Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Ottoman Motel, Christopher Currie

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I can’t for the life of me work out what it was in The Ottoman Motel that captivated me so.

Allow me to explain, I hate Australian fiction. I don’t know why exactly, but it drives me nuts – and I know I’m generalising and that it’s ridiculous to feel this way about a whole body of work … but, I just don’t get it … perhaps I’m unAustralian?

Anyway, I tend to stay away from Australian fiction as a rule so that I don’t have to get riled up about how much I hold it in disdain. So there was no reason for me to read this book, let alone like it! I’m also not really a fan of small-town fiction (if that’s a genre?). Again, I can’t explain it … perhaps it is simply because I can’t relate to that way of life. I don’t know. Whatever it is, there really was absolutely no reason for me to enjoy this book. And enjoy it I did. I read it in one gulp. Sucked it down without pausing. Astonishing really.

And, to make matters more astonishing, I loved it. Let me be more specific: I L.O.V.E.D. IT. Really, truly, absolutely without doubt.

I found this book captivating on every level – the plot was so different, so unexpected and not in the fleeting way that a thriller throws a twist or in the way you find out that the main character has been cheating on his or her spouse. It was unexpected because of the characters, their conviction and the sense of loss which they had all experienced and I was overwhelmed by the way that Currie never led everything to a peaceful denoument, there was no resolution. There was just the idling sense of loss and despair and the knowledge that life would go on and somehow, everything would be ok.

This is one of those books that leaves readers devastated on so many levels, but primarily devastated because it is finished. It left me quite bereft and I will certainly be looking for more from this author.

 

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The House of Special Purpose, John Boyne

ImageWell, I’ve already confessed to being a John Boyne fan and I think that this cements it. I simply loved The House of Special Purpose. I think that what I really appreciated about this book was the Russian context. The book is based on the attempted assassination of a senior member of the Russian Imperial family. A peasant boy steps in front of the bullet and is rewarded with a promotion to the equivalence of the Royal Guard. He becomes close to the Royal family and his role is to guard the young prince who is next in line for the throne. Through the course of the book, which is fiction with hints of fact, the revolution breaks out and the Royal family is forced into exile in a remote part of Russia.

I loved the way that Boyne used the historical context of the Revolution, Rasputin and Anastasia to construct his narrative. This both captivated and intrigued me and kept me wanting more. If my memory of Russian history serves me, then Boyne’s narrative is remarkably accurate and I found myself recalling Rasputin’s vulgarity and control as I read about his relationship with the Tsarina. While I was repulsed by the excessiveness of the Royal family, I also felt incredibly empathy for all they were trying to achieve – and of course, the central motif in the book is the deep love affair between two main characters.

I can’t recommend this author enough. He is truly remarkable.

Summer at Gaglow, Esther Freud

ImageI quite enjoyed this book for a number of different reasons. Firstly, it was remarkably easy to read considering the setting and the context: The first World War in Germany. I’m not sure what exactly made it so easy to read – perhaps the narrative flow or the characters themselves. The book itself is structured around two separate narrative strands. Firstly there is the 1914 context; a wealthy upper class family with three sisters, living in the lap of luxury, partly in Berlin and partly in their summer home in Gaglow. The frivolity of their existence flutters against the backdrop of pre-War Germany and they are concerned with the typical ‘worries’ of young girls of this period – their gowns, beaus and parties. But beneath this facade is a wonderful subtext of angst which arises in the strained relationship between the girls’ mother and their governess. There was something incredibly malicious and indeed malignant about this dynamic and I found the way that the governess manipulated the girls incredibly intriguing. At the same time, the mother’s inability to maintain any sort of connection with her daughters was similarly interesting. In all, the family dynamic was captivating.

The second narrative strand is a relatively contemporary one, set in London, it features the descendants of this wealthy German family. I didn’t find myself able to form the same connections to these modern families as I did to the original German ancestors. In the initial narrative I was lost in the swirl of events and entertained by the way in which each woman related to the other. While the modern families features a similar type of relationship between sisters, it didn’t have any of the same nuances and I found the girls difficult to know in the same way that I felt I knew the original troupe – Eva, Martha, Bina.

Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the read. Not a perfect book, but it certainly has some wonderful features.