Archive for August, 2015


house of grief

Helen Garner is one of the most respected literary figures in Australia, mostly because she writes books like this one. Very precisely written and minutely observed books, about very unpleasant situations, that draw out all kinds of extreme emotional responses from onlookers.

Based on this book it seems her purpose in doing this is to make us question those responses, and look at them from multiple points of view. What she seems to want us to understand is the diversity of human experience, that none of us can really know how we will behave in any given situation until it happens.

For that purpose her target in this case is well chosen. It is a murder trial that was big news for many years in Australia. A father was accused of murdering his three young boys by driving his car into a dam and drowning them. One of the more appalling things a human could be accused of doing, and an act that elicits strong emotional reactions.

Garner chose to sit through every moment of months and months of trials and appeals over several years. The book reports her observations of the participants and onlookers throughout this process, particularly her observations of herself.

In this process she makes you think about what it means to be a man and a father, what really is a ‘good’ life or relationship, and what should we be prepared to do to get them, or keep them, and how to respond when we lose them.

It’s magnificently written in a technical sense. The sentences are perfectly structured and punctuated. Their meaning is almost never in doubt, despite the complexity of the emotions she is trying to communicate. If you want to learn how to write clearly for professional purposes, you could do worse than copy her style.

Despite the worthiness of the project and its execution, for me it wasn’t worth my while to finish it. I read about a 100 pages then flicked to the end, to make sure the court verdict was as expected. To me it’s not news to learn that perfectly normal people, mostly men, sometimes do perfectly evil things, even in perfectly banal situations. Life is complicated and people can be strange. I didn’t feel I needed to read a whole book, a whole harrowing book, to confirm that.

However bookgroupers felt differently. They were very engaged by the book. They were particularly fascinated by the detail she gave of the court process, how expensive it is, and how difficult it is for the witnesses, even in what seemed like a rather open and shut case. I think Garner would be happy with this reaction as the book title refers to the court system, not the family in the story as you might assume. Bookgroupers were also very impressed by the way she brought all the various participants into the story, and reported on their reactions and feelings.

I agree the book is a spectacular display of empathy. She really makes an effort to take the reader inside the heads of the people involved: the mother; the barristers; the investigating police; the jurors; the grandparents; the accused; and even the journalists such as herself covering the trial. At times she does this with insightful flair like when she describes the effect of the testimony of mother’s lover on the jury, and the watching audience, saying ‘he had that certain glamour that hangs around Australian tradies’.

In conclusion I’d say this is a book for people fascinated with the psychology of crime. If you really want to know why people kill. If you can’t get enough of crime dramas that take you into the world of the accused, the victims, and the justice system this is probably for you. It could be described as a literary equivalent of high quality crime docu-drama, but that would miss a central core of the book, which is garner’s eye-witness account of proceedings. To make the analogy complete you would have to imagine such a docu-drama with a narration by the film maker, describing their feelings and impressions as the footage unfolds.

It’s difficult material, but covered from every angle and so precisely written you feel like you are watching it rather than reading about it.


August 4, 2015 at 8:22 am Leave a comment


rosie p

The Rosie Project was light hearted and a lot of fun. As I read it I thought, this will definitely be made into a Hollywood rom-com. It is therefore a great tribute to the book to say that I really enjoyed it. I am not someone who would ever willingly sit through a rom-com, so for me the read it all, and enjoy it, was a great effort by the author.

It has all the traditional elements of the rom-com: a nerdy guy, with a Casanova friend; the unlikely couple; a misunderstanding; a joint quest that forces them to be together; various hijnks en-route to the quest; and of course a happy ending.

What made it fun for me was the Australian setting and the characters particularly the lead character don, and the leading lady Rosie.

The book is written in the first person by don. Its this that gives the book pretty much all of its freshness and humour. Don is an academic, a genetics professor, and like a lot of academics he is a long way along the Aspergers spectrum. The book’s humour comes from both his social ineptness, and from him pointing out how silly, from a purely rational standpoint, a lot of the behaviour us ‘normals’ expect.

As good as the don character is, it was the Rosie character that allowed to me to enjoy it despite its rom-comyness. Rosie is not the standard leading lady for this genre. She is confident, unpretentious, practical, has low expectations of men, but is willing to reserve judgement. In many ways she is an Australian woman. In short, she would be a challenge for a Hollywood rom-com to recreate. If the movie stayed true to the book they could not cast a Cameron Diaz or Julia Roberts type character. Rosie is much more Sharon Stone or Halle Berry or even Carrie-Anne Moss from the matrix.

After I finished the book I learnt it had originally been written as a screenplay for a rom-com. It only turned in to a book because the author couldn’t get the movie made. The success of the book however got the attention of the movie industry, and its recently been announced that a movie will be made. Apparently it will be a big time hollywood number and Jennifer Lawrence has been cast in the role of Rosie. It will be interesting to see if screen Rosie bears any resemblance to book Rosie, and also whether they relocate it entirely from Melbourne in to a US setting.

There are lots of great scenes in the book as our unlikely couple roam around Melbourne and New York on the quest. They are trying to furtively obtain DNA samples from each of the men that may be Rosie’s father. As the quest goes on and each candidate is eliminated, the suspense builds nicely. You really want to know the answer. Better still the end result is a big surprise.

So all told i thought it was great light hearted read, and well worth the effort. Surprisingly bookgroupers had little to say about it. All basically agreed it was fun and that’s about as much as we discussed it. Nearly everyone said it prompted some laugh out loud moments. Whenever a book can get you to laugh out loud it’s doing pretty well in my view, so if you are looking for a light hearted read – it’s a great option.

As Bookgrouper Annie put it:

…a great book… Haven’t laughed out loud like this while reading a book for years; finished it in two days; couldn’t put the book down. The story is about a nerdy geneticist who has Aspergers, but doesn’t know he has….. Despite his odd behaviour, strict routines and lack of friends, he seems unaware he’s an Aspie. He embarks on a project to find a partner / wife, which becomes the Rosie Project. The book highlights the strengths and unique personality of this 40 year old likeable man. Highly recommended.

August 4, 2015 at 7:59 am Leave a comment


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