Gaiman: Coraline

[This is my 2008 review of the graphic novel, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell, with some afterthoughts.]

book coverNeil Gaiman has been having a very good year, for about the tenth year in a row, writing fantasy for all ages and adapting it for other media. Coraline was his big success in 2003-04 as a short children’s novel, winning the Hugo, Locus, Nebula and other awards.

It is already available as an audiobook, it is in production as an animated film and here it is as a graphic novel (a classy comic book, to those who think ‘graphic novel’ is pretentious).

Does Coraline deserve this much attention?

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Sara Gruen: Water for Elephants

Sara Gruen Water for ElephantsIf you ever wanted to run away with the circus, if you have ever been passionately in love with the wrong person, if you are scared by the idea of a lonely old age in a nursing home, if you know some animals are cleverer and nicer than most people, if you love larger-than-life characters, lost worlds, high adventure and fairytale endings, then this book is for you.

Set in the USA in 1931, a period defined by Prohibition and the Depression, Water for Elephants follows Jacob Jankowski as he drops out of veterinary school and accidentally joins Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show On Earth, travelling by train across the country.

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Venero Armanno: Candle Life

candle life coverA young Australian writer in Paris, drowning in grief for the death of his girlfriend, is drawn into a surreal series of events by an enigmatic expatriate American. Sonny Lee, first encountered as a vagrant on the streets, may or may not have been the important literary figure he claims to have been, but he does eventually set the novel’s unnamed narrator on a path that spirals down into the darkness of the Parisian catacombs. His disturbing influence is counterbalanced by a sweet, mute Russian prostitute and an uncomplicatedly affectionate young Frenchwoman.

Candle Life has many parallels with John Fowles’ The Magus, likewise centred on a young writer isolated in a foreign community and manipulated into strange and frightening experiences which ultimately bring him self-knowledge; both even have sub-plots revisiting the Second World War, but The Magus is fifty years old, and shows it, while Candle Life is absolutely contemporary. For its major characters, all living on the fringes of society, stability is inconceivable while identity is fluid and drugs, casual sex and gratuitous violence are commonplace. Fowles would have been appalled by the collapse of social institutions, but he would have recognised that his questions about identity and the relationship between truth, fantasy and fiction, had been tackled anew with vigour and integrity.

Brisbane-born Venero Armanno teaches creative writing at the University of Queensland. The mode of his seventh novel matches its content, dreamlike in its swirl of action and illusion and its sudden changes of perspective. Candle Life is a wild, brilliant book.

Vintage, $32.95

Review originally published July 2006,
added to this site October 2020.

Browne: Rendezvous at Kamakura Inn

book coverAustralian writer Marshall Browne establishes a convincing Japanese ambiance for his tenth novel, a dark, bloody riff on the familiar theme of a good cop breaking the law to achieve justice.

A long, dangerous, Tokyo Police investigation into a corrupt politician is abruptly shut down, days short of success. The squad is broken up and its leader, Inspector Aoki, sent on leave. A prominent journalist breaks the story shortly afterwards and is brutally murdered in response – and we haven’t even reached the end of the prologue.

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Mick Jackson: Ten Sorry Tales

ten sorry tales coverTen Sorry Tales is a collection of wondrous stories about quirky characters and bizarre events. Open it to meet a boy who brings a butterfly collection back to life, a girl who collects bones, an evil old horse which steals buttons, and two old ladies who gut and smoke their visitors like herrings and keep them around the house for company.

Jackson works in the very English tradition of Roald Dahl, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Mervyn Peake. Continue reading “Mick Jackson: Ten Sorry Tales”