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Books: The Best Books of 2015 According to a Panel of 10 Experts. Our Seventh Expert – Elspeth Sandys

Wellington author Elspeth Sandys chooses two venerable geniuses of modern fiction – Anne Tyler, and Kate Grenville.

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Reading Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread is like visiting an old and trusted friend. The familiar themes – family and domestic life; the passage of Time; suburban America – are all there, but with a novelist of Tyler’s skill and sensitivity there are always new twists, and fresh, laugh-out-loud humour, as we watch her un-peel another layer of the onion of ‘ordinary’ life.

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Kate Grenville’s prize-winning novel, The Secret River, was written originally as a family memoir. Now, in One Life: My Mother’s Story, she has, in an act of uncanny and loving ventriloquism, given us the story of her mother’s ‘unremarkable’ life. But so skillful is her telling of the tale that the unremarkable becomes extraordinary, and light is shed on a time and place far from the major events of History, but never far from their effects.

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Two memoirs published in paperback in 2014, both from Scotland, tell stories of heart-breaking childhood neglect and abuse, but at no point do they read as misery memoirs. Both authors attended the Auckland Literary Festival. Both regularly reduced their audiences to laughter. Their names are Damian Barr, whose memoir, Maggie and Me, tells of his growing up in working-class Glasgow, and actor, Alan Cumming, known to tv audiences throughout the world as Eli Gold in The Good Wife, whose memoir, Not My Father’s Son, is a testament, both moving and funny, to the power of the human spirit to survive and overcome.

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