Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian" and other stories

One of the great things about the kids getting a bit older is that I can read on holidays during daylight hours. Sometimes not much but some days I could lose myself in a book. Bliss. So what have I been reading?

I've just finished Kate Grenville's The Secret River. It's not new. It came out in 2005 and is a companion novel to The Lieutenant (also brilliant) which I read first, cos I'm a dummy.

The Secret River about a former convict, William Thornhill, and his experience in early Australia. It starts with his impoverished, bleak childhood in London and the daily scramble just to stay alive.

Kate Grenville's writing just keeps getting better and better. She captures the sounds and smells of the age and the heartbreak of cultural misunderstanding and racism. It's a terrible part of Australia's history but Grenville doesn't lecture or preach. She tells her story, imbuing all the characters with believable humanity. It's utterly compelling and the sense of foreboding makes you wish you could get into William Thornhill's ear and warn him of what lies ahead.

Before that I read something rather different by the very clever and sometimes a bit showoffy Ian McEwan. Actually I shouldn't say that - I'm just jealous. So, Solar. Very modern and very British and with one of the most unlikeable (or is it unlikable - help Amy!)characters I've come across. Which makes it kind of tricky when Michael Beard, Nobel Prize winner and scientific genius, is the story. He's a serial philanderer, glutton, self-absorbed squalid human being. And McEwan writes him brilliantly. Yet I didn't feel myself engaged or enthralled as I read. Stylish and clever, indeed but remote. That said Mr Neat really enjoyed it as did numerous friends. So what would I know!

OK, now this is becoming a long entry. If you stay with me you deserve a prize.

Before Solar, I read the wonderfully titled A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. The cover kept telling me how hilarious this book was and indeed Marina Lewycka does keep the tone light and is generous with whimsy and a sense of the ridiculous. But there's no escaping the tragedy that underlies this tale of immigrant life in Britain and the stories from the old life that can't be forgotten.

Home stretch now. Mr Darwin's Shooter. Mr Neat bought it for me at our favourite boutique - Chez Vinnies for $1. What a scandalous bargain. This is a detailed and complex tale of the life of Syms Covington who shot, cleaned and prepared the specimens for Charles Darwin over a long period and rated barely a mention in Darwin's writings. A really enjoyable piece of historical literature that captivated me for days and then left me feeling somewhat lost when I was finished. But isn't that what good books are meant to do?

So now I need a new book.

What have you been reading?


Amy said...

A prize for staying with you, are you kidding? This is my favourite sort of post. I have just reserved Mr Darwin's Shooter at the library (I love online member services) and you have reminded me that I need to read more Kate Grenville. Have you read her Idea of Perfection? I loved it, she makes the place a character. I read The Short History etc. and felt like I had read it all before. I didn't hate it by any means but it was a bit dull. It has just occurred to me that it might remind me of Lilly Brett's books. Have you read any of hers? I can highly recommend them. My latest post also talks about what I'm reading so I won't write the longest comment ever.
I think 'likable' is acceptable but I would go for 'likeable' :)

sarah barnett said...

I haven't read any Lily Brett. Thanks for the tip. I always love trying a new author.
I did read The Idea of Perfection - fabulous. I first read a Kate Grenville years ago - I think it was the sequel or prequel to Lilian's Story and I really disliked it. But I'm so glad I gave her books another go.