Book Review: What Was Left by Eleanor Limprecht

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New mother Rachel has a screaming baby, little support and fears for herself and her child. Coupled with her feelings of desperation is a deep seated issue of finding her missing father which compels her to abandon her baby girl and her bewildered husband.

It’s a heartbreaking story as the author explores family relationships and breaks down what is means to be thrust into motherhood. Rachel, an American, lives away from family and friends with her Australian husband in Sydney. The stress of adjustment is too much and she seeks out her friend in India where she attempts to sort herself out. Her journey takes her to Germany amidst the ire of her mother’s disapproval and her husband’s dismay.

Eleanor Limprecht writes well and gives us a moving yet unsettling story. Motherhood is often put on a godlike pedestal surrounded by unrealistic expectations and what new mother can’t identify with this? We feel for Rachel yet want her to desperately to come to her senses and this makes for a page turner. The discovery about her father is a shock although I wonder if her response to him in her psychological state might have made for a different ending.

All in all, an enjoyable and easy read.

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Book Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

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Kathy is brought up in an exclusive boarding school where the students are sheltered from the outside world but considered to be special. She has numerous friends but her closest is Ruth. When they leave school, their lives drift apart as they go their separate ways until one day they meet in unusual circumstances and rekindle their friendship. The story is essentially a series of vignettes as Kathy reminisces and tries make sense of her upbringing and her relationships with Ruth and Tommy.

I’ve mixed feelings about this book. There’s shock, there’s tedium but there’s enough in it to keep you compelled to read more. It’s because when you really understand what thirty-one-year-old Kathy’s purpose in life actually is, you want to know more.  The tedium is the day-to-day unfolding of Kathy’s memories as a child right down to the minute detail and this is what I had most trouble with.

What Ruth said that time in our dorm after lights-out, about how Tommy had brought all his problems on himself, probably summed up what most people at Hailsham thought at the time. But it was when she said what she did that it occurred to me, as I lay there, that this whole notion of his deliberately not trying was one that had been doing the rounds from as far back as Juniors. And it came home to me, with a kind of chill, that Tommy had been going through what he’s been going through not just weeks or months, but for years.”

There is an underlying horror amongst the everyday as we learn why the children are all there. Once I knew what was really going on, I was impatient for the why’s which never really come and in the end don’t matter. A love triangle forms between Kathy, Ruth and Tommy which can sadly go nowhere. Yet what we think as simple side stories and analytical reminisces by Kathy all serves a purpose as the story winds its way back to the intriguing present day and an end we sadly know must come.

It’s a love story, a tragedy, and a coming of age in a world perhaps not out of the realm of possibility. It also makes you think about what it is to be human and why, for the most part they, like us, accept the conditioning of life’s designated path.  Cleverly written, I’d be willing to read another by this author.

 

Book Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

After reading The Dry last year, I was keen to sink my teeth into Jane Harper’s second book. Force of Nature is another gripping crime novel featuring Detective Aaron Falk whom we grew to love in the first book.

Alice together with four female colleagues attend a work retreat in mountainous country where they are expected to trek for three days through remote wilderness without communication with the outside world. When they return to their designated point the women are distressed, injured and have no idea what has happened to Alice. Panic ensues and Aaron Falk and his sidekick Carmen Cooper who happen to be secretly investigating money laundering in the firm with Alice’s assistance, become involved in the search for her.

The story weaves back and forward into the point of view of each of the women hikers from the beginning of their journey then back into the Aaron’s present day point of view. It is a clever and engaging way of progressing the story compelling the reader forward as information is revealed bit by bit.

For me the premise seemed far-fetched and a little hard to believe. To put executives in such a situation without communication would be a health and safety issue and would hardly be accepted practice in today’s corporate world. There seemed to be no real purpose to the exercise and the company running the expedition would surely have been more involved. Nevertheless, if you disregard all this, it is an engaging enough story.

The intertwining relationships of the women’s private lives is really interesting but we learn little more about Aaron Falk whose personal story unfolded in The Dry except for his relationship with his father, which frankly for me wasn’t that interesting. I wanted more about him but he was as remote as the wilderness which, I might add, is very beautifully and accurately described.

Carmen who was an interesting character seemed a little out of place and a gratuitous romantic notion toward Aaron left me puzzled. However, the tension between the women and the bleakness of the environment was portrayed very well – I  felt for their misery and desolation.

The second half of the novel is gripping and makes for a fast paced read. Like The Dry it’s a page turner with twists and turns of the unexpected. I did enjoy this novel, but not quite as much as The Dry. I would however read another of Jane’s books again.

Book Review: Lion by Saroo Brierley

I saw the movie first and was blown away by this amazing story. I then read the book and it was no less powerful.

This is the story of five-year-old Saroo, who accidentally becomes trapped on a train which travels half way across India. When the train eventually stops, he finds himself in Calcutta lost and alone. He dodges disaster and with luck on his side ends up in an orphanage where he is adopted by a caring Australian family. Growing up in Tasmania, he wonders where he has come from and his nagging memories stir him into action to find out. It takes years of dogged patience and with encouragement from friends he uses technology to methodically trace his footsteps back to his family.

It’s an engrossing story despite the fact I’d seen the movie which by the way, does a remarkable job with the adaptation. The vulnerability you feel for this five-year-old keeps you on edge and it is incredibly brave of the author to reveal it all on the written page. It’s well written enough although with a matter of fact approach. Although we’re not privy to every one of Saroo’s emotions, we nevertheless feel his every agonising step of what was a difficult journey.

Book Review: A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

Beautifully written and almost lyrical in composition, we are transported to another time and place.

In 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a Russian aristocrat is arrested and sentenced to house arrest at his residence in the Hotel Metropole in Moscow. Trapped within the confines of a small attic room, Rostov learns to master his circumstances and we, as the reader are taken on a journey with him for the next thirty years.

We are pulled into the daily rituals of the Count’s life: squats and stretches upon waking, a breakfast of biscuits and fruit, downstairs to read the papers, lunch in the hotel’s Piazza and his weekly appointment at the hotel’s barber. We are slowly and delightfully swept along with all that happens. We grow to love not just the Count and the Metropole itself but the characters within: the infamous grumpy Chef Emile at the Boyarsky restaurant; the dependable seamstress, Marina; the beautiful Anna; the tortured poet, Mischa and the refreshing nine-year-old child, Nina who shows Rostov the surprises of life in the bustling hotel frequented by the Party’s hierarchy, foreign correspondents and famous actresses.

Exquisitely prepared food and good wine is a central theme as is philosophical points around what it is to be Russian and we are treated to an array of views on politics, art, music, mathematics and literature. After all, a gentleman must be well educated to be a good conversationalist. We are privy to it all as we meander through the years of hardship, war, collectives and famine. Then in the last quarter of the book the tension builds to a captivating twist filled with espionage, a cat and mouse chase and a nod to Humphrey Bogart which will leave you laughing.

It is a long book (753 pages) and while it may seem daunting, you barely notice. There is so much to love about this book and it will stay with you long after the last page is turned. In fact, a second reading would no doubt reveal even more. What an engaging and enlightening read it is.