Review: The Little Girl on the Ice Floe: Adélaïde Bon

The Little Girl on the Ice Floe

Adélaïde Bon

Maclehose Press

Hachette Australia

RRP $35

 

Description:

“Life itself is in these pages: in this candid, poetic style there is storytelling of real quality” – LEILA SLIMANI, author of Lullaby

 

A powerful and personal account of the devastating consequences of childhood rape: a valuable voice for the #MeToo conversation.

 

Adélaïde Bon grew up in a wealthy neighborhood in Paris, a privileged child with a loving family, lots of friends and seemingly limitless opportunity lying ahead of her. But one sunny afternoon, when she was nine years old, a strange man followed her home and raped her in the stairwell of her building. She told her parents, they took her to the police, the fact of the crime was registered … and then a veil was quietly drawn over that part of her childhood, and life was supposed to go on.

 

Except, of course, it didn’t.

 

Throughout her adolescence and young adulthood, Adélaïde struggles with the aftermath of the horror of that afternoon in 1990. The lingering trauma pervades all aspects of her life: family education, friendships, relationships, even her ability to eat normally. And then one day, many years later, when she is married and has a small son, she receives a call from the police saying that they think they have finally caught the man who raped her, a man who has hidden in plain sight for decades, with many other victims ready to testify against him. The subsequent court case reveals Giovanni Costa, the stuff of nightmares and bogeymen, finally vanquished by the weight of dozens and dozens of emotional and horrifying testimonies from all the women whose lives and childhoods he stole.

 

My View:

I am ready to call this The Best Memoir of 2019!

 

This is an amazing story – Adélaïde Bon’s childhood was stolen from her by a calculating and despicable man, the dark cloud of his actions remained with her for many years, unconsciously influencing her every decision and mood. Adélaïde is a brave and resourceful young woman who has used her personal story to further the #MeToo discussion.

 

Let me share a scene that I found profound. This is a scene from one of Adélaïde’s discussion with her psychiatrist (p179-180):

Psychiatrist: “Her father may have been violent. Your assailant had carefully chosen that girl. It’s quicker, less dangerous and even less tiring to assault someone who has already experienced violence.   A victim who hasn’t had any therapy disassociates herself almost immediately, assailants know how to identify them, know they won’t put up a fight, and that they probably won’t be able to say anything afterwards.   The fact that you were doing fine, that you lived in a close knit, loving family, where there was no domestic violence or corporal punishment, meant that he had to make more of an effort to make you disassociate. That’s certainly why he went so far with you. To guarantee his impunity. “

 

Adélaïde: “So afterwards, I was easier prey than the others? Is that why I attract all the perverts for miles around?”

 

Psychiatrist: “Yes. Unfortunately, the main risk factor in being the victim of violence is to have already experienced it. But you are recovering.”

 

This explains so much of life.

 

Unbelievably brave, I do not know where Adélaïde found the strength to allow love into her life and to recover from the trauma she suffered and then to write her incredibly haunting journey into the book that is “The Little Girl on the Ice Flow”.  This is a powerful and moving read, written by an incredibly talented and strong woman. I salute you Adélaïde Bon.

 

PS the translation is pitch perfect.

Review: At The Wolf’s Table – Rosella Postorino

at the wolf's table

At The Wolf’s Table

Rosellas Postorino

Simon & Schuster Australia

ISBN: 9781925791969

RRP $29.99

 

Description:

The internationally bestselling novel based on the untold true story of the women conscripted to be Hitler’s food tasters.

 

“They called it the Wolfsschanze, the Wolf’s Lair. ‘Wolf’ was his nickname. As hapless as Little Red Riding Hood, I had ended up in his belly. A legion of hunters was out looking for him, and to get him in their grips they would gladly slay me as well.”

 

Germany, 1943: Twenty-six-year-old Rosa Sauer’s parents are gone, and her husband Gregor is far away, fighting on the front lines of WWII. Impoverished and alone, she makes the fateful decision to leave war-torn Berlin to live with her in-laws in the countryside, thinking she’ll find refuge there. But one morning, the SS come to tell her she has been conscripted to be one of Hitler’s tasters: three times a day, she and nine other women go to his secret headquarters, the Wolf’s Lair, to eat his meals before he does. Forced to eat what might kill them, the tasters begin to divide into The Fanatics, those loyal to Hitler, and the women like Rosa who insist they aren’t Nazis, even as they risk their lives every day for Hitler’s.

 

As secrets and resentments grow, this unlikely sisterhood reaches its own dramatic climax. What’s more, one of Rosa’s SS guards has become dangerously familiar, and the war is worsening outside. As the months pass, it becomes increasingly clear that Rosa and everyone she knows are on the wrong side of history.

 

 

My View:

Brilliant!

A narrative that authentically involves you in the war time Germany where the impossible to accept, the dangerous, the unthinkable… is normalised. This is a study of group behaviour; of how social isolation, separation from family support, societal and military control, of how war affects those actively involved in the warfare and those who remain at home. It is also a story of love – in many forms, of violence, of living in perpetual/potential danger and a story of survival.

 

This is, at times, an intense and emotional read.  I was disappointed when I read the last page – I was hungry for more.

 

Brilliantly written, sensitively translated, this is a great read.

 

Review: At Dusk – Hwang Sok-yong

At DuskAt Dusk

Hwang Sok-yong

Scribe Publications

ISBN: 9781925322934

RRP $27.99

 

Description:

In the evening of his life, a wealthy man begins to wonder if he might have missed the point.

 

Park Minwoo is, by every measure, a success story. Born into poverty in a miserable neighbourhood of Seoul, he has ridden the wave of development in a rapidly modernising society. Now the director of a large architectural firm, his hard work and ambition have brought him triumph and satisfaction. But when his company is investigated for corruption, he’s forced to reconsider his role in the transformation of his country.

 

At the same time, he receives an unexpected message from an old friend, Cha Soona, a woman that he had once loved, and then betrayed. As memories return unbidden, Minwoo recalls a world he thought had been left behind — a world he now understands that he has helped to destroy.

 

From one of Korea’s most renowned and respected authors, At Dusk is a gentle yet urgent tale about the things, and the people, that we give up in our never-ending quest to move forward.

 

 

My View:

Reading At Dusk transported me to another region, a different society and gave me a view of a little bit of history. Despite all the differences between the landscapes I live in and that of Hwang Sok-yong, there was a unifying theme surrounding aging, regret and hindsight.  As we age (I speak from my own aging experience) we do question decisions we made in the past, how things might have been and question what is important in our life now?   Reflection on relationships, life choices abound. Whether we live in Korea, London or Cowaramup Western Australia these themes surrounding ageing and the meaning of life apply universally; Hwang Sok-yong has subtly reminded us of our similarities, humanness and frailties.

A sobering read.

 

 

 

 

Review: The Forbidden Place – Susanne Jansson

The Forbidden Place

The Forbidden Place

Susanne Jansson

Translated by Rachel Wilson-Broyles

Hachette Australia

Mulholland Books

Hodder

ISBN: 9781473668553

RRP $ 29.99

 

Description:

In the North Swedish wetlands lies Mossmarken: the village on the edge of the mire where, once upon a time, people came to leave offerings to the gods.

 

Biologist Nathalie came in order to study the peat bogs. But she has a secret: Mossmarken was once her home, a place where terrible things happened. She has returned at last, determined to confront her childhood trauma and find out the truth.

 

Soon after her arrival, she finds an unconscious man out on the marsh, his pockets filled with gold – just like the ancient human sacrifices. A grave is dug in the mire, which vanishes a day after. And as the police investigate, the bodies start to surface…

 

Is the mire calling out for sacrifices, as the superstitious locals claim? Or is it an all-too-human evil?

An international sensation, THE FORBIDDEN PLACE is a darkly gripping tale of the stories we tell ourselves to survive, and the terrible consequences they can have.

 

 

My View:

My very first impression of this book was created by the wonderful cover art; it succinctly conveys the almost Gothic like chilliness that pervades the landscape, there is an almost palpable sense of mystery, unease and intrigue. Fog, mist, swamp, peat bogs, isolation… the landscape is such a huge character in this book.

 

Moody with finely drawn characters, spiced with a little history, sadness and spooky folk tales, these are the elements that provide the skeleton for this chilling narrative to build on. A great read and a wonderful debut, I look forward to reading more books by this author.

 

PS This is brilliantly and appears effortlessly, translated.

 

 

Review: Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One – Raphaelle Giordano

Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One

Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You only Have One

Raphaelle Giordano

Penguin Random House Australia

Bantam

ISBN: 9780143788997

 

Description:

At thirty-eight and a quarter years old, Camille has everything she needs to be happy, or so it seems. Why then does she feel as if happiness has slipped through her fingers? All she wants is to find the path to joy and fulfilment.

 

When Claude, a routinologist, offers his unique advice to help get her there, she seizes the opportunity with both hands. Camille’s journey is full of surprising, creative and richly meaningful lessons, as she sets out to transform her life and realize her dreams one step at a time . . .

 

A charming, feel-good and universal story of one woman’s journey from boredom and dissatisfaction to happiness and fulfilment – if you liked The Happiness Project, The Alchemist or Eat, Pray, Love, you’ll love this.

 

 

My View:

Clever, life affirming, at times humorous, thought provoking.

 

This is a charming, entertaining read that has many lessons to share. I enjoyed the journey that Camille embarks on and the clever twist at the conclusion.

 

 

 

 

Post Script: The White Book – Han Kang

The White Book

The White Book

Han Kang

Translated by Deborah Smith

Allen & Unwin Australia

Portobello Books

ISBN: 9781846276293

 

Description:

From the winner of the Man Booker International Prize for The Vegetarian

 

Writing while on a residency in Warsaw, a city palpably scarred by the violence of the past, the narrator finds herself haunted by the story of her older sister, who died a mere two hours after birth. A fragmented exploration of white things – the swaddling bands that were also her shroud, the breast milk she did not live to drink, the blank page on which the narrator herself attempts to reconstruct the story – unfolds in a powerfully poetic distillation.

 

As she walks the unfamiliar, snow-streaked streets, lined by buildings formerly obliterated in the Second World War, their identities blur and overlap as the narrator wonders, ‘Can I give this life to you?’. The White Book is a book like no other. It is a meditation on a colour, on the tenacity and fragility of the human spirit, and our attempts to graft new life from the ashes of destruction.

 

This is both the most autobiographical and the most experimental book to date from South Korean master Han Kang.

 

 

My View:

Experimental in presentation and design, economically written, no words wasted, emotions captured seemingly effortlessly, this is a stunning read, an emotional read.

 

Poignant beautiful prose – so personal, like reading someone else’s diary, someone who has a heart full of sadness (I hope that is not the reality, I hope that is just my imagination).

 

Post Script: The Accordionist – Fred Vargas

The Accordionist

The Accordionist

Three Evangelists Trilogy

Fred Vargas

Random House UK, Vintage Publishing

Harvill Secker

ISBN: 9781846559983

 

Description:

When two Parisian women are shockingly murdered in their homes, the police suspect young accordionist Clément Vauquer, who was seen outside both of the apartments in question. It seems on the surface like an open-and-shut case.

 

But now Clément has disappeared from public view. His likeness has appeared in the papers and detectives from Paris to Nevers are on his tail. To have a chance of proving his innocence, he seeks refuge with old Marthe, a former prostitute and the only mother figure he has known.

 

Marthe calls ex-special investigator Louis Kehlweiler to help Clément. But what Louis uncovers is anything but straightforward, and he must call on some unconventional friends to help him solve his most complex case yet. Not only must Louis try to prove Clément’s innocence, he must solve a fiendish riddle to lead him to the killer…

 

 

My View:

This is a great series – I love the quirky characters – Vargas characters are unique, interesting and empathetic, unlike any I have come across in the many many mystery/thrillers/crime fiction genres I have read – refreshing, a joy to read!

 

If you are feeling a little fatigued, a little less engaged, a little disenchanted with the crime fiction books you had read recently re-ignite that joy of reading by reading the Three Evangelists Trilogy – you will not be disappointed.