Book Review: The Girl Who Stole Stockings (2015) by Elsbeth Hardie

The Girl Who Stole Stockings is a meticulously researched and engaging true story about 12-year-old Colchester-born servant, Susannah Noon, who, in 1811, was convicted of stealing stockings and sentenced to seven years transportation on the convict ship, Friends. The story is two-fold: firstly, Susannah’s changing fortunes and society in early convict New South Wales; and secondly, her marriage to convicted bigamist Samuel Cave and their eventual arrival in a remote whaling community in New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds in 1838—and being one of only two Pakeha (white) women for miles.

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Keeping great company at the book launch—with cover girl (and my cousin) Sophia, and the author (my aunt), Elsbeth Hardie. Image copyright C. Barron 2015

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Book Review: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (2015)

Pulitzer Prize-winner Geraldine Brooks is a master storyteller, whose obsession with her subject matter gleams from the pages of her latest novel, The Secret Chord, like the golden Ark of the Covenant. Perhaps it is her previous life as a war correspondent, but she has a way of observing setting and walking in the shoes of her characters that I swear she must have been there with David, listening to him compose his mourning song for Yonatan, or watching Bathsheva ladle scented water over her body on the rooftop.

Geraldine Brooks ticket

Image copyright Caroline Barron, 2015.

I saw Brooks at an Auckland Writers Festival event at the Maidment Theatre last month and was captivated by her immense love of research, her vast knowledge of varied subjects, and her ability to recreate a world. In The Secret Chord, as in Caleb’s Crossing (2011) [read my review here] and in Years of Wonder (2001) [which I am part way through—yes I’m having a Brooks-fest], she takes an historic time, layers it with real-life characters and imagines the rest: their thoughts, their dialogue, their every day. Of course this is a tried and true narrative method (my article on ‘Creating Fictional Worlds’ appears in the Summer 2015 issue of NZ Author magazine), but some people—Brooks—do it a hell of a lot better than others. I’ll give an example passage shortly. But first, to the structure.

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Book Review: Body & Soul by Frank Conroy (1993)

Five stars. Amazing. Body & Soul by Frank Conroy

Five stars. Amazing. Body & Soul by Frank Conroy

Of course Conroy was an accomplished jazz pianist. There is no chance a non-musician could write such a vivid story about a musically gifted little boy and about music the way Conroy does. I studied music through to my last year of school; I sing, play piano and guitar. Body & Soul gave me so many ‘a-ha!’ moments; musical moments I did not think could be put into words: Continue reading

Book Review: On Coming Home by Paula Morris

Paula Morris (image credit Mike Brooke)

Paula Morris (image credit Mike Brooke)

On Coming Home is an elegantly-written and deeply moving essay on returning home to New Zealand after almost thirty years abroad, by the award-winning author of Rangitira and Queen of Beauty, Paula Morris.

Morris sifts through time for examples of ex-pat writers and what it meant to them and their work to return home, in order to guide or decode her own experience of coming home. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Black Rock White City’ by A. S. Patric: Five Stars, Baby!

I’m off to Melbourne to catch up with My-Friend-Jarrod next month and what better way to ready myself than to indulge in new Melbourne fiction. And my goodness. What fiction this is. Five, oh five, oh five glorious and shining stars, Mr. Poetic-Patric.

He can’t speak to any of it because it isn’t about words anymore. It’s about another existence. Neither of them is sure about the present but this is some kind of afterlife (17).

A spot of reading. (Image copyright C. Barron lovewordsmusic.com 2015)

A spot of reading. Unposed, of course.
(Image copyright C. Barron lovewordsmusic.com 2015)

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Book Review: Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Wonder is like holding up a cut crystal to the light—from each angle it reflects and refracts differently. In Wonder, 10-year-old Auggie Pullman’s experience is refracted through his own point of view and those of people close to him: his sister Via, his friends Summer and Jack, Via’s boyfriend Justin, and Miranda (Via’s friend). In this edition (Borzoi 2012) there is also ‘The Julian Chapter’ written from the point of view of Auggie’s enemy.

Oh yeah, you should know: Auggie has serious facial abnormalities.

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Book Review: Lucky Us by Amy Bloom (2014)

It seemed to me that if you had to have a mother who’d dropped you off like a bag of dirty laundry and a father who was not above stealing from you (or your sister), you were pretty lucky to have that same sister take you to Hollywood and wash your underpants with hers and share her sandwiches with you (28).

Amy Bloom is coming to town, for the Auckland Writers Festival and lovewordsmusic.com will be in the audience, dangling off every delicious, erudite word. I first discovered Bloom in a fiction class – Silver Water remains one of my favorite short stories ever. I had high hopes for Lucky Us; and – Lucky Me – hope soared and found its mark in a carriage house in Ohio crowded with achingly flawed and real characters.

Amy Bloom reading book

C’est moi, sneaking in a bit of reading over Easter. Image copyright to Caroline Barron

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Book Review: Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver (1990)

My-Friend-Jarrod is like one of those fortune-telling Magic 8 Balls; you know the ones – shake it, ask a burning question, get an answer. Thankfully Jarrod is not actually a Magic 8 Ball, because his answers are far more useful than “Reply hazy try again” or “Outlook not so good”.

When I asked him to recommend books or films “with non-linear narrative structure and several points of view and possibly an unreliable narrator” to help with my novel, he had an immediate reply: “Better not tell you now.” Bugger off 8 Ball. He had an immediate reply: Continue reading

Book Review: The Widow’s Daughter by Nicholas Edlin

Edlin’s descriptions of my home turf – Freeman’s Bay and Ponsonby – during World War Two brought alive much of the dry, factual reading I’ve recently done about U.S. troops in Auckland during that time (I can recommend Denys Bevan’s United States Forces in NZ and The Yanks are Coming by Harry Bioletti). Most Kiwi soldiers were away fighting in the Middle East, so when the Japanese became a threat, the U.S. sent their troops to New Zealand as a base from which to defend the Pacific, and for rest and recuperation between Pacific campaigns. Oh, and to teach Kiwi girls how to jitterbug.  Continue reading

Book Review: Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1933)

‘Even War must end some time, and perhaps if we are alive in three or four years’ time, we may recover the hidden childhood again and find that after all the dust and ashes which covered it haven’t spoilt it much.’- Letter from Vera to Roland, 1915

Dedication

Dedication

Testament of Youth is a momentous historical text preserving for us – the lucky generations – what war really meant. Most poignantly it is the portrait of Vera Brittain’s unrelenting and tragic psychological annihilation during and after World War One. Through loss after tragedy after loss we see the breakdown of Brittain’s hope, which we would now label ‘post traumatic stress’. Through Brittain’s diary extracts, letters and poems we see her decline from hopeful, energetic, burgeoning feminist and Oxford student – giddily in love for the first time – to a broken, traumatized, suicidal twenty-something who hallucinates that her face is covered in fungus each time she looks in the mirror. Continue reading