Book Review: All Our Secrets, by Jennifer Lane

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_all_our_secretsI began this novel with no expectations at all beyond the blurb, which made it sound dark and murderous, something along the lines of your usual crime fiction novel. And yes it would suit those who enjoy that type of read: but it is much much more than this. This is your ultimate immersive summer read.

Our 11-year-old narrator Gracie is the eldest in her family, which comprises of her mum, occasionally her promiscuous dad, and her extremely Catholic Grandma Bett; plus Elijah, and the 3-year-old twins Lucky and Grub. She and Elijah have a secret spot that they hide in while their Mum & Dad fight (usually about his indiscretions), but she is quietly proud to be his daughter. He is, to her eyes, the best-looking man in Coongahoola. Unfortunately, many other women agree.

‘At approximately three thirty in the afternoon, while walking on the banks of the Bagooli River, Martha Mills alleges she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary.’

The Bagooli River was not somebody anybody from the town went. ‘Not after the River Picnic. Not after Stu Bailey’s wife drowned in it, and whatever else happened that night.’ But one week after the vision, the Believers arrive. There are 500 of them, to camp beside the river and to worship the Virgin Mary under the tutelage of the self-named Saint Bede.

And then the murders began. ‘From every telegraph on Main Road, Nigel’s face looked down at up. His brown hair was bleached by the November sun and the sticky-taped ‘missing’ posters were crinkled and curling.’ Nigel is the beginning of a spate of murders centred on the River Children – the group of kids born 9 months after the River Picnic, many of whom don’t resemble their purported fathers.

Gracie’s brother Elijah is a River Child.

Author Jennifer Lane has drawn the small town of Coongahoola expertly. Martha Mills (who saw the vision) was there for Gracie’s birth when her mother’s waters broke at the supermarket at which Martha worked. Gracie’s godmother the nosy Mrs Ludlum was also there, and the rest of the characters making up the small town are all brilliantly drawn, with complexity where it is warranted, through a child’s eyes. Grandma Bett is another key character – as the main caregiver when times are tough, she is Gracie’s hero, albeit with a bit more praying than Gracie would like to do.

‘Grandma Bett was always talking to God – how could he hear what Mum was saying at the same time? And what about everyone else in the world? How could he hear them all at once?’

The complexities of religious belief is an ongoing thread in the book, thanks to the Believers and their inevitable ideological clash with every other church group in town. And while Gracie was never too concerned about being unpopular; thanks to her mum’s relationship with the Believer church, she has to endure cruel bullying. But this is no ‘woe is me’ tale – Gracie is emotionally smarter than that.

Lane’s writing is fabulous for that of a first-time author. The book felt well-edited and polished (as you would expectof a book edited by the wonderful Penelope Todd), and the writing is descriptive and immersive. The moments where Gracie retreats into her own thoughts are managed without dropping the pace of the story, and there is not one chapter that you finish thinking ‘that’s enough for now.’

One of the questions I went into this book was whether it had potential to be a cross-over title – from YA to adult and back again. I think it does. The murders are handled in a clean way, no Stephen King gore to be seen (though the way in which the naive narrator is used reminds me a little of a King novel). The voice is authentically young – you never feel as though an adult’s thoughts are going through a child’s head. But it remains interesting and fascinating.

I’d highly recommend this as a summer read for age 13+. It’s a pleasure to be part of Gracie’s world, dysfunctional though it may be.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

All Our Secrets
by Jennifer Lane
Published by Rosa Mira Books
ISBN 9780994132215

 

 

 

Book Review: Hitman Anders and the Meaning of it All, by Jonas Jonasson

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_hitman_anders_and_the_meaning_of_it_allJonas Jonasson’s previous books include The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared and The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden.

Per Persson works at the Sea Point Hotel as the receptionist and has a room behind the counter. Hitman Anders is a long-time resident of the hotel – his real name is Johan Andersson. Hitman Anders came by his name after putting an axe into the head of his amphetamine dealer. Everybody is scared of him and because of this he has never paid a cent in rent.

Johanna Kjellander, a former priest, is sleeping rough since being chucked out of her parish after announcing to her congregation she didn’t believe in God, much less Jesus.

Per Persson is handed an envelope at reception containing five thousand kroner for half a job done by Hitman Andersson. Hitman only broke one arm instead of two. His drinking is a bit of a problem but he doesn’t want to end up in prison again. He lives by his reputation and everybody being scared of him.

A scheme is hatched by Per Persson and Johanna to hire Hitman out for jobs with each job having a set price. That goes awry when Hitman finds God and doesn’t want to kill any more. They then hatch another scheme where they accept jobs on his behalf with payment made before the job is done.

I found this a very funny book with a totally improbable plot and lots of bible misquotes which really was the charm of the whole book. A great read.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Hitman Anders and the Meaning of it All
by Jonas Jonasson
Published by Fourth Estate Ltd
ISBN 9780008155575

Book Review: The Good Luck of Right Now, by Matthew Quick.

Available in bookstores nationwide.

The Good Luck of Right Now tells the story of a recentlycv_the_good_luck_of_right_now bereaved 38-year-old man, whose whole word had revolved around his mother. Through a series of deeply intimate, reflective letters written to actor Richard Gere, to whom he feels a sort of cosmic connection, Bartholomew Neil tries to make sense of his life and his future.

Bartholomew has a sweet, innocent outlook on life; he has been very sheltered and yet is well-read and curious. His point of view is this story’s hook; he can be both extremely insightful, and terrifyingly naïve (you wonder how he can possibly survive without his mother taking care of him). Quick endows Bartholomew with a beautiful turn of phrase, so that his letters to “Dear Mr. Richard Gere” at times have an almost lyrical quality.

Bartholomew is an observer, and a watcher. He is forced by his circumstances to become a participant in other people’s lives, from a self-defrocked priest to a therapist in desperate need of therapy, from an f-bomb dropping alien believer to a shy and damaged library assistant, and as he attempts to help others Bartholomew confronts his own insecurities and fears as he finally comes of age.

My favourite character was Max, a devout believer in alien abductions who uses the “f-word” in a way that may put off readers who aren’t comfortable with oft-repeated profanity. For someone described by his sister as “simple minded”, he often had a clarity and sense of joy that I really enjoyed.

The book touches on multiple themes: religion and the mysteries of life, how to define family, mental illness, domestic abuse, belonging, fate, the occupation of Tibet, “normality”, and self-acceptance are all covered in a story that takes the reader on a journey from Philadelphia to Ottawa’s Cat Parliament (it is a real thing). I felt many things while reading Bartholomew’s letters to Richard Gere; sadness, joy, hope, and empathy. By retelling events through Bartholomew’s letters, Quick moves the story along at a good pace, and even though I saw a major plot resolution coming way before Bartholomew did, I was right there with him as discovered a truth about his life, rather than groaning that it was so obvious.

I was expecting a light and fun book; what I got was a book that made me think, made me care about the characters, and made me question some of my own world views. That’s not a bad bargain. I wonder what Richard Gere thinks.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore.

The Good Luck of Right Now
by Matthew Quick
Published by Picador
ISBN 9781447247500