If You Liked Extinctions by Josephine Wilson…

If you enjoyed reading Extinctions by Josephine Wilson...
I read Extinctions by Josephine Wilson over the weekend. It’s the latest winner of Australia’s most prestigious literary award, the Miles Franklin, and certainly meets the award’s criteria of being distinctly Australian – presenting Australian life in any of it’s phases.   Extinctions portrays a few days in the life of Fred Lothian, a retired academic who has recently lost his wife and has a difficult relationship with his two children.  While living in a retirement village unit so cramped with vestiges of his former life that he can barely move, a few incidents compel Fred to remember certain moments from his own life, and a series of vignettes slowly reveal the somewhat tragic and complicated details of Fred’s relationships with his family.

I really enjoyed this novel and couldn’t put it down, partly due to the fact that I longed for some self awareness from our patriarchal protagonist.  When self-awareness starts to come to Fred’s unreliable narration, however, it’s incredibly confronting and heartbreaking.  Josephine Wilson has done an excellent job of portraying the way the human mind works when it pushes something away that ultimately must be addressed.

This is a novel about growing older, and the years between one significant stage of your life ending and the limbo you dwell in as you wait for dependency and advanced age to set in.  But it is also a novel about memory, grief and loss, and about personal and cultural identity.  I have intentionally not said much here about what is actually revealed as the novel progresses, because I think Wilson has done a masterful job of slowly sharing the details of Fred and his daughter Caroline’s story.  The theme of extinction and being the last of your kind is very lightly woven through this novel in a way that I think makes it as relevant to our living now in the Anthropocene age, and while the 20th century looms large in this novel, this is very much a novel for Australia’s 21st century.  As the Miles Franklin judges said, this is a novel that is deeply compassionate, but also unapologetically intelligent.

If you enjoyed reading the 2017 Miles Franklin Winner, Extinctions, you may like some of the following reads for their unreliable narrators and focus on the often complicated but deeply significant stage of life that is old age.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Plumb by Maurice Gee
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

Advertisements

Celebrating Jane Austen: Reboots and Reimaginings

What to read if you love Jane Austen

This month is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, and her novels are as much loved and relevant today as they were in her own time.  Her acute understanding of human nature, her wry observations and her ability to create complex three dimensional characters leave her stories feeling so modern in many ways.  Or if not modern, then enduring… timeless.

Perhaps this is why her books still matter.  Despite the fact that many women today have more agency than they would have had in Regency England, many readers still relate to the dilemmas and conflicts that Austen’s characters face, the internal and external tensions in our lives as we seek the path that is right for each of us.

I’m not a Janeite, myself…  not yet… but my love for Jane Austen and her world is growing, and I especially like some of the modern twists on her writing.  Here are several novels that are Jane Austen adjacent, a contemporary adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, a biographical film, and a fantasy film and television show for the Janeite in all of us.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Two researchers from the future travel back in time to 1815, two years before Jane Austen’s untimely death, to befriend the novelist and steal her letters and an unpublished manuscript. Presenting themselves as distant relatives from colonial Jamaica, the time travellers must settle themselves into Regency society and convincingly pass themselves off a brother and sister from that time.  I loved this novel for its insight into a historical period I knew little about, and the many facts that I gleaned about the Austen family and Jane Austen’s life.  While the character depiction of Jane is fictional, it’s a charming way to widen the net cast by her novels and imagine her as a character in her own story.

Longbourn by Jo Baker
An engrossing recentred telling of Pride and Prejudice from the servants point of view.  This novel begins on washing day, when a maid at the Bennett house, Sarah, bemoans the fact that Lizzie Bennet likes to go for muddy walks in the fields – as Sarah is left scrubbing her petticoats. All the action from Pride and Prejudice is still there in this novel, but is off to the side, while Sarah’s life and the interest caused by the arrival of a new footman takes centre stage.  A gorgeous love story set in familiar territory, but seen with new eyes.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
A thoroughly modern take on Pride and Prejudice, set in contemporary America.  Jane is a 40-year old yoga teacher, Lizzie is a journalist, Kitty and Lydia are obsessed with paleo diets and crossfit, Mary is undertaking her third Masters degree online, and Mrs Bennett has a shopping addiction.  Jane and Bingley met on a Bachelor style reality TV show, the ball at Netherfield is replaced by a particularly crass game of charades, and Lizzie and Darcy keep running into each other while out jogging.  Not one for the purists, but I loved this modern take on a classic (and the plural ways we can find love and happiness that it offers)

Continue reading

What to Read After Watching Dunkirk

If you Enjoyed Watching Dunkirk, Try Reading...

I have never been very interested in the military side of World War II, but a few novels read recently have captured my imagination with their detailed depiction of the evacuation of British Forces at Dunkirk during the Battle of France.

Christopher Nolan’s new film Dunkirk just premiered in cinemas, and is likely to be one of the biggest films of the year.  Nolan has stated that Dunkirk is not a war film, but is ‘a survival story and first and foremost a suspense film.’  If you find you enjoyed the film and your interest in this era in history has been piqued, here are some suggestions for novels to read if you want to learn more about the Dunkirk evacuation and the experiences of Allied civilians and soldiers during World War II.

Their Finest by Lissa Evans
A wonderful (if more light hearted) counterpart to Nolan’s Dunkirk, as this novel is about a British propaganda film made about the Dunkirk evacuation.  It felt particularly meta and intertextual reading the farce of this filming recently, as promotion geared up for the release of Dunkirk.  A film adaptation of Their Finest was also released in 2017.

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis
In Connie Willis’ novels about time-travelling historians trapped in WWII England, the details of the evacuation at Dunkirk are crucial to the time travellers own evacuation back to the 21st century. The second novel All Clear also has some really fascinating detail about Operation Fortitude and other counterintelligence measures taken by the Allies.

Atonement by Ian McEwan
The hellish experience of being far from home during wartime is captured well in McEwan’s WWII novel, which features Robbie, conscripted into the army to avoid a prison sentence, at Dunkirk – awaiting the evacuation. Robbie’s experiences in Northern France are vividly depicted in the novel, and the evacuation is featured quite prominently in the 2007 film adaptation by Joe Wright.

The Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot
When a woman unexpected inherits a yacht, she discovers that the boat hides secrets that could shed light on Hitlers darkest schemes. This novel really brings to life the experiences of the soldiers evacuated at Dunkirk.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
This novel doesn’t feature Dunkirk, but it is one of my favourite WWII novels – focusing on some of the counterintelligence that went with the Allied forces cracking the Enigma Code.  This is a big sprawling novel that I think is one of the best post-modern historical novels about WWII out there (a good one to read if you liked Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon or The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan).

If you enjoyed watching Christopher Nolan's film Dunkirk, try reading some of the follow novels set during WWII that feature the evacuation of Allied Forces during the Battle of France

If You Liked The Handmaid’s Tale…

If You Liked the Handmaids Tale.. try reading...

If you enjoyed Season 1 of The Handmaid’s Tale, you may be interested in trying some of the following novels, tv series and films – many of which raise (still) relevant questions about personal agency, fertility and reproduction, and society (especially when it takes a dystopian turn).

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Children of Men by P. D. James
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
He, She and It by Marge Piercy
Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
The Gate to Women’s Country by Sherri S. Tepper
Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Humans created by Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley
Orphan Black created by John Fawcett and Graham Manson
Top of the Lake created by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee
Never Let Me Go directed by Mark Romanek
Children of Men directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Novels to try reading if you liked The Handmaids Tale

If You Liked Westworld…

If you liked Westworld, try reading...

If you liked Westworld, try reading or watching...

If you are loving Westworld for its setting that on the surface seems historical and nostalgic, but is full of high level surveillance and subtle tinkering…  If you are enjoying Westworld for its portrayal of the gamification of both history and human experience, for the days that repeat endlessly, and the recursive moments and events that shield or ultimately expose glitches in the system, ghosts in the machine…  or if you are drawn in to the series for its constant questioning of what it means to be human, and how we measure our own humanity… you might like to try some of the following television, films and novels which explore similar themes.

Deadwood created by David Milch
Jurassic Park directed by Steven Spielberg
Bladerunner directed by Ridley Scott
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick
Ex Machina directed by Alex Garland
Humans created by Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley
The Company Series by Kage Baker
Cabin in the Woods directed by Drew Goddard
The Truman Show directed by Peter Weir
The Peripheral by William Gibson
Reamde by Neal Stephenson
Edge of Tomorrow directed by Doug Liman
Firefly created by Joss Whedon

If you Liked The Kettering Incident…

Kettering

I have been busy in the evenings the last few weeks watching the gorgeous Elizabeth Debicki in new Australian drama The Kettering Incident.  Set in Tasmania, this series uses the best creepy aspects of its setting to create a suspenseful gothic vision of rural Australia.  I love that while the series is very ‘rural gothic’ (a genre I love), it also has a touch of the supernatural and otherwordly.  I’m not going to say any more, because… spoilers… but below are some shows, movies and books that I found myself thinking about while watching.

Top of The Lake directed by Jane Campion
In My Father’s Den directed by Brad McGann
Broadchurch created by Chris Chibnall
Twin Peaks created by David Lynch
Stranger Things created by The Duffer Brothers
The X Files created by Chris Carter
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

If You Liked Life After Life…

life after life

‘Time isn’t circular,’ she said to Dr. Kellet. ‘It’s like a … palimpsest.’
‘Oh dear,’ he said. ‘That sounds vexing.’
‘And memories are sometimes in the future.’

Life After Life was my first Kate Atkinson, and while I hear that it’s not very much like some of her other writing, I very much enjoyed this novel for its recursive overlaying of stories, and the many replays of Ursula’s life.  I thought Kate Atkinson played with some very interesting ideas related to memory, fate and the idea of personal agency.  It was another of those excellent novels that pairs just a little bit of speculative writing with a lot of historical detail.

If Ursula’s many lives in Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life also appealed to you, you might want to try some of the following:

If you liked the detail about the London Blitz and the multiple, complex and recursive storylines you might like Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis

If you liked the fatalistic aspects of a personal life revisited repeatedly, you might like The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger or the film About Time, directed by Richard Curtis

If you liked Ursula’s growing awareness of her reincarnation and kept reading to experience her journey, you might like Every Day by David Levithan or The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

If you would like to read more about the Todd family, you might like Kate Atkinson’s follow up novel about Ursula’s younger brother Teddy, A God in Ruins

If you liked Fox Corner and the complex relations between members of the Todd Family, you might like a like a book with a similar dynamic like Howard’s End by E.M Forster or the more modern Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido

If you liked the idea of altering history explored in Life After Life, you might like Kindred by Octavia Butler, or Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card