Reviews: Still Life with Teapot, The Perfect Girl, Bone by Bone

Still Life with Teapot, Brigid Lowry
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Still Life with Teapot, Brigid Lowry

Still Life with Teapot: On Zen, Writing & Creativity
Brigid Lowry
Fremantle Press, $35

Brigid Lowry has published eight books for young adults including the best selling Juicy Writing: Inspiration and Techniques for Young Writers.

She spent seven years in a Buddhist community and is a fan of Zen thought. Her latest book, Still Life with Teapot: On Zen, Writing and Creativity, seems pitched at a wider audience.

The Perfect Girl, Gilly Macmillan
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The Perfect Girl, Gilly Macmillan

The book is like a patchwork quilt that draws upon a striking array of materials. Some patches attract my attention, others less so. You could also view the book as 13 ways to write a memoir.

If I can trust the admissions, Lowry is 62 years old, twice divorced, lives in a retirement village in Australia, once lived in Auckland, thinks of herself as old but madcap.

The sixties feel like the new forties to me, so I find the whole business of old age weighing down a 62-year-old slightly disconcerting. And that, conversely, such an age gives you licence to be wild, eccentric, free. I would hope writers can enjoy these liberties at any age.

Bone by Bone, Sanjida Kay
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Bone by Bone, Sanjida Kay

The first section is a compilation of lists inspired by The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, a Japanese courtesan. In between the magpie lists, a memoir builds. Here I find the gold nuggets that I scrawl in a notebook.

Confessions such as rueing the absence of eggbeaters and the impurity of breadcrumbs. Quotations that strike a chord. Rilke saying, 'I want to be alone with those who know secret things, or not alone.' Or Huxley saying, 'The more powerful and original the mind, the more it will incline to solitude.'

The section that struck me deepest though, is like a letter from daughter to father. The author's father, Bob Lowry, a notable figure on New Zealand's literary landscape, committed suicide when she was a child. This moving negotiation of such unbearable loss is breathtaking. 

Treat the book as a keepsake, and you will find your own gold nuggets. Paula Green

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The Perfect Girl
Gilly Macmillan
Piatcus $35

Bone by Bone
Sanjida Kay
Corvus, $33

There is an uncanny resemblance between these two books.  Both are written by women who live in Bristol, this providing the setting for each novel. The Perfect Girl is Gilly Macmillan's second thriller and Bone by Bone is Sanjida Kay's first.  

Although both plots involve crime, the stories hinge on teenage bullying and the far-reaching effects this can have, particularly when reinforced by the power of social media.

The books also share a similar structure.  They proceed over a few days, although The Perfect Girl goes back in time a little as well.  They are also written in the words of more than one protagonist. In The Perfect Girl, these are several members of the family of Zoe, a teenaged musical prodigy. In Bone by Bone, they alternate between the teenaged Autumn and her mother.

Both books resolve satisfactorily and include neatly written shocks in the end. They are readable because the plotting is well done and in both cases the character and concerns of teenaged girls and their relationships with their mothers are well portrayed.  

All of which does make identification on the part of an aging male reader a little hard to achieve.

The similarities between the books are strong but there are also differences. The plot and characterisation of Gilly Macmillan's book is stronger than Sanjida Kay's and continuing with the comparison, Ms Macmillan is the better writer, her first novel Burnt Paper Sky, also making this clear.

So, if you only want to read one teenaged bullying thriller, The Perfect Girl is the one to choose. 

However, this reviewer is left wondering what on earth is going on in Bristol, which might not be the place to live as a teenaged girl. And there is the no doubt ignoble thought that the one writer using different names might have written both books. Ken Strongman

 

 - Stuff

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