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Found 3 results

  1. The Illuminations feels like two short novellas that have been interleaved, presumably in an effort to add bulk. On the one hand, we have Anne, an elderly mother who is succumbing slowly to dementia. Her family knows that she had lived in the United States and England before settling down in Ayrshire, but as her recent memories fade, she exposes the hints of old secrets. And on the other hand, there’s the story of Luke, a soldier stationed in Afghanistan, witnessing brutality and betrayal – then failing to adjust to life back home. Luke is Anne’s grandson. Of the two stories, Anne’s is more intriguing, but perhaps promises more than it delivers. The denouement in Blackpool (hence The Illuminations) feels contrived and when the secrets are revealed, the biggest mystery is why they were ever secret to start with. Luke’s story is pretty standard Afghan fare that is doing the rounds at the moment; others have done it in more depth and, perhaps, with more credibility. The characters in Luke’s story seem a bit cartoonish; the events a bit too much like a reheating of news headlines. It may be readable (actually, it zips along), but it doesn’t seem to add much to the canon. The real sticking point, though, is that the two stories never cohere into a whole; but neither do they offer any real counterpoint to one another. They are just two separate stories, with a familial relationship built in as a framing device to justify their inclusion within the same covers. The end result is a short, readable novel but one which won’t offer much insight into the human condition; won’t wow anyone with its beauty; won’t impress anyone with its skill; and won’t provoke strong feeling towards its characters. Graham Greene divided his novels into “serious literature” and lighter “entertainments”. Were Andrew O’Hagan to do the same, I suspect The Illuminations would be in the entertainments category. ***00
  2. "This book is about a woman who suffers early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alice Howland, a 50-year-old woman, is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned linguistics expert. She is married to an equally successful husband, and they have three grown children. The disease takes hold swiftly, and it changes Alice’s relationship with her family and the world." The above is a short outline of the book. The author, Lisa Genova, is herself a neuroscientist and self published this book which has been made into a movie. It is interesting and agonizing and shows us a world where a woman of fifty who is brilliant, accomplished, physically fit and leads a hectic and productive life, slowly lose her sense of self. The book gives us some insight into what devastation this disease, which currently has no cure, can cause in a family who can see the person who looks the same but whose mind is slowly being eroded. This isn't a book that can be read for entertainment but it does shed some light on a heartbreaking condition.
  3. The Night Guest is a rather wonderful and quite surprising novel. We meet a widow, Ruth, who lives alone in a remote house on the NSW South Coast. She is convinced as she lies in bed one night that she can hear a tiger in the living room. A few days later, Frida arrives on her doorstep with a sheaf of papers explaining that she is a government funded nurse who will provide assessment and, perhaps, an hour of care each day. This leaves Ruth somewhat bemused and feeling somewhat patronised. But because Frida appears to be Fijian and Ruth had a happy childhood in Fiji, she decides to roll with it. Indeed, she even makes contact with a former lover who broke her heart back in those Fiji days. At this point and for the first quarter of the book, it's not totally clear what the story is. It feels a bit Autumn Laing - proud old woman stubbornly resisting society's expectation that she can't cope. But it starts to become clear that Ruth really can't cope. Her memory is not great. Some things are remembered clearly although with time even the most confident memories start to look shaky. The novel starts to take shape around the relationship that builds between Ruth and Frida, set in counterpoint by Ruth's relationship with her sons and Frida's relationship with her brother George. Bit by bit, tension builds. At first there are hints that all is not well. But the volume keeps increasing. By the end, the reader stands with Ruth staring into the abyss. The Night Guest is best read without knowing too much about it. That way, the surprises will be genuine. It is beautifully paced and extremely engaging. There is an excellent evocation of old age, growing helplessness, and the conflict between wanting to help but being frustrated. There are excellent questions of master and servant relationships; the conflict of generations; the conflict of money; the conflict of coloniser and colonised. If you only read one book over the Christmas holidays, you could do a lot worse than this one. *****
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