Australian Literature

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.

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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.

Book Review of The Nowhere Child

This is my second award-winning novel in a row!The-Nowhere-Child-by-Christian-White

Christian White’s clever premise won him the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for his reasonably engaging mystery, The Nowhere Child.

Kim Leamy has what she thinks is a fairly ordinary life. Then she is approached by a complete stranger – an American – who believes she is Sammy Went, a girl who went missing from his home town at the age of two.

What follows is a believeable unravelling of story and character. Once the seed of doubt is planted, Kim begins to interrogate her past, as best she can since her mother passed away just a few years ago. But it is clear there are secrets in her past – secrets her step-father seems unwilling to share.

Kim follows the trail to America, and reader is treated to a dual narrative – Kim’s present story and the days following Sami’s disappearance.

The most rewarding part is the depiction of small town mentality and those that do – and don’t – fit in. And the power held by the local fundamentalist church – who practice snake handling as a test for purity.

The outcome isn’t entirely unexpected, but still reasonably satisfying.

 

Book Review of The Bridge by Enza Gandolfo

the-bridge_fca.jpgEnza Gandolfo’s The Bridge was a difficult one to read for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s subject matter is heavy going. There are few moments of clarity and joy – and for good reason. They would be totally inappropriate in this story. Secondly, the local setting makes it feel strangely familiar, sitting disconcertingly between historical and modern literature.

This is the story of two tragedies that occur on the West Gate Bridge, one of Melbourne’s most controversial constructions. The tragic collapse of the West Gate Bridge during its construction in the 1970s killed 35 workers, many of whom were migrants. As a 22-year-old, Italian immigrant Antonello’s life is utterly changed that day, and over the next 40 years he is unable to block the voices of his dead co-workers that haunt him. He became a man closed off to close relationships. It was a tragedy avoidable if the engineers and bosses of the construction team had a greater focus on safety. Some say the bridge is still unsafe, and that another tragedy is inevitable.

There is much unexplored about this narrative as we jump ahead 40 years to the time when Antonello’s granddaughter Ashleigh is killed in a car accident on the same bridge.

Much of this novel actually focusses on Jo, who was driving the car that night. She was over the limit, and angry that her close friendship with Ashleigh seemed to be changing in ways that she could not control. Her lack of judgement and emotional shakiness have terrifying consequences. Jo and two other girls emerge physically unscathed, but Jo has to try to live with the knowledge that she killed her best friend, and in doing so, she has altered many lives irrevocably.

Ashleigh’s family – one she spent as much time with as her own– will never accept and forgive her for what happened. Her own mother struggles to finher daughter’s actions and the choices she made that contributed to it. And beyond all the paralysing grief and shame, Jo faces the very real possibility of a jail sentence.

Jo’s grief knows no boundaries. She isolates herself, considers suicide and runs away for a time, trying to escape the perceived stares and blame of her local community. It’s gut-wrenching subject matter and while it doesn’t make for pleasant reading, it is dealt with reasonably adeptly by Gandolfo. She doesn’t shy away from the real and unpleasant emotions of her characters. I can’t say I enjoyed this, but I can say I believed it.

The connection of the bridge isn’t as strong as the title might suggest, but it does connect the two events and the two sets of characters together neatly. In the end, it is Antonello who plays the crucial role in assisting those involved to let go of their grief by finally examining and trying to let go of his own. He uses his flaws to encourage others to forgive and channel their emotions positively. There can be no happy endings in a story like this – but there is a sense that many of the characters begin to find a way through the darkness.

Book Review of Big Little Lies

BLLI avoided reading this incredibly popular book for quite some time, assuming it might be pretty average chick lit written only for mass appeal.  But I have to admit, I listened to this on audio and was completely spellbound.  I listened to it every moment I could and towards the end actually found myself sitting and doing nothing just so I could listen.

There are probably two reasons for Liane Moriarty’s success with this novel.  The first is with clever storytelling.  The blurb will tell you the book focusses around a death at a school trivia night, and this is true – but there is plenty  of drama in the lead up to this, and Moriarty cleverly capitalises on this by revealing just a little bit of detail at a time. the story of the months before the trivia night is interspersed with the interviews and investigations after the fact.  Every little tidbit gets your brain going – who died and how?

Secondly, there are actually some incredibly serious issues at play here – the foremost of which is violence against women.  You’ve probably heard about this already.  And also the difficulties of class, family and divorce.   So no, not as light as I thought it was.  And more importantly, Moriarty seems to actually have something to say about all of these issues.  All are dealt with in complex ways, and believable ones.  The characters in this novel could have been incredibly two-dimensional, but they’re not.  There is a kernel of emotional truth in all the choices that they make.

I’m glad I finally got to Big Little Lies.  If you haven’t yet, I would definitely recommend it.