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The bedside table roll call.

April 20, 2013

I’ve not been doing as much reading as I’d like lately, mostly because my thesis is due in two months and I’m trying to cut 10,000 words and organise my (extremely, woefully disorganised) references, both of which are largely horrific experiences. After three and a half years of no PhD-related crises, breakdowns or emotional implosions, I’m now having one at least once a fortnight. It’s great. Also, I seem to have three jobs at the moment. How did this happen?

Anyway, I have been doing some reading, and I figured I’d post a little round-up of what’s ended up on my bedside table over the past month: the good, the better, and the terrible and terribly embarrassing.

Most recently, I’ve been reading talented Australian writer Georgia Blain‘s newest book, The Secret Lives of Men, which is a wonderfully compelling collection of short stories about people’s desires, failures, and conflicts. Blain has a real talent for exploring what goes on beneath the veneer of ordinary lives; her fiction can make you rearrange the mental fragments of your own past choices and actions to form new shapes and perspectives. In ‘Big Dreams’, a struggling novelist encounters a bestselling author of terribly tacky gift books at a Writers’ Society event and is oddly torn between disgust and desire; in ‘The Other Side of the River’, a woman makes a choice she knows is wrong, yielding to the temptation of sure disaster, and reflects on the consequences with her daughter 10 years later. The title might refer to men (and, indeed, men are significant in every story, even if their characters often seem to hover at the narrative edges), but the stories are really compelling explorations of the tensions underlying men’s interactions with women, and the subtle but omnipresent currents of longing, lust, and uncertainty that ebb beneath our everyday exchanges and encounters. I can honestly say that this is the first short story collection I’ve read consistently, like a novel (i.e. I haven’t read a story, put the book down, and then not picked it up again for another seven months), for as long as I can remember.

Before that, I read Paula McLain‘s The Paris Wife. It’s probably not something I would have picked up had someone in my book club offered to lend it to me; since she has excellent taste in books, I decided to embrace change and give it a go. I’m really glad I did.

The Paris Wife is the story of Ernest Hemingway‘s first wife, Hadley Richardson. I’ve only read one Hemingway novel (under duress as an undergraduate), which I kind of liked, but I’ve never really had a great urge to pick up any more of his books. Although The Paris Wife is obviously fiction, told from Hadley’s perspective, it offers some compelling insights into the kind of man Hemingway was and the fierce convictions that drove his writing. Of course, it’s also a fascinating (and rather sad) exploration of several years in Hadley’s life. She was about seven years older than Hemingway and not a writer or artist herself, and McLain paints her as a somewhat timid and sensible figure, although not without passion and a fondness for knocking back a few drinks. Ultimately, however, she’s perhaps not the kind of person you’d imagine would have been married to Hemingway, particularly not when he was busy hobnobbing with people like Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound in the hotbed of intellectual creativity that was 1920s Paris. Hadley’s voice offers an interesting counterpoint to this very bohemian and mythologised setting. While I’ve no doubt that McLain had to use a certain amount of poetic license when she wrote the book, it’s a cleverly crafted piece of fictionalised literary history and an honest portrait of a failed relationship.

Last and definitely least, I indulged my urge for trashy escapism and picked up Jellybird by Lezanne Clannachan, an (alleged) thriller with more holes (plot-wise, logic-wise and interest-wise) than a piece of Belgian lace.

Jessica’s life is vomitously perfect on paper: she’s got a dream job as a jewellery designer and an attentive husband; we’re also treated to several reminders of how skinny Jessica is (sometimes, she just forgets to eat!). When she meets Libby, a fan of her unusual jewellery pieces, she thinks she’s found the kind of close female friendship she’s never experienced before. Unfortunately, Libby acts like she’s straight out of Single White Female (only far less interesting and without the rad 90s hair), but Jessica doesn’t seem to realise this (perhaps she never saw that movie). Only, she kind of does realise it, but continues to be friends with Libby and tell her things that she knows she shouldn’t, because this is a thriller and there’s an OMG YOU TOTES NEVER SAW IT COMING plot twist at stake. It also quickly becomes obvious that Jessica is (conveniently) slightly impaired when it comes to putting two and two together. I don’t want to give anything away (because I’m selling this book so hard right now I know you’re all going to rush out and buy a copy when you finish reading this), but apparently, when the last time you see someone they’re COVERED IN BLOOD, that doesn’t start to seem weird or suspicious until approximately SEVENTEEN YEARS LATER, when you find some old notebook that reminds you of strange and unresolved events from your past. Anyway, there are buried secrets, dark memories, messed up family histories, and all kinds of other things that you’ve never encountered in a thriller before (oh wait…), and despite my bitching I did finish the book, 1. because I’m the kind of retentive person who can’t not finish a novel even if I don’t like it, and 2. because I did kind of want to know what happened. So I guess it wasn’t all bad.

The good news is that my pile of Books to Read continues to grow, and in 10 weeks, when I finally send my thesis off into the ether, I might actually be able to read a few and write a proper review.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 21, 2013 1:11 am

    What with the regular thesis crises, three jobs and and impending deadline, you should think of getting a puppy too!

    I want to hear now how the ‘thriller’ ends, because I’m never going to read it. I did its read The Paris Wife and I enjoyed it, but for me the fact that it was a fictionalization version somehow ruined it for me. Interesting but perhaps not the real story! Anyways, best of luck with the thesis.

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