January 26

A Guide to Berlin by Gail Jones

Fact is, I read this book a couple of months ago now.  It has taken me a while to review it because I could argue December happens, Christmas happens, life takes over.  You know.

But if I am honest, I didn’t know where to start with it. This book has haunted me since I finished it.  It’s good, no doubt about it.  But I think I had post traumatic reader’s stress because of it.

Set in Berlin in current day, the story is about six international travellers, all fascinated by writer Vladamir Nabokov who wrote A Guide to Berlin in 1925. An American, an Australian, two Italians and two Japanese form a Nabokov club of sorts and come together to share memories and stories with each other. Every time they meet, one person shares a deeply personal memory in great detail.  It is intense but getting to know the characters this way is clever.  Each story is interesting, a little heartbreaking and incredibly poignant.

Told through the voice of the Australian girl Cass, the overall story is bleak and is embodied by the setting – ‘the city was desolating ash-grey, and bitterly cold.  Cass had never before seen such a grey city. It felt stiff and dead….Berlin seemed to her collectively frozen.’

This feeling stayed for me through the entire book.  I always felt chilled because of the setting, and later on, utterly chilled to the bone because of the six characters.

So while the book begins with the group getting to know each other, stories and adventure shared, secrets aired and a sense of bonhomie:  it  ends with the consequences of a violent evening which shatters the group and sees them scurrying.  It is not pretty.

I apologise if this review sounds as bleak as I found the book. I don’t mean it too.  It is a really good read and it is absolutely worth the post traumatic stress you may encounter.  Gail Jones has been touted as one of Australia’s finest writers.  I agree with that (so do the judges of the Indie Book Awards as it has just been nominated with three other titles in the category of fiction).

It is one thing to write a good book.  But folks, it is another thing entirely to chill the reader to their core while they read it – and then for months afterwards.

So please read it.  Just rug up first…..

But that is just my 2 cents worth.