Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Rosie Project

Published in January 2013 this first novel by Graeme Simsion continues to be one of the most popular titles in the library. Because of the long waiting list I decided that I had better read it immediately rather than leave it to the end of the loan period, but once I started reading I  just kept reading until the book was finished. Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Don Tillman, aged 39, is an an Associate Professor of Genetics at a Melbourne University. It immediately becomes obvious to the reader that Don has problems communicating with people, has difficulty observing and relating to the feelings of others, lives in an extremely ordered world and becomes disturbed if his time-table is not adhered to. When I started reading the book Don's mannerisms reminded me of those of Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory. He possibly has Asperger syndrome, thought this is not stated. He is aware that he is different and has developed defence mechanisms, including the ability to laugh when he realises that he has acted inappropriately, however when he gives a talk to families with children with Aspergers he does not realise that he may exhibit the same symptoms.

When Don decides he wants a wife, although he has never managed to get beyond the first date, he decides to become proactive and develops The Wife Project by creating a sixteen page multiple choice questionnaire to filter possible candidates for marriage and attending a speed dancing session. Meanwhile he meets Rosie who wants to discover who her real father is and a new project, The Father Project comes into being. Through involvement in these two projects Don learns some skills in interacting with others and although Rosie does not meet any of the criteria in the questionnaire and is therefore not suitable wife material Don finds that he enjoys her company, causing another dilemma in his life.

The book is an enjoyable romantic comedy, but it is more than that as it investigates the need people feel to conform to 'social norms' as well as the need to find one's true identity.

Some interesting reviews about The Rosie Project can be found can be found on the Good Reads website, particularly the reviews by ALPHAreader and Steve Lovell in March.

Text Publishing website contains additional information including Notes for Book Groups.

The Rosie Project is the book of the month for June on Read with Raf on 774. It also featured on the April edition of The Book Club on ABC 1.

Friday, May 24, 2013

All that I am

The first book for discussion on Read with Raf on 774 radio is All that I am.  Published in 2011 this novel by Anna Funder has won many awards including the 2012 Miles Franklin Literary Award. The book follows the lives of a group of Germans who oppose war in general but particularly Hitler's rise to power in the 1930s. They are forced to leave Germany and continue their attempts to alert the world as to developments in their home country from bases in Europe including London.

Their story is told via two voices - writer and activist Ernst Toller who in 1939 is living in New York and Ruth Becker (Wesemann) who is living in Sydney in 2001. Both remember the events in which they were involved in the 1930s, particularly the part played by Dora Fabian whose body was found in a room in London in 1935.

I was not sure that I was going to like reading this book but soon became immersed in the story of the lives of people exiled from their country because of their beliefs and their challenges in convincing the rest of the world of the brutality occurring in Germany and impending danger to the rest of the world as the power of Nazi rule increases in Germany. The book shows the bravery as well as the fears of the exiles living in Britain where they are provided with temporary visas provided that they do not involve themselves in any political activity. The bury the head in the sand attitude of governments prior to World War II is a theme of the book. The exiles not only fear deportation from Britain but also fear capture by Germans sent to eliminate 'traitors'.

Based on real events All that I am deserves the acclaim that it has received not only because it is a good reading experience but also because of the account of history that is portrayed.

Selection of sources on the web:

Anna Funder's website

Mystery deaths - two German exiles - Article in The Age 6 April 1935 (Google news Archive)

Biography of Ernst Toller - Spatacus International -  Ernst Toller

Review of All that I am in Times Literary Supplement

Reading notes for All that I am - Penguin - Reading notes

Another set of questions for discussion - Reading Group Guides

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Nine days

A photograph in the Argus Archives at the State Library of Victoria inspired Toni Jordan to write the novel Nine Days. Each of the chapters recounts one day in the life of a member of a family living in Richmond from the late 1930s until recent times. Although not in chronological order, collectively the individual stories tell the story of Kip and his family. The challenges of poorer families struggling to survive in the inner suburbs of Melbourne before, during and immediately after World War II are a focus of the book. The importance of objects in maintaining memories is shown via a one shilling coin that Kip was given when he was 13, a common thread in the stories, and a photograph of Kips's sister discovered many years after her death. This is a story of family life and love, often during challenging times.

The author acknowledges two non-fiction books that she read when resourcing background information for the book - On the home front by Kate Darien-Smith, an account of life in Australia during the Second World War, and Struggletown by Janet McCalman, a story of life in Richmond from 1900 to the 1960s. Both of these books are also worth reading.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Whispering death

No. six in the 'Peninsula murder series', the plot follows the endeavours of Inspector Hal Challis and his staff investigating a number of crimes as they unfold on the Mornington Peninsula. Much of the action centres on the fictional town of Waterloo, however real places on the Peninsula feature throughout the story enabling those of us living in Victoria to relate to the locations depicted, probably having visited them many times. In this book the police investigate a series of rapes and a murder, probably undertaken by a man wearing a police uniform. Running in parallel is the story of a young female burglar who is temporarily living on the Peninsula as she hides from a corrupt NSW ex-policeman. The police have also been warned about a bank robber who is thought to be in the region. Garry Disher maintains tension and intrigue as the plot is revealed. The book also focuses on the personal lives of several of the characters, especially Inspector Hal Challis and Constable Pam Murphy, as well as touching on politics in the police force and challenges faced by police in suburban and outlying police stations.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The dogs of Riga

The second book by Henning Mankell in the Wallander series is set in Sweden and in Riga, the capital of Latvia during the early 1990s when there was the beginning of transition of power from the Soviet occupation to the Latvians, but not total freedom. The plot begins with a raft, containing two dead bodies, washing up on a beach in Sweden. Investigations carried out by Inspection Kurt Wallander and his team suggest that the raft originally came from one of the Baltic countries to the north. A visit from Major Leipa of the Latvian police confirms the supposition but when Major Leipa returns to Latvia he is murdered. Inspector Wallander is then sent to Riga, supposedly to help with the investigation, but wherever he goes he is followed and his movements restricted. However he does manage to meet the widow of Major Leipa and agrees to try and help her not only to establish the truth about the death of her husband but also locate the report Leipa was writing about corruption in the police force.

Mankell uses the novel to write about the political situation in the Baltic states at this time, the fear that existed as citizens struggled for the independence of their country and the general mistrust through not knowing who was friend and who was foe. When Wallander return to Riga under cover he and the people he is trying to help are in constant danger until they discover who the enemy really is. In many ways it is a dark story as Wallander also has to examine what he wants in his own life.