Posts Tagged: Fiction

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

January 23, 2014 Historical Fiction, Paula McLain 7 ★★★★

The Paris Wife by Paula McLainTitle: The Paris Wife (Goodreads)
Author: Paula McLain
Published: Virago, 2011
Pages: 392
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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Forget everything you know about Ernest Hemingway because Paula McLain has set out to change that in The Paris Wife. This stunning novel follows a fictionalised account of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson. McLain’s version of Hemingway starts off as a tender man, with a crush on an older woman; he is persistent and full of love; nothing like what I know of the man.

The Paris Wife begins in the Chicago in 1920; it is here we meet Hadley and Ernest. Slowly we watch the two fell in love and get married. Soon after they have relocated to Paris where they meet other expatriate authors, such as James Joyce, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The love shared between Hadley and Ernest is nothing short of beautiful, while it lasted.

If you know much about Ernest Hemingway, you know this whirlwind romance wasn’t going to last, I’m not spoiling anything by mentioning this. In fact it is mentioned on the back of the book. What I found most interesting about The Paris Wife is the way it is written in a first person perspective. My calculations from the clues in the book, is that Hadley was narrating this account at least thirty-four years after her divorce from Hemingway.

This presents a unique perspective of Ernest Hemingway, the pain and suffering would have been mostly gone and we get a distorted opinion of this famous author. Paula McLain’s masterfully presented Hemingway in such a way that I began to re-evaluate my personal opinion of the man. He was depicted as loving and caring, a struggling author with big dreams but also suffering from the torments of war. This eventually all came crashing down and my opinions where back to how I originally felt about this author; it takes some talent to be able to pull that kind of writing off.

This is the kind of novel you take to Paris. The atmosphere of 1920’s Paris was stunning, I could picture it and I wanted to go back to France and enjoy this city all over again. Unfortunately I don’t live in the world of Midnight in Paris, so I will have to stick with the modern city. Mentions of Shakespeare and Company were particularly special for me as I have very fond memoirs of that wonderful bookstore.

Fictionalised accounts are tricky and should always be taken with a giant grain of salt but I was happy to see Ms McLain ended this book with a note about her research including sources for her research. While this doesn’t mean I’m going to take the entire story as true, it does provide me with some reassurances that the author intended to keep as close to the facts as possible. This meant that at times the novel did feel more like a biography but the story was compelling enough to keep the book enjoyable.

One thing that bothered me after reading some reviews about this book is the people who hated this book because of the ‘unlikeable character’ when referring to Hemingway. I’ve always thought of the author as an unlikeable person (the man was a dick). What I was impressed with is the fact that Paula McLain managed to alter my opinion and try to look at things from another perspective. He was self-destructive and often came across as a man with no remorse but seeing his downward spiral on the page is what made this journey interesting.

I read this book for Jazz Age January; it was a good excuse to pick up The Paris Wife. I did in fact enjoy the novel but not in the sense that I would recommend it, I just think it was an interesting journey and look at Ernest Hemingway. There were flaws in the novel but you have to respect the way McLean worked the reader. I knew the Fitzgeralds and Hemingway had a falling out but now I suspect it was a case of them siding with Hadley during the break up. I will have to research some more to know for sure.


Eyrie by Tim Winton

December 16, 2013 Contemporary, Tim Winton 0

Eyrie by Tim WintonTitle: Eyrie (Goodreads)
Author: Tim Winton
Published: Penguin, 2013
Pages: 424
Genre: Contemporary
My Copy: Hardcover

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Tom Keely lives a life in solitude, away from the world. Somehow he has lost his bearings in his middle age and is held up in his high-rise apartment, where he can look down on the world. One day he runs into a neighbour and her introverted son. The woman recognises him from back in the day. This encounter shakes him up in a way he really doesn’t understand and he soon finds himself letting them into his life.

I’ve only read Breath by Tim Winton in the past, which I didn’t think too highly of, so I wasn’t sure what to expect with Eyrie. I know well enough to never judge an author by one book and Winton is acclaimed enough to make me think there is really something in his writing. While I wouldn’t say this book is amazing, I think I can see why people like Tim Winton as an author.

The plot is incredibly simple; there is nothing special about it and it has all been done before. This does however in fact open Tim Winton up to what he seems to do really well and that is exploring characters. He has this ability of taking these characters that seem to make sense on the surface but underneath they are complex. Humans are complex characters, not inheritable good or bad and I think Winton knows how to write this.

In the end I think the fact that the plot was very basic was my biggest problem with this novel, which is strange I’ve read and enjoyed some great novels that have virtually no plot but Eyrie didn’t work as I hoped. I think the fact that everything felt a little predictable (plot wise) made me feel detached. Apart from the plot, everything seemed to work. I know I shouldn’t get so hung up about the plot, maybe if it wasn’t so obvious I might have gotten more enjoyment from Eyrie.

Tim Winton is a decent writer, I’m sure I will find a book of his that I can connect with. I will keep looking; still have Cloudstreet, Dirt Music and others to try. The urban location of Eyrie meant that this book felt less like an Australian novel, luckily the slang saved it there. Anyone know which one will work best for me? I’m making an effort to read more Australian novels and am also looking for recommendations as well.


The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

May 15, 2013 Bernhard Schlink, Historical Fiction 5

The Reader by Bernhard SchlinkTitle: The Reader (Goodreads)
Author: Bernhard Schlink
Translator: Carol Brown Janeway
Published: Orion, 1998
Pages: 216
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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The Reader tells the story of the teenage years of Michael Berg while recovering from hepatitis and his passionate affair with a mysterious woman twice his age. Later going on to study law and discovering that this woman was involved in the death march from Auschwitz. The book continues on through the war crimes trial and the relationship between the two after her imprisonment.

Bernhard Schlink was born in 1944 (one year before the war ending), studied law then became a professor of public law and the philosophy of law. His passion for reading comes from a teacher in his high school who encouraged his reading and discovery of literature. Later he discovers that this teacher was a member of the Gestapo and involved in some questionable practices. His first series of books featuring a sixty year old private investigator Gerhard Selb (Selb translates to Self) also had a questionable past during the war and his coming to terms with this. This is interesting since the books in the series are called; Self’s Punishment, Self’s Deception and Self’s Murder. Also he has a collection of essays called Vergangenheitsschuld which translates to Guilt about the Past, which leads you to believe that Bernhard Schlink has a fascination about the effect of World War II has on the next generation of Germans.

This is not a book about the Holocaust novel; while this historical event plays a role, this is rather a novel that gives you a lot of questions and problems to think through. Divided into three parts; the summer of love, the trial and imprisonment; The Reader explores three different scenarios as well as the notion of keeping secrets. At the start of the book Hannah comes across as Good Samaritan trying to help Michael who was throwing up in the street. Later he pursues her and she gets an impression that he is old enough to be out of school; he doesn’t correct her, thinking the papers he leaves behind was enough for her to know his true age but we later finds out she would never have looked at them. When she finds out, they are in bed together and he tells her that he is skipping classes to be with her. She throws him out and it’s not until very later in the book we discover just how important education is to her. Hannah is his first love, he is too young to fully understand the kind of relationship they are having, while Hannah remains guarded and tries to protect both her public and private shames.

While most people focus mostly on the relationship between the two, but there is so much more to look at in the novel. Years later Michael finds Hannah again in a trial and the reader is asked to consider two things; the nature of her guilt and the significance of her other secret (the one she is more ashamed of it). While she was never the ringleader of her charges and she was following orders, when it came to the damning report, she let the court believe she wrote it to continue to hide her illiteracy. This brings to the overall concept to the book; ignorance is not necessarily innocence. The pride to protect herself from people discovering of her illiteracy works against her though out the entire book. She gives up promotions and lands herself in prison all to protect this secret.

This leads into the third part; years later we find that Michael starts reading to Hannah once again. Sending cassettes both the reader and Hannah mistakenly get the impression that this is an act of affection and when Hannah eventually finds out,  we also find out just how cold he has been acting. I’m not sure if he was trying to gain back the power in their relationship or just the bitterness of his life doing it but we are led to believe he still cares about Hannah when all he really cares about is that summer fling when he was still a teenager.

The book wants you to recognise that you are the reader, and Hannah, in particular, wants you to realise just how blessed you are to be able to read this book. I remember there was a great movie adaptation of this book a while ago; while very meta to have a movie about reading, I’m surprised how well it came together. I didn’t remember much about this movie while I read this but it all come back to me as I discovered it in the book. It was a great feeling to remember as I read and not know what would happen next.

I really loved this book; there is that element of uncomfortableness with the relationship at the start, which really is something people can be afraid to talk about but with a book like this it can be scandalous.  There are also so many other interesting elements that I think are equally valuable; especially with the whole German shame towards what they did in World War II and the next generation having to deal with it. While the movie closely follows the book, it is still worth reading; I highly recommend it.


Winners of 2012’s Queensland Literary Awards

September 5, 2012 Literary News 0

I’ve been following this award closely on my blog, trying to help promote and support literature within Queensland. So I’m pleased to congratulate all the winners of this newly formed award. Congratulations to the following winners, which were announced in an award ceremony last night;

  • Fiction Book Award: Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse
  • Non-Fiction Book Award: The People Smuggler by Robin De Crespigny
  • Young Adult Book Award: The Ink Bridge by Neil Grant
  • Children’s Book Award: Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers by Briony Stewart
  • Australian Short Story Collection – Steele Rudd Award: Forecast Turbulence by Janette Turner Hospital
  • Poetry Collection – Judith Wright Calanthe Award: Crimson Crop by Peter Rose
  • Emerging Queensland Author – Manuscript Award: Island of the Unexpected by Catherine Titasey
  • Unpublished Indigenous Writer – David Unaipon Award: Story Siv Parker
  • History Book Award: The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia by Bill Gammage
  • Science Writer Award: Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll: How Evolution has Shaped the Modern World by Rob Brooks
  • Literary or Media Work Advancing Public Debate – Harry Williams Award: The Australian Moment: How We Were Made for These Times by George Megalogenis
  • Drama Script Award: War Crimes by Angela Betzien
  • Film Script Award: Dead Europe by Louise Fox
  • Television Script Award: Mabo by Sue Smith
  • People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year: Closer to Stone by Simon Cleary


Ned Kelly Award Short List Revealed

August 1, 2012 Literary News 2

The Ned Kelly Awards are closely associated with the Melbourne Writers Festival and recognises Crime fiction within Australian Literature. The 2012 long list was back in June and today the short list was revealed.

Here’s the list of nominations

Best Fiction

The Life by Malcolm Knox
Chelsea Mansions: A Brock and Kolla Mystery by Barry Maitland
Pig Boy by J.C. Burke

Best First Fiction

The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood
The Cartographer by Peter Twohig
When We Have Wings by Claire Corbett

True Crime

Cold Case Files by Liz Porter
Call Me Cruel by Michael Duffy
Sins of the Father: The Untold Story Behind Schapelle Corby’s Ill-fated Drug Run by Eamonn Duff