Good Reading : April 2004
wordofmouth – general fiction Vernon God Little DBC Pierre With all the excitement over its Booker Prize victory, the author’s shady past and public statements, and the accusations of anti-Americanism and cheap shots at small town provincialism, it was easy to think twice before picking up Vernon God Little. A high school massacre might not seem an ideal subject for fiction, especially a comic novel, but if you can get past Vernon’s dirty mouth and the apparently unpleasant subject matter, you’ll find a very funny, clever, and ultimately rewarding read. After a shooting at the local high school in Martirio,Texas, Ver non’s best friend Jesus has tur ned the gun on himself. Looking for someone to blame, the police question Ver non as an accomplice, and despite his protestations, the evidence starts stacking up. With the media, his mother, and the whole town against him, he decides to flee to Mexico. As the plot moves from farcical to sur real, you never quite escape the feeling that this could actually happen. Reminiscent of A Confederacy of Dunces and The Catcher in the Rye, with its gallery of grotesques and a teenage nar rator looking for truth in a world of phonies, this beautifully written novel is guaranteed to generate fireworks at your next book club meeting! I loved it. ★ RG Faber & Faber $29.95 Reviewed by Lachlan Jobbins The Way to Paradise Mario Vargas Llosa This melancholy novel com- bines history with biography, telling the dual stories of Paul Gauguin and his grandmother Flora Tristan, the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy Peruvian father and a French mother. Flora and her mother are left impover- ished when the father dies young. Flora is married off early to a dissolute brute, from whom she eventually escapes to Peru, leaving her three children behind with a wet nurse.There she attempts to claim an inheritance from her father’s family, but her bastard status means her claim can never be successful. Returning to France via England, Flora becomes a campaigner for workers’ and women’s rights, touring the country, lectur- ing on the injustices being perpetrated on the poor. Before her death, Flora is fortunate enough to encounter genuine love at least once, in the arms of an English society hostess. Alter nate chapters detail the slow, painful death from syphilis of her grandson Gauguin.The outline of his story is, of course, well known and the novel presents few surprises, although it does offer much detail. Both Gauguin and his grandmother suffer unenviable lives of hardship, yet their stubborn adherence to their beliefs is both noble and tragic. Faber & Faber $29.95 Reviewed by Caroline Lurie Absolute Friends John le Carré It’s fascinating how the spy novel, which the fall of Communism predicated would be destined for the literary graveyard, has managed to survive into the 21st century. But the very best spy novels are more than just stories of spooks and their technology. They tell us about the constantly shift- ing positions of gover nments conducting opaque deals behind the scenes, and the knife-edges upon which diplomacy is conducted. John le Car ré is brilliant as both a chronicler and observer of government insanity. His latest novel, Absolute Friends, must rank as one of his very best. The two main characters are Sasha, a misfit from the days of the East Ger man Stasi, and Ted Mundy, an English innocent abroad, confused, frustrated, the perennial outsider. Joined in East Germany in mutual antipathy to capitalism in the days of the Red Ar my Faction, Sasha and Mundy are now older – though no wiser.They are derelicts of the Cold War, dumped by their governments and desperate for a reason in life. Past meets present and predicts the future as the militant anti-West movements of the 1960s, which trained and shared ideology with nascent militant Islam, come full circle in America’s war against ter rorism. Le Car ré has spent a lifetime perfecting his art. Absolute Friends is a masterpiece of moder n fiction. ★ Hodder Headline $49.95 Reviewed by Alan Gold win! Terms and conditions 1.Information on how to enter forms part of the terms and conditions of entry. 2.Entry is open to all residents of Australia and New Zealand who are readers of Good Reading magazine. Entries must be made between 1/04/04 and 30/04/04 and be sent to Good Reading Magazine, GPO Box 3835, Sydney NSW 2001. Employees and their immediate families of the promoter and agencies associated with this promotion are ineligible. 3.The judge’s decision will be final and no cor- respondence will be entered into.Prizes are not transferable and cannot be taken as cash. Any change in the value of the prize occurring between 01/03/04 and the date the prizes are claimed is not the responsibility of the promoter and any dif- ference in prize value will be the responsibility of the winner. The total prize mentioned is the recommended retail value as provided by the supplier and is correct at the time of printing. All prizes will be provided by HarperCollinsPublishers. 4.The first 10 valid entries drawn will each win a copy of Lighthousekeepingby Jeanette Winterson from HarperCollinsPublishers valued at $27.95 each. The total prize value is $279.50 5. The draw will take place at no 9 Stephen St Balmain NSW 2041 at 11am on the 3/05/04. The winners will be notified by phone as well as mail and their name will be published in the June issue of Good Reading magazine on the 28/05/04.6. The promoter shall not be liable for any loss or damage whatsoever that is suffered or for any personal injury suffered or sustained in connection with the prizes. 7.The promoter accepts no responsibility for late, lost or misdirected mail. 8.The promoter may conduct such further draws at the same place as the original draw as are necessary on 24/08/04 in order to distribute the prize if it remains unclaimed by that date, subject to any written directions given under Reg 37 of the Lottery and Gaming Regulations 1993 (S.A.). 9.All entries become the property of the promoter. 10.The promoter is Good Reading Magazine Pty Ltd of 9 Stephen St Balmain NSW 2041 ABN 38 003 750 150 NSW Permit no. TPL 04/01553 ACT Permit no. TP04/0632 NT Permit no. NT04/8168 To enter simply write your details on the back of an envelope and post to ‘Lighthousekeeping’ Competition, GPO Box 3835, Sydney NSW 2001. This month we have 10 copies of Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson to be won, valued at $27.95 each.