Granny's Good Reads 

Sonia Lee is one of our most treasured customers and a voracious reader.

February 2019

Gleebooks Bookshop - Thursday, February 07, 2019
Readers who want an intelligent suspense novel full of spills and chills but with an underlying serious message, will find The Budapest Job by Alice Spigelman a gripping read. Idealistic young architect Tom Gaspar is sent by his boss to Budapest to oversee the building of a block of apartments at a time (1989) when Communism is collapsing and Hungary needs western finance and expertise. It soon becomes obvious that Gaspar is the wrong man for the job. Not only does he have scruples about building a cheap concrete box on a compulsorily acquired site but he is obsessed with finding how his birth father died in 1953 during the Stalinist regime. He comes up against some hefty opposition, gets involved in a police operation, meets and loses the love of his life, unmasks his father’s betrayer and has to decide whether or not to denounce him. Expect a dramatic revelation in the final chapter. As a bonus, this novel has a very attractive cover. 

Sarah Perry’s dazzling, devastating new novel Melmoth is her version of Charles Maturin’s 1820 masterpiece Melmoth the Wanderer. Maturin’s Wanderer does a Faustian deal with the devil for 150 more years on earth, which he spends turning up at disasters and scenes of suffering all over the world.  Perry’s Melmoth is a woman who wanders on bleeding feet bearing witness to all of humanity’s violence and cruelty, and trying to lure people with guilty secrets into spending their lives wandering with her. Helen Franklin, a sad woman in her early 40s, is a translator living in Prague where she lives a self-denying life—eating meagre meals and sleeping on a bare mattress in the house of 91 year-old Albina Horakova, her only friends being Karel, a Czech whom she meets in the Library, and his partner Thea, an English woman. In the powerful chapter The Sin of Helen Franklin, she divulges the crime she committed when she was a 21 year-old in Manila—a crime which she has attempted to expiate in the past twenty years. Karel introduces her to the myth of Melmoth, giving her texts which speak of a tall, wraith-like figure with piercing eyes who appears at times of great sorrow beckoning ‘with an expression of loneliness so imploring as to be cruel’. The first document is that of Josef Hoffman who sees Melmoth when the Nazis first march into Prague and the Jews are sent to Theresienstadt, and again when he, as a German in post-war Prague, is himself marched off to the concentration camp. There is a letter from Sir David Ellerby to his wife in 1637 recounting his meeting with Alice Benet who has been a companion of Melmoth, and a searing document The Testimony of Nameless and Hassan which describes an Armenian slaughter. It is a heart-breaking novel full of moral complexity. Perry writes with great artistry, from Part 1 which begins with the word Look! and continues in lush, velvety prose describing Prague in winter, to the astonishing final page—also beginning with the word Look!—where Perry assumes the voice of Melmoth, begging the reader to accompany her on her wandering:
‘Oh my friend, my darling—won’t you take my hand? I’ve been so lonely!’ 

David Malouf in his latest poetry collection An Open Book reveals a poet at the peak of his craft. They are mainly short poems, many about the young boy who sits under the table listening to his elders’ conversations, the boy who, when his mother tells him she can read him like an open book, knows that ‘books like houses have their secrets’. In The Wolf at the Door he writes about the ‘Grimm decade’ of the Depression when the men went on the tramp while the women stayed Penelope-like at home ‘faithful to Patons and Baldwins, purl and plain’.  At decade’s end the men had to tramp off to war leaving the women and children at home , ‘the wolf,/with flour-whitened paw, still lurking, ghostly/-insistent at the door’. On the Move, 1968 is an achingly beautiful poem about parting from a lover whom he still misses ‘And will/for the next how many breaths?’ The poems repay reading aloud. Try reading aloud to appreciate his mastery over word shifts. And don’t miss the poem on the inside front flap and the back cover. 
 In Turmoil: Letters From the Brink Robyn Williams says ‘lots of what I cherish is under attack: science, public broadcasting, conservation, tolerance’. We are sleepwalking into disaster with poor political leadership in many countries, not excluding our own. He writes about his time performing in Monty Python and Dr Who and is blackly funny about his cancer treatment. He agrees with Julian Cribb in saying we need an Age of Women because  it’s men  who start wars, clear-fell forests, pollute the oceans, create deserts and slaughter wildlife. We need more ‘girlymen’ not Rambos. And so say all of us. Sonia

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