LISTENER

Sam

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Varied and interesting snippets of London life

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 18-11-2015

Londoners feels to me like a big book. I was rather surprised to find that the print book is only 422 pages! For me, it felt like it took quite some time to listen to the audiobook (probably because I went away in the middle of it and wasn’t listening very much) but it’s also big in terms of ideas. To talk to a wide group of Londoners, from the new to the old, the lovers, the haters and all those in between is a huge effort. It must have taken ages for Craig Taylor to find people to be interview, conduct the interview and then transcribe and edit. It’s an ambitious project that captures so many different people who share a city.

The story is a collection of these interviews, divided into themes like arriving and leaving, marriage and death. It’s pretty easy to pick up where you left off (particularly if it’s at the end of an interview), so the audiobook is particularly good for short bursts. There is also a collection of narrators who are all brilliant at different accents and speech cadences. (I had to check that one of the narrators wasn’t my colleague, she sounded exactly the same!) My only niggle was that I knew some of the narrators really well by the end and it was occasionally hard to disconnect from the person they were playing in the previous vignette.

There were some really interesting people that Taylor spoke to. I think one of my favourites was the man looking after lost property on the Tube – it sounds like he does a brilliant job and really cares about it. He also had some classic tales to tell – like someone calling and asking what the chances were of a cake they left on the Tube being found uneaten! The pilots talking about taking off and landing too was fascinating. Marriage celebrants, grief counsellors, people going through supermarket bins, barristers, antique shop owners…all real people with many stories to tell. Some people I think could have had their own book of tales!

Some of the interviews weren’t my cup of tea – people complaining about others on their commute (I hear you, but deal with it) and some just went on a bit long. Other people had a viewpoint that appeared prejudiced or narrow minded at time, but it takes all sorts to make a city.

I think listening to this book really helped it to come alive for me. Worth a listen if you’re a Londoner or interested in the everyday thoughts of a range of people in a city.

Possibly the most intricate YA book ever

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 18-11-2015

I’d long heard about Code Name Verity before downloading it as an audiobook. So many people in my internet circles enthused about it that when I was wondering what to listen to next, the title popped out of my wish list. Although it is categorised as a young adult book, it can (and will) by enjoyed by everyone. I think the audio only adds to the tension and suspense that is rife in the book. Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell are to be congratulated for making a great book into an excellent listening performance. Their voices carry the desperation and urgency of this story of two young women during World War II.

The story opens as a young woman is held captive in France by the Germans, she’s in turmoil with the secrets she has told while being tortured. How can she live with herself? Now she needs to give away even more of the British’s secrets in a confession, listing aeroplanes and airfields. But what comes out is a story of Maddie and ‘Queenie’ who become friends as they work together. Maddie is a pilot. Queenie is reluctant to give details away, but little by little we learn more about her and how she ended up in France. However, it’s Maddie’s story that Queenie wants to tell and eventually the story moves to Maddie and a secret fight against the Nazis.

Code Name Verity is a book that deserves to be well known. It’s simply brilliant. Elizabeth Wein captures the tension and fear that Queenie is feeling as she’s being asked to tell everything she knows and betray her country. It’s powerful and emotive and nicely balanced with some dry humour (for example, when Queenie writes some fake prescriptions for the woman who guards her). Just when you think the poor girl might be due a break, something else comes out of nowhere. There’s a particularly tense point of the narrative where everything the reader thought they knew turns on its head. I felt gutted at the turn of events which led to Maddie being front and centre. It felt like I had lost a friend. Sure Maddie was interesting, but… To Wein’s credit, she made Maddie’s continuing story just as interesting with a feeling of quiet danger running through it. At this point the reader knows what happened to Queenie and it’s a grit your teeth and cross your fingers feeling hoping that Maddie’s work will have a different outcome.

The story is possibly the most intricately crafted YA book I’ve come across as a grown up. It’s got everything in it – bravery, determination, drama and friendship that combines to make a commanding read. It’s not full of guts and glory, it’s a sensitive human portrait of the role of women in World War II. Definitely one to read (or listen to) sooner or later.

One where the movie is better than the book

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 18-11-2015

Like most of Australia, I’ve seen numerous print and TV ads for The Dressmaker movie (and Kate Winslet does a perfect Aussie accent in them). Because I lack the patience to see a movie (not to mention begrudge the cost – it was cheaper to buy the audiobook than see the movie), I decided to listen to the audiobook instead. Now I’m intrigued to see what liberties (if any) the film takes with the plot, because the book is a hot mess of genres and despicable characters.

If you asked me to summarise the likely plot of The Dressmaker, I would say it’s about a girl who returns to her small country hometown and comes up against some resistance against the people, but it all turns out well in the end. Forget the happy ending in reality – this book contains a lot of character carnage and the ending is not happy. I’m not saying that a book has to have a happily ever after to be considered a worthy read, but the story is patchy and loses focus. First of all, Tilly (the dressmaker) isn’t the main character. She’s more like the reason the story starts where it does, then drifts in and out of the narrative. Is Tilly a heroine? I thought her more the voice of reason until the finale, when she did something that appeared just too unrealistic for what the reader knew of her character. Her mother Molly, who has dementia, is more of a delightful character, telling things how they are until she suffers a cruel fate like so many others.

The townspeople are a collection of stereotypes. We have the dowdy daughter, the girl who reinvents herself (with Tilly’s help) to snag the catch of the town, the interfering mother in law, gossips, cross dressing policeman, cheating husband and nosey shopkeepers. There’s very little to like about any of them and sometimes it’s hard to distinguish who’s who. They’re described in a fashion which is almost cruel (but I think was intended to be humorous). The majority of them all meet a grotesque fate (seriously Dungatar must have the highest rate of murder / mental illness and sudden death in Australia) and I actually lost track of the body count at one stage. It almost becomes a list to match the character with their fate, the more outlandish the better.

Rachel Griffiths started off as a good narrator – she didn’t seem to act out the story as much as other narrators do initially (maybe because she is an actress and worried about overplaying?). But then she started to get into the swing of things and towards the end (if you get this far) she did some great Macbeth! I’d love to know what she thought of the story.

My own thoughts are a bit of a love/hate mix – there are some parts I really enjoyed, such as the descriptions of the 1950s dresses and Sergeant Farrat. But it seemed to mix up genres and be so bitchy at times about small towns that I wanted to turn it off. I didn’t really think it was a comedy, it felt crueler. I didn’t understand Tilly’s final actions and some of the townspeople’s actions too seemed petty and vindictive. The ending seemed off kilter from the beginning, like the start was historical fiction and the end was Terminator. This is one case where I hope the movie is better than the book.

Not for me, but a sound tale for the internet era

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 19-09-2015

After reading an article in a newspaper about this book and how public shaming has made a comeback via social media, I decided that this would be a perfect audiobook. I quite like listening to non-fiction (when reading non-fiction, I often need a fiction read on the go for escapism purposes). I can’t say I loved this book though – to me, it was uneven, spending a long time on some topics and a too short a time on others. The book is narrated by Jon Ronson himself. While it was interesting to have him read his own work, at times his voice lacked the power to keep me listening intently.

I’m kind of worried about publishing this review in case I should be publicly shamed or ridiculed but that’s the chance we all take when we share things with virtual strangers, people we know from pre-school and your cousin’s friend’s sister’s ex-boyfriend. Suddenly the world has become a much smaller place and everything on social media is there to be judged by others. Ronson starts with his name being taken over by a Tweetbot who likes strange food combinations. He feels like someone has taken his identity and he goes to reason with the perpetrators who see no issue with it. Ronson then goes on to discuss things with those who have been publicly shamed online, such as Jonah Lehrer (who invented/changes some lines in his book that were attributed to Bob Dylan), Justine Sacco (the infamous ‘hope I don’t get AIDS’ tweet which went viral while she was on a plane) and Lindsey Stone (photo next to a sign at a war cemetery saying ‘silence and respect’ while she’s doing the opposite). He interviews the person who was shamed and also if possible those who did/were involved in the outing.

It’s an interesting philosophy to see what those who shared the picture/retweeted the tweet have to say as is the shamed person’s reason for doing what they did. Pre internet, these photos and messages would have only been shared with a few people. Now everyone is the judge. I must admit that I hadn’t heard of most of the shamed people Ronson interviewed (most of this must explode on social media while I’m asleep) and those that ‘broke’ while I was online, I didn’t really follow. I actually thought Jonah Lehrer was ‘Joan Alhera’ or ‘Joe Nalhera’ for most of the audiobook. Ronson discusses with them how their life changed and how/if it getting back to normal. Justine Sacco went to volunteer in Africa. Lindsey Stone was aided by some digital media people to push down her results on Google by adding new blog posts.

The ending of the book is quite open. It didn’t really summarise or ask how (or if) public shaming can be controlled in the modern world. I felt it was a bit weak, more like a series of vignettes of people who had been shamed rather than examining human behaviour in general. Sure, Ronson does include some psychology in this field (like why you keep driving under the speed limit after one of those ‘Your speed is…’ signs) but it would have been good to include a deeper analysis.

1 person found this helpful

Your Twenties - the bald truth

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 19-09-2015

The Wrong Knickers first came to my attention on Twitter, as my evening is morning in the UK and hence my feed is full of bookish thoughts from there. I didn’t know that Bryony Gordon was a well-known journalist in the UK, I just thought she’d written a memoir of her twenties. I didn’t know what she was up to nowadays. That didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this audiobook at all, I think it probably added to it as I didn’t think Bryony’s crazy days were ever going to end!

Growing up, Bryony dreamed of being the highly cool person in her twenties that we’ve all thought we were going to be. How many of us actually made it to the cool job, awesome flat and fantastic boyfriend? Bryony’s twenties were much closer to what we could all relate to – the dodgy one room studio in the even dodgier area, the awful boyfriends and the drunken nights out. I felt a kind of empathy with Bryony, she had that life that everyone did but nobody ever dared to admit. She dropped out of college, getting a job as a dogsbody on a newspaper that eventually led to greater things. She had nights where she didn’t recall where she went or how she ended up at the place she awoke. She had crazy times with friends. There were drugs involved. There was a payday lender. There were all the things you thought nobody else did, but Bryony did it all.

What was best though was that Bryony made no excuses. Sure, she screwed up royally many times but she never tried to duck for cover. To use an Aussie phrase, she copped it sweet (took it on the chin). She survived her twenties and turned out quite normal by all accounts but with a number of cringe worthy and hilarious tales to tell. Getting given the wrong knickers by a one night stand? Check. Throwing the mother of all parties in a one room flat? Check. Meeting a work colleague at the STD clinic? Yep. Giving a sympathy pash? Done.

Although Bryony’s life seemed to be teetering on the edge of no return at times, never did it seem like she’d lost control. Perhaps it was the way the story was written or perhaps it was that Bryony herself knew that this period was only temporary: that love and stability would soon be found and she’d settle on to the straight and narrow. The beginning of her more ‘adult’ life chronicled in the book was a little less exciting to hear about, but I felt glad for Bryony and that she’d survived her various horrors. Her writing style was easy to listen to (Sophie Bleasdale was a wonderful narrator, with just the right hint of embarrassment in her voice at times) and very friendly, like a good mate. She tells the story warts and all, which made for a great fascination for me. I couldn’t wait to see what mess she’d land herself in next. There have been comparisons to Bridget Jones’ Diary, but I think that this is different – this is somebody’s real life we’re talking about, not insta-messaging Hugh Grant in the office. It’s that little bit more can’t look away from by knowing that it’s real. But, if you are a fan of Bridget or the Sex and the City girls, or just enjoy a good confessional involving outlandish deeds…you certainly won’t be disappointed by Bryony’s story.

A Jane for modern times and manners

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 19-09-2015

Re Jane started off as a really fun read, a retelling of Jane Eyre that turned the story on its head and shook it up and down. Think a modern, Korean-America Jane who toils in her uncle’s corner store in Queens, New York (imaginatively titled ‘Food’). A Jane that didn’t get the career she went to college with due to the economic downturn, so decided to take an au pair job just to get out of Queens. A Jane that flies across the world on a whim, telling no one and reinventing herself – hang on, that sounds completely different!

Well it does because it is. While some of the similarities in Patricia Park’s retelling are obvious are soon as they are revealed, there are also big changes to the narrative. If you have a slavish devotion to original plot, there are some aspects of Re Jane that you really won’t like (like K-dramas, Beth as Bertha and the way Jane strings along some people). Hang on, did I just make a statement that Jane wasn’t a perfect golden heroine? Yes, I did. Jane Re is selfish and whinging at times. She’s after what’s best for her, except quite often she doesn’t know what it is herself. She abandons Devon, who she is the au pair for after sleeping with her father and flies to Korea, telling nobody. Oh, and this all happens on the night of 10th September 2001. So nobody – not her uncle, not the Farleys (Beth and Ed) know whether she’s dead or alive. But Jane doesn’t stop there. In Korea, she gets engaged, but then decides that’s not really what she wants either. I get that Jane is mixed up, being an orphan with a doubt over her parentage, bummed over her inability to get a job in her chosen field and young and foolish, but- she is still really, really selfish and unthinking. So while I started out loving Jane, in the end I wasn’t too fussed what happened. She seemed to take everything in her stride, then expect more without giving anything.

And our modern Mr Rochester? Well, Ed Farley was a limp fish for me. He’s not particularly stand-out awesome, nor brooding and moody. He’s just an average guy who is happy to go with the flow, cheat on his hyper-achieving wife and makes sandwiches. He was kind of bland. While I understand that in no way should Jane’s future depend on Ed in this day and age, he’s not a hero I wanted her Jane. They just seemed so…unsuited (even though Ed could be just as selfish as Jane). I much preferred Jane’s suitor in Korea, who was sweet, devoted and caring. I felt bad for him when things turned pear shaped! For me, the other star was Devon. The modern Adele, she’s smart and sassy and not afraid to try to bend the rules. I felt both Jane and Ed gave her short shift in the later part of the novel – I would have loved to see more of her.

Despite my character gripes, I did enjoy the story of Re Jane, trying to match the plot movements to that of the original story and marvelling at how well Patricia Park changed things for the modern era. Kudos also goes to Diana Bang, who was the perfect voice for Jane and did a great Korean accent. I loved Jane’s explanation of nunchi (trying to fix a particularly awkward situation smoothly – something that happens a lot in the story) and tap tap hae (that feeling that everything is closing around you in a social situation) and the section of the book set in Korea. It’s a good story, just don’t expect Jane herself to be redeemed.

Hot & sexy - be careful when the windows are down!

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 24-05-2015

Victoria Dahl always creates heroes and heroines that are interesting and a little bit quirky, yet realistic. Looking for Trouble is no exception. This time the plot is mixed up with a seriously crazy link between the two lovers in the small town of Jackson Hole and it makes for a plot full of conflict and surprise. It’s hot, sexy, funny and a little bit oddball in a good way.

Sophie is a librarian in town. She’s always dreamed of travelling, yet has never done so because she feels a duty towards looking after her father and brother. She’s got scrapbooks and routes planned for the big getaway, but…nothing. Sophie also hides what she feels is a dirty secret…she likes sex and short term encounters. However, she tries to hide this as her mother skipped town many years ago, running off with a local man. Her mother is depicted by the townspeople as shameful and Sophie fears that she’s gone down the same route. Unfortunately for Sophie, the hot new man in town (Alex) just happens to be the son of the man Sophie’s mum ran off with. Talk about awkward! But Sophie and Alex can’t keep their hands off each other. Alex encourages Sophie to fly away, just as he’s been doing since he was old enough to leave Jackson Hole. Can she do it?

What I liked about Looking for Trouble is that Sophie is unapologetic – she likes sex and she likes hot men. So what? She’s not ready to tie herself down to a family and stay put. But she’s also fragile – she’s scared of the reactions of the townspeople (and Alex’s mum – although anybody would be terrified of her). It takes Alex’s friendship and love for her to realise that she’s not a dirty woman, nor does she need to repent for her mother’s alleged sins. And likewise, Alex realises through Sophie that he doesn’t need to keep on running and that slowing down is not a sign of weakness.

The drama involving Sophie’s mum and Alex’s dad continues on from Shane and Merry’s story in Too Hot to Handle. It’s not necessary to read this book to understand what’s going on – basically the pair left town many years ago and never returned. Sadly, their bodies were found by Shane and Merry (Shane is Alex’s brother) and now the time has come for the boys’ dad’s memorial service. But their mum is convinced that Sophie is a demon, intent on ruining Alex’s life. Not only does she scream blue murder when Sophie is around, but she starts doing some creepy things, like breaking in to Sophie’s house and mistaking her for her mother. This was freaky, especially in audio! Celeste Ciulla does a great scary lady!

There’s also some very, very hot scenes in this book – please be aware if you are listening to this in a car, during summer. I had an er, interesting moment while listening to this while putting my window down to enter a car park. Let’s just say that the car park attendant hasn’t offered to assist me with swiping my card since! But the narrator does a great job here again – Celeste has good range!

All in all, this is a steaming hot story combined with redemption and closure. It just goes to show again that Victoria Dahl is one of the best contemporary romance authors writing today.

Fascinating, emotional and powerful

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 24-05-2015

This week I seem to be talking about books I’ve been meaning to read for ages. Orange is the New Black has interested me for ages, pretty much since it hit the shelves in Australia, but due to business and other shiny things catching my attention, I never got around to buying or borrowing it. (If someone can come up with a cure for ‘But I Meant to Read It!’ disease, please let me know). But this year I’ve been playing around with audiobooks, testing out which genres work best for me and so I thought I’d give a memoir a go to see if it could hold my attention while sitting in traffic (you have no idea how hard that can be considering I’m not actually doing anything)! Result: I was completely captivated by this audiobook. I was torn between not wanting it to end and wanting Piper to be released from prison so she could see her loved ones.

When Piper was younger, she was in a relationship with a woman who organised a bit of drug smuggling internationally. Naively, Piper got involved but soon got herself out of that scene and into one that’s a bit more familiar to the average person – job, fiancé, New York City living. Then came a blow – Piper’s past caught up with her and she was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. Piper tells how do you prepare for going to gaol? What do you take? How do you explain yourself to family, friends and colleagues? Then the day finally comes and she hands herself in to the prison in Danbury, Connecticut. It’s something that she couldn’t have prepared for – strip searching, how to obtain money (it’s not as simple as a cheque), clothes and how to live with a number of other women. What’s the correct etiquette for asking someone why they’re in gaol? It’s a complete culture shock to Piper but she adjusts, making friends, getting a job and learning how to make prison cheesecake.

But there’s a twist in the story near the end – I was thinking as I listened, ‘no way would this happen in a fiction book’ where Piper’s last months in gaol are completely turned on their head and nothing is easy anymore. I found this part really emotional as Piper explains life where you have to watch your every move and lose your identity. That’s not to say that Danbury was a cakewalk, but it was a relatively stable environment. The whole book was an insight into a completely different world to me (I haven’t seen the television series) and I found it fascinating. It was uplifting to read about how small things could seem so kind and mean so much to others – like getting a pedicure or offering a piece of candy to someone.

There has been some criticism that Piper had it easy because she’s white, blonde, blue-eyed and college education. I think if you weren’t there, you can’t judge. Don’t people try to use what they have to advantage in everyday life anyway? Whatever. I found the story an eye-opener and slightly off putting because Piper could easily be one of my friends, one of my colleagues. In the middle-class world, you don’t hear of people going to prison and Orange is the New Black is an opportunity to read not only about the experience, but where the system could be improved. The lecture series on life after prison was jaw dropping because of the lack of practical information it contained, for example. How can you expect people to change if you can’t tell them how to get a job or rent a place to live?

I loved Cassandra Campbell’s narration of this book – it was superb. The small changes in voice/accent she made for each person was great, making it really clear as to who was speaking. She’s a very easy narrator to listen to and I’d like to listen to more audiobooks by her (providing I can get over her being the voice of Piper).

Interesting, but also easy to lose interest

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 24-05-2015

Dear Thief is an odd book, one that I have had extreme difficulty in making up my mind as to whether I like it or not. Another question I had was if this book was more enjoyable in audiobook format than print form. Even though I’ve been deliberating over this for nearly a week, I’m still wavering. There are definitely parts of the story that I found interesting and enjoyable, but then the narrator (of the story, not of the audio) would change tack and I’d be left wondering if she would ever get back to that plot point. I think the audiobook is more natural as a format in the way the story unfolds – it really is like someone is pouring out their heart to you, but lacks the ability to go over certain sections again. (I listen to my audiobooks mainly while driving, so rewind is not really an option if I still want to be alive at the end of my journey).

The thief referred to in the title is Nina, or Butterfly as she is later known. Our unnamed narrator starts writing to her one winter’s night just to simply answer a question. She doesn’t know where Butterfly is, nor does she think she cares. But the writing process is cathartic and the author of the letter digs into her memories of Nina/Butterfly, revealing pain and hurt as a long lasting friendship dissolves into bitterness. In between this, there’s reflections on the author’s other relationships with her husband and son. There’s the interactions with the owner of the corner shop and wisdom on the loss that occurs with ageing as she works in a nursing home. It’s all bundled in together, jumping from the mundane to Butterfly’s drug use and betrayal. It’s like a bag of mixed nuts – you’re never quite sure what’s going to come out of the bag next. It’s this that makes the story interesting, just waiting for the next revelation about Butterfly but it was also the story’s downfall for me – the waiting for the next string of plot thread that might not ever come.

I think one of the strengths of Dear Thief is that the story doesn’t meet the traditional definition of narrative – beginning, middle and end. However, the lack of resolution may be annoying for some. I thought that would be what annoyed me (as a scientist, I like Results!), but surprisingly, it didn’t. I felt that the way the narrative unfolded prepared me for the realisation that things wouldn’t be tied up neatly or come to any definite conclusions. The writing is beautiful, and the narrator’s retelling of recent and past events was very interesting. It was just the way that her thoughts skipped from one topic to another that bothered me, in a stream of consciousness that only she could make sense of. I did drift off into thinking about other things at times (probably traffic and its lack of movement) which didn’t help me to keep my hold on the plot. The sentiment expressed through the writing was fantastic, from happiness to bitter anger and Anna Bentinck’s narration jerked me back into the book several times.

I would have loved to have heard Nina/Butterfly’s view on what happened. But I suspect, like the narrator, that she’s not around to tell it. While I can’t say that I loved Dear Thief, I would try another of Samantha Harvey’s novels. I like that she’s taken a chance and structured her novel outside the norms and the writing is beautiful. But I think I need to try reading her in addition to listening before I make up my mind if she’s an author for me or not.

Wonderful story about the nuances of family

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 24-05-2015

I seem to be saying this a lot lately, but although this is my first Anne Tyler book, it definitely won’t be the last. Two things enticed me to read A Spool of Blue Thread – the gorgeous cover and the fact that it was longlisted (and now shortlisted) for the Baileys Prize. I think I need to thank the Baileys Prize for such a stunning longlist this year, as it’s been the best ever for me in terms of finding new authors that I adore.

I listened to A Spool of Blue Thread in the car and it almost had me hoping I’d end up in a traffic jam so I could listen to more. The story is so good that I just wanted to devour the whole thing (perhaps binge listen is the right term). Kimberly Farr’s narration is spot on and I’m always impressed by narrators that can produce different nuances of speech for each character. She is Abby, Red, Junior, Stem, Denny and Nora. My only critique of the audiobook is that I don’t know how some of the characters’ names are spelled – is it Linney Mae or Linnie Mae? Jeanie or Jeannie? Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Anne Tyler has taken one family with its own quirks and skeleton (no matter how much they try to hide them) and created a wonderful story over three generations of the Whitshank family that is never dull. It’s comical, sad, thought provoking and downright crazy at times, but it shows the love that the family have for each other.

Of course, no family is perfect (even though Junior, Red’s father, did try to build the perfect house). The story opens as Red and Abby, now elderly, get a phone call from black sheep son Denny. He says he’s gay – maybe. The family aren’t sure if they’ve heard correctly. Denny’s an enigma to the rest of the open Whitshanks – he doesn’t live nearby, doesn’t have a steady job (they think) and doesn’t really partake in family gatherings wholeheartedly. The Whitshanks are pretty damn hot in their own eyes – it’s not flaunted, but the family are secure in their love for each other. But it’s not as simple as that. There’s Stem, who was taken in as an orphan and his wife Nora, who the family see as a bit different. But daughters Jeannie and Amanda have their own issues with their Hughs (love that Anne Tyler took what happens so commonly in real families, that two people have the same name) and Denny’s life isn’t that straightforward. But now Abby and Red are getting old – Abby’s memory isn’t too good and Red is getting frail. Will the family bond over this?

We also learn more about the previous generation of Whitshanks – Junior and Linnie Mae. How did Junior go about acquiring such a grand house in Baltimore? How did he and Linnie Mae meet?: How did Red and Abby meet? It’s a wonderful journey across the generations proving that no family is ever straightforward or boring. And as for the Whitshank house…it sounds amazing. (How dare that real estate agent complain so much?) It was built with love and an aim for perfection, just like the family.

Anne Tyler’s prose is wonderful, enveloping and warm. She tells simple things so well, with honesty and an eye for the detail of families – long buried grudges, adult siblings that can still bicker and the bonding that occurs during hard times. This is a wonderful read and I’m crossing my fingers it wins the Baileys Prize this year.