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Books We Loved, May 2017

May 14, 2017

For the first time, two of our members chose the same novel as their monthly pick, so this is definitely one to look for! But check out the other choices, too.

 

Emily Bitto, The Strays (Twelve, 2017)

The setting is Melbourne, Australia, in the mid-1930s. In the first chapter Lily, an only child from a lackluster working-class family, befriends Eva, who has two fascinating sisters, an unconventional artist father, an exotic bohemian mother, and a house that is always filled with other bohemian types talking art, politics, sex, and philosophy while drinking, smoking pot, and even occasionally defecating in the garden. With all this going on, the girls are free to lay the foundation for their own lives, the results of which are revealed years later, when the players gather together once again to attend a retrospective of Eva’s father’s work. Elena Ferrante fans especially are sure to love this title. The writing, dialogue, characters, and storyline are all wonderfully lush and spellbinding.—JS

 

This debut novel by Australian Emily Bitto is a definite treat for whoever is blessed with a strong visual sense and loves the visual arts. Inspired by a modernist artists’ group that flourished in Melbourne in the 1930s, Bitto creates a bohemian world wherein adults cross social boundaries as an inducement to creative ecstasy and give license to extreme narcissism and terrible parenting. It is a gorgeously written novel narrated by Lily, the best friend pulled into their chaotic world by chance. Lily’s observant eye of the outsider allows her to find compassion for the artists, the children, and for herself and family as she ages. Underpinning the adult friendships of Lily and the girls are the childhood best friends’ unions, cleaved to until sexual development forces their rupture. Bitto captures their emotional nuances beautifully as well as the complexity of love between mother and daughter. Depression-era Australia in a struggle for national identity and its social classes at war is as vivid as the specificity of Melbourne’s plants and trees, its gardens and swimming holes and dilapidated mansions. I was riveted; it was pure pleasure to read.—AA

 

 

Minka Kent, The Memory Watcher (CreateSpace, 2016)

It's not every author who can write a book full of disturbed and even unlikable characters yet keep you turning pages until the end, but that's exactly what Minka Kent has done with her debut psychological thriller, The Memory Watcher. Following the intertwining stories of Autumn, a young woman who gave her daughter up for adoption ten years before, and Daphne, Autumn's daughter's adoptive mother, we're drawn into the twisted inner workings of the demented minds of two women who will do anything to protect the ones they love. A Gillian Flynn-esque ending makes this a wholly engaging and satisfying read.—CJH

 

 

Virginia Pye, River of Dust (Unbridled Books, 2013)

This luminous, lyrical debut novel explores the reactions of Grace Watson and her husband, the Reverend John Wesley Watson, to the abduction of their son by Mongolian nomads in northwest China in 1910. Grace and her husband are committed to their separate missions—he to converting the Chinese to Christianity, and she to supporting him. Yet the prejudices of their time and station bind them, even as their differing responses to the loss of Wesley drive them apart—until, in a dusty, drought-ridden land as barren as their lives have become, Grace finds the courage to change.—CPL

 

 

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