Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Stiff : the curious lives of human cadavers by Mary Roach (Christine, Takapuna Library)


Stiff : The Curious Lives of Human CadaversDust to dust, ashes to ashes may be true but many amazing thing can happen to human bodies before they become just inert chemicals.  Mary is never afraid to ask questions of undertakers and crime-scene investigators, anatomy teachers and everyone else who works with the dead.  Their answers provoke more questions and many interesting asides. We people have been inventive and contrary in our attitudes to those no longer alive. If your curiosity exceeds your squeamishness, this perfect.

Title: Stiff : the curious lives of human cadavers 
Author: Mary Roach 
Publisher: W W Norton
Date: 2003
    ISBN: 9780393050936

   Click on this link to go to the catalogue record  Stiff

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A pleasure and a calling by Phil Hogan [Christine, Takapuna]

There are functionaries that serve us, such as real estate agents who after they have done whatever we need disappear from our lives, or that is what we expect and what usually happens.  But what if said real estate agent is a class one nosy parker and keeps the keys to the house that you have just bought through his office?  The narrator here is just one such person, he also fancies himself as a vigilante, an unsupervised protector of his community.  The 'justice' that he dishes out is out of proportion to the transgression.
This is an unsettling tale, anybody of Mr Heming's mindset could act as he did here.  It would be difficult to predict his behaviour and stop him. It is fascinating to get a glimpse into the mind of someone so nasty who can seem so ordinary.
Title: A pleasure and a calling
Author: Phil Hogan
Publisher: Doubleday
Date: 2014
ISBN: 9780857521880

Pleasure and a calling
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The Sad Passions by Veronica Gonzalez Pena (Simon, Central Library)

A few months ago a friend mentioned to me that The Sad Passions by Veronica Gonzalez Pena was the best book she’d read all year. Along with that evocative title, and the fact it was set in New Mexico, my interest was piqued.

Before I’d even begun reading it I was struck by the Francesca Woodman photograph on the cover. Like the novels title (and, as it transpired, like the prose inside), the cover image contained riveting contradictions. It was both tragic and romantic, seductive and chilling. In this haunting black and white picture a woman hangs by her arms to the top of a door frame. It is hard not to think of suicide by hanging. Her face is partially hidden behind her arm. One senses she is hiding from the cameras gaze - in the process of disappearing herself. Yet the woman’s arms are shaped into half an ‘X’ - is it possible that we are not looking at an image symbolic of self-harm, of self-disappearing, but rather some kind of symbolic crucifixion of the spirit by the world that lies outside the cameras frame? And in another way there is a semblance of hope – this woman is hanging on for dear life: suspended between what is left of her existence and inevitable death, between memory and the present, between the spirit world and the physical world. She does not want to leave the physical world behind – not completely.

These multiple strains are embodied by one of the 6 narrators of this book in particular. Julia, one of 5 sisters, is the one sent away to live with a distant uncle by their increasingly dysfunctional mother. Julia is suspended between a desire to locate the identity that her banishment robbed her of, and the equally strong desire to forget about the existence of her family all together. All the sisters are, in different ways, suffering a primal ache born of this lack – the lack of a mother capable of expressing the love she does indeed have in her heavy heart; the lack of having a father who could be as much of a Dad as a rambling, promiscuous fair-weather friend; the lack of having Julia, the sister who was disappeared for reasons that are slowly, expertly revealed as the novel winds on, switching between voices, and between the varied tones and perspectives of the same pulsing, passionate, interminable sadness.

With each new chapter a different sister is introduced, and then, eventually, we meet their mother. We become privy to her haunted mind, the endless flashbacks of the good times with the father of her children (times which were never purely good), and how quickly they were outweighed by times that were purely bad. We also become cognisant of her struggle to take any responsibility for the family dysfunction, and perhaps wonder if we'd be any more capable of consciously owning the type of parental guilt that is ever-present whether you acknowledge it or not. The mother’s voice is just as mesmerising, just as conducive of that ache of empathy that a good novel leaves the reader with, and especially heart-breaking. This switching between multiple introspective voices acts to sabotage any compulsion the reader might have to stoop to judgement. What emerges is a prism of familial female sadness in the face of a mostly absent father figure. The beauty of the writing is one source of redemption. Another is the sense we are left with, at the end of the book, that Julia is still hanging on, courageously, like the woman on the cover image, for dear life.

Title: The Sad Passions
Author: Veronica Gonzalez Pena
ISBN: 9781584351207
Published: 2013
Publisher: Semiotext(e)

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Friday, December 12, 2014

The heroes' welcome by Louisa Young [Christine, Takapuna Library]


Riley and his superior officer, Peter, both return to their sweethearts from serving in the First World War.  Riley's damage is visable, his jaw was shot away and though it has been repaired he is no longer able to eat solid food nor kiss his bride. Riley and Nadine tiptoe around each other until they find his handicap fades in the face of their love.  Peter's damage is less obvious, he is consumed by guilt; that he failed as an officer because many men died under his command.  He retreats into drink, shunning his hovering wife and young son. A sad, sad tale of the ongoing effects of war, but enlightning and positive in the end.
The Heroes' Welcome
Title: Heroes' welcome
Author: Louisa Young
ISBN: 9780007361465
Published: 2014
Publisher: Borough

Heroes' welcome 
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The owl who liked sitting on Caesar / Martin Windrow [Christine, Takapuna library]


Tawny owls can make great companions, they may be awake all hours but they don't require much exercise.  (In the wild they spend most of their time perched, watching.)  Martin adopts Mumble as a hand-reared fledgeling.  I loved the laugh-aloud pratfalls of a novice flyer, and the oddity of buying an unskinned rabbit chopped into bite sized pieces from Harrods.  Martin is an accurate and kind observer, interpreting Mumble's behaviour without stumbling into anthropomorphism.  Interspersed with the descriptions of their delightful 15 year friendship are chapters on Tawny owl behaviour, biology and sociology.  The whole book is enchanced with line drawings and photographs.

The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar : Living with a Tawny Owl
Title: the owl who liked sitting on Caesar
Author: Martin Windrow
ISBN: 9780593072714
Published: 2014
Publisher: Bantam

Owl who liked sitting on Caesar
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