I’ve read some wonderful books this month – and one terrible one. My focus has been on true crime lately – I’ve become a bit obsessed with books about trials. I guess it makes sense, seeing as I have recently been admitted as a lawyer. :)
Let me know if you’ve read any of my books for this month, and what you thought – I love to hear your comments! You are also most welcome to follow along with my monthly reading on Goodreads, and I would equally love to check out your lists too.
Joe Cinque’s Consolation, A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law (true crime)
Helen Garner (Australian author)
An account of how the author followed the trial of Anu Singh, an ANU law student who murdered her partner, Joe Cinque, as part of an aborted murder/suicide after telling multiple friends and acquaintances about her plan. Garner explores themes of mental illness, culpability and morality from both the point of view of the accused and the victim.
This was an utterly compelling read – the circumstances of the case are almost beyond belief. It showcases the genuine gap between the operation of the law (which aims to provide justice) and the desire for punishment and retribution that is often felt by victims, their families, and society as a whole.
Anu Singh deliberately overdosed her boyfriend on heroin and watched him slowly die over many hours, only calling the police when it was too late to save him. It is clear that Singh suffered from serious mental illness. However, she was able to manipulate her friends into incredible acts of ‘loyalty’ that ultimately ended up with her best friend also being charged over the death of Joe Cinque. In the end, she also appeared to be able to manipulate the court, as she spent only four years in jail for a murder that she admitted to.
As Garner points out in one of the most poignant messages of the book, once a victim has died – been murdered – they disappear. The focus is squarely on the perpetrator, and it can often be forgotten that ‘the deceased’ was a real person, with a real life that did not deserve to be cut short.
The Poisonwood Bible (fiction)
A story that follows a preacher, his wife and their four daughters as they move to the Belgian Congo to become missionaries in the 1960s and beyond. Kingsolver has a keen sense of irony and develops this through depictions of white privilege, patriarchal colonialism and deeply ingrained racism. The struggle for congolese independence provides a backdrop for the narrative.
I struggled a bit to get in to The Poisonwood Bible at first, but it slowly morphed into one of those epic novels that you know you will read again and again. Kingsolver is a gifted writer who crafts some of the most beautiful and poignant prose I have ever read. Her writing is a pure pleasure to read.
One of the key motifs in the book is ‘saving Africa’ – whether through colonialism or through religion. This saving of people who do not want or need to be saved is still relevant today, and it was brought to my mind when I read about Bob Geldof’s patronising ‘Band Aid 30’ effort to raise money for ebola, which conveniently ignored the African efforts to do the same thing. One of my favourite aspects of the story was the use of language – particularly ignorant misuse of Kikongo words – to illustrate that civilisation, intelligence and humanity comes in all different forms, and it is the greatest arrogance to assume that one way is better than another.
The novel takes a clearly anti-colonialism, anti-patriarchy and anti-religious tone, and I love that. The protagonists are all strong women operating – and often thriving – in hostile environments. This is a book that celebrates those who are dismissed, ignored or denigrated, and shows what the human spirit is truly capable of.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (young adult/fiction)
Junior is a teenager living on the Spokane Indian Reservation who decides to go to a ‘white’ school outside the bounds of the reservation in order to further his education. Junior faces racism and misconceptions from his white schoolmates, and is ostracised by his own community. This is an utterly charming and heartbreaking story of changing your destiny – or not.
I read this book in just a few hours. It had me laughing and crying, and it opened my eyes to a world about which I know very little. One thing it made me realise was just how much of an impact having your land, your history and your culture taken away and desecrated can have on the mental health of an entire population. This is a story about how soul-crushingly hard it can be to succeed when it feels like it’s your destiny to fail, and yet Alexie tells it with humour, self-deprecation and compassion.
Last Bets: A True Story of Morality, Gambling and the Law (true crime)
Michaela McGuire (Australian author)
McGuire follows the trial of the so-called ‘Crown bouncers’ who attempted to remove a patron from Crown Casino and instead may have contributed to his death. As the title suggests, the morality of gambling and the place for morals in the law – if there is one – are key themes in this account.
Many things irritated me about this book, although I did find the subject matter fascinating. It was really similar in style to Joe Cinque’s Consolation (it also followed a trial, and considered issues of morality, as well as being written from an investigative-journalist point of view). However, it was not as well written, or perhaps as well edited.
The author tended to jump around chronology-wise, which was confusing. However, my biggest problem with the book was that it tried to tie the morality that surrounds gambling, casinos and addictions to the morality of accidentally killing someone and failing to notify the police. These are two very distinct concepts in my opinion, and I think the author would have done better to pick one and stick with it, rather than devoting half her attention to each.
If the idea of investigative journalism in relation to crime interests you, I would highly recommend Night Games by Anna Krien, which explores misogyny in Australian sport through the lens of a rape trial.
Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed (true crime)
Cornwell believes she has determined the identity of ‘Jack the Ripper’, a serial killer who operated in London in the 1880s. Her account lays out the factual basis and assumptions that contributed to her belief, and discusses the murder and related circumstances.
This was, by far, one of the worst books I have ever read. It is hard to imagine how a book about a serial killer could disappoint me (I love true crime), but this was just shocking. Cornwell has ‘determined’ the identity of Jack the Ripper, and spent 450 pages presenting base conjecture, guesses and supposition to back up her case. Most of it was irrelevant and highly questionable. She had a list of references at the end of the book, but didn’t use any footnotes at all during the text. It was impossible to tell the difference between fact and guesses.
To hazard a guess of my own, I would suggest this book had about as much truth in it as the Da Vinci Code. In fact, I think Dan Brown should have a crack at it – Robert Langdon could probably do a better job of convincing us that eccentric artist Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper than Cornwall could manage with a million inconclusive DNA tests. Throughout the book she conflated Sickert with the Ripper, without any pretence of objectivity. She should have stuck to the facts – then it could have been an interesting read. Also – chronology, people! If things happen in a certain order, that’s how you should write them! It just makes sense! *Rant over*
See you next month! xx