What does it mean to be a woman in a time of revolution, a time of colonial expansion? Was Rose de Beauharnais an extraordinary woman or a woman in extraordinary times? She hailed from exotic Martinique, narrowly survived the reign of terror, married an unpleasant young soldier for the security of her children, eventually rose to be the Empress of France - but who was she? Josephine’s Garden is a wonderful depiction of a woman in a time of chaos.
Moonlight Sonata starts like a typical slice of New Zealand life novel, with a family meeting up for the Christmas/New Year break in a seaside home, with the usual tensions and jealousies. But this book turns into a much more complex – and emotionally difficult – story, a story of ongoing parental bullying and forbidden love.
Almost Lost Arts: Traditional Crafts and the Artisans Keeping Them Alive by Emily Freidenrich
Siân Rees is a senior lecturer in American Studies at the University of Auckland, supported by the head of her department, Archer Hall, and used to picking up the slack for her ambitious young colleague, Jerome Roy. She lives alone, “I preferred living alone to compliance with another person”, her passions being getting lost in research and capturing the essences of people and places in perfumes. But when the University’s humanities departments are restructured, Siân is labelled ‘redundant’ and her world and her confidence disintegrate.
Readers of the Little House books will remember Caroline Ingalls as Laura Ingalls Wilder's Ma. Stoic, hard working, firm but fair, Ma anchored the family while her husband moved them from place to place across the American west in the latter years of the 19th century. In Caroline, we discover the woman Ma really was; beset by anxiety about her family, their safety and their future, a strong defender and carer of her children and a loving, devoted wife, even in the worst of times.
Where do our best impulses come from? Empathy, cooperation, compassion? Do they arise from the rational application of divine instructions or moral codes, or are they part of our animal heritage? In The bonobo and the atheist, de Waal continues his defence of the latter view: “Rather than having developed morality from scratch through rational reflection, we received a huge push in the rear from our background as social animals.”
When a new Ann Patchett novel appears on the shelf, we wonder if it will be a suspenseful read like her earlier works Bel Canto or the Amazonian tale State of Wonder or if it will follow the same lines carved by the more recent Commonwealth – a deep dive into the relationships we have. This isn’t to say that Pratchett’s writing casts too wide a net. Her latest novel, The Dutch House, more likely suggests a narrowing in, a refining of her unique and beautiful approach to characterisation.