Sunday, 4 April 2021

Book Review: March by Geraldine Brooks

March March by Geraldine Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not in principle a lover of fiction which takes a minor character from a classic and works it up, but this book does that exceptionally well. The Rev March is the largely absent father in [author:Louisa May Alcott|1315]' s [book:Little Women|1934], a book I confess never enthralled me and hasn't been reread since my schooldays, with two movie versions likewise leaving me somewhat cool about the 'perfect' family. I will also confess that because of this I had been put off reading this book when it first came out, when CR read the two books in parallel some years ago, and only picked it up now when my in-person book group is reading Australian and New Zealand Novelists this year.


This book surpassed all my expectations. Brooks creates an engaging portrayal of Mr March, which according to her Afterword is based around Bronson Alcott, the writer's father. Brooks says her starting point for any writing is finding and hearing the voice of her main character. I can absolutely relate to that, as in this book she most definitely creates that voice and through it brings the unknown Mr March to life as a fully formed character, albeit with his faults and imperfections, but with a solid heart taken utilising much of Bronson Alcott's teenage peddling to wealthy southern planters, and his radicalism of later years, his vegetarianism, and his transcendalist and abolitionist convictions. I could hardly put the book down as I listened to its narration by Canadian actor Richard Easton, whose lower register, mature tone and range of intonation brought Brookes' first-person story telling Mr March very much alive.


A quite memorable 5* read.

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Monday, 29 March 2021

Book Review: The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

The Girl with the Louding Voice The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My in person book group decided not to read this one from a choice of two debut novels, reasons included the possibe difficulties with dialect! I was dissappointed by this and read it anyway. I had read reviews which said it preached down to readers, and asked why the author had invented a new broken English for the Yoruba speaking girl narrator of the story. Nigeria has a pidgeon which I suppose shecould have used but for me at least that always remained more unintelligible than trying to chat to the market seller in my broken Hausa.
I sped along with this book from the word go, I found its characters full of life and very real to me. The internal dialog its narrator is having with herself and her interactions with others is an age old story which sadly still happens - child marriage to pay of family debts, indentured labour/slavery, domestic violence, cruelty of power, class/tribe/language divisions in society, the (non)place of woman, lack of education, lack of opportunity, lack of empowerment etc. But Adunni has a dream. Yes the book has a happy ending, and I was glad it did, and it did not feel forced. Neither did her voice, perfectly narrated on the audiobook by the class voice over artist, Adjoa Andoh. Adunni's voice is engaging, funny, insightful, niave, hopeful - as a reader we feel her pain and jump with her in her moments of joy.
As a debut novel I think this is extremely good. What Abi Dare has succeeded in doing is to totally engage her reader, create good characters to tell a good story, and perhaps as importantly make her reader put her on their following list as they impatiently await her next novel. Very well done 'O!

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Friday, 19 February 2021

Book Review: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith by Thomas Keneally

I read this for one of the book groups I attend which is this year (2021) reading Australian and New Zealand novels. I also watched the 1978 movie directed by Fred Schepsi which closely follows the book . The book is Keneally's fictionalised account of the true story of Austalian bushranger (outlaw) Jimmy Governor (1875-1901) , who is also the subject of a poem Poem "The Ballad of Jimmy Governor" by Australian poet Les Murray . 

It is a short book (178 pages) but challenging. Keannelly attempts to tell Jimmie's story from growing up a mixed race child, taken under the wing of Rev and Mrs Neville at the Mission station and brought up with European/white values to better himself through hard work. And although he is a good worker, competant, reliable, thorough others treat him badly, don't pay him. He doe snot get a reference from one farmer he works for because the farmer cannot write, Jimmie can. He marries a pregnant white girl in good faith believing he is the child's father. He sees this as another step up, but upon its birth the child is clearly not his. When farmers refuse to pay Jimmie and his family are running out of food his life turns on its head. After his massacre of the farmer's wife, daughters, and woman boarder school teacher, Jimmie, wife, and his brother go on the run. 

Keneally seeds this story with titits about the birth of the Australian Federation, the Boer War in South Africa and the life of the executioner. 

Reading this today this book raises questions about the fictionalisation of factual histories, the clash of cultures then and now, the role of the author in these. 

Not particularly a book I would recommend to snuggle down with during COVID lockdowns, but it is a provocative book club read, and it will I feel remain with me in years to come.