This is a stunning book, even if sometimes bleak, about a family struggling to transcend its own sometimes cryptic and often brutal history, as well as the history of their natural land. This is not a light and fluffy book, but its harshness and intensity are part of what makes it such a great read. And, as mentioned before, the writing itself is eloquent and gorgeous. The lyrical, precise prose in The Way of the Saints transforms the story into literature.
And then I read the novel again and again, awestruck, shedding tears each time I read of Garima’s sad demise. The theatre-halls were either being sold out by the owners to predatory realtors or to rich business magnates who razed the hall to put up a zany shopping mall there. It was crucial times for theatre-halls then, no doubt.
The book is beautifully presented, with hand drawn illustrations, photographs, quotations, and facts about the different animals in the book and the events that inspired them, particularly the 2019/20 Australian bushfires, which were particularly devastating in Smuhar’s Blue Mountains hometown and which had some an intense impact on Australian flora and fauna (for example, some 60,000 koalas were negatively impacted by the fires). Smuhar’s goal with this book is not only to raise funds, but to entertain and educate.
The author’s style is simple and straightforward, and her use of highly descriptive prose generates excellent dialog and tantalizingly paints her characters as well as the tumultuous events in which they participate. I particularly enjoyed the alliterative flourishes: (“tawny tangy dancing woman”; “she senses sin and shame standing sentry”; “maggoty men”); the challenging vocabulary: (“termagants”; “tumescently proud”); and plastic descriptions: (“fish belly pale inner forearm”; “moon whipped water”; “soda bottle eye glasses”; “ the barbed wires of consolation”).
I bought The Archer at a brick and mortar store and flipped through the pages in the aisle. So the length didn’t bother me. But browsing online comments makes it clear that not all readers were aware of the length before buying. Put concretely, I read the book in forty minutes while sipping tea—which slows reading speed.
Though Love Objects shines a bright light on everyday misogyny, institutionalised sexism and classism, it is not the least bit polemical. Love Objects is as engaging a novel as I’ve read, full of beauty – some of it very subtle – including the deep love between the main characters, and a rich sense of what remains when you strip away judgement and artifice, moving towards an almost exuberant affirmation of life and love.
Zacharias skilfully achieves a balance between Alex’s personal journey and the historical events of the 1960s and ‘70s by presenting events from Alex’s unsophisticated perspective. Alex loves Ted Neal, but it is her photography that gives her an identity and a sense of agency. As she tells her students many years later: “You are the subject of your photographs. You act upon the object.”
Secrets and lies permeate this entire story. “Mom had probably known most of his secrets just being married to him for so long, and he had slowly been filling Catherine’s ears with tidbits, I knew close to nothing.” The author of Here Lies a Father, McKenzie Cassidy, might very well been talking about the process of constructing his first novel when he reveals Ian’s state of mind as well as the main thematic elements concerning all of the lies he has heard his whole life. “The truth didn’t matter as much as the way a story made you feel…”
Sofia Segovia uses interior monologue, an excellent technique for showing readers what goes on in characters’ hearts and minds. Sometimes, though, the time shifts in a character’s thoughts make the story hard to follow. In some sections it takes careful reading to distinguish between the recent past and the less recent past. Segovia could have put the wartime parts of the story in the present and the older characters’ memories in the past, but perhaps use of the present would have spoiled the story’s “once upon a time” quality.
Though set in Naples, The Lying Life of Adults is not about friends rising from the slums, as in Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet. Nor is it about the value of returning to one’s roots. Giovanna, the narrator-protagonist, who is twelve to sixteen during the novel’s time frame, is being raised in a progressive way by her middle-class, secular, intellectual parents.