Tag Archives: australian women writers

Leap by Myfanwy Jones

Leap

Leap is a moving story about Joe, a young person who finished school just a few years ago. The book perfectly captures that awkward in-between stage of people’s early twenties, where having finished school, their whole life is now in front of them, but as not-quite-full adults, there still seems to be so many hurdles to jump.

Joe is living in a share house in the inner suburbs of Melbourne and is working at a job that passes the time while he tries to come to terms with the tragedy that happened during his final year of school. Throughout their senior years at high school, Joe and his girlfriend were the perfect couple, and had plans for University and their lives beyond school. However, at a party that gets out of control, a tragic accident occurs, and Joe’s girlfriend is killed.

The book also explores the story of Elise, a middle aged graphic designer, whose marriage is unravelling and who is also wondering about moving forward with life. I did not feel quite as involved in Elise’s story and wondered at times what it was about. However, the conclusion of the novel draws all the threads together with an ending I found as quite a revelation and full of hope.

This novel is truly a thought provoking story that sensitively shows the journey of our lives, and how our lives and our relationships are not static, but always evolving.

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Between a wolf and a dog by Georgia Blain

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Georgia Blain’s novel, which is currently shortlisted for the 2017 Stella Prize, is the story of a family told over the course of one day. The family is widowed mother, Hilary, her adult daughters April and Ester, along with Ester’s estranged husband, Lawrence and their two daughters. Hilary is a documentary film maker who is finding that her life as a widow is challenging, and April is the daughter who cannot quite pull her life together. Ester is the busy professional who practises as a psychologist, but is frantically trying to navigate her life, separated from her husband and sharing the parenting of their daughters. Lawrence’s life just does not seem to be working out at all how he might have imagined it doing so.

The many aspects of this family are revealed over the events of the day and are shown at different times from the perspective of each of the main characters. It is from each of their perspectives that the reader learns of their backgrounds and of the family relations between them. It is important to be able to see the events told from the different characters point of view because, just as in real life, the stories of each of the characters evolve as a result of their own particular set of circumstances.

The title of this book is what first attracted me to reading this book and is taken from the French expression, “l’heure entre chien et loup” which refers to the in-between time of twilight when it is hard to see if an animal is a dog or a wolf. This is a wonderful description for this novel because it presents the family’s story as the series of daily incidents and interactions, the times that seem to be in-between major events, as those that tell the real story.

Blain’s writing is beautiful to read, and many readers will recognise the description of the wet humid Sydney day that is described. Although, this is just one family’s story, many readers will also recognise the aspects of family life that are part of us all – that is what makes this such a thoughtful story – most will see a part of themselves in it. I am so glad that the book is now shortlisted of this year’s Stella Prize, as I believe that as many readers as possible should make sure that they do read it.

 

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The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley

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This delightful and very interesting book tells the story of Elizabeth Gould, the artist wife of the famous ornithologist, John Gould. I first heard Melissa Ashley interviewed on a radio program and she spoke so passionately about Elizabeth as such a talented artist, that I was very enthusiastic to read her story.

Melissa Ashley has written this story, as fictionalised account of Elizabeth Gould’s life after very detailed research and it is a very convincing story. I am not usually attracted to historic fiction, but looking over my reading list quite recently, I noticed quite a bit more making it onto my list – all books being well researched, but fictionalised accounts of real women’s lives. Such books as the titles by Hannah Kent and “The Anchoress” by Robyn Cadwallader.

The story of Elizabeth Gould proved to be a fascinating read, and was so much more than just about her as an artist. As a woman in the 1800’s she led a very similar, but also very different life to other women in the same upper middle class situation as her. It was quite an eye opener to read about how Elizabeth was able to continue with her painting of bird specimens after her marriage to John Gould, and also manage the responsibility of her household and family. The descriptions of Elizabeth and John’s shared passion of studying the birds was particularly interesting, as it highlighted their equal relationship as husband and wife working towards the same intellectual pursuit, at a time when this would have been very uncommon. One of the most incredible parts of the story is when Elizabeth agrees to travel with her husband, by boat, to Australia and leave behind most of her young family in London. This journey takes two years and provides a great picture of life in the early colonies of Australia.

Although this is a fictionalised account of a real woman’s life, it is a truly fascinating story that is very beautifully written and also gives the reader such insight into the life of a very remarkable and brave woman.

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2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge completed!

Once again, looking over my list of books that I read for AWW challenge this year, I have been delighted by the wonderful talent that our local women writers have. I read 11 books and reviewed 6 of them to complete the challenge, and I am now going to sign up for 2017!

  1. The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader (Reviewed)
  2. Thursday’s Child by Sonya Hartnett
  3. Our Tiny, Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan
  4. Hope Farm by Peggy Frew (Reviewed)
  5. Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall (Reviewed)
  6. Fine by Michelle Wright
  7. Nest by Inga Simpson (Reviewed)
  8. The Dry by Jane Harper
  9. Fight like a Girl by Clementine Ford
  10. The Good People by Hannah Kent (Reviewed)
  11. Hello Beautiful: Scenes from a life by Hannie Kent (Reviewed)

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The Good People by Hannah Kent

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After reading Hannah Kent’s first novel “Burial Rites”, and absolutely loving it, I was very excited to find out that her second novel was to be released. I have now read “The Good People” and was just as impressed with it.

Her first book was so beautifully written that I was entirely confident that this new book would not disappoint. It is written in the same exquisite style, with gorgeous sentences composed with wonderful words that you want to linger over. I’m sure that it would be a wonderful story to listen to as an audio book, just because her writing is so lovely! However, as I became more engrossed in the actual story, I found myself rushing over some the writing, unfortunately, because I just had to find out what was going to happen next.

Like “Burial Rites”, this story has a rural setting and is based on a true story. Set in 19th century Ireland, this story describes the desperately hard life of survival in the very poor villages. People scavenged a meagre living from the land and had very little contact with the outside world. In this book the story is about a woman, Nora, who after the death of her daughter, is given the duty of looking after her grandson. Although it is not specified, it is obvious that the child has a very serious developmental problem, so Nora keeps him hidden in her home away from the rest of the villagers. Not long after, her husband also dies and so now she must try to manage the almost impossible care of her grandson on her own.

Nora hires a young girl to help her, but the task becomes increasingly desperate. With the local doctor not able to provide any cure and the local priest refusing to give any support, Nora must turn to the village’s wise woman for hope of some sort of cure. As the desperation of the situation escalates, the series of events leads to an inevitable tragedy. This story is a very sad, but accurate description of the ignorance and poverty that the people of this time endured. However, despite the grimness of the tale, it ends on a surprisingly positive note which took me completely by surprise.

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Hello Beautiful! : Scenes from a life by Hannie Rayson

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This charming book had been on my “To read” list for quite some time – it has been a Bookclub favourite for many of my friends. After Hannie Rayson came and spoke to students at the school where I work, I knew that I had to read it! She is a warm, generous and funny speaker, and her book reads exactly the same way. It is as if you are sitting down with her for a cup of tea and just having a chat.

Told as a series of reminisces, Hannie describes times from her childhood, her first marriage, her second marriage, having her son, her friendships and her life as a writer. I live in Melbourne, like Hannie, so I particularly enjoyed reading about her times in the various suburbs of Melbourne and she writes about their particular characteristics in a very entertaining way. This is very much a Melbourne book and many readers will identify with some of Hannie’s  experiences.

This collection of writings is one that a reader can simply dip in and out of, or simply read cover to cover, which is probably the way most will do once they start reading! It provides so many good chuckles that it is very hard to stop reading once you have begun.

This is a book that is perfect for the summer holiday reading list, so it is a guaranteed good book for anyone’s christmas present or even a  bookclub kris kringle. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

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Nest by Inga Simpson

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This book tells a quiet, contemplative story of a woman, Jen, who has moved back to a property near the small town where she grew up. Living on her own, she works on the land of her property, observing the surrounding wildlife. The descriptions of her work around the house, and the different birds that she sees, are particularly peaceful and painterly, and as a reader I felt soothed by these relaxed portraits of country life.

Jen also gives drawing lessons to a young boy called Henry, and the descriptions of these lessons, of how she instructs Henry to draw and how to use colours and paints and pencils, is told in the same gentle way as the descriptions of her home keeping.

Over the duration of the story, the reader discovers that a girl in Henry’s class at school has gone missing. It is also revealed that when Jen was Henry’s age, both her father and close friend, Michael, went missing at the same time, and there is some implication that her father may have been involved with Michael’s disappearance. The tension of wondering what has happened to this missing girl, and Jen remembering back to the disappaerance of her father and friend, Michael, is a strong contrast to the parallel story of Jen making her new home, back in her home town.

The resolution of the story is sad, but brings peace to Jen in the same quiet way that the rest of the story has been told. I loved reading this book and so enjoyed the gentle writing style that I just wanted it to keep going. Of course it had to end, so I will just have to read it again!

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