Wit and wickedness

by Catherine Robertson / 22 January, 2015
A roundup of contemporary fiction by Catherine Robertson.
Amy Bloom
Amy Bloom: unexpected twists.

The cover blurb describes the stories by Hilary Mantel in THE ASSASSINATION OF MARGARET THATCHER (4th Estate, $34.99) as “bracingly transgressive”, which is code for “not for the easily offended”. Originally published between 1993 and 2012, the 10 stories range from a luridly fantastic vampire tale to soft-pedalled but unsettling character portraits. The best is the last, after which the collection is named. The book got Mantel into all sorts of trouble with Tory peers, and it does tackle its subject with some glee. Mantel has such control of language and such verve, wit and wickedness that she could make a washing machine instruction manual an instant classic. Cracking.


THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY (Text Publishing, $37) is the third in a series by Elena Ferrante, the reclusive Neapolitan author who’s developing quite a celebrity fan club. Her novels follow the relationship of Lila and Elena, both born in Naples in 1944. It’s now the 1960s, and Lila is working in a chicken factory while narrator Elena is living in comfort as an intellectual’s wife, but aware that her own moment of fame as author of a controversial novel has gone, perhaps for good. You’ll either adore the unrelenting emotional intensity of this book or it will give you a migraine. It’s well worth taking the opportunity to find out what it’ll be.


In 1939, when Eva is 12, her mother dumps her with the father she never knew and his other daughter, glamorous 16-year-old Iris. LUCKY US (Granta, $35) by Amy Bloom is the story of the lives the half-sisters are forced to make together, given the unreliability of their father, who is almost certainly not who he claims to be and who can barely scratch a living for himself. Over 10 years, the girls, with no money or education, survive Hollywood, World War II, domestic service and their own separation. This is a prettily written but unsentimental book with some unexpected twists and takes on the America of the time.



Patricia is in an old folk’s home. Or possibly two – at the same time. The nurses consider her confused, but Patricia is convinced that at one pivotal moment in her twenties, she split into two and her dual versions went on to live quite different lives. But which one was real? Trish, struggling with motherhood and a bad marriage? Or Pat, happy with her work, her partner and her Italian house? MY REAL CHILDREN (Constable & Robinson, $36.99) by Jo Walton is an inventive take on “what if” that breezes through the decades in ebullient style without shying from dark subjects, such as marital abuse and nuclear war. Recommended.


Thomas and Esther are trying to give their children a normal life in Saddam-ruled Iraq. But their choices put them under threat and they must flee to the UK, where money is hard to come by and cultural identity even harder to hold onto, especially for Thomas, damaged physically by torture and mentally by past guilt. RUN THOMAS RUN (Escalator Press, $32) by New Zealand author Kate Carty is a well-observed portrait of an immigrant family’s struggle to build a future without erasing the past. A minor carp is that it feels too short for the time frame covered; we need more time with the characters. Nevertheless, it’s a good read.


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