Today I am electing to focus on contemporary fiction by Australian Women Writers that are set, in part or full, outside of Australia.
Fish-Hair Woman by Merlinda Bobis is set in the Phillipines during the late 1980’s.
‘Fish-Hair Woman is a novel of many rooms running between love and war. In 1987 the Philippine government fights a total war against communist insurgency. The village of Iraya is militarised. The days are violent and the nights heavy with fireflies in the river where the dead are dumped. With her twelve-metre hair, Estrella the Fish Hair Woman, trawls the corpses from the water, which now tastes of lemongrass. She falls in love with the visiting Australian writer Tony McIntyre who disappears in the conflict.
Ten years later, his son Luke is reading this story in a mysterious manuscript sent to Australia with love letters. Tony left Australia when Luke was six. Now at nineteen, he travels to the Philippines because his father is supposedly dying. On arrival he is caught in a web of betrayal that spins into the dark, magical tale of the manuscript. What is fact, what is fiction? Luke meets Stella, who could be Tony’s lover — or the Fish Hair Woman? But where is Tony? Whose story is being told? Who is telling the story?’
Marilyn of You , Me and Books writes, “Fish-Hair Woman should be read by all readers who like the play of words and images….An exquisite novel set in the Philippines, by a Filipina author, and one of the best books I have read all year.” and writerreaderly agrees stating it is, “…the best conflict-set novel I’ve read…complex, nuanced and beautiful..”
Gotland by Fiona Capp, “…weaves between 2010 and January 2013 as well as between Australia and Gotland, a Swedish Island situated in the Baltic Sea.” writes Dale Harcombe, and describes the book as ‘poetic’
and, “A book designed to make you think.”
‘Shy and idealistic, Esther Chatwin is Australia’s reluctant First Lady. She longs to return to the anonymity of her old life, but her husband’s sudden political success has turned the media spotlight on her. Esther’s only escape is to Gotland, the legendary island in the Baltic Sea that she loves. A special place, it’s also home to the enigmatic sculptor Sven, another idealist with a troubled past.
Even on the other side of the world, deeply private events become everyone’s business, and Esther must find a way to live with the consequences.’
Traces of Absence by Susan Holoubek, is set primarily in Argentina and Shelleyrae of Book’d Out concludes, “Traces of Absence to be a superb read, both for its compelling mystery and emotional intensity and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this thought provoking and intriguing novel.”
‘When Dee’s daughter, Corrie, decides to spend her gap year in Argentina, it seems like the perfect solution to their strained relationship. That is, until Corrie goes missing. Facing every mother’s worst nightmare, Dee boards a plane from Australia to launch a frantic search.
Four years later, Dee returns to Buenos Aires for what she concedes may be the last time. But on this visit, a fresh lead triggers a new search – one where Dee must place her trust in strangers to help her navigate the vibrant but often threatening city.
Dee’s search for Corrie is overshadowed by the fear that her failings as a mother may have had something to do with Corrie’s disappearance. To what extent is Dee to blame? And is this a question that she will ever be able to answer?’
Lauren of The Australian Bookshelf says, “This book was a real surprise for me. Not just because I enjoyed it so much, but because the plot was quite different to what I expected. For some reason when I saw that it was set in South America and a young Australian girl had gone missing I thought that it would be an exploration of a crime ring or something similar. However, the essence of this story is the emotional journey that Dee takes as she reflects on her relationship with her daughter and comes to terms with the current circumstances.” and Helen McKenna writes she, “…enjoyed the way the story explored the people of Argentina and the unlikely friendships Dee struck up along the way from a gay Priest, to a religious community of nuns who were all ready and willing to help a stranger in her desperate search for her child.”
All The Birds Singing by Evie Wyld is set on an unnamed British island. Paula at The Newtown Review of Books describes it as, “…a novel written from and for the senses. It is full of sounds, strong emotions and smells – bush smells, food smells, the smell of blood and fear. It is also a novel about the rhythm of life on the land, about loss, grief, and friendship, about lonely people trying to reach out and connect with one another.”
‘Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. It’s just her, her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. Which is how she wanted it to be. But something is coming for the sheep – every few nights it picks one off, leaves it in rags.
It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is Jake’s unknown past, perhaps breaking into the present, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back.’
Carol of Reading, Writing and Riesling feels it is, “A bleak, grim and unrelenting tale of hardship, pain and guilt that is a compelling read.”
Other contemporary fiction titles set in full or part overseas reviewed for the challenge to date include Burned by Persephone Nicholas (UK), The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska (PNG), Questions of Travel by Michelle deKrester (Sri Lanka) and Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Iceland). Browse reviews for these books on our Review Listing page.
What contemporary fiction titles written by Australian women writers set outside of our country do you recommend?
My name is Shelleyrae Cusbert I am a mother of four children, aged 6 to 16, living in the mid north coast of NSW. I am an obsessive reader and publish my thoughts about what I read at my book blog, Book’d Out. In 2012 I read and reviewed a total of 109 books for the AWW Challenge (see obsessive!) and featured more than 35 Australian women writers. I juggle caring for my family with a part time job and volunteer at both the town’s local library and her children’s school library. While I have a degree in Education, I hope to gain a diploma in librarian studies in the near future.