The Schooldays of Jesus, J.M Coetzee

We join the central character from Coetzee’s 2013 novel, The Childhood of Jesus, as he strives to adapt to his new country; he continues to question, he continues to inspire and frustrate. It is the simplicity of how Coetzee draws together the people of the town, the intricate details of the dispossed- work, relationship, art and confronting the world as if for the first time.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of Coetzee’s characters; unlike his earlier novels it is the unseen, the unanswered that is the cause of fear. This isn’t violently confronting like Disgrace or as sparse as The Life and Times of Michael K. You can’t forget what he has written before. But you don’t have to hold this novel within the Coetzee canon. And that’s what some may forget: if this wasn’t written by Coetzee, what would you think of it?

  
Simon and Ines, after taking serious risks for David settle that they don’t have to be together just for the boy. When their entire lives revolve around David, they forget themselves. He sucks all air out if them. It is reaction- to turn to the assistant at the museum that see the majority of the plot flow together. 

David and Demtri’s relationship is preverse. What is it that he sees in the boy? What is the effect on each character? Demtri recurs throughout the novel- provoking, speaking for and of David. 

As poetic as ever, Coetzee creates an eccentric and spellbinding world. 

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Nutshell, Ian McEwan (2016)

A story narrated from the perspective of a child in utereo. We have all been there. A place where you are totally at the mercy of those around you, essentially useless. It is the one passage of time that each human experiences: being carried, birth. It is different to that other experience we will all experience: death. 

There is no need for an introduction to Ian McEwan. He is one of the greatest novelists; there’s no ‘in our time’ required. He is the novels’ Bob Dylan, a writer of profound simplicity and style. There’s no reinvention required. It is about character.

  
My favourite line: memories are poor for past failures. 

A soon to be first time mother. A husband- a poet, a man who wants to be loved. And a brother, successful, secure and loyal to his brother’s wife. And we learn this from the baby who is privy to every conversation, the ultimate omnipresent narrator.

  
The tingle you get from reading McEwan comes from how thoughts and feelings are captured. Here the unborn feels it’s mother’s heart beat increase; it feels stress; it changes moods with a glass of wine. It worries when it hears of a plot to kill it’s father. 

A life ends, a life begins. The only compliant? Like life, it’s too short. 

The Mandibles (2016)

It’s the administration of America’s first Spanish speaking President; the US dollar has been replaced as the world’s most dominant currency; it’s not just the economy- political, military and cultural influence has shifted from the US to Asia.

That’s the picture Lionel Shriver paints of America in 2029. It reads like a Tea Party manifesto or a speech by Donald Trump. It is the nightmare of every pure-breed, white American. When so many American’s believe that their ‘way of life’ is under attack, it is a very provocative literary picture.

The Mandibles are an all American family. They have worked hard, they have been successful in their fields of study, but as their world falls a part, none of that matters. All the qualifications and bank accounts matter for nothing.

The thread that keeps the family together is the resourceful realist Willing. How else to survive the end of the American way but by adapting to the new status quo. It is now survival of the fittest, not the survival of the richest.

After the fall- the absence of the rule of law, the absence of any governmental structure, the republic is restored. The pendulum swings back; the new America is controlled by the government and corporations- mostly out of India and China- every movement, every purchase, every moment is tracked by the mammoth SCAB.

Only Nollie, Willing and Goog of the Mandibles survive the dark days. Nollie, the former famous writer, is one of Shriver’s most compelling characters. Willing is working in a local nursing home and Goog is a member of the entity of nightmares, SCAB. After another mass shooting, this time at Willing’s nursing home, Nollie and Willing decide to head for the free state of Nevada.

“Across the nation, Americans’ mental and physical health had vastly improved. Hardly anyone was fact. Allergies were rare, and these days if people did mention they avoided gluten, a piece of bread would probably kill them. Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia had disappeared. Should a friend say they are depressed, something sad had happened. After a cascade of terrors on a life-or-death scale, nobody had the energy to be afraid of spiders, or confined spaces, or leaving the house. In the thirties, the wholesale bankruptcies of looted pharmacies, as well as a broad inability to cadge the readies for street drugs, had sent addicts into a countrywide cold turkey. Gyms shut, and personal trainers went the way of the incandescent light bulb. But repairing their own properties, tilling gardens, walking to save fuel, and beating intruders with baseball bats had rendered Americans impressively fit…

…It wasn’t that Americans had turned on oddity; they simply didn’t feel driven to fix it anymore.”

This Shriver’s best novel since We Need to Talk About Kevin. It is so because of the deeply flawed characters; her ability to vividly, but effortlessly see into the nightmare’s of the world’s greatest ever empire.

 

 

Breathing Under Water (2016)

There is something special about how Australian’s approach surfing. Partly,almost by accident,  a lifestyle choice and then as a real choice of a career, a professionalism that has seen surfing as a part of who we are. Many nations surf, but none approach it with a balance of aggression and respect. The early chapters evoke something rare: a novel that does capture the harsh beauty of the Australian surfing culture. With echoes of Winton’s Lockie Leonard and Breath, and even Malcom Knox’s This Life, Sophie Hardcastle has written a new chapter in young adult literature in Australia. 

The twins, Grace and Ben, live and breath the ocean. Their parents both love and respect the power and grace of the ocean. The portrait of their small coastal town is idealic; the school, the home, the shops, the beach all elegantly drawn from the perspective of Grace. 

The final year of school is often a catalyst for change. Decisions about the future, decisions that we were all told will shape the next fifty years. The novel made me yearn for those simple days of my school days, my memory vividly recalling a selfish desire, a time of no responsibility, with risk taking, road trips and house parties getting out of hand. Sophie might as well have had lived on the coast with me. 

The idealic life is perfectly juxtaposed with the under current of the town. Is everyone simply preparing to exit? To the city, to life beyond the simple. Even Ben, seemingly with professional surfing laying before him as a serious career choice, is touched by the drug and alcohol culture that seems intertwined with the coast lifestyle. In this sense, the novel is both a novel for now and one for an Australia that has left us. An Australia that was less consumed with the dollar, a place immune from the corporate, where one lives or where you went to school didn’t matter.

The tragic events and their aftermath will hurt- I’ve seen this, I’ve lived this. I could pick out friends and their character’s. Nearly all had a little piece of me in them. It is more than a story of someone taken too soon and  

 someone left behind. Hardcastle captures the fall and rise with beautiful prose and deeply intelligent characterisation. How one moves on after falling apart has never been perfected with words. But this comes close. 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016)

Well, what to say?

I love the freedom that comes with a script. The dialogue needed to be a lot tighter and refined than the novels. It is a very well structured play. But the twists are telegraphed and there’s a predictability to who is the cursed child.

The terse friendship between Draco and Harry has a very sentimental feel to it. Though this does leave Ron out of much of most important plot developments. Ron becomes the comical side kick, whereas I had always found him to be a base for Hermione and Harry into the Wizard world as he had always been a part of it.

The best moments came in gaining multiple perspectives of the history of the novels. Albus (the Potter one) and his best friend have only ever read and heard the stories of Harry, Hermione and Ron, but with this, they are taken back and are shown how the world was. 

An easy and enjoyable read. Would love to see it performed!