Saturday, February 21, 2015

Madame Bovary's Haberdashery - a review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Funny, subversive, the point in the universe where Emma Bovary and Jane Marple intersect.

I was worried, at first, the author Meehan knew a little bit too much about how I spent my 20s - overweight knitter with a penchant for op shops in a co-dependent, not particularly healthy relationship with a promiscuous, artistic best friend.  Fortunately the similarities end there.

Everyone in this charming, engaging and darkly sly humourous novel is delusional, narcissistic, criminally manipulative, misogynistic, fraudulent or many of these in combination..

Odette, the beautiful free spirited potter who, "lurching unreflectingly from one style to the next, one man to the next, saw herself as living in wild freedom, just like any male artist" shares a house and a lover, Zac, with her friend Cicely.  Odette and Cicely have been best friends since primary school.  Their relationship is fractured by the manipulative, jealous and intellectually fraudulent Zac.

"Cicely has opinions, but she keeps them to herself".  Cicely has published a mildly successful erotic novel and keeps herself in tea and wool by creating knitted pieces to sell in Miss Ball's Haberdashery.  Cicely is overweight and suffers from hallucinations brought on by her failing vision and later by her dependence on pain medication.  It is through her hallucinations that Miss Marple assists Cicely solve the mystery of Odette's disappearance.

All of the male characters are unpleasant, misogynistic manipulators; while the women are competitive and manipulative.

I worry that Odette is returned to Cicely and is "redeemed" through murder and childbirth to, presumably, be held captive in Odette's dream haberdashery.  But perhaps that is the joke at the heart of the book.

While I enjoyed the novel (not least for the primary role of the fibre arts and the confirmation that crochet is evil, or at least created under hallucinogenics) I might have understood it better if I was more familiar with Flaubert's Madame Bovary.  I suspect I shall read it before long, even if it is written by the antithesis of an Australian woman.  I am better acquainted with Miss Marple and loved how Maurilia Meehan imagines her for Cicely.

I am also glad that Cicely achieves her dream of owning her own shop, the haberdashery of the title, and a room of her own.  But are we all such manipulators and are all our dreams realised at the expense of others?

SOURCE: Libraries ACT

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Who We Were by Lucy Neave - a review

Who We WereWho We Were by Lucy Neave
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On finishing this book - my initial notes read:
Sparse and elegant prose but for a novel about passion and betrayal, strangely devoid of emotional connection.  I gave it 3 stars (out of 5)

Nearly a week later and I am back on Goodreads changing my score from 3 stars to 4.  I continue to think about this novel and divine why I couldn't connect.  I talk to friends and colleagues about it and wonder out loud to them why that was - should it have been a series of novellas to explore the effects of the political environments in which they find themselves and the significant issues such as scientific ethics, the effects of the Depression, WWII and the war in Asia in particular.

It's a very, very accomplished first novel.

I keep comparing Bill to Dorrigo from Flanagan's Narrow Road to the Deep North.  Similar experiences, similarly flawed but Bill just isn't sympathetic.

Also, the suspense which might have built in the Cold War period just didn't get there.

Perhaps I wasn't meant to connect.  Annabel and Bill save their passion for each other and their work, and in Bill's case, a political cause.  Annabel is a perpetual outsider, even in her marriage, and theirs is a very exclusive club so maybe I was meant to feel excluded.

I would recommend this book, but if you enjoy the emotional connection to character, you might not find it.  You will, however, have much food for thought.

This novel is shortlisted in the ACT Book of the Year Award.  For the first time this year you can vote in the People's Choice Awards, but get your skates on, voting closes soon.

For information on previous awards, a committed and passionate librarian has created this resource.

SOURCE: Libraries ACT

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