Vertigo by Joanna Walsh

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As the title implies, this latest collection from Joanna Walsh may leave the reader dizzy & untethered from the quality of the prose herein. At the heart of Vertigo are women, pitched in many differing stories all told with the sensitivity of a master storyteller. Walsh writes with incredible technical ability without ever showing off for the sake of it. Her topics are familiar, raw experiences described without filigree, always hitting the target with as few arrows as necessary.

A slim volume, Vertigo will be devoured hungrily, however you will want to return to savour the real flaour of each story and marvel at construction of each sentence. This has so far been the best book I have read this year and I have no doubt that come December 31st this view will not have changed. My review is mercifully short as my wordsmithery is in kindergarten whereas Joanna Walsh is a short story professor.

Five stars. Buy, read, gift. http://www.tramppress.com

 

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt – Tracy Farr

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The imagined autobiography of an eighty something, theremin playing junkie, The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt is a novel all about life, love, loss and art.

Narrated in the first person by the 80yr old Lena, the story is an incredibly tender yet honest tale of a rootless soul searching for a fertile earth in which to plant herself. The present day Lena finds herself the subject of a documentary proposal from a young Australian filmmaker and finally agreeing to the project her story unfolds slowly, sensually and often tearfully.Born in Singapore, educated in Australia and after the death of her mother joins the heady, colourful post Great War Sydney club scene. She is introduced to a wondrous electrical instrument, played by waving your hands over it. Lena also meeets her true love, Beatrix, a bohemian painter with great contacts.

Her life continues to be revealed during interviews with Mo the documentary maker where the writer draws subtle comparisons between the two women, thus allowing Mo to make her own life decisions. At no time does Lena allow her life to become a woe is me  tale, as readers we are not allowed to pity Lena, rather we love her and her indominatbility, perhaps a trait acquired through her lonely nomadic formative years. We fall for her as hard as she does for those she allows in, she displays a depth of love which was denied her as a child and a creative freedom which is intoxifying.

Tracy Farr has written a truly wonderful first novel and given life to wilfully ethereal musician whose life and art deserve this novel. Like the best actual autobiographies, as readers we finish the story determined to find out more about the subject and their work. We move to replace the needle on the opening groove and make a mental list for the local record shop.

A classy debut to be read and passed forward.

 

Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh

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This is the newest title of the Next Girl on the Train genre. Like GotT Eileen is heavy on character study, however light on plot. That’s not to say there is no story, there most certainly is, it is merely slow on the reveal. As the title suggests the central character is Eileen, Eileen Dunlop a retired cop’s stay at home daughter. Eileen has issues; of self esteem, body dysmorphia, alcohol & an abusive alcoholic father. She works in a young offenders home & occupies her hours fantasing about one of the guards whose house she sits outside on Sundays. She dresses in dead mother’s clothes, keeps her Dad in gin & regularly shoplifts. Quite frankly Eileen is a mess. Until Christmas week 1964, when the glam Rebecca St John is appointed as the new facility counsellor.

Rebecca is everything Eileen is not, she is the prom queen & emotionally unstable Eileen becomes hopelessly infatuated with her. Rebecca notices Eileen & actually befriends her. Thus setting on course the chain of events that would see Eileen disappear.

What unfolds through Eileen’s matter of fact narration is a very Hitchcockian pact. In her desperation to escape to a big city (New York) is Eileen willing to leave her helpless father alone to his demons & the squalor of their home? What is she willing to do to achieve her dream? How does Rebecca figure in her story?

I found Eileen to be thoroughly engrossing – with the emphasis on ‘gross’, she is not a character for everyone but she is certainly an interesting study in noir.