Utu | a novel by Caryl Férey

I’m three quarters of the way through a novel by French author Caryl Férey. I’ve paused from reading only to write this post as I’m otherwise completely engrossed in the story…

Paul Osborne is spiraling out of control. Full of drugs and booze and self-hate, he has washed up in Sydney, where he has a walk-up in Kings Cross, a bad case of sunstroke and an even worse reputation as the local bars. But now his former boss from the Auckland City Police Department has tracked him down and wants him back on the job. Jack Fitzgerald, a former colleague and Osborne’s only real friend on the force, has committed suicide in the middle of an important investigation. And despite his current state, Paul Osborne, once a tenacious detective, is the only one qualified to take over the investigation. Osborne has no interest in playing detective anymore but returns to Auckland at the behest of his captain for one reason only: he’s sure that Jack Fitzgerald couldn’t have killed himself and he’s determined to find his murderers.

An expert in Maori culture, Osborne retraces his dead friend’s steps into a world of occult, mystery, tribal discontent, billion-dollar backroom deals, and political corruption in a search for the truth about Jack Fitzgerald.

In the Maori language, “utu” means revenge. In this gripping crime novel, the desire for bloody revenge runs deep and far and nobody, innocent and guilty alike, will be safe until it has been sated.

As with most books translated from another language, you have to assume that some of the power of the wording has been lost, and that some elements may have not made it across with the dexterity of the author’s original language. I’m finding a few things, although minute, annoying; like the constant reference to how very “British” things are. Having been to France (where the author is from), England and New Zealand (and of course being an Aussie) I can state that I would not refer to NZ as being colloquially British. Also references to things like distance and degrees is in Imperial instead of Metric (miles and Fahrenheit versus kilometers and Celsius). Other than that though the author has done his due diligence with regards to the description of the places surrounding the key locations in the novel; Sydney and Auckland.

I find Paul Osborne to be the quintessential ‘noir’ anti-hero protagonist of the story; he’s not at all endearing (too violent, has a strong disregard for the law although he is a cop & takes copious amounts of drugs), he’s cynical of the world and alienated. At times his violence is utterly shocking but I find myself liking him. I want him to come around and to succeed. Maybe it’s his handsomeness and his intelligence that sucks me in; he can instantly read people and despite all of his faults and the fact that he’s pretty much smashed all the time, he’s actually a decent detective.

The generalised crime thriller plot is underlayed by a strong undercurrent of social injustice between the past and present; the colonisation of NZ and how history has impacted the lives of generation after generation of the Maori people. Osborne is a pākehā (Maori term for white/European/British people) but his own off-centre ethics orbit around the pathological need for retribution for the social injustice he sees in his country because of the love of a Maori girl from his childhood. The author uses flashbacks to give insight and build character depth and uses the native language to provide authenticity which he follows up with footnotes so the reader can follow.

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore, joyously called Glee Books and I although I haven’t quite finished it, I highly recommend it!


Footnote: Caryl Férey’s novel Utu won the Sang d’Encre, Michael Lebrun, and SNCF Crime Fiction Prizes. Zulu, his first novel to be published in English, was the winner of the Nouvel Obs Crime Fiction and Quais du Polar Readers Prizes. In 2008, it was awarded the French Grand Prix for Best Crime Novel. He lives in France.

The Paris Wife

At Dinner Club last night I received a pretty package tied with ribbon from the Jacksons!

pretty package
my birthday book stack

The first book that I am reading from my stack is

I think it’s fascinating when a writer melds fiction and fact.

Of course, there is always truth to the essence of something that is written, but I’m talking about when a biography of someone’s life is added to and expanded upon.

“Although Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway and other people who actually lived appear in this book as fictional characters, it was important for me to render the particulars of their lives as accurately as possible, and to follow the very well documented historical record.”

That is an excerpt from ‘A Note on Sources’ at the conclusion of the book
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. I’m only one chapter in and I can tell its going to be wonderful. Her writing is rich and alive and it very much reminds me of Hemingway himself. She writes as the voice of Hadley Hemingway, Ernest’s first and in a sense “starter” wife, and their five years of marriage spent in living in Paris.

While A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s own account of his first marriage, McLain uses many sources, including a multitude of biographies on Hemingway and letters of correspondence between the couple and friends of the couple, to include the factual accounts of their marriage but from a fictional voice of Hadley.

How wonderful! How exciting!

I’ll review once finished.

aa gill is away

I’m going to break up my blogging week of Melbourne lovin’ to write a review on the latest book I just finished;

AA Gill is Away (funnily enough by AA Gill). 

Adrian Anthony Gill is a food and travel writer who I first read as a regular feature article in Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine. He’s a handsome, 50-something journalist who literally fell into the profession after an unsuccessful stint as an artist.

The first thing I love about AA Gill is that he’s funny. Literally laugh out loud funny. After you accept his decidedly British humour then you can focus on his in-depth knowledge and sublime prose. When his first editor at GQ magazine asked him what he wanted to achieve as a journalist he said “I’d like to interview places. To treat a place as if it were a person, to go and listen to it, ask it questions.” And that he does. He’s not your usual travel writer. He is brutally honest with no regard for political correctness, which I find extremely refreshing, but whether or not he falls in love with a destination (whether it be village, city, country or restaurant) he takes the time to explore and gets to know it intimately.

Away is written in essay format and sectioned into four parts; north, south, east and west. The North focuses on Europe, South mainly on Africa, East on Asia and West on the Americas.

I love the story on The Kalahari entitled ‘Out of their Element’ so much that I read it twice. I had tears rolling down my eyes as I read the description of his bowel movements in the middle of a gargantuan dessert storm.

And similarly, the story of how he came to be a porn producer in Hollywood was both fascinating and surprising. Read ‘When DD met AA’ for a titillating account of a journalistic man’s wet dream! (and many other men, I’m sure)

For those who know his magazine and newspaper columns (he writes for UK Sunday Times, Vanity Fair and Australian Gourmet Traveller) the noticeable difference in his book is that he swears. A lot. Most people say that people who swear have a limited vocabulary but this is simply not the case with Gill. I have to look up words on more than one occasion. The swearing doesn’t bother me but I’m sure some people would take offence to all the F-bombs. But then again, those same people would probably take offence to half of the essays in this book considering his satirical, non-censored account of the people and places he visits (refer to East essay ‘Mad in Japan’).

I am envious of his exceptional talent and the number of stamps on his passport. But you know that he works for it; in one essay he references that he took 30 minutes to write the previous sentence and it’s common knowledge that he has a serious case of dyslexia (his articles are written by dictation); and you admire him for that.

I really enjoyed this book and I’ve got the order in for two more.

review | water for elephants

I am one of those people who likes to read the book before watching the movie.

I’d heard of the NY Times best seller Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen but hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. That was until I started seeing ads for the film adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson. I just had to read it before seeing the film.

There isn’t a lot for 90 year old Jacob to do alone with his thoughts and flailing fragile body in his room at the retirement home. His mind is as active and imaginative as it always has been, it’s just his body that isn’t willing or able.

With his wife gone and his grown family absorbed in their own lives, Jacob spends his days & nights remembering back to the time when at the cusp of the Great Depression he is orphaned by a car crash, quits university just shy of his degree, jumps a train and finds himself aboard the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, changing the course of his life forever.

The story is not only that of adventure, love and friendship but a reminder that age is purely the passing of time.

Jacob finds a makeshift family among the circus’ vagabonds, freaks and animals but it is Marlena the beautiful star of the equestrian act who takes his breath away. She is married to August a ruthlessly cruel task master who flits between bouts of charismatic brilliance and maniacal violence.

The arrival of Rosie the elephant brings hope for the struggling circus and what happens in the following months becomes stuff of circus legend.

For Jacob the circus is both a salvation and a living hell, but through it all Marlena, Rosie and Jacob form an unlikely trio and create a binding bond that will save them all.

An enthralling and beautiful read!

impatiently waiting | Dead Reckoning; Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris’ official website puts the publication date of her new Sookie Stackhouse novel (#11), to this week on the 3rd May 2011.

It isn’t available for pre-order on Book Depository as yet, so I’ll have to brave the astronomical shipping fees of Amazon to get it ASAP…

There is a sneak-peek of the first chapter that you can read here.

Can’t wait!!!