Monthly Archives: October 2012

‘The Light Between Oceans’ by M.L. Stedman

Every once in awhile a book comes along that is so good you want to buy a box of them and hand them out to everyone you know. ‘The Light between Oceans” is so absorbing and beautifully written, so haunting and thought provoking. This one will surely be a book club favourite.  What makes it so good is that it’s a page turner (I literally dropped everything and had to keep reading)  but it also has amazing depth, dealing with morality and how the lines between right and wrong can sometimes become blurred. The things we experience and the choices we make can shape our lives in ways we could never predict.

“Tom Sherbourne, released from the horrors of the First World War, is now a lighthouse keeper, cocooned on a remote Australian island with his young wife Izzy, who is content in everything but her failure to have a child.

One April morning a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man – and a crying baby. Safe from the real world, Tom and Izzy break the rules and follow their hearts.

It is a decision with devastating consequences.”

‘The Slap’ by Christos Tsiolkas

The Slap has an interesting premise. A man slaps a child who is not his own at a barbecue.  The author then examines the repercussions of this event through the eyes of eight different people who were there. Believing that the author would really do something with this interesting set up and also because it was a book club assignment for me, I kept reading. Were it not for those two driving forces, I do not believe I would have finished it.

There is a lot of unnecessary crude language, explicit mature content, and racism in this book. Had these things been justified by exemplary literary style or had I been convinced that the people in the book would actually behave and talk this way, I would have tolerated those aspects of the book, but to me the story did not really take me anywhere or teach me anything important, nor did the author make me care much about the characters. Is this a realistic portrayal of Greeks in Australia and how do they feel about it? Nevertheless a story can be enjoyed for just being that –  a  story – and that is what those who love the book have said and they are right.

The book has achieved a tremendous following and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  There are many who love it, including two members of our book club. So it probably is just a matter of taste. What the author does do that is amazing, is take on a myriad of social issues all in the same story (teenage sexuality, abortion, Muslim conversion, swearing, racism, child rearing, same-sex orientation, breastfeeding, assault, child abuse, alcoholism, drugs, family , suicide, parenting, marriage, infidelity, multiculturalism) whew!,  making it for me, seem almost like a social caricature.

Wikipedia called it “a controversial and daring novel” which examines “identities and personal relationships in a multicultural society” and “taps into universal tensions and dilemmas around family life and child-rearing.” Incidentally, the act of slapping a child is not even illegal in Australia, making the book’s court case and charges,  as well as the initial premise, false from the beginning.

‘The Casual Vacancy’ by J.K. Rowling

Riding on the coat tails of her huge Potter success, Rowling (by the way, her name rhymes with “bowling” not “howling”) had no need for much promotion of her new book for adults.

Being a Potter fan myself, I had to join the pre-order hordes and read the book as soon as it came out in late September. I travelled through two London airports shortly after the book’s release and it was amusing to see huge displays in the bookstores and many travellers with their noses in a fresh new copy!

The story is set in the pretty little town of Pagford, UK. All of the typical elements of  small town UK are present in the book – very recognizable and enjoyable for me since I currently reside in a pretty small UK town exactly like Pagford. But underneath the charm and cobblestones, there lurks some pretty ugly stuff. A town council member suddenly dies and creates a ‘casual vacancy’ on the town council. Of course there are issues all around the filling of the vacancy and the town politics wreak havoc on the inhabitants. Everyone in Pagford seems to be at war with someone else – loveless relationships, problems within families and marriages,  social tensions between rich and poor, friction between middle class and low income areas, cultural clashes, and so on. The best character in the book for me is Krystal, who bears the brunt of her position in life and in this town as a casualty of generations of horrible abuse and drug use. Her attempts to care for herself and her younger brother are heartbreaking and the harsh judgement and snobbish treatment of her by the villagers is appalling. One reviewer said “the book satirises the ignorance of elites who assume to know what’s best for everyone else.”

Rowling is a good writer, and her strength is in creating a lighthearted enjoyable story, but at the same time being realistic about the darkness that is ever present in this world. She brings hope by also serving up characters who are brave and bold enough to stick up for what is right and good.  That is what she did with the magical Potter story and also with this darkly comic small town tale.