What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.

August 2019

Gleebooks Bookshop - Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Chloe Groom: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill—It’s very rare, in my frantic life, that I re-read a book, but Dept. of Speculation is an exception. My most recent reading of JennyOffill’s thin gem of a book was probably my sixth, and I’ll be very happy to go back and read it again. It’s quite simply the clearest depiction of the constant compromise of adult life I’ve ever read. That makes it sound depressing, but it’s also one of the funniest, self-deprecating novels I know. It has none of the annoying cockiness that so many self-referential authors display (Franzen; Safran Foer; other people whose names aren’t Jonathan) and yet there is clearly so much of Jenny Offill in this book. In the first part, the protagonist speaks in the first person and through a series of very short, unconnected but overall chronological vignettes we learn about her life as a creative writing teacher, her marriage to the host of an obscure music show, and her hilarious, very realistic struggles with parenthood. (She also offers tit-bits of general knowledge that you’ll find yourself wasting hours trying to verify. In part two the protagonist has become ‘the wife’ and the narrative switches to the third person. A family emergency, which for mystery’s sake I won’t describe, has driven her at least partly towards madness. Whereas in part one, she was so much more than a wife, in part two she feels defined and depressed by that role—this second half is a deconstruction and reconstruction of a family in a beautiful, complicated way. I first read it close to five years ago when I was in the very early stages of parenthood. Every moment of love and pain rang true. Yet this is not just a book for parents. Offill’s understanding of relationships of all kinds is spot-on, and her images will stay with you forever. Please read this book. It’s very short, it’s truly wonderful, and you won’t regret it. (Offill has a new book coming out in 2020 called American Weather which tells the story of a librarian-cum-fake-shrink who finds herself drawn into the polarised world of left-wingers worried about extreme weather and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilisation.)

Stef: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong—Ocean Vuong is a celebrated young American poet and this discipline shines through when reading this, his first novel. His prose is so perfectly nuanced, capturing our often conflicted emotions,  especially when it comes to love,  love of our family,  friends and lovers. The book is written as a letter from a son to a mother who can’t read. The letter writer, Little Dog, is in his late twenties and his epistle unearths a family history that begins in Vietnam before he was born and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known. Vuong draws on his family’s migrant experience, his difference in a new land.  He explores his sexuality and the barriers he must break down. His observations of the passing of time, change in seasons and of life and death are truly poetic. If you only read one book this year,  make it this one—it is so raw, so powerful and so beautiful.  Andrew: This debut novel from the author of the acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds is wonderful. Narrated by a young Vietnamese immigrant to the USA, Little Dog, written as a letter to his mother Rose. Whether it is  napalm and gasoline infused descriptions of seventies Saigon or the heady acetone drenched backdrop of a nail bar in middle American—(the work that Rose scrapes by on)  Vuong’s writing is immediate and raw, startling and corrosive.  Definitely worth checking out, and absolutely a writer to watch.

Roger: Prompted by the release of Big Sky ( Kate Atkinson’s new novel in the eccentrically brilliant series featuring ex soldier, ex cop, now nearly ex private eye, Jackson Brodie) I took advantage of a recent holiday at son’s family’s  house in beautiful Bermagui to get stuck into the backlist of Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series of novels. I first fell in love with Atkinson’s writing when I laughed out loud at her first novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and I had read and loved the first Brodie book, Case Histories, when it came out in 2004. But somehow work and personal pressures had kept me away from the three subsequent books featuring the lovable Jackson, victim (or Influencer?) of fate. And now there was this fifth coming out—so I had to catch up. And what an exciting ride it is. Good characters, irony and comedy galore combined with tragedy on steroids in fast moving, zanily coincidental but emphatically believable plots, ( What is the plural of ‘Deus ex machina’?). What more could you want in the modern British novel. They stand alone, but the best way to read them is in order as Jackson struggles and sails through adversity and good fortune adapting  himself to the changes of life and society.  We need someone to publish a book The Jackson Brodie Novels and Philosophy.)
If you want to catch up we have two early books in the series: Case Histories and Started Early, Took My Dog in stock at the special price of $12. And of course Big Sky

in stock at the special price for $29.99.

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