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SRB Highlights: Ian Thorpe Autobiography | New Iain M. Banks

SRB Highlights: Ian Thorpe Autobiography | New Iain M. Banks | And Much More...

12 Nov 2012

Following a Black Line

November 12, 20120 comments

This is Me: The Autobiography, by Ian Thorpe

Reviewed by Jim Robinson

You don’t have to reach far into this book to realize that while he has rare talent, Ian Thorpe has also had demons. Two pages after the title page (the title itself is surely a hint) there’s a quote:

There is no need of any competition with anybody. You are yourself, and as you are, you are perfectly good. Accept yourself.

It’s not the kind of thing you’d expect to kick off an autobiography of a bloke who’s won 11 World Championship titles, 10 Commonwealth Games gold medals and five Olympic Games gold medals (plus three silvers and one bronze). Read more »


November 9, 20120 comments

A Review of Iain M. Banks The Hydrogen Sonata (Orbit Books/Hachette, 2012)

By Mark P. Williams

Iain M. Banks’ latest novel brings us back into the galaxy of the Culture on the eve of a momentous event. The Gzilt civilization, a companion species who were instrumental in the formation of the Culture, but who, for their own reasons, chose to remain separate, are about to Sublime when a diplomatic incident occurs that could threaten the whole process.

What follows from this opening is a classic Banks’ space opera: intersections of the philosophical, personal and political through diplomacy, violence and relationships, operating across an interplanetary background of tremendous detail and depth. The novel addresses big questions with elegiac charm, distinctive humour, and a sense of shared (post-, trans- and alter-)humanity. Read more »

Meeting Ruby Redfort

November 5, 20120 comments

Ruby Redfort – Take Your Last Breath By Lauren Child

Reviewed by Anne Harré

I earned serious parental brownie points when I brandished a review copy of the latest Redfort novel in front of my 8½ year old daughter. Trouble was, I then didn’t see the book for the next three days and 415 pages. Later it was taken to school and shown about; it was lucky that I managed to get it back at all. There’s been a whole crowd eager to get their hands on the next instalment. I should add that even though this is a second Ruby Redfort adventure, it works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel.

For those not familiar with author Lauren Child you’re in for a treat. She’s the creator of the quirky and cute “Charlie and Lola” for the pre-schoolers/early primary age, as well as the “Clarice Bean” series for the mid primary age. After the recent spate of tedious, simpering vampirette characters, it’s refreshing to read a female character that is as spunky and delightful as Ruby Redfort. Read more »

Effing and Blinding

November 5, 20121 comment

Hate Mail, by Mr Bingo
Penguin, RRP: $26

Reviewed by Jim Robinson

Crikey. Englishman Mr Bingo does seems to have a bit of pent up anger.

Had he released it with a little more craft, this could have been a very funny book. Instead, to me, it just comes across as bollocks. Beautifully printed, beautifully hardcover. But bollocks nonetheless.

As he relates in the introduction, Mr Bingo set up an enterprise whereby people paid him ten quid, and in exchange he sent each of them a postcard. On the back was a one-off, hand-rendered abusive message. Read more »

A Journey Where Geography Is Beside the Point

October 30, 20120 comments

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin, 2012)

Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

Questions of Travel is a journey where “geography was beside the point”, mirroring the feelings expressed in the late Elizabeth Bishop’s 1960s poem of the same title.

Tourism, terrorism, the words sound similar and here the one is interwoven with the other. Against a backdrop of mainly Australian and Sri Lankan politics, Australian-based Sri-Lankan-born Michelle de Kretser has written, at over 500 pages, her longest book yet. It’s probably a good thing this wasn’t her first book; reviewers may not have had time to read it. There was nothing but well-merited praise for her earlier, more concise, works, The Rose Grower, The Hamilton Case and The Lost Dog.
Read more »

Girlhood Memories

October 15, 20120 comments

Country Girl

By Edna O’Brien. Faber and Faber

Reviewed by Ruth Brassington
Irish-born novelist, biographer, playwright and short-story writer Edna O’Brien offers her memoir after a 50-year award-winning writing career that includes novels, short stories and biography. Shocking Ireland with her 1960s cluster of novels The Country Girls, The Girl with Green Eyes and Girls in their Married Bliss, O’Brien was an early political feminist, even if she didn’t see herself in that light. Hers was a brave exposure of the societal hypocrisy of the time – in particular, the Irish Catholic society she grew up in – and of the happy-ever-after myth. Before marriage, girls and women were meant not only to remain virgins, they were meant to be entirely without sexual feelings. After marriage, they were meant to be contented drudges and perpetually sexually available to their husbands.
Read more »

A Big Novel About the Small Details

October 15, 20120 comments

Telegraph Avenue

by Michael Chabon Published by Fourth Estate (Allen & Unwin in New Zealand,) October 2012

Reviewed by C P Howe

Michael Chabon, with his contemporaries Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen, has an astonishing knack for writing about American lives in a way that makes you feel you know personally the places and people behind the stories.

Chabon once found, at his parents house, a box of old comics he’d put away as a child, and was reminded how much he loved them. That led to his most widely acclaimed work, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a book that takes in Houdini, the Holocaust, and the golden age of comic books, through Sammy and Joe’s invention, a hero called The Escapist. To read Chabon is to be in an alternate universe, where the characters and story arcs are utterly familiar, totally convincing, yet completely fictional. Read more »

When the Floods Came – Pleng’s Song

October 2, 20120 comments

Pleng’s Song by Patrick Maher

Reviewed by Sophie Robinson, age 10 (with a bit of a hand from her dad Jim)

Pleng’s Song is set in Thailand. Pleng is the 11-year-old daughter of an alcoholic mum and a father who is often away. Her adventures start when she finds out that floods threaten where she lives and her parents leave her at home alone.

(Dad adds: In 2011, schoolteacher Patrick Maher was trapped in Thai floods. Afterwards, back to teaching, he realized his students had their own flood adventures to tell. They began writing a story, which led to this easy-to-read children’s novel. The book was initially printed with Maher’s students in mind, but it was picked up in media and is now being enjoyed far beyond Thailand.) Read more »

Atomic Madness

September 24, 20120 comments

Mad on Radium: New Zealand in the Atomic Age

by Rebecca Priestley. Auckland University Press, 2012, 284 pp. $45

Reviewed by Simon Nathan

New Zealanders are proud of their nuclear-free stance and our green, “100% pure” image. So it comes as a surprise for many people to realise that only a generation ago there was widespread enthusiasm for New Zealand to be part of the nuclear club. In 1966 I was delighted to get my first job as a young geologist with the DSIR, looking for uranium on the West Coast. Within my working life, attitudes have changed so much that prospecting and mining uranium are now banned in this country.

The publisher’s blurb rather misleadingly labels this book an alternative history of nuclear New Zealand. Not so – to date this is the only comprehensive account of New Zealand’s nuclear story, documenting the way public attitudes have changed over the years. It is a work of considerable scholarship, based on a PhD study, but is easily accessible. As a popular columnist, Rebecca Priestley has the gift of making complex issues understandable, and the story she tells is fascinating.

Read more »

Dance of the Rams’ Penises

September 20, 20120 comments

Touchstones: Memories of People and Place

by James McNeish. Vintage, $30.

Reviewed by Richard Thomson

In his memoir Touchstones James McNeish starts by picaresquely evading autobiography, while deploying his considerable storytelling abilities in the service of steely control over how much of himself he will reveal.

’Godstrewth, Jamie,’ his father bursts out, in an immediate and marvellous manoeuvre of distraction. It turns out Dad’s been staring at a ram’s penis ‘of the most enormous proportions’.

So, having established a comparative subtext of paternal disappointment, our hero sets out for Europe at the end of the 1950s aboard a Norwegian freighter. A series of adventures follows, which allow McNeish to create character sketches of the people he met and who helped to make ‘me what I am, as a writer’. He is I think correct to assume that they are all – despite or because of their narrative function as yet more rams’ penises – vastly more intriguing than the callow youth from Remuera.

Read more »


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