Relativity

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Antonia Hayes

First Sentence:     Before you hear any words, you can feel the panic.

Back of the book:

A tiny baby is rushed to hospital. Doctors suspect he was shaken by his father, who is later charged and convicted. The baby grows up in the care of his mother. Life goes on.

Twelve years later, Ethan is a singular young boy. Gifted with an innate affinity for physics and astronomy, Ethan sees the world in ways others simply can’t – through a prism of light, time, stars and space.

Ethan is the centre of his mother’s universe. Claire has tried to protect him from finding out what happened when he was a baby. But the older Ethan gets, the more questions he asks about his absent father.

A single handwritten letter is all it takes to set off a dramatic chain of events, pulling both parents back together again into Ethan’s orbit. As the years seem to warp and bend, the past is both relived and revealed anew for each of them.

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The Narrow Road to the Deep North

the narrow road to the deep north - richard flanaganRichard Flanagan

First Sentence:     Why at the beginning of things is there always light?

Back of the book:

Forever after, there were for them only two sorts of men: the men who were on the Line, and the rest of humanity, who were not.

In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Burma Death Railway, surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever.

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The Night Guest

Night guestFiona McFarlane

First Sentence:     Ruth woke at four in the morning and her blurry brain said, ‘Tiger.’

Back of the book:

In an isolated house on the New South Wales coast, Ruth – a widow whose sons work abroad – lives alone. Until one day a stranger bowls up, announcing that she’s been sent by the authorities to be Ruth’s carer.

At first, Ruth is happy to have the company. Frida is efficient and helpful, and willing to listen to Ruth’s stories about her childhood in Fiji and the man she fell for there. But why does Ruth hear a tiger prowling through the house at night? How far can Ruth trust this enigmatic woman? And how far can she trust herself?

This hypnotic tale soars above its own suspense to tell us, with exceptional grace and beauty, about ageing, love, dependence, fear and power, and about the mysterious workings of the mind. Here is a dazzling new writer, reminding us how powerfully fiction can speak to our innermost secrets.

Quotes from the book:

[…] part of her was also suspicious of his ability to translate feelings so readily into words. She came away from music with a sense of its shape, and from plays with a suggestion of pulled threads; she had no idea how to describe shapes and threads.

‘There’s some sense in not going back. That way, you preserve it.”

It came to her that she missed her children, not as they were now, with their own children, but as they had been when they were young. She would never see them again.

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Burial Rites

Burial-Rites

Hannah Kent

First Sentence:     They said I must die.

Back of the book:

In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.

Agnes is sent to wait out the months leading up to her execution on the farm of district officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed her spiritual guardian, will listen to Agnes’s side of the story. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force everyone to work side by side, the family’s attitude to Agnes starts to change, until one winter night, she begins her whispered confession to them, and they realise that all is not as they had assumed.

Based on a true story, Burial Rites is an astonishing and moving novel about the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we’re told. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, in which every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

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Shantaram

Gregory David Roberts

First Sentence: It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.

That’s a long first sentence and I suppose it’s quite fitting because this is a long book. Based on the real life experiences of the author, and not an out-and-out autobiography as some people believe, this book is a novel based on one man’s life after his escape from an Australian prison. Arriving in India with a false passport, ‘Lin’ soon meets Prabaker, or Prabu, an irresistibly lovable local. It is when Lin and Prabaker go to visit his home village that Prabaker’s mother gives Lin the name Shantaram, which means ‘man of God’s peace’. After this brief visit to the countryside, the protagonist is thrown from one seemingly preposterous scenario to the next including; living in the slum and setting up a medical clinic, falling in love with Karla, being imprisoned and tortured for months on end, going to Goa with Karla and living peacefully, acting in Bollywood movies, fighting the war in Afghanistan and returning to India to become a drug lord. Phew! What annoyed me most about this book was that, after a while, I began to realise it would have made about seven better standalone books dealing with each of the different phases of his life. I found his observations on prison life to be quite compelling:

Patience and obsessional focus are the gems we mine in the tunnels of prison solitude.

Likewise, his relationship with Prabu was utterly engaging and I enjoyed his descriptions of him:

…rumbled and roared in a voice that he’d found in a bear’s cave, and cured in the barrel of a rusted cannon.

I just felt that this quality, which appeared only fleetingly, was not sustainable for the entire book, and it suffered as a result. One for young, impressionable backpackers perhaps. Enjoyable nonetheless.

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