Posts Tagged ‘james laidler’

Book Review – Pulling Down the Stars by James Laidler

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

James Laidler is the author of the verse novel The Taste of Apple which won the IP Picks Best First Book award a couple of years back, and now he’s followed that up with his second novel, Pulling Down the Stars. The focus is on prose this time, although there are snippets of poems and even the occasional song. It’s a heartwarming read and one that I’d recommend to anyone, but particularly older teenage readers.

Charlie Lansdowne is a young man with a number of heavy burdens in his life: he has a job in nursing and a grandfather suffering dementia who needs constant supervision and high-level support. Consequently, he has little time for love and his main pleasure is his band. But even there he finds trouble as his best friend Kane, who is the band’s lead singer, uses Charlie in a number of unpleasant ways that soon sparks a falling out between them. Fittingly, Charlie writes the band’s songs but Kane not only sings them but claims the lyrics as his own. Charlie lives with his father Roger and grandfather Frank and the relationship between the three men is not always harmonious, as we soon discover.

Maxine, known to her friends as Pepsi Max, has problems of her own. She’s a young woman living with her parents and working at the local abattoir, and her main interest is surfing. A drunken outburst sets into motion a series of events and disclosures that threaten to tear her family apart entirely. Things are not right in her seemingly perfect family, and Maxine soon finds herself taken in by Roger and co. after she’s taken advantage of by Charlie’s friend, Kane.  Maxine and Charlie start off as close to arch enemies but their relationship thaws significantly as they get to know one another, and eventually Maxine comes to appreciate Charlie’s charms much more than those of the attractive but selfish Kane.

Pulling Down the Stars focuses on these two characters and we have viewpoint chapters from each of them, but the narrative does occasionally broaden to encompass peripheral characters too. Laidler writes confidently about occupations such as nursing and abattoir work, and there are a number of interesting sub-plots concerning Charlie’s dead mother, Maxine’s family and even that of a disgruntled co-worker who threatens to turn this at times into an entirely different kind of novel.

Laidler’s characters are warm and richly imagined and there’s an encompassing goodness to his worldview here, and due to the subject material I believe the novel would appeal to a teenage audience. There’s a subtext of social justice issues but Laidler never brings these fully to the forefront, leaving the reader to muse over the meaning of events as s/he chooses. This is the kind of novel that allows good to triumph over evil without violence in a way that leaves us feeling a little better about our place in the world. It’s a novel about constructing a sense of family and belonging amid situations that often serve to fragment us.

Pulling Down the Stars will be available from February 2013 from Hybrid Publishers.  You can read more about James Laidler and read an excerpt for The Taste of Apple on his website.

What I read in 2012, and some books to start 2013 with

December 31, 2012 2 comments

Books read in 2012

I managed to hit 70 books read in 2012, which I’m very pleased about. This is the highest number I’ve read in a year since I began documenting my reading fully in 2008. This year I discovered a number of authors I hadn’t read before but whom I took an instant liking to: the crime novels of American Megan Abbott, Australian crime novels by Garry Disher, and the works of American Southern writers William Gay and Daniel Woodrell. I read a few more novels by authors I’d already read before: English author Pat Barker’s non-WWI novels, more from the peerless J M Coetzee, Graham Greene, Johnathan Lethem (whom I’m still undecided on), DBC Pierre (whom I’ve decided I don’t like) and more. Two of my favourite novels of the year though were by writers I hadn’t read much of previously: The City and the City by China Mieville and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. Overall, my tastes seem to run mainly to crime novels and Southern Gothic, and my interest in speculative fiction is on the wane. Here’s the full list.

Abbott, M – The Song is You, Queenpin, Die a Little, Bury Me Deep

Atwood, M – Oryx & Crake

Auster, P – The Brooklyn Follies

Barker, P – Another World, Border Crossing

Bergen, A – Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat

Block, L – Grifter’s Game

Brown, L – Fay, Joe

Brautigan, R – Trout Fishing in America, In Watermelon Sugar

Broderick/Di Fillipo – Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010

Burroughs, WS – Rub Out the Words: Letters of WSB 1959-74

Byfield, M – Flight

Carter, A – Prime Cut

Coetzee, J M – Foe, Boyhood

Covich, S – When We Remember They Call Us Liars

Chabon, M – The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

Deane, J – The Norseman’s Song

Dick, Philip K – The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, The Simulacra

Disher, G – Blood Moon, The Dragon Man, Kittyhawk Down

Downham, J – Before I Die

Ellroy, J – The Black Dahlia

Faust, C – Money Shot

Gay, W – The Long Home, Provinces of Night, Twilight, Wittgenstein’s Lolita

Greene, G A Gun for Sale, Stamboul Train, The End of the Affair, Graham Greene: A Life in Letters

Hyde/Wintz – Precious Artifacts: A PKD Bibliography

Krasnostein, A (ed) – 2012

Ishiguro, K – Never Let Me Go

Kurkov, A – The Good Angel of Death

Lethem, J – The Disappointment Artist, Amnesia Moon

Luckhurst, R – The Angle Between Two Walls – J G Ballard

Mieville, C – The City and the City, Embassytown

McCarthy, C – The Crossing

McHugh, M – After the Apocalypse

Mosley, W – Devil in a Blue Dress

Orwell, G – Down and Out in Paris and London 

Pasternak, B – Doctor Zhivago

Pierre, DBC – Ludmilla’s Broken English, Vernon God Little

Palmer, C – PKD: Exhilaration and the Terror of the Postmodern

Priest, C – Boneshaker

Richardson, D – Ultra Soundings

Roth, P – The Plot Against America

Steinbeck, J – The Pearl

Stephenson, N – The Diamond Age

Swofford, A – Jarhead

Warren, K – Through Splintered Walls

Wessely, T (ed) – Epilogue

Weisman, A – The World Without Us (NF)

Woodrell, D – Winter’s Bone, Under the Bright Lights, Tomato Red, Give Us a Kiss, The Death of Sweet Mister

Books to read in 2013

I buy books a lot faster than I read them and thus I seem only to read about half of the books I buy. So I should slow down on the book buying, right? Riiiight 😉 Here’s my ‘immediate to-read’ list of 14, to be distinguished from my extended to-read list of 200+

Barker, P – Double Vision, Toby’s Room

I like Pat Barker quite a lot and I’ve managed to read at least half of her novels now. I complained a little to myself that she wrote too many books about WWI, but then in actual fact I prefer her WWI stuff to the contemporary novels of hers I read in 2012. Thus I’m looking forward to reading her latest novel, Toby’s Room, more than the older Double Vision.

Brown, H – Red Queen, After the Darkness

Russell of Reflexiones Finales put the thought of Australian writer Honey Brown into my head, and I’ve finally gotten around to picking up two of her novels today. I’ve made a brief start on Red Queen this afternoon and I like it plenty so far.

Coetzee, J M – Master of Petersburg

I’m not in a huge hurry to finish ploughing my way through the 7-8 Coetzee novels I’m yet to read, but I’ll get there eventually. I suspect I’ll pick up a couple more throughout the year.

Bergen, A – One Hundred Years of Vicissitude

Andrez Bergen’s second novel is on my immediate list courtesy of his excellent Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat. And he’s nearly finished a third novel. And a fourth, I think…

Disher, G – Wyatt

I’ve read a few Challis & Destry mysteries, but this will be the first I’ve seen of the Wyatt series.

Kempshall, P (ed) – Tales from the Second Storey

I picked this up at the KSP Minicon a few months ago and it has a very impressive Table of Contents…

Kerouac/Ginsberg – Letters

I love William Burroughs – his writing and his life – so much that I’m prepared to branch out into reading the letters of his friends now 🙂

Laidler, J – Pulling Down the Stars

I’ve almost finishing reading this one by the author of The Taste of Apple. Expect a review very soon.

McCullers, C – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Been meaning to read this for a long time, but my mum says it’s awesome so I’ll read it.

Penzler, (ed) – The Lineup

A collection of interviews with famous crime writers on how they came up with their protagonists.

Temple, P – Truth

I hear it’s good.

Xinran – China Witness

Another non-fiction book by the author of The Good Women of China.

Book Review – The Taste of Apple by James Laidler

July 18, 2011 1 comment

The Taste of Apple is Australian writer James Laidler’s debut, a verse novel about the life and times of young Pedro Jones. It won the Best First Book category in Interactive Publications’ IP Picks Awards 2010 and was published by IP the same year. Firstly, you might be wondering what kind of beast a ‘verse novel’ is. I’d never read one myself, but I remember having a creative writing tutor once, Alan Wearne, who had written a number of them. Basically it’s a novel with characters, a narrative, visual description, and all the things you’d normally expect from a novel, except that it’s set out as a series of poems. The resultant work, in this case, is breezy, engaging and frequently heartmoving. I strongly recommend that you give The Taste of Apple a try.

Pedro Jones is a young man in nineties Melbourne trying to come to terms with his mixed Filipino and White Australian heritage. His unhappy family life is fractured forever, on Christmas Eve, when his father leaves the family to live in another part of Victoria. Pedro’s mother Imee, alone and impoverished, is left to raise Pedro with only her Catholic faith to guide her. They have to more to the seedy apartment block Eden Towers to survive.  Pedro meets Juan “Johnnie” Lazzaro, a young East Timorese man whose family life and personal circumstances are even more dire than Pedro’s. The boys become best friends, busking together on the streets of Melbourne and drowning their sorrows in alcohol.

The Taste of Apple is a dark book in many ways, but it’s never depressing, due to the optimistic tone and uplifting spirit herein. There are a number of shocking twists along the way, which I’ll try not to spoil here, but suffice to say that this is definitely a novel, even if it is set in verse, not a book of poems in the ordinary sense. As the narrative progresses, Pedro becomes drawn into the East Timor liberation movement, as he discovers that Johnnie himself is a survivor of the Dili massacre. Here we meet a colorful and memorable cast of characters, some of the strongest in the book. Pedro also learns about the healing power of gardening as he attempts to put his past, and specifically his absent father, behind him.

I doubt I’ve enjoyed reading a book this year as much as I enjoyed reading The Taste of Apple. The pages practically turn themselves; I’d challenge anyone to start reading this and not finish it. You can buy it from online sellers such as Amazon or The Book Depository. There is also an enhanced edition which you can read more about on the author’s website. I look forward to James Laidler’s next book with interest.