Category Archives: Australian Author

Away by Michael Gow

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Miss S has been studying the play Away by Australian author Michael Gow at school and recently went on a school excursion to the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne to see the play performed.

I took the opportunity to read Miss S’s copy of the play too.

Away is set in Australia in 1967 and starts with the end of year school play being performed, in this case, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The performance ends with the school principal making a very ockerish speech, thanking the local supermarket for supplying cordial at half-time, someone’s mother for making the cakes, and ending with a request for everyone to be careful of the flower beds when they leave the school hall. Later, talking with one of the parents, the principal comments “It’s a pity they weren’t selling something a bit stronger than cordial,” as they would have made a killing. Agreed. School plays, dance recitals and prize-giving ceremonies could all be improved by alcohol. And I don’t drink.

After the play there is a gorgeously awkward scene between Tom and Meg, two teenagers who have gotten to know each other during play rehearsals. Tom is chatting Meg up before they are interrupted by Meg’s parents who are ready to go home. (Isn’t ‘chatting up’ a gorgeous expression? I can remember wearing my bubblegum jeans and blue mascara to a school social and being chatted up by a boy, oh, about 40 years ago now, but the memory makes me very happy still).

Meg’s mother is hard work, whinging about having being unable to see the stage during the play, complaining about her head hurting and carrying on because she still has to pack for the family’s annual holiday when they get home. It is clear that Meg and her father chip in, but Meg’ mother is someone who doesn’t give much credit to anyone else.

Tom and his parents are also going on a camping holiday the next day. Meg’s mother brags that her family are staying in a motel a little bit further up the coast and is rude about Tom’s family staying a tent. When they leave, Tom, who played Puck in the play, curses Meg’s mother and her holiday.

As it turns out, the school principal and his wife are also holidaying on the coast, although they are staying in a resort. He and his wife are grieving their son’s death in Vietnam the year before. His wife is on the edge of madness, bailing strangers up for weird conversations and staring at people in a way that discomposes them.

After a series of storms and other incidents, all of the families end up in the same holiday spot and spend time together. They each have complications or tragedies in their family life to resolve or to come to terms with.

The story is deceptively simple, suitable for teenagers to read and study, but with enough going on in the background to keep teenagers and adults interested. Miss S said she and her group discussed the play and the themes all of the way back to school in the bus, which is a sure sign of this play’s success. I enjoyed reading the play, and would dearly love the opportunity to see it performed.

 

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Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung

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I read Laurinda by Australian writer Alice Pung some time ago and quite enjoyed the story of a Chinese-Australian girl from the western suburbs of Melbourne who won a scholarship to an exclusive girl’s school. When I found a copy of this author’s biography, Unpolished Gem, I was very happy to have the opportunity to read her story of growing up in Footscray, a suburb in western Melbourne where I have worked. Footscray is home to a great many Asian-Australians and this story gave me an insight into a world I can see but not be part of.

I suspect the author was able to tell her Chinese-Cambodian family’s story so openly because her parents do not read English, so she was quite safe from getting into trouble with them after telling all of their secrets. I suspect her parents would say “Wah!” if they realised she had written so openly about their faults and failings.

The family’s life in Australia was in complete contrast to her parent’s lives in China and Cambodia, from the atrocities of Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime in particular.

Some of the stories are funny and absolutely gorgeous. I loved hearing about the author’s grandmother blessing Father Government for giving old people money in the form of a pension, and the joy that came from shopping at supermarkets and stopping traffic with the little green man at the pedestrian crossings. It made me laugh to hear that the Chinese people call white Australians ‘ghosts.’ The happier stories also reminded me of how much I take for granted as a white Australian.

Other stories were more difficult to read. A number of generations living together has its’ blessings and its’ curses, and I felt terribly sorry for Alice as her mother and grandmother used her as a tool to make each other angry or unhappy. Sharing her bed with her grandmother must have been difficult for Alice too, possibly not so unusual for a child visiting a grandparent but quite unusual in everyday life in contemporary Australia.

The story which most made my heart go out to the author was an incident when Alice’s younger sister rolled off the bed and had to be checked for brain injuries while Alice had been looking after her. Luckily the baby was fine, but the blame and guilt heaped on Alice, who was also very young, was excessive.

Alice was diagnosed with depression as a teenager, and did amazingly well to end up studying law at Melbourne University. In Australian, Chinese parents are known for expecting their children to do well at school and I found it sad to read stories of families treating their children with contempt when they failed to achieve what was expected of them. Often these ‘failures’ were just shy of achieving the marks to do law, so in reality, they had achieved very good results in school.

The story ends with Alice about 19 or 20, breaking up with her Skippy (white Australian) boyfriend.

I preferred the fiction of Laurinda, but Unpolished Gem was an interesting read.

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The Club by David Williamson

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I bought Australian playwright David Williamson’s The Club from an opportunity shop for 50 cents. Back in the day, this play was studied by high school students, which means that these days, every op shop in Australia always has at least three copies for sale.

The play was set in the clubrooms of an Australian Rules football club in Melbourne during the 1970’s, with the action taking place over a single evening. There are only six characters, all male, in the play; the coach, the Club President, the go-getting young administrator, a high flying new recruit, the ageing team captain and a board member who was a former player and coach.

The politics and backstabbing going on in the club’s board room is ridiculously over the top, but probably typical of many sporting clubs at the time. The board members have been angling to have the coach sacked but the team captain is threatening a player’s strike if that happens. The coach wants to drop the non-performing star recruit back to the reserves to straighten him out, and to cap things off, the Club President has assaulted a stripper at a boy’s night and is desperately trying to keep the incident out of the press. Other board members see this as an opportunity to oust the old President and bring in fresh money in the form of a new President.

Violence against women is a theme in The Club. The characters disparage other men who hurt women, but they try and buy off the stripper with $20, and in another exchange which left my jaw on the ground, one of the older characters said he once played a bad game, went home and hit his wife after she said, “I think you met your match today.” He then complained about the harm done to his playing psyche; She apologised later but by that time the damage (to him) was done.

The themes in The Club are very familiar to me, as a child during the 1970’s in a country area where the local football club was the centre of the community. Everybody knew which club members, ‘good’ blokes who would do anything for the club, went home and belted their wives. Wives and girlfriends, who turned a blind eye to regular club fundraisers in the form of stripper’s nights, tirelessly ran the canteen and washed the jumpers. The centre-half forward had his pick of local girls who all wanted the associated glamour of going out with the team’s biggest hero, and even in the under-7’s, the father’s had to drink with the coach and selection committee for their kid to get a game. Kids learned the words to Up There Cazaly at school and imagined taking a screamer in front of the crowd.

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But back to the play.

The story is set at a time when football clubs where just starting to play their players, and the club’s coach, Laurie and other players resent the club President and board members paying $90,000 for Geoff Hayward. Geoff has under-performed since joining the team and at one point during the last week’s game, was day-dreaming and completely oblivious to the ball going past him. Later Geoff owned up to Laurie that he was stoned and was watching a seagull instead of the ball, because he was afraid of failing. Laurie eventually found a way to connect with and motivate Geoff, and the reader got the sense that Geoff will play like a star again in the future.

These days, Australian Rules football is big business and the themes in The Club are still relevant. The ‘boy’s club’ mentality still exists up to a point, although women now have places on the highest-level boards and work with the players on their fitness and injuries. The media speculate on the likelihood of under-performing coaches being sacked and on ageing players being traded. The women’s league has just started and is proving to be very popular, although old men are yet to be convinced of the merits of women playing football. The biggest change however is that these days the only people who are loyal to their club are the fans. Go the Cats…

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David Williamson is best known in Australia for writing the screenplays for Gallipoli (starring a very young Mel Gibson), Phar Lap, and The Year of Living Dangerously, although Don’s Party, a play based on the 1969 Australian Federal Election, was the work which kick-started his career.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch a performance of The Club, but David Williamson has captured the boys club mentality perfectly.  And as a spectator, I’m a bit jaded with business of Australian Rules Football at the highest level, but I am quite happy to stand on the fence at the ground down the road and cheer on my local team team.

 

 

 

 

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The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

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Mum suggested ages ago that I should read something by her favourite author, Kate Morton, so as a dutiful daughter (hmm) I read The Lake House. I enjoyed the story, and also enjoyed talking about the book with Mum. The next thing I knew, The Secret Keeper turned up from under Mum and Dad’s Christmas tree for me. When I unwrapped my present, Mum mentioned that she hadn’t read this particular book, so would I please pass it on to her once I finished….

I loved the idyllic setting of The Lake House, which featured a mysteriously abandoned home and a story about the family who lived there a long time ago, and the woman who re-discovers the house. I remember the story as being a comfort read, with a disappointingly predictable twist at the end. (Mum unwillingly agreed that the twist was obvious).

https://rosereadsnovels.wordpress.com/category/book-review/author/morton-kate/

The Secret Keeper also featured an idyllic moved house and past, and the story also moved back and forwards during time, although The Secret Keeper was told across three times during the character’s lives, namely WW2, the early 1960’s and the present. The story starts in the early 1960’s at a country house by a stream, a picnic being enjoyed by a happy family consisting of Mum, Dad, four daughters and a son, when a mysterious male visitor was murdered by Mum using a big knife.

In the present, Dorothy, the mother, is in her nineties and dying in hospital. Dorothy’s children are old too, although still working and successful in their fields. Laurel, who was a witness to the actual murder, decides that the time has come to find out why her mother committed the murder. Since Dorothy is asleep most of the time, and isn’t often coherent when she is awake, Laurel has to start asking questions of people from her mother’s past. She learns that the victim was a neighbour of her mother during wartime in London.

The story flips between Dorothy’s life in London during the war and Laurel’s present as she spends time with her sisters and brother caring for their mother, and trying to solve the mystery of the murder.

I expect I would have enjoyed this story more if I had waited longer in between reading this and The Lake House. I probably won’t read another Kate Morton book for some time, as I found The Secret Keeper too similar to The Lake House and guessed the twist by about half way through the novel. If I’m being really picky, a hard edit would also have seen some of the WW2 stuff disappear from the story without being missed. My biggest whinge was about the physical book itself which was uncomfortable to read because the book was too heavy and difficult to open. A story of this size should have been on a bigger page. My paperback edition was published by Allen & Unwin.

Anyway, I’ve finished the story and have set the book aside to give to Mum. Her birthday is coming up soon and I’m hoping she will see the funny side if I re-wrap The Secret Keeper for her.

 

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Life in Seven Mistakes by Susan Johnson

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I’m going out of my way at the moment to read more novels by Australia authors, so picked up Life in Seven Mistakes by Susan Johnson. Ordinarily I would have avoided a book with a black cover and a pink rose petal as the combination screams romance, potentially with lurid details that would make me cringe with embarrassment, but happily for me I could not have been more wrong about Life in Seven Mistakes, as there were no icky sex scenes at all.

Life in Seven Mistakes tells the story of the Barton family, who are more dysfunctional than most families.

Patriach Bob Barton is retired and lives with his wife Nance in a penthouse at Surfer’s Paradise, on Queensland’s Gold Coast. For all of you non-Australian readers, the Gold Coast is where Australians go to party, our version of Las Vegas or Ibiza. Loads of cash and flash, not much substance, but the beach certainly photographs well.

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Anyhoo, (I’m getting my Aussie on here) Bob is a self-made man. He started out as a labourer on the Snowy scheme, which was the biggest engineering works ever done in Australia. He quickly worked his way up in the world to run a global company, and earned massive amounts of money. Bob fell in love with Nance at first sight back in the day, and she with him. An awestruck Bob described Nance to a mate as being more beautiful than Ava Gardner, since Ava’s “face is sort of cruel.” *

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Together, Bob and Nance had three children, Elizabeth, Robbo and Nicky, who are all in their forties when they join their parents a few days before Christmas at the Gold Coast, along with an assortment of husbands, wives and children. Everyone except Nicky, that is, because he is in jail.

In the present story, Bob is aggro to the point of being unreasonable, blustering and swearing constantly. It is clear from the beginning of the story that he calls the shots and pays the bills in the Barton family. Nance is a bit of a dragon too, who backs Bob right or wrong.

The current story is told from Elizabeth’s point of view. She is nearly 50, up to her third husband, and has three children with different fathers. She is an artist who is not successful enough to pay her own bills, and behaves like a petulant teenager in her parent’s company. Elizabeth has spent most of her adult life avoiding spending time with her parents.

Robbo is very like his father, successful and blustery, but unlike Bob, Robbo married a woman who wears the pants in their relationship. One of Robbo’s children has an eating disorder.

Nicky’s escape came from drugs, and eventually from being sent to prison, where he found God. I’m fairly sure that when he gets out he will discover drugs again.

Things came to a head in the story on Christmas Eve when Bob’s health suddenly deteriorated. I think underneath it all the Barton family actually loved each other, but it was hard to tell from their behaviour.

Reading about the Barton family made me feel uncomfortable. The story is quite well written and the location and time is familiar and true to life, but I can’t imagine living in such an unhappy family and as a result struggled to empathise with the characters. The book’s title comes from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, from the part that says a man has ‘seven ages,’ from being a baby through to old age. I think the title must have referred to Bob particularly, although all of the characters were struggling emotionally

I’m not sure where it all went wrong for Bob and Nance. They certainly loved and understood each other and in the beginning their little family seemed perfect. By the time their children were teenagers though, Bob and Nance’s parenting mistakes were clear. They interfered in their children’s lives, didn’t allow them to express their own opinions, and constantly put them down when they expressed a view different to their own. Unfortunately for the happiness of the family, this behaviour was continuing in the present day part of the story, as their almost middle-aged children were still attempting to rebel against Bob and Nance’s rules. By the end of the story Elizabeth recognised that even though she doesn’t want to, she needed to start showing her parents that she loves them.

Susan Johnson has written quite a few novels, including one based on the life of Australian writer Charmian Clift. I will look out for this, although if it is true to Charmian Clift’s life, it won’t have a happy ending either.

*This was the only photo I could find where Ava Gardner’s facial expression looked “sort of cruel.” She just looked beautiful in every other photo…

 

 

 

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Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez left me feeling enormously conflicted.

I loved the author’s ornate, over the top, descriptive, and emotive writing style, which was perfectly suited to this story of love and romance in the Caribbean, although the style wouldn’t work for an Australian author. Some laconic bloke would say, “Putting on the dog,” and the writer would be condemned to the shelves for women’s fiction forever.

The plot of Love in the Time of Cholera is straightforward; boy meets girl, boy loses girl, will the boy ever win the girl’s heart again?

The story is set around the turn of the century and follows three main characters, the beautiful Fermina Daza, her first love, Florentino Ariza, who by the end of the story has loved her for nearly 60 years, and Fermina’s husband, Dr Juvenal Urbino.

Love in the Time of Cholera starts with the main characters in their old age. Fermina is in her seventies and her husband in his eighties when he dies, falling off a ladder while attempting to rescue his pet parrot from the high branches of a mango tree. Florentino uses the opportunity to go to Fermina’s home to assist her with the immediate necessities after a death in the house, and finishes the day by telling Fermina that he still loves her. Hopeless timing, but poor old Florentino couldn’t help himself.

Fermina and Florentino met in their youth, when Florentino fell in love with Fermina at first sight. He wooed her with love letters, which they exchanged frantically. Like most teenagers even now they were both in love with love, rather than with each other, as they rarely met or spoke to each other, but when Fermina’s father found out about the romance, he took Fermina away for several years to break the young couple up. They continued to exchange telegrams while she was away, but when Fermina returned to her home town and they met again, she fell out of love with Florentino, just like that.

Enter Doctor Juvenal Urbino, who first met Fermina when she was his patient. Fermina initially disliked him enormously, but eventually gave in to her father’s wishes and married him.

I loved the first part of the story, which was the sweet, innocent romance of teenagers, but the second half was a different story again, because the characters discovered sex. The remainder of the story tells of Fermina’s, the Doctor’s and Florentino’s romantic and sexual encounters, starting with the married couple on their honeymoon in Europe.

Despite swearing eternal love for Fermina, Florentino became the most promiscuous man around town. He particularly enjoyed spending time with widows, but he really wasn’t very picky. Not only that, his morals! In his old age Florentino was messing around with a very young teenager, who was his god-daughter to boot! And Florentino had the audacity to believe that this child was loving their time together as much as he was, or so the author said…

Surprisingly, Florentino didn’t die of a nasty STD.

Doctor Juvenal Urbino had his share of adventures too. He wasn’t a faithful husband, and hurt Fermina’s pride enormously when she literally sniffed out that he was having an affair. A large portion of the second half of the novel tells of the ups and downs of their married life, and how they eventually came to be dependent on each other in the way that people who have spent a lifetime together are.

Up until the point where Fermina and the Doctor married, reading this novel was making me feel happier than I’ve been in years. I don’t buy many books, but had decided that Love in the Time of Cholera was going to make it onto my shelves. I was seductively lured into the sex scenes on Fermina and the Doctor’s honeymoon and enjoyed them too. Nothing too descriptive, although by the time Florentino gave in to lust, a few practices made me raise my eyebrows (while laughing, because the writing is beautiful and funny). But then, bam! All of a sudden I’m reading about a woman who was raped, who says she will never have another lover who can measure up to her rapist. What? Then bam, again! Florentino and his very, very young god-daughter. Maybe things were different on this unnamed island in the Caribbean over 100 years ago, but I’m a product of a different age and found these affairs really distasteful. I don’t know if they were supposed to be funny, or tongue in cheek, and if they were, I’ve missed the whole point. If not, well, the ego of this writer is ridiculous, if he honestly thinks this is how things work.

My conflict about this story was the depravity of some characters versus the beautiful writing.

I felt uncomfortable and sordid while I was reading Lolita, which is the story of an older man’s affair with his step-daughter. I don’t feel sordid after finishing Love in the Time of Cholera though, despite the behaviours which are completely unacceptable in any day and age.

What I liked was that the characters live their lives fully. I like that in Love in the Time of Cholera love is for old people as well as for young. I adored the order of the words and the fullness of the sentences and how the detailed paragraphs and descriptive chapters built up to make the story live.

Say this sentence aloud; “But when it was indispensable she would, with sorrow in her heart, give free rein to a character of solid iron.”

Or, when someone intruded on a couple enjoying a private moment, the intruder congratulated the man, then said, “And you, Senorita, feel free to carry on. I swear by my honor that I have not seen your face.” Gorgeous.

The characters acknowledge truths which most of us try to ignore for the sake of a happy life, including the boredom of a stable marriage, the ridiculousness of falling in love with love and the indignities of growing older.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature, so clearly I’m not the only person who thinks he wrote some on the most beautiful things ever written. Despite my misgivings about the character’s behaviour, I probably will buy this book and will read everything else that I can get my hands on by this author.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Holiday Murders by Robert Gott

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The Holiday Murders by Australian author Robert Gott is set in Melbourne near the end of World War 2. I chose to read this book as the author has written another book called The Port Fairy Murders, and because I occasionally holiday in the actual Port Fairy, I’m keen to read this book. However, the two books appear to be a part of a series, and The Holiday Murders is first.

The Holiday Murders begins on Christmas Eve in 1943, with a phone call to Inspector Titus Lambert informing him of the vicious murders of a Melbourne father and son. The family are rich and influential, and the murders have been performed with a nod to unusual aspects of the victim’s personalities. A daughter of the family who is an up and coming radio star has been spared, and she goes into hiding.

Inspector Lambert calls in Detective Joe Sable and Constable Helen Lord to assist him in the investigation, which quickly ramps up to involve Military Intelligence, who work out of Victoria Barracks. Military Intelligence suspect that the murderer is linked with a political party which draws on National Socialism for inspiration. The party is alternatively named Australia First, Australian Patriots and Our Nation, which made me snort. I expect supporters of Australia’s current One Nation party dislike the similarity of the names ‘Our Nation’ and ‘One Nation’, which the author must have chosen on purpose. Since One Nation also stirs up trouble and hatred though, the similarity is apt. (Don’t get me started on Australian politics though, as I’ll get up on my soapbox and call the supporters of this type of party idiots, and worse).

Oh yes, The Holiday Murders. Where were we? The characters. Joe and Helen both have difficulties in life and in the investigation. Joe is Jewish, at a time when horrible political parties and gullible fools were attempting to emulate the Nazis and Helen is a woman working in a male field, which can be difficult enough now. Seventy years ago it must almost have been impossible for a woman to be a police officer.

I enjoyed travelling around Melbourne in this story, particularly the references to Victoria Barracks, the Manchester Unity Building and the Windsor Hotel, all of which I am familiar with. (High tea at The Windsor is a Melbourne institution, by the way). During the 1940’s, the Windsor Hotel was the place for the wealthy to stay in Melbourne. The Manchester Unity Building was only ten years old and was at the heart of Melbourne’s business and shopping district, and during World War 2. Victoria Barracks housed the Australian War Cabinet. I think the author chose these iconic buildings very well.

The reader knows from the beginning who carried out the murders, but we don’t know the whole story, (we know ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘how’, but are missing ‘why’, the most interesting component). We are on the side of the police as they try to find out who the murderers are and what their motives are. I was starting to get a bit worried by the end of the book, as there weren’t many pages left and there was a lot of loose ends to be tied up, but it all came together quickly, with a motive that I didn’t see coming. Things don’t end happily for all of the characters either. The story was a lot darker than I had initially expected, too.

I didn’t enjoy the psychopathic angle of the story, because I’m bit squeamish about gory details. This may not bother other readers though. I didn’t enjoy was the constant sexual references from some very twisted characters either, because I’m a bit prudish, but eventually I got bored with these weirdos and their fetishes, and eventually started thinking, ‘not again’ when they became repetitive.

However, I did enjoy the writing, the familiarity of the Melbourne locations, the goodness of some of the characters, and most of all, that the story made sense. All in all, I’m looking forward to reading The Port Fairy Murders next.

 

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The December Boys by Michael Noonan

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The December Boys by New Zealand author Michael Noonan was made into a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe, of Harry Potter fame.

The story is narrated by a boy called Choker, who along with his mates Maps, Spark, Fido and Misty, are collectively known as ‘the December boys’ because they were all left at an outback Catholic Orphanage during the same December as babies.

The story is set in the 1930s, in the aftermath of the Depression. Choker and his mates have been shouted a summer at the beach by a wealthy benefactor of the orphanage. On holidays at Captain’s Folly, an isolated beach settlement, they experience freedom in a way they never have before, roaming around and exploring the area, all the while getting to know the people who live permanently in the area.

Most of the people living in shacks, caves or sleeping rough at Captain’s Folly have been there since the Depression, and are mostly hermits and people who are unable to cope in mainstream society, but the boys are most interested in and impressed by a beautiful young woman, Teresa, who cartwheels into their hearts on their first day at the beach. The boys are even more impressed when they meet Teresa’s husband, Fearless Foley, who was once a trick motorbike rider.

When Choker overhears Fearless telling another settlement dweller that he would like to adopt one of the boys, the boy’s emotions run wild. Each boy is desperate to stay with Fearless and Teresa, to the point where they would throw each other under a bus to be the lucky one.

This is a slow story, with a lot of detailed descriptions. The story is sometimes sad, but there is a lot of fun and a strong sense of Australian humour. Australian colloquialisms are frequently used in the character’s conversations, to the point where the language could be a deterrent for non-Australian readers.

The boys’ first look at the Pacific Ocean, or according to another character, the ‘Specific,’ is a gorgeous start to the story. The boys are overwhelmed by the immensity of the ocean, the colour and the movement of the waves. The description of their first experience of entering the water is much the same, joyful and gives you the feeling of being there with them, egging each other on, experiencing the feel of the water, the strength of the waves and the taste of salt.

While I haven’t seen the movie, I believe there are a number of important differences between the book and the film. For example, the book is set during the 1930s but the movie uses the 1960s, the book tells the story of five boys while there are only four in the movie, and there are no girls or love interests for the boys in the book but there are in the movie (*sarcastic eye roll*. I don’t know why every movie needs to have a romance).

I enjoyed The December Boys, but would be hesitant to recommend it to non-Australian readers. I would be interested to learn what other people thought of this book, or the movie if anyone has seen it. Having read a blurb about the movie, I think it is a shame that the story has been altered so much, but perhaps it would be better to think about the book and the movie as two separate stories.

 

 

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Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Armstrong

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In honour of Australia Day, which was yesterday, today’s book review is by an Australian author.

Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Armstrong won the 2009 Age Book of the Year. In Victoria, Australia, we have two main newspapers, The Age and The Herald-Sun. The Age has a smaller circulation, but the saying goes, ‘The Sun is for the masses and The Age is for the classes.’

Things We Didn’t See Coming is a dystopian novel, and just like many of it’s kind, starts off with a chapter set in a world the reader actually recognises; in this case, Melbourne on New Year’s Eve. The narrator is an only child, who is helping his parents pack the car for a trip to visit his grandparents in the country. It is never actually stated in the story, but it is clear that the story begins in the millennium new year, when we all wondered if the world was actually going to end because of computer glitches. This seems funny to look back on now, but I don’t mind admitting that in the week between that Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I bought a few extra tins of tomato soup and baked beans, just in case… Midnight saw us on the foreshore of our town watching fireworks with friends, by 1am we were tucked up in bed safe and sound, then waking up in the morning to find life had gone on as usual, with a pantry full of tinned food to get through.

The narrator starts the story in much the same vein as my story. His father fears the worst, but his mother thinks his father is a fool for worrying. However, it turned out the narrator’s father was right. The computers did not click over properly and the world as we knew it, ended.

Each chapter leaps ahead to  different time in the narrator’s life. The second chapter was set in a future nobody could have seen coming. The narrator is now a delinquent teenager, living with his grandparents. Food and resources are scarce for people who chose to stay in the city, travelling into districts other than your own is not allowed and the divide between city and country people is enormous.

By the third chapter, the narrator is in his twenties and working for the government, clearing rural people from their homes to protect them from the coming floods. Water levels are rising due to changes in weather patterns, (global warming is not mentioned, so it is unclear whether the floods are caused by that or by something else that went pear-shaped because of the computers). The narrator is now a petty thief, taking advantage where he can to get ahead.

Each subsequent chapter has the narrator a few years older and the world changing again, although some things are timeless. The narrator falls in love with someone who loves him less than he loves her. People still seek power. People hide their real selves behind a public persona.

I believe Things We Didn’t See Coming is or was on the VCE English reading list, meaning that Australian Year 12 students studied this novel in order to complete High School. The setting is grim, but the story finishes with some hope for a happier future, perfect for students finishing High School and about to start the next phase of their lives.

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Filed under Armstrong - Steven, Australian Author, Author, Book Review

Reckoning: a memoir by Magda Szubanski

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Magda Szubanski is one of my favourite Australian comedians. She was ‘Michelle’ in Michelle and Ferret (go on, Google a skit on YouTube, you know you want to), played Pixie Anne Wheatley, Chenille, and Joan Kirner in Fast Forward, which was the most popular comedy television show in Australia in its day. Magda played Mrs Hoggett in Babe, and topped that off as Sharon in Kath & Kim. It turns out she can write, too. I read Reckoning: a memoir from start to finish without stopping.

Reckoning is Magda’s story, interwoven with the story of her family and particularly that of her father, who was an assassin in Poland during World War 2. After the war he went to Scotland, where he met Magda’s mother. They married, had three children, of which Magda was the baby, and moved to Melbourne, Australia during the 1960s.

Magda tells her family’s story with enormous respect, pride and affection. It sounds as if her aptitude for comedy came from her mother, who I would have liked to have read more about, but her father’s story is stronger. She also identifies more with her Polish heritage than her Scottish side, and seems to have craved her father’s approval more than anything else. Happily, it sounds as if Magda had that, and also knew she was loved and respected by her parents too.

The family and personal stories are told very honestly. The family stories from Poland during the war are quite traumatic, and on Magda’s visits to her extended family it is clear that she and her Polish relatives continue to live with sadness and survivor’s guilt from the events of that time. Magda doesn’t hide any of her own difficulties either, such as wondering where she fits into in the world, dropping out of university, her sexuality and most of all, seeking approval from her wonderful but alpha-male type father.

My favourite part of the story was Magda’s entry into comedy. Her realisation that she needed to write her own material if she was going to get airtime was interesting and the never-before heard stories about the shows she worked on were filled with funny stories about people who I have been watching on television for years. I didn’t watch D Generation, but can see I’ll have to rectify that. Since reading the book I’ve watched some old clips of Michelle and Ferret from Fast Forward… which still make me laugh.

Magda is hilarious in Kath & Kim too, where she plays Sharon, Kim’s second-best friend. My only regret from the book is not hearing more about pashing Shane Warne, when he appeared on the show as Sharon’s boyfriend. The pash-rash on those episodes were spectacular.

I think what makes the best performers so successful is that they don’t leave anything on the table, and as a comedian, that is exactly what Magda does. Reckoning is a successful memoir for the same reason because she has let so much of herself be shown while telling her story. I can’t imagine Magda ever being anyone’s second-best friend… she is much more likely to be everyone’s favourite.

 

 

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Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Szubanski - Magda