Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Hunger by Roxane Gay


Hunger is so raw, poignant and compelling that it hurts to read it.

At the most superficial level Hunger is a memoir about Roxane Gay’s body – specifically her very tall (6’3), very large (200 kgs +) body. Gay details her daily indignities and humiliations as a woman of size moving through a world designed for much smaller people. And if that were all Hunger was about it would probably be enough. But at a deeper level Hunger is really about Gay’s mental discomfort. Her shame, her anger, her guilt and her intellectual awareness of the way those feelings are contradictory to her beliefs, ideas, and values.

  • Gay is an avowed feminist who wishes she were pretty while fully understanding that no woman is ever pretty enough.
  • Gay, an academic with a PhD, understands that to reduce her size she needs to eat less and exercise more yet despite the gyms, the diets, the trainers and the programs she fails to lose weight, over and over again.
  • Gay supports the social movement to accept and celebrate the fat body, although she has little but loathing and hatred for her own.

Early on in the memoir, Gay explains that at the age of twelve she was gang-raped by her boyfriend and his mates. At the time, Gay told no-one. But those boys told all their friends and Gay subsequently became known as the school slut. Once more, Gay told no-one. Gay continued to see the boyfriend, who continued to abuse and humiliate her. Again, Gay told no-one. At the end of the school year Read the rest of this entry


Book Review: The Daintree Blockade by Bill Wilkie


What does success look like to an environmental activist?

Sometimes success is obvious, like the protests against the Tasmanian Franklin Dam project. The protesters there were directly responsible for preventing the dam from being built and so protected a unique wilderness area.

But sometimes success is less obvious. A battle is lost but, in the end, a war is won. Such was the case for the Daintree Blockade of the early 1980s.

The Daintree rainforest of far north Queensland is every bit as unique and beautiful as the Tasmanian wilderness. But since the 1950s pressure had been rising to build a road through the Cape Tribulation National Park, and through some of the last remaining low land tropical rainforest in the country.

In 1983 the local council, in defiance of the parks authorities and the state government agency in charge of roads, decided to bulldoze Read the rest of this entry

Book Review: ‘Death by Dim Sim’ by Sarah Vincent


Every day at about 3pm Sarah Vincent would get up from her desk at work and haul her 122kg body across the car park to the food van across the way.

Every day she would order three dim sims (or four or five) and eat them.

And every day as she lumbered back to her desk she would sneer inwardly as she passed the smokers huddled outside the hospital where she worked, with their hospital gowns, and intravenous drips, and missing limbs – all desperate for their nicotine fix.

Then one momentous day, as I passed them wrapped in smug self-righteousness … I realised I was just like them. If they were doing ‘death by cigarette’, then surely I was doing ‘death by dim sim’. The only real difference between them and me was that I wasn’t wearing pyjamas … So I stopped eating dims sims and biscuits and ice-creams and all the other foods I knew were bad for me and began to eat fresh wholesome food in moderation and to exercise regularly…  Are you kidding? Of course I didn’t.

Instead Sarah did what she’d done since she first developed a weight problem at thirteen.  She went on a crash diet. Another time she bought a $500 gym membership, only to attend twice. That’s $250 per visit. She put on the fridge a photo of herself in her underwear. She joined Weight Watchers. She studied mindfulness. She attended a 6am boot run by a South African army sergeant who told her she disgusted him. Hypnotherapy. Overeaters Anonymous. Still no weight loss.  And then her husband was diagnosed with cancer.

Sarah Vincent’s memoir is alternately hilarious and poignant. Spoiler alert – her husband lives and she loses 40kgs – but the real story is in Sarah’s journey from there to here.

I read this book all in one go and enjoyed every minute of it. The memoir part is the first half, the second half is science (of weight loss), recipes, and weight loss tips. All written in Sarah’s clear-eyed, page-turning prose. Reading it is like having a cuppa with a warm and sympathetic friend, one who is always up for a laugh. The book isn’t about preaching, it’s about saying this worked for me and maybe you might like to try it.

Sarah Vincent is a friend of mine, one of my fellow Hardcopy participants. And maybe I wouldn’t have read this book if I hadn’t known Sarah, because self-help memoirs really aren’t my bag. But I’m very glad I did read it, because regardless of whether you need to lose weight or not Death by Dim Sim is an excellent, beautifully written memoir that deserves a wide audience.

Want to know more?

Here’s a copy of the blurb on the back of the book.

And here is Sarah Vincent’s website.

Book Review: Hippy Days, Arabian Nights by Katherine Boland


Have you ever sat uneasily next to a talkative stranger at a function, only to find yourself mesmerised by their life story? Amazed by the crazy things they’ve done, dubious at their poor choices, and wincing a little when they shared a little too much intimate information?

Katherine Boland’s memoir is just such a rollicking ride. And I have the feeling she’s never going to look back on her life and wonder if she should have chosen the road less travelled – she’s followed her heart rather than her head every time.

After a childhood spent in England, Spain and rural Australia, Boland and her farmer’s son boyfriend dropped out of uni and followed their hippy dreams instead. They washed up in southern New South Wales, living a frugal alternative lifestyle replete with mudbricks and mung beans. This section of the memoir was the strongest, for me.

Boland and her boyfriend (now husband – a seemingly un-hippy-like decision that the memoir remains silent about) live on their own property, in an area that is soon populated with similar peace and cannabis loving souls. Boland loves her life on the bush block near Bega but doesn’t step back from describing the difficulties: the distance from hospital; living quarters riddled with mould; and the endless backbreaking chores necessary in the absence of electricity and running water.  And those other peace-loving souls are, it seems, just as subject to the darkness of family violence and abuse as the rest of the population.

When a bushfire ends Boland’s 27-year marriage in an entirely unpredictable way, she retreats to the city and reinvents herself as an artist. She rapidly wins a number of scholarships and residencies, including one which takes her to Egypt. There she falls headlong and heedless into a loving relationship with her Egyptian translator – a handsome young man more than 25 years her junior. This second section of the memoir was weaker, for me, but perhaps only because I couldn’t help wanting to take Boland aside and shake her.  What the hell was she thinking?

Well, in the beginning at least it is abundantly clear what she was thinking (and feeling, and touching, and… you get the picture) and jolly good luck to her, I say. But to maintain a long distance relationship with a young Egyptian man in the face of fierce opposition from his family, and in the ever dawning awareness of the huge cultural gulf between them (not least about their respective attitudes about women’s rights and behaviours) was to my mind a step to far. But then what would I know?

Hippy Days, Arabian Nights was a fun read, only slightly marred by the overuse of adjectives and a the under-use of a proofreader. Boland’s gutsy, funny and headlong approach to life makes for a fascinating memoir.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance – Book Review


hillbilly-elegyJ.D. Vance is a young American white man who grew up poor. Hillbilly Elegy, his memoir and exploration of the US’s white working class, is probably going to be one of my best books of 2017. Yep, I’m calling it early.

Looking for work and better prospects, JD’s hillbilly grandparents moved from the mountains of Kentucky about three hours north to Ohio, where they lived in a town with a name that would be too ridiculous to use in a novel: Middletown.

In Middletown JD’s mother was born, raised, educated and then effectively lost within a cycle of drugs, men and abuse. JD was raised in the maelstrom of that cycle, saved only from repeating his mother’s mistakes by an older sister who protected him as well as she could and the tough love of his grandparents.  And I mean tough.  JD was once foolish enough to ask his gun-toting grandmother (called Mamaw) what it felt like to be punched in the face.  She socked him one.  Turned out it didn’t feel as bad as he thought it might.

Vance lovingly describes his family and his communities (he spent time in both Kentucky and Ohio) but Read the rest of this entry

Eat Your History by Jacqui Newling – Review and Interview


eat-your-historyHands up if you love to cook? Keep your hand up if you are interested in Australian history? Still with me?  Then do I have the perfect book for you (or for someone you know – Christmas is just around the corner and books are ever so easy to wrap…)

Eat Your History: stories and recipes from Australian kitchens is a wonderful, and very beautiful, collection of recipes, social history and historical insights.

According to the author, “This book invites you to share forgotten tastes and lost techniques, and rediscover some of the culinary treasures that have nourished many generations of Australians. Rather than being a history of food in Australia, or a history of Australian food, it offers stories about Australians and the food they ate.”

The stories have been gathered by Jacqui Newling, in her role as ‘resident gastronomer’ at Sydney Living Museums, which looks after 12 historic properties dating between 1788 and 1950. And, yes, one of those properties is Elizabeth Farm, the home of Elizabeth Macarthur. She gets quite a few mentions throughout as does the first Australian cook book (by Edward Abbot and which I blogged about in 2014).

Australian garden history is a definitely a thing, with it’s own society and followers.  Yet Australian food history still seems like unexplored territory.  Jacqui Newling seeks to fill that gap, and does it extraordinarily well.

Eat Your History is a lovely mix of historic depth and practical example, with a well-balanced mixture of prose, pictures and recipes.

Readers are provided with historical context and background and then treated to fascinating recipes – each tested by Newling, and often using the kitchens and utensils of the period!  Some are familiar, like the sea-food chowder and tomato chutney, others are less so, like oyster loaves or rosella jelly.  I’m definitely no cook but some recipes even I’m itching to try, like Mrs MacLurcan’s Wholesome Summer Barley Water or Mrs Gaffney’s Date and Nut Cake.

Eat Your History is a book for dipping into and it takes us all the way from the first fleet to the 1950s. Newling shares, for example, details about the nature of colonial kitchens, Aboriginal fishing practices, commercial ice manufacture, and dining room etiquette.

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to meet Jacqui Newling, in Sydney.  I found her friendly, intelligent and forthright. She kindly agreed to answer a few questions for me.

What was your writing process?  Lots of research, then lots of writing?  Or did you undertake the research as you went along? Read the rest of this entry

An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire – Book Review


An Isolated IncidentAustralian writer Emily Maguire has turned the crime-thriller genre inside out in this compelling and insightful novel.

It begins in the usual way: a beautiful, innocent young woman has been brutally raped and murdered in a small town just off the Hume Highway.  But rather than the standard police procedural we might expect, Maguire tells the story largely from the point of view of the victim’s bereft older sister, Chris Rogers.

Chris is the quintessential small town barmaid – big boobs, a smart mouth and a drinking problem.  Sometimes she takes men home after work and they pay her for sex.  Apparently that makes her a whore (Chris’ words) but Maguire has skilfully and sensitively created a character we quickly care deeply about.  Chris is simply a woman doing what she can to get through the night and maybe save up a deposit for her own place.  At least, that’s what she was trying to do until her sister died and the world collapsed around her.

Chris’ point of view is written from the first person, offering a visceral immediacy that works because Maguire has deftly captured her tone, her voice and her small-town life.  And every now and then Chris shocks us by Read the rest of this entry