So, here’s the second part of my end of year book reviews. As I said in Part One, I tend to read a lot at this time of the year, so I have lots of share and review. I also got a tad excited about the upcoming 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge, and read a number of books by Australian women – guess that just means more books to read in the new year!
In this review, I have two adult books, one young adult book and a small amount of ‘meh’. All links link to Goodreads.
Adult Derivative Fiction
This is, obviously, a book about the middle Bennet sister from Pride and Prejudice – the one who, along with Kitty, is most likely to be overlooked. Told from Mary’s point of view, it offers us some background to Mary’s personality and actions, while giving us another point of view of the Darcy/Bingly/Wickham events.
Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen books seem to the the flavour of the month at the moment. Although I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, I cannot claim to be the biggest Jane Austen reader, so there may be some things which alluded me. But it was lovely to see such well known, almost mythic, events told through the eyes of another person. Sometimes, though, this seemed a little neat – such as when Mary knew of Wickham’s deceitfulness long before Lydia ran off with him.
The other thing that feels a little odd is when Mary sets sail to the colony of New South Wales to meet up with her (lower class) fiance. I can’t see Mary marrying out of ‘rank’ like that, and the scenes in Sydney feel a little tacked on, like the author wasn’t quite sure where she wanted to end the book. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining and easy read – perfect for a summer holiday, or for reading on a cold day with a warm cup of tea!
Young Adult Fiction – best for older ‘young adults’
This is a book that totally grew on me. It’s about Matilda, (everyone calls her Tilda), who lives in rural Tasmania. She’s far from being a perfect student, though she’s very smart, spending a lot of time wagging school with her boyfriend. Then one day she spots an elephant seal on the nearby beach. The elephant seal, who seems to be far from it’s normal home, is heavily pregnant, and the subsequent birth of her baby ends up turning Tilda’s life completely upside down.
This is very much a book that unfolds as you read it. There’s no big passages of exposition, instead you learn about Tilda’s home life, about her friendships, even about her school principal as the book unfolds. It’s very clear to the reader that every character has a story, whether big or small, and that lives intertwine, especially in smaller country towns.
I was feeling a little ‘meh’ about this one when it started – I felt like it was treading over ground that I’d seen many times before. But then there would be a subtle twist, and I’d be left facing a completely different direction. It’s a book that’s stayed with me since I’ve put it down, too, and I find myself wanting even more of the story – especially to find out what happens next. The English teacher in me has a bit of a field day with the themes to explore, but I think most readers would pick up on some of them.
If you like this book (and I thoroughly recommend it), may I suggest reading Juggling with Mandarins, Shooting the Moon or Buddy by the New Zealand author V. M. Jones. This book reminded me very much of those books, and I thoroughly recommend them too!
Adult Contemporary Fiction
Like J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, this is a book about what happens to a group of people after a ‘good guy’ dies. In this case, the other people are fellow members of Rory Buchanan’s Division 2, cricket team and their wives. Each chapter gives us another point of view from one of the nine people (we also learn about Rory’s widow), with a few general chapters about ‘big events’ which occur.
In The Casual Vacancy, the people who we learn about are rather different and don’t necessarily interact with each other. In Last Summer, they’re almost too close, so the events that happen – finding a long lost mother, separation, cheating, suffering possible medical issues – almost feel like too much. Additionally, since there’s a whole chapter on each character, you really start to get into their story, then you’re catapulted into a new one, left with a generally dissatisfied feeling.
I didn’t find most of the characters particularly likable (actually, I found most of them pretty shallow) or particularly interesting, which made it hard sometimes to remember which character I was reading about. I think I would have liked the book a lot more if it had narrowed its focus – if it had chosen to look more in depth at a smaller selection of the people – which would have allowed some of the characters to grieve in a more simple fashion, without big life changing events also going on. If you’re particularly looking for a book about what happens to people when someone dies, I would suggest The Casual Vacancy over Last Summer. Or take a slightly different focus and read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or in the children’s books – Love, Aubrey.
What’s your favourite Austen related book?
Have you read a good book set in Tasmania?
What’s your favourite book with multiple points of view?