Book reviews

Archive for the ‘Australian author’ Category

Bluebird by Malcolm Knox

I first came across Bluebird by Australian author Malcolm Knox after reading Whispering Gums’ review. Although I was tempted by Sue’s review, it was the cover of the book that really sucked me in. The colour of the sand, the cliffs, the water and the man’s hair and sub-burned back reminded me of every beach on the south coast of NSW that I’ve ever set foot on.

The location of this story is as important as any of the characters. Bluebird is a beach town not far out of Sydney, where the long-time locals are hanging on to the past by their fingertips. Gordon, the main character, is a former journo in his fifties who lives in The Lodge, a beach shacked perched on the cliff above Bluebird Beach. Also living at The Lodge is Gordon’s ex-missus Kelly, and their son Ben, along with Gordon’s extraordinarily capable god-daughter, Lou.

Kelly and Gordon should have broken up years ago but didn’t, but after she slept with her old flame and Gordon’s best mate, the aptly nick-named ‘Dog’ at their joint 50th birthday party, their marriage finally came to an end. Unable to live separately due to their lack of finances, Gordon and Kelly moved into The Lodge after Gordon was gifted a share in the property by Kelly’s scheming but unseen step-mother.

Gordon was possibly the most passive person in Australia. He felt himself to be unable to leave Bluebird for a better life up north because of his love for Ben and his need to care for his ageing and difficult parents, but most of all he was hamstrung by his love for Bluebird and The Lodge itself, which was falling apart around them.

Lou, who came to live with Gordon after a murderous incident involving her parents, was determined to help Gordon financially after he used up all of his savings then went into debt trying to keep the Lodge habitable.

None of Gordon’s surfer mates who were all aged in their fifties could afford to live at Bluebird anymore, but they managed to do so by moving into the spare bedrooms of their widowed mothers. Bludgers all of them, but despite their own financial situations and lack of initiative when it come to getting a job, Gordon’s mates did their best to help Gordon out, even though they knew that the developers would eventually replace The Lodge with a McMansion, as had already happened throughout most of the town.

I was amused by the names of Gordon’s surfie mates, Red Cap, Snake, Dog, Cnut (rhymes with Peanut, just in case you were wondering), Chooka and a host of Chooka-alikes, multiple Maccas and a former State Champ whose number of surfing competition wins varied enormously during the telling of the story.

Knox’s snappy writing style and humour reminded me a little of Kathy Lette’s. I enjoyed Bluebird but think an overseas reader might need a translator to understand the Australian slang.

And if that cover doesn’t make an Aussie ex-pat fair dinkum homesick, then nothing will!

My purchase of Bluebird by Malcolm Knox continues my New Year’s resolution for 2022 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (February).

I purchased this book from Blarney Books in Port Fairy.

You can read Whispering Gums’ review here:

The Last Bookshop by Emma Young

The Last Bookshop is Australian author Emma Young’s first novel.

The Last Bookshop is a contemporary story set in Perth, the capital city of Western Australia.

Cait is the main character. She owns the last bookshop in Perth’s most fashionable shopping area and is slowly going broke. When Cait’s leasing agency put the rent up in an attempt to squeeze Book Fiend out of its rented premises so that a high-end fashion house could move in, Cait’s loyal customers rallied around her to try to save the shop.

Cait had recently started a relationship with one of her customers, James, who she met when he was shopping in Book Fiend for self-help relationship books*. James worked for the leasing agency who managed Cait’s tenancy and being much better off financially than she was, regularly shouted her expensive meals and wine, even though Cait was conscious of the imbalance of their relationship. James was lovely in general, but lacking in substance. When Cait’s dearest friend became terminally ill he wasn’t able to provide her with the emotional support she needed and later he became jealous and angry with Cait while she was working long hours to keep her business going. Perhaps not surprisingly, James eventually disappeared completely when she needed him most.

I enjoyed reading about Cait’s relationships with her customers, who were people of all ages, wealth statuses with varied reading interests. I also enjoyed the constant references within the story to real books, many of which were funny, such as a customer requesting a book by Al Chemist when she meant The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho or someone else asking for a book called ‘Falling Pine Trees’ instead of David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars.

I also liked the conversations Cait and her dearest friend had about C.S. Lewis and his lover, Mrs Moore as they read his diary, All My Road Before Me. I sniffed at customers who complained to Cait that they could buy books cheaper from Amazon than from her shop and I smiled when I recognised books Cait recommended to her customers. The recommendations included Jane Harper’s The Dry or Stephen King’s The Shining, depending on the customer’s reading tastes.

I also added a book to my own list after learning of it for the first time while reading this story. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is the story of an Australian bank robber and heroin addict who escaped jail and went to India, which has apparently inspired a generation of people to quit their day jobs and go off back-packing. I don’t know why I’ve never heard of Shantaram, but according to Cait second-hand copies of the book walked off the shelves at Book Fiend.

The Last Bookshop was perhaps slightly too long and Cait’s ruminations were slightly repetitive, but otherwise I enjoyed the story and would be happy to read Emma Young’s next book.

*Many years ago I worked in a shop alongside a woman who had married a customer of the shop. I was amused at the time when she said how well you could get to know a person based on small, daily interactions and by looking at what they purchased. So far as I know their marriage is still going strong!

One Hundred Days by Alice Pung

I’m an Alice Pung-fan. I liked Unpolished Gem, Laurinda and can now add her latest novel One Hundred Days to the list.

One Hundred Days is set around the mid 1980s in Melbourne. Karuna, the narrator, was 16 years old and pregnant when she began telling her story to her unborn baby.

After Karuna’s parents separated she and her mother moved into a two-bedroom flat on the fourteenth floor of an inner city Housing Commission tower in Melbourne.

The first time I saw one of these towers, I was horrified. At that time I was a child living on a farm and I found the height of the towers and their bland appearance to be frightening. Neither could I imagine how anyone could live in such a small space, boxed in with people living in flats on top of them, underneath them and beside them. I can’t imagine living in such close proximity to so many other people but now I realise that the apartments in the towers are people’s homes, that the residents benefit from being close to the CBD and public transport and that for those with mobility issues, finance issues or for a myriad or other reasons, the towers provide the opportunity to be part of a community.

At first, I thought Karuna’s mother was crazy, and not just because she insisted on sharing a bed with her teenage daughter, leaving the other bedroom in their apartment for storage. Grand Mar, as Karuna called her in the story, locked Karuna inside their flat for what she said was her own good and was extraordinarily tight with money, refusing to give Karuna a birthday party or allow Karuna to buy junk food. When Karuna’s father gave her money, Grand Mar stole it from her.

Karuna hid her pregnancy from her mother for as long as she could. Grand Mar was horrified when she realised, and insisted to anyone who would listen that Karuna had been tricked by a boy. Surprisingly, Grand Mar stood by Karuna, all the while lamenting her own bad fortune at having married a no-good man herself, then having her daughter do this terrible thing to her.

Worst of all though, in Karuna’s eyes, Grand Mar insisted that when the baby was born she would be the mother and that Karuna would be the baby’s sister.

Karuna told her story as if it was a letter to her baby. She explained how she fell pregnant – not quite by accident, but not exactly meaning to, either.

As the story went on, I realised that Karuna’s mother was living her life according to the values she had brought with her from the Philippines and that she loved and wanted the best for her daughter. She worked two jobs and spent her hard-earned money on delicacies such as Balut, a steamed, fertilized bird egg for Karuna to eat during her pregnancy, believing that such food would be nourishing for her daughter.

The one hundred days of the book’s title refers to the hundred days after Karuna gave birth, for which her mother had been saving her money so that Karuna and the baby could stay at home, safe and loved and protected.

Karuna’s story was sad, but the book was also filled with humour and love and hope. Grand Mar may have been one of the most annoying and deluded women in Melbourne, but as Karuna matured she found herself able to stand up to her mother when it counted, and was able to negotiate with her mother for what she thought would be better for herself and her baby, while still allowing her mother to love her and for her to love her mother without being abused, coerced or controlled.

My purchase of One Hundred Days by Alice Pung starts off to meet my New Year’s resolution for 2022 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (January).

I purchased this book from Ironbird Books in Port Fairy.

The Engagement by Chloe Hooper

The Engagement by Chloe Hooper caught my interest when I realised this psychological thriller was set in my stamping ground, beginning in Melbourne and ending at a pastoral property in the Western District of Victoria.

When Liese, a young English woman who had been working at her uncle’s real estate business in Melbourne met Alexander while he was looking for a city apartment, the two started an affair, using the apartments they were viewing for their own (yuck!).

From the beginning Alexander paid Liese after their encounters, which made it unclear if they were actually lovers who were role-playing or if they were conducting a business relationship.

Alexander invited Liese to accompany him for the weekend to Warrawill, an enormous station which had been in his family for 160 years. Liese accepted when Alexander told her that he would pay her for her time.

From then on, the story became complicated. On arrival, Liese was shown to a small bedroom, separate to where Alexander was sleeping. When she woke the next morning she realised that Alexander had locked her in the house while he went out on the farm. As a farm girl, I think this might have been for her own protection, although Liese found this to be sinister.

When Alexander returned he continually asked Liese about her past, wanting to know about her other clients and the brothels she had worked in, while Liese maintained (at least to herself and the reader) that she was not a prostitute and that she had only made up a lurid past to amuse Alexander during their previous meetings.

Liese hated the musty old house and the remote location, the cattle and the surroundings and was floored when Alexander announced that despite her past, he wanted to marry her and keep her at Warrawill to breed with her, presumably because as a farmer he realised that mixing their blood lines would strengthen his own breed which had become too fine.

By the end of the story when events come to a head, I couldn’t decide if Liese was an unreliable narrator or if she had been played by Alexander. I suppose that was the whole idea of the story.

I wouldn’t say that I particularly enjoyed this story and although my area of the Western District is coastal rather than inland where the enormous, desolate stations are, I feel loyal towards the whole region and was disappointed that Liese didn’t like the area. I didn’t particularly care for either character either, and found Liese and Alexander to be unlikeable in their own ways. I also found the story itself to be unbelievable, too. Nothing extraordinary actually happened, but the idea of these two particular people playing these strange games with each other, particularly in this location was too far-fetched for me.

Rural Dreams by Margaret Hickey

The characters and their stories in Australian author Margaret Hickey’s short story collection, Rural Dreams were very familiar to me. Some of them could have been people I knew from the local footy club in the farming region where I grew up, or beloved community members, weirdo neighbours, or even my own irritating and interfering family members. In some stories, I even recognised myself.

The characters in each of the 18 short stories had in common that wherever they were in the world, the ties that attached them to the regional area where they were from held tight. Saturday Morning featured a character whose life was in Melbourne but every weekend he drove a six-hour round trip to play footy with his mates in the team in the dying town where he grew up. I know people who have done this.

Some of the characters are young school-leavers who are busting to leave the family farm and their loud, ignorant rellies and the flies and the heat and the smell of cow dung, but the reader knows that once they are off having the time of their life partying with fellow backpackers from all over the world in Europe, the Americas or Asia regardless of the enticing bright lights and the non-stop fun, they will be dreaming of home.

Fowler’s Bay was the story of a woman who left it too late to reconnect with her father in the remote coastal town in South Australia where he’d lived. When she heard the pride in a local’s voice at admitting to having been born and bred in town she felt a twinge of jealousy. Regional areas and small towns are like that. You’re only a local if you, your parents and your great-grandparents were born there and lived all of their lives in the area. I was also interested in the story’s location having recently read the following article about Fowler’s Bay being overtaken by the sand dunes.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-09-22/fowlers-bay-in-south-australia-fights-encroaching-sand-dunes/100440452

Overcoat Joe is a story about a woman who hates her husband’s home town and the blokes he grew up with, mostly because they never were and never will be her husband’s mates.

A Bit of Scrapbooking tells the story of a bogan mother-in-law who loves the glitz and glamour of Surfers Paradise. She has little in common with her black-clad, coffee drinking, cultured daughter-in-law from Melbourne, but despite their differences the pair love and care for each other.

The collection included stories about murders and murderers. In real life, when you live in the area and know the people involved in these types of stories you don’t repeat them, especially not to outsiders.

Local Australian Rules football features heavily in many of the stories Rural Dreams, just as it does for the people living in country areas. Coach is told from the point of view of a man who cares about the kids he coaches in ‘this little old town of ours.’ The coach also dearly loves his own son, Jeremy, who is autistic and will never leave him.

Mind Your Language cracked me up from start to finish. The narrator knew a woman from Corio had a set of twins she had named Benson and Hedges. The twin’s mother was called Tahleesha. Bogans, all of them, but if the narrator’s son, Brayden, turns out to be even half as brave as his mother, he’ll go a long way.

All of the stories in Rural Dreams held my interest with their characters and events that were as varied as the rural locations where they were set, men and women, old and young, sophisticated city folk and rural yobs, compassionate greenies and mean-hearted bullies living anywhere from a small towns to an inland dust-bowl farm, or a remote spot up in the Snowys or somewhere back down on the coast. All of the stories are easy lengths. I tried to read them one at a time but ended up reading them all in one go.

I can’t wait to read Margaret Hickey’s next book.

My purchase of Rural Dreams by Margaret Hickey continues to meet my New Year’s resolution for 2021 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (December).

I purchased this book from Blarney Books and Art in Port Fairy.

Cosi by Louis Nowra

Cosi is a play by Australian author Louis Nowra. I watched the movie at least twenty years ago and have been meaning to read the book since then.

The play was set in Melbourne in the 1970s. It is the story of a budding director, Lewis, and a group of inmates from an asylum who put on a play.

Roy, a manic depressive, was insistent that they perform Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte and would not budge from his selection, even though no one from their motley group could sing opera or speak Italian. Lewis had just graduated from university and had no idea what he was doing, so went along with Roy’s choice.

The performers included Cherry, who had a crush on Lewis and was obsessed with food, Julie, a drug addict, Henry, an uncommunicative former lawyer who had suffered a breakdown, and Doug, a pyromaniac who had to be constantly watched in case he burned down the theatre. Doug had a smart mouth and was constantly provoking the people around him, to which their universal response was, “Go burn a cat.” It turned out that Doug already had.

Somehow this group managed to overcome the squabbles amongst themselves, their health issues and their stage fright to perform the play once, although the front row of their audience, who included the catatonics, were not terribly receptive to the spectacle they witnessed.

Along the way Lewis’ girlfriend and his best friend, whose main interests were protesting against the Vietnam war turned to each other, which was an interesting parallel story to the storyline of the play Lewis was directing, Cosi Fan Tutte, with its themes of love and fidelity.

Cosi is dated, and politically incorrect, but it is also very funny and the characters are surprisingly endearing for such a short play. Now I really want to watch the movie of the same name, Cosi again and one day, see the play performed on stage.

My purchase of Cosi by Louis Nowra continues to meet my New Year’s resolution for 2021 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (November).

All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton

All Our Shimmering Skies is by Australian author Trent Dalton, who wrote the fabulously uplifting Boy Swallows Universe.

The story of All Our Shimmering Skies was set in February of 1942 in Darwin.

At the time Darwin was extremely remote. The rough manners of the town’s residents were not improved by the presence of soldiers stationed there since the town had become an Allied Base during the War in the Pacific. When the Japanese conducted their first air raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942 they were able to inflict immense damage on the ships in the harbour, the town and the airfields since the town had been very lightly defended.

Prior to the attack, Molly Hook, whose story this is, was a motherless girl living in a derelict house with her alcoholic father at the town cemetery. Molly’s best friend was her shovel, Bert, which she used to dig graves, or to dig up graves so that her father and uncle, the town’s official gravediggers, could steal valuables from the dead.

Before Molly’s mother died, she told Molly about a curse that had been put on her family by Longcoat Bob, an Aboriginal man with supernatural powers. She also told Molly that all of her gifts would fall from the sky.

When the bombs fell, Molly escaped Darwin with Greta, her uncle’s sometime girlfriend, travelling into the deep-country looking for Longcoat Bob, so Molly could ask him to remove the curse. Along the way Molly and Greta met up with Yukio, a Japanese fighter pilot whose plane had crashed and somehow, found themselves on the same side for what came next.

There were similarities between All Our Shimmering Skies and Boy Swallows Universe in that each contained characters who were either very good and completely evil, but with no one who was just somewhere in the middle. Both stories also featured violent, disfunctional families. I disliked the brutality of Molly’s family life which in her case was caused by her father and uncle, unstoppable alcoholics who drank everything from beer to turpentine.

I felt that Molly’s knowledge of literature and poetry was too advanced for her age, given her circumstances and lack of education, and as a result, her tendency to quote English poets and from Shakespeare’s plays became jarring. The storytelling was also somewhat repetitive and eventually I began skimming to get to the end.

I liked the mystical elements of the story, which circled around Longcoat Bob and the Aboriginal characters, and enjoyed the sections that talked about life in Darwin but was unable to care deeply enough about Molly for All Our Shimmering Skies to capture my heart the way Boy Swallows Universe did.

The Survivors by Jane Harper

I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Australian author Jane Harper and The Survivors was no exception. I’m writing this review after sitting up until 1.30am to finish the story so have spent my Saturday feeling tired and sluggish. If my spelling is wrong and my words are in the wrong order, blame Jane Harper.

This story was set in a small coastal town in Tasmania where everyone knew everyone else. There were a few blow-ins to Evelyn Bay each summer but for the rest of the time, the locals had the place for their own and that’s how they liked it. The town had one cafe and one police officer, although when the story began the police station was on the verge of being closed and the service relocated to the next big town. When Bronte, a young artist who was staying in Evelyn Bay for the summer was found dead on the beach, everyone in town became a suspect in her murder.

The main character in this story was Keiran, a young man living in Sydney with his partner Mia and their baby Audrey. They had returned to Evelyn Bay to help Keiran’s mother pack up the family home as Keiran’s father’s dementia had worsened to the point that he had to go to a care-home.

The shock of Bronte’s death dredged up an enormous amount of anger and suspicion, much of which had been lying dormant since a terrible storm twelve years ago when Keiran’s brother and his best friend died in an accident at sea while trying to rescue teen-aged Keiran who had gotten himself stuck half way up a cliff. During that same storm a young local girl also went missing and had never been found.

Keiran’s guilt about the death of his brother and his friend hung over every moment of every day of his life. Keiran’s return to Evelyn Bay stirred up his own emotions, as well as those of his parents, who never actually said that they blamed Keiran for his brother’s death, but never said that they didn’t either. Keiran’s presence also troubled other locals who had been impacted by the two deaths and by the other girl’s disappearance.

I felt very connected with the story’s setting and loved the remote, wild, coastal Tasmanian location. I also enjoyed the various mysteries, which kept me guessing until the author revealed exactly what had happened to Bronte and to the others during the storm twelve years ago.

The only problem I had with The Survivors was that there was a cast of thousands and by the end I still couldn’t remember exactly who was who. To sum up, there was Keiran, Mia and their baby Audrey, and Keiran’s parents, Brian and Verity. Then there was Keiran and Mia’s friend’s Ash, Olivia and another bloke whose name I’ve forgotten, the local cop who had a crush on Olivia, the missing girl’s mother, plus a famous writer from the mainland.

Looming over the rest was Keiran’s brother Finn and Ash’s brother Toby (who died in the storm), Olivia’s younger sister Gabby (who went missing during the storm), another bloke whose name I’ve also forgotten but he owned the cafe and had married Toby’s widow, the cop who had a bit of a thing for Olivia (oh hang on, I said him already, I told you I was tired) and Toby’s son Liam, who was the stepson of the bloke who owned the cafe. Liam desperately resented Keiran for being the cause of the accident that killed Toby, who had been his father.

I’m already looking forward to Jane Harper’s next novel, and am guessing at where it might be set since each of her books have been set in vastly different locations.

My purchase of The Survivors by Jane Harper continues to meet my New Year’s resolution for 2021 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (October).

Field of Poppies by Carmel Bird

Field of Poppies is the first novel I’ve read by Australian author Carmel Bird. The author’s bio says she has written 11 novels and eight short story collections, been short-listed three times for the Miles Franklin Award and won the Patrick White Literary Award. I can’t think why I haven’t read anything by her before.

The story is narrated by Marsali Swift, who with her husband William moved to the fictional town of Muckleton in central Victoria from Melbourne in what is popularly known in Australia as a ‘tree-change’. In Muckleton, Marsali and William lived in a grand old house called Listowel and immersed themselves into the community, even though the locals know that anyone from the city are just blow-ins. To be a local people’s parents, grandparents and preferably their great-grandparents had to have lived in the area too.

First of all, Muckleton. If that place isn’t real, then it should be if only for the name alone. I kept saying Muckleton over and over again as I was reading, just because I like how the name sounds. I have a mental image of Muckleton and think it must be similar to the central Victorian town of Castlemaine, which has an enormously grand Post Office that was built on the promise of gold, gold and more gold being found in the district. Also, there is also a small town called Muckleford just a few kilometres from Castlemaine. Close enough?

Sigh. I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. This isn’t surprising because Marsali’s narration was a succession of anecdotes which hopped from one to another. Some of Marsali’s stories were about Muckleton residents, places or events, while others were based on discussions of novels from Marsali’s book group who read Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland after a local Muckleton woman named Alice Dooley disappeared. Marsali’s version of events were occasionally interrupted by William’s Wise Words, where he chimed in to add to the story with interesting and detailed facts.

A great many of the anecdotes were related to Claude Monet’s painting The Poppy Field, or a copy of the painting which was made by Marsali’s Aunt Clarissa, who was a talented copyist artist.

One night, when Marsali and William had driven to Melbourne to attend an opera (La Traviata) at the Arts Centre, Listowel was robbed. The thieves were two local men whose vehicle hit a kangaroo while they were leaving town with the loot. One of the men died in the accident but the other was charged with theft then went back to his Real Estate business, without any loss of business by the locals. Marsali and William’s antiques and collectables were returned to them along with the copy of The Poppy Field, but how they felt about Muckleton changed.

The disappearance of Alice didn’t help, but when a Chinese gold mine started up, bringing jobs and noise and dust to the town and to Listowel in particular, since the road to the mine went past their back door, Marsali and William upped stumps and moved back to a high-rise apartment in Melbourne (in the Eureka Tower, mind you. I’ve been up to the skydeck to look at the view over Melbourne and it is sensational. The Eureka Tower was named for Australia’s own Eureka Stockade, where gold miners took on the English authorities who were taxing them out of existence).

I loved the rambling, inter-connected story-telling style of Field of Poppies. I loved Muckleton and its community. I loved the idealism of the tree-changers. I loved the opinions of the book club’s members of the books they read. I loved the coincidences and the randomness of the anecdotes. I’ll definitely be reading more of Carmel Bird’s stories in future.

Infinite Splendours by Sofie Laguna

Infinite Splendours is Australian author Sofie Laguna’s most recent novel (published in 2020).

I’ve previously read The Choke and The Eye of the Sheep by this author. Both told the story of a child or teenager living in very difficult family circumstances.

Infinite Splendours also began with a child as the main character, although this story took on a different direction to The Choke and The Eye of the Sheep by continuing to following Lawrence’s story until he reached middle age, showing how the traumatic events of his childhood affected the rest of his life.

Lawrence and his brother Paul grew up on a 40-acre property at the bottom of a mountain in the Southern Grampians, near Hamilton in Victoria. The small town they lived in, Hughton and their mountain, Mount Wallis were fictional, but as I read I was reminded of Mount Sturgeon which looms above the small town of Dunkeld in the Southern Grampians. I feel sure that Dunkeld and Mount Sturgeon inspired the locations for the book.

The boy’s father died in World War Two and they were raised by their mother, who sadly wasn’t the only war widow in the district. The boys always called her ‘Mother’, never ‘Mum’ or ‘Ma’. Their mother never showed Lawrence or Paul that she loved them in either her words or by physical affection, nor did they often receive praise, although she was proud of Lawrence’s academic achievements. In return, Lawrence and Paul’s behaviour was unfailingly formal, respectful and polite towards their mother.

Despite their mother’s lack of affection towards them, Lawrence and Paul were very fond of each other, and both were caring, kind children.

Lawrence and Paul were quite different to each other in their interests and abilities. Paul was a good sportsman who was mechanically-minded, while Lawrence was an academic and a naturally gifted artist. Lawrence’s school teacher recognised his talent from an early age and encouraged him to draw and paint, although his mother did not value his art.

Their mother worked hard and provided for the family but she saved all of her love for her brother Reggie, who hadn’t been seen since they were teenagers.

When their uncle wrote to say he was coming for a visit, their mother was overjoyed. Lawrence was pleased too, although Paul was not, perhaps sensing that their uncle would come between him and his brother.

Lawrence took to Uncle from the beginning and trusted and liked him. Paul, who had more street-smarts than Lawrence, did not. Uncle groomed Lawrence with attention and presents, and eventually raped him before leaving the district the next morning. Paul guessed at what had been done to Lawrence by Uncle but by then the damage was done. Lawrence suffered a nervous breakdown while Mother was none the wiser as to what had taken place.

Lawrence grew up to be a stammering wreck of a man who suffered physically and emotionally for the rest of his life. He pushed Paul away and was unable to form relationships with other adults. For a short while Lawrence worked at a dairy in nearby Hamilton but left even that after he was beaten up by his co-workers who were suspicious about the nature of his friendship with one of their young sons. By this time Paul had moved into town, leaving Lawrence alone on the property after their mother’s death.

The story then jumped ahead many years to find Lawrence a middle-aged man, still living in isolation on the family property and dependent on Paul for his food and art supplies. Lawrence had spent his years painting Mount Wallis and his immediate surroundings. He was content and nothing would have changed in his future except that a noisy young family moved into the long-vacant house next door to his, shattering his peace.

I didn’t enjoy Infinite Splendours as much as I have Sofia Launa’s other books, because the subject matter made this a particularly difficult read. I hated that Lawrence was abused as a boy and throughout the second part of this story, felt increasingly horrified and distressed wondering if Lawrence as an adult might do the same thing to another child. The question of whether predatory behaviour by adult men towards children is a result of their own childhood experiences and how much sympathy we should feel towards men in this situation loomed uncomfortably over the story, too.

I’ve written and rewritten that last sentence. Is the answer some, or none? I can’t decide. If I feel sympathy for a predator who was a victim himself does that make me a monster too? Feeling no sympathy for a victim whose learned behaviour made him a possible predator seems wrong, but so does feeling sympathy towards him.

While I felt angry that Lawrence was the victim of a predator, I also (and I acknowledge that this is completely unfair) felt annoyed that this was the story of a male victim when so many girls are victims too. I suppose the difference is that female victims of abuse generally don’t seem to perpetuate the abuse they received when they become adults, which means that this story had to be about a boy.

As per all of Sofia Laguna’s books, I loved her actual writing style and felt very connected to the Southern Grampians setting. I also enjoyed reading about Lawrence’s art and appreciated the ongoing joy he received when looking through a book depicting the work of the world’s greatest artists.

My purchase of Infinite Splendours by Sofie Laguna continues to meet my New Year’s resolution for 2021 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (September).

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