Welcome to this month’s grown-up book review! Once again, I managed to get my mittens on a copy of the month’s selection for the Pink Fibro Book Club. And read it.
That’s two months in a row! WINNER! AND I finally read the book from December/January. DOUBLE WINNER!
And here are my reviews. Feel free to read them while I deflate my ridiculously large WINNER-sized head.
The Shadow Year / Hannah Richell
On a sultry summer’s day in 1980, five friends stumble upon an abandoned lakeside cottage hidden deep in the English countryside. For Kat and her housemates, it offers an escape, a chance to drop out for a while. But as the seasons change, tensions begin to rise and when an unexpected visitor appears at their door, nothing will be the same again…
The Shadow Year is two stories in one. We meet Kat and her friends in 1980, finding an abandoned cottage and setting up home. And we meet Lila in 2010, struggling to deal with a tragedy and using the same cottage as an escape from that tragedy and its repercussions in her marriage.
And yet it’s one story because, as it continues, pieces begin to weave together. Lila finds clues throughout the cottage as to what happened in 1980, and simultaneously deals with what’s happening in her life
This book got to me. To begin with, I didn’t think it would. It was interesting, but not engrossing. The writing was good, but the endless descriptions of the lake and the surrounding landscape got a bit samey after a while. My eyes flicked ahead whenever I got to another description of the lake as a mirror (much as they had flicked ahead while reading parts of The Light Between Oceans last year).
But, just as with The Light Between Oceans, I kept going. And sure enough, I got sucked in. It took longer, but the writing was lovely, and the central premise of the book ensured I kept reading.
Although I’d guessed the link early on, it was another thing to read it play out, and for the details to reveal themselves. (And there was a little something extra to catch me off-guard.) I re-read parts of the book (including the prologue) once I’d finished, to add to my understanding. You know a book’s gotten to you when you do that.
- Kat shifts closer to the window, cranky with the arrival of her hangover, the taste of last night’s beer lying like a dusty carpet on her tongue.
- She’s been doing this for three years now, she thinks, treading water, trying to stay in one place – trying to stay at his side.
- Freya arriving was like that moment when the sun finally bursts through a bank of cloud.
It’s a worthwhile read, and I’m still thinking about certain themes and attitudes. I recommend this book, but it hasn’t leapfrogged the other books I’ve read and enjoyed as part of the Pink Fibro Book Club.
Barracuda / Christos Tsiolkas
His whole life, Danny Kelly’s only wanted one thing: to win Olympic gold. Everything he’s ever done – every thought, every dream, every action – takes him closer to that moment of glory, of vindication, when the world will see him for what he is: the fastest, the strongest and the best. His life has been a preparation for that moment.
Well, well, well. You know when you read a Tsiolkas book that there’s going to be controversy, confronting concepts and characters you love to hate.
Barracuda has all of this. And it’s fitting that all of those words start with the letter c, because there’s plenty of the c-word as well.
Danny’s swimming prowess sees him awarded a scholarship to a private school with a dedicated swimming coach. At first, he struggles to fit in with the rich boys, but his unrelenting focus on training and becoming the best sees him become Barracuda, the psycho who doesn’t back down from anything.
Having appreciated but not particularly enjoyed Tsiolkas’s previous book, The Slap, I approached Barracuda with equal parts anticipation and trepidation. As with The Slap, I didn’t like any of the characters in Barracuda. But this time, I found enough in them to identify with to hope that things turned out well for them. And this time around, I recognised my own city in the writing. The areas, the snobbery, the class divide that usually goes unacknowledged, but only because it’s rarely crossed; it might not describe my personal day-to-day experience of this beautiful city, but I certainly know it’s all there.
I couldn’t put this book down. In fact, I read it in two days, which is no mean feat at this crazy stage of my life! Admittedly, some bits didn’t get my full attention. There is a lot of swimming in this book (spoiler alert!), and therefore a lot of description of what the swimming feels like to Danny. It’s interesting the first time. Perhaps even the second. Not so much after that.
It is very well-written and well structured. So well-written that I didn’t find as many standout lines to include in this review. It all just flowed. (Much like Barracuda did in the water. Oh, the symbolism!)
The line that stood out?
- The golden boys and the golden girls had no interest in experiencing the world – they wore goggles in the pool and blinkers out of it.
Barracuda is excellent, and if you’re a fan of being challenged by what you’re reading, I highly recommend it. But if you’re at all offended by, or not interested in, excessive swearing, (infrequent but still present) graphic sex scenes and central characters who think they are the central character of not only the book, but the world, it might not be for you.
Have you read The Shadow Year or Barracuda? What did you think?
Previous book reviews:
The Paris Wife
Mister Pip and The Light Between Oceans
Big Brother and We Need to Talk About Kevin
The Shining Girls and The Fault in Our Stars