The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

Today I decided to take up the Challenge – will you join me?

http://australianwomenwriters.com/2013-challenge/

Australian Women Writers Challenge

After I registered I stared to look at the reading/review lists and found a few book I  have already read – which was interesting and yet somewhat surprising  – I hadn’t realised I had read Australian Women’s voices. Is that a good thing or not? The fact that Australian Women Writers voices were just as good as any other and by and large did not leap out at me as Australian is good, isnt it? I suppose because I read  mostly crime fiction and contemporary fiction maybe place is not such an obvious marker of  writers voice?  And should  we only write/read about the region we live in? I think not – today we are all citizens of a global world.

I do however think that the words we write are shaped by our experience  and where/how we live does have some influence here, but does not necessarily prescribe our words or our stories. We can write about anything, and write well. For example – look at these 2 amazing yet vastly different  books, Questions of Travel  by Michelle de Krester and Bone Ash Sky by Katerina Cosgrove – what brilliant diverse voices!  Or look at the new voices soon to be heard,   Miss Blossom Makes A Mean Red Velvet Cake,  plenty of talent here.

So who will join me in this Challenge? Readers from any region welcome to join.  I dare you!

Post Script: All the Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

All the Birds, Singing

Evie Wyld

Random House Australia Pty Ltd

Vintage Australia

ISBN: 9781742757308

Description:

The eerie, compelling second novel from award-winning writer Evie Wyld. That morning, before the light came through, I found another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding. I had to shove my foot in Dogs face to stop him from taking a string of her away as a souvenir. At first the crows had been excited by the body, stalking around it, strutting and rasping, their beaks shining, but now they sat in the trees, flaring out their wings, drunk and singing together. Something is killing Jake Whyte’s sheep. She’s not sure if it’s an animal, or the local kids, or something worse. But there’s something making noises at night and making her deal with things she’d hoped were long buried. When a man arrives in the darkness, asking for shelter, against her instincts she lets him stay… Set between Australia and a remote English island, All the Birds, Singing is the story of one how one woman’s present comes from a terrible past. It is the second novel from the award-winning author of After the Fire, A Still Small Voice. ‘Wyld has a feel both for beauty and for the ugliness of inherited pain’ — New Yorker

My View:

A bleak, grim and unrelenting tale of hardship, pain and guilt that is a compelling read. A very disturbing yet enchanting book that has you devouring page after page trying to discover the ugly secrets that the reader knows are haunting Jake Whyte. Wyld writes an intriguing story, peppered with mystery, doubts, suspicion and self loathing.  Jake punishes herself on a daily level; she treats herself and her body with distain and distance. Over the chapters Jake’s story is slowly revealed by the writer’s trips into Jake’s past, piece by piece we slowly begin to put the puzzle pieces together and a patchwork history is revealed. Slowly we start to feel empathy and sympathy for this lonely and surprisingly naive young woman. We also feel fear…so much is hinted at, the single ear ring found in the shed…the sheep mauled and killed by something almost paranormal…

I read and read and read wanting all to be revealed and put right. Unfortunately I felt the story ended too soon – I felt cheated – I checked and rechecked and reloaded the ebook thinking I had somehow missed the final chapters. For me a great chunk of the story was missing; yes we do discover how Jake ended up alone and why she was punishing herself for a tragic mistake she made as a mere child.  We leap frog our way through her life after she leaves her rural home in Australia; hurt, tortured with guilt and struggling to survive on the streets. We follow her journey of exploitation and self harm (the life choices she makes are about self punishment) but we learn nothing of how she arrives in England and her time there – aside from her self imposed isolation, and we learn very little about Lloyd.

I really enjoyed this grim and revealing story of naivety, of a young woman on the cusp of woman hood haunted by a simple, tragic unintentional mistake but for me there were too many gaps. I think that Evie Wyld is an author who has much to offer and look forward to reading her next foray into the world of writing.

 

Post Script: Bone Ash Sky – Katerina Cosgrove

The Best Contemporary Fiction of 2013 

Bone Ash Sky, Katerina Cosgrove

Bone Ash Sky

Katerina  Cosgrove

Hardie Grant Books

ISBN:9781742705859

 

Description:

When Anoush Pakradounian steps off a boat and feels the Levantine heat on her cheek like a caress, she thinks she knows what she has come to Beirut to do: bear witness to her long dead father’s trial for war crimes, and discover the truth behind years of secrets and lies.

Yet nothing about her family is black and white. Anoush is poised to unravel four generations of war, genocide, love and renewal amongst the relics of her past.

In 1915 one million Armenians were marched into Syria by the Turkish and killed in the first genocide of the twentieth century. In 1982 Beirut came under Israeli siege for three months with thousands killed. Anoush’s quest for answers is interwoven with the memory of ruined cities and vanished empires: Lake Van before the genocide, Beirut in civil war, Ottoman villas and desecrated churches, Palestinian refugee camps and torture chambers turned into nightclubs. Her search to find out the truth about her father, her grandparents, and her own place in the story spans three generations against the backdrop of war and genocide in the Middle East.

With echoes of Barbara’s Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible and Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, Bone Ash Sky is a powerful work that examines family, loyalty, love, and secrets long-hidden in the chaos and horror of war.

My View:

For once I am speechless, words fail me. I cannot describe how incredibly good this book was to read – the prose so beautiful, the descriptions so eloquent and elegant and then…horrific. Cosgrove is a true storyteller – a master of words, of delicate prose and a teller of three dimensional stories; I could feel the silk, I could see the light refracted in the tulip shaped tumblers ( p.39 ) I can see and hear the death train (p.117) “There was an unfocused brutality in its movements in the sickening, shrill sound of wheels grinding on tracks…People started to scream; at least, those who were still well enough to expend the energy did. She screamed with them. The mechanical movement so final. It was more terrifying than anything else, this fiery beast that held them in its belly.” Echoes of the Holocaust.

I felt the sadness and despair as Lilit tried to think of a way to help the woman with the crying baby p. 117  “She knew the woman’s milk had dried up, knew the baby would soon die. But there was nothing she could do. She thought of latching the baby to her own small breasts, praying milk would come in sympathy, but, somehow, she was too tired. Too sleepy. Too indifferent. Too afraid of what the Turks might do again if they saw her.” Such hopelessness and despair. Such pain.  Then… p.119 “Lilit saw the mother make for a well with the bundle of concealed baby under her arm. She was shaking now, her head jerking from side to side like a hen’s, the movement of her legs spasmodic….In an instant of despair, she dropped her baby like a  wishing stone into the well. He would bring her good fortune. He cried too much. She was too tired to carry him anymore. There was no milk left to give him. She wanted him to drown, have a swifter, easier death.” So emotional, so real, so much pain, so much hopelessness.

It is the hopelessness that struck me more than anything. Having no choices. No existence. The endless cycle of violence based on nothing more than superstition, history, and prior bloodshed.  Where no lessons learned?

Cosgrove states in the opening pages of this novel, “The historic circumstances in this novel are real. Many of the characters are not. This is a work of fiction and liberties have been taken with some dates, events and places.

The author does not seek to blame, defame or offend any race, creed or culture for their beliefs or their past and present actions.  There are no villains in this story – and no heroes either.”

Such a poignant and remarkable multi-layered expose of society – past and present. What has changed? Not a lot. Truly sad, moving and memorable.

Post Script: Questions of Travel – Michelle de Kretser

Questions of Travel

A Novel

Michelle de Kretser

Little, Brown and Company

ISBN: 9780316219228

Description:

Laura Fraser grows up in Sydney, motherless, with a cold father and an artistic bent. Ravi Mendes is on the other side of the world–his humble father dead, his mother struggling, determined to succeed in computer science. Their stories alternate throughout Michelle de Kretser’s ravishing new novel, culminating in unlikely fates for them both, destinies influenced by travel–voluntary in her case, enforced in his.

With money from an inheritance, Laura sets off to see the world, returning to Sydney to work for a travel guide. There she meets Ravi, a Sri Lankan political exile who wants only to see a bit of Australia and make a living. Where do these disparate characters truly belong? With her trademark subtlety, wit, and dazzling prose, Michelle de Kretser shows us that, in the 21st century, they belong wherever they want to and can be–home or away.

My View :

This is a stand out read. This is the best contemporary novel I have read in many a year.

Remarkable insights to life and modern living, of identity, of travel; a multifaceted book, so many issues, so much probing and the pricking of conscience.

This is a modern day story told from the perspectives of the two main characters, Laura and Ravi, both living and surviving in a modern world where technology and globalism rule. Both characters give the outwards appearance of coping, of being, of having purpose but they are both lost,  they are both just marking time trying to figure out who they are , where/what is home and where do they belong whilst asking the question “what does the future hold?”

I disagree with the above description of Ravi supplied on NetGalley – Ravi is not “a political exile just wanting to see a bit of Australia and make a living.” That description is trite and superficial and untrue. Ravi is not on holiday.  Ravi was a victim of the political persecutions in Sri Lanka, he didn’t want to be in Australia, he only wanted freedom from fear and to have the past undone. He was a victim of the atrocities in Sri Lanka, of the corruption in governments and authorities, of a country living in fear.  He is trapped in a world where ugly visions of death permeate his very existence, (p.211) “ Ravi remembered stories that had hung over their bed in light, smothering folds:  sons set on fire, daughters raped with broken bottles, brothers who had gone to a police station and never returned.” And the reality of violence is no longer something that happens to others.  Ravi is a very empathetic character; I loved his descriptions of home and of his vision of Australia.

Laura is lost, looking for meaning, looking for acceptance, but she hides it well; she travels, is she travelling to or is she escaping from? She often asks herself “What are you doing here?”  She may as well have asked who is Laura Fraser, (p. 186) “ She was sharing a flat in Kentish Town and freelancing…when people asked where she lived, she would say London. But she might have replied, just as truthfully, that she lived in hotel rooms and gate lounges, in taxis and planes…She was inert, strapped into place, yet hurtling and fast forwarded. She could lay claim to two passports and three email addresses, she was between destinations, she was virtual, she was online, she was on the phone….Laura Fraser was a late twentieth – century global person.  Geography was beside the point.”  How astute, how true of a lot of our lives. Laura also comments (p.312) “Tourism is about dollars, no argument. But ‘travel’ lets you pretend. Travel has an aura. It allows us to believe publishing guidebooks, is you know, a good thing. We tell ourselves that what we do contributes to global harmony, international understanding, you now the stuff i mean. It’s understood without being spelled out.”

This book has so much to offer and so much to debate. But do not be deceived this book also has many moments of light and of humour.

I loved the description of the dog called “Fair Play” who (p.252) “detested all other dogs, loved Lefty. Devotion required her to tug with all her strength on his cheek. There was also standing under Lefty’s belly, reaching out her muzzle and sinking her teeth into his neck. Lefty, a romantic, was tolerant of these coquettish manoeuvres and only occasionally sat on her head.”   I just love this description – it is so realistic it fills my face with a smile.

I predict this novel will be read by many. This novel will find itself on the reading lists of many academic classes – in Social Science rooms, in Women’s Studies classes, in Australian Literature courses, it has so much to offer, so many reflections on life, and so many truisms are shared.

Every traveler should read this book. Yet it is a book not just for travelers or tourists. This book made me think.  This book made me smile. This book disturbed me.  What a gift Michelle de Kretser has; the ability to share with us her words which evoke such strong emotions and stimulate thought, this book is amazing and the best contemporary fiction I have read in years.

Post Script: Web of Deceit – Katherine Howell

Picture

Web of Deceit

Katherine Howell

Pan Macmillan Australia

ISBN: 9781742610306

Description:

When paramedics Jane and Alex encounter a man refusing to get out of his crashed car with bystanders saying he deliberately drove into a pole, it looks like a cry for help. His claim that someone is out to get him adds to their thinking that he is delusional.

Later that day he is found dead under a train in what might be a suicide, but Jane is no longer so sure: she remembers the terror in his eyes.

Detective Ella Marconi shares Jane’s doubts, which are only compounded when the case becomes increasingly tangled. The victim’s boss tries to commit suicide when being questioned, a witness flees their attempt to interview her and a woman is beaten unconscious in front of Jane’s house.

Ella is at a loss to know how all these clues add up and then a shocking turn of events puts even more people in danger…

My View:

I like Australian crime writers who write clever, well structured, intricate plots with well developed and empathetic protagonists and I am now a fan of Katherine Howell – why haven’t I heard this name before in Australian Literature? I will certainly be adding her to my list of authors to seek out.

Web of Deceit is a story told from two points of view – from the perspectives of a female detective – Ella Marconi and paramedics Alex and Jane working in metropolitan Sydney. What appear to be two competing story lines in fact are revealed to be one – a complicated and involved story of lies and deceit, of fear and retribution; on the surface the waters appear calm and innocuous but there is lots happening under the water.  Treachery is everywhere – it is not reserved for the “street” or the criminal underworld; it is in the workplace, which has become a time management, penny pinching environment where outcomes and not people matter (haven’t we all worked for places/people like this at some point?), where the climb up the greasy pole is the utmost importance – to some – but not to Ella, Alex and Jane. Treachery is in the home – where relationships are tested and deceit – by omission or by lie effect all.   Howell cleverly demonstrates that life is complicated, relationships are tricky and need effort and mostly, we are all just trying to do our best, the emphasis on mostly.

This narrative is complex with well written; an enthralling sequence of events, of coincidences (or are they?) and of consequences that culminate in one moment of terror.  The main characters are appealing, likable,  I loved the city street-scapes, the reality of lives – the familiar and the fly on the wall observations of others work and routines.  Howell presents a story of intrigue that is guaranteed to have you staying up late so as to finish this book.

 

Post Script: Fractured – Dawn Barker

Fractured

 Fractured

Dawn Barker

Hatchette Australia

ISBN: 97807333629853

Description:

A compelling, emotional knockout debut from a brilliant new Australian author.

An unforgettable novel that brings to life a new mother’s worst fears.

Tony is worried. His wife, Anna, isn’t coping with their newborn. Anna had wanted a child so badly and, when Jack was born, they were both so happy. They’d come home from the hospital a family. Was it really only six weeks ago?

But Anna hasn’t been herself since. One moment she’s crying, the next she seems almost too positive. It must be normal with a baby, Tony thought; she’s just adjusting. He had been busy at work. It would sort itself out. But now Anna and Jack are missing. And Tony realises that something is really wrong…

What happens to this family will break your heart and leave you breathless.

My View:

Something in the prologue of this book warned me that something terrible was about to be revealed. I recognised the room (I have been a social worker/youth worker/refuge worker in the past and knew where that room was, what it was.) My interest was stirred but I was hesitant to proceed, in fact I did procrastinate quite a bit before picking this book up again. I do not enjoy reading “lifelike” tragedies- I feel too much.  And this book certainly made me feel.

My chest tightened as I read the first forty or so pages – the pages describing the time up to what was to be referred to as “the event”, the unspeakable act…I knew what was coming. I couldn’t breathe.   I ask myself, is it my studies or work history or my own experience of childhood/motherhood that instilled this tension within me? Would a childless woman or a man be so affected by this script?   I don’t know I can only read and interpret the world through my eyes, my experiences.

An emotional and tension packed introduction to a topic that no one mentions out loud. (I deliberately avoid “spoilers”) It is time the taboo was broken and maybe this book will be the catalyst that will drive this conversation into the open.  It is a conversation mothers should have with their daughters, and daughters should have with their friends and partner.  It is a subject the world should be talking about and thinking about and changing.  Each one of us can help create this change.

Back to the book – emotional, VERY. A suspenseful start, a sad, sad truth then unfolds – the truth about the event itself and the truth  how others respond to this situation.   We see through the reactions of the other characters; the mum, mother in law, husband, friends etc  how they responded, the responsibility they did not embrace. I hope I would react differently.  It is a credit to the author that the characters evoke such strong reactions: I hated the mother in law, her smugness, her selfishness, her inability to show her feelings, her lack of charity. I wanted the husband to be berated- he was selfish, he did not respond the clues and hints that something was really not right and he did not intervene; he went to work.  I was angry that society put so much pressure on women, especially young women – to be pretty, thin, perfect, caring, a housewife, a provider, a mother, a cleaner and unselfish. I felt so sorry for the Anna. I felt she had been let down by all those around her – and had been since a child. “Life is fine”, we have that throwaway line spoken everyday; listen. We all cope when everything is going well, it is not until we are tested that the fractures begin to show. I think this novel demonstrates the need for more honesty in life and relationships and the fact wemen and women have forgotten how to ask for help and maybe some of us have forgotten how to respond.

A great read – keep the tissues handy.