Sunday, 1 March 2015

First post for March...

On this mild, gently snowy Sunday morning, I am enjoying a cup of chai tea and a slice of freshly baked Date Bread.  If this first day of March is anything to go by, this month will come in like a lamb and go out like a lion, although I’ll admit I don’t really know what that phrase means. 
I read two awesome books last week - yes, two!  They were both such page-turners that I quite literally flew through each of them in a couple of days.  The first was the excellent novel, Big Little Lies, by bestselling Australian author Liane Moriarty.  This novel begins with one of the main characters, Madeline, singing out in the car, “I’m forty today… forty!”, drawing the word out.  Her daughter Chloe responds by singing out, “I’m five… five!”  This sets the tone for this family, forty-year-old larger-than-life Madeline, who talks and shops as a way to fill her time, second husband Ed, who does his best to keep out of things and keep the peace, precocious five-year-old Chloe, who is just starting kindergarten, seven-year-old Fred, and fourteen-year-old Abigail, Madeline’s daughter from her first marriage.  Madeline is friends with beautiful yet distant Celeste, mother of rambunctious twins Josh and Max, wife to Perry, a wealthy, charming hedgefund manager who is away on business trips as much as he is at home.  These two women befriend Jane, single mother of Ziggy, the child of a one-night stand that went terribly wrong.   Shy, quiet Jane is new to the area, and welcomes the other women’s offers of friendship and invitations for coffee at their favourite beachside café.  When sweet-natured Ziggy is accused of bullying another child, Amabelle, which he adamantly denies, tensions between kindergarten moms mount.  This struggle between women who have known each other in the community for years and those who side with timid newcomer Jane increases as readers are drawn along through the six months leading up to the disastrous school Trivia Night, where, due to strong cocktails and lack of catered food, all hell breaks loose and someone dies.  Was it murder or an accident?  And who was the victim?  The cast of characters in this darkly comic mystery include Madeline’s ex-husband Nathan, his younger, new-age wife Bonnie and their waif-like daughter Skye, who is also starting kindergarten at the same school as Chloe, much to Madeline’s horror.  There is Tom, owner and barista at the café where the ladies frequent, Ms Barnes, the kindergarten teacher, and Mrs Lipman, the principal of the school, along with many others on the school parent council.  As the author pulls the reader deeper and deeper into the lives and secrets of each family, we learn that all is not what it seems and everyone has something to hide.  I don’t usually like “women’s fiction”, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, and I don’t like “chick lit”, either.  I also don’t read a lot of “domestic fiction”.  But this novel somehow blends all three genres and yet transcends them to become much more than the sum of its parts.  It manages to be funny while also presenting the serious issues of bullying and abuse with dignity and respect, offering insight into human nature and revealing what lies beneath relationships that may appear, to the public eye, to be perfect.  While reading this novel, which I found to be un-put-down-able, I felt as though I were eavesdropping on the gossip of a group of women I had come to know and like.  I would recommend this book to just about anyone. 
And I just finished reading the selection for next week’s book club meeting, Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson.  I have read this book before, and remember really enjoying it, so I thought it would be something a bit different to add to our book list.  I enjoyed it less this time, probably because I remembered the ending so found it less of a mystery than before.  This novel tells the story of Christine Lucas, who wakes up each morning with no memory of where she is or why there is a strange man in the bed beside her.  When she looks in the bathroom mirror, she is horrified to see an aged face looking back at her, and wonders what has happened.  The man in bed, Ben, tells her that she had an accident more than twenty years ago, leaving her with retrograde and anterograde amnesia; that is, she is unable to retrieve most memories from before the accident, and she is also unable to create and store new memories.  Her amnesia, however, is unusual, in that she can retain new memories each day, while she is awake, for up to about 24 hours, but these are all erased as soon as she goes to sleep, and she wakes up each morning as blank as a slate.  She has no recollection of her husband or her life, and Ben must fill her in every day, leaving tasks written on a blackboard for her to do each day to fill her time.  We find out that she has been secretly seeing neurologist Dr Nash for treatment, and he has encouraged her to write in a journal as a way to remind herself of the things she has learned about her past and present life.  This journal she keeps hidden from Ben, as she senses that he has been lying to her and keeping things from her deliberately.  But she is never sure what is truth and what are lies, and she struggles to piece together her reality and her past in order to live more fully.  She asks at one point about halfway through the book, “What are we, if not the accumulation of our memories?”  By undergoing treatment with Dr Nash and rereading her journal entries, her memories begin to slowly return, in bits and pieces, flashes that appear in an instant and then are gone.  These she cannot retain into the next day, but by writing them down, she is able to slowly form a picture of who she was and is.  But who can she trust, when those who claim to love her and want to help her offer contradicting stories about her past?  This book really made me think about memory, how much it defines who we are and how much we rely on it in so many ways in our daily lives.  This nail-biting read is sure to keep you glued to your seat until the very last page, as the tension builds and more truths are revealed.  I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say that I was hoping for a different ending than the one in the book.  Still, it was a great read, and I would recommend it to those who enjoy reading domestic thrillers (is there such a genre as that?), such as The Silent Wife or Gone Girl, or those who liked the excellent, though confusing, film “Memento”, which was about a man who could not form new memories and who gets caught up in a complex web of lies and deception.  
That’s all for today! 

Bye for now…
Julie

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