Welcome to your new life – another Goodreads review

Welcome to Your New LifeWelcome to Your New Life by Anna Goldsworthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only thing more difficult than writing about childbirth is taking part in it — I presume. In Welcome to your new life, classical pianist and writer Anna Goldsworthy navigates the turbulent waters of pregnancy, birth and the first years of child-rearing with a successful blend of humour and insight.

We are reminded time and again how visceral the process of pregnancy and birth is. The very first image is of a long-term vegetarian urgently craving the juices and fats of a cevapi sausage. Enduring the agony of childbirth, the end of the process is “a sweet, slithering riddance”. After birth, like all babies he is an amalgam of poo, mucous and vomit. Expressing milk for the first time, she burps him and “you express the elixir of life down my back”.

Everyone has opinions (some strongly held) about pregnancy and child-rearing that would be difficult to express without hectoring the reader. Goldsworthy, an admitted perfectionist, avoids regaling us with certainties, but we meet many who do not. Each of these encounters features a disjunction that Goldsworthy uses cleverly for comic effect.

At a pre-natal birthing video session, the scene is set with a gentle, herbal tea sipping about-to-be mother and her midwife. Soon thereafter, the gentle herbal tea sipper is transformed into a bellowing Ms Hyde as she begins to push. As this goes on, the “breezy midwife” comments that pushing is, “{s]ometimes accompanied by a burning sensation”.

Along the way Anna encounters demands for birth plans, censure for ‘not breast-feeding properly’, arrogant doctors and the myriad expectations that are routinely heaped upon new and expectant mothers, often in trying circumstances. It’s the very ordinariness of Anna’s experiences and her laconic description that provides the humour. During labour, Anna is presented with a hospital menu, and she explains that she is without a pen. The nurse responds;

She purses her lips. “You’d be amazed at how many women present at labour without a pen. You’ll just have to source one from somewhere.”

Alongside gentle humour, Goldsworthy plumbs fascinating depths. Her description of mother and baby as “lovers in reverse” is clever and poignant. The awareness that this new life is mortal weaves through the book like a subtle stage backdrop. While her baby is being born, her brother lies on a surgical table in London, the surgeons unable to control his bleeding. At the end of the book, Anna is again pregnant, and her beloved grandmother lies dying in a hospice.

As the reader progresses, we glimpse intimate details, but are also somewhat remote from the process. We are introduced to parents, siblings, and a supporting cast of friends, acquaintances and professionals, but we never learn the baby’s name (until the afterword). This, and the second-person perspective, helps us feel that the main protagonists draw ever-closely in upon each other as the narrative progresses.

To make a topic come alive for someone with little background in it is a great achievement. My greatest disappointment with this book was that it had a final page.

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Another review

Today’s #blogjune post is another review over at Goodreads.

HindsightHindsight by Melanie Casey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hindsight is the debut novel for Adelaide writer Melanie Casey. Cassie Lehman comes from a long line of women with a psychic gift, which differs for each of the recipients. Cass sees and experiences the final moments of those who have died violently. She sees and feels the full force of their pain and terror through their eyes. It’s a gift that has led her to live the life of a recluse with her mother and grandmother.

Detective Ed Dyson has never gotten over the disappearance of his wife and unborn child. He’s stayed more or less on track with the help of Phil, his partner, and together they have tried to piece together what happened to her in their off-duty hours. A killing witnessed in the alley of a country town brings Cass and Ed together in an unlikely combination to track down a serial killer.

It’s a pleasure to read a work set in familiar territory (in this case, South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula) , and Casey delivers a nicely paced tale that makes the pages turn faster than a pancake on a hot stove. The two main characters are both nicely well penned, though partner Phil once or twice felt a little stock-character-like.

What I really enjoyed was the struggle that Cass had with her gift. Though their gifts differed from hers, it was a struggle Cass has shared with her mother and grandmother. It is perhaps true that anyone who is especially gifted struggles with its use. While Cass very much wants to use her sight to find the killer, the cost for her is high. Like her namesake Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess, her sight manifests like a psychic possession. While seeing her visions, Cass is helpless, and to an observer seems possessed. As the blurb states, this is a “not-so-sexy gift”. It has left her without friends, without romance and with uncertain social skills. A similar “gift” was used in the Star Trek: Voyager episode Ex Post Facto, where the memory of the victim was implanted into the killer. Their sentence – to relive the victim’s final moments every eight hours for the rest of their lives. This is not the stuff of gentle tea-leaves-at the-bottom-of-the-cup.

This was a debut work that was a pleasure to read. The relationship between Ed and Cass was perhaps closer at the end of the story than I thought it might have been, given the baggage both of them carry. However, the frantic climax perhaps burned away some of the layers of the past. The sense of foreboding that pervades Aeschylus’ Agamemnon is nicely acknowledged by quotes from the playwright himself at the beginning of each section. This is an excellent weekend read for the crime fiction buff who likes a subtle dose of psychic with their reading

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And that is all.

Reading

I’ve taken part in the last two Goodreads Challenges, and am reasonably happy with my progress so far. One of my goals was to increase the number of reviews that I did, partly for the enforced writing practice, and partly because I wanted to reflect on why I did or didn’t like particular titles. I did reasonably well at the beginning of the year but have slipped behind quite a lot on that front since then. Oh well……

So what am I reading at the moment? I’ve almost finished Frances Mayes’ A year in the world. One of the things that I really like about her work is the passion that she feels for travel, which I share (work is really a way for me to pay for overseas trips). It features a series of short trips to different parts of Europe and North Africa over a five-year period. One thing that she and her husband do is imagine themselves moving into a region and becoming part of the local fabric, absorbing the cuisine, adapting themselves to the local culture. My wife and I always imagine ourselves upping sticks and living a different life away from the day-to-day hurley-burley (which always includes trips to the local real estate agent/immobilier/whatever. The other things that I like about this book are the snippets of local literature that add a lovely texture to the land-and-food-scapes.

Next on the pile is Melanie Casey’s Hindsight.  I’m not a detective novel person per se, but I do like a bit of paranormal fiction. And besides, Melanie is the lecturer for my Professional Writing module for this term (Examine the Writer and the Law – lots of lovely stuff like copyright, defamation and contracts). I’ll start it this weekend, and should finish by next Thursday (which is our last class). Maybe that will give me a good excuse for handing my assignment up late….

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