Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: Paula McGrath

Welcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.

Today’s guest is the Irish writer Paula McGrath, who lives in Dublin.

Paula has a background in English Literature and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Limerick.

Her first novel, Generation, was published in 2015. Her latest novel, A History of Running Away, has just been published in hardback by John Murray. I read it while on holiday a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. Watch out for my review coming very soon.

Without further ado, here are Paula’s choices:

A favourite book: The Lover by Marguerite Duras

Ulysses (see below), and The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino are strong contenders, but every few years I return to another favourite, The Lover, by Marguerite Duras. Set in pre-war Indochina of Duras’ childhood, this novel (novella, really) tells the unsettling story of a 15 year old girl and her wealthy Chinese lover. I first read it when I was in my early twenties, and it intrigued and alienated me in equal measure; as much as I was fascinated by its protagonist, I could not relate to experiences which were just too far removed from my own. But something curious has happened in the intervening years: with each reread, my world-view seems, if not quite to converge, at least to draw closer to that of Duras’s protagonist. But there is something about the book which I suspect will always remain a puzzle, and I can’t help thinking that Duras, who rewrote her story over and over, in different guises, felt the same.

A  book that changed my world: Ulysses by James Joyce

I read Ulysses first at 18 and though most of it went over my head I was hooked. I studied it a couple of years later with then Trinity College lecturer, now Senator David Norris, a brilliant entertainer and teacher, who brought the book to life. Once you’ve heard his “shite and onions” rendition you can never unhear it. In the nineties, I was back worrying it again, comparing the Penelope/Molly Bloom episode with Edna O’Brien’s Night for a Master’s degree. Later, I bought the audio version and I listen to bits of it often. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it.

I fought against it when I began writing, as every Irish writer must. I wince when I look over something I’ve just written and find unintentional stream-of-conscious sentences or composite words – a section of my novel, A History of Running Away, had to be prised gently from my Joyce-stained fingers and properly punctuated – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A book that deserves wider audience: Gods & Angels by David Park

Otherwise well-read people often admit not having read, or even heard of, David Park. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were to learn that he’s not particularly interested in reaching a wider audience, but I can’t recommend his short story collection, Gods & Angels, enough. It takes its title from Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is man” speech, and aptly encompasses the book’s dominant theme of masculinity. Fear, inadequacy, and isolation hover just beneath the surface for most of the predominately male protagonists. Park is a consummate stylist, and this collection flows and startles by turn, its language ever-attuned to the requirements of the given moment. Sometimes these moments can seem hopeless, but for all the failings of its protagonists, the stories in this collection ultimately offer plenty of reasons for optimism.

Thanks, Paula, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!

This is such a great selection of books. I’m a big fan of The Lover, which I read and reviewed a few years ago. It’s one of those books that really sticks with you, it’s so evocative and sensual. 

I’ve also read Ulysses (though never reviewed it) and regard it as one of the most amazing novels I’ve ever read. No, I didn’t understand every word, but the playful use of language, the way each chapter is written in a different style and genre, the evocative atmospheres and emotions of it all, are really something to behold.

And while I’ve not read David Park’s short story collection, I’m pleased to say I’ve read two of his novels — The Light of Amsterdam and The Truth Commissioner — and enjoyed them both.

What do you think of Paula’s choices? Have you read any of these books?

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: Joy Rhoades

Welcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.

Today’s guest is the Australian writer Joy Rhodes.

Joy, a lawyer, was born in a small town in rural Queensland, Australia, but has worked all around the world, including Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and New York. She now lives in London with her husband and their two young children.

Her debut novel, The Woolgrower’s Companion, was published in Australia earlier this year and will be published in the UK later this week. Set on a sheep station in the Australian outback during the Second World War, the story draws on the experiences of Joy’s paternal grandmother who spent much of her life on a farm in rural New South Wales.

Without further ado, here are Joy’s choices:

A favourite book: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I find I’m a bit disloyal to my favourite books, in that there’s some moving on that’s a feature of the list. I’ve loved The Great Gatsby since I was a kid. I still do. And it does everything in a book I’d love to do: a strong sense of place and time; characters who are complex and whose imperfections drive the gripping story but make it no less tragic. Plus great moral questions about life and choices. Magic.

I loved Sula by Toni Morrison for the writing, and for drawing me to its world. It’s a remarkable book. And I’m currently a big fan of Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See. I loved the story — and the writing craft! I’m in awe.

A book that changed my life: My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

My brilliant careerMy Brilliant Career was a very important book to me when I was a teenager. I grew up in a small country town in western Queensland, and I had a wonderful childhood: a stable, loving family in a true community. But I knew early on I didn’t want to stay; I wanted to see the world that was out beyond the horizon. And that was a bit unusual, then. Seeing Sibylla feel those same urges to get away, to see places and do things, was a great and secret validation of what I was feeling. So that story hooked me completely.

As I get older, I can see too, it’s a beautifully crafted book, made all the more remarkable given it was published when Miles Franklin was 21.

A book that deserves a wider audience: Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko

MullumbimbyMelissa is an award-winning Aboriginal writer of Goorie heritage. Mullumbimby is a novel of belonging, and of identity. The beautiful prose cuts deep. Jo Breen buys a piece of land in Bundjalung country, returning to the country of her forefathers. It’s set in a fictional town in the hinterland of northern NSW, and Jo attempts to tame her land — to fight the lantana—while trying to stay out of competing claims for native title. The book puts you right there. I could see and smell the lantana, and the rich, green of those lush hills. And it’s funny and poignant, too.

Melissa recently won the Copyright Agency Author Fellowship, adding to a list of earlier prizes. She’s a remarkable writer whose beautiful and compelling writing deserves a wide audience.

Thanks, Joy, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday.

I, too, love The Great Gatsby, and My Brilliant Career, which I only read a few years ago, impressed me with its strong feminist streak, despite being written in 1901. While I haven’t read Mullumbimby it has been on my wishlist for quite a while. I saw Melissa Lucashenko speak in London a couple of years ago and loved her forthright attitude.

What do you think of Joy’s choices? Have you read any of these books?

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: Suzanne Leal

Welcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.

Today’s guest is the author Suzanne Leal.

Suzanne — a lawyer experienced in child protection, criminal law and refugee law — lives in Sydney with her husband and four children.

Her critically acclaimed first novel, Border Street, was published in her native Australia in 2006. Her second novel, The Teacher’s Secret, was a bestseller in Oz, where it was compared withThe Slap and Big Little Lies. The story explores good and evil in schools and is billed as a big-hearted book about a small community and the search for grace, dignity and love in the midst of dishonour, humiliation, grief and uncertainty.

It has just been published in the UK by Legend Press, and I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing it very soon.

Without further ado, here are Suzanne’s Triple Choice Tuesday selections:

A favourite book: The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride 

I’ve come to Eimear McBride only recently and read her recent novel The Lesser Bohemians before embarking on her much-lauded first novel, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing.

The Lesser Bohemians took me completely by surprise.  I am not generally a fan of stream of consciousness writing but once I was into the rhythm of the narrative, I was completely captivated.  I’ve always been pretty rule based – never a wild child, although sometimes I wish I was – and The Lesser Bohemians is for me a writing wild child. In The Lesser Bohemians, McBride throws all the rules of grammar and punctuation out the window.   But rather than making the book indecipherable, as I had feared, McBride’s grammatical lawlessness gives to the narrative a passion and a rhythm that is absolutely intoxicating. Like Ulysses by James Joyce, it is a book that needs your time and your attention and rewards being read aloud.

A book that changed my world: The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton

I thought and I thought about this one but I can’t go past The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton. Enid Blyton did for me what J. K. Rowling has done for my children: she taught me that magical worlds are to be found in between the covers of books and that in themselves, words on a page can provide an escape from ordinary life. As a child, I felt that Enid Blyton was writing just for me and that The Enchanted Wood was my special book. I mark my lifelong love of reading and writing from this point.

A book that deserves a wider audience: The Full Ridiculous by Mark Lamprell

I do a lot of interviewing at writers’ festivals and literary functions and I first came across Mark Lamprell in this context, following the publication of his first novel, The Full Ridiculous. To be honest, I was a bit disconcerted when I began reading it because rather than being written in the first person or the third person, Lamprell chose to write the novel in the second person. For a page or so, this felt a bit odd. After that, it was completely liberating. The story of a man whose life is spiralling out of control, Lamprell’s writing is crisp and funny and insightful and compassionate and always honest.


Thanks, Suzanne, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!

This is a nice reminder for me to read The Lesser Bohemians because I, too, loved A Girl is a Half-formed Thing.

Enid Blyton is, of course, an old favourite of mine, having grown up with the Noddy books, the Magic Faraway books and both the Famous Five and Secret Seven series. (My favourite Blyton book, however, is The Children of Cherry Tree Farm.

Finally, I love the sound of The Full Ridiculous: I do quite like it when people write in the second person. It’s so rarely done, probably because it’s so hard to get right. But when it’s done properly it can be brilliant.

What do you think of Suzanne’s choices? Have you read any of these books?

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: A Fiction Habit

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.

Today’s guest is Sarah, who blogs at A Fiction Habit.

Sarah started blogging in 2012 to record her thoughts on the various books she read when she was a stay-at-home mother. When she returned to work in 2013 as an HR manager for a large IT consulting business she found it difficult to blog as much, but it hasn’t stopped her reading.

“My reading preferences are varied,” she explains. “But I like off-beat, non-mainstream titles and translated fiction. There’s a stubbornness about me that steers clear of best sellers — I’m probably missing something because of it!”

While Sarah says reading is an essential form of escape for her, she also does a lot of cycling, some running and a bit of swimming. She also likes drinking gin — and has a collection from 14 different distillers.

She lives in Surrey with her husband and two children, aged 13 and 11.

Without further ado, here are Sarah’s choices:

Heart of Darkness by Joseph ConradA favourite book: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad 

If you ask my husband to name his favourite book he will almost certainly tell you it is the last book he read.  This is indicative of the volume he reads rather than an indecisive nature.  It’s not a bad answer when you think of it, after all a favourite anything is dependant upon your reason for and mood at the time of digesting it.  In that case, I have several favourites; classics; contemporary; whole backlists of some authors. There are many books dear to me.

If you really pushed me for an answer I’d reluctantly tell you how much I enjoy Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (actually, I rate the slightly shorter Youth just as highly, but I think this is regarded as a short story, so not sure it really counts here).  There are a few things I admire about this compact tale of a journey into the jungle of Congo.  I love the framing of the narrative; told by the protagonist to a rapt audience years after the event, there is a feeling of anticipation mirrored in the journey itself.  There’s a wistfulness as the memory reveals the tale yet a feeling of wanting to forget the awful events.  Conrad’s description of the horrors of the journey and what the characters find is astonishing, more so when you consider he wrote in his third choice language.

Regeneration by Pat BarkerA book that changed my world: Regeneration by Pat Barker

Countless books have sent me on literary oddyssies; the post-apocolyptic teen novel that sent me back to the library week after week to seek out more of the same; the cold-war fiction on my parents’ shelves that kept me entertained through drizzly school holidays as I worked my way through the bookcase; Animal Farm, which I read at school and made me realise literature didn’t have to be literal to put across its point.

I’ve thought about this quite hard.  The book that changed my reading world was Regeneration by Pat Barker, the fictional account of a psychiatrist treating First World War soldiers for shell shock. Amongst his patients are poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. I read it shortly after its publication and having never studied war literature at school, it sent me on a journey of discovery that took in poetry, fiction and memoir — most moving amongst these being Vera Brittain’s Testament of YouthRegeneration energised me to read around and explore this subject to the enrichment of my reading life and as a human being.

Trumpet by Jackie KayA book that deserves a wider audience: Trumpet by Jackie Kay

I’m guessing I can’t chose three books here? Oddly, two of the books I want to nominate are works of fiction by female poets and one is by a Pulitzer Prize-winning male author — I’m guessing he probably has a large readership, but maybe not so much here in the UK…

On balance, although all three deserve a wider audience; I’ve gone for Trumpet by Jackie Kay.  This is the story of the life and death of fictional jazz artist Joss Moody told from the perspective of his friends and family.  It focuses on the revelation of his secret only coming to light after his death.  It is a book about race, gender and national identity all wrapped in a beautiful jazz-like prose.

Written almost 20 years ago, I was in my mid-20s when I first read it and it was a real eye opener; I’d read nothing like it in terms of the themes.  It was a literary moment of discovery and made me  realise that not everything you see is as it seems and assumption is a tricky road to travel down. You can also tell Jackie Kay is a poet when you read her fiction.  Her words are well thought through, sequenced and ordered until you are left in no doubt of her talent. Definitely deserving of a wider audience; still totally relevant 20 years on.

Thanks, Sarah, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!

Some great choices here: I loved Heart of Darkness when I read it in my early 20s; one day I will get around to reading the Regeneration trilogy (it’s been on my wishlist for an embarrassingly long time); and Trumpet, which is a new name for me, sounds amazing, and slightly reminiscent of Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues, a story that I loved.

What do you think of Sarah’s choices? Have you read any of these books?

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: the Australian Legend

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.

Today’s guest is Bill, who blogs at The Australian Legend.

His blog looks at the way literature represents Australians, and at alternatives to the myth of the laconic, independent bushman.

Bill dropped out of uni (Engineering) in 1970 to become a truck driver and has never looked back. He has owned trucks, gone broke, driven all round Australia, gone back to uni seven times over 40 years — for degrees in accountancy, logistics and most recently, literature.

He currently lives in Perth, WA, where he swims, blogs, drives road trains out into the desert, and does handyman stuff at the homes of his ex-wife and youngest daughter.

Without further ado, here are Bill’s choices:

My Career Goes Bung by Miles FranklinA favourite book: My Career Goes Bung by Miles Franklin

I could easily have chosen Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, which I read repeatedly as a child, and which when I last read it before making a gift of my old copy to a grandchild, still had the power to make me cry; or Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which I always find something new; but My Career Goes Bung, published in 1946 but written in 1902, is a special book for me.

Franklin wrote it as a “corrective” to the popular view that the very successful My Brilliant Career was autobiography. It is cleverly written as the mock autobiography of a mock autobiography writer, and as a (young) adult with some experience of the Sydney literary and suffragist scene, Franklin is much more clearly able to articulate her passionate feminism than in the earlier attempt which she wrote as a teenager. Sadly, her savage portrayals of prominent figures were too easily recognisable and no publisher would touch it. The two books together are stunningly “post-modern” in their questioning of ‘who is the author’ and may have been the stepping-stone to a glittering career. Alas, it was not to be.

An Australian Girl by Catherine MartinA book that changed my world: An Australian Girl by Catherine Martin

In the 1990s my then local library, Nunawading, in Melbourne created a special section for early Australian women writers. This arose directly out of the pioneering work of Dale Spender who wrote Writing a New World: Two Centuries of Australian Women Writers (1988) and who was the editor behind the republishing around that time of early Australian women novelists by Pandora and Penguin. So, I was introduced to a whole world of writing which is still largely ignored by Australian literary history.

The Bulletin ruled the 1890s with writers like Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson and Steele Rudd, but in the years immediately prior, in which we are generally told the only writers were Marcus Clarke and Rolf Boldrewood, the most popular and prolific writers were all women – Catherine Helen Spence, Ada Cambridge, Rosa Praed, “Tasma” (Jessie Couvreur), Mary Gaunt,  Catherine Martin.

I have selected An Australian Girl (1890) — which is both a story of love gone wrong and a long dissertation on marriage, independence and the beauty of the Australian bush — because it marks the beginning of the reading which led eventually to my M.Litt thesis, The Independent Woman in Australian Literature.

The Pea-PickersA book that deserves a wider audience: The Pea Pickers by Eve Langley

Patrick White carried The Pea Pickers with him during WWII because it “reminded him of Australia”. I studied The Pea Pickers, and its sequel White Topee, because its heroines Eve and June – calling themselves Steve and Blue – are the very archetypes of the Independent Woman. But I re-read them because Eve Langley’s is the most beautiful prose in Australian literature.

Steve, the narrator, is torn between her need as a woman to find love, and her need as a person and a poet to assert her independence, to be a Lawson-esque lone hand in the Australian bush. The two dress in men’s clothes, not because they are asexual but because that was the only practical way to live as itinerant farm workers in the 1920s. When a police sergeant bails them up for being dressed as men (which was illegal at the time) Steve is defiant: “You ask … are we masquerading as boys. No, we are masquerading as life. We are in search of a country … the promised land …” Their fellows have no doubt they are women – they often dress ironically, mixing items of women’s clothing with their boots and trousers, and in any case are “amply feminine” – and treat them with respect and affection in what is a period of often terrible poverty.

Over the course of two years they journey around Gippsland and north-eastern Victoria, picking peas and hops, “ready, as the picker is always, to leap out of our tailored clothes and mutilate anything in exchange for a hut and a few shillings a week.” Steve falls in love with the gawky “Macca”, but keeps him at arm’s length, and when the novel ends, Blue has gone home, Macca is off in the Alps, droving, and as for Steve, “I was alone.”

Thanks, Bill, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!

This is such an interesting trio of books, probably the most intriguing selection ever chosen here. The last two are new names to me, but I’ve been able to buy both An Australian Girl by Catherine Martin (who also uses the pseudonym Mrs Alick MacLeod) and The Pea Pickers by Eve Langley on Kindle for £1.99 and £5.99 respectively. I’m looking forward to reading them!

What do you think of Bill’s choices? Have you read any of these books?