Friday, 22 November 2013

The Husbands Secret - Liane Moriarty. Warning this blog is a long one!

They say you should never judge a book by its cover but let us do just that in this case.

The cover is quite simple - a glass jar (not a box) holding a butterfly, a beautiful butterfly.

But oh how that simple jar and butterfly speak volumes (queue the media studies A grade A level student going into hyper drive)

Firstly the jar and how (as Moriarty was quick to inform us) it was a jar that Pandora opened not a box as so commonly quoted. And we all know that Pandora opened the box and let loose all manner of things. Cue Celia opening John Pauls letter

Secondly the jar is a glass one, designed to keep things in, yet so easy to open. Like an envelope.

Yet if the jar is smashed all we are left are its fragments that we have to try to piece back together, possibly injuring ourselves in the process only to find its not repairable. Like Celia discovering that really it’s impossible to recover intact from a secret like John Pauls

Next there is the butterfly, so fragile, so easily broken, like a small child. Cue Polly the helpless victim trapped by her Dads secret.

If you don’t release the butterfly it will die. A bit like Celia saying if she didn’t come clean it would infect her life like poison. So you release the butterfly – such a simple act like opening a letter and everything changes.

This of course is why the creature in the jar is a butterfly and not a bee or a ladybird because this book is magnificent at encompassing the butterfly effect. One small action changes everything.

Again the creature in the jar is a butterfly as it lives for such a short time reminding us that in the blink of an eye something can end, a marriage, a friendship.

But note that in the end what was left in Pandoras jar was hope. Hope that now it is out in the open people can recover from it. I think Rachel beautifully illustrates this at the end of the book by going to sleep at Robs house.

All that in the front cover that you maybe looked at for 3 seconds? Or as a Kindle lover maybe saw once when ordering and then never saw again? Makes you think again doesn’t it?

So I loved the cover but did I love the book?

Well the hidden meanings didn’t stop at the front cover. For example the seemingly unimportant Tupperware and persistent references to the Berlin wall. Both designed to keep things contained/ keep them in order. Yet look what happens throughout the book – as they come down/as they let things out, so everything else falls apart – the sesame oil where the smell lingers even after it has been thrown away just like the secret that has leaked out and is unable to be removed by simply destroying the letter.

I love it when you can stand back from a book and find hidden meanings. I’m not that good at it but really find it deepens my enjoyment to find there is so much more intelligence than first meets the eye. I think it is the sign of a really good author.

Hang on in there though I don’t just talk about hidden meanings. You don’t need to be Sherlock (Moriarty get it!) to enjoy this book. It’s brilliantly written, with twists, turns and emotion by the bucket load. One of our members said she guessed the secret quite early on but even then I don’t think it took away from the book as there was so much more than the reveal of the secret. Me personally I realised the secret about the page before it actually happened. I was driving the car when the thought suddenly came to me as to what the secret could be. I think I actually had my first ever true light bulb moment!

As well as excellent characters there were also some magnificent one liners – ‘Polly arrived into the world furious that her sisters had beaten her to it’ ‘we all make better parents when we have an audience.’ I could go on but I’ve already overegged the front cover so I won’t dwell here.

I think all of the group (correct me if I’m wrong) loved the epilogue as well. I could have almost understood if people didn’t like it but personally I loved it especially the part about Polly becoming a tennis star. It just linked back to the butterfly effect and the front cover.

It wasn’t just at the end though where the butterfly effect was highlighted. I loved the part where Moriarty informed us that if Janie had lived she would have been divorced, had IVF and so on – butterfly effect - front cover!

There were a few complaints – the characters at the beginning of the book were difficult to grasp but most of us found that we settled into it after the initial introductions.

We also all found Tess to be the weakest link in the story. Her story wasn’t as intrinsic as the other two. I was unsure at first where Tess’ story was going and thought for one horrible moment that she was going to return home and live as a threesome with Will and Felicity. If that had happened I would have chucked the book across the room. Luckily it didn’t, but I still felt slightly let down by her ending.

We all really felt for Connor and all believed he would have been left really struggling with Pollys accident. In many ways despite him being a big strapping PE teacher he too was the butterfly, an innocent trapped by other peoples actions unable to escape and move on.

There was always going to a difficult decision by Moriarty as to how exactly it was all going to end. I think she handled it really well. There was never going to be a winner or a clear cut last chapter where all ends were tied up neatly. Moriarty demonstrated very clearly in the book that life and people are not black and white. Just like John Paul was still a good father and husband despite him being a murderer and so she was right to therefore not give us a clear black and white ending.

In many ways it would have been better if John Paul had been convicted. Rachel wouldn’t live with Pollys guilt. Connor would have lived his life guilt free, John Paul would have served his sentence and have been able to move on. Now John Paul will forever live with the knowledge and be reminded every time he sees his daughter. I liked the outcome.

Rachel did seem to get some sort of release/closure as she went to stay at Robs house and connected with her daughter in law. But you were very much left with the impression that an eye for an eye didn’t solve much, it didn’t bring her daughter back or lessen her grief.

I found Rachels daughter in law interesting. She only appeared through Rachels eyes so we didn’t get to see how her mind worked. This was in contrast to Celia who on the face of it was the type of person I wouldn’t like (a know it all busybody as seen by Tess when she first met her). Yet because I saw things from Celias point of view I loved her. I loved her internal trauma – whilst showering she had killed John Paul herself, whilst drying her hair she was visiting him in prison having shopped him to the police and started a prison wives club, whilst making the lasagne she was keeping his secret forever to protect her girls. In so many books characters jump to decisions making them seem very two dimensional. Even if we know in our genes that something is wrong we all go through a reasoning process in our head so show us it authors!

The parts where Celia hadn’t opened the letter and she was jumping to conclusions in her head that John Paul was gay, he was depressed, he was attracted to their daughter were also really enjoyable to read and almost humorous at time.

I also loved how true to life certain parts were. Despite this massive revelation it was put to one side for a period of time so that Celia and John Paul could make Easter Bonnets. It just goes to show how your life can literally crumble but your children will keep you functioning

As a side though this was the first book based in Australia and written by Australian author that we had reviewed since The Slap. Couldn’t be more different could they!

Ooh just thought of another thing. Polly was going to have a pirate party. Strange theme for a girl who does ballet and doesn’t really appear as though she is a tom boy (She was wearing a pink sparkly crash helmet). Pirates who are renowned for wooden legs and having hooks for hands…..Polly ending up with no arm – another hidden meaning? It was all being organised by Celia whose reluctance to turn her husband in did indirectly help Polly lose her arm. Maybe I’m taking things a step too far now.

We gave it a 9 which is really quite a high score for us. Let me know if you found any more hidden meanings. I’d love to hear them.

Next book is Christmas Magic by Cathy Kelly

Question of the month – I really loved this book, and raved about it numerous times to my husband which prompted him to ask me why I didn’t give it a 10. My automatic response was oh I could never give it a ten there may always be something better. Which got me thinking, would I ever give a book a ten? I'm always reluctant as that means it can’t be improved upon and I always think something can, hence I always leave a spare one and score it a 9. So my question is this – have you ever given a book a perfect 10? If yes what was it and why?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman

I’m calling this book ‘the creeper’. It got under my skin without me noticing it and suddenly I put it down one day and thought, I love this book! It’s strange as nothing really happens as such – it’s certainly not a plot driven book – but I really thought this worked. The book lounged on like you would in the heat that the author so brilliantly described. Despite this, it is not a boring book and you do want to know how it all works out. So much so that one member of the group didn’t come to the meeting as she hadn’t finished reading the book and she didn’t want to find out the end! I give real credit to the author for not to make it another murder/thriller book which it so easily could have ended up being. Instead it was a brilliantly written book based around 5 main characters all of whom had a section in the book.

I will start with Nick as I thought she (yes she not he) was central to the book. One member commented that she was like gravity, everyone pulled towards her even if it was unwillingly. She was like the light bulb and everyone else were like the moths (I liked this description of her as once again it echoes the heat that surrounded everybody). She was at her most happy at the beginning of the book, which was also the earliest part of the book. This was when her husband, Hughes, loved her most or at least Nick thought they were at their happiest. I found her character really sad in some ways as all she wanted was for Hughes to totally love her, for her marriage to be a happy one and although in many ways he did he just didn’t give enough (or could he give enough?). She seemed to desperately crave his love and I think a lot of her actions were driven by this. She could be seen as a bad character and a few in the group thought so, yet Klaussman made it clear that she hadn’t had an affair with Taylor and I think she did this to paint her as a good person deep down just one who was mixed up.

I loved the aspic story and how it summed up in its shining beauty how a perfect wife Nick could be when she tried. This then contrasting with the aspic being dropped and shattering into pieces illustrated that even when she tried hard she couldn’t save it - her marriage. Something so perfect that was beyond repair.

Helena was a bit too wishy washy for me. She needed a man to make her feel complete and when Avery turned out to be a horrible person (and wasn’t he just?) she just melted in to a world of drink and pills. I could understand her hatred towards Nick who had all the money and the lovely husband, she had what Helena wanted. I particularly loved the part where Avery had put a beautiful dress out on the bed for her to wear only for the Hollywood mogul to cuttingly say ‘make sure you return it to the wardrobe department’. She did have a hard life but I just didn’t sympathise with her and in general she was the one I liked the least. Even over Ed

Ed, Helenas child, was an interesting character. Obviously highly disturbed and we talked at some length as to how his upbringing affected him - his fathers obsession with a dead actress and just exactly what did Ed get up to all day whilst Helena was in a drug induced stupor? I really liked the fact that his part of the book was from his point of view whereas the rest of the book was written in third person. To the outside world Ed was a very cold, odd person and I think writing his section from third person just wouldn’t have worked. Seeing inside his head gave him new dimensions that I liked reading. He loved Daisy. Not in an incestuous way but she really seemed to be the one person he genuinely cared for. I think him taking Daisy to see the body that day was his way of trying to share his thoughts with her. She obviously reacted like any young child would have done and to his credit he didn’t then try to draw her into his sordid world any further.

Daisy was such an innocent and I really sympathised with her when she was describing how her mother just had ‘it’ and she didn’t. I loved how obsessed she was with tennis and the whole story with her and Peaches and Taylor. This was probably my favourite part of the book. Although cast as the innocent in many ways she wasn’t – she knew about Taylor deep down but choose not to admit it. Was this because she just wanted to see the good in people? Why? Well look at those around her. A mother who had affairs, a father who wasn’t man enough, an auntie who was an addict and a cousin who was a murderer. Her bubble of innocence was a lot better than the reality she would have found herself in. I think Klaussman described Daisy growing up just right – the stuffed unicorn that once was so important but now not so, the secret hiding places, her first crush all brilliantly captured.

PS anyone notice parallels with The Great Gatsby? Nick, Daisy, Parties, cocktails? It was littered!

Anyway Hughes. His affair made his character a bit more interesting as otherwise he could just have been a background stoic boring character. I wanted to just scream at him and Nick to wake up and realise that they both loved each other but they just couldn’t let go and move on. You can imagine that the pair of them would continue onwards until they ended up very bitter and hateful towards each other. I’m surprised actually that they hadn’t already reached that point by the end of the book yet they still seemed to have their moments of hope.

Overall a really really good book (can you tell I liked it?). One of us gave up after 4 chapters and I think this is a good example of why you should plough on even just a little longer. I couldn’t tell at that stage if it was going to be a thriller or not and I’m sure others at that point could predict how the book would turn out. This is a book I’m sure you could read time and time again and keep getting more out of it. You would keep realising more about the characters and seeing them in different lights, seeing different meanings in actions and words. So I guess I would say don’t just read it once read it twice!

We ended up giving it a 7. It did score quite a lot of 8s and even a few 9s but a 3 dragged the score down a bit (don’t let the 3 put you off, it was from the person who didn’t read it all the way through)

Next months book is The Husbands Secret – Liane Moriarty

Following on from last month here is this months question of the month – We have read 2 books recently where the weather has really mirrored the content of the book or played a crucial part in the writing (The Snow Child and Tigers in Red Weather). Can you name any books that you have read where weather similarly features? Sorry no easy questions here!

Comments to the book and answers to the question always welcome.