Australian Literature

Book Review of The Rosie Result

rosie resultGraeme Simsion delivers yet another lovable but simple chapter in the story of Don Tilman, our favourite un-diagnosed autistic character. The last book left us with Don grappling impending fatherhood. This book is set eleven years later, when his son Hudson is exhibiting some of the same behaviours as he does – he has difficulty making friends, understanding certain social cues and managing the world of school.

So Don decides he must do what his father attempted to do for him – to teach him those things that don’t come naturally. He doesn’t want the things that happened – and in some ways are still happening – to him, to happen to Hudson.

This turns their lives upside down as he quits his job in genetics and finally begins a bar.   Rosie is facing her own challenges balancing parenting Hudson, and offering him the support and understanding he needs.

But Hudson may have some difficulties – but also a lot of capabilities that become more and more obvious as the story progresses.

I enjoyed this as a “holiday read” (seem to be definitely in the mindspace for this) and more so that the ast installment. The addition of Hudson to the storyline allows for more exploration of Don’s backstory and makes the discussion of his possibly-autistic tendencies more rich and intricate. Rosie doesn’t have much to do in this story though – which is a bit of a shame. Very much a father-son act, but fans will certainly not be disappointed here.

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Book Review of Eggshell Skull

eggshell-skullThe Eggshell Skull legal doctrine is one which protects victims – and suggests that their attackers must take them as they find them.  They are accountable for the damage they cause even if the victim had – bizarrely – a skull as thin as an eggshell.

This book is devastating, powerful and hard to read. I learnt a lot.  I felt nauseated at times, and nearly put it down many more.

This is Bri Lee’s personal memoir, and there are two powerful elements to it.  the first, which dominates the first half of the narrative, is her year as a judge’s associate which takes her on circuit a lot, and places her in the midst of several rape cases.  Very few successfully gain convictions.  In the midst of this she gives us some powerful statistics on the number of rapes reported, the number that are taken to court and those that receive a conviction.  It is absolutely shocking how difficult it is to convince a jury of a rape.  The only two she remembers being argued successfully involve a young Aboriginal man (testiftying to the racism still underpinning Australian society), and one brought to the attention of the authorities by a man.  Apparently its easier to believe a man when he accuses another man of raping him.

This is an onslaught of sadness and disappointment – and portrays in horrifying detail the tricks used by lawyers to discredit complainants – examining them on their clothing, their sexual history and their behaviour post-attack.  It’s this kind of behaviour that made me reject the Law as a young person – while everyone deserves a defence, there isn’t enough money you could pay me to behave like this.

And what makes all this even more disturbing, is your growing understanding the Lee herself is the victim of some kind of sexual misconduct.  Her time on circuit wreaks emotional havoc until she witnesses the relief of the young man who held his rapist accountable – and she decides she wants the same thing.

And so we begin the second half of the text – where Lee takes her attacker (a teenage friend of her brother) to court.  It is a long process told in excruciating detail – and made even more painful by her knowledge of the system and how it works.

I wont spoil the ending but this is a powerful work not for the faint-hearted. Honest, raw and brilliant, if painful.  Deserving of the acclaim Lee has received.

Book Review of The Lost Man

lost manI was disappointed when I found out that The Lost Man wasn’t another Aaron Falk book – but then a friend whose reading opinion I value mentioned that this was actually her favourite of Jane Harper’s outback Australian mysteries.

She was right – this family drama can only be told from within the family.

Nathan Bright is a lonely, divorced outcast called back to the family property when the body of his closest brother Cameron is discovered near a local landmark. It’s looks like suicide – like he drove into the desert and gave up. But why? What drives a family man to leave his wife and daughters behind?

What follows is an examination of our assumptions about Cameron’s life – as well as hidden elements of the lives of he other Bright brothers too. Bub, the youngest, longs to both prove himself but also separate himself from the family legacy. Nathan has been shunned by the community, and retreated so far into himself that his teenage son believes she will be the next to give up the ghost. And then there is Ilsa, Cameron’s wife but a woman Nathan met and loved before Cameron. Do second chances really exist? And under what circumstances?

The Lost Man took a little time to get into, but was well worth the time spent in pondering and profiling these quintessentially Australian characters. Well-crafted and well-considered.

bridge of clayWritten 12 years after his breakthrough best-seller The Book Thief, Bridge of Clay is a beautiful and moving novel; but also a very flawed one.

For the first 200 pages I was not at all convinced I could continue reading. Many aspects were overwritten, as if Zusak had spent much too long agonising over each and every word – trying to fill sentences with as much meaning and beauty as possible. The result is a very disjointed beginning. But it leads to quite a poignant ending.

The Dunbar brothers are orphaned – their mother died of cancer years ago, and their father abandoned them not long after. The eldest, Matthew, narrates the novel, but the second-youngest of the five brothers, Clay, is the focus. When their father returns after many years to seek the boys’ help to build a bridge, only Clay looks to reconnect with him. But in doing so, he leaves behind his schooling, his running, his brothers and the girl he loves.

It takes the whole 600-page novel for Clay to be fully developed and realised and to do so, Zusak alternates the narrative between the present and the past, outlining the father’s life before and after his marriage to the boys’ mother, Penny. These flashbacks are clearer and more tender than the elements of the story set in the present, making them the shining light of this novel. Zusak clearly likes the nostalgia.

I’m glad I persevered with this. The ending is powerful and very moving and on the whole, I was satisfied by the narrative. But it’s a good example perhaps of why we cannot spend too long writing anything – sometimes simplicity is the most beautiful thing.

Book Review of Cedar Valley

cedar valleyFor my poor holiday brain, reading Holy Throsby’s Cedar Valley was like when Goldilocks encountered the porridge of Baby Bear. It was just right.

The pace, charm and characters of this novel are sublime.  Centred in the small town of Cedar Valley, two plot points emerge on the same day which the reader is invited to surmise a connection to.  Firstly, Benny Miller arrives, looking to connect with the deceased mother she barely knew.  Secondly, a strange man in a vintage suits dies mysteriously outside a Curios store.

Both Benny and the stranger begin to touch the lives of the inhabitants of Cedar Valley, and with each passing chapter the mystery of the missing mother and the dead man are slowly, if not completely revealed.  Joyously we are introduced to more and more characters in the town,  whom we warm to and get to know.  None are quite as they appear.

Cedar Valley was a beautiful novel and one I thoroughly enjoyed reading.  Even better, it is an Australian one.  Definitely recommend.

 

Book Review of Jane Harper’s The Dry

the dryThis is a reading choice based around the press and discussion around this title – and I have to admit, it’s quite a good story and wonderful to read a mystery so quintessentially Australian.

Aaron Falk is a Federal Investigator who follows the money – that’s his kind of policing.  But when he discovers that his childhood friend in the rural community of Kiewarra has killed his family before turning the gun on himself, Falk not only runs back to the town he never thought to revisit, but is drawn into the investigation.  While most of the town has written Luke Hadler off as a killer, there are tiny details about the crime scene that make just one cop doubt the perpetrator could have been so intimately connected to the family.  Falk cannot leave if there is even a chance of saving his friend’s reputation.

But staying in town isn’t easy either – Falk left under a cloud of suspicion about the disappearance of a young girl 20 years ago.  So while he works to exonerate Luke, he also has to delve back into the past, and confront things he has avoided for so many years.

It’s neatly done and engaging, not the book of the year, but worthy of turning Harper into a success.

Book Review of Like a House on Fire

like a house on fireI should read more short stories… because when they are done well, they are so infinitely beautiful.

To me, one of the masters of the short story is Raymond Carver, whose beautiful tiny portraits of the disconnection of modern life are so gut-wrenchingly quiet but realistic that they make your heart bleed.  Cate Kennedy’s Australian series of Short Stories, Like a House on Fire, reminds me very much of that deep insight.  It too is a celebration of the triumph and tragedy of everyday life, reflecting how we all have a story and that each life and each moment is of itself, a thing of beauty.

Stand out for me were Laminex and Mirrors, which while cataloguing the experiences of a young woman working as a cleaner in preparation for a trip overseas, is really about the inescapability and inevitability of kindness growing in our hearts.  Seventy-Two Derwents masterfully uses a child narrator to tell a story that is anything but childish in nature. And while nothing much occurs in Waiting, it is a powerful observation of just that – what the mind does while sitting and waiting for news.

It’s clear that Kennedy is more comfortable writing from a female perspective, but there are male voices here too.

I also saw her recently at the Melbourne Writers Festival and had a brilliant time at her free talk on the Anatomy of a Short Story – insightful, fun and relevant.  I have ordered in some more of her work to read.