The Fragments by Toni Jordan and The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
My guilty pleasure reads are twisty crime novels, in the vein of Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers, and this month I’ve read two books that are as literary as they are criminal.
The Fragments jumps between 1980s Brisbane and 1930s New York as Caddie, a bookseller, seeks to find out the truth of a literary mystery that has gone unsolved for 50 years. There’s all the elements of a good thriller: a lost manuscript, a mysterious fire and untrustworthy characters aplenty. But this is also a beautifully evoked portrait of Brisbane in the Bjelke-Petersen era, a time of corruption and corporate greed. A fabulous read for lovers of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos.
The winner of this year’s Costa award for debut fiction is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and it is well-deserving of the praise being heaped upon it. It is a body-swapping, time travelling murder mystery in which our protagonist has eight days to solve a murder – waking up in a different body to watch the same day play out and try to unravel the secrets of Blackheath Hall. It’s a truly mind bending feat of plotting, but the likable narrator carries you through the twists and turns with aplomb. Fans of Cloud Atlas and Inception will love trying to figure out how this story ends (or begins … or ends? My head is still reeling).
The Odyssey by Emily Wilson
Last year I read a couple of novels that retold stories from the classics The Iliad and The Odyssey. Circe by Madeline Miller, The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood and The Silence Of The Girls by Pat Barker. These were all magnificent and inspired me to read The Odyssey (for the first time). This was a timely choice as the first English translation by a woman was published in late 2017.
Emily Wilson is professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The translation is written in iambic pentameter verse in language that is highly readable. Odysseus’s story of war, travel, power, wealth, shipwrecks and magic is incredible, but I found the story of his wife Penelope intriguing, along with the Gods and Goddesses who add to the magic, drama and beauty of this epic story. If like me, you have not read this classic, I highly recommend Emily Wilson’s translation.
Infidel: My Life by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
I saw Ayaan Hirsi Ali on a Q&A about free speech a few years ago. I intended to follow up and read her book but like many of these moments I forgot about it until recently. After reading Malala Yousafzai’s biography I wanted to continue reading about women working for the rights of women in Muslim countries and finally got around to seeking out Hirsi Ali’s book, Infidel. What I found was an entirely different approach to Malala. Her story of resilience and strength is remarkable. Hirsi Ali shares stories about her youth in Somalia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia – including some shocking moments of abuse. She writes about her escape from an arranged marriage to the Netherlands, where she fights for her freedom and voice. She gets in to university and begins working in politics, fighting for the rights of women in Islamic countries.
In the context of her experiences, her opinions and politics are understandable – however, in the context of current attitudes toward Islam, her ideas are challenging. I raced through this book to find out what happens next in her harsh history. She writes clearly and from a passionate and personal perspective, which I greatly empathised with. Since finishing the book, I’ve been researching her ideas and the criticism surrounding her work and have discovered some interesting arguments on either side about such vocal criticism of Islam. I would also highly recommend the Q&A I was referring to. For those interested, there is also a critical review of Infidel by Lorraine Ali where she writes “Hirsi Ali is more a hero among Islamophobes than Islamic women”. This review clarified some doubts I had about Hirsi Ali’s persuasive voice, however I still think this is important reading for a broad perspective on these ideas.
Australian Dreamscapes by Claire Takacs
This book is a real treat both for garden lovers and lovers of nature and landscape photography. Claire artfully combines both aspects here with a series of intimate portraits of many wonderful Australian gardens and the gardeners and land owners who care for them. This book features gardens from all over the country, some coastal, some inland, some arid and all spectacular in their own way. Her interviews with the people who have created these fabulous landscapes add an extra dimension to the breathtaking photographs which you can happily lose yourself in during a quiet hour. For those with green thumbs the book also contains a handy photographic glossary of featured plants so that you can start creating your own dreamscapes asap.