Saturday, August 19, 2017

Graeme Samson: The Best of Adam Sharp

I discovered Graeme Simsion when his first novel The Rosie Project was first published. I remember sitting in many a parking lot, listening to the audiobook, reluctant to turn it off and go inside. The book made me laugh out loud, as did its sequel, The Rosie Effect.

With this newest book The Best of Adam Sharp, Simsion has made quite a departure from his first two novels. The title character is an IT consultant working part-time while caring for his ailing mother, watching his twenty-two year relationship with his partner Claire deteriorate. He spends a couple of nights a week playing bar trivia, for which he serves as music expert.

Through flashbacks readers learn that early in his career, he spent some time working on a project in Melbourne, where he often plays piano at a local bar. One evening, a young woman comes in, requests a couple of songs they end up singing together, before her escort--who Adam learns is her husband--hurries her out (as Adam plays, "You're Gonna Lose That Girl.")

He discovers she is Angelina Brown, star of an Australia cop show, and they end up having a brief love affair before he leaves the country. She's never far from his mind, though. Music is particularly evocative throughout the novel.

It is just as he's approaching fifty and feeling unsettled that Angelina sends a few short test emails, resulting in an invitation to spend a week with Angelina--and her husband Charlie--during their vacation in France.  Charlie, a foodie and wine connoisseur, is unusually tolerant of Adam's presence, and some of what occurs is not for the squeamish.

Adam's dilemma at this juncture keeps readers painfully on edge, but the musical threads woven throughout this entire novel are enough to inspire a playlist. In fact, bar trivia buffs may find themselves honing their skills--at least for the music category--before the book's end.

Euphoria by Lily King

When I first saw the title of the book Euphoria by Lily King on our bookclub reading list, I'll confess that I was expecting some kind of steamy romance. Instead, I found myself drawn into a fascinating story--and a love triangle--featuring a husband and wife team of anthropologists relocating to a new tribe in New Guinea after an unsettling time in another location. They encounter Bankston, a British anthropologist, who helps them locate a new place from which to work, down river from his base, promising to visit them soon.

For different reasons of their own, Nell and husband Fen are eager for his return, and disappointed that he waits so long. The narration moves between Nell's perspective and that of Bankston. Setting up housekeeping with more than the usual trappings one would expect in such private environs, Nell works feverishly, while Fen seems not to be taking notes at all. Fen's jealousy that Nell has already published and has been recognized for her work is apparent.

In a society in which the women seem to be dominant, Nell eventually is brought into their circle of trust. Some of the customs, particularly treatment of babies, are disturbing. The tribe also follows the custom of cutting off their own fingers at times of grief.

The novel, while taking great license, is based loosely on the life of the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead, and readers are likely to be interested enough to dig deeper into her story. However, the novel stands on its own as a fascinating, well-told tale.

Here Comes the Marathon of Reviews

I've read lots this summer but posted far too rarely, something I plan to remedy starting now.

 One particularly surprising book was Kathleen Rooney's Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, the story of a woman who, as an advertising copywriter for R. H. Macy's during the 30s, was the highest paid woman in America. Loosely based on poet and ad woman Margaret Fishback.)

The story moves back and forth between Lillian's daring, independent young adulthood and New Year's Eve 1984 as she strikes out alone through New York City. In her early adulthood, she challenged expectations for woman to marry and have a family, choosing instead to work, writing and publishing poetry, and generally having a good time. In the chapters featuring Lillian, still spunky as an old lady, she reminisces about Max, the man who won her heart, marrying her, fathered a son, and then divorced her.

Never maudlin, often charming, the story presents one woman's life in a world that changes drastically. She keeps her pride, while touching the lives of strangers, often becoming the recipient of simple kindnesses along the way.