Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Life And Loves Of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr / Nine Kinds Of Naked by Tony Vigorito / My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my WorldReads from Australia

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I received a copy of The Life And Loves Of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr from its publishers, Gallic Books, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

The Life And Loves Of Lena Gaunt is an introverted and thoughtful novel telling the life story of the world's first theremin player, Lena Gaunt. Gaunt never actually existed of course, but Farr's writing so beautifully creates her world that I often found it difficult to remember I wasn't reading about a real person! Daughter of an affluent but aloof family, Lena is shunted off to boarding school at an early age where she discovers her first love, the cello. As a young woman, chance leads her to the new invention of the theremin and her dedication to perfect playing results in her growing fame. We see Singapore and Australia, New Zealand, France and England through her eyes as she bounces, or is bounced, across the world, usually alone and usually returning to a district of Perth, Australia, the closest concept she has of home.

I loved Farr's writing in terms of its musical content and references. Lena's world is very much created around and guided by sound and this is conveyed in amazing detail to the reader. 1930s Sydney came across as a fabulous place and I would like to read more books set around this era. What particularly moved me about The Life And Loves were the flashback portrayals of Lena's search for both contrasted with her octogenarian self looking back over her life. Elderly Lena is not a generic geriatric and is very much the product of her bohemian youth. Still unable to resist a little flattery, but sadly aware of the her own mortality and loss, the experience gap between herself and the young festival musicians, herself and the film maker, gives a delicate melancholy to the whole book.


Nine Kinds of Naked by Tony Vigorito
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This is my first book for the 2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge.

Nine Kinds Of Naked is bizarre! Essentially it's a fantastically surreal tale of chaos theory in the aftermath of a tornado, but with such an incredible array of characters and interconnected events that I was equally as gripped as bewildered for much of the time. My copy was an Audible download brilliantly narrated by Kristin Kalbli. How on earth did she keep a straight face throughout? I was frequently giggling away at the sharp imagery. Tony Vigorito does a great job of imparting the essence of his scenes and makes even the most ridiculous plot twist seem as though this was the obvious and natural course of events. The revisitation of scenes and actions from different viewpoints is cleverly layered and I loved discovering and recognising minor characters as well as cultural references.

There is a strong political message arcing across the story which encourages all the characters to reject our society's debt-ridden commercial culture in favour of a simple life in the present. This really resonated with how I am living right now, especially having recently enjoyed reading No Baggage by Clara Bensen. I did think that the several long philosophical debates espousing this theory in the second half of the book could use heavy editing though. The pace here grinds to a standstill and had I had a paper edition, I would have been flipping past. However, once we get back to the perfectly suited laid-back vibe of New Orleans, Nine Kinds Of Naked takes off again. I loved the character of J J Speed and the wondrous antics of the wind, Bridget Snapdragon is great and I had to pity Dave Wildhack - the toothpicks! I would love for all the factoids, especially the etymology, to be true. Perhaps they are, but I didn't pause to take notes and can't remember enough detail to now go a-Googling, but I frequently found myself in complete agreement. And now I just want to find a dayglo orange frisbee and Walk Away.


My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I borrowed My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult from my own sister who said it was a very emotional book. Picoult delves into the ethical and moral minefields caused by creating genetically designed babies. The youngest daughter of her imagined Fitzgerald family, Anna, was conceived solely in order to provide 'spare parts' for elder sister Kate who is dying from leukaemia. However, by the time she turns thirteen, Anna is fed up with repeated hospital visits and invasive operations so takes out a lawsuit to prevent any more of her body being harvested for Kate's benefit. The ensuing arguments threaten to tear the whole family apart.

Family members take turns narrating chapters throughout the novel so the story unravels from multiple perspectives. Unfortunately everyone speaks remarkably similarly so I often lost track of whose chapter I was reading. Picoult's prose is very manipulative too. This is an incredibly emotionally charged subject, but as readers we are subjected to extra tugs through plot devices such as the father's career as a heroic firefighter - at one point he really does rush into an inferno to rescue a toddler. Anna's completely unprofessional legal team seem to spend more time resurrecting their abruptly halted college romance than fighting for her rights - the pair hadn't seen each other for fifteen years until they just happened to be thrown together for this one case. And of course, Anna's mother used to be a hotshot lawyer herself until she sacrificed her career for her children.

Her Sister's Keeper could and should have been an excellent novel confronting a hugely important contemporary issue. However I found it mawkish and frequently so sentimental as to be nauseating! There is a good story underneath, but it needs far stronger characters and greater subtlety with those emotional hammers to be convincing. Oh, and don't read the last chapter. Stop when the court case finishes because the real ending is just dire!


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