NON-FICTION REVIEWS 2012 U-Z BY TITLE

28 DAYS IN PROVENCE
Author: Shannon Bennett
Miegunyah Press RRP $39.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

Australian chef Shannon Bennett cooked up a tasty and adventurous challenge for his third cookbook – go to Provence for a month and live like Provencals do. His objective was to capture the simplicity of Provencal cuisine by living and eating according to the seasons, cooking using as much local produce as possible and discovering “the gastronomic heart of the Luberon”.

Together with his family (wife Madeleine and three children under six), he set off from Melbourne to Provence, basing himself in a well-equipped farmhouse just outside of Menerbes. Each day would begin with exploring market villages (some of these required more effort than others) and soaking up the culture, followed by cooking hearty and authentic dishes … and of course, eating. Lots of it! Sounds idyllic, oui?

Bennett’s ambitious plan resulted in 28 Days in Provence, a cookbook that is pleasing to the eye, and I imagine, pleasing to the tastebuds. It includes more than 60 original recipes, from Pan-fried Foie Gras with Lavender Honey and Melon and Eggs with Ratatouille to Tarte Tropezienne (very tasty looking cake) and Pissaladiere. I probably won’t try to recreate a lot of them – many of the ingredients would be harder for me to source and probably too expensive, but there are a few I’m going to try – Lemon, Honey and Olive Oil Cake, Preserved Lemons, Classic Ratatouille and Daube Provencal (a beef casserole).

It’s more than a cookbook though. What started as a diary still feels like a diary – a daily record of his experiences and thoughts in and about Provence – and it’s complemented by well-chosen photographs of the family, the villages and markets, and of course, the meals. It’s an attractive book that can be enjoyed just as a memoir if cooking Provencal-style is not your thing – perfect for foodies or for people who love all things French.

Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Melbourne University Publishing.


GREAT BRITAIN & IRELAND: WHERE TO GO WHEN (COMPACT)

Dorling Kindersley RRP $24.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

This new compact edition of Where To Go When: Great Britain & Ireland is brimming with holiday planning tips, unearthing the best of every region of Great Britain & Ireland season by season. An extended trip to Great Britain is on my wishlist, so this book appealed as a device to whet my appetite further.

From a family seaside holiday to a long hike in beautiful countryside, there are plenty of suggestions for locations and the best time of the year to visit each one, which is useful for unseasoned travellers. I’ve started marking pages, but the trouble is, there are so many things I now want to do!

The photography is excellent; I flicked through just for the pictures first. On second look, I noted the cleverly chosen narrative, which combines practical advice (such as budgets, eating places etc) with information gems that inspire the travel bug. I particularly liked the short and sweet history lesson on Hadrian’s Wall, and the story about well-dressing (not to be confused with dressing well). At the end of the book there are regional listings which include where to eat, festivals, farmers’ markets, spas and health resorts, museums and galleries and things to do with kids.

While Where To Go When: Great Britain & Ireland is a fantastic holiday planner, it does have a major drawback, and that’s its size. The compact edition suffers because of the small font – it’s tough on the eyes. If you can’t splash out on the more expensive hardcover edition, consider using a magnifier. I managed fine without one, but my husband complained that the small type hurt his eyes.

Available from good bookstores and Penguin Books Australia. This copy was courtesy of Penguin.


 WHEN WE REMEMBER THEY CALL US LIARS

Author: Suzanne Covich
Fremantle Press $24.95
Review: Monique Mulligan

“To be able to finally write my story was both terribly painful and celebratory. I had to basically relive the things I had written about…” – Author Suzanne Covich

When I reflect on Suzanne Covich’s memoir When We Remember They Call us Liars, the saying “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” springs to mind. Often credited to Plato, though there is some question that this may be a mistaken attribution, the quote fits because Covich experienced little kindness in her childhood, despite the battles she fought at home. A community closed its eyes…the thought makes me shudder.

This brave, wrenching memoir focuses on Covich’s formative years, growing up in the 1960s in a small rural community. She is the dux of her primary school classes – the Ten Out of Ten Kid. But behind the brain and “big mouth” bravado is a scared young girl who learns not to cry, when to play dead and how to “blank out”. Fear, she writes, is not only a motivator in her home – it was “in the air we breathed”. Covich writes that it was commonly held that fathers, mothers and teachers had the right to bash kids because it was biblical and put them on the right track. Reading this, hearing this sort of attitude, is hard even when put in the context of life forty-odd years ago.

Early on, Covich points out that each of her siblings has memories, good and bad, of their abusive childhood – “they differ here and there”, but that one thing never changes. The siblings, she writes, are united in the memories of “Old Jock – what he did and how he scared the living shit out of us”. Old Jock, the reader is told, is one of several different names Covich and her siblings had for their father – a man who bashed their mother and crawled between his daughters’ sheets. A man, Covich suspects, who may have burnt down the family home.

This is undoubtedly a challenging and confronting book to read. It is also an immensely important book because it breaks the silence about child abuse – it sends a clear and strong message that people must speak out when others’ rights are compromised. As much as it is difficult to read, consider how hard it would have been to write. Covich has relived her horrifying childhood because her story was one that needed to be told, not just for her sake, but to empower others who fear the consequences of speaking up.

When We Remember They Call us Liars is raw reading. It’s emotive and gutting. Covich moves between acceptance – “you have to blank out. You just have to” – and a real, righteous anger. The mask is off, the emotions are loosened from their restraints because courage has triumphed over fear. I recommend this book for anyone who works with children or with victims of family and domestic violence – it’s first-hand insight that is extraordinary in its honesty.

Available from good bookstores and Fremantle Press. This copy was courtesy of Fremantle Press.

If you are, or know of someone who is experiencing domestic violence, don’t wait to speak up – there is plenty of help available.


 WHAT WOMEN WANT

Author: Nelly Thomas
Ebury Australia RRP $34.95
Review: Monique Mulligan

Whenever I do personality tests, I end up being told I’m decisive. Obviously no-one measured how long it took me to answer whichever question generated that result. Or watched me dither when it comes to picking something from a menu. What if I pick the wrong thing? Yet, I also know, that on certain matters, I can be decisive. But ask me what I want for my birthday? Apart from an all-expenses paid trip to Italy, I don’t know. What I do know is that I wanted to read What Women Want by Australian author Nelly Thomas just in case she knew what I wanted.

Alas, in the introduction author/comedian Thomas admits the title of her memoir/manifesto is “a bit of a furphy”. What? Now she tells me? She explains: how can one woman claim to know what every woman, with all their cultural, religious and other differences, definitively wants? Good point. What she does know is what she wants (sort of) and she’s not afraid to put it out there. Or at least try. And there’s a pretty good chance a lot of women will agree with much of what she’s saying. I kept reading.

Once described as a “barmaid with a library card” (in Western Australia we would also say, an educated bogan), Thomas has set her mind to many things in pursuit of what she wants. She has tried being a telemarketer, a professional student, a fast-food worker, a broadcaster, a smoker, a prostitute’s confidante, a health advocate, a mother, a partner, a sex educator, a Loony Lefty Feminista and more. It’s from these diverse experiences she comments on topical issues facing women today, such as career, equality, family, porn, sex, entertainment, parenting, even Beyonce’s derriere.

What Thomas has to say is good. It’s funny. It’s real – true blue. In her terms, it’s a no, bull**** read. (Thomas likes to swear so be prepared for a liberal sprinkling of the F word and don’t expect any apologies – you won’t get them.) Her style is ironic but warm. It’s a bit like spending time with a friend – at times the stories go off on a slight tangent, but she cleverly pulls them back to make her point. And while we’re all guilty at times of multi-tasking when we should be listening, Thomas had me captivated. To the embarrassing point where I read the “funny bits” to Blue Eyes and he smiled politely. Yes. I did that.

Gen X women, particularly Australian women, are sure to find this book appealing. It’s very “Aussie” and even at times, the West Australian in Thomas was obvious (“Mintox”, which means ‘really, totally awesome’ was not a word kids in the Eastern States used). Even if you don’t agree with all of her viewpoints, they are argued well and there are plenty of laughs to be had because Thomas just has that gift for telling a story and making people listen. Sometimes with their mouths open in shock.

Available from good bookstores and Random House. This copy was courtesy of Random House Australia.


 

WALK WIT’ ME… ALL OVA GUYANA
Helena Martin
Balboa Press $30
Review: Monique Mulligan

Author Helena Martin describes her memoir Walk Wit’ Me as “laced with nostalgia” and portraying the “essence of the Guyanese culture without offence”.

Certainly this is a nostalgic book, filled to the brim with funny anecdotes, memories and Martin’s experience of her first 21 years. As she writes:

“Before immigrating to Australia I believed the sun only rose and set in Guyana; I never imagined another paradise existed on the planet.”

Martin was once approached to write a short story depicting life on the street where she lived. Her experience was not so easily pigeonholed – she lived “all ova de place”. Her memoir is laid out chronologically according to the many streets and abodes she lived in, with each section split into sub-sections on a particular train of thought. Martin recalls feelings, smells, sounds, people… everything she can about her life and culture, interspersed with self-deprecating opinion based on hindsight: “We had to go home for lunch every day and get back to school in time; how we did it, I’ll never know”.

At more than 400 pages, it is a hefty book; it’s best taken in short doses, as if you were having a conversation with a friend. Indeed, that’s how it reads – it’s conversational and engaging, just like when grandparents talk about days gone by. It’s filled with Guyanese vernacular that takes a while to catch on to, but this only heightens the sense that this is an oral history (just written down). It will make a valuable resource for her family; they are lucky to have such richness of detail recorded for them.

This book will appeal to those who like memoirs, but particularly to those with an interest in Guyanese culture.

Walk Wit’ Me is available from Helena Martin. Click on the link to contact her or order online from Balboa Press. This copy was courtesy of Helena Martin.

This review also appeared in the Weekend/Kwinana Courier.