A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer

What a marvellous and original book. In blending history and science fiction, Angela Meyer has created a work of literary prowess that lingers in the imagination long after the last page.

Told from two viewpoints (mainly), this is the story of Australian Jeff who, longing to escape not merely his past, but his secret, hidden self, flees Melbourne for the Scottish Highlands and, eventually, an island. But Jeff carries more baggage than simply what he regards as his shameful desires. He also has a device that allows him to escape his deteriorating corporeal frame and enter the mind and soul of someone from the past. That someone is young Leonora. Warned he can only use it three times, Jeff ignores the advice, and uses the equipment to escape his own life and experience Leonora’s at will.

Motherless Leonora lives in the Scottish Highlands in the 1860s with her father, tending the land and animals of the local laird. Content with her lot, loving the knowledge passed onto her by Mr Anderson who manages the laird’s many animals, Leonora is inquisitive, kind and keen to learn as much as she can. When she not only befriends the young laird but starts to have strange visions and yearnings which she cannot reconcile, she wonders what is happening to her.

When her father sends her to join her aunt in sooty, noisy Edinburgh, Leonora is inconsolable. Torn from her old life, the only constant is the man she senses lurking behind her eyes, on the periphery of her mind and the strange, impossible visions and strong, sensual urges his presence arouses. Uncertain what is happening to her, fearful she is going mad, possessed or both, Leonora’s life begins to unravel. There is only one way she can be saved, but selfish, indulgent Jeff is no hero.

Two lives are at stake, but only one can survive…

Exquisitely written, this book evokes both a distant future where human contact and companionship can be replaced by life-like devices and technology gives us entrée to the past and others that is both dangerous and exhilarating. It also plunges readers into history and Scotland post-enlightenment. This was a time when women and science were pushing boundaries and the mind was a new territory, ripe for exploration and exploitation.

Unique, rich and incredibly sensual and sexual, this novel takes us to the edges of desire and beyond, exploring issues such as loss, regret, choices, shame, sexual fantasy and reality, and the depths and heights to which human nature can both plume and strive. It also examines boundaries – those imposed by our sex and sexual desires, social constraints and culture and how, even we’re free, we create our own cages and then rail against them.

What also makes this novel so very different is the way it not only segues between male and female point of view but how, at times, these either blur or become so distinct as to appear as if they’re alternate species.

Clever, convincing and unputdownable, Meyer’s debut novel is sensational. My sincere thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for a copy. What a ride. What a read.

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Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

Where do I even begin with this book? My. God. Having followed the Trump phenomenon since it first became a terrible reality, I thought I had a fairly good grasp of the madness and mayhem that marked not just the campaign, but his first year in office. Boy, was I wrong. Not so much about Trump himself. I think much of what we read and hear and see every day, whether we live in the US or Australia and much of it thanks to Twitter, prepares us for what’s revealed in the book – even when it exceeds our (low?) expectations. What is shocking in the book is the role and attitude of other players – the Conways, Hicks, Ivanka and Jared (known derogatorily as “Jarvanka” – a nickname bestowed by Steve Bannon who utterly despises the pair and Wolff does not hold back in painting them in a dreadful, manipulative light), the Bannons and, never mind the “Mooches” (Anthony Scaramucci) of this crazy world. Their complicity in what is said and done, their desire to promote themselves over and above curbing Trump’s more unrealistic tendencies, gain in wealth and status and shore up a future beyond the President’s tenure, and above the well-being of the nation, to pretend that everything is alright is breath-taking in its awfulness and downright self-servingness.  – No. I am wrong. What they do is actually worse than that. In order, I guess, to reassure themselves things are not as bad as others think, they not only collude but pretend that everyone else outside the White House, whether supporters of Trump or not, and who are deeply concerned about where the country and the man leading it are heading, are somehow nuts or misguided or trying to bring Trump down. As if, somehow, it is everyone else who has it wrong or are misreading the madness. It is really insulting – the chutzpah, the audacity. Yet, they’re all getting away with it. So maybe they do know what they’re doing when they try to project the lunacy within onto the rest of us without.

Notwithstanding this, there are those, according to Wolff, who do everything in their power to try and bring stability to the leadership. This is the reason he posits many people have remained and even accept positions in the first place. But it’s also why many people have either been sacked or left (and there have been so many).

I don’t want to reveal too much of the content. Bannon doesn’t come off well – in fact, few do, though Wolff is sympathetic to the likes of Sean Spicer and others who have been pushed out into the public domain to make sense of and defend the senseless and indefensible, to spin the unpalatable into something not completely outrageous, idiotic and unpresidential.

The people who come off worst are, of course, as we expect, the Trump family, headed by the patriarch whose claim to fame (apart from winning the impossible race) appears to be consistently inconsistent. Beyond them, it is the likes of Bannon and those who see in Trump not so much a figure to inspire loyalty and leadership, but the symbol of a movement, “Trumpism”, which they passionately believe will continue beyond his (inevitable) demise who Wolff makes an effort to understand, even if only ideologically.

Well written, utterly gripping and gob-smackingly awful in parts, I was laughing out loud in incredulity; gasping in disbelief and shaking my head so much, I am surprised it’s still attached to my neck. An easy read (because we know the players, know the premise of the tale), it is still mind-blowing in every bad way. I can’t help but feel one day we’ll look back on this period the way we do other surreal moments in history – when those who never should, never could, did – with terrible consequences.

For those who love politics, culture, celebrity and want to understand the journey and the rationale behind the Trump White House (not sure I can use that word  – rationale – in the a sentence about this subject and have it make sense), this is a terrific book.


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