With the backdrop of DisabilityCare and questions about gay marriage circulating in politics and the media recently, it was good to see readers picking up and thinking about books that address issues of disability, mental health issues, and rights for gays and lesbians this past month.
Elimy of The Incredible Rambling Elimy penned a clever letter to author Yvette Walker as a review of her book Letters to the End of Love, concluding with an entertaining and moving YouTube video of New Zealand MP Maurice Williamson’s speech on the passing of the gay marriage bill across the Tasman. WriteReaderly, always pithy and to-the-point, reviewed Car Maintenance, Explosives and Love, and Other Contemporary Lesbian Writings, edited by Susan Hawthorne, Cathie Dunsford and Susan Sayer. She’d bought it for the cover, and despite not being enamoured of all of its contents, which might be ‘ best considered as a contribution to an ongoing dialogue of lesbian writers’, decided it contained ‘enough smart, witty, well-written pieces among the drama, poetry and short stories compiled here to justify a couple of inches on my shelf.’
Books by Australian women writers that showcased issues of disability were also reviewed. Nalini from Dark Matter Fanzine posted on A. A. Bell’s Diamond Eyes, the story of Mira, a young woman with extraordinary eyesight who is incarcerated in a mental health facility. Nalini found the work incorporated realistic elements of vision impairment and gave ‘insight to readers who have not experienced disadvantage and have not had to deal with disability or medical professionals in this kind of relationship.’ She followed this up with a review of the second book in the trilogy, Hindsight, which she highly recommended. In the completely different genre of memoir was Boomer and Me, Jo Case’s story of her son with Asperger’s, reviewed by James Tierney of The Newtown Review of Books. Tierney writes that the work ‘is a book of heightened expression’, that its writer ‘is by turns proud, dismayed, vulnerable, vengeful, kind, dismissive – like us all, but with the boring bits cut out.’
Swinging to contemporary fiction, the popularity of Dawn Barker’s Fractured (covered also by ShelleyRae in the March Contemporary Fiction roundup) gave much-needed air to the mental health issue of postnatal psychosis. Several reviewers wrote of their empathy for the difficult situation in which new parents Anna and Tony find themselves. Marcia of Book Muster Down Under wrote that the ‘all too real rawness of Anna’s emotions and state-of-mind had me vacillating between continuing to read or put it down,’ while Monique of Write Note Reviews opens her review with the observation that ‘Nothing can ever prepare you for the reality of having a child’ and that, having read the book, she hoped that ‘the next time I meet someone experiencing post-natal depression that I’m more aware, understanding and supportive.’
Annabel Smith extrapolated this experience to mental health in general, writing that:
one of the best things about this novel was the way other characters responded to Anna’s illness, and her actions while she was affected by post-natal psychosis. Her husband and his parents are conflicted, on one hand wanting to support her, and on the other, blaming her for something she had no control over. It is an insight into how people with mental health issues are often treated.
Again, the use of ‘insight’ hearkens back to the question of perception and sight raised in Nalini’s review. It demonstrates how reading helps us to see other worlds, and other ways of perceiving those worlds and the people who inhabit them.
There were only two books reviewed by an Indigenous author this month, with Marilyn Brady reflecting on Anita Heiss’ Am I Black Enough for You? Marilyn usefully summarises the book as ‘A valuable, informative account by an urbane, educated, highly successful Aboriginal Australian woman about her life and her work to include Aboriginal people in her nation’s conversation.’ She observes that Anita ‘never notes any conflicts between her Indigenous persona and her success in a non-Indigenous world. Problems come from others who refuse to acknowledge who she is.’ Maree Kimberly’s review of Double Native, a memoir by Fiona Wirrer-George Oochunyung, also illustrates a redoubtable Indigenous woman, one whose story ‘you don’t hear often enough: a strong, determined Aboriginal woman who has a love of country, culture and life and never gives up.’
There was also a book by an Indigenous author which I overlooked last month, Teagan Chilcott’s Rise of the Fallen, reviewed by Tsana. Tsana found the writing of this young adult novel about demons, angels and elementals ‘a bit rough.’ However, the ‘ending was strong, setting up the next book in the series well’ and she comments that ‘It will be interesting to see how Chilcott’s writing develops in the future.’ Teagan, who identifies with the Kamilaroi (NSW) and Wakka Wakka (QLD) people, was a 2012 recipient of the kuril dhagun Indigenous Writing Fellowship. This helped her to develop the manuscript with the State Library of Queensland’s black&write! initiative, which aims to nurture an Indigenous writing community.
Quite a few reviews canvassed books with Indigenous issues, including two reviews by Janine Rizzetti of Resident Judge. One was on Jacqueline Wright’s Red Dirt Talking which won the T.A. Hungerford prize for an unpublished manuscript by a Western Australian author, and which was long listed for the Dobbie award for first time women writers. Despite some frustration with the device of ‘historian-as-protagonist’, Janine found that Wright cut through ‘the visual imagery of outback life- the mess, the flies, the rubbish strewn yards, and the people gathered under trees- and picks up on the humour, the complexities of relationships and histories, and the uneasy coexistence of wariness and generosity in a community where she is an outsider.’ Janine’s other review was of From Moree to Mabo: the Mary Gaudron story by Pamela Burton. Gaudron was a child of the railway camps in Moree who grew up amongst Aboriginal children in Moree, and she later became a high court judge who was involved in the Mabo decision. This was an unauthorised biography but, as Janine writes, ‘Despite Guadron’s reluctance to be involved with its production, it presents a fully-rounded view of an engaged, fiercely intelligent woman.’
Meanwhile, Jonathon Shaw wrote a detailed post on Heather Goodall’s Invasion to Embassy and urged his readers to pick it up, for ‘although the stories it tells are grim, often heartbreaking, I found it exhilarating: in these dying days of what W H Stanner called the ‘great Australian silence’ – the relegation of Aboriginal experience to footnotes in our history – books like this, where Aboriginal points of view are front and centre, are like doors opening onto the real world.’
From 7th-14th July is NAIDOC week, in which the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are celebrated by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike. As part of the AWW Challenge, we’ll be encouraging readers to review books by Indigenous women writers, and I’ll post more information on this early next month. In the meantime, you can head to our pages on Indigenous women writers and women writing on Indigenous issues to see what else is being read and absorbed.
Lisa Hill, who blogs regularly and admirably at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog, is once again hosting Indigenous Writers Week to coincide with NAIDOC week. She’s encouraging participants to read a book by Indigenous authors, and to sign up on her blog page so that they can post about the book. This is a great initiative, and we encourage all AWW readers to join in. Lisa has provided a list of literary titles which you can chose from, and I’ll also be posting early next month about the books by Indigenous women writers which have been reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Indigenous literature is vibrant, diverse and enriching, and it would be wonderful to see readers immersing themselves in it.
I’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis. I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007), about botany and lesbianism, and Entitlement (2012), about Native Title and grief. You can find more information about me at my website. I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.
Excellent overview of a group of books that should be widely read but probably need the publicity. Thanks. And thanks for your inclusion of my review. My review of Heiss is somewhat coupled with the very different book by Kim Scott and Hazel Brown which I read this month, and I justified for AWW because of Brown’s strong voice and involvement in the project. I do think it considers important questions–and conflicts–for all interested in and writing about Indigenous peoples. I’d be very interested in your response if you have read it.
Hi Marilyn, thank you for your thankyous! Yes I did read your review on ‘Kayang and Me’ and will definitely mention it in my roundup next month (I’m always a month behind). As you say, it does seem to deal with the complexities of being Indigneous in Australia in a very different way to Heiss. I’ve added it to my reading list, but may not be able to get to it for a bit (I’m flat out at the moment!). Cheers, Jessica.
Another great round-up Jessica, including some reviews I’d read and some I hadn’t. I hope to read at least one book, probably the Heiss, for Lisa’s challenge. The postnatal novel sounds like a great one for fostering awareness/raising consciousness regarding mental illness in general as you suggest. It is such a difficult thing for people who have’t experienced or been close to to understand. The suffered usually “look” like fine!
Thanks Sue! Yes, mental illness is particularly insidious in that way, and it’s hard to believe that there’s still such a stigma attached to it. I’m planning to review some books for Lisa’s challenge too, which I really hope will mean less books in my to-be-read pile!