Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

A Year of Reading: 2012 [February 27]

Each year I keep a list of the books I’ve read. Some years, for example when I’m reviewing books regularly, the length of the list defies belief. In other years, when life’s curve balls distract me from reading or when I’m getting my narrative jollies from going to the theatre, the list is shorter. Last year was one of those ‘other’ years. I’m hoping I can get back to reading at least one book a week in 2013. Here are some brief thoughts about just a few of the books that I enjoyed in 2012.

Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides

No wonder Eugenides won a Pulitzer Prize for this novel. ‘Middlesex’ feels like three books in one – a transgressive historical romance, a gender-bending coming-of-age tale, and a portrait of a migrant enclave in late twentieth century America. The main character is a hermaphrodite and somehow Eugenides manages to create poetry from descriptions of the faulty mechanics of indeterminate genitalia. He reminds me of Jonathan Franzen but with less anger and cynicism, more helpless human compassion. Simply brilliant.

Sweet Old World – Deborah Robertson

I’ve been a fan of Deborah Robertson’s fiction since I read her award-winning novel ‘Careless’ and this year I discovered she is also an exquisite non fiction writer. Did you catch her autobiographical essay in the Father’s Days edition of Fairfax’s Good Weekend magazine last year? It’s worth searching it out. ‘Sweet Old World’ is her latest novel and it tackles the unusual – perhaps even taboo – topic of the grief that can result from male childlessness. There is a romance embedded within this tale but the book itself is not ‘a romance’ and the ending could come as something as a shock to those readers used to the Cinderella model of narrative closure. As ever, beautiful writing from this sensitive story-teller.

A Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

One of those books which contains so many lightly-delivered but profoundly insightful observations about human behaviour that you fold over every second page to make sure you can go back and read them again. This is a mystery, a love story and a philosophical tract whose ending will have you consulting fellow readers to make sure you’ve ‘read it right’. Barnes at his best.

Stravinsky’s Lunch – Drusilla Modejeska

I finally caught up with Modjeska’s book about a group of Australian female artists in preparation for hosting a public forum at which she was to be a guest. Her research is impeccable and her feminist approach to the subject matter is simultaneously gentle, humorous and uncompromising. This book should be a must-read for any woman considering trying to have a lifelong and successful creative career AND bring up children within a nuclear family. (Good luck with that.)

The Mountain – Drusilla Modjeska

This first work of fiction from Modjeska is not without flaws: a slightly over-complicated plot and too many characters who we sometimes struggle to fit into the jigsaw puzzle of inter-relationships. But Modjeska’s portrayal of a community of European and indigenous friends in late colonial Papua New Guinea taught me more about the recent history of our neighbour nation, and about Australia’s role in its perhaps precipitate de-colonisation process, than any text I’ve yet read. Love, politics, cultural appropriation, authenticity; these themes are all tackled with great courage and impeccable research, and you get the strong sense that the author lived through events very similar to the ones she describes.

The Wrong Boy – Suzy Zail

Declaration time – Suzy Zail is a friend of mine. She’s also a prolific and courageous writer whose memoir ‘The Tattooed Flower’ told the stoy of her father’s incarceration in one of Hitler’s death camps. Zail re-visits the Holocaust in ‘The Wrong Boy’, this time with a young adult novel about a Jewish girl who falls in love with a German boy. Somehow this plot device never seems controversial and that is because Zail has created believable characters

Other books i read and can happily recommend:

Adelaide – Kerryn Goldsworthy

Her Father’s Daughter – Alice Pung

True North – Brenda Niall

After Words – Paul Keating

A Visit From the Good Squad – Jennifer Egan

Reality Hunger – David Shields

The Engagement – Chloe Hooper

The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides