Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Australian novel’

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.

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).

Extinctions by Josephine Wilson

Extinctions by Australian author Josephine Wilson won Australia’s most prestigious literary award, the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2017.

The main character, Professor Frederic Lothian is a widower in his late sixties who recently moved into a retirement village in Perth, Australia. Before retiring from work Fred was an engineer who specialised in concrete structures. When the story started Fred was living a reclusive life, swamped by the modernist furniture and clutter from his former home which he was unable to part with, dodging personal relationships and avoiding thinking about his son and daughter, both of whom he has abandoned in different ways.

I struggled with Fred’s coldness during the first half of the book. Fred had lived a lifetime of not getting emotionally involved with other people, not interfering, not going out of his way to assist or understand other people and never giving anything of himself to others when an accident which he could have prevented by interceding occurred and he met his next-door-neighbour, Jan, who forced him to understand that his behaviour was selfish, particularly towards his own family members.

Fred’s daughter Caroline lives in London where she was working to create a museum exhibition of extinct species. Caroline, who is Aboriginal, was adopted by Fred and his wife Martha. Caroline struggles with her father’s lack of accountability, particularly after her mother’s death when she was left to manage the care of her brother Callum alone. Callum had been in a care facility for many years after suffering brain-damage in an accident which Fred contributed to.

By the second half of the book, I was a lot more interested in Fred and the other character’s stories. Bit by bit, because of Jan forcing Fred to discuss and take ownership of his life, we learn why Fred is the way he is, the ins and outs of his marriage with Martha, and what Caroline makes of it all.

The timeline of the story is ridiculous, in that Fred changed from being a selfish old git to becoming the man he should always have been after 24 hours of emotionally prodding by Jan, not to mention that all of the loose ends were neatly tied up by the end of the book. I didn’t feel a strong sense of ‘Australian-ness’ with this story either, although the boo does cover some very big Australian issues. However, I did enjoy Extinctions overall and thought the writing was very good. I also like the idea that it is never to late to be a better person.

**Spoiler alert** If anyone else has read this, please let me know if you think that Ralph was Callum’s father.

Wimmera by Mark Brandi

wimmera

Wimmera is the debut novel of Australian author Mark Brandi, who won the 2016 Crime Writer’s Association Debut Dagger Award for this novel.

To begin with, for non-Australian readers, the Wimmera is a district in the north-west of Victoria. It is mostly flat, except for the Grampians mountain range, with a handful of remote small towns. Summers in the Wimmera are harsh and these days the towns are dying as they become less viable in their farming communities.

Wimmera is the story of two primary school-aged boys, Ben and Fab, who were friends growing up during the late 1980s in Stawell, one of the larger towns in the Wimmera district.

There is a strong sense of unease around the normality in this town. A girl from Ben’s street suicides by hanging herself on the clothesline in the backyard, and very soon after a creepy bloke who likes Ben a bit too much moves in to her old house. Fab is bullied at school, and although Ben is able to protect him at school, he is unable to help Fab at home when his father belts him and his mother.

I’m not all that familiar with teenage boys, and it is a long time since I was a teenage girl who thought teenage boys were great, but I found the portrayal of Ben’s growing sexuality to be sordid and confused, and the shadow over him left me feeling unhappy and disturbed.

Ben and Fab grow up and go their separate ways, but when a body is found years later their paths cross again. There are two time-lines in this story, the first of the boys as children and the second of Fab as an adult, trapped in Stawell but dreaming of a better life.

The story brought back a lot of memories for me from the 1980s, from watching The Wonder Years on television to the prestige which came from owning certain types of sneakers, although these happier memories didn’t make up for the terrible things that some of the adult characters did to the children. While the violence and cruelty is not explicit, Wimmera is not a story for those who cannot stomach cruelty done to children by evil men.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Mark Brandi’s works in the future, but would prefer him to write a more palatable class of crime.

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