Review: Harmless Like You

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Harmless Like You is the story of two very different people, who also happen to be mother and son, and their eventual findings of both themselves and each other. The story flows backwards and forwards in time, following Yuki’s growth from girl into woman, and the journey of her son to find his mother.

harmless

Yuki is a Japanese girl living in New York. She’s not Japanese enough for her parents, and she’s definitely not American enough for everyone else. She wants to be an artist, but she doesn’t know how to make that happen.

Jay runs an art gallery. He is a new father. He doesn’t like his baby and is wondering if he should leave his wife. And his father, who raised him alone from the age of 2 has just died. Inconsiderately, his father has left the family home to Jay’s mother, and Jay now has to visit her to get her to finalise the documents.

This book is beautifully understated, although I struggled from time to time with Yuki as a character. Her emotions are very much her own. I also struggled with Jay’s character as I just didn’t like him (deadbeat dads are my personal kryptonite and rob me of my powers of reason)

Yuki is mystifying, captivating and beautifully human. She feels like a very passive character because her emotions are never really fully explored by the narrator. Her actions keep you guessing about what is hiding in her heart. This also meant she was a constant and often delightful surprise.This story is told through the colour and texture of art – if y0u have any art cred you will probably get some more references from the book than I did.

There are some great observations about parenting and parenthood, and how difficult it can be to be both a parent and a human being.

I’ll be looking forward to seeing more from this debut author.

4 out of 5 shades of grey.

Review: Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty

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This book came to my attention as Rebecca Schinsky from Book Riot described it “as feminist as fuck” on Litsy. (If you are not on Litsy, you need to ask yourself some serious questions about what you’re doing with your life. Please rectify immediately.)

Edgar and Fern are happily married with three children, living a life of comfort thanks to Fern’s moneyed parents. This grinds to a sudden stop when Fern is told that the money from her parent’s estate is gone. Someone is going to have to start working to keep the family in its lifestyle and, as was customary in the time (the 70’s) and the class (white and upper class) that someone should be Edgar.

Unfortunately Edgar is the worst socialist ever to walk the earth. He has high and mighty ideals about money and its role in the world, but manages to ignore the fact that his luxurious and rarefied lifestyle is thanks to the money earned by first his father, and then from his wife’s inheritance. Edgar throws a tantrum at his wife’s expectation which takes the form of him engaging in an affair and leaving on an adventure without telling Fern.

Fern is also tempted away on an adventure without telling Edgar. This leaves the three children finding themselves suddenly abandoned and fending for themselves, discovering that the childhood dream of having no parents around isn’t as great as the reality.

This book is beautifully and lyrically written, with plenty of examination of women’s roles as wife and mother and the expectations placed on them. Women of this class and era had no real choice but to be wives and  mothers – there was no market for any other role and to find yourself outside these roles was to be a scandal, which simply wasn’t done.

I particularly enjoyed the rendering of Fern’s mother, who chose her husband not because she loved him, but because he was the least likely to interfere in her life. Evelyn had her own things that she wanted to do, but as a woman, she was expected to not do them in favour of her wifely and motherly duties. She was not a good mother, or a good wife, and she knew this and made no apology for either.

Edgar on the other hand is a prize winning dick, and I could cheerfully have slapped him multiple times throughout the book. I’ve read a few reviews which indicate that he “redeems” himself at the end. I’m don’t think he does, although he does start to realise that he has been a dick, even though I think the reason for that realisation is for the wrong one.

The theme of this book is the good old “money can’t buy you happiness, and family is everything” with a coda of “unless your family sucks, in which case you’re screwed”.

This is a delightful, summery read with magic on every page.

5 out of 5 beach houses.

 

 

 

Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

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I don’t tend to read a lot of modern Australian writers. This is possibly the result of a literature degree which included a couple of subjects which fetishised Australian writers. I’m not sure if I blame Marcus Clarke or A.B. Facey more. Either way, those guys are the top of my list.

Australians are known as being pretty laid back and I feel this comes across in the writing style of modern Aussie authors. Plus there is also the obligatory obsession with the bleak, sparse and deadly Australian landscape (if you’re a white fella). I recently attempted both Geraldine Brooks’ The Story of the Book and Shirley Barrett’s Rush O! The Story of the Book left me cold and I was disappointed with Rush O! after the wonderful quirkiness that was Love Serenade.

It wasn’t until I was about a third of the way through the book when I learned that Hannah Kent is a compatriot. Reader, I nearly fell off my chair.

Burial Rites is the story of Agnes Magnusdottir the last person executed in Iceland. She is sentenced to death for her part in the brutal murder of her former master. This is a brilliant and evocative re-imagining of her story, written like a love letter to Iceland. Agnes may have been sentence to death, but there are no jails to hold her until her sentence can be carried out. So the District Officer calls for her to be held by one of the local government officials. Of course there is no where for her to be “held”, so she sleeps in the same rooms as the official, his wife and two daughters and works along side them on their farm.

Toti, the priest who Agnes has  chosen to be her spiritual guide through her last days, gains her trust which allows her to tell her side of the story. Toti and the farming family learn that there is much more to Agnes than her death sentence, and much more to her story than they could have ever imagined.

The telling of the story oscillates between third person past tense and first person chapters present tense, capturing Agnes’ story through the eyes of herself and those around her.  Normally I would find the change in tense particularly jarring, but the writing was so captivating I didn’t even notice until midway through the book.

The writing is beautiful, bringing to life the people, the harsh conditions and the whirling of Agnes’ mind as she plunges towards her last days, her life completely out of her control. Iceland and the cold could have been characters in the book – I feel as though I know them both a little better.

The reimagining of Agnes’ life is beautiful, harrowing and real.Kent’s research was extensive, and the book includes some versions of her source materials – Rosa’s poems being some of my favourites.

I listened to the audiobook, splendidly narrated by Morven Christie who captures he characters, particulary Agnes, and breathes life into them.

They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men and that now they must steal mine. I imagine then that we are all candle flames, greasy bright, fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind. And in the stillness of the room I hear footsteps, awful coming footsteps, coming to blow me out and send my life up and away from me in  grey wreath of smoke. I will vanish into the air and the night.

I’m very much looking forward to Kent’s new book The Good People due out in October this year.

5 out of 5 blood sausages.