Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Australian author’

488 Rules for Life: The Thankless Art of Being Correct by Kitty Flanagan

He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers and I are big fans of Australian comedian Kitty Flanagan. We’ve attended her shows at the Melbourne Comedy festival and are always delighted when she is scheduled to appear on our favourite television show, Have You Been Paying Attention? I recently snickered my way through Kitty’s most recent book, 488 Rules for Life: The Thankless Art of Being Correct and whenever HWEAoOL and Miss S (neither of whom read books) questioned what I was laughing about, I read the rule I had just been laughing at to them.

My intention was to place a sticky note on each rule I particularly agreed with or those I found funniest, but I only got a few pages in when I realised that if I proceeded with my plan I would have a sticky note against nearly every rule. From rule #14, Do not leave one square of toilet paper on the roll to rule #322, Don’t leave a voicemail if it’s important, to rule #431, Read the room, know when the party is over, I agreed with nearly every rule in the book.

Loads of rules made me laugh. Rule #188, Never propose to someone in public because, as the author rightly points out, it put too much pressure on the other person to say yes. Rule #189, If someone proposes in public, say yes even in you don’t mean it explains that if you didn’t really want to say yes you can decline the offer privately later, so the other person isn’t publicly embarrassed. Together I think these two rules are hilarious, wise and kind.

Each of the rules included an explanation. While I found the rules clear, the explanations provide rule-breakers with more encouragement and reasons why they should follow these rules while adding enormously to my enjoyment of the book. Rule 67, No stinky foods in the office should be self-explanatory, but the explanation of why tuna or hot chips should never be eaten in an office made me smile and nod.

I was particularly grateful to finally learn a rule regarding greeting people in the office for the umpteenth time that I’ve encountered the other person during a single day. Rule #63, One proper greeting per day, after that a nod will suffice. Wondering what to say during these awkward meetings has been bothering me for years. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this, but by the third or fourth time I’ve met someone at the photocopier, staff kitchen or corridor in the past I’ve taken to commenting on what Kitty calls ‘Say what you see’, as in ‘Ooh, having a cup of tea’ or ‘Mm, chips. Good stuff’. Now that I know this rule I’ll never make this mistake again.

The book contained a section on Blogging. When I saw this I felt slightly apprehensive that I might have been unwittingly breaking some of Kitty’s rules or that heaven forbid, I might not agree with some of the rules, but I reassured myself with rule #1, If you don’t agree with a rule, forget about it, move on to the next one and continued reading.

Rule #335, Don’t assume people have hours to read your blog. Although I agree with this rule I’m not convinced I can consistently be concise. But I try.

Rule #336, Blogging won’t make you rich. Okay. I don’t monetize my blog, but will consider myself warned in case things change in future.

Rule #337, No topic, no blog. While I like reading other people’s meanderings, I’ve got a topic for each of my posts. Book reviews. Tick.

Rule #338, Give me the recipe, not the story of your life. Oh no. I finally found a rule that I disagreed with. I love the stories that go with people’s recipes. Especially family stories, or funny things that happened when the cook made the recipe for the sixteenth time and used a substitute ingredient and there was an unexpected result, or how someone’s great-uncle fell in love with their great-aunt over Apple Pie made using Grandma’s secret recipe.

Rule #339, Limit of one blog per person. Nope. Sorry, Kitty, I definitely disagree with this rule. In my opinion, fellow bloggers, fill your boots and have as many blogs as you like. Here are some new blogs I’m thinking of starting:

Rose Eats Donuts. Photos of donuts with descriptions of their flavour, size and my rating of the featured donut. You’re welcome.

Rose Discovers Mailboxes. Photos of unusual mailboxes, usually those I’ve spotted on country roads. Blog readers will be thrilled to see mail boxes made from gas bottles that have been painted up like Minions, Ned Kelly-style helmets welded out of rusty scrap metal, timber planes mounted on poles and more. There is a mailbox around the corner from me that has been painted with hotrod flames. It makes me smile. Clearly I’m not the only person who loves quirky mailboxes.

Rose Crochets Stuff. Photos of my projects and a link to the pattern of whatever I’ve just made. The special feature will be a photo of the grateful recipient wearing the item I’ve hand made especially for them. You’ll see HWEAoOL wearing his slightly oversized grey woollen beanie, Miss S modelling the rainbow-bright poncho which she swears she will never wear anywhere her friends might see her, Honey-Bunny wearing any of the many misshapen scarves and cowls I’ve made for her, and so on. Extended family and friends, watch out, because I won’t be satisfied until each of you have a beanie, scarf or poncho of your own. (Whoops. Just realised I’ve broken Rule #335 again. Be concise, Rose).

Anyway, despite finding a total of perhaps five rules that I disagreed with, I loved this book and think that everyone should read it. I found 488 Rules for Life: The Thankless Art of Being Correct to be completely relatable but if you don’t, there is a section in the back where you can write your own rules. In my opinion, Kitty and this book Rules O.K.!

Honeybee by Craig Silvey

Honeybee is the latest novel by Australian author Craig Silvery, who is known for the fantastic Jasper Jones.

Jasper Jones was likened by many readers to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in that it is an important coming of age story, albeit for Australians. Like Jasper Jones, Honeybee also featured a young main character going through very difficult times. I believe it is best suited to the Young Adult market, although think adults will also appreciate the story.

The story begins with fourteen-year old Sam Watson about to throw himself off an overpass in Perth when he noticed an elderly man at the other end of the bridge who was seemingly also about to jump. Instead of jumping, Vic drove Sam back into the city. A few days later Sam returned to the bridge, hoping Vic would come along again and he did.

The pair formed an unlikely friendship. Sam had had a much harder life than most. His mother was an alcoholic who was disowned by her family when she fell pregnant at a young age. Sam and his mother moved frequently and were often homeless and from a very young age, Sam had assisted his mother in a variety of scams to steal food, money and other items. More recently Sam and his mother had been living with her latest boyfriend Steve, a violent and abusive criminal.

Vic was a widower who was in pain, physically and emotionally. He desperately missed his wife, Edie and had only carried on living after her death because he had promised her he would look after her dog. By the time the dog eventually died Vic was very ill himself and in enormous physical pain.

For a variety of sordid and unhappy reasons Sam was unable to return to his mother and Steve’s home, so he ended up staying with Vic, cooking Vic fabulous meals that he had learned from watching Julia Childs on television and making friends with a girl who lived down the road. Most importantly, Vic encouraged Sam to be himself, which led to him wearing Edie’s clothes and eventually attending a drag show with Vic, where he met and befriended the fabulous Fella Bitzgerald, who would play an important role in helping Sam to understand what it was to be transgender and that she, Sam, wasn’t alone, or the only person in the world who felt that she had been born in the wrong body.

Reading back over what I’ve written, I noticed that I’ve started by calling Sam a boy then changed to calling her a girl as she realised who she wanted to be. I dithered over the pronoun (political correctness can be a minefield) but have gone with my initial choice as I felt the change in Sam’s pronoun as the story developed reflected her decision to be the person who she wanted to be.

Unfortunately some of the plot devices were both predictable and unlikely, such as Sam becoming an extraordinarily capable chef simply by watching Julia Childs’ videos and some characters are ridiculously over the top, such as Sam’s friend Aggie who is a particularly enthusiastic conversationalist and Steve’s depiction as a violent crim, but I still sat up late over two nights to finish reading Honeybee. I was left feeling hopeful for Sam’s future and will be happy to read Craig Silvey’s next book, whenever that might be.

My purchase of Honeybee by Craig Silvey begins my New Year’s resolution for 2021 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2021 (January).

The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence

The Lost Girls by Australian author Jennifer Spence’s main character Stella dozed off on a bus on her way home from a day shopping in Sydney and woke up twenty years in the past.

Dazed, Stella returned to her old home where confusingly, she met her younger self, her husband, son and daughter. On the spur of the moment Stella told her family that she was their Aunt Linda who had gone missing years ago so she would have somewhere to stay. Stella/Linda slotted uneasily back into her family home and eventually began meddling in family events to try and change her and her family’s futures.

Stella/Linda began by encouraging her son Julian to break up with his girlfriend. She also encouraged her daughter Claire not to get involved with particular friends as she knew they would later introduce her daughter to drugs with tragic results. After these changes occurred Stella/Linda’s ‘memory’ of the future also changed, but unfortunately the future did not always turn out to be better.

When Stella/Linda visited her mother, who in her future had since died, her mother knew the woman in front of her was not her long-lost sister Linda but she could not believe either that she was a future version of Stella. To convince her mother she was telling the truth Stella/Linda ‘predicted’ the death of Princess Diana and a series of other world events.

As well as meddling in the events of the past, Stella/Linda also tried to find out what actually happened to her mother’s sister Linda, who had mysteriously disappeared many years ago while still a teenager.

I liked the story and the setting. I also liked that Stella/Linda wasn’t able to create a perfect ending for herself or her family and that for every action she took, there was a reaction. I think a Sydney reader would enjoy the present-day and 1997 Sydney settings of The Lost Girls.

Well-Behaved Women by Emily Paull

Well-Behaved Women by Australian author Emily Paull came to my attention after I read Whispering Gums’ review of this collection of short stories. You can read WG’s review here:

I didn’t think there were any weak links in this collection and can honestly say that I enjoyed and appreciated each story. They all featured contemporary Australian characters, most of whom were living in Western Australia. There was something in each story that resonated with me.

Miss Lovegrove is the story of a young, would-be actor and her relationship with the director of a play she is performing in. The director is a bitter former soap star who bullied her cast well past the point of abuse, who when challenged claimed that her actions would make the young woman the best future actor she could be.

Crying in Public tells the story of a woman whose grandmother inspired her to move on from the end of a relationship. While I felt sympathetic towards the narrator whose heart had been broken, I wanted to be the fearless grandmother who led by example.

Sister Madly Deeply is the story of a woman whose sister was dying of cancer. While this is a sad story it also allows the reader to feel hope, inspired by the character’s courage and to be reminded that mistakes can be rectified.

Dora contains the important information that “a diet can never make you as happy as a piece of blueberry cheesecake.” Now that’s a mantra I like.

A Thousand Words and Down South struck me as being particularly Western Australian, more so than any of the other stories in the collection possibly because both were set south of Perth in the Bunbury and Margaret River area.

The Woman at the Writer’s Festival and Picnic at Green’s Pool are mysteries with unreliable narrators. Both stories left me wondering what really happened.

My favourite story in the collection was The Things We Rescued. As the narrator and her husband fled a bushfire with a random assortment of possessions they stopped to collect a homeless woman, who, after being persuaded to flee with them, abandoned her own possessions because they were just junk.

The book title, Well-Behaved Women, is explained by a sentence on the book’s covering suggesting that well-behaved women rarely make history. Maybe not, but well-behaved or otherwise, women’s stories are worth telling and hearing, just the same. This book is a terrific debut from an author who I’ll be glad to read more of.

My purchase of Well-Behaved Women by Emily Paull completed my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (December). I enjoyed this resolution so much that I intend to do this again throughout 2021.

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).

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