Mother's Day Book Reviews With Chloe Blades
For the Mum who knows that you know but you’ll never know that she knows:
Freezing Order by Bill Browder (Simon & Schuster)
I have to assume that there is a very real chance that Putin or members of his regime will have me killed some day. If I'm killed, you will know who did it. When my enemies read this book, they will know that you know.
You’d think that Browder’s first book, Red Notice, following the murder of his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison, was a work of fiction. Who’d be thick-skinned and audacious enough to oust Putin and his cronies as the corrupt murderers that they are? Bill Browder is who, American-born British financier and political activist, and he’s on Putin’s most wanted list. Somehow he’s survived to tell the tale, escaping the wrath of a man who uses poison to take out his opponents and who’s ego surprisingly surpasses Trumps. Browder says that if Trump had been reelected, America’s collusion with Russia would have seen him thrown in prison as Trump agreed to use Browder as a bargaining chip. There was no one who wanted Trump reelected less. Opening in Madrid, Browder’s there to meet with the top anti-corruption prosecutor to discuss money and Russia, but he’s soon in cuffs in a car on route to who knows where with who knows who. Freezing Order is the highly anticipated dramatic sequel to Red Notice, entering a whole new level of detail into Putin’s campaign to steal and launder hundreds of billions of dollars and kill anyone who stands in his way.
For the nostalgic Mum who talks about “the old days” and enjoys French translations:
The Inseparables by Simone de Beauvoir (Vintage)
Deemed too intimate to release during de Beauvoir’s lifetime, she wrote this novella in 1954 only to lock it in a draw. It was discovered after de Beauvoir’s death by her adopted daughter who had the manuscript published. Isn’t that marvellous?
It’s been said that it’s impossible to read about Simone de Beauvoir’s life without thinking of your own. I was nine and at school when I fell in love with Samantha Brown before her parents changed their mind about England and took her back to France. In The Inseparables nine year old Sylvie is introduced to a new student, Andrée, and immediately she’s in awe of her beauty and unabashed confidence. We watch the girls grow up and through their guise de Beauvoir paints a stunning portrait of female friendship, driven by profound and intimate discussions on war, religion, justice and equality. They elevate themselves to a place of intellectual superiority, regarding even their teachers and parents too stupid to take seriously. Yet their future is dictated by restrictive social structures. On holiday with Andrée’s family in France, Sylvie learns that her friend has been kissing a boy who she says she’ll marry, but their family’s have forbidden it. Andrée gets more rebellious, poised with a cigarette in hand, and thrives off her own disobedience, while Sylvie stands in staunch admiration of her. De Beauvoir’s resentment for a system that she believes killed her friend is evident, and apparently this novella was one of four attempts to tell her friend’s story. It’s both beautiful and tragic and is brought to life by the black and white photographs in the Afterword, which is written by de Beauvoir’s daughter.
For the Mum who loves you but would just like a minute to herself with a good book:
Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K. Reilly (Te Herenga Waka University Press)
When a customer asks if we have a funny or pleasantly uplifting book to recommend, us booksellers can rarely say yes. Funny doesn’t sell like Shuggie Bain, but thankfully now we have Greta & Valdin. It’s been in our Top 10 at Unity Books since publication and long before it was announced as a finalist at this years Ockhams. A brother and sister duo, descendants of an eccentric Māori-Russian-Catalonian family, explore not only the sticky Auckland dating scene but identity, purpose, and love in this modern world. Valdin’s trying to get over his older ex-boyfriend who’s left the country and Greta's deep in dates with men she doesn’t like, women who stand her up, and English tutors who don’t love her back. Aside from the lyrical and witty prose, the beauty of this novel is there’s no tragedy, none at all. Perhaps it’s a sign of a shifting tide thanks to the misery of the last two years, but this novel’s packed with all the wit, humour and banter you’d have found in all of 2020’s publications put together. I exaggerate, but it is very funny. The family’s dynamic is enviable and with even the most catastrophic identity crisis, breakup, breakdown, criticism or outfit choice, there’s always someone on hand with a quip, smart-ass remark to show us what a family with a foundation of acceptance, love and goodness looks like. Warm your Mum’s heart up with this one.
For the Mum in want of a escape, albeit a vicarious one:
Things I Don’t Want to Know by Deborah Levy (Penguin)
The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy (Penguin)
And Real Estate by Deborah Levy (Penguin)
Noelle McCarthy’s epic memoir Grand is far too obvious a choice for my final recommendation. It seems everyone else is, for very good reason, telling you to buy it for your Mum. Instead, I’ve chosen all three of the books that make up Deborah Levy’s living memoir series. Not least because it ties in nicely with who’s written the introduction to The Inseparables (Deborah Levy), but Levy encapsulates the female experience as a writer, wife and mother like no other. In the first instalment, Things I Don’t Want to Know, she ponders divorce and reflects alone from a table for three in Palma, Majorca that “Mother was The Woman the whole world had imagined to death… We did not yet understand that Mother, as imagined and politicized by the Societal System, was a delusion”. In the second instalment, The Cost of Living, she delves into her divorce and asks, at what cost does rebuilding the delusion of motherhood and the family home one dismantled come at as a 50 year old woman starting again with daughters? In the third and final book, Real Estate, Levy explores the idea that the only property a woman truly owns that can’t be dismantled and taken away is that which she builds for herself, usually in her imagination. She is a genius, a woman who I converse with in my imagination daily. Buy your Mum all three and favouritism is guaranteed.