Australian Literature

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.

Delighted Book Review of The Book Ninja

the-book-ninjaFrankie Rose has all but given up on love – and almost on herself too.  Once a budding author with the Melbourne literary world at her feet, she now works at a bookstore with her best friend, where they amuse themselves by guessing the preferred genre of each patron as they enter, with a $5 prize to the winner.

But then she gets a genius idea, sure to attract a man with the most important quality there is – good taste in books.  To find him, she starts dropping her favourite books on public transport, with a note and her email address seven pages from the end.

As the dates roll in, she starts a blog with all her experiences… and the blog begins to trend.

In the meantime she meets handsome and sweet Sunny, an artist healing from a broken heart.  There’s just one problem – he only reads YA fiction.  In true Pride and Prejudice fashion, Frankie will need to either overcome her literary snobbishness, or risk losing out on a chance of love.

Despite all the good press, I wasn’t sure how I was going to enjoy this in the opening chapters… I was after something light and easy to read, but wasn’t sure this wasn’t going to be on the trashier side of light.  But as it progressed, I found myself utterly charmed.  The Book Ninja is incredibly sweet, and the perfect relaxing read for bookish girls such as myself.

Endearing.  Spend a rainy weekend with it.

Book Review of The Golden Age

The-Golden-Age-by-Joan-LondonI picked this one up as an option for VCE English next year.  It is a lovely, soft, and lyrical novel surrounding the patients, nurses and families who visit The Golden Age, a hospice for children with polio in the 1950s.

At the centre of the novel is Frank, an intense Hungarian Jew who emigrated with his family to Australia after the rise of Hitler.  Frank was introduced to poetry by another man he connected to in hospital, who died whilst receiving treatment in the dreaded iron lung.  Armed with a prescription pad in lieu of proper notepaper, Frank writes down free verse that inspires him – and he is largely inspired by beautiful Elsa in the girls’ ward.

This is a quiet story of connecting and losing connection.  I found it slow in places, but was still committed to getting to the finish.  I’d be hesitant putting it on a text list for this reason too.  This is no easy read and the payoff is subtle and perhaps, short lasting.  Lacks deep impact.