my tragic right hip

Busting out bad joints all over the place

January 10th, 2013

Book Review #2 – How to Be a Woman

Because it’s my book club selection for this month, I picked up How to Be a Woman by Caitlyn Moran with a certain amount of whimsy. Not really knowing what to expect but seeing the book sell like hotcakes over the last few months, I wasn’t sure it was going to be a book for me. It’s funny, irreverent, honest, and ballsy, and there were parts that I earmarked because I found them so compelling (in particular how everyone, man, woman, child, needs to stand on a chair and scream: I AM A STRIDENT FEMINIST; and that the biggest fault of humanity at the moment is that we’re simply just not polite enough full stop), but overall, I have some reservations about the book (I mean, of course I do).

Moran is a natural writer–you feel like her thoughts flow so smoothly from her mind to her fingers, and that they don’t get all caught up in between as mine sometimes do. And she has convincing arguments, namely about the fact that feminism has gotten lost in terms of the idea of equality–or, rather, the perception of the “achievement” of equality, and young women left, right and centre, are declaring themselves “not” feminists primarily because they have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. She also rails against sexism, the lack of hair on female anatomy, revolutions in music (and then back again), and much, much more. There are obvious holes to her arguments, that come across more like opinions than rational, thought-out perspectives, but that doesn’t make the book any less impactful.

I like smart, sassy women who aren’t afraid to use words that make me blush even thinking about them. I like strong, opinionated women, too. But to say this is a book about ‘feminism’ might just be a bit of a misnomer. It’s a book about Moran’s own brand of feminism, about conclusions she’s drawn, and the hopes and opportunities she has for our gender. Throwing in statistics and quoting the hell out of Germaine Greer doesn’t necessarily a feminist tome make. I laughed out loud in many places, especially during the beginning bits of the book–the fevered pitch of her writing is charming, and her early life’s eccentric enough to make for truly entertaining reading. Yet, as I turned page after page, I kept thinking that Moran’s a woman who knows her own mind extremely well. She’s confident in her decisions, in her thoughts, in her position in the world–it’s a feminist position, absolutely, and as a feminist myself, I appreciate every word she says. Knowing your own mind is one thing, but it’s not a universal thing, and I guess that’s what was missing from this book–feminism as it relates to Moran isn’t necessarily a prescription to fix many of the problems in the world, but it’s most certainly not a bad place to start, either…

January 4th, 2013

Book Review – #1 The Casual Vacancy

I have managed to finish my first book of the new year, JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. I know I am among the minority in that I have barely read Harry Potter (I read the first book, sort of, and half-read the second), but I have them all waiting for RRBB to get a bit older so I can read them aloud to him. But I did love the world she created, and I loved that it got kids of all ages reading, and so I was intrigued by her ‘adult’ novel.

So, the novel’s title refers to the sudden and obviously quite shocking death of Barry Fairbrother, a local parish counselor and all-round good fellow. The small town of Pagford reels from the man’s death–he was integral to the community and touched many around him. The story rolls out from this central event and introduces the massive cast of characters that populate Pagford–his opponents on the council, the young girls he was mentoring on a rowing team, his own family and friends. Regardless of whether or not they were intimates or casual acquaintances, Barry’s death has left a whole in the community that someone needs to plug.

Rowling is a master of both plot and circumstance. She knows how to build a story from the ground up–starting with a major event that gets everything rolling. Yet, I’m not sure this was a completely successful novel. It seems to sprawl like the suburbs, ramble along like the twisty streets and cul de sacs that stretch out regardless of city planning. There are too many characters, many of whom really don’t have any resonance within the story or serve to further the plot. It’s as if she’s so used to creating a magnificent, large, amazingly imaginative world (like Harry Potter) and can’t quite seem to figure out how to bring it down to size for just one book. The ending is rushed and there’s a lot of summarizing.

The Casual Vacancy is a rambling, sometimes incoherent, novel, and while I’m not saying Rowling is remotely an incoherent writer, just the opposite in fact, she’s an exacting, ridiculously engaging writer. There were moments when I felt like I was reading Coronation Street, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing–I love Coronation Street. My husband asked me if I thought that this book would have remotely been a success had Rowling not been responsible for the most successful children’s series, well, ever, and I didn’t know how to respond. I don’t know if it matters. I think she’s going to write and people are going to read her writing and the world is better for having her books in it.

The most interesting aspect of the novel, for me, was the discussion around class distinctions. The council wants to do away with The Fields, an area populated by poor, addicted individuals–Pagford’s upper middle class–and the housing estate plus drug treatment centre doesn’t fit with the ideal the council would like to uphold. It’s a basic story, but Rowling imbibes it with fresh perspective–sort of Fish Tank meets the middle classes–and that’s the part of the novel I liked the best. She reveals amazing contradictions within popular opinion about issues like addiction (“they should just get off the drugs!”), and presents an utterly human and completely tragic story about a young girl growing up around heroin, drug dealers, poverty and loss. There’s a bit too much shock and awe in the novel, though, I don’t know if you always need to make your point by being so exceptionally dramatic but I did enjoy The Casual Vacancy overall, and I can’t wait for RRBB to experience Harry Potter. Frankly, neither can I!

February 20th, 2012

#8 – The Empire of the Sun

It took me ages to finish this book, another that has been on my shelves since I started working at HarperCollins, which is five years ago next weekend, because, well, I found the voice kind of boring. I know, it’s an awful thing to say. The content of the book isn’t remotely boring — young Jamie becomes separated from his parents during the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong during the Second World War, he’s imprisoned and learns to fend for himself. His evolution from pampered school boy to scavenger and camp “rat” is impressive, as is both his intelligence and will to live. Yet, the book bored me to tears.

In a way, it’s one of those rare times where the movie wholly spoiled the reading experience for me. I couldn’t get Christian Bale’s Jim out of my head, and every time I saw him doing something in my mind’s eye, the movie flashed before me and I was back to thinking I’d just rather watch it again than read the source material. Not a good sign. There’s an emotional depth that’s somewhat missing in the novel, a chord that doesn’t quite strike right, and maybe that’s my own prejudice in terms of storytelling coming forward, but I wanted so much more from the book. The horrific things that Jim endures, like the constant flies at the sores in his mouth, are epic, and overwhelming, and yet, the childlike innocence that fosters the richness of the character from the beginning of the novel wains by the end. And the things that are never explained, the bits of the story in between the lines, that’s what I really wanted.

So, I’m glad I read it. I’m glad it’s off my shelf. I’m glad I crossed another title off the 1001 Books list, but the “Bs” are proving difficult to get through. I have a mammoth undertaking in Cloudsplitter, which I’ve started six times, and my go-to escapism author, Chris Bohjalian, has written a novel that’s impossibly dull as well — in short, I might be stuck in the “Bs” for a while.

February 5th, 2012

#7 – Flaubert’s Parrot

My copy of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die characterizes Julian Barnes’s Flaubert’s Parrot as such: “This is a fascinating jigsaw puzzle of a book.” And while it’s not an untrue statement, it’s also a little dismissive of what I feel is the real, true accomplishment of this novella — Barnes’s complete ability to broadly reimagine the constructs of the “novel.” In a way, if you were reading critically, you could define the book in so many different ways: a post-modern collection speaking back to one of the greats of Western literature, Flaubert; a finely tuned, self-referential critique of the Ivory Tower nature of literary history and criticism; a highly personal story of a man (a doctor) relating so deeply to a story and characters  (in Madame Bovary) that it allows him the space to come to terms with the state of his own life; and the more you read it, the more you see in it — that’s the utter brilliance of this work. (more…)

February 4th, 2012

#5 – Hanging Hill

Oh, Mo Hayder. I’ve told anyone who’ll listen that Mo Hayder is my favourite thriller writer. While, yes, sometimes there are gruesome aspects to her novels, but they are just so damn well written that even when the words make me cringe, I’m impressed by them. Hanging Hill is a standalone novel, written outside of her current series, The Walking Man books, and while there are familiar aspects to the story (a tough-as-nails cop; family conflict; great villains), this is one hell of a mystery.

First, let’s examine the set up: two sisters, recently reconciled, sit on a bench outside of a funeral. The reader (ahem, me) makes an assumption, it’s one you’re led right into like a fly to a sticky trap, about the funeral’s protagonist, if you will, and Hayder expertly unravels bits and pieces throughout the novel until you get to the shocker of an ending — and are stunned by its  final pages. (more…)

#3 – The Spiral Staircase

After rearranging all of my books in alphabetical order, I was disheartened to have to start at the “As” again — but it meant that I am finally getting to some of the nonfiction that has been collecting dust bunnies for more years than I’d care to count, and hence: The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong. A friend of mine, Deborah Birkett, who used to run a terrific website called Chicklit, had mentioned Armstrong either in passing or in something she had written or in some conversation she may have moderated. I am pretty sure that’s how this book ended up on my shelves — through her recommendation.

Armstrong, a failed nun, a failed post-doc, a failed teacher and a failed television presenter (yes, I’m being harsh but bear with me), finally finds her calling when she, after a long struggle with real life, comes to writing about comparative religion. It’s funny, I finished The Night Circus, a whimsical novel about real magic only to come to a very real memoir about a woman who loses her faith so colossally that she fears she’ll  never find her place in the real world, the magic in her ideas about God and religion, so to speak, lost for the foreseeable future. In so many ways, Armstrong’s struggles to find her right place in the world are so powerful that it’s impossible not to cheer for her every single time life churns her out in a direction she never imagined for herself. (more…)

December 19th, 2011

#86 – The Sense of an Ending

My reading life this year has been defined by my “discovery” of Julian Barnes. I think I’ve read four of his books over the last fourteen or so months, and honestly think he’s one of the finest novelists working in English today. The Sense of an Ending, his Booker-prize winning novella (because it’s really short, come on!), reminded me a little of Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, both because it’s short, but mainly because they both have protagonists whose lives are defined by a fractured relationship that seems to drive an earthquake-sized fissure through their lives.

Tony’s an average man. Balding. Divorced. Retired. He has a good relationship with his ex-wife and his daughter. He travelled a bit in his youth. He held down a good job. He has a nice little condo. All in all, he has had a happy life. Perhaps not necessarily fulfilling in the way that you imagine, you romanticize, adulthood when you’re in the throes of the high points of your youth. While in school, Tony’s and his friends envelop Adrian into their fold — he’s charming, ridiculously intelligent, and soon becomes a favourite of both the teachers and students alike. He’s a young philosopher who dissects a fellow student’s suicide with a calm, exacting kind of matter reminiscent of some of the great existential minds, and when he goes off to study at Oxford or Cambridge (one of those high profile British universities anyway), it’s not surprising. He has that kind of energy that pulls people towards him, including, Tony’s first serious girlfriend.

Everyone knows memory isn’t anything close to the truth (the heroine of Before I Go To Sleep knows that better than anyone, I think). It’s selective and seductive — keeps the good (and the terrible; hell, don’t we all have those “stop your heart” moments where you look back and feel the utter ruin of a moment?) and reverberates the bad. And as Tony goes backwards, forwards, and in between, to piece together why said ex-girlfriend’s mother has left him not only money in her will but Adrian’s diary (and how did she get it in the first place?), the story slowly unravels into truth. And like the best of novels, like the best of writers, the story, the ending, is not at all what one would expect.

The sense, I think, that the title refers to the many ways that situations can end — death, obviously, break-ups, naturally, but also philosophically, that is, knowing how and when to say good-bye, to bring things to an end. There’s a moment, always, when one can go too far with something, hurt people, get hurt oneself, and Barnes explores this theme brilliantly. The narrator of the book, utterly fallible to human emotions, human mistakes, finally understands the complex nature of the situation, and the revel is everything you expect from a superior novelist. There are no cracks or fissures in this book. No stray words, no false pretences, no extraneous, well, anything. It’s not a lengthy or even as rich a novel as say Arthur and George, but the way it looks at moral questions, the way it builds character and suspense, remains engaging from start to finish. I know, in a way, that perhaps the Booker committee gave him the award as a kind of lifetime achievement situation, but, in the end, when a book is this good, does it really matter?

#80 – #83 – Review Catch-Up

Getting caught up with book reviews might be an impossibility at this point. There are a few that I think deserve full, thoughtful reviews. But for some of the books that I’ve finished over the last little while I just want to note that I’ve read them, you know?

#80 – More by Austin Clarke

So, here’s my lesson: do not buy multiple books by the same author if you a) have never read the author and b) don’t know if you’d like the author’s voice in the first place. Way in the way back, I bought a copy of The Polished Hoe because it won the Giller. Then, because I thought to myself, Clarke was a Giller-winner and therefore must be a great writer, I bought a copy of another novel of his, More, before actually reading The Polished Hoe. And I found More an exceptionally hard book to get through. I’m glad I read it — it’s an interesting look at a woman living in downtown Toronto who abandoned her life’s dreams upon arriving here after taking up with a rogue of a man and having a son who becomes difficult to raise as he grows older. Yet the story, told in extreme stream of consciousness over the course of a few days when Idora discovers her son is missing (and she refuses/is scared to go to the police), remains incredibly hard to follow. And the voice, complex, issue-driven, and difficult, yet heartbreaking at the same time — it’s a highly personalized narrative, but it’s also confusing in terms of locating a coherent time/place in terms of the story. And that about did me in, I often found myself wondering where is she, what happened? how long has passed? throughout each of the diversions from the actual time frame of the novel. And then, I discovered that The Polished Hoe is written in much the same vernacular. Oh boy. Avoiding reading The Polished Hoe had me reorganizing ALL of my books in alphabetical order (instead of alphabetical by country/reading challenge) JUST to put it off for a few more days/weeks.

#81 – Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

I read this book over a few weeks on my iPad and enjoyed it immensely. Former EW writer Jennifer Reese. Over the course of many, many months Reese undertook an enormous task: is it actually cheaper to make anythings and everything at home? From butter to cheese to vermouth to chickens to turkeys to you name it, Reese tried to make it. And you know, the results were fascinating. It was an interesting experiment — and wholly interesting in terms of the comparisons. I don’t think I’d ever make a cheesie from scratch but I might actually go back to using our breadmaker in the new year (if I can find it). The only downfall was that the formatting of the ebook was terrible — drop boxes ending up in places that didn’t make sense, strange typos, and odd recipe layouts.

#82 – Another Life Altogether

 

To be perfectly honest, I have no idea how this book ended up on my shelves. I avoided it for months, giving up my British shelf to focus on the Canadian, because I had zero interest in reading this novel. And yet, the novel was a complete delight — the story of a young girl, coming of age, coming out, who has to cope not only with being an awkward, outcast of a teenager, but with her mother’s manic depression. Jesse wants nothing more than to fit in and, after her mother returns from hospitalization, her father moves the family to a new town where she falls in with the popular (cruel) kids. The difficulties of leading a double life, not only hiding her mother’s troubling state of mind from her friends, but also her own sexuality, come to fruition with a somewhat cliched but still utterly engrossing conclusion. This novel completely surprised me, in a good way. Beale’s a strong, empathetic writer, and by the end I was rooting so hard for Jesse that I had to remind myself she wasn’t real.

#83 – Before I Go To Sleep

SJ Watson’s thriller seems to have done the impossible — thrilled literary and non-literary readers alike with an insanely addictive novel that is literally impossible to put down once you’ve started. In many ways, we, as a society are spoiled by the massive amount of entertainment that’s available to us. To someone who consumes a lot of pop culture, surprises are hard to come by. I mean, I can count on one hand how many times in the last ten years I’ve actually been fooled by “twists” in movies. I’m not going to step out and say that Watson’s novel is perfect — there are little inconsistencies that made me a little mental — but here’s the trick, I roared through this novel in less than a day and that’s while working full-time and taking care of a toddler. And that’s saying something about the power of his writing. When Christine wakes up, she has no idea who or where she is, amnesia has taken her life, and not for weeks, for years. Kept carefully and safely by her husband (or IS she?), Christine slowly manages to both overcome her medical condition and discover what really happened all those years ago. The novel keeps you hooked (although, like I said, anyone who knows their pop culture/thrillers/Julia Roberts movies will guess the ending) and it’s a terrific novel for a rainy Sunday afternoon when there are no good films on your PVR .

September 2nd, 2011

Good Gravy, Reviews, Wha?

I am so behind in, not just my reading, but my writing about my reading it isn’t even funny. So, for posterity, I have finished the following books:

#66 – A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore

Truth be told, I loved this book like a high school crush, I couldn’t get enough of it. The tragedy of it felt a bit forced but the writing remained so fresh and inspiring all the way through that I forgave Moore for the melodrama. Her writing reminds me a little of Miriam Toews (I’m reading Irma Voth right now) and perhaps that’s why I ear-marked about 100 pages of phrases and thoughts that melted my heart as Tassie Keltjin, a 20-year-old university student who becomes a nanny only for the entire situation to go so magnificently awry in the most horrible of ways (no death, nothing gruesome, just sad), suffers through one of the most pivotal years of her life. The book is so, so sad, but that’s what makes it so, so good in my estimation.

#67 – Pulse by Julian Barnes

Personally, and I’ll take anyone to task, I think Barnes is one of the best short story writers working today. It’s an amazing little collection. I liked every story. I love Barnes. I don’t know what else to say. Well, except that the package — the cover art etc., is terrible. Truly.

#68 – Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay

My, when I started this book I raved and raved to my aunt that Elizabeth Hay was one of the best Canadian writers working today. The story of the young girl’s murder, the narrator’s amazingly intriguing aunt Connie, the setting (Ottawa and Saskatchewan), it all came together and gave me a reason to rip through the pages, and then half-way through the book, the whole thing sort of fell flat, like a ginger ale, really awesome when you first open it, then by the time you get to the bottom of the can, your teeth hurt and your whole mouth feels kind of fuzzy. It’s not her best novel, and that’s all I’m going to say at the moment because I am about to go and play some cards on my last night here at the cottage.

May 31st, 2011

Review Catch-Up #s 44 – 47

I have spent three days this week at various doctors appointments and sitting waiting for blood work, and managed to read three books in five days. It’s almost like I’m breastfeeding at all hours again, only I’m not. Actually, it’s nothing like that at all. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Regardless, here are some short reviews of books I’ve read lately.

#44 – Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Allan Sillitoe
Sometimes, when you see the filmed version of a book first, it’s almost impossible not to replay the movie in your head as you read. In the case of Allan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, this was entirely the case. Luckily, both the book and the film are excellent, so I wasn’t disappointed by anything happening in my own head as I read. Sillitoe’s portrait of a young man, a working class, philandering, hard-drinking, impulse-driven, anti-hero remains captivating over 50 years since its publication. I found myself violently engrossed in the film, at times disgusted by Arthur Seaton’s behaviour, his attitude towards women, his own selfishness, and yet utterly thrilled by his voice, his hard-driving anger, and his youth.

Set in a working class section of Nottingham (and forgive me if it’s all working class; I am not familiar with the geography), Seaton works at a bicycle factory, where he gets paid by the piece. Work too fast, and you make too much money, the big bosses will come down on you; work too slow and it isn’t worth your while to get up in the morning. There’s a tender balance Seaton strikes between boredom, completely shutting off to the redundancy of his tasks and letting his mind wander (usually to the state of his love life, which is complex, and full of many married ladies). He served in the army but has no faith in it; he drinks not just because it’s the only thing to do but because it IS the thing to do; and all of his relationships with women are based on lying, cheating and his own awkward concepts of love. Yet, as a character, I couldn’t help but adore him — a prototypical bad boy when it still meant something to buck the system, and the dichotomy of the two parts of Seaton’s life: the Saturday nights spent drinking and with his hand up the shirt of his many married lovers; and the Sunday morning when he goes fishing and perhaps decides upon one girl, nicely contrast the tenor of life in England after the war. Everyone needing to find their footing, their voice, after the collective “pulling together” (Keep Calm and Carry On) as a universal decree. All in all, it’s an excellent novel. (Also exciting is that it’s on the 1001 Books list, whee!).

#45 – State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett is one of my favourite American novelists. I adored Run, enjoyed Bel Canto, and had my heart broken over Truth & Beauty. But State of Wonder is in an entirely different class — if I had to find a comp, like someone (I can’t remember who) mentioned on Twitter, I’d too suggest Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. But, truly, the unbridled success of this novel lies in Patchett’s almost post-colonial “talking back” to Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness. Now, I read Conrad’s book in first year university and haven’t revisited it since, so it’s hazy, to say the least in my memory. I recall more of Apocalypse Now than I do the novel itself but that doesn’t mean that I can’t theorize that Patchett set out to write back to Heart of Darkness, tackling not necessarily themes of colonialism and “going native” (shuddering to write that sentence) but more so the toll and cost of medical research takes from on our “modern” world.

When Dr. Marina Singh’s workmate and lab partner, Dr. Eckman, is pronounced dead in a far flung letter from Dr. Annick Swenson, a research doctor who has been in the field for almost decades developing and studying a very particular tribe in order to create a fertility drug that could revolutionize women’s reproductive health, she (Dr. Singh) is sent out to retrieve the true story and maybe, just maybe, bring both the body and a report of where the work actually is back to the company for whom they all work. Things go wrong for Marina right from the start — her suitcase is lost, her clothes taken by the Lakashi tribe when she arrives in camp, and soon every vestige of Western life has disappeared from around her. She wears her hair plaited by the Lakashi women, the only dress she has comes from them as well, and without sun protection, the half-Indian Marina’s skin bronzes so deeply that even she notices how different she looks than when at home suffering through a long, terrible Minnesota winter.

Classically trained as a OBGYN, Marina gave up her medical practice due to a terrible accident, and has been a pharmacologist ever since. Yet, once she finds Dr. Swenson (and the path that got her there was no less than difficult), her skills as a doctor are called upon — an in unclean, unhygienic and utterly disorganized (in terms of performing surgeries), and Marina’s life takes a turn in a direction she never imagined. The novel’s ending, both spectacular and breathtaking, has perfect pacing — I couldn’t put it down, and it brought me to my knees. I found myself reading and reading, any chance I could get, morning, deep into the night, just to find out what happens. And the last sentences, just like the amazing ones that end The Poisonwood Bible, stayed with me for days. Highly recommended; it’s perfect summer reading in my humble opinion.

#46 – Faith by Jennifer Haigh
I’m going to be honest — the subject matter of this novel remains difficult for many reasons — the church and its history/current struggle with pedophilia doesn’t necessarily equate “light,” “breezy” read. Yet, the tone and undercurrent of Jennifer Haigh’s novel, while neither light nor breezy, is both generous and kind, a difficult balance to achieve when discussing Catholic priests and the matter of faith in general. The narrator of the story, a self-proclaimed (at the beginning of the novel) modern-day “spinster,” Sheila McGann retells a story her half-brother Art, a priest who has found himself embroiled in a scandal that threatens not only his livelihood but also his life, and his core beliefs.

Sheila returns to Boston to help her family in the time of crisis. Art, accused of an unspeakable act with a young boy, the grandson of the rectory’s housekeeper, with whom he has a parental-like relationship, shakes everyone to their cores. I know it’s a cliche — family comes upon tragedy, novel unravels whether or not the accusations are true — but Haigh has a gift for character, and while this novel remains very traditional in its narrative format, I was impressed at how she tackled the subject matter. Haigh never shies away from the difficult nature of it, and I like how faith as a concept remains interwoven throughout the narrative. Arthur has never questioned his calling. But, like anyone, it’s impossible to know when something might happen to rock your beliefs, earthquake-like, and send you reeling in another direction. Innocent, even naive, to the ways of the world, Art finds himself questioning everything he has ever known: the church, his ministry, the idea of love, when he comes to face to face with Kath, the mother of the young boy he is accused of abusing. It takes the entire novel to truly find out what happened. And no one is left unscathed, not even the reader. Faith is a novel that forces one to evaluate one’s own relationship to God, to the church, even if you’re a non-believer. It’s impossible to stand in judgment, of anyone’s life, and I think that is the eloquent point that Haigh makes throughout this book. It’s one that definitely got me thinking. And I’m a girl who got the majority of her religious schooling from Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? when she was a child. Of course, I read more widely about religion in university. (I still remember sitting with a particularly obnoxious Religion major at Queen’s who honestly said to me, “You know, it’s not as if I’m totally obsessed with God or anything, I just think Jesus was a really cool guy.” Seriously. That was her take on her entire degree. Good grief.) Regardless, the kind of storytelling that Haigh purports in this novel usually drives me crazy (the retelling of a story when one could choose just to tell the damn story) but it’s subtly balances nicely with the seriousness of the subject matter and I don’t think she could have written it another way. By the end, I was a little heartbroken, which, for me, is always the sign of a very good novel indeed.

#47 – Every Time We Say Goodbye by Jamie Zeppa
This is a Vicious Circle book club book, and I’m so pleased that I’ll get to discuss it with a great group of women. It’s a women’s novel (as you can see from the awful cover [I’m sorry but it really, really isn’t reflective of the book]) rather than dreamy chicklit as the cover suggests. I know what it’s going for — there’s a pair of siblings that the novel centres around, but the cover adds a layer of Hallmark Movie of the Week that dumbs down Zeppa’s sharp, instinctive and eager writing.

Told from multiple perspectives, the book follows three generations of Turner women, some blood, some married to blood, who each struggle with the idea of family, what it means to be a mother, and the difficult restrictions society, at different times over the last 50 years, for people of my gender. I fell particularly in love with Grace, a woman forced to leave her son behind to make a better life for herself in the city. Her strength, ability and the way she came into her own was particularly breathtaking. There’s a lot in the novel that isn’t necessarily fresh (troubled fathers, difficult women that seem cut from Lawrence, “women’s” troubles) but Zeppa finds a way in that is both refreshing and real — and I enjoyed this book immensely. I just have one tiny criticism — there’s a main character, Vera, a matriarchal figure, that we never hear from, she’s only portrayed through other people’s stories. I would have enjoyed knowing more about her point of view, her perspective, but I understand how too many voices could also ruin this novel. Regardless, it too is a perfect summer read. Funny how that works out, isn’t it?

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Girl with titanium hip will rock. Girl with titanium hip will write. Girl with titanium hip will read. Girl with titanium hip will battle crazy-ass disease called Wegener's Granulomatosis. Now stuff that in your spelling bee!

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