Good Reading : December January 2006
DECEMBER 2005 • JANUARY 2006 word of mouth general fiction Going Home Harriet Evans Lizzy is a perky, self-deprecating 20-something who lives in a grotty flat in London, has too many drunken evenings with pals and works on the fr inge of a glamorous industry. Much like every other chick- fic heroine of recent years. No cliché is left untur ned as Lizzy deals with a traumatic breakup, copes with the family home being sold, and discovers that all is not well in her happy little family. We have dramatic encounters in a church- yard, revelations at Christmas dinner and a bridezilla being predictably demanding organising a wedding. That being said, Going Home is a good read – light, fluffy and undemanding. Lizzy and her family are endearing (although they really aren’t as eccentric as she says they are) and the descriptions of food, clothes and gardens are winning – and quite frankly I only read these books for the food, clothes and gardens! ★★★ HarperCollins $22.95 Reviewed by Ali Cocksedge Prep Curtis Sittenfeld Ar riving in Massachusetts at the glossy and prestigious Ault School on a scholarship, Lee leaves behind her loving Midwestern family and finds herself in an alternative world that is bloated from privilege, class and money. Embarrassingly work- ing class and ordinary, Lee blunders into a social hierarchy that forces her to become an outsider, an observer of the rituals and codes that distinguish the WASPS from the rest of society. Slowly she manages to become a participant by for ming a friendship with a popular girl, an oil magnate’s daughter, and ful- filling an obsessive crush on one of the school’s basketball stars. Just as soon as she gets a tenuous entree, a misdirected act of defiance plummets her back into obscurity. This is not a sugar-coated Clueless or The OC. Lee recounts her often painful attempts to fit into a place where acceptability is measured by the intricacy of the flower design on the bedspreads, sporting prowess and the amount of old money’ in the family. Prep is a complex and onfidently-handled account of a teenager’s excruciatingly wkward coming of age, ar ning the hard way about he unspoken ‘caste’ system that exists in the Western world. Sittenfeld’s strength is making this experience feel universal rather than over-emotive and obsessive. ★★★ RG Picador $30.00 Reviewed by Jody Lee The Book of Tides Elizabeth Stead Elizabeth Stead is the niece of Australian novelist Christina Stead and has published short fiction and two previous novels. This book is primarily the story of Beccy Holt, a teenage dreamer, who moves from a hippie commune with her mother Miriam, a heroin addict, to the close- knit seaside community of Proudie Bay. There she encounters a number of sea-change eccentrics – including the elderly Marlin, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease but is still a fascinating storyteller; his daughter Jennifer, a spinster year ning for love; and Bill, who becomes her mother’s lover. In Proudie Bay Beccy learns the meanings of love, grief and sur- vival in this rite-of-passage piece. Stead’s descriptions of landscape are particularly striking, written with a laid-back Australian humour that delights and frequently surprises. But the remaining prose is old-fashioned in its earnestness, particularly in Stead’s depiction of Miriam: the hard-hitting brutality of the conse- quences of addiction is missing here. The remaining characters also verge on the stereotypical, and the too-neat ending is a cop-out. The Book of Tides would work better if Stead had decided early on whether she was writing magic realism or romantic fiction. ★★ Penguin $24.95 Reviewed by Dina Ross 30 goodreading ı Buy your next good read online at www.goodreadingmagazine.com.au DIRECT The Olive Sisters Amanda Hampson Hampson already has a number of non-fiction books under her belt, but The Olive Sisters is her first novel, and quite an accomplished one at that. The chapters alter nate between the 1950s and today. Italians Franco and Adrianna Martino have immigrated with their daughters Rosanna and Isabella to a small Australian community where they encounter prejudice because of their foreign way of life. In present- day Sydney, Franco’s granddaughter Adrienne is fighting her own battles. She’s just lost her successful marketing company and finds herself living, out of necessity, in her grandparents’ house, left to her in her father’s will. Making the change from urban high-flyer to living in a tumbledown cottage with a run-down olive grove is harder than Adrienne ever imagined. With almost no money and her daugh- ter going off to London, she feels lonely and wonders whether she’ll ever come to grips with her new life. Thread by thread, Hampson unravels the past lives of two generations; through a local woman, Adrienne uncovers the stun- ning truth about her family. With her newfound knowledge, she comes to love the house with which her own history is so tightly interwoven. The Olive Sisters is an enchanting read about a family’s history and its long-reaching repercussions. A story told with empathy and humour. ★★★★ RG Penguin $22.95 Reviewed by Birgit Collins Cartoon taken from The Bad Guys are Winning by Cathy Wilcox, published by Lothian Books, $19.95. Reproduced with permission.