19 September 2016

Bright Air by Barry Maitland, Australia, 2008

A mystery that unravels between Sydney and Lord Howe Island, this novel by the very prolific Barry Maitland is well researched and captivating. Having spent much time in Sydney and some time on Lord Howe Island, I felt a connection with the setting of the story, and this definitely caught my interest in the very first chapter.

A story woven around rock climbing (with which Barry Maitland is obviously acquainted) and three tragic deaths, Bright Air leads the reader in a number of directions before, eventually, all the somewhat divergent paths converge. Josh, the central character and a member of the rock climbing group, returns to Sydney after a four-year stint in England. Shortly after arriving home, he catches up with Anna, another rock climber, who gives him the news that two of their friends recently fell to their deaths while climbing in New Zealand. Anna begins to draw connections between the two recent deaths and the death of another climber, Lucy, some years earlier. At first Josh refuses to accept that there may be connections, but, bit by bit, he is drawn into Anna's way of thinking. 
This is an easy read with plenty of suspense and action. A knowledge of Sydney and Lord Howe is simply an extra bonus.

The photo of Barry Maitland above is from

06 September 2016

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky, France/London, 2004


Although Suite Française was not published until 2004, it was actually written in 1940/1941, which makes it, like the poetry of Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves, extremely valuable. While many other novels based on the horror of World War II have been written in the years after the war, either as memoirs by people who experienced it or after extensive research by people who did not, Irène Némirovsky wrote Suite Française while the war was raging around her. It was intended as a suite of five novels – she only managed the first two before she was arrested for her Jewish connections (even though she and her family were Catholics) and was taken to Auschwitz where she perished.

Photo of  Irène Némirovsky from
She did leave some notes on how she was intending to write the remaining three novels; however, while the notes for book three are fairly detailed, the notes for books four and five are extremely sketchy. The first of the two books, Storm in June, was most probably edited at some stage by Némirovsky, whereas the second book, Dolce, reads in many parts as a first draft. Given Némirovsky's situation, it is more than likely that she did not have the time to edit her second book.

While I do not agree with those who hail Irène Némirovsky as France's greatest author, I feel that her Suite Française is a valuable portrait of a time most of us living today have only read about. The characters in Storm in June, though occasionally bordering on caricatures, are well described. Her powers of observation are amazing, and parallel to the tragedy of France's invasion and occupation there is a lot of humour: at no point does her writing become sentimental or maudlin. 

Although the relationship between the French woman Lucile and the German officer Bruno (in Dolce) never really makes lift-off, it is obvious from the notes she left that Némirovsky had thought to develop their story (and their relationship) in the successive books. 

When Bruno says to Lucile “Ah! Madame, this is the principal problem of our times: what is more important, the individual or society? War is the collaborative act par excellence, is it not?… “, he is perhaps summing up one of main themes in Suite Française – a story about a tragedy, which became a tragedy in itself.

In 2015, Suite Française was made into a film by Saul Dibb. The photo above (from the film) is from