Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 Wrap-up

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I enjoy the Australian Women Writers Challenge – it goes a little way to addressing the gender bias in literary review pages, plus I try to buy my AWW titles from an independent book shop (doing my bit for the Australian publishing industry and independent booksellers).

This year, I upped the ante and signed up for the Franklin level (read ten books, review at least six). I romped it in. Continue reading

This House of Grief by Helen Garner

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Here’s the thing when I read true crime: I struggle to withhold my own verdict. I struggle not to cast myself as judge, jury, observer. At the same time, I really try to keep an open mind, willing the author to show me aspects of the story that haven’t already been cemented by the newspapers, 60 Minutes or similar. I’m actively avoiding sharing my own judgement in regards to the Farquharson case, the subject of Helen Garner’s latest, This House of Grief, short of saying that it’s a deeply tragic story. Continue reading

Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett

Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett is a really difficult book to review. There’s nothing ‘feel good’ about it. It will leave you feeling flat, heart-sore and perhaps angry as well. But all the things that Sonya Hartnett does brilliantly are there. So let me begin with those.

Hartnett is the master of writing about Australian suburbia. The way she describes places are so accurately generic (stay with me, I know that sounds ridiculous) that all readers get the sense that she is describing their suburb. In fact, she rarely, if ever, mentions actual places, and Golden Boys is no exception (although I’m convinced it’s set in the Melbourne suburb of Doncaster). How does she do it? I’m not sure – you’re not consciously picking out details as you read however the aggregate of all those details – trips to the milk bar, wheeling in circles on your bike, the ice-crusted block of vanilla ice cream left standing in the centre of the neapolitan tub – sparks something and it all feels very real and very familiar.

“…the side door of the kiosk at the cricket ground, the bottle depot behind the Scouts’ hall, the grassy veins of unowned land that divide houses here and there…” Continue reading

When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett

It isn’t one but Favel Parrett’s second novel, When the Night Comes, is like a poem. Vignettes – of walnuts, ice, red-hulled ships, freshly-cut grass and cold classrooms – are stitched together with Parrett’s tremendously lovely words.

“Icebergs lined up for all of time, blue and brilliant white taking up the whole scene. Every blue that there is – that exists. One million shades of blue – and white. The scale of it all measured against me, one man standing here. Just one man, small and breathless.”

Parrett understands lots of things very deeply – water, the difference a teacher makes, the effect of a well-timed bag of mixed lollies, silence – and talks of these things in words that are deceptively simple. The story is compact. A chapter about a wooden spoon and rainy days brought tears to my eyes. Continue reading

Game Day by Miriam Sved

I remember a photo in the newspaper of Carlton’s Chris Judd being carried off the ground on the shoulders of his teammates after a milestone game (his 200th??). One of the guys carrying him was a nuggety little forward and as a result, there wasn’t an even weight distribution and Juddy sat awkwardly, legs splayed. I looked at the photo and immediately thought “Careful of Juddy’s groins!” Because Judd’s groin is a genuine concern for most Carlton fans. Isn’t that slightly ridiculous? Which is why this line from Miriam Sved’s Game Day resonated:

“Some minutes into the first quarter the team’s ruckman, Kevin Walker, comes off after a particularly violent collision of knees. Kevin’s knees are closely watched objects of anxiety around the club…” Continue reading

Lost and Found by Brooke Davis

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I’m torn by this book. Had I read it knowing nothing about the author, I probably would have thought “Odd…some bits good, some a bit ridiculous….”. But that’s not the way it worked out. A few weeks ago, I watched Australian Story. For my overseas readers, Australian Story is a weekly half-hour doco, featuring a story about an Australian – sometimes unsung heroes, sometimes ordinary people dealing with extraordinary issues. My husband loves this show. I don’t. The reason I don’t is because 95% of time it’s about people dying, usually children or parents. My husband disputes this but nonetheless, a few minutes into watching each week, I wander into the living room and ask “Who died this time?”. And he usually answers.

Then a fortnight ago my husband says “You should watch Australian Story this week, it’s about an author.” Excellent! *remembering the Australian Story episode about Hannah Kent*

So I watch.

The author’s mother was killed in a terrible, freak accident. *Australian Story theory upheld*

Lost and Found is her tribute to her mother, her way of grieving. Continue reading

What Came Before by Anna George

I’ve had a rotten few days – end of the school term (so the kids are being revolting); the house looks like a tip; trying to catch up on the eleventy billion tasks I put on hold during exams; and seriously, if I don’t get time to de-forest the legs before hitting Central Australia in shorts, there will be tears (mine and every tourist at Uluru who has to look my way). So it’s the perfect time to read a thriller. Obviously.

And What Came Before by Anna George was the one that I grabbed and it opens with this:

“My name is David James Forrester. I’m a solicitor. Tonight, at 6.10, I killed my wife.
This is my statement.” Continue reading

Three quick reviews (because I’m lazy/ busy/ tired)

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My mind is filled with the digestive tracts of various animals, cell division, the arrangement of leaves on plants… But I’m also distracted by the fact that I have three books awaiting review. So I’m removing the distraction with very short reviews (if you want to know what the book is about, check out the link). Continue reading

March by Geraldine Brooks

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Some authors seem to have the inside word on particular things, whether it be a place, feelings or a scene. They can cut to the heart of a matter or find the perfect words to describe something. When I read a story filled with intimate detail (I don’t mean the sexy-time kind…), I assume that the author’s own experiences have informed the work. That makes perfect sense when talking contemporary literature – I, for example, could probably write something that would resonate with a girl growing up in the eighties who was obsessed with Culture Club, swimming, Princess Diana and was Team Jessica*. So how does Geraldine Brooks do it? She’s an author from Western Australia, yet is completely and thoroughly in the heart and mind of a Union Army officer during the American Civil War.

I’d forgotten just how good Brooks is until I read March. Continue reading