BOOK REVIEW: Sicily, It’s Not Quite Tuscany (Shamus Sillar, Arena)

Mercifully, this book is not another rustic renovation saga. Shamus and wife Gill certainly decide to go to Italy but end up settling in Catania, one of Sicily’s largest, shabbiest, most poverty-ridden cities—and a far cry from bucolic Tuscany. Gill provides their only income, teaching at a private college, and Shamus is house husband while supposedly working on a biography of an ancient Roman, which he never finishes. In this entertaining and different look at modern Sicily we learn plenty about local customs, cuisine, quirks and attitudes; and we travel with the couple, and some of their friends, across the island, sharing their delight when they discover unexpected beauty and their frustration at entrenched behaviour patterns that bamboozle the non-local. Shamus can be dismissive if a site or experience doesn’t quickly meet his expectations—but with clever use of language and a light touch. He can be very witty, however, both he and Gill are sometimes guilty of imposing Australian expectations on their island home, expecting, as an example, the local beaches to be tempting and pristine in mid-winter and accommodation to be open out of season. That said, this is a new warts-and-all look at the island from which travellers, both real and armchair, can learn much and be entertained at the same time.

Max Oliver, bookseller and traveller, spent several weeks on Sicily recently. This review first appeared in the Summer issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: Love and Other U-Turns (Louisa Deasey, Arena)

Towards the end of her engaging travel memoir cum self-help book, Louisa Deasey refers to her year-long road trip with Jim as ‘Survivor—Romance Style’. For me it conjured up Eat Pray Love meets Tim Winton and Martin Mischkulnig’s Smalltown. Almost on a whim, freelance journalist Deasey throws in her lot with the peripatetic Jim, leaving the comforts of her lattes, her daily newspaper and her city girlfriends to wander seemingly aimlessly the length and breadth of Australia, chasing the ultimate pub gig that is bread, butter and soul food for her new man. Louisa and Jim are road warriors, sleeping in swags, eschewing showers and just about every other comfort for the experience of living truly in the moment. But while she is able to divest herself of almost all her possessions, she finds freedom elusive and love confounding. Love & Other U-turns is a road movie in a book and Deasey is able to evoke the greasy bain-marie at the truck stop as evocatively as the chance sighting of whales in the Great Australian Bight. She also does a great line in claustrophobia and paranoia that can accrue from hours spent in a car on an empty outback road. This book will be enjoyed by anyone who has ever run away only to discover that the one person you can’t escape from is yourself.

Toni Whitmont is the blogger and newsletter writer for Booktopia.com.au. This review first appeared in the May/June 2010  issue of Bookseller+Publisher. You can read the April 2010 issue online here.