Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Herman Koch's Summer House with a Swimming Pool

If you loved Koch's last novel The Dinner you're going to be real disappointed in his new one I'm afraid.

It lacks all the elements that made The Dinner so superb. There's no tension or subtlety, no suggestiveness or nuance, no sureness of touch. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this was an early manuscript whipped into some sort of shape for publication to capitalise on the huge success of The Dinner.

There is a death and a rape, but we know the killer very early on and the sex was consensual if it happened at all. 

It has the same basic theme as The Dinner. The evil lies in the ordinary man - a teacher in The Dinner, a GP here - rather than the larger than life, vulgar and frequently sinning, actor on the public stage.

But there are far too many red herrings and meaningless characters in this one, meaning the plot meanders all over the place and struggles to retain the reader's interest. It certainly didn't retain mine.

Sure, there are some nice elements. The depiction of the everyday life and times of an experienced doctor is very well done. Koch captures the disillusion and 'seen it all before' cynicism exceptionally well, and spins some delightful comedy out of it. You'll never look at your GP the same again. He also has an uncanny ability to bring the dynamics of marriage and family relationships to life in all their glory and horror. There's no sentimentality here.

In essence though the book is a major disappointment. Three stars out of five.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Miles Franklin Award winner Evie Wyld's All the Birds, Singing.

This novel, which is exceptionally good, beat off the front runner for this year's Miles Franklin award. This was a surprise and a profound disappointment to many people, who had considered Richard Flanagan's magnificent The Narrow Road to the Deep North a sure thing.

So did I. (

Word on the grapevine is that the judges were split. Whether that's true or not, I consider they made the wrong decision, just as they did last year in choosing Michelle De Kretser's Questions of Travel.

Wyld's book is a spare and beautifully written story of a young woman's flight from horror, pain and abuse. In a real sense it's a testimony to the ugliness of men. We are spared no lacerating detail of the harsh, brutal treatment handed out to the woman by the cruel and violent men she encounters in country Australia as she flees from the consequences of a tragedy she caused as a reckless 15 year old  in Darwin. Eventually she finds her way to a peaceful Isle off the coast of England where she lives alone and tends sheep.

But the dark beast of horror still pursues her.

While brilliantly rendered Wyld's novel has a fairly narrow scope and no where near the ambition, emotional power or intellectual depth of Flanagan's. You have to ask yourself whether the Miles Franklin judges have been spooked by the breakaway Stella Prize for women writers. Is a decidedly masculine work like Flanagan's handicapped from the start?

As I said, the judges, for the second year in a row, have made the wrong decision.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

J.K.Rowling's The Silkworm

This is J.K.Rowling's second crime thriller in the Cormoran Strike, Private Detective, series.

The growing relationship between Strike and his admin assistant Robin is the heart of the book. It is very well done, particularly Robin's tense relationship with her fiancé Mathew and his distaste for her underpaid job. I was so hoping that she would dump this upper class witless prick and bed Strike, but, alas, it wasn't to be.

The central part of the book however - the crime thriller aspect - is pure unadulterated rubbish. A famous novelist is brutally murdered and everyone associated with him - his publisher, editor, agent, wife, lover, a fellow author - is in the frame. The victim had submitted a manuscript for his next book that lays into each of them. It's a savage, thinly disguised exposure of all their perversities and dark secrets. The manuscript is called 'Bombyx Mori' ( Latin for silkworm).

Strike's previous case, the murder of a young celebrity model, made him famous because he solved the crime and outsmarted the police. The media loved it.

So Rowling has him outsmarting the police again. Ho hum. All the suspects in this new case are hugely unlikable but, this being publishing, they all like to talk over lunch or drinks. They're a miserable bunch of sexual deviants, drunks and conceited bores. It's just horrible spending so much time with them, but Rowling's obviously got it in for all of these book industry types and we all have to suffer.

The denouement is rather absurd. Strike works out who the murderer is, but as readers we have to wait for dozens of pages before we're told. In the meantime the police, of course, have charged someone else. The murderer's identity is supposed to resolve all those unanswered questions and tie  all the loose ends up, but it's just a puzzle by now and the whole thing is pretty meaningless and uninteresting, and Rowling indulges in some awful sentimentality. I'd given up caring.

I doubt I'll be reading the third Strike novel. 

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