Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko

Lucashenko-Melissa_cover-imageMullumbimby is a very funny, but also serious novel by Australian indigenous writer Melissa Lucashenko. The story is about single mother, Jo, who buys a country property in the Northern New South Wales district and sets about establishing herself as an independent landowner.

While she works at restoring her newly acquired property, she also explores her connection to the land of her ancestors, at the same time as dealing with the daily requirements of earning a living and bringing up a teenage daughter.

Jo’s character is one of a feisty but funny and laid back woman who is discovering her own strengths through managing her own property, and following her story was one of my favourite aspects of the book. I truly admired her persistence in managing the jobs that running a property involved, and it was interesting to see her, as a modern person, exploring her traditional connections to the land. This was a part of the book that I also really enjoyed, because as a non-indigenous Australian, this gave me a good appreciation of the concept of belonging to the land.

At the same time, while Jo is exploring her connections to the land, she is still living her life as a single mother and starting a new romantic relationship with a man who is involved with the local politics of native title issues.

While all these various aspects of Jo’s story are told, many themes of Australian indigenous life are described in both an informative but also very entertaining way. However, it is Jo, herself,  and her very human story that is the strength of the book, and I was very sorry to leave her when I had finished reading! This is a very enjoyable book to read and I am looking forward to starting Melissa Lucashenko’s newly released title.

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Staying : a memoir by Jessie Cole

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“Staying : a memoir” is the recently released memoir by Australian writer Jessie Cole, who is the author of 2 works of fiction, “Darkness on the edge of town” and, “Deeper water”. Both works of fiction are beautifully written and look at the relationships of people living in rural areas, out of town, and how their lives are interwoven with the elements of nature. Having read both of these beautiful works of fiction, I was very intrigued to read this memoir.

The memior is quite overwhelming to read. Jessie is incredibly generous and trusting to share the story of her childhood, which is incomprehensibly tragic, and her early adult life. From the very beginning of the book she lets the reader know that her father committed suicide while she was a teenager and the memoir then relates the series of events that lead to this devastating death. Jessie and her brother are the children of her father’s second marriage, they also have two older sisters from his first marriage, and their early upbringing in a small country town is totally carefree. This idyllic existence is suddenly shattered by the news that one of her older sisters has committed suicide while living overseas.

Jessie then descibes her father’s inability to cope with this death and how his gradual disintergration and eventual death impacts the rest of the family, resulting in lasting consequences. It is quite incredible the way she is able to convey the absolute sadness of the whole situation in a totally non-judgemental way despite the fact that the rest of the family have suffered dreadfully, and both she and her brother have had their childhoods severely affected.

This memoir is a beautifully written, just like Jessie’s previous works of fiction. It is also very brave to able to set down in the form of a memoir the heart wrenching story of her own family. Jessie’s style of writing is truly captivating and I look forward to her next work – whether it is fiction of non-fiction.

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The Choke by Sofie Laguna

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The Choke is Sofie Laguna’s latest novel and is on the longlist for this year’s Stella Prize. It is a story that I have resisted reading since it was first published because her stories usually concern the darker side of human nature, and the reader has to be prepared for the immersion into that world. The Choke is set in the world of troubled families where the children are neglected due to the adults not being able to manage even their own lives, but, as with her other books, Laguna’s writing is so beautiful, it is hard for the reader not to keep following the story.

As with the previous novels, the story is told fom the viewpoint of the child involved. In this case, the main character is Justine a ten year old girl who lives with her grandfather. Her mother left the family when Justine was a baby, and her father lives a chaotic life of transient work involving much wheeling and dealing. Although Justine’s grandfather loves her and does the best he can with looking after Justine, it becomes obvious through the story, that she is a severely neglected child who lives in extreme poverty.

The story is a very disturbing and unsettling one to read, but it is fascinating to see how Justine copes with her life, because it is all that she knows and she does have the love of her grandfather. However, as the story progresses and Justine becomes older, more is revealed about the cycle of abuse that the family has endured, but also then perpetuates. It is particularly distressing to see the glimmers of hope that emerge in Justine’s life, only to see them eveporate and watch as Justine slips through the safety nets of missed opportunities.

The conclusion of this novel is both startling, but also realistic and, I do believe offers the reader some reason to hope that Justine may be able to break free of her family’s cycle of violence.

 

 

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Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017 Completed!

This year, once again, I have completed the Miles Franklin level of the AWW2017 meaning that I have read 10 books, (actually 11), by Australian women writers and reviewed 6 of them. Listed below is the list of wonderful books that I have had the pleasure of reading this year…it’s been very satisfying and a lot of fun to have a reading challenge such as this, as it continually reinforces the fact of how lucky we are to have such a wealth of talented female authors. I am looking forward to signing up again next year!

  1. The bird man’s wife by Melissa Ashley (reviewed)
  2. Between a wolf and a dog by Georgia Blain (reviewed)
  3. The crying place by Lia Hills
  4. Leap by Myfanwy Jones (reviewed)
  5. My life as a hashtag by Gabrielle Williams
  6. Half wild by Pip Smith (reviewed)
  7. Portable curiosities by Julie Koh  (reviewed)
  8. Extinctions by Josephine Wilson
  9. Force of nature by Jane Harper (reviewed)
  10. Five bells by Gail Jones
  11. The world without us by Mireille Juchau

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Force of Nature by Jane Harper

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This is the second novel by the exciting new Australian novelist, Jane Harper. Harper again features the character of Detective Aaron Faulk who was central to the story of “The Dry”, which was a hit with bookclubs and all readers in 2016.

This story is based on a group of work colleagues, who are sent on a workplace teambuilding hiking adventure. The team is divided into two groups, with the male members heading off on one route, and the five females heading off on another route. The plan is to meet back at the starting place after two nights out in the bush. The men make it back in plenty of time, but after a long delay, only four women return.

Like her last novel, Jane Harper builds the tension of the mystery disappearance gradually. The reader knows that one of the hikers will not make it back, but it is quite sometime into the story until we know who has actually disappeared. Leading up to this point in the story, and through the various interactions of the different characters, we learn of their different relationships and the numerous tensions that already exist amongst them. I certainly spent a great deal of my reading time in a state of suspense, wondering what was going to happen and to whom!

When the unfortunate event occurs it is both unexpected, but also unsurprising. The relationships between the various characters have been built up in such a way that the reader comes to various conclusions as to who might be at fault. It is only through the careful investigation by Detective Faulk and his colleague that the full story and chain of events is revealed.

This novel, much like “The Dry”, is a guaranteed good read for most readers, so if you are still wondering what to get for the “hard to buy for” person on your Christmas list, “The Force of Nature” will solve that problem.

 

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Portable curiosities by Julie Koh

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This is a collection of quite bizarre short stories, some of which are darkly amusing, by Sydney writer Julie Koh.

Short stories are a fantastic format for experimental writing that is capable of taking the readers far out of their comfort zone. This collection is no exception, and the stories, some being uncomfortably funny, mostly left me with a feeling of distinct discomfort.

The stories cover a range of issues that highlight the malaise of modern western culture generally, but these stories focus particularly on the Australian society. Tales are told of racism, affluenza and the particularly modern plight of parents who push their children to overachieve.

Some of the stories that stood out for me included, “The Fantastic Breasts” – the title says it all, and leaves the reader with a strong sense of the author’s anger. This is about a particular man’s relationship with some fantastic breasts, his love for them and how well he treats them. However, he states, towards the end, that “…once the Fantastic Breasts begin to slouch and sag…I’ll need to begin keeping an eye out for a more youthful, more fantastic set of breasts…” Another very uncomfortable story is, “The Fat Girl in History”, which examines both female body image issues and the racist sterotype of Asian female body image. In the story, the character says, ” The problem everyone has with my body is not really that I am heavy-boned for a woman in general, but that I am heavy-boned for an Asian woman.” The character goes on to say,” I sit and think about all the white guys I’ve met lately who have yellow fever. Even they reject me now. I’m not petite and Asian enough”. Not all stories are quite so confronting. “Slow Death in Cat Cafe” is the ridiculously funny story about a group of patrons stranded in a cat cafe when the owner decides to secede from Australia and create his own micronation called the Republic of Cat Cafe.

All stories in this collection are very cleverly written, and leave the reader with many thoughts and reactions. For this reason, this book would be an ideal title for any bookclub and any reader looking for a very different style of writing.

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Half Wild by Pip Smith

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This incredible story, which begins in Wellington 1885, is a fictionalised account of the life of Eugenia Falleni. Her life story is a fascinating account of a determined and brave transgender person, at the beginning of the 20th century, who after being born a female, goes on to construct a completely male life, which includes two marriages.

Eugenia’s story begins with the account of her childhood and of her being brought up by a traditional Italian family. It is a vivid description of what is typically expected of female children, and descibes Eugenia’s loathing of the help she is expected to provide her mother in the household, and her desperate preference for the outside labour that her father undertakes. It is obvious that there is no way that her wishes can be accomodated, and she eventually runs away from home and manages to obtain employment – posing as a man!

Eugenia’s story continues in Sydney with her new identity being Harry Crawford. Harry is a hard worker and eventually marries Annie, who already has a son. Their life together is not easy, and it is not obvious whether Annie knows Harry’s true identity. Annie disappears, and Harry, who is still looking after Annie’s son, eventually marries again.

However, Harry’s past does catch up with him, he is convicted of the murder of Annie and he is forced to resume life as a woman.

This story has been structured in quite an unusal way, and is told from the perspective of a semi-conscious Jean Ford, (Eugenia), who has been hit by a car and is remembering her life. It is a compelling story that is interesting from an historical perspective, looking at a lower middle class life in early 20th century Australia. However, the most astounding aspect of the story for me was to see how determinedly this person, who identified as male, was able to live a life as a male at a time when it must have been close to impossible.

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