Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Lost & Found



Like many Australians I first heard of Brooke Davis when she appeared on Australian Story earlier this year. It was such a poignant and moving episode about a young woman trying to come to terms with the sudden death of her mother in a rather senseless accident. Her first book Lost & Found seems to have come out of this grieving process, it is a trip through love and loss, through family, disillusionment, grief and hope. 

There was quite a bit of hype about the book midyear, I came to see it everywhere,  and became very keen to read it. I bought a copy for a friend and gave it away. Still I wanted to read it. I knew that my trip to Europe was coming up and thought it would make an excellent book to read on the plane. Then an opportunity to meet Brooke at a signing came up, and I knew I'd buy it, and knew I'd read it on the plane. 




I thought I'd read it on the plane going over, but evening/night flights are better for staring at screens, so I ended up reading it travelling from Zurich to Singapore in that perpetual fake night of the daytime flight.



Around about the time I discovered that they serve Cointreau in Economy.


It almost compensates for the lack of bubbly. Almost.
Lost & Found was the perfect companion for that long, long flight. I was entranced from the first paragraph. Lost & Found is the story of three unlikely friends- 7 year old Millie Bird, 87 year old Karl the Touch Typist and 82 year old Agatha Pantha. All have been abandoned. Millie's father has died and her mother leaves her in the womens underwear section of the local department store. Karl is widowed and he escapes from the nursing home his son has left him in. Agatha Pantha is also widowed, she hasn't left the house in seven years, and passes judgement on everyone who walks past her Chair of Discernment. 

Millie has charming, magical thinking.

What if everything could fly? she whispers to her gumboots, watching the fly bounce from leaf to leaf. Your dinner could fly into your mouth and the sky could be covered with trees and the streets might switch places, though some people would get seasick and planes wouldn't be that special anymore. 

And she uses the Quirky Capitals of Emphasis. I do Love Those. It is all rather preoccupied with death, but it never becomes too much. Brooke Davis' light touch makes sure of that. Whether writing about the rituals of death.

When her husband died, neighbours suddenly dropped by unannounced, appearing on her doorstep from behind huge, hulking casseroles full of dead animals, and pity. Their children carried slabs of coconut ice and looked put out. 

Or nursing homes.

It was still light outside when Karl walked down the hallway to the dining hall for dinner. The clock on the wall said 4.30 pm, and as a plate full of unidentifiable foodstuffs was pushed in front of him, Karl though, So this is it. He sat on a long table, like the sort he'd seen in movies about prison. 

It is quirky, beautiful writing. Lyrical and descriptive. Our three main characters are memorable and eccentric. If 7 year olds can be eccentric. The plot got a little towards farce for my liking at one stage, but that didn't put me off overall. Perhaps it was the Cointreau. I don't normally drink and read. Is Lost & Found perhaps this years The Rosie ProjectQuite possibly. It certainly is another quirky, original, must-read debut Aussie novel. 

You can hear Brooke Davis interviewed about Lost & Found on Books and Arts Daily, and of course I love that Roald Dahl inspired Brooke to write in the first place, and that she holds Matilda as a masterpiece.

Lost & Found will be published in 25 countries and translated into 20 languages next year.


australianwomenwriters.com

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Bridge



The Wicker family have just finished watching the original Danish/Swedish drama series The Bridge. I didn't know all that much about it before we started. The boys had watched it while I was away in Europe, and wanted to join in watching it with me on my return. I'm glad they did. It's 10 hours well spent, and nice to watch something as a family. The extraordinary success of The Bridge has been much copied- there has been an English/French The Tunnel, and American/Mexican The Bridge.

I don't get to watch all that much TV these days but do enjoy the occasional whodunnit, but without all the slick and gloss of CSI or NCIS. The Bridge is a perfect gritty crime drama. Be warned it's not for the faint hearted at times.

A body is found on the amazing Oresund Bridge between Copenhagen and Malmo in Sweden. Police from both Denmark and Sweden investigate the case, and so we have the intriguing Saga Noren from Malmo working alongside Martin Rohde from Copenhagen. As a non-Scandinavian viewer I'm sure we miss many of the nuances- it isn't always obvious if they're in Malmo or in Copenhagen, and the two languages sound rather similar to our ears. The subtitles force active engagement from all in the room- no watching tv while using iPad or laptop at the same time.

The Bridge was written as a tv show by Hans Rosenfeldt in 2006 when he was given the mission of creating a thriller set equally in Sweden and Denmark. It's a fascinating glimpse to a part of the world I've never been. The Bridge is possibly not the best tourist advertisement for Copenhagen (there's no Princess Mary, no palaces, no blue sky), or Malmo (not even a hint of a Eurovision final), but you can now do a Bridge tour in Copenhagen. Perhaps one day, if I can ever stop going to Paris, maybe I'll go to Copenhagen and cross the bridge to Malmo.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Patrick Modiano

I had not heard of Parisian Patrick Modiano until he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 2014 last month. He became the 15th French writer to win this most prestigious of prizes. The French will often advertise books on street posters in a way we don't often do. Still I was somewhat surprised to spy a poster from the bus advertising his win. I can't imagine that happening here.


Bad photo from the #72 bus


Worse photo
but at least you can see the whole poster

Patrick Modiano will deliver his Nobel Lecture on Dec 7 2014. He rarely gives media interviews and turned down the Académie Francaise. He is not well known outside France, and many of his nearly 40 books are not available in English, although that may well change now. Born on the outskirts of Paris in 1945 into a difficult family.

"In the end, we are all determined by the place and the time in which we were born."


Much of Mondiano's writing appears to be about Paris during the occupation, the years before his birth. The New Yorker puts it beautifully.


Like Rushdie's midnight's children, Europeans born in 1945 share a certain liminal condition. They escaped the threat, but not the taint, of the war. They were born into freedom but conceived in turmoil; they grew up looking over their shoulders. 

He has won many prizes on his road to the Nobel Prize, including the Prix Goncourt in 1978 for Rue des Boutiques Obscures (Missing Persons). The Guardian calls Voyage de Noces/Honeymoon his masterpiece, and lists five other key books. Happily there seems to be a rush to translate many of his books including his children's book, Catherine Certitude. 



Fishpond has it available as a Pre-Order, due to ship March 15, 2015. I'm patiently waiting for my copy. 

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog 


Books on France, a great 2014 challenge
 from Emma at 
Words and Peace

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Popping Down to the Shops- Singapore Style

I do love trawling through foreign supermarkets when overseas. It is one of the most fascinating and easy ways to glimpse a foreign culture to check out what is on the shelves of the supermarkets. This was a trip into Cold Storage at the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.

$23 SGD boxed melons from Japan

Miles of nice looking sushi

Kaya is a rather delicious coconut spread.
No room in the suitcase anyway-
but you can buy it in Australia

Singapore Slings
although I'm not a gin drinker 

Other Intriguing Drinks





Many Hello Kitty products 


Way too many durian products


Lots of other exotic sounding biscuits

A different sensibility

More dried mango than you can poke a stick at

Pistache Magnums! Oh I hope we get those soon. 
These looked good. Sadly untried. 

Not that I'm much of a chip eater,
but I'd give salt and seaweed a go.

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 
WestMetroMommy

Friday, 21 November 2014

Gangsta Granny



I do love David Walliams and his phenomenally successful kids books. He published his first book, The Boy in the Dress, back in 2008, but I didn't get to read it until just over a year ago. It's quite astonishing for me to see that just in the past year or so I've already read four of his books. Mr Stink. Billionaire Boy. Ratburger.

David Walliams has published one book a year since he began, and it was the arrival in the stores of his latest, Awful Auntie, that prompted me to get Gangsta Granny off the shelf. I now see that Philip Ardagh in The Guardian has called Awful Auntie his "best book yet"- oh dear, I won't be able to leave that one for too long now.

My favourite thus far remains Billionaire Boy. Billionaire Boy was a story about a lonely, rich boy. Gangsta Granny is about another rather lonely boy. Eleven year old Ben is a slow reader and has been held back a year at school. He visits his Granny every Friday night for a sleepover. Dumped there by his parents each week so that they can go to Strictly Stars Dancing. "But Granny is soooo boring".

"I hate spending time with her," protested Ben. "Her TV doesn't work, all she wants to do is play Scrabble and she stinks of cabbage."

Ben has trouble with his parents too, they favour glamorous ballroom dancers to his own interests. Ben dreams of being a plumber one day while his parents want him to follow their passion into dancing. Only David Walliams could write a fun and silly book about dancing, plumbing, cabbage, jewel thieves, grannies who fart without realising it and bumbling parents.

It was a Saturday, so after the show had finished the family were going to be having Cheesy Beans and Sausage. Neither Mum nor Dad could cook, but of all the readymade meals Ben's mum took out of the freezer, pricked with a fork and placed in the microwave for three minutes, this was his favourite. 

Gangsta Granny is full of the trademark Walliams humour, lists and Raj the newsagent. Once again Tony Ross' illustrations are perfect. And like all David Walliams books Gangsta Granny has a lovely heart. In amongst the humour David Walliams is reminding us that old people were young once, that perhaps they haven't all led boring lives, that you should spend time with them while you can, and tell people you love them if you do.

The lovely folks at Harper Collins gave me a review copy of Gangsta Granny way back in May at the CBCA Conference (my first ever review copy, I'm somewhat disappointed in myself to take six months to read it, but hey at least it was only six months, I have many, many books sitting about the house unread for years).

Thursday, 20 November 2014

50 Books Every Kid Should Read

Seems like there's a new must read list every week. Fine by me. Here's a new one from Entertainment Weekly this week.

The Lion and the Mouse - Jerry Pinkney 2009

Green Eggs and Ham - Dr Seuss 1960

Library Lion - Michelle Knudsen 2006

Bread and Jam for Frances - Russell Hoban, Lillian Hoban 1964

The Polar Express - Chris Van Allsburg 1985

The Mitten - Jan Brett 1989

Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak 1963

Madeline - Ludwig Bemelmans 1939

Strega Nona - Tomie DePaola 1975

A Bear Called Paddington - Michael Bond 1958

Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Jeff Kinney 2007

The Story of Barbar - Jean de Brunhoff 1931

Dinosaurs Before Dark - Mary Pope Osborne 1992

Ramona the Pest - Beverly Cleary 1955

Tar Beach - Faith Ringgold 1991



The Arrival - Shaun Tan 2006 (see my review)

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble - William Steig 1961

Charlotte's Web - E.B. White 1952

The Adventures of Captain Underpants - Dav Pilkey 1997

James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl 1961

One Crazy Summer - Rita Williams-Garcia 2010

The Black Stallion - Walter Farley 1941(see my review)

Island of the Blue Dolphins - Scott O'Dell 1960 (see my review)

The Tale of Despereaux - Kate Di Camillo 2004

Where the Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls 1961

The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster 1961

All-of-A-Kind Family - Sydney Taylor 1951

The Borrowers - Mary Norton 1952

D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths - Ingrid and Edgar D'Aulaire 1962

Wonder - R.J Palacio 2012 (see my review)

Esperanza Rising - Pam Munoz Ryan 2000

Smile - Raina Telgemeier 2010

Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh 1973

The Bad Beginning - Lemony Snicket 1999

A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle 1962 (see my review)

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - E.L. Konigsburg 1967 (see my review)

The Giver - Lois Lowry 1993 (see my review)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Mildred Taylor 1976



Bud, Not Buddy - Christopher Paul Curtis 1999

Holes - Louis Sachar 1998 (see my review)

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume 1970 (see my review)

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis 1950

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling 1997

Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson 1977

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak 2005

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants - Ann Brashares 2002

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins 2008 (see my review)

Monster - Walter Dean Myers 1999

The Outsiders - S.E Hinton 1967

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green 2012 (see my review)

30/50

And yes, that groaning noise is the sound of my TBR growing yet again. And perhaps my Fishpond bill.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A Dog So Small




I didn't know all that much about this slim little book when I started reading it. I knew of the author, I'd read her more famous book Tom's Midnight Garden (see my review) a few years ago. I liked it well enough, but wasn't bowled over. So I approached A Dog So Small with a fairly open mind as I usually like a dog story. I'm rather riled up about this story and there are more spoilers here than I would normally share. 

From the beginning I wasn't quite sure what to make of it.  Ben Blewitt is rather a lonely child. He is the middle child of five, sandwiched between his two older sisters and his two younger brothers. His sisters are planning the upcoming wedding of the eldest, and his brother are happy with their pet mice and feeding wild pigeons. 


Ben pines for a dog. His grandfather promises him one, and at the very start of the story Ben wakes up on his birthday expecting news of the dog he has been promised. But his grandmother won't let his grandfather get him one, because they'd be beholden to get one for all the grandkids, or at least all of the families. And so they send Ben a Mexican cross-stitch dog for his birthday. The cross-stitich dog is a Chihuahua, while Ben has been dreaming of nothing but borzois, bloodhounds and Irish wolf-hounds for months. His disappointment and anguish are palpable. 


Ben lives in Central London so his dreams of a massive dog are not particularly realistic. Our childhood dreams, and even our adult dreams aren't always realistic. Ben is reduced to having an imaginary dog "a dog so small you can only see it with your eyes shut". He becomes obsessed with his imaginary dog, a Chihuahua, like the cross-stitch dog. Ben takes to spending as much time as he can with his "dog so small". He walks and travels around London with his eyes shut so that he can see his dog. 


The dog Chiquitito was becoming a continuous presence for Ben. When the boy’s eyes were shut, the dog was there, visibly; and when his eyes were open, the dogs still seemed present- invisibly. Ben felt it there- knew it was there, now loyally and alertly beside him, now with its active and bold spirit speeding it to engage in some new and extraordinary exploit. Always the dog was either before Ben’s eyes or in his mind. His mother, watching him when he did not know he was being watched, saw him with eyes open but vacant- abstracted and absorbed, she supposed, in some inward vision. She told herself that the boy slept well, ate well, and admitted to no worries, but she was uneasy. 

I was uneasy too. I found the notion of Ben walking around London with his eyes shut dreadful. Initially it was sweet, his imaginary dog friend, but it got way too weird for me. Imagine seeing this boy walking around with his eyes shut, sitting in class all day with his eyes shut. It all culminates in a terrible accident, a terrible price to pay- Ben's obsession nearly kills him.

It is nicely written.

The front of the house looked over the road and its infrequent traffic. The back looked up the driftway- a rutted track that ambled between fields and meadows, skirted a wood, crossed the river by a special bridge of its own, and came out again at last- with an air of having achieved nothing and not caring, anyway- into another country road just like the one it had started from. 

And there are some marvellous words- poppling, strophes, driftway. 

But overall I found the book unkind and rather absurd. I realise that the dog so small was emblematic for how much Ben wanted a dog, and the story is telling us to be careful what you wish for. 


He saw clearly that you couldn't have impossible things, however much you wanted them. He saw that if you didn't have the possible things, then you had nothing.

Ben acts in rather fallible and really quite mean ways when he does finally get to have a dog of his own.  His real dog can't match up to the feats of his imaginary dog, and he rejects the poor thing trying to lose it on Hampstead Heath before realising the error of his ways.

I'm not quite sure why I'm so incensed by this book. I've been thinking about it all day. I did find it an interesting contrast to The Incredible Journey (see my review) that I finished a few weeks ago. Both were published at essentially the same time, A Dog So Small in 1962, and The Incredible Journey in 1961. A Dog So Small was so much more dated- the language I guess (whilst charming), and also the city life it portrayed is one long gone. It did provoke a strong reaction I guess, sadly not a more positive one. 

251/1001