Book Review: Selfie, by Will Storr

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_selfieI am not being overly dramatic when I say that we are living in a time of increasing levels of mental illness and challenges to emotional health, actual and attempted suicides, unhappy and unfulfilled people, over whelming pressures to be someone that we may not be internally programmed to be. These have always been issues in our communities through the centuries, but in the last fifty years or so there these issues have jumped to the fore of the lives of many many people in our world. But why? And what can we do about it?

Will Storr’s Selfie takes a look at the very complex issue in two ways – how us humans have become so self-obsessed and, what exactly it is doing to us. Such a complicated subject cannot be easy to write about and the result is quite a complicated, wide ranging, energetic and fascinating exploration into what makes us, and our own individual self. On the flip side, this is a very long book, there is an enormous amount of very detailed information which at times is too much. Plus, for me, way too much space given to long-word-for-word conversations between the author and his interviewee. Some more vigorous editing would not have gone amiss. All of this does make for a book that you need to concentrate on while reading – this is one of my ‘read in the daylight hours’ books, rather than a ‘read before going to sleep’ book, because you do have to be concentrate.

The author himself is an investigative journalist, whose life and career is very, very interesting and successful. In this book, he is very open about his own suicidal thoughts, his perceived dissatisfaction with his own self. After looking at his website, with its diverse range of articles he has written, and his bio listing his achievements, you wonder why. But this is why he is perhaps the perfect person to write such a book. After all he has made it in his field, so what the hell is wrong with him? For these reasons alone this book is excellent as it is written with self interest at its heart, full of passion and that most important ingredient – curiosity.

He firstly sets the scene by looking at why people commit suicide or try, then takes us back to the beginnings of human civilisation when we lived in tribal groups, and conformity/sameness was the way the tribe survived. Then he takes us to Ancient Greece, where a beautiful and perfect physical form was such a crucial part of the philosophy of the times. The rise of Christianity/Catholicism with its rampant notions of guilt planted the seed for self doubt, inability to meet expectations. A long period of time passes till we get to mid 20th century USA with the beginnings of liberalism, the power of the individual, decline of collectivism, which have since evolved into the current latest greatest piece of economic thinking that benefits a few at the top of the money tree, and negates everyone below – neo-liberalism, epitomised in its most raw form as I see it in zero hours contracts. I still can’t get my head around employing someone, but not guaranteeing them any work. Tied up with this is a hilarious and almost unbelievable chapter about the ‘self esteem’ industry in America. That was an absolute revelation for me! He then moves into the frightening world of Silicon Valley, start ups, venture capital, Google and the like.

Finally, the last chapter – how to stay alive in the age of perfectionism – where it is all supposed to come together, but for me doesn’t! The only message I got out of this chapter, is that if you are unhappy in your life, things aren’t going right, you are overwhelmed and not coping, do not try to change yourself. We are essentially programmed from birth to react to situations in a certain way – how do you explain children brought up exactly the same way reacting differently to a life changing event. Because the answer is that you can’t change yourself – there goes the self help industry, cognitive therapy etc. What you have to do is change the world you live in, which translates as change your job/profession, where you live, how you live, who you live with. Easier said than done, but what this solution does is take away that you yourself are 100% responsible for your negative self-perception, and gives you the power to fix things in another way.

Well worth reading, and keeping for future forays. The ten page index is excellent, and the notes/references take up another 50 pages. Whenever you hear or read about why people self harm, you wonder if someone maybe a narcissist, what really went on in those hippie retreats in the 1960s, how Donald Trump got to be in the White House, pick this book up because it explains a lot.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Selfie
by Will Storr
Published by Macmillan
ISBN 9781447283652

 

Advertisements

Book review: The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_mothers_promise.jpgThe Mother’s Promise opens with Alice learning she has cancer. Like any mother, her first thought is for her child. Alice is too busy to have cancer, let alone surgery. Alice’s daughter Zoe suffers from social anxiety, and going to school is painful for her. They are a tight unit, with no suitable family or friends to support them. Alice finds the idea of a week in the hospital impossible. Kate, her pregnant cancer care nurse is worried about the lack of support and calls Sonja, a social worker who has some concerns about her own relationship.

Together, the women in this story are brought together by Alice’s treatment. As the story progresses the women become more and more involved until finally a previously unknown connection is revealed. It was clear from the very beginning that Alice and Zoe are a very tight unit who, while experiencing difficulties, feel like they are doing well by themselves. The forced and unwelcome involvement of Kate and Sonja leads to small opportunities to change their lives.

A Mother’s Promise is cleverly written. Different chapters take each woman’s voice and while the story opens with Alice, each of the women are dealing with their own issues. I enjoyed the depth of the characters and particularly enjoyed reading about Zoe and her experience of social anxiety. I liked the themes of belonging and creating your own family, and I really enjoyed the development of the characters. Zoe in particularly goes through a lot of changes – perhaps reflecting her young age and her potential for change. The adult characters are forced to reflect on their past decisions throughout the book, to ensue that Zoe is safe and happy.

I really enjoyed this book. I liked the tight focus on the main characters and developing tension. Sally Hepworth writes with honesty and dark humour on topics that are serious. The topic of a mother and child facing a cancer diagnosis could be maudlin. But Sally Hepworth negotiates the story with sincerity and even joy. I look forward to reading her other books.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

The Mother’s Promise
by Sally Hepworth
Published by Macmillan Australia
ISBN 9781925479959

Book Review: This was a Man, by Jeffrey Archer

Available now from bookshops nationwide.

cv_this_was_a_manThis is the final volume of the Clifton Chronicles. I felt rather sad when I finished reading this book as it was like saying good-bye to old friends.

Jeffrey Archer is a master story teller with many awards and accolades under his belt. This was a Man continues the story of the Barrington and Clifton families during the 1970’s.

The trigger is pulled and the victim dies instantly. Two bodies fall but one survives as she only fainted. Karin Barrington is lifted onto a stretcher and airlifted by helicopter to a private hospital in Turo.

Giles Barrington is informed of the shooting and told that John Pengelly, Karin’s “father” is no longer a threat. John Pengelly’s blackmailing of Karin and the hold he had over her are gone.

Emma Clifton is campaigning for Margaret Thatcher at the next election. When Thatcher wins, a surprise is in store for Emma – a very flattering offer that she can’t turn down from the newly elected Prime Minister. Emma has spent 10 years as Chairman of the Bristol Royal Infirmary and the experience she has gained, stands her in good stead for the new appointment and the challenges ahead.

Sebastian and Samantha Clifton’s very talented daughter Jessica is admitted to the Slade School of Fine Art and soon becomes infatuated with a fellow student Brazilian Paulo Reinaldo. Where does this leave Jessica?

Lady Virginia Fenwick continues to wreak havoc wherever she goes. Trying to raise funds for her continuing extravagant lifestyle she hones in on the newly widowed Duke of Hertford. Her wiliness and ingenuity is unbelievable as she limps from one financial crisis to another. She engineers the Duke into proposing and marrying her. However, her financial woes don’t stop there. Lady Virginia’s personality is one that attracts trouble wherever she goes.

Reading this book over the Christmas/New Year break I found it hard to put down, but I had to as having family to stay it would have been incredibly rude to have ignored them all so I could find out “what happens”. A fitting and sad end to a great series.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

This was a Man
by Jeffrey Archer
Published by Macmillan
ISBN 9781447252245

Book Review: A French Wedding, by Hannah Tunnicliffe

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_french_weddingTo celebrate his 40th birthday, rock star Max arranges a big weekend with his closest friends. Although they don’t see each other as much these days, they remain as close knit as they were when they met back at art college in the 90s.

They arrive at his fabulous house in France, eager to enjoy a weekend of reconnecting and reminiscing the glory days of their youth. Ever the rock star – cocky, wild and leader of the gang and struggling with addiction, Max may still have the girls swarming around him, but only one has ever had his heart. His kindred spirit, Helen. Troubled and wild like him, she arrives with her half-sister Soleil, who does not fall for Max’s rock n roll charm.

Nina and Lars, two of the gang who paired up, arrive with their teenage daughter Sophie. Tensions between mother and daughter are clear. Rosie arrives without her three sons, but with husband Hugo. A surgeon, he is conservative and safe, everything Rosie thought she wanted. Hugo most definitely does not fit in with this bohemian crowd. The final member of the gang is Eddie, who arrives with Beth, his latest, younger girlfriend. Also at the house for the weekend is local villager Juliette, employed by Max as his cook/housekeeper. Once a celebrated rising chef and owner of a popular restaurant in Paris, Juliette has returned to the village to heal.

Much of the story is told from Juliette’s view point as she observes the various interactions between the group. She notices the strained exchanges between husband and wife, the quiet angst of the teenager and the concern of friends for one another. As she serves up one glorious feast after another, along with some advice, she finds herself drawn into the dynamics of the group and becomes part of the team. Other pieces of the tale are delivered in flashbacks, both from Max and Juliette, and this worked well to reveal more about the characters current situations.

Throughout the weekend, events begin to escalate, leading them all towards truths some would have preferred kept hidden but which need to be acknowledged and faced. A sudden dash to Paris took both the characters and myself by surprise; leading to a refreshing scenario that I had not seen coming.

The tale ends with a wedding a year later, everyone again gathers at Max’s house. We revisit Juliette, now in her happy place as owner of the village bakery and doing well. As for who is getting married, again a nice turn that I didn’t see coming, although the clues were in place.

This is a tale of a weekend of change, of reflection and facing truths. An enjoyable read for the personalities and lives contained within and the fun moments of reminiscing (anyone who was a teen in the 90s will love the familiar music referenced).

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

A French Wedding
by Hannah Tunnicliffe
Published by Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743548103

 

Book Review: Horses Who Heal, by Sue Spence

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_horses_who_healI looked forward to reading this book as I’m a believer in the premise that animals and humans are able to bond in a way that enriches the lives of both. Horses, being prey animals that rely on an innate ability to read the emotions of other creatures, are especially sensitive to such cues and many caring people have built strong friendships with them. Sue Spence mentions some of these in this book and she can be counted among their number.

As a child, Sue found that her interaction with horses could settle her into a calm state that banished upsets and problems temporarily. Her sensitivity enabled her to read the horse’s state of mind and to engage with the animal in a way which, over time, developed into a deep and mutual friendship. This aspect of her personality countered the energy she brought to other activities as she grew into adulthood, an energy that was so frenetic it brought her, several times, to the brink of disaster. With greater knowledge and understanding of herself, Sue was able to use her remarkable talent to engage on a very deep level with both animals and humans to create an enterprise which teaches disadvantaged youth, among others, how to engage and grow and communicate.

This is more than a narrative of a life with its ups and downs. It is an inspiring account of a person discovering herself, her strengths and weaknesses, and using these discoveries to live a life of compassion and empathy. It is a book that should be on the top of the list of intended reads for those who love horses as well as those who would like to know how to live their lives more fully.

Sue has written an account of her life to date which captures her personality so well I felt that I had been in a conversation with her rather than reading her words on a page. I enjoyed it immensely, so much so that I wish I could get to know Sue better. She is the kind of person who makes a good friend, both of humans and of animals. And she has the skills to show us how to be a friend in return.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Horses Who Heal
by Sue Spence
Published by Macmillan
ISBN 9781743535028

Book Review: The Dry, by Jane Harper

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_dryThis is a crime novel which grips from the opening chapter. Forget the grime-filled American streets, the bleak northern English towns. Here we have small town Australia, the town of Kiewarra, with drought on the farms and drought in the outlook of the residents.

Aaron Falk was brought up in this town and returns to attend the funeral of his childhood mate. The circumstances of his departure and the links to recent events in the town, form the basis of this grim tale. Here the prejudices run deep and memories of past wrongs are still vivid to the townsfolk. While Aaron is now a Federal Police Investigator, based in Melbourne, this visit is unofficial and he has no intention of staying or of looking deeper at the circumstances of his friend’s death.

His visit is intended to last one day, but at the request of an old friend who is not convinced of the cause of death, he stays. Childhood memories and current events show connections which Aaron cannot dismiss as coincidence. Are the three deaths really murder-suicide, and why was a young child left alive?

This is a first novel for Jane Harper, but the superb interplay of character, plot, past and present, is handled like a pro. She manages to weave images of drought through setting and characters. It is not a self-conscious construct, but a genuine feel for the land and the community. The unpublished manuscript was awarded the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Award.

I loved this book. It seemed to capture the unspoken feelings which are so much a part of Australian and New Zealand small towns. The pioneering forbears left us with a work ethic which results in unspoken acceptance of tragedy. Aaron Falk challenges this and I am left hoping for another story about him from Jane Harper.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Dry
by Jane Harper
Published by Macmillan Aus
ISBN 9781743548059

Book Review: Please Enjoy Your Happiness, by Paul Brinkley-Rogers

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_please_enjoy_your_happinessThis is a love story, a fine romance but there is nothing mushy about it. Mills & Boon it is not.

Instead, it is a beautifully written snapshot of the authors’ First Love, based on his time spent in Japan as a serviceman, which still resonates today with the author.

Just 19 years old when he is sent to serve in Japan, Paul and the older, more sophisticated Kaji Yukiko are an unlikely match. She is on the run from very unpleasant circumstances, and he is a very young serviceman. It is a shared love of poetry, music and the theatre that draws them together, unleashing a love that will continue to have an impact on the rest of Brinkley-Rogers’ life. This all happened during a time when there was no email or social media, and there was limited telephone access. People wrote letters – and it was a rediscovery and rereading of Kaji’s letters to him that enabled Brinkley-Rodgers to realise that after all he had been through, Kaji was still the love of his life, and that the love had never died.

This is really quite a special book, Brinkley-Rogers’ story is beautifully written and very engaging and without artifice. It is honest and warm, there is plenty of room for thought, especially with regards “lost” love – love that may in fact not have been lost, but has been forgotten, where only hindsight can remind us of the impact that these loves have had on us. Brinkley-Rogers invites us to look back, acknowledge and celebrate our loves and honour them, and he does so in a very readable book which keeps the reader turning the pages.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Please Enjoy Your Happiness
by Paul Brinkley-Rogers
Published by Macmillan
ISBN  9781509806089