Gulliver’s Wife by Lauren Chater

The moment I read the first few sentences of this glorious book, I knew I was going to love it – and I did. The writing is lyrical and lovely, the story fascinating and clever, and the history that weaves through its pages brought to life in simply stunning ways. But what really makes this utterly engrossing novel so captivating is the premise that underpins the entire narrative. 

While most of us either grew up with Jonathan Swift’s satirical travelogue/novel, Gulliver’s Travels, or know of the extraordinary adventures its protagonist, ship‘s surgeon, Lemuel Gulliver underwent through various popular culture retellings (eg. the movie starring Ted Danson as Gulliver) not much thought at all is given to his wife or family who were left behind. Well, Chater changes that. This is the story of Mary Gulliver and her two children and how they survived in Lemuel’s absence on upon his unexpected return. 

The book is set during a time when women were completely subordinated to their husbands and society was patriarchal in every sense. When Lemuel is believed dead after three years missing at sea, Mary Gulliver not only provides for her family through her formidable skills as a healer and midwife, but excels. Imagine then, after attaining liberty, repaying her selfish husband’s debts and raising her children, her husband returns, expecting his household to revert back to the way it was – with him at its head and his every need and whim met. Furthermore, though he’s ill, he won’t be shifted from telling incredible tales of what happened to him while he was away, stories that threaten to undermine and even destroy the reputation Mary has, through hard graft and determination, restored. 

This is the story Chater gives us – from the point of view of Mary and her daughter (who grew up adoring her fantasist father and his wild stories and even wilder promises to her) with all its psychological and emotional twists and pain. In this tale, Gulliver is not the heroic survivor of ship-wreck and centre of a wondrous tale, but a narcissist who is unable to see the damage his return, and inability to understand the changes that have been wrought while he was away, is causing. Recruiting whoever he can to take his part, Gulliver reverts back to his old ways undermining not only the livelihood Mary has striven to build, but his very family. 

It is a beautifully, heat-achingly told tale – realistic and raw. I was completely swept into this story and didn’t want to part with it. I adored Mary, her daughter, Bess, too. The battles within the Gulliver family are echoed in the professional one that Mary is flung into as well, as midwives struggle for their independence and right to practice without the interference of male physicians and their shocking new technologies. 

I couldn’t put this book down and, as soon as I finished, downloaded Chater’s other novel, The Lace Weaver, chastising myself that I have only discovered this gem of a writer now. I cannot wait to read what else springs from her marvellous imagination, what else she grounds in such well-researched history. Magnificent. 

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Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Let me start this review by saying how much I love Liane Moriarty’s books. I have read every single one with responses ranging from incredible (Big Little Lies), to yes, I quite enjoyed that – and not in a “damning with faint praise” way, but yes, I liked it. Nine Perfect Strangers, strangely enough, hovers between these two responses with a dash of disappointment added in as well. Let me explain…

After an opening scene that sets up a back story, the action moves ten years forward as the nine strangers in the title  – though less than perfect – descend upon a Wellness retreat called Tranquilium to change their lives. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular point of view – including those of some of the staff and the rather remote, exotic and passionate owner of the retreat, a Russian expatriate who has managed to transform her own life and is committed to doing that for others.

The reader is taken on the transformative “journey” these nine people are asked to share. A journey that involves a great deal of trust on their behalf and a sacrificing of the various pleasures their real world lives afford them. Slowly – and not so slowly- we learn what has brought them to a point in their lives where they felt they need to escape and change. The revelations are heart-aching, humorous, deeply felt, clever and the characters are brought to life through their back stories, insecurities, desires and flaws. But what they find at the retreat as the ten days begin to pass is not what they expected. As more and more is asked of them they begin to wonder, is change worth it, even if it means saving a life, marriage, relationship, mental health and well-being?

The first fifty percent of this book had me hooked. I engaged with the characters, felt compassion for them, laughed and cried alongside them and was drawn into the motivations of their lives past and present. I believed in them and their reasons for taking such an extreme option. I also enjoyed the gentle cynicism around the whole notion of “wellness” retreats and the expectations/demands of staff  and how these collide with and undermine those of the clients. But, at the halfway point, the story suddenly ventures into unexpected territory when one of the central characters becomes almost a caricature replete with accent. The reader is asked, along with the nine strangers, to suspend their disbelief as the tale and the clients’ experiences, descend into what is akin to a farce. My credibility was strained and I became frustrated as I was so enjoying the ride up until this point.

Moriarty is a beautiful writer and her insights into human nature and relationships are deep and shiny. Little pearls that pop and make you sigh, cry and laugh in recognition. This is what kept me reading and saved the latter part of the book  – to a point – for me. Threaded through this were still moments of incredulity (on my part – eg. there is an extended sequence where the characters “trip” and I found it unrealistic, too convenient from a narrative perspective and such a stretch, I found it uncomfortable) which undermined a persuasive and deeply felt story of the desire to transform, the pressures to do this, and why some people both feel they have to and resist. How in contemporary times so few people are content with who and what they are. The moral core of the story is sound, but the frame becomes frail and, in my humble opinion, came close to snapping. Never mind the fact some characters remain two-dimensional – sometimes so much so, they simply walk off the page with very little explanation.

Overall, this is a quite good read that contains some fabulous characters but, at times, a thin plot. That was, for me, the disappointing part. It’s wonderful prose which contains some searing insights into human nature and relationships, all explored with a deft and kind hand. I really love Moriarty’s work and will look forward to her next book even while I feel a little ambivalent about this one.

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The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

What a magnificent novel this is – the fact it’s a debut work makes it even more astonishing. It is at once, accomplished, tightly plotted, with beautifully crafted characters and a terrific setting – Galway, Ireland.

The book opens in 1993, when a young constable (Garda), Cormac Reilly is called out to a dilapidated mansion. There he finds the body of once-glamorous Hilaria Blake and, sadly, her two young children – the teenage Maude and little Jack, both of whom have clearly suffered years of neglect and abuse. It’s a case Cormac has never forgotten, especially when, after taking them to hospital at Maude’s insistence, she abandons her younger brother, never to be seen again.

The book them moves forward in time. In 2013, the reader meets a young, ambitious doctor, Aisling Conroy, on the cusp of a career move and faced with a huge personal choice. When her beloved boyfriend is found dead in the river, having committed suicide, and Cormac, newly transferred back to Galway and a DI, hears about the case, past and present collide.

As the investigation into the suicide proceeds,  the past and dark secrets let alone the lengths people are prepared to go to protect them are revealed, even people who, above all others, should be able to be trusted.

I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot except to say that it moves at a good, solid pace and is, at all times, plausible. Furthermore, Cormac is such a refreshing character for a plod. Filled with common sense and not one to take crap from his peers, he isn’t burdened by alcohol, nor is he a brooding loner with a string of broken relationships behind him (not that I mind those sort of cops, but they are becoming a wee bit of a cliché). Cormac is in a stable and loving relationship and, believe it or not – he actually talks to his partner and his peers about what’s bothering him! I know! I couldn’t believe it in this genre either!

The bleak Irish setting is marvellous and we move through the city and various towns with ease, guided by an expert hand.

I have to digress for a moment here and just have a bit of a rave about the quality of crime and mystery books being produced by Australian authors and publishers. From Katherine Howell, Candice Fox, Michael Robotham, to lately, Jane Harper and now Dervla McTiernan (and so many more), we are in the midst of a literary banquet and I love coming to sup at this imaginative table. Thank you.

If you enjoy crime or just an excellent read, then I cannot recommend this moody, atmospheric book with a fabulous central character and plot enough. Cannot wait for the next Cormac Reilly case.



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The Midnight Line by Lee Child

The 22nd book in the Jack Reacher series, Midnight Line, has Reacher being sentimental in more ways than one. Finding a female’s West Point class ring in a pawn shop window, Reacher is moved to find the owner. His journey takes him west as he gradually uncovers a criminal trail involving prescription medication, veterans and a cover-up that goes to the highest levels. Along the way, in usual Reacher fashion, he makes friends and enemies, mowing down those who stand in his way, embracing those who wish to help him.

I really found the premise behind this book – the suffering of wounded veterans and the government’s indifference to their continued ordeal and the role of drugs in all of this harrowing, relevant and engaging. Reacher, being a soldier himself, is motivated by the plight he uncovers and is prepared to sacrifice a great deal to help those he understands and deeply respects. But in other ways, this book didn’t have the verve and energy of others in the series. It plodded at times, felt padded in parts, and lacked the meat and punch that makes the Reacher series such page-turners. I enjoy that Reacher is getting older and his priorities in some regards have changed, but in others, he is still reliably (un)stable – doing what he’s always done, refusing to put down roots, to become “settled”, all the while drifting and casting a long, unforgettable shadow.

I wonder where his next adventure will take him?


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I don’t know how it’s possible, but this series just keeps getting better and better, so much so, I need more than five stars to rate it. The only downside of this latest adventure with former LAPD detective and now cold case worker, Harry Bosch is, because I virtually inhale the book the moment I start it, it’s over far too soon.

In Two Kinds of Truth, Bosch is faced with present and past dilemmas. He might be working on cold cases, but when one of his from 30 years earlier is resurrected, one which not only put a psychopath on death row, but which, if the killer’s appeal to have his sentence overturned and massive compensation paid succeeds, throws every case Harry has ever worked on, every criminal he ever helped convict, into doubt.

Claiming Harry framed him and he has the evidence to prove it, the killer’s case appears tight, so much so, Harry’s former partner is persuaded to help those assigned to investigate the matter. Things look grim for Harry, particularly since he left LAPD under less than salubrious circumstances. Determined to clear his name, he commences his own investigation.

In the meantime, he’s asked to help in a brutal double-murder. Keen to be back on the streets and working “hot”, Harry and his team uncover the corruption and cruelty of big pharma, those who benefit from its nefarious dealings, and the toll this takes on the most vulnerable in society.

Older, most definitely wiser, with the cunning of a fox and instincts of a seasoned hunter, and yet willingness to share his knowledge and experiences, if there’s one thing Harry will not stand for, it’s having his honour – as an officer of the law and man – questioned. Nor will he tolerate the motives of a good person being trashed, especially when they’re no longer there to defend themselves or explain their actions and motives. This means Harry will take terrible risks in order that the truth outs and that those who seek to bury it pay the consequences of their deception.

But Harry is dealing with those who don’t share his values and don’t care about truth – unless its silencing the man who seeks to find and expose it.

Taut, fast-paced, but without sacrificing tension or emotional integrity, this is a magnificent read that is impossible to put down. Characters from previous books such as Lucy Soto, Jerry Edgar, Mickey Haller, Harry’s daughter and others appear, their desire to help the man who has always had their back admirable, though not always successful.

Like all the Bosch books, it can be read as a standalone, but the rewards for following Harry’s career and personal life are so much richer when you have the whole context.

Highly recommended – nah, bugger that. Read it! You won’t be disappointed.



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