Wednesday 21 December 2011

Lifestyles of the Fairly Rich and not Awfully Famous

This year, just as in 2010, I decided to take up the Aussie Author Challenge, run by Jo of Booklover Book Reviews, and I'm extremely happy with the results.  In 2011, I've managed to read a staggering twenty books by Australian writers, easily my best-ever total, and I'll be back to do it all again next year!  So, to finish off the challenge, here are reviews of two more books: one which I didn't get around to reviewing at the time of reading (the only one of my Aussie reads this year without a review...), and one more entertaining novel to finish off the year in style :)

Indelible Ink is a book I heard about in an interview with Christos Tsiolkas, and which I reserved at the library while under the influence of a few glasses of Shiraz one Saturday night.  A couple of days later, I read Bree's post on the book and began to have second thoughts about the whole affair (the hangover probably didn't help either).  Luckily though, I gave it a go and was pleasantly surprised; it's a book which is well worth the effort.

Indelible Ink is set in the Sydney of a few years back and is centred on Marie, a well-off, middle-aged divorcée.  Despite a generous settlement, her lack of a head for numbers means that she has begun to slide into debt, and the only way out is to sell the family home - a multi-million dollar mansion with harbour views.  Unable to make up her mind to cast her old life away, she one day decides to get a tattoo - and this is the catalyst for a radical change of lifestyle...

You wouldn't be alone in thinking that Marie doesn't sound all that sympathetic a character (it is difficult to feel sorry for someone who is sitting on - or in - a few million dollars), but luckily that's not the intent.  Marie is well aware that the sale is the result of her own shortcomings, and it is her decision to throw caution to the wind (in this case, the lovely breeze coming off the harbour) that wins the reader over.  Besides, if you think Marie sounds a little vapid and shallow, just wait until you meet her family and friends.

This review would be a lot longer if I hadn't read the book about six months ago, but you don't really need to know much more about it than the fact that I liked it and would thoroughly recommend it.  It's an interesting insight into how the other half lives, and a peep behind the iron curtain the rich keep to cover their private lives, showing the dysfunctionality that lies behind.  And we all love a little voyeurism now and then...

The reader is also given a small glimpse of the high life in Nick Earls' latest novel, The Fix.  Set, as usual, up in sunny Brisbane, The Fix is a story of a story, and how things are never quite what they seem.  Josh has just come back to Australia after a few years working as a spin doctor in London, and while he is waiting to get back into his first love of journalism (and writing a newspaper blog to earn a few bucks in the meantime!), he is approached to carry out a PR campaign for a lawyer receiving a medal for bravery.

For someone used to saving the backsides of big, nasty corporations, it sounds like an easy gig.  One problem though is that the lawyer is Josh's old friend Ben, who we suspect may have hurt Josh in the past.  As the novel progresses, it's also clear that Ben's reluctance to talk about what happened in the 'siege' has less to do with his feelings towards Josh, and more to do with the truth of the whole affair...

I was a little hesitant on starting this book because Earls is a writer who started off writing lad-lit in the vein of Nick Hornby and Mike Gayle, and I wasn't sure if an older, more literary me would still enjoy his work (Gayle is one whose books I now avoid...).  An hour later, and a hundred pages down, I was safely able to take those fears and dump them in the Brisbane river; The Fix is a riveting read.

There were a few uncomfortable moments (I'm not sure a scene with a Korean businessman was strictly necessary, or appropriate), but what I like about Earls is that he has kept his earlier eye for the humorous side of life and combined it with a more developed sense of the darkness that lies beneath it.  The longer the book goes on, the more uneasy Ben becomes - and the more obsessed the reader becomes with uncovering the truth.  But what is 'truth', and is it ever possible to get to the bottom of anything, particularly someone's character?

On starting this post, I was thinking of writing something about how Earls has moved on from lad-lit and is working towards writing more complex and literary novels, thinking that this one would be another step in the same direction.  After finishing the book, I would have to say that I've changed my mind - this is the book that marks him as more than a humorous chronicler of the lives of thirty-something Brisbanites.  The descriptive writing may not be as elegant as I might want it to be, but The Fix is a fabulous, multi-layered work which will, I'm sure, stand up to rereading.

And that makes me very happy :)