Monthly Archives: January 2012

We Are All Made of Glue, Marina Lewycka

I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what attracted me to this book. I recall seeing the book by the same author with the bizarre title about Tractors in Ukrainian and I being so perturbed by the peculiarness of the title that I never bothered to give the book a second glance. I had never read any review about this book nor had I read anything about Lewycka as an author. I had nothing to guide me but the apparent ‘fun’ that this author seeks as implied by those tractors.

So, imagine my surprise and sheer delight when I discovered that this book was filled with the most magnificent characters in a traditional sense. Here were people who seemed real. People with issues, people who struggled with themselves and with the world without needing psychotherapy. People who seemed somehow whole, despite their many holes.

I was gripped from the moment I first encountered Georgie Sinclair vigorously throwing her husband’s precious LPs into the dumpster. I was even more taken by the quirky Mrs Shapiro, a neighbour, who we meet ravaging through the dumpster and delighting over her find. The conflicting values between these two women make them a perfect combination to force readers to reconsider their own connections with people, what manufactures those connections and how they are cemented.

For some very strange reason, Georgie and Mrs Shapiro are bonded, quite like glue in fact. Georgie comes to Mrs Shapiro’s aid in many ways throughout the book, saving her from nursing homes and other nightmares. However, at the same time Mrs Shapiro gives Georgie back the passion that she has lost somewhere along the road that is her life. I loved the way that these two bantered and related, the way they resided both separately and within each other, alongside each other, connected but clearly apart.

Even more than the characters, I loved the plot. The twists and crazy turns were fabulous. There were so many highlights that I can’t name them all and doing so would only spoil the story for those who might choose to read it. Needless to say, this book spoke to me on so many levels and really reignited a joy for reading that is so often lost beneath the mire of more intense and overtly challenging texts.

In this book I read satire and endearment, love and passion, politics and sociology. I read health care and economics, I read deceit and resolve. I read families and loneliness, connections and the wonderful unfolding of furls of tangents which made the characters so multi-dimensional. Watch out for the action with Georgie’s son to understand some of my meaning here!

So, I eat my words. Tractors in Ukrainian sounds, in hindsight, like a magnificent idea… along with Two Caravans and anything else this marvellous author cares to pen.

My Name is Ross, Ross Fitzgerald

Let me open this review by saying that I don’t follow Australian politics, I don’t generally like most Australian literature and I definitely don’t know much about Australian history. The reasons for all of these things are many and complex and this is not the forum to explore my gnawing distaste. But, understanding this does shed some light on why my choice in wanting to read this memoir is so unusual. I am not quite sure what appealed to me … whether it was just the picture on the cover (what an unusual looking gentleman!) or the subtitle: An Alcoholic’s Journey or perhaps the review that I read which indicated the enormous strength of character that was required for this man to write this book. Nonetheless, I was inspired to read this book and overjoyed when I discovered it at the library. Yay for the public library!!

I have not been disappointed. Fitzgerald’s writing is magnificent. I am dumbstruck by what must be his clear brilliance, his stamina and his ability to gain clarity through the darkest mist. Reading this book has been like entering into a complex maze and trying to understand something that simply does not exist. It is hard to explain. At times I feel as though Fitzgerald is writing with clarity and at other times I am confused and confounded by the lack of structure or perhaps his ability to maintain a thought and complete it. I can only think that this must be the nature of his beast.

While his life is clearly fascinating in and of itself – who he meets, what he does and accomplishes – what this book is really about is the significance of Fitzgerald’s journey through addiction. I was particularly taken by the fact that he credits his alcoholism as saving his life – if he hadn’t drunk he would have committed suicide, he says. There is a stark wonder in this revelation and it is a credit to him that he can see the value in the experience.

Fitzgerald’s life is heavy and the stories that he tells in this memoir are mostly depressing and equally weighed down with portent. His moments of joy and light are few and far between and many (if not most) of his central relationships are plagued with tragedy and/or despair. But, reading this book has, in and of itself, not been depressed. Fitzgerald is grateful that he is alive, thankful that he has had all these experiences and indebted, publicly, to so many people. One cannot help but be inspired.

Without doubt a fascinating individual who has made incredible contributions, not just to politics and academia in general, to the people around him too.

The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides

There is no doubt that Eugenides is a stellar writing. His prose is captivating, his characters engaging and there is a certain sense of flow to his plot. I thoroughly enjoyed Middlesex, Eugenides’ second book – although others have criticised it for being too much like Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children without the fantasy and aura that Rushdie brings to the text. I can certainly see the comparison between the two authors with regard to Middlesex; but in The Marriage Plot, there is no Rushdie to be found. Rather, what I saw here was a mix of Jonathan Franzan’s Freedom and something like Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. In his review in the New York Times, William Deresiewicz calls The Marriage Plot “daylight realism”.

The book features three main characters, all university students, confused, young, perhaps naive or innocent. In some ways each of these characters is a stereotypical representation of a larger social group.

Meet Madeleine Hanna: upper class, White, privileged background, with a deep interest in Victorian literature, she is unsure about the shift that is occurring in literary theory, intrigued by the rise of modernism and its implications in how she reads her favourite authors.

Leonard Bankhead is Madeleine’s boyfriend. He is a peculiar character, brilliant but weighed down by emotional distress and dis-ease. Uncomfortable in his own skin he succumbs to mental illness and it is this that is the driving force of the novel’s plot.

In wonderful contrast to Bankhead’s distress is Mitchell Grammaticus who spends the entire novel yearning passionately for Madeleine, desperate to just soak up the aura of her presence, to bask in her glow, to brush against the air occupying the space around her. Mitchell is by far the most interesting of these characters. He is filled with questions and a deep need to understand how the world operates. He is fascinated by G-d and the workings of religion and devotion and much of the novel is spent following his exploration of divinity and divine ideas.

While I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, discovering the characters and unfurling the plot, I felt that the novel’s ending compromised by enjoyment. I was dissatisfied by what others see as a natural resolution of this type of conflict. I was irritated and disappointed by Mitchell’s revelation and frustrated that Leonard was allowed such an easy exit, to just disappear into the woods without taking responsibility for his life and those who were in it – and don’t get me started about Leonard’s mother!!

Despite what I saw as a let down at the end, I was very entertained by Eugenides’ satirical expose of theory hungry students and academia and the angst of students. Under the biting criticism, what makes this novel so sad is that it seems  terribly real.