What I’m reading and what’s gathering dust on the bedside bookstack this month.
Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe, University of Queensland Press, 2020
Set in the Australian gold fields, this story is told by Chinese gold miners, Mei Ying and her brother Lai as well as Merri, the Irish housekeeper of a local prostitute.
Everyone is holding secrets, Ying is disguised as a boy, her brother chats with his dead fiancé and Merri has been forced to leave home and give up her child because she’s unmarried.
There’s sweat and dirt and hunger. These characters are here because of other people’s choices. Ying finds liberation in her ability to work and wander freely. Merri’s social standing is equal to her employer’s. But they’re both still women in a man’s world.
There’s debt and decency at stake and as their lives overlap and run parallel, even friendship and connection isn’t enough to dilute the separation of white miners, Chinese miners and local Indigenous people.
Act of Grace by Anna Krien, Black Inc., 2019
In the early parts of reading this book I would put it down and think, why bother trying to write when other people just do it so much better?
I know Anna Krien from her non-fiction. She’s thorough and eloquent and her recent piece The screens that ate school in The Monthly, had me in tears. As I said, the writing in this is sometimes so beautiful it feels like it’s about as good as writing can get.
There are multiple narrative strands that link the lives of a war veteran and his son, an Iraqi refugee and a young girl trying to square her identity and the fate of her father. They didn’t ultimately tie together for me, but why stop reading when the writing is so good?
The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell, Hachette, 2013
This started as a slow burn for me and I nearly left it a few pages in. But I was curious enough about some of the set up to keep reading and I’m glad I did. There’s an element of Lord of the Flies to it with five recent uni graduates trying to live off the land for a year in a rundown cottage in the remote Peak District.
When the sister of one of them arrives, the dynamic shifts and in close proximity sex, jealousy and power plays change everything.
There’s a parallel narration in the present day which was necessary for the plot reveals but I skipped through some of those parts. My fascination was with the blinkered love, sibling rivalry and desperation and how it can make us protect perpetrators and cast out victims.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, Faber, 1989
This was a tricky read for me. I read it because it won a Booker many moons ago and I’ve loved reading other Ishiguro books.
For those who don’t know the premise or haven’t watched the movie (Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins) it’s basically a butler, Stevens, from a once distinguished household narrating his younger years through the memory of a housekeeper, Miss Kenton.
Theirs is a close working relationship and for Stevens there is no separation between work and life.
This is what I struggled with, the loyalty to a boss and a position at the expense of his personal life. I know it’s making comments about pride, reserve, controlled emotions and the expectations of the hired help but that’s what made it hard to read for me. Anyone else need more emotion in a main character to keep on going?
Sweetness and Light by Liam Pieper, Hamish Hamilton, 2020
This one just joined the pile yesterday, borrowed from a friend. I like the premise of an Australian expat in India who scams tourists in a beach town then getting himself in too deep. Worlds collide when he runs into an American woman looking for a spiritual experience and a way to move on with her life.
Haven’t started it yet but apparently the ending is quite ‘shocking’, so obviously I want to know what and why. That’ll probably move it to the top of the pile.
Letters of note: Mothers compiled by Shaun Usher, Canongate, 2020
Published letters satisfy the inner stickybeak in me who wants to know what everyone else is and has been saying in private. I’m not sure about letter collections and if the writers have authorised their publication or how letters come to be sold in the public sphere. Probably something to look into if I want a clear conscience about reading someone’s else’s mail.
These look good to pick up every now and again but haven’t made a start just yet.
What we talk about when we talk about love by Raymond Carver, Vintage, 2009
It’s never a bad time to read some Raymond Carver. Five-page average length and clean prose mean you can fit at least one story in before bed, even if you’re tired.
How can you compress whole lives within a few pages? That’s why we keep reading, to see where and how the magic is done.
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