Category Archives: Australian Author

Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

every.png

Everywhere I Look is a collection of memories, essays and true stories by respected Australian author Helen Garner.

I attempted to read Monkey Grip by Helen Garner a few years ago and while I enjoyed the author’s actual style, the idiocy of the characters annoyed me so much that I didn’t finish the novel. My notes from that review were; “I just couldn’t like them (the characters) enough to keep reading. I didn’t need to finish this to take the lesson – don’t fall in love or get involved with drug addicts, you will regret it.”

Everywhere I Look was broken up into loosely put together sections which occasionally offer life lessons. The first section, White Paint and Calico, are the author’s personal stories about home and moving house. The messages I took from this section is that home is where the ukulele is, that there is no such thing as a perfect table, and that moving house is up there with the strain of a death in the family, a new job or a divorce. I particularly enjoyed Suburbia, where the author shared the joys of living in a suburb, compared to previous experiences of having lived in ‘hipper’ places, such as a share-house in the inner-city.

There are so many stories of friendships with well-known and respected Australian authors that I got the feeling that Helen Garner knows and corresponds with everyone who counts, but my favourite was Eight Views of Tim Winton, who is a great Australian writer. I would love to know if Tim Winton really said, “Thanks, Mate,” to a priest instead of “Amen,” when taking communion at church, but even if this didn’t happen, it is a good story. I expect the gist of ‘Amen’ and ‘Thanks, Mate’ are much the same.

I found From Frogmore, Victoria to be the most heart-rending story. Helen Garner wrote about her visit with Raimond Gaita, who wrote the tragic memoir, Romulus, My Father. During the visit, Helen and Raimond visited many of the places where the events he had written about occurred, leaving me feeling flattened by the end of the story. For example; this is the shovel we buried the dog with, this is the tower someone jumped off when they suicided, and so on. I’m not being flippant here, Raimond Gaita’s family experienced terrible tragedies and the entire tour around Frogmore was punctuated by sad memories.

The true stories which featured in On Darkness would be familiar to most Australians. Punishing Karen was difficult to read. This was the true story of a schoolgirl who gave birth at home after hiding her pregnancy from her parents and also from herself, mentally and emotionally. Also difficult to read was The Singular Rosie, which tells of Helen Garner interviewing Rosie Batty about how she had coped since her son Luke was tragically and shockingly killed by his father. Another story tells of Robert Farquharson, who killed his three sons to get revenge on his former wife. Helen Garner says she was strongly criticised while writing a book about this tragedy for expressing sympathy for men in the position of being unable to cope emotionally when their wives leave them.

I actually liked reading the funny little stories about what Helen Garner’s grand-children said and did. Funny, because when I get bailed up by someone who wants to tell me stories about their kid, or grandchildren or even their dog, I, like most people, would prefer to throw myself under a bus rather than indulge the proud story-teller for longer than ten minutes. I think Helen Garner’s stories were bearable because they were short and to the point.

Helen Garner’s crowning glory though, for me, was her opinion about the indignities of old age. Being patronised by anyone is irritating at any age, but when Helen Garner can run circles around most people intellectually, I’m sure that being patronised by someone who looks as if they should still be in nappies is particularly frustrating. I loved that in The Insults of Age, she says she now saunters “about the world in overalls,” tears strips off idiots and confronts people who are doing the wrong thing without fear. I also like that she is honest about wanting to punch people’s lights out when they are stupid… because thinking about punching people’s lights out might not be socially acceptable, but is not a sin either (in my opinion, anyway).

Helen Garner’s style is straightforward and honest. Her voice is so strong that reading her stories make me believe that I am having an actual face-to-face conversation with her. Even though I am not speaking in this conversation, she still manages to tell me what I would want to know if I were participating.

I don’t think I will try Monkey Grip again, but will instead continue with Helen Garner’s non-fiction. She has written several books about defining Australian events, which I think will suit my reading tastes better.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Garner - Helen

Six Degrees by Honey Brown

six.png

 

So, for those who don’t already know, I read on my hour-long train trip to and from work. This morning, I started Six Degrees by Australian author Honey Brown and was blushing before the train had left my station. I’m more than a little prudish, so I considered sliding the book into my backpack and looking out the window for the next hour. What if someone I knew saw me reading about threesomes and the like? But intrigued, I read a little more, with the book tilted into the carriage wall so that no one could see what was on the page, holding my coat underneath the book so no one would see the cover and realise that I was not reading a crime novel.

And don’t tell me no one cares about what other people are reading. All of the readers on my train try to see what other people are reading. Sometimes we even hold our books up to show each other. Just last week I tried all the way home to see what the bloke across from me was reading, only to find out his book was about Quantum Mechanics. Big disappointment…

Six Degrees is a collection of six short erotic stories, all set in Australia with loosely-linked characters. I read three and a half of the stories. The stories are quite well written, but I didn’t finish the book because it wasn’t to my taste. This is a reflection on me rather than the author because like I said, I’m a prude. I am going to find other books by this author and read them as soon as possible, as I believe she usually writes horror/thriller novels.

Earlier this week when I was reading a book which I was not embarrassed to show anyone, I sat next to a woman on the train whose husband was sitting across from her. (At least I presume he was her husband, because they both wore wedding rings and they kissed goodbye when he disembarked at North Melbourne). Throughout the journey he continually tried to get her attention by patting her on the leg, but she was having none of it and kept swatting him away, in order to keep reading her book. My suggestion to him would be to employ some of the tactics the characters in Six Degrees used so that he might enjoy more of his wife’s attention…

2 Comments

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Brown - Honey

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Jasper

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey is an Australian coming of age novel. I thought this book was a ripper, which for non-Australians, translates as extremely high praise. The story was made into a movie earlier this year, and starred Toni Collette and Hugo Weaving. I am yet to see the movie but am excited to see how the story translates on film.

The title character, Jasper Jones, is a teenage boy who lives in a small fictional town in Western Australia in the mid-1960’s. Jasper is an underdog, a mixed-race Aboriginal boy whose mother is dead and whose father is a good-for-nothing drunk. One night, Jasper knocks at the window of Charlie Bucktin for help.

Charlie is the story’s narrator, and he is one of the most likeable characters I have ever come across in Australian contemporary fiction. Charlie is an only child whose father, an English teacher, encourages him to read good literature. Charlie daydreams of becoming a famous writer and being feted by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote and Norman Mailer. Charlie’s mother, like most married Australian women of the time, is a housewife. Her unhappiness with her situation is extreme.

Charlie doesn’t hesitate to go with Jasper when he knocks at his window, even though Jasper is the boy who everyone’s parents warn their children about. Jasper takes Charlie to a secret spot near the river, where they find Jasper’s young girlfriend dead, hanging from a tree in her nightie. Jasper says the girl has been murdered and that if the police come they will blame him for the crime. Charlie is certain that Jasper has not murdered the girl and together, they cut her down from the tree, weigh her body down with stones and throw her into the river.

This takes place in the first chapter of the book. The story isn’t a murder-mystery, although it is satisfying to learn the truth about the girl’s death before the story finishes. The story is about what happens afterwards, as Charlie learns of small-town secrets, family violence, racism and poverty, the value of friendship, experiences first love and learns resilience.

Charlie’s best friend is Jeffrey Lu, who with his parents came to Australia from Vietnam as refugees. From my memory of growing up in a small community a little later than when this book is set, the degree of racism that the Lu family experience from the town’s people is not over-exaggerated.

Jeffrey is a gorgeous character who is mad about cricket. The author’s use of cricket and Jeffrey’s hero-worship of Australian cricketing legend Dougie Walters really set the time and the scene for me, as I read about the boys listening to Test Matches on the radio. This made me remember my own childhood when the cricket was on the wireless and it was considered safe to let the sun beat down on bare shoulders. Children ran wild without anyone’s parents knowing or caring where they were, so long as they turned up for meals.

I loved reading about Charlie and Jeffrey’s arguments about which super-hero was the best, and about Charlie’s fear of insects. Their in-jokes were hilarious. Jeffrey swearing in front of his mother because she didn’t understand enough English to clip him over the ears brought me to tears of laughter, and I howled again at the way Jeffrey’s mother eventually caught on to his crime and gave him the punishment he deserved.

The story reads like Youth Fiction, but with enough literary references and big themes to be satisfying for adult readers. Just ignore the blurb on the front cover which says that The Monthly reviewer likens Jasper Jones to “an Australian To Kill a Mockingbird.” I always think that comparing books to other books is unfair and that this practice often sets a good book up to fail in a reader’s expectations.

I think Craig Silvey is a writer whose work will get better and better, and I can’t wait to read whatever he writes next.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Silvey - Craig

The Women in Black by Madeleine St John

women

I would have passed over The Women in Black by Australian author Madeleine St John had not Orange Pekoe Reviews called this book “a perfect novel” in her recent review.

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/8378494/posts/997638178

Who would have thought that hiding behind this cover is a novel by a nearly forgotten author which deserves to be shelved with the very best of Australian literature? Not me.

The Women in Black is set in Sydney in the 1950s and tells the stories of four women who work together at Goode’s, Sydney’s most prestigious department store. Goode’s is fictional, and is most likely based on David Jones, which would have been the place to shop in Sydney during this time if you were a woman with discretionary money to spend. The women working in DJ’s also wear black and are frighteningly elegant.

Patty has been married for Frank for over ten years without any sign of a baby coming along to put an end to her employment with Goode’s, but a black lace nightie may change that. Her husband Frank is described as “a bastard of the standard-issue variety, neither cruel not violent, merely insensitive and inarticulate.” Sounds to me like the definition of most Australian man from any era. Personally, I quite like them.

Fay has been swept off her feet by unsuitable men too many times to count. She “never seemed to meet the sort of man she dreamed of: someone who would respect her as well as desiring her; someone who would love her and wish to marry her.” An invitation to a New Year’s Eve party from a workmate opens Faye’s eyes to possibilities other than the usual men she meets.

Young Lisa is on the cusp of becoming a woman, and dreams of becoming a poet, while Magda, who runs the ‘Model Gowns’ section in Goode’s is an elegant ‘New Australian’. Together, the four women work in the Ladies Frocks Department, providing the women of Sydney with beautiful dresses during the lead up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

The story is told by an all-seeing narrator who tells the story as it unfolds, and who is not above giving the reader a wink from time to time.

The story is deceptively simple, touching and funny. The characters’ voices are as Australian as all get-out, and the phrases used are things which adults used to say when I was a child. Australia’s population has changed so much that these voices have mostly been lost and reading The Women in Black made me nostalgic to hear them again.

I loved this book so much that I went to my favourite bookshop, Hill of Content in Melbourne, and bought my own copy. I would love to find Madeleine St John’s other books too but was told they are now out of print, so I will be scrounging around second-hand bookshops and op-shops until I can get my hands on them. Australian director Bruce Beresford optioned this book to make into a movie and I wish he would hurry up and make the movie.

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, St John - Madeleine

The Dry by Jane Harper

dry.png

The Dry by Australian author Jane Harper came to my attention via a review by Fiction Fan, who often bears the responsibility for adding to my list of ‘want to reads,’ but over the past months I’ve seen this book everywhere; people are reading it on the train, there are displays in bookshops and interviews with the author in the newspapers. Most excitingly, when I picked up the Dymocks Top 101 booklist for 2017, I spotted the title at #17.

https://fictionfanblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/the-dry-aaron-falk-1-by-jane-harper/

The Dry is set in Kiewarra, a fictional Victorian farming community. My guess is that Kiewarra is based on a Mallee district, maybe Kerang, or Ouyen, where the bakery is famous for their Vanilla Slice. Families up that way have owned their land for generations and they do it tough during droughts. In this story, the whole community is struggling financially and emotionally because of drought.

The Dry starts with the tragic death of three people in a family. On the surface, it appears that Luke Hadler shot his wife and primary school aged son before shooting himself because he couldn’t cope with the prospect of losing of the family farm. Luke’s baby daughter was spared and later found in the house, howling her little head off.

Aaron Falk was Luke’s friend when they were growing up and he returns to Kiewarra from Melbourne for the funeral. Falk is now an investigator with the Australian Federal Police, but as a teenager, he and his father were forced to leave town after the death of a girl whom he and Luke had been friends with.

When Falk is asked by Luke’s parents to investigate the murder-suicide he agrees reluctantly. Most of the people of Kiewarra remember him and the circumstances of him leaving town, and he is harassed and threatened by many of the townspeople, including the girl’s father and cousin.

Despite the harassment, Falk sticks around and teams up with the local copper, Sergeant Raco, who has also been poking about on the Hadler farm. Raco is a good bloke, happily married with a baby on the way and he is smart enough to have noticed irregularities in the case. Raco is also an outsider in Kiewarra but he knows enough about the dynamics of small towns to make the locals toe the line.

As Falk and Raco investigate the deaths, further mysteries arise about the death of the girl all of those years ago, particularly about Luke’s possible involvement.

The language in this book is spot-on, although Australians swear a lot more than this book would suggest. The evocative details which gave the story an Australian feel were also beautifully done, although I could have done without the image of the huntsman crawling around Falk’s hotel room; as an arachnophobe, I would have killed the spider with my shoe on its first appearance.

The country-town atmosphere also felt rang true. Everyone in Kiewarra knew most of their neighbours’ business and were quick to judge each other. They ignored issues which should have been addressed when they were afraid of their own livelihoods being harmed, but they also rallied around each other in ways which doesn’t happen in the city, where a person or family can be as anonymous as they want to be.

I have to admit that I had a feeling about how this story would end and was very excited when I was proved right. This did not spoil my enjoyment of the story in any way and I strongly recommend The Dry to others.

Force of Nature is the next book by this author featuring Aaron Falk and I cannot wait to read it.

2 Comments

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Harper - Jane

The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

best.png

I devoured The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, but was less interested in the characters and their fates by the time I read the follow-up to this story, The Rosie Effect. By the time The Best of Adam Sharp came along, I was excited to read a new stand-alone book by this author.

The first half of The Best of Adam Sharp is a sweetly nostalgic story. Adam Sharp is nearly fifty and living in the UK with his long time partner Claire at the beginning of the story. Adam is an IT specialist who only needs to works six months of the year. He is also a singer, a pianist and a mad-keen music trivia wiz. When he was in his twenties, Adam travelled to Melbourne, where he fell in love with an actress from a television soapie, Angelina Brown.

When they met Angelina had only recently separated from her husband. When Adam had to leave Australia their romance came to an end, but he spent the next 25 years thinking about her and what might have been, especially when he heard particular pieces of music.

Adam’s nostalgia and imagination ramped up when out of the blue he received an email from Angelina, which said just one word; “Hi.”

Of course he answered her, and their emails quickly become flirty. Needless to say, Adam didn’t tell Claire that he had reconnected with his long-lost love from the other side of the world. Adam and Angelina spent hours online reminiscing about their shared past.

Things eventually came to a head with Claire, who was on the verge of selling her company and moving to the USA for her career. Adam and Claire broke up and within a week, Angelina invited Adam to spend a week with her and her husband at their holiday home in France.

Off Adam went to France, which is where things got weird. The first half of the novel was sweet and nostalgic, although I felt sorry for Claire, but in the second half of the story I felt as if the author was living out a sleazy, personal fantasy where he meets up with his old, hot girlfriend, who is now a hot, middle-aged woman. For me, this half of the book lost touch with reality.

The story is very readable, but I felt let down by how far the characters went in the second half of the story. I believe Australian actress Toni Collette has optioned this book with the intention of playing Angelina in the movie.  I expect The Best of Adam Sharp will become a successful movie with an excellent soundtrack, but suspect the sections I found creepy and sleazy in the book will be much the same on the screen.

 

 

Comments Off on The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Simsion - Graeme

The Port Fairy Murders by Robert Gott

port.png

The Port Fairy Murders by Australian author Robert Gott is a sequel to The Holiday Murders. The Port Fairy Murders continues the story of Detective Joe Sable, Constable Helen Lord and Inspector Titus Lambert, all members of the newly-formed Victorian Homicide Department in Melbourne in 1943.

In The Port Fairy Murders, the characters have to deal with the fall-out after they infiltrated Australia First, a particularly nasty political party in the previous book. I’m happy to report that Australia First are fictional, although no doubt there were real groups at the time who were genuinely horrible.

Joe was hurt quite badly physically and emotionally, as was Titus’ brother in law Tom, as they worked to stop a deranged madman and his crazy followers in The Holiday Murders. Several weeks later Joe returned to work, (clearly there was no counselling or time off work for traumatised police officers in 1943). Soon after, Joe’s apartment block was burned down by George Starling, an aggrieved member of Australia First. One of Joe’s neighbour’s died in the fire.

Of particular interest to me was the location of Starling’s family farm at Mepunga, half way between Warrnambool and Peterborough on the Great Ocean Road, which is very near to where I grew up. Starling is such a horrible character that I have mixed feelings about the use of this location as I didn’t like him coming from my part of the world, (NIMBY), but I also loved reading about places so familiar to me.

The photo below is of Murnane’s Bay, where The Port Fairy Murders tells us that Starling often went to as a child to escape his abusive father.

port 1.jpg

I can’t imagine anyone being lucky enough to come from this part of the world to be a bad person, my imagination just won’t stretch that far. Robert Gott, however, managed just fine.

After the fire, Joe was billeted to stay with Helen, her mother and her Uncle Peter. Joe quickly connected with Peter and has some interesting conversations with him about art after noticing that Peter has had a portrait of himself painted in the style of John Singer Sargent’s famous portrait of Dr Pozzi in his bathrobe.

port 7

Meanwhile, Starling is staying at The Windsor Hotel in Melbourne after a visit to his father’s farm. Starling was delighted to learn his father recently died, and visited the farm to steal cash and burn down the house. He also viciously attacked a number of animals on the farm so that the police would realise the fire had been set on purpose. (NIMBY, NIMBY!) Back in Melbourne, Starling killed a few gay men while waiting for an opportunity to kill Joe.

Meanwhile, Joe and Helen were sent to Port Fairy to investigate a double murder, completely unrelated to Starling and Australia First. The author set the scene in Port Fairy well, particularly when it came to the divide between the religions. All of the family stories I grew up hearing had religion in there somewhere, with one mob going to a particular church, school, dances and shops, while the other mob went to their own church, school, dances and shops, saying hello politely on the street but never going to each other’s homes. Heaven forbid anyone married out of their religion. St John’s and St Patrick’s churches in Port Fairy are pictured below…

I also enjoyed the references to other locations around Port Fairy which I know quite well, including Gipps Street, East’s Beach, Pea Soup and of course the pubs; the Caledonian (otherwise known as The Stump) and the Star of the West.

port 2

As it turns out, Robert Gott was able to imagine horrible people in Port Fairy too. He does not shy away from describing grisly, violent behaviour, and thoroughly explores all types of nastiness.

The town of Warrnambool gets plenty of mentions too, with a very ordinary meal being had at the Warrnambool Hotel. I can confirm that the food served there is actually very good.

The Port Fairy Murders left the door open for another book in the series as there is plenty of unfinished business. Helen and her mother have secrets from each other, and Joe and Helen have chemistry. George Starling is still on the loose which means that all of these characters, plus Titus and his wife Maude, who I have become quite fond of, are still in danger…

 

 

 

Comments Off on The Port Fairy Murders by Robert Gott

Filed under Australian Author, Author, Book Review, Gott - Robert

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