Book Review First Person

Dundas Readers recently read….

First Person by Richard Flanagan

About the Book

Kif Kehlmann, a young penniless writer, is rung in the middle of the night by the notorious con man and corporate criminal, Siegfried Heidl. About to go to trial for defrauding the banks of $700 million, Heidl offers Kehlmann the job of ghostwriting his memoir. He has six weeks to write the book, for which he’ll be paid $10,000.But as the writing gets under way, Kehlmann begins to fear that he is being corrupted by Heidl. As the deadline draws closer, he becomes ever more unsure if he is ghostwriting a memoir, or if Heidl is rewriting him – his life, his future. Everything that was certain grows uncertain as he begins to wonder: who is Siegfried Heidl – and who is Kif Kehlmann?As time runs out, one question looms above all others: what is the truth?By turns compelling, comic, and chilling, this is a haunting journey into the heart of our age.

Book Club Comments

A combination of history, satire and autobiography by accomplished Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan. Aspiring young author, Kif Kehlmann is contacted in the middle of the night by a notorious corporate fraudster, Siegfried Heidl to take on the job of ghost writing his autobiography in only six weeks.  With a wife and young daughter and twins on the way, the ten thousand dollar fee seems too good to miss so he flies to Melbourne to meet Heidl and his publishers and begin work. However, it soon becomes clear that Heidl is a manipulative liar who has cheated the banks out of millions of dollars and may even be a killer.


Kif becomes more desperate as time passes and he is no closer to learning anything useful about Heidl although his boyhood friend Ray, who has worked with him provides some possible insights into his murky background. After pages and pages of exasperating, repetitive attempts to understand this thoroughly obnoxious man and the increasing hold he has over him, most readers would give up on these very unlikeable characters. On reflection however, I realised that Flanagan had cleverly succeeded in bringing out in the reader the very feelings Kif is struggling with!

In a last ditch attempt to get some answers to specific questions and a signed document to allow the publishing of the proposed book, Kif travels to Heidl’s remote house and an inevitable violent, bloody showdown results in Heidl’s death.  However, as we learn in the remaining chapters of the book, Kif cannot free himself from the pernicious influence of Heidl. His marriage to the only sympathetic character, his wife Suzy, eventually fails and he moves from Tasmania to work in television as a writer and producer of “pulp” television. He is professionally successful and wealthy but in his quiet moments he knows that he is nothing other than a pale copy of the immoral and hated con man Heidl.

This complex novel may be admired as a literary tour de force but it’s certainly not light and enjoyable reading!

Book Review A Gentleman in Moscow

MJ Readers Book Club recently read….

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

About the Book

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavour to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

Group’s Comments

On the surface, ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ is the story of a Russian count dealing with the fallout of the Russian revolution on his living situation. However, it is so much more than that and this created a lively discussion in our group.

Russian history was woven throughout the story without suffocating the plot. The physical and character descriptions were vivid and the hotel where the count lived came to life along with everyone with whom he interacted. He displayed loyalty, friendship, good manners and ethics despite his restrictions. He turned what could have been horrific into something positive. He showed the power of the human spirit that resonated with us especially during our recent lockdown experiences. Some members struggled with the Russian names and didn’t fully engage with the story but overall we recommend this novel as it certainly made us think and ponder.

Book Review The Hand That Feeds You

The hand that feeds you by A.J. Rich

Summary

I trusted you. This is how you repay me.

Morgan’s life is settled – she is completing her thesis on victim psychology and newly engaged to Bennett, a man more possessive than those she has dated in the past, but also more chivalrous and passionate.

But she returns from class one day to find Bennett savagely killed, and her dogs – a Great Pyrenees, and two pit bulls she was fostering – circling the body, covered in blood. Everything she holds dear in life is taken away from her in an instant.

Devastated and traumatised, Morgan tries to locate Bennett’s parents to tell them about their son’s death. Only then does she begin to discover layer after layer of deceit. Bennett is not the man she thought he was. And she is not the only woman now in immense danger …

Comments

This story is a collaboration between two women studying the links between victims and perpetrators with an emphasis on ‘pathological altruism’. The events are based on incidents in the life of a friend who died of cancer. The narrator, Morgan, returns home to find that her boyfriend has been killed and ripped to pieces by all or one of her three dogs. If this sounds horrific, it sets the tone of the book. An endless and complex tale peppered with violence and peopled by mostly unlikeable characters and their dogs. We all thought this to be a salacious and implausible story.

4/10 Read by Dundas Readers

Book Review Mary’s Last Dance

Mary’s Last Dance by Mary Li

Summary

Mary’s Last Dance is a powerful and uplifting memoir about chasing an impossible dream, and sacrificing one’s own ambition for the love of a child. It is a moving and unforgettable story of passion, dedication and devotion – and the highly anticipated sequel to one of the world’s most beloved books.

Mary Li is an international ballet star and a mother like no other. She became a household name when her husband Li Cunxin published his bestselling memoir, Mao’s Last Dancer – but that book told only half the story.

Growing up in a rambunctious family in Rockhampton, Mary discovered an extraordinary early passion for ballet. It saw her move to London at age sixteen, to study at the Royal Ballet School and dance at the London Festival Ballet with the likes of Nureyev, and later to Houston Ballet, where as Principal Dancer she fell in love with the acclaimed dancer Li Cunxin. The couple became the darlings of the dance world, and were happier than they could have imagined at the arrival of their firstborn daughter, Sophie.

Then right at the height of her international career, Mary seemingly disappeared from view. What could have happened to cause a woman so committed, so talented, to give it all away in a heartbeat? Now, almost twenty years on, we learn what happened next to this inspiring family, and why it is Mary’s turn to tell a truly remarkable tale.

Comments

Mary’s Last Dance is the memoir of Mary Li. She is an acclaimed Australian ballet dancer and wife of Li Cunxin. Her story is a window into life in Rockhampton in the 1960s and 1970s, the world of international ballet and the sacrifice and journey Mary made in leaving ballet when her daughter was found to be profoundly deaf. While the writing might lack flair and the story a little repetitive, it tells about a high achieving family, love, deference, determination and acceptance. It was historically informative and opened our eyes to the conflict between the hearing and non-hearing communities. An enjoyable read.

Read by the MJ Readers

Book Review A Man Called Ove

Summary

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

Comments

Absolutely adored this book! A Man Called Ove is the story of Ove, a man in his late-50s recently widowed, and made redundant at work. Struggling to cope with life after losing his beautiful wife. His neighbours think he’s a little cantankerous, but his life is about to be changed by the family moving in next door after they quite comically, take out Ove’s letterbox. 

A beautifully written story with wonderful characters we could all relate to.. From Ove to Parineh, the pregnant Iranian neighbour to Adrian, the young man who needs help mending his bicycle to the cat, that keeps coming back.  An array of colourful characters that help bring this story to life.  It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. The language flowed as much as our emotions did. Definitely recommend this book!

8.5/10 Read by Cultcha Club