When I was sixteen, I visited my grandma one afternoon and, on arriving at her house, found her in tears. The last of the ‘Old Girls’ had died. The ‘Old Girls’ were her life-long friends – a group of women who had met during the War and stayed close for decades. They always referred to themselves as the ‘Old Girls’, even when they were young women. And so suddenly, my grandma was the last Old Girl. It was deeply shocking for me because, until that moment, I had never really thought about friends dying.
This is the subject of Charlotte Wood’s novel, The Weekend. Three friends in their seventies gather for a last weekend at the holiday home of their mutual friend, Sylvie, who has recently died. There’s former restaurateur Jude, organised and bossy; Wendy, an acclaimed intellectual, who continues to write; and beautiful, flighty Adele, a renowned actress whose work has dwindled to almost nothing. Over the course of the weekend, the dynamics of their relationships are revealed, and the absence of Sylvie felt.
This was something nobody talked about: how death could make you petty. And how you had to find a new arrangement among your friends, shuffling around the gap of the lost one, all of you suddenly mystified by how to be with one another.Continue reading →
I’m not particularly into fishing and nor have I ever visited the byways of Brisbane Water on the Central Coast of New South Wales (although from a hydrological point-of-view, it sounds like my kind of place), and yet, I identified with much of Vicki Hastrich’s memoir, Night Fishing.
Essays covering a range of topics from stingrays and aquariums to the acquisition of a bathyscope and her grandfather’s welding business, are loosely linked to fishing and Hastrich’s trips to the family holiday house on an inlet near Woy Woy. Each essay is overlaid with Hastrich’s elegant observations about family, nature, and writing and the result is cohesive and deeply pleasing.
At night, tucked in bed and daubed with calamine lotion, we listened to the parents having a few beers in the kitchen and playing cards; the cheerful noise of friends.Continue reading →
The Paper House by Anna Spargo-Ryan was everything I expected and didn’t expect.
What I expected was Spargo-Ryan’s musical sentences – follow her on Twitter and you’ll understand what I mean. She combines the pithy and the insightful in such a way that everything she writes is humorous and heartbreaking and true. Continue reading →
What a day! The inaugural Broadside Festival opened with Helen Garner in conversation with Sarah Krasnostein.
It was the first time I’d heard Helen speak (despite trying to get to her rare speaking engagements in the past). My immediate impression was that she was much warmer and funnier than I had expected (I guess my expectations were unthinkingly based on her subject matter and her spare, pared-back prose).
The conversation began with talking about publishing a diary, something that by nature is intended to be private. On rereading her diaries, Helen said, “There was a lot of boring stuff in there, which naturally I found fascinating. To sort out what others would find interesting about you is actually quite a challenging process.” Continue reading →
I went to two author talks last week (both were free events) and I was reminded why it’s ace living in a UNESCO City of Literature.
The first event was part of the Wheeler Centre’s Double Booked series. Favel Parrett and Anna Krien talked about their new books, There Was Still Love and Act of Grace respectively). At the second event, hosted by Readings, Charlotte Wood talked about her latest book, The Weekend (review to come but spoiler alert: I LOVED it). Continue reading →
I volunteer with a palliative program as a biography writer. People tell their stories, I transcribe them. People will often say that they have ‘nothing to tell’. That’s never true, although I have learnt that the dates and facts about a person’s life are not that important. Instead, the story is in the small details and their recollections of how they felt at particular moments – that’s where the meaning is found.
Favel Parrett’s third novel, There Was Still Love, demonstrates how detail tells the story. It’s an ode to the life Favel shared with her grandparents – her fond memories are woven through a fictional account of twin Czechoslovakian sisters, separated by World War II. One stays in Prague, the other crams her life into a small brown suitcase and travels to Melbourne.
You must close up tight, protect your most needed possessions – all you can hold. Your heart, your mind, your soul. You must become a little suitcase and try not to think about home.Continue reading →
A Constant Hum by Alice Bishop is a quiet, contemplative collection of stories about a brutal topic – the 2009 Victorian Black Saturday bushfires.
You remember mostly, three a.m.: they found our neighbours in clusters, mostly in amalgam fillings and tyre rims trickled into what looked like snowy earth – silvers, gunmetal greys and blacks so petrol-shiny you’d think of a currawong’s wing… We were comforted, afterwards, that things ended for them together, holding each other under betadine-and-copper-coloured smoke. Under a sky that’d once promised kinder things: maybe Vegemite toast on Sunday morning, maybe a weeknight, after-work kiss.Continue reading →