This year I have participated in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for a third time. I find this lots of fun because I feel like I am part of a network of readers all motivated by their love of reading and a desire to support Australian women authors. It is also a great way just to organise a reading checklist for the year. Most enthusiastic readers can’t resist a good challenge! Readers have been well and truly spoilt yet again this year by the marvellous writing that is being published by Australian women writers – it is an absolute joy to read these books and this challenge certainly helps to spread the word. Bring on AWW2016!
In 2015, I completed the Franklin level of the challenge, which means that I have read 10 (really 11)books and reviewed 6 of them. The titles are listed below:
- The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
- Darkness on the edge of town by Jessie Cole
- The natural way of things by Charlotte Wood (reviewed)
- The girl with dogs by Anna Funder
- The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham (reviewed)
- A guide to Berlin by Gail Jones (reviewed)
- The eye of the sheep by Sofie Laguna (reviewed)
- The strays by Emily Bitto (reviewed)
- Metro winds by Isobelle Carmody (reviewed)
- Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody
- Questions of travel by Michelle de Krester
I finally read this book after it had won the Miles Franklin award this year, even though it was published last year. I am embarrassed to admit that the title put me off – ridiculous I know! Especially now I can see how appropriate it is to the story. And what a story! It is desperately sad, but incredibly insightful, and when I have spoken to others who have read it, we have all wondered how the author had such insight into such a mixed up but ultimately human story.
The novel is about an unusual young boy called Jimmy who has special needs, but his condition is never defined. He sees the world in an obsessively manic way and this creates a lot of strain for his parents who already have a fractured and sometimes violent relationship.His mother is diabetic and struggles to keep life on track. His father has had a hard life himself, and although he loves his family intensely, has trouble with alcohol.
Sofie Laguna’s writing is magnificently beautiful, and it is what gets the reader through the incredible sadness of this tale of normal human life the goes very wrong, but also ends with hope.
This is a stunning, frightening and ultimately hopeful story that is about a group of women who have been kidnapped and held as prisoners in a remote location somewhere in the country. The story opens with two of the women regaining consciousness after they have been drugged and then kidnapped. It is their story that is followed and their friendship that is explored during their incarceration.
As their situation becomes apparent, the reader discovers that the women, Verla and Yolanda, are just part of a group of women prisoners who have been captured and are being used as some sort of slave labour. They are imprisoned in hot old abandoned shearers quarters. Food rations are severely limited, there is little medical care and the women are chained together when they are taken out to work building roads. The reason that they have been taken as prisoners gradually becomes apparent as the story of each of the women is revealed. It is a horrifying and uncomfortable realisation that all have been involved in relationships with different powerful men and need to be removed from their lives.
As food and other supplies diminish and survival becomes an issue for not only the captives but also the prison guards, the dynamics and power base of the group shifts. Yolanda’s ability to hunt and survive, strengthens and empowers her and she becomes a true survivor. The end of the story is inconclusive but strangely satisfying and even hopeful.
This novel tells a confronting story that is quite challenging to read and it made me feel angry. However, the growth and development of Yolanda’s character gives this story a moving and powerful conclusion.
This is the first novel that I have read by Gail Jones, although I have been meaning to do so of quite some time. I am very glad that I now have read one of her books and I now look forward to reading earlier titles. It was the cover of the book that first attracted me to it, and the cold winter scene featured is a photo that Gail Jones took herself and is an excellent summary of the story that this novel tells.
After finishing this book, my first reaction was that it was very gothic in its overall style. Jones’ writing style is a delight to read, but the reader is immediately plunged into the bitter coldness of the winter in Berlin in which the story takes place. The series of events that this story tells is as dark as any other gothic tale and readers are warned of impending tragedy on the back of the book cover.
Cass, the central character, is an Australian would be writer and has arrived in Berlin to write. In her rented apartment she struggles with the extreme cold and the isolation of being in a strange country a long way from home. She is a devotee of the writing of Vladimir Nabokov, and while sight seeing outside an apartment where he once lived in Berlin, she meets Marco, another admirer of the Russian writer. Marco invites Cass to join a group that he is forming of other Nabokov fans who will meet up to discuss his works.
This group of six international travellers, from Italy, Japan, America and Australia, meet regularly and by sharing life stories appear to become very familiar and friendly with each other. Throughout the story, more and more is learnt about the members of the group, and after a time I became lulled into a false sense of security and started to believe that nothing too terrible was really going to happen. How wrong I was! The devastating incident that occurs caught me completely unaware because what happens is almost unbelievable. After the event, the group virtually evaporates and it is obvious that, although they appeared to be very well know to each other, in fact they were all complete strangers, randomly meeting up in a foreign country with no true commitment to each other.
This book is fascinating and definitely invites a rereading in the near future. The story will cause a great deal of debate amongst readers, so I encourage anyone who is wondering what to read over this summer break to consider this book.