Three books we’ve read and loved recently
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders
From the Booker Prize-winning author and frankly wonderful human being George Saunders, comes a literary master class on what makes great stories work and what they can tell us about ourselves and our world today. The book contains seven short stories by four Russian masters (Chekhov, Gogol, Tolstoy and Turgenev). Each story is followed by Saunders' analysis which aims to understand how they do what they do so well. Sounds a lot like literary criticism but of course this is George Saunders so it's never dry or didactic, and it's always readable and witty and warm and revelatory. For some of us, this is the closest we will get to the MFA experience at somewhere like Syracuse University where Saunders has taught for the past 20 years and which only accepts six students a year.
If you haven't read Saunders before then we wouldn't suggest starting here. His short story collection Tenth of December is magnificent and then there's his debut novel Lincoln in the Bardo which went on to win the Booker. But if you're a mad fan (like us) or a writer or just someone wanting to explore not just how great writing works but how the mind itself works while reading, and how the reading and writing of stories make genuine connection possible, then this book will be entirely for you.
Love in Five Acts by Daniela Krien
A character study of five women in their 30s and 40s (mothers, daughters, sisters, lovers, ex-wives) who find themselves navigating the breakdown of relationships, motherhood, childlessness, infidelity, work, art, autonomy, self-actualisation, and, as the title suggests, the different forms of love. There's Paula, a bookseller who has lost a child, and a husband; Judith is a doctor whose experiences with personal ads has left her with a disdain of men; Brida, a writer who needs to choose between her work and her family; Malika, who struggles for recognition from her parents; and Jorinde, Malika’s sister, an actress whose third child was a result of an affair with a famous actor and who now must balance acting with her role as mother. Each story overlaps with the next - for the most part this flows beautifully but there are times when it chops the narrative. An empathic and engaging portrait of what it means to be a woman set against the backdrop of -post-Cold War Germany.
The Truth About Her by Jacqueline Maley
If you love the pace and grip of Jane Harper but prefer a cityscape to your literary thrillers, then this might be just the thing for you. The Truth About Her is the debut novel by award-winning Sydney journalist Jacqueline Maley. Her story follows Suzy Hamilton, also an award-winning Sydney journalist, who has written an expose on a young wellness blogger, only to discover that the subject of her reporting has killed herself. Suzy’s guilt over the suicide, her workplace troubles, and her complicated love-life are already gnawing at her when she begins to receive a series of threatening messages from the dead girl’s friends and family. With a satisfying romantic storyline and the addition of the practicalities and frustrations of being a single mother, this has more to offer than your average thriller.