Sunday, May 1, 2011

Michelle Cooper

Michelle Cooper's novels include The Rage of Sheep and A Brief History of Montmaray.

The FitzOsbornes in Exile, the second book in The Montmaray Journals trilogy, is now available in the US.

A few weeks ago I asked Cooper what she was reading. Her reply:
I've finally finished Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, an atheist's account of how the central 'myth' of Christianity evolved. This story is meant to be 'spellbinding', but I found the book quite easy to abandon for days on end. Perhaps it was because the author's message kept overwhelming the story? I happen to agree with his message, but I didn't enjoy being repeatedly hit over the head with it. I'd much rather read Richard Dawkins on this topic, because at least he has a sense of humour.

Fortunately, my other recent reads have been more successful. I devoured Barchester Towers in a single day and loved every moment of it. I was expecting a novel about Victorian clergymen to be rather dull and worthy, but this book is so funny and clever – like Charles Dickens without the sentimentality, or a more caustic version of Jane Austen. The villains of Barchester are wonderfully unholy and I found myself cheering on both Mrs Proudie, the self-appointed Bishop of Barchester, and her rival, the oleaginous Reverend Mr Slope. I'm pleased I first came across Anthony Trollope when I was an adult – if I'd been forced to write essays about this author when I was a student, I might have ended up disliking him and that would have been awful. Luckily, he wrote dozens of books, so I have lots of good reading to anticipate. I think I'll try Can You Forgive Her? next.

I've also been catching up on Australian children's literature and just finished a really lovely novel by Kate Constable, called Cicada Summer. It's the story of Eloise, who stops talking after her mother dies in an accident. The poor child is sent off to stay with her misanthropic grandmother, which horrifies both of them. However, when Eloise visits the abandoned family estate, she discovers a way to escape her unhappy reality. Is Eloise really slipping back into the past to meet her mother, or is there some other explanation for her odd experiences? This book features a genuinely surprising plot twist, some evocative descriptions of life in a drought-stricken Australian country town, and a very satisfying conclusion. Some children's books make the mistake of having adults fix all the problems at the end, but in this one, the children are clever, brave and imaginative enough to do most of the hard work themselves. I really enjoyed this book.
Visit Michelle Cooper's website.

--Marshal Zeringue