Category Archives: Australian Author

Merciless Gods by Christos Tsiolkas

merciless.png

Merciless Gods is a collection of short stories by Australian author Christos Tsiolkas, who is best known for writing The Slap. I read and enjoyed both The Slap and Barracuda, which although occasionally brutal, are well written contemporary stories which are set in my home town of Melbourne.

I finished reading Merciless Gods some time ago, and have been dithering about whether to post a review or not. The writing in Merciless Gods is up to the author’s usual high standards, but this book did not leave me feeling good about myself. I felt squeamish and anxious reading most of these stories, many of which depict physically and emotionally violent exchanges between characters, as well as graphic (and again, sometimes violent) sex between gay men. The characters in this collection are absolutely brutal to each other.

The first story in the collection is the title story and tells of a group of friends telling each other true stories. One of the characters tells a story of revenge which left me and the other characters feeling emotionally shattered. Merciless Gods is an amazing story, but had I realised each story in the collection was more confronting than the last, I probably would have stopped reading after the second story.

Reading so many stories about unhappy, sometimes unpleasant people behaving viciously towards each other flattened me. I wish this author would show people at their best more often, rather than always at their worst.

I’ll continue reading books by Christos Tsiolkas for the quality of the writing and for my enjoyment of the familiar locations and times, but this confronting collection of stories is not for everyone. I’m prudish at the best of times and if you are too, then give this collection a miss.

 

5 Comments

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Tsiolkas - Christos

Life or Death by Michael Robotham

life

I started reading Life or Death by Australian author Michael Robothamon on the train to work, and on arriving at Flinders Street Station seriously considered calling in sick to ride the trains all day while I finished the story. Because I am a responsible member of society I went to work, but read at lunchtime, again on the train home, and then sat up in bed half the night until I finished.

Life or Death won the 2015 Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award, and I liked this story even better than The Wreckage, which I read last year.

The big mystery of Life or Death is why Audie Palmer, who has been in jail in Texas for over ten years for armed robbery, would escape from prison the day before he was due to be released. The story starts with a flashback to Audie’s childhood, when Audie was fishing and learning life lessons from his father. As a result, the reader is on Audie’s side of the story from the beginning, even though we soon learn that as well as him being a criminal on the run, four innocent people died during the armed robbery.

Audie is helped by some kind-hearted people who probably would have reported him for the reward had they realised who he was, as he makes his way to Houston with a posse of police, FBI agents and gangsters on his tail.

The combination of wondering where the missing seven million dollars from the armed robbery got to, and why Audie, who seems to have selfless and kind nature but was involved in a crime which killed four people was driving me crazy with curiosity, and the more I read, the more questions I had.

Audie is the biggest underdog I’ve ever come across in a story, but time and time again he scraped out of dire situations.

He was regularly beaten in prison by people who wanted to get their hands on the money, he had a no-hoper brother who led him into disaster and tarnished his reputation and he fell in love with a gangster’s moll and she with him. Not to mention that he was shot in the head during the armed robbery. Things didn’t improve much for Audie after he escaped from prison, but as the plot unravels, all of my questions were answered, although right up until the very last few pages, I could not see how this story would work out.

Each of the characters in this book become real to me in just a few sentences. Besides Audie, there is another prisoner called Moss, whose name would have been Moses except that his mother didn’t know how to spell his name, Special Agent Desiree Furness, who is fantastic at her job but patronised by the whole world because she is female and five foot nothing, a politician who is doing his best to avoid former associates, a police officer and his family and a single mother who is living in her car with her daughter.

Believable characters, exciting plot and good writing have made me a big fan of this author’s works. While I’m hanging out for the next Michael Robotham book, in the meantime, I can always go back to some of his earlier works which feature the same characters as The Wreckage, although it might be best if I save them to read on the weekends.

 

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Robotham - Michael

The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon

memory.png

The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon won The Australian/Vogel Literary Award, an award for an unpublished writer under the age of 35. Fair enough, the writing is good. But I didn’t like the story.

You can probably tell from the cover art that there is a Russian element to The Memory Artist. I certainly could, which is why I shouldn’t have chosen to read this book. I’ve never read any Russian fiction (by a Russian author or an Australian author) which hasn’t been miserable. Not surprising really, considering Russia’s history. The Russian people have suffered through horrific times and in weather that is far too cold for my bones. No wonder their stories are melancholy.

The Memory Artist is narrated by Pasha, a young man who grew up in Moscow. His mother and her friends were activists who gathered regularly at Pasha’s home during the late 1960’s to write articles exposing the cruel treatment of dissidents and to remember people and poetry which would otherwise cease to exist in anyone’s memory. Pasha can barely remember his father, who was imprisoned in a mental asylum along with many other dissidents whom the government called insane.

Pasha was an adult living in St Petersburg when his mother died. He is a would-be writer, who doesn’t write much during the course of narrating this novel. After his mother’s death, he tries to make sense of Russia’s past and present, ‘glasnost,’ where people are finally free to openly discuss the wrongs of the past. Mass graves are being found everywhere and people are openly talking about the people who disappeared to prisons, and cities which were built and never used.

Pasha is offered the use of a friend’s dacha for a summer holiday, where he intends to write the story of his family and friend’s times. He gets to know an elderly neighbour who tells him stories of the past, although the neighbour’s wife is silent and afraid that her husband’s verbosity will get them into trouble. Pasha’s girlfriend’s parents behave similarly when Pasha sets about interviewing them too. Older people who remember the violence of Stalin’s years, and middle aged people who lived through the Brezhnev years are often unable or unwilling to speak, and Pasha also seems unable to write openly and honestly.

The time this novel is set is enormously interesting. Glasnost was during the 1980’s, and I liked learning about young Russian people’s thirst for western clothing such as jeans and t shirts, and found it funny when Pasha likened people queueing for McDonalds when it first appeared in Moscow as being similar to people queueing in the past for food. I was also interested enough to listen to some Victor Tsoi punk rock, as Pasha described his music as the voice for his generation, however I didn’t feel very connected to Pasha or the other characters. Pasha’s inability to finish anything annoyed me, although that characteristic may have been symbolic of his generation’s lack of a sense of purpose, since they no longer had something to fight for.

I think that the writing makes The Memory Artist a worthy winner of The Australian/Vogel Literary Award, however the sadness of Russian stories just aren’t for me.

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Brabon - Katherine

The Boy Behind the Curtain by Tim Winton

boy.png

Tim Winton writes his stories for me. The Boy Behind the Curtain is an autobiographical collection of stories telling you who he is, what shaped him as a person and a writer, and why he writes the stories he does. He is of my generation and tells the stories of my Australia.

Tim Winton is known for his fiction, for adults and children, and has won the Miles Franklin Award four times but he also writes non-fiction and essays, very often promoting environmental causes. Whatever he writes, I get such a strong sense of the location (usually coastal) that I can smell the sea, feel the wind and taste the salt in the air as I read.

While I enjoyed, or learned something from all of the stories in the collection, the following stories touched me the most.

In The Boy Behind the Curtain, the author tells of his early teenage years, when he took his father’s rifle and stood behind the curtain of his parent’s bedroom, training the unloaded barrel on passersby every time he got the chance. I grew up on a farm and know, as the author does, how easy it is for a person to accidently shoot themselves while climbing through a fence with a loaded gun, never to shoot into water because of the ricochet, never to shoot into bushes or an area where you don’t know what is in there, and never, ever to aim at anything you don’t intend to shoot regardless of whether your weapon is loaded or not. Despite my unease reading this story, the author’s brutally honest recollection of being a teenage boy made me understand the appeal of this very dangerous practice. The author then brought me to tears by recounting the bravery of our Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who pushed for and secured drastic gun reforms in the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacres in 1996, on one occasion wearing a bulletproof vest to a pro-gun rally when tensions were running at their highest. Regardless of their politics, most Australians agree that John Howard will forever be remembered in Australian history for making the necessary changes to gun control legislation for Australia to be a safer society.

A Space Odyssey at Eight tells the story of a birthday outing for a group of eight year olds to see 2001: A Space Odyssey. While the movie frightened the crap out of the boys, it also taught Winton that his imagination was unlimited. I must watch this movie sometime.

Havoc; A Life in Accidents is the story of the accidents which shaped the author and his family. As a copper’s (policeman’s) son, accidents and their aftermaths were part of his family’s everyday life, but when his own father was knocked off his motor bike by a car, all of their lives changed forever.

I read Betsy on the train, which turned out to be a mistake. There is nothing like getting the giggles when you are on your own to have other people give you a wide berth. Betsy was a 1954 Hillman Minx, a horribly uncool car for the author to have been seen in the 1970s when big Fords ruled Australian roads. The story of the author’s father having to stop on the side of the road to empty his bowels after some Chinese food disagreed with him had me in tears again, which is when I nearly cleared my train carriage.

Twice on Sundays tells of the Winton family’s devotions. I was brought up in a religious family myself, so felt the author’s pain at seeing a Sunday slip away in church, although compared to other families I knew, ours was not that bad. For example, we didn’t say Rosaries every night, or go around door-knocking in an attempt to save other people from the eternal hell-fires of damnation, and none of us ever remembered the sermon afterwards. Mum, who was supposedly the most devout, said years later that she only went to church to get an hour of peace and quiet. In Twice on Sundays, Winton says that he most enjoyed the sense of belonging to a community and that he is still a believer. I might not be, but I do understand the appeal of being part of a group who hold the same values as I do.

The Wait and the Flow is an explanation of why people surf. I love surfing on a boogie board, it is one of the most joyful things I do, pure fun, relaxing and invigorating. Tim Winton explains it much better than what I do though, and he manages to liken the experience of surfing to writing, where he waits and meditates until the right wave comes along, then rides it like mad until the end.

The Battle for Nigaloo Reef is the story of the author’s role in fighting alongside his community to protect the coral reef from a proposed resort in the area. At the time, Winton put his money where his mouth is and donated his prize money from winning the Western Australia Premier’s Book Award to the cause. This area is now a World Heritage Site.

Breathe is my favourite Tim Winton novel, but The Boy Behind the Curtain is also going to find a special place in my bookcase.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments Off on The Boy Behind the Curtain by Tim Winton

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Winton - Tim

The Beloved by Annah Faulkner

beloved.png

I wouldn’t have read The Beloved by Annah Faulkner if I had realised that I had already read Last Day in the Dynamite Factory by this author, which I found quite dull. The Beloved was a much better book, although in this case, there was too much going on.

The Beloved is told by a child, Bertie Lightfoot. She is a likeable and unusual heroine, who lives for art and is able to see people’s auras as a colour.*

The story begins with Bertie catching polio while living in Melbourne in the 1950’s. She loses the use of one of her legs and remains in hospital for a very long time. Eventually Bertie’s mother, Lily May, gets fed up with Bertie’s lack of improvement and brings her home, where she dedicates herself to Bertie’s recovery. Bertie eventually recovers use of her leg, although she needs to wear a brace and a built-up shoe.

Lily May is a strong woman who loves Bertie deeply, but does not believe that Bertie sees auras and refuses to encourage her daughter’s artistic nature. I found this aspect of Lily May’s nature to be at odds to her personality, as she was encouraging towards her children in every other way.

The plot was choppy due to constant changes of location. The family started off in Melbourne, then headed off to Sydney. Next thing they went New Guinea to live, followed by visits to Canada, back to Sydney and then back again to New Guinea. I couldn’t keep up and felt that the constant changes of location detracted from the actual story, which was that of Bertie and Lily May’s relationship. If the locations had only used Melbourne and New Guinea I think the story still would have worked and would have been better for it.

The plot also had a touch of ‘throw in everything including the kitchen sink’ and would have been improved by cutting out some of the things which were unnecessary to the telling of the story. I got the feeling that the author didn’t know what was important to the story, with disapproving grandparents, dead first loves, affairs and hidden relationships strewn throughout.

I would have preferred to have stuck more closely to the story of Bertie’s parents marriage, and the battle between Bertie and Lily May over Bertie’s art.

I loved the cover art of The Beloved, which I thought was perfect for the story of an artistic child who sees other people’s auras as a colour.

*On a scientific note, I investigated the subject of seeing auras (on the internet, where else?) and found some techniques. I tried staring at my hand for ten seconds, but unfortunately I couldn’t see my aura. I then went cross-eyed, and saw about eight fingers on one hand, but still couldn’t get an aura. The website I looked at said some people have to practice for months before they can see auras. Since I think wanting to see auras is just a passing phase for me, I gave up. Plus, the website I looked at seemed a bit shonky. They said that if I phoned them up and gave them my credit card number, they would tell me all about my aura.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments Off on The Beloved by Annah Faulkner

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Faulkner - Annah

Away by Michael Gow

away.jpg

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.

 

4 Comments

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Gow - Michael

Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung

unpolished.png

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Pung - Alice

The Club by David Williamson

club

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.

screamer

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…

cats1.jpg

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.

 

 

 

 

Comments Off on The Club by David Williamson

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Williamson - David

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

secret.png

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.

 

4 Comments

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Morton - Kate

Life in Seven Mistakes by Susan Johnson

life

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.

surfers-png

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.” *

ava

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…

 

 

 

Comments Off on Life in Seven Mistakes by Susan Johnson

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Johnson - Susan