BOOK CLUB

THIS MONTH’S MIX OF BI­OG­RA­PHY AND FIC­TION, BOTH ENTERTAINS AND PULLS AT THE HEART­STRINGS.

Country Style - - BOOKS - RE­VIEWS ANNABEL LAW­SON

MOONGLOW Michael Chabon, 4th Es­tate, $39.99

Un­til now, Michael Chabon has been way above my head. Yet with this au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal/bi­o­graph­i­cal telling of the last week of his grandfather’s life he de­liv­ers an ex­pe­ri­ence that any­one can warm to. Painkillers loosen the old man’s life­long si­lence. One mo­ment we’re laugh­ing at the grandfather’s en­gi­neer­ing ex­ploits with the US Army, then sud­denly we are wit­ness­ing the ten­der re­la­tion­ship with his schiz­o­phrenic wife, made dou­bly poignant when Chabon finds med­i­cal records that re­veal her as very dif­fer­ent from the per­son known to her fam­ily. Chabon shows how de­luded we can be about an­other’s re­al­ity, even af­ter decades of close­ness.

ARROWOOD Mick Fin­lay, HQ, $29.99

Wil­liam Arrowood is a pri­vate de­tec­tive work­ing in South Lon­don whose wife has left him. His do-gooder sis­ter has moved in to at­tack the squalor and steer him away from drink. It’s 1895. Sher­lock Holmes is the talk of the town. Arrowood de­tests him and de­spises the foren­sic ap­proach, pre­fer­ring to in­tuit the truth. In the booths and tav­erns close to the river there’s a cell plot­ting to rid Ire­land of the Bri­tish yoke. Among Lon­don’s poor, whose lot is beat­ings, bro­ken teeth, disease and star­va­tion, Arrowood and his as­sis­tant strive to achieve justice. A young boy in the wrong place can be swiftly sealed into a bar­rel that bumps its way down to a cellar... Fin­lay be­guiles and chas­tens. A chill­ing tale well told.

THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR Jen­nifer Ryan, The Bor­ough Press, $37.99

“Yes, yes,” I thought, look­ing at the flyer. “A nice lit­tle pe­riod piece about ladies in an English vil­lage dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.” Not a bit of it. Th­ese char­ac­ters are con­se­quen­tial; the silly girls ma­ture, the evil mid­wife grad­u­ally re­veals her back story and — real­is­ti­cally — the sit­u­a­tion never re­solves it­self but we are left with a wry ac­cep­tance that to­mor­row could be the ob­verse, in­verse or re­verse of all that has gone be­fore.

INSOMNIAC CITY Bill Hayes, Blooms­bury, $29.99

Mav­er­ick neu­rol­o­gist Oliver Sacks, who died 19 months ago, fell in love for the first time at the age of 75. Bill Hayes was his lover. Their six years to­gether is the fo­cus of this jolt­ing mem­oir. A love that nei­ther had an­tic­i­pated was joy­ful — high jinks in New York City — and then, when can­cer loomed, bit­ter­sweet.

AF­TER Nikki Gem­mell, 4th Es­tate, $29.99

In her 2003 book The Bride Stripped Bare, Gem­mell — a best-sell­ing author and weekly colum­nist at The Aus­tralian news­pa­per — gave read­ers too much in­for­ma­tion. It would have been quite dif­fi­cult for friends and fam­ily to look her in the eyes af­ter so much frank­ness. Yet, un­daunted, she has gone on telling tales that per­haps shouldn’t be told. Af­ter is a con­fronting non-fic­tion work. Gem­mell’s mother chose to take her own life. Gem­mell’s mixed feelings include a lot of love for her mother, which makes her book a pu­ri­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the reader and no doubt for Gem­mell her­self.

KEEP YOU CLOSE Lu­cie Whitehouse, Blooms­bury, $19.99

I some­times get impatient when writ­ers of­fer en­tirely use­less in­for­ma­tion. For the umpteenth time, char­ac­ter X “sips her cof­fee” or “cra­dles a glass of wine”. Who cares? How­ever, every de­tail in Whitehouse’s thriller builds at­mos­phere or sub­tly redi­rects the reader’s fo­cus. Three mur­ders in Ox­ford and two sus­pi­cious deaths leave the be­reaved be­wil­dered and re­de­fined. This is an ex­pertly plot­ted story, with a twist in the tail.

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