June Mini Reviews [2]

I had planned on writing extended reviews for some of these books, but Covid.

Assembly especially, which packed a punch much weightier than its mere 100 pages would suggest, deserves to be more widely considered and discussed. But for now, all I will say is READ IT.

You have to stop this, she said.

This is the first book in a long while that I really wanted to do a deep dive into, the first book I wanted to research and explore. I listened to podcasts and read interviews. Don’t be put off by ‘innovative’, ‘minimalist’ or ‘merciless’. It is. But it’s also compelling, and at times beautiful and elegant.

There is so much stuff about race, class, gender, work, happiness, wealth, inequality and post-colonial angst woven into this novella. Which could make it dull or inaccessible. But it’s not.

It is a challenge and confronting and demanding. The issues of revisionism are also addressed, so I’ll leave you with one more quote.

How do we examine the legacy of colonisation when the basic facts of its construction are disputed in the minds of its beneficiaries?…the facts of Britain’s non-war twentieth-century history have been uprooted, dug out from the country’s collective memory. Supplanted. Vague fairytales of benevolent imperial rule bloom instead.

Title: Assembly  
Author: Natasha Brown  
ISBN: 9780241540473 
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton  
Published: 1st June 2021  
Format: Paperback  
Pages: 105

The day after I tried to kill my mother, I tossed some clothes, a pair of hiking boots, a baseball cap and a few toiletries into my backpack, and left at dawn.

My Heart is a Little Wild Thing is a gorgeous, tender morsel of a story. Delicate and compassionate, just like it’s protagonist. Patrick is a man in his 50’s coming to terms with his sexuality, his relationship with his ageing mother and his sense of belonging.

Despite the thrilleresque first sentence, the story is far more indelible and gentle than that – full of childhood memories and stunning scenes of the Monaro district of NSW. My Heart is a Little Wild Thing is a story about the small acts of bravery and love we incorporate into our lives every day.

Title: My Heart is a Little Wild Thing
Author: Nigel Featherstone
ISBN: 9781761150135
Imprint: Ultimo Press
Published: 1st May 2022
Format Trade Paperback
Pages: 288

Less memorbale was my time with Ruth Ozeki’s award winning book, The Book of Form and Emptiness.

A book must start somewhere. One brave letter must volunteer to go first, laying itself on the line in an act of faith, from which a word takes heart and follows, drawing a sentence into its wake.

Back in 2013 I read A Tale For the Time Being with some mixed feelings. A similar experience was had here. Both stories have an environmental message, centred around consumerism. In ATFTTB the Great Pacific Gyre highlights the waste and excess. In TBOFAE hoarding is the issue.

After the death of his father, Benny’s mother struggles to stay on top of everyday tasks like cleaning, cooking and rubbish control. Benny is struggling with his own grief and loss, not helped by the fact that all the stuff lying around the house has started talking to him.

Benny seeks solace in the quiet of the local public library. He befriends another troubled young woman called Alice, also known as The Aleph. When his mother finds out she realises that this name is actually the title of a short story by Borges.

The story was about a man, also named Borges, and his reluctant friendship with a bombastic poet who was writing an epic poem entitled The Earth.

Ozeki also includes a bombastic poet, from Slovenia, writing an epic poem called, you guessed it, The Earth. Why exactly is Borges so influential for so many writers? I find his short stories dense and difficult to grasp. But already I know that libraries, the limits of language, memory, time, grief and loss, and what is real are themes that Ozeki shares with Borges.

Naturally, I needed to see if there were any other connections.

Title: The Book of Form of Emptiness
Author: Ruth Ozeki
ISBN: 9781922458193
Imprint: Text Publishing
Published: 21st September 2021
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 548
Awards: Winner 2022 Women's Prize for Fiction

On the burning February morning Beatriz Viterbo died, after braving an agony that never for a single moment gave way to self-pity or fear, I noticed that the sidewalk billboards around Constitution Plaza were advertising some new brand or other of American cigarettes.

Reading a Borges short story in the middle of a Covid-19 infection is perhaps not the best time! But I gave it a go. This is my least favourite of the three Borges short stories I’ve read this year.

The Aleph has a narrator who is a fictionalised Borges. An Aleph “is one of the points in space that contains all other points…. the only place on earth where all places are — seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusion or blending.

The story includes an incredible list of things that our narrator sees within the aleph. I’m sure there are all kinds of metaphysical, existential and profound ideas wrapped up in this story, but brain fog has defeated me. All I could think of was the world wide web – in the aleph, Borges predicted the internet!

I guess what failed to happen with both stories, is that I was not moved, or enlightened. Benny’s story was entertaining, but I kept hoping for something that never arrived. Which is disappointing after 500-odd pages.

And Borges just feels too clever for his own good.

It’s like being on the outside of an in-joke. Lots of clever words and funny allusions that you can only get if you’re part of the in-crowd. The Aleph read more like an essay than a story, which is fine. Both stories grapple with the complexities of life, the impossiblity of capturing it with words. But what does it all mean, if I’m left here with no meaning at all?

Title: The Aleph | El Aleph
Author: Jorge Luis Borges
Translator:  Norman Thomas di Giovanni  (in collaboration with the author)
Published: 1971 (originally published September 1945)
Format: ePub
Pages: 11
  • This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.

19 thoughts on “June Mini Reviews [2]

  1. Reading 500 pages for nothing! I so understand…and it’s seems a pattern these days. Atleast for what I read. But good part is you had two great books going. I will get Assembly. I am very intrigued.

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    1. One does expect some kind of pay-off after 500 pages although finishing the book in the early stages of my Covid diagnosis may have had an impact in how I felt about this book!

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  2. I loved parts of Tale for Time Being especially the relationship between the girl and her Buddhist grandmother. The philosophical discussions in Canada left me cold though. Not sure about Ozeki’s new one ….

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  3. I loved Borges short stories when I gorged on them decades ago, now I’d be interested to see what my older self would think of them. I suspect I’d find them harder going because there’d be a lot more in them collectively than I remember from before.

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  4. Thank you for the short reviews, love reading them. They give a hint to the story, but not too much details. Just so your curiosity is raised.

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  5. I did miss this. It was published around the tme I got back from Melbourne (and my COVID iso) so I was in desperate catch-up mode. I’m impressed by how beautifully you captured the book in two paragraphs. That’s a skill!

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