Friday, 6 June 2014

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ June 2014

I think it was bad luck for NoViolet Bulawayo that her wonderful book We Need New Names came out the same year as Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries.

They are both totally original and totally unusual. They were both Short Listed for the Man Booker Prize and The Luminaries won. This was great for Eleanor but not much help to NoViolet (who maybe needs a new name herself)...

Nonetheless, let me press her book upon you. The Luminaries is quite a slow read but We Need New Names flashes along. It is set in an unnamed African state, probably Zimbabwe, where a lively group of young people, in a poor area, spend their time stealing guavas from the houses in better areas, and dreaming about going to America when things “get better”. The story is told by a bright and brave girl called Darling who does go to America to study and stay with her Aunt who has made it. It is the quality of the prose which is so affecting. You might think you know the reaction to going to America but this book is a total surprise. For instance, driving through the derelict suburbs of Detroit with her Uncle she remarks “if these buildings could talk they would stutter”. Do read this.

Another very successful book from an African writer is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who is from Nigeria and is also the author of Half of a Yellow Sun, which has been made into a film screening here recently. Americanah is the story of a very successful migrant from Nigeria to America. She has become quite a famous blogger and has a gorgeous American lover but she pines for home and her childhood friend. He meanwhile has been educated in England but has returned home to become a somewhat shady businessman. This is a love story filled with information about migrant and African life. Perhaps too much information. The author is determined to leave nothing out. There is a lot of very amusing information about how Africans deal with their hair. The New York Times made it one of their Ten Best Books for 2013.

After I finished The Luminaries I made it my business to read Eleanor Catton’s first book (which was also a prize winner for First Book), because I could see Eleanor Catton was an especially gifted writer. It is called The Rehearsal and is hardly a rehearsal for The Luminaries! It is very different. It is full of over-heated adolescent sex and anxiety. It is set in a good High School where the main characters are learning the saxophone from a most unusual music teacher who is full of advice and plots. The sister of one of the music students has had an affair with a youngish male teacher and is temporarily “off school”. This episode enthrals the other students and unfortunately the students at the nearby Institute of Dramatic Art decide to use the story as the base for their end-of-year production.

In true Eleanor Catton style there is much written for you to think about – whether it be drama, movement, theatre, sex, friendship or parental supervision. At times the thoughts seem a bit mature for the characters and there are moments when you are not sure if this is part of the real story or part of the imagination of the character at that moment. Never mind. It is all worthwhile. Read it and enjoy it. I suspect there will be someone you know for whom this is just the right book?

The First Tuesday Book Club had Anne Tyler as their classic guest last month. What a good choice. When Peter Carey came to Abbey’s years ago (when Oscar and Lucinda won the Booker Prize) to talk with Elizabeth Riddell on the stairs, he told me Anne Tyler was one of his favourite writers. You’ll always find some of her fine titles on the shelves at Abbeys, such as Beginner’s Goodbye, Back When We Were Grownups or The Accidental Tourist or Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. All good! Lovely.

Keep well.


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

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