Category Archives: Book Review

Review: The Spare Room

The Spare Room by Helen Garner
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, Incorporated
Pub. Date: February 2009
ISBN-13: 9780805088885

Here is the blurb from Barnes & Noble:

“A powerful, witty, and taut novel about a complex friendship between two women—one dying, the other called to care for her—from an internationally acclaimed and award-winning author
How much of ourselves must we give up to help a friend in need? Helen has little idea what lies ahead—and what strength she must muster—when she offers her spare room to an old friend, Nicola, who has arrived in the city for cancer treatment. Skeptical of the medical establishment, and placing all her faith in an alternative health center, Nicola is determined to find her own way to deal with her illness, regardless of the advice Helen offers.

In the weeks that follow, Nicola’s battle for survival will turn not only her own life upside down but also those of everyone around her. The Spare Room is a magical gem of a book—gripping, moving, and unexpectedly funny—that packs a huge punch, charting a friendship as it is tested by the threat of death.”

My Thoughts:

When I first received this book I thought that it might be a memoir. It reads like a memoir of sorts, but it is Garner’s fictional treatment of caring for her dying friend. That said, the story fell a little flat for me. As Garner sets-up the story, I anticipated a warm, welcoming reunion of two close friends. Yes, one of them is battling cancer and it would be a rather bittersweet reunion to say the least but if you haven’t seen the person for a long time, there would be some affection shared between the two, right? I didn’t feel the affection and warmth.

For one, Nicola is staying with Helen so she can be closer to the crack-pot treatment center that she has arranged to go to. Helen, who has more faith in western medicine has a hard time supporting her friend when she sees how these alternative treatments affect her. I do feel that Garner hit the nail on the head with this aspect of the book. I am all for alternative treatments, but the treatments that Nicola’s poor body endured just made me want to scream. Helen’s frustration was realistically written and closely matched my own level of frustration so I could totally relate to what Helen was feeling even though I have never been in her situation.

Overall, I feel that the relationship between Nicola and Helen could have been fleshed out a bit more. There weren’t a lot of fond memories being shared between the two and although Helen’s ability to provide the basics of food, water, and shelter is satisfying in its own right, I expected a bit more, well… love.

On a positive note, there is quite a bit to discuss here as far as alternative treatments and the medical profession as a whole. A book group would have a lot to talk about.

Thank you Picador USA for sending this book to me.

Review: The Prudent Mariner

The Prudent Mariner by Leslie Walker Williams
Publisher: University of Tennessee Press
Pub. Date: October 2008
ISBN-13: 9781572336414
Prizes: The Peter Taylor Prize & The Hackney Literary Award

Here is the blurb from B&N:

“In 1913, a young white girl in coastal Georgia fabricates a romance between her elder sister and an African American laborer, inadvertently leading to the man’s lynching. A crowd gathers and a photographer records the event on picture postcards. In one of these, the young girl stands smiling beside the hanged man.

More than fifty years later, nine-year-old Riddley Cross discovers these postcards amid her late grandfather’s belongings. As she tries to make sense of why the postcards are in her family’s possession, and why the photographed girl seems so familiar, Riddley becomes haunted by apparitions and dreams of lynchings. The postcards force her to question what she has been taught about the world, the South, and her family – and what she has not. The mysteries of the lynching postcards start to unravel after her widowed grandmother, Adele, moves in with the family.”

My thoughts:

I love this book! Ms. William’s writing is clear and concise. The story is simple, but well told and very easy to follow. The pacing of the novel is perfect as well. I didn’t notice any slow spots and I am surprised at how quickly the main plot points were presented. I love to pick up a book and know within the first 10 pages if it is something I am going to like and that is how it was with this book.

The main character, Riddley, reminded me very much of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird which has always been one of my favorite novels. At 9-years of age, Riddley has the innocence of a child yet is an old soul at heart. She “gets” things and how the world works. She’s smart and inquisitive but knows what to share and when. Not something your average 9-year-old can do. Then there’s Carver, her grown-up friend who is quirky and odd to everyone around her, but only until you get to know her. Riddley’s grandmother, Adele, is losing her battle with Alzheimer’s disease but is still able to maintain a bond with her grand-daughter through their time spent together. The relationships are strongly written and will touch the heart.

I often ask myself what makes a book a classic and I would have to say it’s a mix of strong characters, a well-told story and one that can survive the trends. To me, this book falls into this category and it’s her first novel which is amazing to me! I would love to share the copy I have with all of you but it’s staying on my shelf.

Author’s Bio:

Leslie Walker Williams was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia, and lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including The Iowa Review, The Madison Review, Harvard Review, and American Fiction. Her collection, Taxidermy, was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award. The Prudent Mariner, her first novel, was awarded the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel, and the Morris Hackney Literary Award for the Novel.

For more information on Leslie Walker Williams, click here to visit her website.