Like many, I was spellbound by the love of writing that was apparent in Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites – a detailed and meticulously researched portrayal of the last woman sentenced to death for murder in Iceland. Burial Rites was a novel destined to take the international stage – one that blended physical and emotional realities masterfully and explored a complex character and the reactions of those around her with sophistication and deftness.
The Good People, Kent’s follow-up, holds all the same magic.
Set in a remote village near the Flesk River in Killarney, The Good People explores the superstitions of simple folk – and the many ways in which they can lead to tragedy. Kent came across the real event in her research for Burial Rites– the story of an aged woman whose defence for murder was based upon her belief that the murdered boy was but a changeling and thus she should not be held accountable. While it is easy to believe this is madness or an excuse for cold-blooded murder, once again Kent creates real human warmth and invites readers to feel sympathy or at least acknowledge the complexity of such cases.
Beautiful prose, complex but real characters and thought-provoking ideas about being a woman in a backwards time make The Good People another likely best-seller. I challenge anyone who loved Burial Rites to not see this as yet another demonstration of Kent as one of the greatest writers of our time.
Yes, I know I’m gushing. But this is worth getting excited about. Comes out in October.
An intriguing and reasonably easy read, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos satisfies with two intertwined narratives.
One is the story of Sara de Vos, a fictional 17th century Dutch female painter and the tragic story of the loss or her daughter, and her subsequent abandonment by her husband. It’s a moving tale and also an interesting glimpse into how difficult it was to pursue your talents of a woman of this time – even one as exceptional as Sara is portrayed to be.
Interspersed with this is the story of a forgery. Ellie Shipley, a talented but unappreciated art historian and restorationist is flattered by the offer to ‘copy’ De Vos’ ‘At The Edge of a Wood’ for insurance purposes – and despite the unusual circumstances of the deal, accepts as a way to prove her skills. Eventually she comes to realise she is creating an elaborate copy for the black market – but by this point she is so engrossed with perfecting the project she cannot stop herself.
The owner of the original – Martin De Groot – uses a private investigator to find Ellie, but his plan to confront her with the truth is thwarted by his growing attraction for the solitary Shipley.
Many, many years later, the two are reunited again when two copies of ‘At The Edge of a Wood’ are sourced for an Australian exhibition.
Some beautiful storytelling and interesting questions raised about the value of art – and the value of a meticulous copy. Definitely worth a look.
There has been so much press about Charlotte Wood’s Stella Prize winning novel, The Natural Way of Things. And deservedly so – it is thought-provoking, lyrical in places and has well-rounded characters. It also has some serious concerns about how we treat women and sex scandals in the media.
Two women – Yolanda and Verla – awaken in a strange place. Far in the remotest part of Australia, they find themselves imprisoned by people they do not know. This is the start of a most unusual friendship.
Soon they realise that they are just two of a larger group of women being kept apart from the world – and the one thing they have in common is that they were all embroiled in some kind of sex scandal.
As time passes they are forgotten by the world, and their jailers find themselves just as isolated as the women. Verla seeks refuge in two things; a dream horse who she longs to ride off into the sunset on, and the hunt for mushrooms to murder the worst of the prison guards. Yolanda though embraces the isolation, turning into a wild creature. Her strength sustains the women – and although she retreats into herself, she provides them with meat to sustain themselves.
You think you will know how this book will end, but you don’t. And its nice to be surprised. This is definitely worth a look.
Now that I’ve told our story in all its fist-eating, gut-wrenching, seat-edging, nail-biting, lip-pulling, chain-smoking, teeth-clenching detail, I wonder: Was it worth it?
Steve Toltz’s Man Booker Prize nominated A Fraction of the Whole is a family drama epic in scope. The Deans are far from your ordinary family – just as this is far from your ordinary novel. There are so many ideas and stories here – many of which would make excellent novels in and of themselves. Altogether, this is almost overwhelming. Brilliant, but overwhelming. Also uneven – some parts are better than others. But most of them will reel you in at some point.
Initially the novel examines the relationship between two brothers – Martin and Terry Dean. Terry eventually becomes an iconic Australian murderer (much in the style of Ned Kelly), and Martin is the brother who was always overshadowed by his charisma. Ironically, when he later has a son Jasper, he overshadows him with his brilliance.
The later parts of the text are all about Martin and Jasper – and the complex nature of father-son relationships, where two men are alike, but unwilling to admit it.
The scope and the writing are both impressive and the characters astonishing. If you can stomach 700 pages of anything, this is a good choice.
I found this little gem in Readings in Carlton – and as I simply cannot get enough of Anna Funder I skipped pretty merrily to the cashier to purchase this charming little read.
The Girl with the Dogs is a snapshot of a marriage at the time when the cracks are beginning to show. Tess had already found her husband chatting on line to grad students, and now, with her father dying and thoughts of the past coming back to her, she too begins to wonder about the path not travelled.
When a chance presents itself to revisit the life not lived, Tess takes it. But will it show her that home is where the heart is, or tear her world apart?
A worthwhile read, although I felt quite unlike Funder’s other work in regards to style and concerns. Still work a look – there is something nice about a novella that you can devour in one sitting. And this one is both engaging and coherent enough to do just that.
Sofie Laguna’s wonderful novel The Eye of the Sheep is worthy of all the accolades it has received, including the Miles Franklin award. Although not her first novel, it is an exceptional piece of work bringing her deservedly to the attention of the literary world.
In Jimmy Flick, her main character, Laguna explores on of the most interest narrators I have come across. Clearly with a form of ADHD, Flick perceives the world around him in strange and beautiful ways, seeing connections between things that other would miss. He is both oblivious and insightful. It’s a delightful perspective on the world – and it is nuanced and realistic.
On top of this, Laguna explores complex issues of love, family and violence. Jimmy has a beautiful relationship with his mother – the only person to really understand him, and love for his father, despite his role as an abusive alcoholic. When his older brother leaves, a series of events begin that will change Jimmy’s world forever.
I loved every minute of this reading experience and cannot recommend it highly enough. Get onto it – it is both moving and masterful.
I am very much overdue in writing this review, having finished the book more than a week ago. My reading has been very interrupted recently as the need to read for the 2016 text list at school has kind of trumped any personal reading. This book sat right in the middle of that process – one I was considering for school, but eventually finished even after I went in a different directon.
Stiff has a lot of things going for it. I enjoyed reading a book set in Melbourne for a start – and it does have a terrific sense of place and local flair. And not many writers can make the world of politics interesting – although pretty much everything the main character Murray Whelan does is interesting. Smart but somehow still a disaster-area, Whelan turns every situation into a black comedy.
Whelan is an ALP member and right-hand man of a sitting member. Somehow, he gets embroiled in the death of a factory worker, which leads him into the path of union corruption and migrant gangs. A few brushes with death later, and he can’t imagine what has happened to his life. Although he would probably prefer all of this to a visit from his estranged wife.
A solid read, particularly for young men who will find much to relate to in Whelan’s character.