The Wilder Aisles 

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

May 2017

Gleebooks Bookshop - Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Sometimes I think there is a little bit of OCD in me. However, having read Lily Bailey’s memoir Because We are Bad ($30) I’ve decided that just because I like things in straight lines, each side of the tablecloth equal, and I am very fond of colour coordination, doesn’t mean I have a problem. The subtitle of Bailey’s book is A Memoir of OCD and it is the story of her battle with this demanding, mind-destroying enemy. Lily grew up thinking she was bad, that she could kill someone with her thought, that somehow she could spread disease. Her memoir is an account of struggling to fit in, while desperately trying to make sense of her world—a silent fight that she keeps to herself so as not to betray the constant aberrant thoughts and perceptions that haunt her. She shows how the obsessions and rituals she used in attempt to control these thoughts took over her life. Some rituals are easy to see—like compulsively washing hands, checking over and over that the door is locked, or that light switches are turned off. Lily refers to these actions as the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Her problem was far more serious—with her real obsessions and compulsions kept buried deep in her mind. She had to make mental lists, obsessing over things that made her bad. In these lists each word became a letter, and these built up until she had hundreds flooding her mind. To complicate matters, she had another self she referred to as ‘Her’, who kept the bad Lily from escaping her obsessions, telling her that she was bad and making sure that her obsessions and compulsive behaviours were the most important part of her life. How Lily recovers and starts to lead a more normal life, makes for very interesting and thought-provoking reading. I found the book hard to put down—and I was on Lily’s side all the way through.

Now for something a bit lighter—Anne Ostby’s novel, Pieces of Happiness: A Novel of Friendship, Hope and Chocolate ($33, due in June). Kat, who has lead an adventurous life travelling all over the world, finds herself, recently-widowed and settled in Fiji. There she grows cocoa, helped by her manager Moses. Ateca, another widow, helps out in the house. Atica delivers little comments on the behaviour of the guests between each chapter. The guests are Kat’s friends from back in the day—including four former girlfriends from her schooldays. Having decided she doesn’t want to live alone in her large house, Kate invites these school friends to leave behind the cold weather for a tropical breeze and the deep blue sea. They are Sina, who on arriving announces that she is broke, chiefly because of her over indulged son; Lisbeth, living on her own—bored, sad, trying to fill her days; then there is Ingrid, escaping from too much time spent indoors working; and Maya, who is having problems remembering people and places. How these four react when they all come together in Fiji, and how they all change upon staying there—discovering skills and abilities they didn’t know that they had, makes for a great read. They all have issues to contend with, including Kat, but they are filled with hope for a second chance at life when they decide to make chocolate, and through this they discover the true value of friendship, and the ability to forgive and accept what life has thrown at them.

I have long been a fan of Elly Griffiths crime stories set in Norfolk—a part of England I find fascinating. As an aside, if you haven’t read Graham Swift’s Waterland I urge you to do so—it made this part of England really come alive for me. But to get back to Elly Griffiths’ new novel, The Chalk Pit ($33) w ... As in all her Norfolk stories, it features forensic archeologist, Dr Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson. Bones have been found in a tunnel under Norwich—they look as if they have been boiled—in maybe a medieval ritual. It seems that there is a vast network of tunnels beneath Norwich, some of them chalk—from the old days of chalk mining. When the bones are found to be modern, a whole new picture comes into view. Along with the discovery of the bones, it seems as if a homeless person has gone missing. DS Judy Johnson is investigating the disappearance of a rough sleeper. This is not taken seriously by the other members of the team—but then a middle-class wife and mother also disappears, and the investigation steps up a notch. Also involved is architect Quentin Swan, who wants to build an underground nightclub and restaurant. He becomes worried that his plans may be put on hold because of an excavation related to the murder enquiry is to take place. Along with all this, there is the continuing story of the relationship between Harry and Ruth. Harry is the father of Ruth’s child, Kate—conceived while being Harry was married to Michelle, the mother of his two daughters. So complicated! At the end of the book, there is a feeling that something may be happening on that front. I have to say I have quite a soft spot for Harry and Ruth and think that they should get together, but it is not up to me. This is a highly entertaining novel to while a way a Sunday afternoon—now that autumn is upon us.

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