Here is the full text of my Book Watch column in yesterday’s Herald on Sunday Books page (16 October 2011), reproduced courtesy of the Herald on Sunday.
The Cat’s Table
By Michael Ondaatje (Jonathan Cape, $34.99)
The Cat’s Table is about journeys – the journey of the 11 year old protagonist from Sri Lanka to England by ship, the journey of many of his fellow passengers from their homelands, the journey of children into adulthood. It is a wonderful read, full of story and intrigue, and knowledge of how the present feeds from the past and into the future. Ondaatje writes his tale with sympathy and interest, and not a single word wasted. Simply wonderful.
Bligh: William Bligh in the South Seas
By Anne Salmond (Penguin, $65)
Anne Salmond writes stunning histories of the Pacific, and Bligh is no exception. Salmond follows William Bligh’s life, from the highs of his early voyages with Cook to the lows of the infamous mutiny on his ship, the Bounty. One would think perhaps that there is nothing new to say about Bligh but Salmond proves that notion completely wrong, bringing to his story her usual attention to detail and ability to bring history alive.
The Tiny Wife
By Andrew Kaufman (The Friday Project, $19.99)
Billed as a “modern fable” The Tiny Wife is a unique short novella, presented in beautiful hardback form with “silhouette” style illustrations. I dare anyone to read The Tiny Wife and not be utterly charmed. The story follows the victims of a bank robbery (not the most charming setting) who steals not money but sentimental items. Strange goings-on then begin to take place… I stayed up late so I could finish The Tiny Wife in one sitting and it was worth every minute.
The Fat Years
By Chan Koonchung (Doubleday, $39.99)
The Fat Years is a political novel by Chinese writer Chan Koonchung, a strange combination of thriller and dystopian tale. First published in Hong Kong in 2009 and subsequently banned in China, it is set in 2011, which makes reading it a slightly spooky experience. China has become economically dominant in Chan Koonchung’s world, yet something very strange has happened to the Chinese people – they’ve collectively forgotten an entire month. The book’s protagonist, Old Chen, sets out to discover out what happened during that month, and finds a shocking truth.