meridian

Don’t read this book if you have a weak stomach, a faint heart or recoil at senseless violence.
This book has violence, war and evil at it’s core and to bring that to life, McCarthy shows us evil unleashed.
As so often in his books, McCarthy places his characters in anarchic circumstances to show the true nature of man when law and governance cease to control them. In The Road, that world was post-apocalyptic. In Blood Meridian it is the harsh and lawless landscape of the US Mexican border region from 1847 to 1861. We follow the life of a character known only as “the kid” who runs away at 14. We don’t know much about his motivation but we do know, that ” in him broods already a taste for mindless violence”
He joins a band of bounty hunters whose activities degenerate to massacre, robbery and rape (the leader Glanton, is based on an actual historical figure and many events in the book have their roots in history). They kill for money and for fun. And sometimes they kill for no obvious reason at all. It’s pretty grim.
The book is dominated by the character of Judge Holden, a larger than life character (who reminds me of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now) whose philosophy is clear:
“Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaited its ultimate practitioner…It endures because young men love it and old men love it in them. THose that fought, those that did not.”
The violence in the book is not a means to an end. It does not cleanse or redeem. It is the essence of this world McCarthy has created. There are no good guys and bad guys, there are just the strong and the weak.
It’s a bloody ride. But one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The writing in this book is absolutely sublime. Although at times, the plot drags, the descriptions of place and behaviour are poetic, moving and memorable.

4 Stars from me, but I mean it when I say this book is not for everybody!
Let me know if you’re read it and what you thought.

“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”
– Italo Calvino
This book is definitely a classic, the message at its heart is absolutely timeless.

2/50 for The Classics Club