Gah! It’s already nearly the end of February so I have been a TAD SLOW getting these posted! Oh well. Better late than never! Here’s what had me flicking over pages in the first month of 2018.
I read this book whilst down at the beach and it was the perfect holiday read. Goodwood is a small community in rural New South Wales. Life is uneventful and uncomplicated for the residents of Goodwood until two of its residents disappear – the beautiful and inscrutable 18 year old Rosie, and one week later, the local butcher and pillar of the community, Bart. Greenwood is rocked to its core as the residents and local policeman, Mack, attempt to discover what has happened to the two. Could the two have been involved with each other? Why did Bart not seem to want to discuss Rosie’s disappearance with his wife whilst the rest of the town was abuzz with speculation? Was Rosie’s violent stepfather involved in her disappearance? Or Lafe, the leering uncle of Rosie’s boyfriend? Why was $500 stashed in a hole in a tree trunk by the river? Throsby has populated her novel with deftly drawn, idiosyncratic characters, who, together, create a community that feels very real. The resolution is uncomplicated, as befits the town, yet satisfying.
I have never read any Richard Flanagan books before so I was keen to read First Person when it was proposed at book group. In the early 1990s, struggling Tasmanian writer, Kif Kehlmann, is employed to ghost write the autobiography of Siegfried Heidl, a conman who has defrauded the banks of 700 million dollars. Heidl becomes an increasingly frustrating subject for Kif – he leaves writing sessions abruptly for meetings and interviews, he refuses to divulge details of his early life to enable Kif to write his story, or to show any repentance for his actions. A further unsettling aspect of their relationship concerns the warning Kif is given by his friend, Ray, Heidl’s bodyguard, who warns Kif not to reveal details of his personal life to Heidl as he has a way of insinuating himself into people’s lives. When the relationship between Kif and Heidl comes to an end, we follow Kif’s subsequent writing endeavours beyond the world of books and into the world of television. The novel owes much to Flanagan’s own experience of ghost writing the autobiography, Codename Iago, of fraudster John Fridrich. There can be no doubting the quality of Flanagan’s writing but the story? The consensus amongst our book group was that it was a bit ‘meh’. In a meeting between Kif and his publisher, Gene, that takes place about two thirds the way through the novel, Gene tells Kif that whilst he has some ‘interesting things’ in his manuscript ‘something needs to happen.’ And that is exactly how I felt. Nothing was happening. It was a continual cycle of Kif meeting Heidl, Heidl running off, Kif’s book going nowhere, and Kif becomingly increasingly frustrated, as was I! Maybe that was the point – to make me feel as frustrated as Kif. There were, however, some interesting observations made about trust in the novel. Heidl explains to Kif how trust is ‘the oil that greases the machine of the world.’ He observes that people we don’t like we still trust; that people who profess to know their professions – who lead the world – we trust. But what if they don’t know what they are doing? Heidl suggests that they are ‘the real conmen’. And, for me, the issue of trust in a world of reality TV – the world Kif comes to inhabit – and social media, is an interesting one to ponder. So would I recommend it? If you are happy to read a novel purely for writing style and language, yes, but if you want an engaging story, perhaps go for something else.
Force of Nature is the second novel by award winning writer, Jane Harper. Aaron Falk, the federal police officer who featured in The Dry, returns to investigate the disappearance of the acerbic Alice Russell during a team building hiking camp in the fictional Giralang Ranges. Falk and his partner, Carmen Cooper, become part of the investigation team as Alice has been assisting them in revealing the money laundering activities of her employer, BaileyTennants. Force of Nature is structured in a similar way to The Dry switching between chapters which focus on the investigation, and those which detail the unfolding events of the hike. As with any good thriller, there are a number of possibilities to keep the reader guessing as to who could be responsible for Alice’s disappearance. Could it be the son of the late notorious serial killer Martín Kovac, who dumped his victims’ bodies in the Giralang Ranges? Maybe Daniel Bailey, Alice’s boss, who was seen talking to her alone one night at the camp? What are we to make of the injuries to the face of Alice’s boss, Jill Bailey? What about the message ‘…hurt her…’ left on Aaron’s phone from Alice the day before she was reported missing? And there’s a red herring thrown in for good measure too! For me, the ending was not quite as satisfying as that of The Dry but it was a page-turning read along the way so I finished it a pretty content reader!
How’s your reading year going so far? Have you read any of these? What did you think?