Book Review: Something Missing by Glenice Whitting

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Glenice Whitting is the master of character studies. I’ve read both of her novels now (the latest being Something Missing, the first being Pickle to Pie) and if there’s one thing she surpasses almost all other writers in, it’s unravelling the intricacies of people living ordinary lives.

In Something Missing, the two main characters living ordinary lives are Diane and Maggie. Diane is Australian, a hairdresser, has a daughter from her first marriage, is onto her second marriage and is travelling in outback Australia with her family. Maggie is American, an unacknowledged research assistant to her academic husband, mother to two grown daughters and thirty years older than Diane. When they cross paths on their travels in the 1970s and exchange addresses, it’s the start of a decades-long pen pal friendship. Continue reading

Book Review: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

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Another legendary story, another example of how a great idea can transcend time, place and the rules of writing. First published in 1820 as part of a larger collection, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a short story that has gone on to overshadow everything else Washington Irving has ever written.

Ichabod Crane is a teacher from Connecticut (where all teachers at the time are from apparently), educating the children of the Dutch farmers in New York and accepting their hospitality – he doesn’t have a place of his own and bunks in with anyone willing to offer him a place to sleep so he moves around quite a bit. To remedy his lack of fortune, he has his eye on the attractive daughter of a local wealthy man but the Headless Horseman – the legend referred to in the title – has his eye on Ichabod (well, maybe not his eye since he doesn’t have any but you know what I mean). Continue reading

Book Review: The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

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I saw the movie of this book several years ago so it’s one of those rare experiences for me in that I’m reading the book afterwards. Normally, I find that a challenge because I’m constantly anticipating what’s about to happen. That didn’t happen with this book because the movie is very different… and so much better.

The Silver Linings Playbook is narrated by Pat, who is living in “the bad place”, as he calls it. His mother is there to take him home after… is it months or years? Pat can’t tell. He can’t remember why he was living in the institution either. Pat only has one goal: to be reunited with his beloved wife, Nikki, by focusing on being kind instead of being right, reading great American literature and by keeping up his gruelling exercise regime. He feels he was unkind to her, didn’t involve himself enough in her interests and let himself go during their marriage and if he can only rectify these things, then Nikki will welcome him back with open arms and everything will be alright again. Because he believes in silver linings. Continue reading

Book Review: The Writing Class by Jincy Willett

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If ever there was a novel to break the “show, don’t tell” rule – willingly, completely, knowingly – this is it and this is the only novel that is likely to be able to get away with it. But getting away with it doesn’t automatically equal a great book. In this case, it equals a good one but not a great one.

Amy is a published author and academic who teaches a writing class at a local university. But her last book is a very long way behind her and the wannabee writers aren’t students, they are paying for an evening extension class. The participants include a doctor, a lawyer, a former child actress, a mildly infuriating feminist, a retired teacher and several others. Each week someone brings a piece of writing and the class spends time analysing it and provides written feedback to help the writer improve.

At first it’s like every other writing class Amy has ever taught. There are some good writers, there are some bad writers, there are some who aren’t writers at all and thought the class would be a good way to pick up women. But then one of the participants starts providing feedback that is anonymous and unnerving including cruelly parodying a poem, drawing crude images and using very bad language as well as crank calling Amy on the phone and whispering repeated phrases and sentences. Continue reading

Book Review: The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

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I’d never heard of this book until it was made into a movie but it’s so often the case these days. I haven’t seen the movie, which is the way I like it, so I can do a review rather than a comparison. It’s surprising that I hadn’t heard of it, though, because it was written by my father’s best friend’s daughter’s husband’s aunt. Less than seven degrees of separation and yet…

Perhaps the reason I hadn’t heard of it was because, despite the hype, as a story it’s really nothing exceptional. Pleasant, yes. Unregretted, yes. Exceptional, no. Continue reading

Book Review: The Bee Hut by Dorothy Porter

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Back in May 2016, I reviewed poetry – some books, some poets – en masse but they were books and poets that I knew and loved. This is the first time I have chosen to read and review a book of poetry by a poet and with poems I’m not familiar with. Reading poetry can be very hit and miss. Something that speaks in whispers to one person might speak to another in a scream or not speak to them at all. For the most part, this book was like a recording that needed the volume turned up. Sometimes I could make out what was being said but mostly it was too quiet.

Dorothy Porter died in 2008 and The Bee Hut was published after her death, bringing together poems from the last five years of her life. Because it was published after her death, I wondered if part of the reason why I couldn’t find as much magic in these poems as I want to find in poetry is because she never had a chance to review, to revise, to change her mind, to exclude, to re-order the poems, that maybe they were simply abandoned rather than finished through no fault of her own. Continue reading

Book Review: Shopgirl by Steve Martin

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Steve Martin is well known as a comedic actor but he is a jack of all trades, including music and writing. Shopgirl was his first novella, published in 2000, although Martin has been writing for most of his life, winning an Emmy when he was 23 as part of a comedy writing team.

The titular shopgirl is Mirabelle, although like most artists, she is a shopgirl only so she can pay the bills because the few drawings she has sold aren’t enough to support herself with. She mans the glove counter in Nieman’s and is rarely disturbed by customers. She meets Jeremy in a laundromat. He’s an artist, too. Sort of. He stencils logos on amplifiers for musicians. He hardly inspires her passion but most people think she’s weird so she agrees to go out with him. They have a few awkward encounters before Jeremy disappears. Continue reading