The Wilder Aisles 

Janice Wilder has been a legend of Sydney bookselling for over 40 years.

March 2017

Gleebooks Bookshop - Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Just back from 3 weeks in India & Singapore. I’ve wanted to go to India for a while, but didn’t want to go on my own or on a tour, so when a friend suggested he be my tour guide, I was very happy to accept his offer. I must say I had a very good time—loved the country and the people, and am planning to go back next year. While in Kolkata I went to the Victoria Monument, a most impressive place, and there I learned about Rabindranath Tagore. I knew his poetry, but didn’t know his complete history—and I found what I read fascinating. So we went to the Oxford Bookshop to buy some of his poetry, and there I discovered he had written novels as well. I bought a volume of poetry and a novel called A Grain of Sand—the original title in Bengali is Chokher Bali, which can be translated as sand in the eye, an irritant, something that brings tears to the eyes. I won’t say too much about it, except to say it involves a happily married couple whose relationship becomes strained when a young attractive widow joins the household. Although written over 100 years ago, it is still very readable and as thought-proving as it was then.

Not much reading was done during the trip—too much to do during the day, too tired at night. However, I did read quite a bit over the Christmas holidays. One of the books I read was Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett ($25). I don’t know exactly what else to say about this book—it has been widely reviewed, all consistently good. I think it is a kind of reading between the lines sort of book—what it doesn’t say is just as important as what it does. As I read I had the feeling that the little things of life were very important to Bennett. Living alone in Ireland, she writes about the things that are important to her—like a letter that she feels has lived long enough inside its envelope and needs to released. I loved that! The book could be seen as a meditation on the solitary life. It is a book that deserves a second or maybe even a third reading. A quote from the back cover; ‘English, strictly speaking, isn’t my first language, by the way. I haven’t yet discovered what my first language is, so for the time being I use English words in order to say things...’ Sort of sums the book up for me.

My next book, Why Did You Lie ($33) by Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurðardóttir was a really good read. The story revolves around a journalist who attempts suicide, an ordinary couple who return to Iceland from a house swap in the US to find their house a mess, the Americans missing and four people struggling to find shelter on windswept rock. The thing that ties this disparate group together is that they all lied. As a result someone is seeking revenge. How this all ties together makes for an exciting read. I really liked this book. I thought it clever and suspenseful, without being too violent and scary. Sigurdardottir’s next book, The Silence of the Sea, I found not as likeable, but just as clever and again full of suspense. I found the very tragic ending difficult and had to keep reminding myself it was just a novel.

Just by chance, I picked up a copy of A Siege of Bitterns: A Birder Murder Mystery ($20) by Steve Burrows. As you can guess by the subtitle this isa crime novel set among birders, serious bird watchers who keep a record of every bird they see, always looking for the most rare and always in competition to have more sightings than anyone else. This book, the first in a series, is set in Norfolk, in an area called Saltmarsh—a place of great special scientific interest. It consists of wetlands and marshes and is a prime breeding site for native and rare birds. The story concerns the threat to the area by financial concerns and corrupt local officials. DI Dominic JeJeune, newly arrived from Canada, is also a birder. In fact, as the story progresses, some of the members of the police force wonder if he is more concerned with finding birds than solving the mystery. However when a prominent ecological activist is murdered Jejeune has to give up the birds and concentrate on the crime. I loved the character of Dominic JeJeune. He is the quiet, thoughtful type, who uses his not unsubstantial intellect to solve the crimes. Burrows has so far written four birder books and I have read 2. The second is called A Pitying of Doves ($20)—even better than the first. So I am looking forward to the third, A Cast of Falcons ($17) and the fourth, A Shimmer of Hummingbirds. As you might have guessed, all titles are collective nouns, and at the end of the books, there is information about issues touched on in the novel—a lot of which makes pretty sad reading: the loss of habitat, the threat of more species becoming extinct. The first book revolves around the rare sighting of a Bittern and the second around turtledoves. These books are great fun. They are interesting and informative, and as I read my way through these stories I felt my knowledge of birds and birding being greatly increased.

Most of the other books I read have been reviewed by numerous people so I will just mention a few of them: Margaret Drabble’s The Dark Flood Rises ($30—good, enjoyable); the latest in Ann Cleeves,’ Shetland series, Cold Earth ($30—loved this); Salley Vickers’s Cousins ($30—okay, but kept forgetting who everybody was); and Miller’s Valley by Anne Quindlen ($33—one of my favourite authors, can’t understand why she is not more widely read, loved this). Janice Wilder

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