Book reviews

Archive for the ‘Marchetta – Melina’ Category

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).

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta

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Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is by Australian author Melina Marchetta, who wrote Looking for Alibrandi. Honey-Bunny studied (and loved) Looking for Alibrandi in High School.

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil follows Chief Inspector Bish Ortley’s unofficial investigation into the bombing of a school holiday tour bus in France where a number of children were hurt and killed. Bish’s teenage daughter Bee was on the bus and was miraculously unharmed.

Although Bish was on suspension from work after sticking a gun down the throat of a colleague who annoyed him, he was pushed to continue his investigations by the British Home Office after it became known that one of the teenagers on the bus was Violette LeBrac. Violette was the granddaughter of notorious suicide bomber Louis Saraf who killed dozens of people in an attack on a London supermarket. Violette’s mother, Noor LeBrac is serving a life sentence in jail for her role in the supermarket bombing, and Violette’s father is dead, having suicided when Violette was four.

Bish’s connection with Violette and her mother, was that he was the officer who took four-year old Violette from her mother when she went to jail. Violette was raised by her Australian grandparents but snuck off to Europe without their knowledge to tour Normandy. Bish has to gain the trust of Noor to find Violette and another boy who was on the bus, Eddie, after they go on the run after the bombing.

Bish is facing his own demons. He and his wife divorced after their son died and his wife is now married and pregnant to their son’s school principal. Bish drinks too much and has abandonment issues with his own mother, who gracefully swans in and out of the story.

None of the relationships in this book are straightforward, although the characters have a lot in common and their lives are woven together in more ways than I could have imagined.

There were so many mysteries in this book. Why was the bus bombed? Why was Noor, an intelligent, beautiful woman, involved in her father’s madness in bombing the supermarket thirteen years ago? Was Violette the present-day bomb’s target or was she the bomber? What was Violette’s relationship with Eddie? Indeed, what was Violette’s relationship with Bish’s daughter, Bee, or any number of other characters?

Race and religion and as a result, racism, is a key element of this story. The most important characters tell their family stories to each other in a way that made my heart hurt.

The love the characters had for each other despite their difficulties were at times overwhelming (especially for someone who sometimes cries when she is reading on the train). I also laughed out loud once or twice watching the teenager characters communicate using social media under the noses of the adults, and felt like an old fogey as I realised I would have had no idea what was going on either.

A small criticism was that there are so many characters and their relationships so complicated that occasionally I lost track of how they all fit in to the story.

Otherwise, I loved Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil.

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