Saturday February 20, 2010
About a Girl Joanne Horniman Allen & Unwin, $17.99 JOANNE Horniman's latest book for young adults is a small, pensive novel about two girls in love. The narrator, Anna, has a passion for literature and works at a bookstore. Anna is isolated and new to Sydney. When she meets Flynn, a musician, she becomes infatuated, and an ecstatic but short-lived affair ensues. Anna is an open book €” taking us on a nostalgic journey into her own childhood in Canberra. But Flynn hides a secret that will end their budding romance. About a Girl captures the ephemeral, transient qualities of young love. The prose is terse but evocative (though the literary references may elude younger readers) and the characters are realistic, particularly the depiction of teen sexuality. It's an accessible book pervaded by a gentle but insistent sense of elegy.Wake Robert J. Sawyer Gollancz, $32.99 HARD sci-fi fans will be familiar with prolific Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer. In Wake, he continues the Asimovian tradition of drawing upon the latest science to illuminate fundamental philosophical questions underpinning human existence. Caitlin Decter is a teen genius, blind from birth. A visual implant connected to the web allows her to see not the physical world but the vast flow of information embodied by the internet. It is here that Caitlin witnesses the first stirrings of a new consciousness, a webmind, and resolves to help it learn. Meanwhile, a virus has decimated parts of rural China and the authorities have resorted to culling those at risk to prevent it spreading further. A further subplot sees a hybrid chimpanzee €” capable of creating representational art €” whose fate lies in the hands of rival scientists. Sawyer's scientific ideas are the main attraction; his characters and narrative serve merely as expository tools and can be clumsily drawn.The Wife's Tale Lori Lansens Virago, $29.99 THE Wife's Tale delves into the world of the comfort eater. Its heroine, Mary Gooch, works at a drugstore in provincial Ontario. She weighs more than 136 kilograms. On the eve of her 25th wedding anniversary, her husband €” known simply as Gooch €” vanishes, leaving only an account with $25,000. It's an act of desertion that sends Mary straight to the fridge, a habit sparked by a tragedy long ago and now a deeply ingrained response to anxiety. Unworldly, naive and morbidly obese, Mary travels to California in search of her husband, and finds herself on a journey that will force her to confront her addiction. If Lori Lansens creates a memorable protagonist, the character development doesn't do her justice. Regrettably, both the novel's prose and Mary's credibility are undermined by vacant slogans of personal empowerment and strident self-help platitudes.PICK OF THE WEEKBeautiful as Yesterday Fan Wu Picador, $32.99 IN HER second novel, Beautiful as Yesterday, Fan Wu focuses an intimate lens on a Chinese-American family. Sisters Mary and Ingrid Chang live on opposite sides of the US and lead very different lives. Mary resides in suburban California. An IT professional, devoted churchgoer and mother, her orderliness hides rising resentment at her husband's long working hours, as well as a legacy of grievances from her family life in China. Ingrid leads a more bohemian lifestyle, a freelance translator who drifts from New York to wherever the wind takes her. When their elderly mother Wang Fenglan arrives from China, the estranged sisters are forced into an awkward reunion, and long-buried secrets emerge. Beautiful as Yesterday is a quiet and luminous novel that eschews melodrama, generating momentum through the texture of quotidian events and small but telling observations of character.
- February