SOME SERIOUS READING THIS MONTH, ALTHOUGH A COUPLE OF THESE ARE PURELY FOR PLEASURE, TOO.
EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN
Chris Cleave, Sceptre, $29.99 “Take quinine if it’s Cairo, take salt if it’s the desert, take precautions if it’s a local girl… smoke no more than one pack, and keep anything made of metal on the outside of your skin.” So go the words of wisdom imparted to newly enlisted soldiers in this novel set during the outbreak of World War II. As for civilians, Mary North, positively soaring with enthusiasm, signs on at the War Office and is delegated — not to spy in occupied France as she’d hoped — to teach juniors evacuated from London. Her best friend, Hilda, must watch Mary break hearts and innocently steal Hilda’s intended. Mary fears for her true love out there on the battlefield, yet fails to notice the loss of self. PS: There’s a huge plus to this tale — people were witty back then. You will chuckle.
Kayte Nunn, Nero, $29.99 We never quite find out where Shingle Valley is. When she arrives, Rose refers to it as the “arse-end of nowhere”, but the Australian vineyard where she has been sent to spy by her entrepreneurial brother emerges as a major character in the story. The plot more or less gives itself away in the first few pages. Back in London, chubby Rose was dumped. She needs a new life. Surely no-one can bake as many cakes as she does in the time remaining after she’s nannied, cleaned, cooked dinners and harvested grapes. The cooking details, though, are enticing — “Calvados-soaked brioche, crème anglaise, and pear and anise compotes?” I want to make that now.
A MOTHER’S RECKONING
Sue Klebold, WH Allen, $35 No. Parents should not dismiss a teenager’s contempt and deceit as “a passing phase”, nor should teachers abandon standards of behaviour in favour of popularity with their pupils. Nor should doctors and psychologists promote the theory that a teenager’s brain is undeveloped and therefore a) there’s nothing to be done about antisocial behaviour, and b) the teenage miscreant is blameless. All of these attitudes are alibis for the fact no-one knows what to do. In 1999, Sue Klebold’s son, Dylan, and his friend Eric Brown killed 12 students and a teacher, and wounded 24 others, at Columbine High School in Colorado, USA. Here, Klebold shares responsibility for what happened.
Giuseppe Catozzella, Allen & Unwin, $27.99 Samia Yusuf grew up in Somalia. Despite having no proper shoes and not much funding, she made it to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she came last in the 200-metre heats. Her aim was to compete in the 2012 London Olympics, so she smuggled herself via Ethiopia, the Sudan and Libya to the shores of the Mediterranean. Sadly, the trafficker’s boat sank and Samia drowned. Catozzella is an Italian journalist inspired by Samia’s story, and interviewed her family and others to form a first-person ‘autobiography’.
THE BRIDGE LADIES
Betsy Lerner, Macmillan, $32.99 Maybe the reason why I locked on instantly to this novel was because my own mother was one of those quiet, accommodating women who nevertheless could pick up a hand of playing cards and become a guided missile on the warpath. For Lerner’s mother’s generation, the bonds formed at the Monday bridge club sustained them through a range of difficulties, which, before our current tell-all age, could not be articulated.
Beatrice Masini, Mantle, $29.99 The setting is a villa not far from Milan towards the end of the 1800s. Beyond the villa and its lush gardens, there are political and social shifts and turmoil, but within, a harmony is maintained. The lord and master of this abode wishes to record every single plant on his estate and hires Bianca, a talented young artist, to complete the task. What follows will keep you involved and guessing. Masini, by the way, translated the Harry Potter books into Italian.
FAREWELL TO THE FATHER
Tim Elliott, Picador, $34.99 ‘Mad Max’ was what Elliott’s father was called by his fellow surgeons. His patients presumably never knew their cardiologist was a violent drunk who overdosed any number of times on a cocktail of drugs prescribed for his bipolar condition by just about every psychiatrist in Sydney. Elliott’s original feature in The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend magazine, which led to this harrowing book, unleashed a furore. Thousands wrote in. Judge for yourself whether Elliott’s forgiveness damage inflicted from an early age.