‘And the Mountains Echoed’ – Khaled Hossini

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Khaled Hossini delivers yet another compelling novel in ‘And the Mountains Echoed’. Weaving together the lives of nine individuals, each chapter portrays a single perspective that expands and builds on the core thread laid down at the outset.

This book reads like a compendium of short stories, each unique to its own chief protagonist. Smooth writing, human interest and gentle prose make for a fluid read. The characters themselves appear as demonstrations of those traits recognizable to all readers as being a very real part of the human condition. All at once I was frustrated, angry, amused and even romanced by their predicaments, whatever they were at the time.

Hossini seems to have pulled the war, the horror and the violence into the background, more so than in his other books and instead spotlights the private heartbreak, the disfigurement and the disconnection that can perpetuate the core of all relationships.

‘And the Mountains Echoed’ comes full circle, returning to the main thread in an ending I would describe as pleasing. Strengthening the faith I have in the authors’ ability, this was a wonderful and highly recommended read.

 

Brideshead Revisited – Book Review

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Brideshead Revisited was an immensely enjoyable read. From a literary perspective, Evelyn Waugh has crafted a beautifully written story with plenty of dialogue, poignant similes and writing which I found symbolic on many levels.

This tells the story of Charles Ryder who, over many years has varying relationships both with the family who inhabit Brideshead and the property itself. With no love lost between himself and his own father, Charles finds a sense of belonging at Brideshead, being introduced by the youngest son Sebastian who presents as the object of Ryders affection.

He tells of the house: “here, as I….. sat, hour by hour, before the fountain, probing its shadows, tracing its lingering echoes… I felt a whole new system of nerves alive within me, as though the water that spurted and bubbled among its stones, was indeed a life-giving spring.” The home at Brideshead produces in him a love and a sense of awe which previously lacked almost entirely from his existence.

Through many years and some dramatic incidents, Charles recounts the degradation of individual, relationship and family culture within this lineal web. Sebastian’s flaws are magnified to the point of self-destruction. This applies in varying degrees to all the characters, none of whom I found particularly likeable but which fascinated me nonetheless.

What is it about this book that makes me want to pick it apart? What does the teddy bear represent? Is it the possession then casual tossing aside of innocence? What about his job of painting properties on the to-be-destroyed list? Is Charles himself a precursor to degradation? Does he genuinely love Julie or is it because she bears a similarity to Sebastian, with age giving her such sadness that she comes to resemble him even more? What about the storm on the ship? Waugh’s writing, even in descriptions of scenes and places, leaves so much to the imagination. I like that. Let me hold the brush and fill in the outlines.

A good one to muse over.

‘The Brush Off’ – Shane Maloney (Book Review)

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Dear Shane Maloney. You and Murray Whelan make me happy. Please come to my house for tea and vegan scones. Ange.

Dear reader. Shane Maloney is brill. Read him. Not for the crime, not for the politics, but purely for the hilarious turn of phrase which he employs to give life and laughter to his novels. From an opening scene of sexual possibilities comedically placed in a moonlit public garden, to a farcical incident in a basement involving an empty pool, a window, and a wetsuit on stilts, the protagonist fights his way through political intrigue, shady corruptions, murder, custodial responsibility and snake bites to entertain and amuse even the most bored of fiction fans.

Being the second Maloney novel I’ve read, the basic blueprint is reminiscent of the series’ debut. But the writing has graduated and proves tighter and well-edited, while still remaining easily accessible and fantastically interesting. ‘The Brush Off’ is set in Melbourne with a strong emphasis on our weather, our culture, and our colourful political situations. The author himself is very witty and, having seen him speak at several festivals, is just as dry and opinionated as he comes across in his books. It is certainly an advantage to be Melbournian as the references fell on well lubricated ears (eyes?), but like other reviewers I wondered how engaging it was for those who reside elsewhere?

Needless to point out, I enjoyed this book so much I wanted to hop straight into bed with the next one.

Recommended – especially to Melbournites!

‘The Hobbit’ – Book Review

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My relationship with Tolkien has been sporadic thus far. Ten years ago, the first LOTR film had me asleep in twenty minutes, and although I’ve since been able to (happily) sit through all three, I am trepidatious. Being slightly naive in my reading habits, the opinions of others differ vastly. “Drivel! Unnecessary waffle!” screams one. “Published perfection!” cries another. What to do? I know. I’ll read ‘The Hobbit’. You know? That little one that apparently started it all? It was written for kids right, so how hard could it be?

So I did. And I liked it. I saw the first two films before I opened the front cover so I had the viewing advantage of not hating Peter Jackson for giving botox to an otherwise marvellous story. And it is marvellous. It’s got action, friendship, adventure, and the nicely-rounded morals that characterise a good childrens tale. There are elves, goblins, wolves, eagles, dwarves, a creepy jewellery obsessed dude who lives down a hole, and an unlikely hero in our star performer, Bilbo Baggins. A climactic battle scene gives the reader some mythical closure, and off we go back home with Gandalf the fairy godfather and all round problem fixer.

I didn’t like all the characters: the dwarves I found to be particularly greedy and Smaug the dragon seriously has a deep-seeded superiority complex. And the endless songs, holy moley! Take them out of the book, along with much of the cosmetic final chapter, and it would have achieved a higher rating.

All in all, a delightful read to capture the imagination. Now let’s see how the trilogy compares!