Book reviews

Archive for the ‘Australian author’ Category

You Belong Here by Laurie Steed

You Belong Here is by Australian author Laurie Steed. The story begins in 1972 with Jen and Steven at the beginning of their married life. As the years passed everyday life overwhelmed them and their family fell apart.

Jen and Steven married young. Full of hope for the future, they moved from Melbourne to Perth when Jen was pregnant with their first child. The lack of family support for the young couple in Perth wasn’t touched on in the story but in real life, that would probably have been a reason why several years later when they had three children, Steven and Jen were feeling emotionally distant from both each other and their children and she was having an affair.

Soon after Jen’s affair became known to Steven he moved out of the family home and returned to the east coast of Australia for work. Like many children whose parents separated, Alex, Emily and Jay suffered terribly from the disintegration of their family.

Alex was a gorgeous boy whose heart was broken when his best friend suicided as a teenager. As an adult Alex struggled to remain emotionally connected to his family and other people in his life.

Emily seemly coped better with the loss of her father and her mother’s emotional distance, but as the story progressed she continually made poor choices in her relationships with family and boyfriends.

Jay, the baby of the family, needed professional help for his mental health by the time he was a teenager, something that at that time brought with it an enormous stigma, an aspect which was not considered in the story telling.

The story moved quickly through the years and passed from one family member to another.

I think a reader who knows and loves Perth would feel at home in this book. I liked that the story ended with hope for the characters and that despite their individual and family disfunction, they still recognised they were a family.

My purchase of You Belong Here by Laurie Steed went towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (September).

I ordered this book from Margaret River Press.

The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta

I loved The Place on Dalhousie by Australian author Melina Marchetta and was happy to re-meet some of the characters from her other novels, Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son. For those who haven’t read either, don’t be put off as The Place on Dalhousie also stands alone.

Rosie was assisting elderly people sheltering at the local hall during a flood crisis in a rural Queensland town when she met Jimmy, who was working with the State Emergency Service to rescue trapped people. Jimmy had only been in town for a week, stuck there after his beloved Monaro was stolen while he was at a service station. Rosie had been in town a little longer, abandoned by her no-good boyfriend who had taken all of her money when he left.

After the flood crisis ended Rosie returned to her home in Sydney. When she learned she was pregnant she phoned Jimmy and left a message telling him the news, but he lost his phone and didn’t get the message. Although he often thought about Rosie he didn’t have her contact details and didn’t try to contact her again.

The story restarted again a year or so after the flood, but this time it followed Martha, Rosie’s stepmother. Martha and Seb, Rosie’s father, had married less than a year after Rosie’s mother died of breast cancer and Rosie had been unable to forgive either of them so left home as a teenager, travelling to Italy to be with her grandmother then back to Australia where she lived with one loser boyfriend after another. Before Rosie and her father could reconcile, he died in a terrible accident.

When Martha’s section of the story began she was living downstairs while Rosie and the baby lived in the upstairs rooms of the house that Seb built. Neither woman was prepared to budge on the question of whose home it was.

Jimmy returned to Sydney after finding his phone and hearing Rosie’s message, a year too late, but although he wanted to see Rosie again he wasn’t convinced that he was the baby’s father. Jimmy was a good bloke, even though he had been brought up in a family who struggled with domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse. His friends worried that he might disappear from his son’s life if things became too difficult for him.

When Jimmy arrived he found Rosie to be suffering from post-natal depression and feeling isolated. The hostility between Rosie and Martha made their home a miserable place.

There was a cast of thousands in this book and sometimes I had trouble remembering where everyone fitted in with the story. At the beginning of Martha’s section, she had just reconnected with her High School friends with whom she formed a netball team (nothing has changed since I used to play, everyone wants to be a goal shooter or centre). Jimmy also had a large group of friends, many of whom were characters from Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son, and Rosie eventually made some friends too, from a mother’s group. Rosie and Martha’s Italian neighbours on Dalhousie Street also played a part in creating a story about what it means to be part of a family, a friendship groups and a community.

Breast cancer is another theme that ran through this story. Martha and Seb got to know each other in hospital as Martha’ mother, who also died from breast cancer, had become friends with Rosie’s mother while being treated for the disease. Martha and Rosie had in common the fear of what their own future with the disease held for them.

At times the character’s lives were so complicated and difficult that I didn’t know how they would resolve their issues, or even get their problems to a manageable level.

Jimmy and the baby and funnily enough, Jimmy’s stolen Monaro are the threads that eventually tied the family together.

I loved The Place on Dalhousie as much as I did Looking for Alibrandi and I’m sure that other Melina Marchetta fans will too.

My purchase of The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta went towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (September).

Tracks: One woman’s journey across 1,700 miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson

When I started reading Tracks: One woman’s journey across 1,700 miles of Australian Outback by Australian author Robyn Boyd, I wondered if by the end of the book I would feel inspired to take a momentous journey of my own. As it turned out, I wasn’t at all inspired. I’m staying home. And not just because of COVID-19 (as I write this Melbourne is in Stage Four lock down and I am limited to one hour of daily exercise within five kilometres of my home). I wasn’t very far into this book when I realised that walking half way across Australia through the heat and desert with a herd of troublesome camels was something I would much prefer to read about than do.

Tracks is the true story of the author’s arrival in Alice Springs in central Australia during the 1970s with the intention of making an extraordinary trip through the desert to the Western Australian coast. When she arrived in Alice Springs Robyn Boyd had six dollars in her pocket and no idea of what to expect. At the time Alice Springs (and possibly much of Australia) was a far more difficult place to be a woman travelling alone than it is now.

Robyn became an apprentice to a man who ran a camel business where she worked for food and board while learning to manage camels. The camel-ranch owner, a volatile German, agreed to sell her a camel after she had worked for him for a certain amount of time.

Robyn also worked at a pub in town where the patrons were rough. Her descriptions of the men that she served were that they were without charm, “biased, bigoted, boring, and above all, brutal.” Her experience at the pub were often frightening and the racism that she saw towards Aboriginal people was vicious. This attitude was echoed by the people of Alice Springs and the tourists towards the Aboriginal people in the area (and as Robyn pointed out long before this was a popular opinion or even an agreed upon truth, this was in those Aboriginal people’s own home long before anyone else came to Australia).

After a particularly nasty and frightening attack at the pub, Robyn left town to live permanently at the camel ranch, although life there wasn’t much better than in town. Although she was successfully learning to manage camels she was unable to get along with the ranch owner. Eventually Robyn left the ranch without the camel she had been promised and went to work for another camel man.

Two years after arriving in Alice Springs Robyn had her own herd of camels, a bull camel called Dookie, another bull called Bub, a female called Zelly and Zelly’s calf, Goliath. Despite owning the camels, Robyn was still too poor to set off on her journey until a photographer friend, Rick Smolan, helped her to gain sponsorship from National Geographic magazine.

Robyn was conflicted about taking the money from National Geographic and frequently complained throughout the remainder of the book that she felt as if she had sold herself and her trip out. However, as someone who appreciated and enjoyed reading about her trip, I’m grateful she made the deal and wish she had left some of the whinging out of her book.

Robyn had arranged to meet Rick at intervals along her trip for him to take photos of her, the camels and her dog Diggety for the story. Robyn’s emotions towards Rick were connected with her feelings about selling out and she frequently expressed how resentful she felt towards him, although eventually she managed to move past this.

The story of the trip itself is fascinating. Robyn walked to various waterholes and stations along the way, sometimes by road and sometimes across country (although the roads were unsealed and were often no more than a track, leading the camels as she went. These tracks sometimes turned out to be dead ends, causing Robyn to have to backtrack to a previous point to set out again).

Robyn describes practicalities of the trip, such as setting out with an enormous amount of gear but finishing with only the bare essentials, and how long it took her to load the camels, or to find them when they disappeared during the night.

The trip itself was quite dangerous, which Robyn downplayed. The camels frequently disappearing overnight despite being hobbled was just one example. Robyn chose to walk rather that ride a camel as a fall in such isolated surroundings would have been disastrous. The sweltering heat, the possibility of a waterhole being dry, of being injured by one of the camels or by a feral camel were all very real dangers.

The section of the story with the happiest tone was when Robyn was accompanied by Eddie, an elderly Aboriginal man who walked part of the trip with her and guided her to waterholes along the way. Generally, Robyn was irritated and angry with the people in her life and with those she met along her journey, particularly those who wanted to take her photo, but she seemed genuinely friendly with and empathetic towards the Aboriginal people she met along the way.

Robyn discusses racism and sexism quite candidly throughout this story and both subjects are difficult to read about. The racism is probably more difficult to read about because less has changed since Tracks was written. Some readers might also find the treatment of the camels distressing because although Robyn and the other camel owners in this book obviously loved their animals, they also beat them. Apparently the only way to get a camel to do something it doesn’t want to do is to beat it.

I’m keen to find a copy of the May 1978 edition of National Geographic to see the photos and story of Robyn’s journey as they were originally told.

Bruny by Heather Rose

Bruny is a cracking read by Australian author Heather Rose. I wasn’t very far into this political thriller before I felt as if I couldn’t put the book down. Being kept exceptionally busy by my work when I wanted to read it was a torment.

The story is set in the near-future on Bruny Island off the coast of Hobart in Tasmania. When a six-lane bridge that the Tasmanian government was building from the mainland to Bruny Island with Chinese funding was bombed by an unknown perpetrator, the Tasmanian Premier, JC Coleman asked his twin sister Astrid, a mediator for the UN, to come home from New York to negotiate a truce between the various factions who were either for or against the bridge. To further complicate the Coleman family’s dynamics, Astrid and JC’s half-sister Maxine was the leader of the Opposition party.

Astrid’s first question was to learn why JC’s government were building a bridge to Bruny Island at all. Although the island’s population swelled during holiday times, the island only had around 600 permanent residents and was already well served by a ferry. Astrid met with various groups on and off the island, from birdwatchers to Friends of Bruny, business owners, as well as sea-changers and climate-changers who had more recently moved to the island from the Australian mainland. She also met with politicians from all sides of state and federal politics and with the bridge builders. Everyone had a different opinion about the bridge and the future of the island.

After the bridge was bombed JC brought in a contingent of Chinese workers to work on it with the aim of having the bridge completed in time for the next State Election, despite the use of Chinese labour being unpopular with his voters. Astrid was convinced by this time that there was a much bigger picture that she was missing although she continued to work to keep all parties calm while carrying out her investigations.

The use of Chinese capital to build this fictitious bridge was topical with so much current scrutiny on Australian states partnering with China in belt and road initiatives.

I liked the family dynamics in the story. Despite being on opposite sides of politics the Coleman family were generally loving and were genuinely trying to do their best for Tasmania in their political roles. The sibling’s father, who had also been a successful Tasmanian politician until his retirement, had recently had a stroke when the story began and was only able to communicate using Shakespearean quotes, while their mother, a deeply unpleasant woman, was undergoing cancer treatment. There were also a younger generation of the family who were uninvolved in the political side of the plot although they added to the personal story.

Astrid was a terrific lead character. She was middle aged with grown-up children, divorced, extremely successful in her career and very, very clever. There was a hint of romance for her with one of the more down-to-earth characters which I liked too. This was a very full story with political intrigue, family drama, conspiracies and huge problems for Tasmania, Australia and the rest of the world, with climate change driving everything. When I finally got to the plot’s reveal, I was genuinely shocked.

Bruny has a very strong sense of place. The story made it clear that Tasmanians see themselves as Tasmanians first and Australians second. The story also raised questions about how Australians from the mainland see Tasmania.

I enjoyed Bruny enormously and am very keen to read further novels by this author.

My purchase of Bruny by Heather Rose goes towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (August).

The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

The Drover’s Wife by Australian author Leah Purcell is an interesting spin on the classic Australia short story of the same name by Henry Lawson. I believe Leah Purcell originally created this story as a play which was very well regarded.

Henry Lawson’s version tells the story of a resilient woman alone with her young children as she waits to kill a snake which has disappeared under their outback hut.

In Leah Purcell’s version the heroine is named Molly Johnson. Molly, her four children and their dog, Alligator, live in a remote bush hut near the Snowy Mountains in the 1890s. Molly’s husband Joe is a drover and at the time of the story has been away droving cattle for several months. When the story begins Molly is heavily pregnant with her sixth child, although only four are living.

Molly’s lot in life is hard. Her mother died when she was born and although she was brought up by a loving father, when he was dying he arranged for her to marry Joe Johnson, who turned out to be a drunken bully and a philanderer. Life was easier for Molly when Joe was away droving for months at a time, even though she still had to deal with floods, snakes, threatening swaggies and starvation while suffering extreme poverty. Despite this, Molly’s love for her children and theirs for her made her hardships bearable.

Things become complicated for Molly when the new Sergeant from the nearest town unexpectedly visited and took the children to town with him so they could get supplies. While Molly was alone an Aboriginal man who has escaped custody for an alleged murder arrived just as she went into labour. Despite his kindness in helping her to deliver her stillborn baby Molly was frightened and wary of Yadaka, however she used an axe to remove the iron collar from his neck and allowed him to stay on the property until the full moon.

When Molly’s eldest son, Danny returned from town without the younger children Yadaka taught him about what it meant to be a man. At the same time, the new Sergeant had become worried about Molly and the whereabouts of her husband Joe.

The story covers some big topics, including what it meant to be an Aboriginal person at this time with no rights, no voice and no respect. Other issues included the removal of Aboriginal children from their families, domestic violence, rape and extreme poverty.

My enjoyment of the story was regularly interrupted by what I felt was the¬†wrong words and phrases being used. Early in the story Molly talked about her hormones, but I’m fairly sure that Australian bush¬†women in 1913 would not have even heard the word hormone, although how Molly was feeling as a result of them is timeless. Another example of a word choice that felt wrong to me was a reference to country to describe Yadaka’s connection to his family and his own area which felt too contemporary for this story. The character’s conversations didn’t always ring true either, for the same reasons.

I also didn’t like the idea of Molly and Yadaka’s sexual attraction to each other as I felt the timing was wrong. I don’t believe that a woman who has just given birth for the sixth time, let alone to a still-born child would feel anything like lust for any man, no matter how wonderful he might seem to her at another time.

So, while I thought the actual story was good and would love to see The Drover’s Wife performed as a play or even as a movie, the book wasn’t as good as it should have been. The author’s note at the end of the book says that she failed English at school and while this makes her achievements all the more remarkable, a harder edit would have improved the book.

Leah Purcell is a Goa, Gunggari, Wakka Wakka Murri woman from Queensland.

My purchase of The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell goes towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (July).

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

I was describing the plot of Boy Swallows Universe by Australian author Trent Dalton to Honey-Bunny, who said, “That sounds depressing.” I had to laugh, because the story I was describing did sound depressing, even though it isn’t. Despite all of the terrible things the narrator and his family endure Boy Swallows Universe is full of hope and joy. Not only that, the story is funny and clever and most surprisingly of all, based on the author’s own life.

The story starts in the mid 1980s with twelve year old Eli Bell who lives with his family in a rough Brisbane suburb. While Eli and his brother August’s drug-addicted mother and heroin dealing stepfather Lyle are out doing business the boys are babysat by Slim Halliday, the most infamous criminal to ever break out of Brisbane’s Boggo Road Jail. The family are poor, surrounded by violence and are prone to bad luck but they genuinely love and care for each other.

When gangster Tytus Broz caught Lyle making drug deals on the side of their own arrangement, his henchman dragged Lyle out of the family home never to be seen alive again. During the attack Eli’s mother was beaten up and Eli’s lucky forefinger with the freckle on the knuckle was chopped off. Eli woke up in hospital to learn that Tytus had arranged for their home to be raided by the police which caused his mother to be sent to jail for two years. Eli and August went to live with their alcoholic father in his Housing Commission house.

Elis and August are both extraordinary characters but August has a kind of magic about him. August is mute and writes his messages in the air for others to read. Some of his messages are prophecies which play out throughout the story.

Slim, who is based on a real person, is Eli’s best mate as well as his babysitter. He teaches Eli important life lessons, and put particular emphasis on Eli to learn to watch what is going on around him closely and to remember details. This trait becomes more and more important as Eli grows up and attempts to become a crime writer for Brisbane’s newspaper, The Courier-Mail.

I’m still not sure how this story about a family living in horrific conditions, who struggled with domestic violence, mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse, surrounded themselves with criminals and involved themselves in criminal activities also managed to be so joyful, but it is. The language the family use is when speaking is often profane but their love of reading is a joy to read about.

My only complaint about this story is that I thought the ending was implausible.

However, the writing in Boy Swallows Universe is poetic, the characters are enthralling, the story is fascinating and I loved it. Several weeks after our conversation a workmate gave a copy of Boy Swallows Universe to Honey-Bunny saying that it was the best book he had read during 2018. I’m really looking forward to hearing her opinion of the book.

My purchase of Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton goes towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (June).

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club by Sophie Green

I enjoyed The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club by Australian author Sophie Green, which I randomly grabbed in a last-minute dash to my local library when COVID-19 was initially threatening to close the library down. My library has now been closed for three months. I’ve got a few more unread library books to get through before I move on to the massive pile of books in the pile of books that I own.

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club was a more serious book than I initially expected it to be, although it would be fair to describe the story as ‘heart-warming’ so I imagine it would be filed under ‘women’s fiction,’ if there is still such a category. The story is set during the mid 1970s with most of the action taking place on an outback property about an hour’s drive out of Katherine in the Northern Territory. The stories of the five main characters are told alternately.

Kate was homesick for England when her mother-in-law, Sybil, came up with the idea of starting a book club. Sybil invited Sallyanne, a young mother of three children who she knew from the Katherine Country Women’s Association, also Della, a Texan who was working on a neighbouring station and Rita, a nurse with the Royal Flying Doctor Service who was based in Alice Springs to join the book club. Due to the large distances between their homes the book club only met once or twice a year.

The story reminded me of how limited women’s lives were during the 1970s. Sallyanne’s husband was an alcoholic, but she couldn’t financially afford to leave him and she was afraid of being judged adversely by her community if she were to become a single mother. Della was in love with an Aboriginal man but they had to hide their feelings because of the threat of him being beaten up or worse by anyone who might disapprove of their relationship. In contrast, as the white owners of Fairvale Station, Sybil and Kate had a high degree of autonomy in their lives, possibly because the men in their family allowed this. There were Aboriginal women living in a camp on the Station whose lives would have been very different to the white characters, but their existence was glossed over at a very high level.

The books which the characters read for their book club were also only touched on lightly. They read some fantastic Australian books, including The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay and The Harp in the South by Ruth Park as well as bestsellers from the time such as A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford and The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye. I would have liked to read a little more of the character’s opinions of these books, although these would not have contributed to the actual story at all. I was amused that this book ended with a series of questions about the book and the character’s motivations designed to be used for discussion by a book club.

The characters of The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club were a little stereotyped and there weren’t many surprises in the plot, however I enjoyed reading about the character’s friendships and the life of women in the Northern Territory during this time.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

I sat up until 3.30am to finish The Lost Man by Australian author Jane Harper. I was too tired the next day to do anything properly but it was worth it.

The Lost Man is set in a remote area of outback Queensland. The extreme heat and isolation are a dangerous combination, even before people are brought into the mix.

The story begins with Nathan Bright and his son Xander meeting Nathan’s youngest brother Bub at a lonely stockman’s grave on the boundary of their properties, an hour and a half drive away from each of their homes. Nathan and Bub are there to meet the police after the body of their middle brother, Cameron was found at the grave having apparently died from dehydration. Mysteriously, Cameron’s vehicle was found approximately ten kilometres away from the grave fully stocked with water and emergency supplies.

The story is told by Nathan, who had been acrimoniously divorced by Xander’s mother when Xander was very small. I felt sympathetic towards Nathan even after I learned that he had been guilty of one of the worst crimes in the outback many years ago, that of ignoring a stranded neighbour. Since then Nathan had been shunned by his entire community and had been living one of the loneliest, saddest lives imaginable.

Cameron was the golden child of the Bright family. He had been well liked and respected in the outback community, a successful farmer and was married to Ilse, who Nathan had fallen in love with first. Nathan had given up his relationship with Ilse in shame after he was barred from the town where she had been working in the pub.

In the time between Cameron’s death and his funeral, Nathan learned from other family members and staff at Cameron’s property that he had lately been worried for an unknown reason recently. Nathan and Xander began discreet investigations to find out what had been going on.

The other main characters include Nathan, Cameron and Bub’s mother, Cameron and Ilse’s two young daughters, an old man who had worked on the property since before Nathan was born and a couple of English backpackers who were working on the farm.

The mystery of what happened to Cameron wasn’t resolved until the very end of the book and it certainly kept me guessing, not to mention feeling anxious for Nathan and Xander’s wellbeing as I suspected everyone in this book of wishing them harm. The reasons for Cameron’s death were quite dark but the story was told with compassion and I have continued to think about these characters and their motivations for some time after having finished the book.

I’ve previously read The Dry and Force of Nature by this author and enjoyed both, but the trip to the outback in The Lost Man was truly gripping. I loved reading about the incredibly dangerous landscape and the people who choose to make their homes there. The little details were satisfying, even to the scars most of the characters carry from having skin cancers removed.

My purchase of The Lost Man by Jane Harper goes towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (May).

Goodwood by Holly Throsby

Goodwood, Australian author Holly Throsby’s first novel, is set in the type of small town I recognise. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone else and most of each other’s business. Neighbours generally watch out for each other but occasionally they ignore the plight of those who need protection. On the whole, Goodwood is a good place to live.

The story is narrated by 17-year old Jean who in 1992 was closely connected with most of the Goodwood community, including her fellow students, young adults, the town’s business people, her grandparent’s friends and the local policeman, Mack, who was also Jean’s cousin.

Jean knew 18-year old Rosie White, who disappeared from her bedroom in the middle of the night and she also knew Bart McDonald, the town’s charismatic and generous butcher, who went missing while fishing at the lake just a week after Rosie vanished.

Rosie and Bart’s disappearances were a mystery to everyone in Goodwood. In a town where no one ever locked their doors, Jean’s mother started locking Jean’s bedroom window at night. Mack, with the help of detectives from the next town over investigated Rosie’s disappearance but clues to her whereabouts were hard to find. The lake was searched after Bart’s boat was found floating alone, but his body wasn’t found either. Local gossips wondered if Rosie and Bart’s disappearances were connected.

Jean knew secrets about Rosie and Bart along with secrets she knew about other people, but initially didn’t think that what she knew was important enough to tell Mack. In many ways Goodwood is a coming of age story as Jean contends with growing up. Her best friend seems the most likely of their classmates to become a teenage mother as she enjoys her first sexual experiences with a boy from their class, while another boy is keen on Jean. As a foursome, Jean, her best friend and the two boys cruised around town, got drunk and generally messed around, as their families and community watched from a distance.

I enjoyed how small-town Australian this book felt. I felt comfortable in Goodwood and recognised the people in the Bowlo, locals at the pub, neighbours down the street and friends and family at Nan’s house. Sadly, I also knew who belted their wife and children and that no one would do anything, because that would be interfering in someone else’s business. I knew who had a gambling problem, and most importantly, who to avoid because they were creepy.

While it didn’t spoil the book in any way for me, I guessed how things would turn out for the missing characters long before the story disclosed the answers, although there were still a few surprises. I felt satisfied that some of the characters got was coming to them and frustrated with others who wouldn’t help themselves, which is a bit like in real life, really. The ending for Jean and a new friend left me feeling intrigued with what Jean’s future might hold.

I did feel as if Goodwood could have done with a prune. Some sections dragged and other parts had nothing to do with the story. There were also too many characters to keep a track of, many of whom didn’t need to be in the story.

However, on the whole I enjoyed Goodwood, and liked the characters, the place and the time the story was set. Holly Throsby, who is also a songwriter and musician, has since published another novel, Cedar Valley, which I expect to read and enjoy in future.

Border Districts by Gerald Murnane

I chose to read Border Districts by Gerald Murnane without knowing anything about the book or the author, save that he was Australian and so fitted in with my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020. The gorgeous cover tempted me, too.

My copy notes that Border Districts was a finalist for the 2018 Miles Franklin Literary Award and the winner of the 2018 Prime Minister’s Literary Award.

Not knowing what to expect from the book was probably a blessing. When I began reading Border Districts I thought it was a thinly-disguised autobiography, a trip through the author’s meandering mind and even now I’ve finished I’m still not certain that this story (or report, as the narrator calls it) was fiction. I couldn’t find a plot.

It took me some time to warm to the narrative style, too. About half way through the book I complained to He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers (who isn’t a reader and doesn’t understand my need to read but who thankfully accepts me as I am) that the book was hard work, the ideas were too clever for me, there was no story and that the narrator was doing my head in with his obsessive circling around and around certain topics, but when I went back to the book after my whinge it was as if by voicing all of my complaints I was able to let them go and allow myself to appreciate how clever the author’s ‘dog with a bone’ style of building on themes was. Soon after, I also became aware of the beautiful, lilting quality of the words.

The narrator lives in a small, unnamed town in the Wimmera in far western Victoria. He often refers to areas, towns and cities without ever naming them. Some clues were obvious, such as the “town named for its closeness to the border” which must surely be Bordertown in South Australia, or the description of a home built from sandstone from “a certain district in the far south-east of her state” which I think must be built of Mount Gambier stone, but I’m still uncertain of other places that were described but not named. I imagine readers from Murnane’s actual home town in the Wimmera enjoyed this guessing game.

When I read sections aloud the writing reminded me of the patterns in the nursery rhyme, This is the House that Jack Built. The narrator, who is an elderly man, has a repetitive style of going over and around and over and around his thoughts, memories and imaginings which reminded me of the repetitions in the nursery rhyme. Certain words are used and re-used, sometimes several times in a single sentence. Some sentences were nearly a page long.

The narrator’s memories were often triggered by stained glass. When he talked about stained glass he told what he had been thinking about or remembering when he had looked through particular pieces. Marbles, horse-racing, school readers and other items which also triggered his memories turned up again and again in the narrative, often long after when I thought the narrator would be finished with them.

I had to laugh when the narrator had a whinge about another author, one who he said “spoke rapidly and somewhat elliptically, so that afterwards I struggled to recall all that she had said, let alone to comprehend it.”

I went from intensely disliking this book to loving it, but don’t ask me to tell you what it was about because I have no idea. I’m planning to re-read Border Districts with the hope of being enlightened and I’m also quite keen to try something else by Gerald Murnane.

My purchase of Border Districts by Gerald Murnane goes towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (April).

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