Over May, our list of reviews showcasing books that feature diversity was hearteningly diverse itself – Australia’s women writers are a vibrant bunch who aren’t afraid to express their difference.
Jennifer of GoodReads reviewed Tanya Saad’s memoir From the Feet Up. Saad had inherited a gene which increased her risk of developing aggressive breast and/or ovarian cancer. As well as detailing Tanya’s decisions as to whether to have preventative surgery, the work also covers her “experiences of ‘otherness’, of growing up in regional Australia where being of Lebanese heritage would ensure she stood out, and later of being a gay woman.”
Also on the subject of writers of diverse heritage, Karen posted “a big, sprawling review” of Michelle de Krester’s similarly expansive novel, Questions of Travel. Of Laura, the protagonist, Karen writes:
Importantly [Laura] asks herself repeatedly Why am I here? – a question I think we should all ask at frequent intervals. I wonder if it’s a question asked more often, more deeply, by the displaced, and the out of place amongst us.
And I wonder, too, if writers in general might feel themselves to be outliers from the mainstream, and if they can write at all without a sense of displacement?
One might not only be displaced by geography, and constantly searching for home, as Laura does; one can also be literally out of one’s mind or, looking at this from another perspective, trapped within it. Kate Richards’ Madness: a memoir, was reviewed by Janine of Resident Judge, who writes:
we climb into Kate Richard’s life and it’s not a good place to be. She is a qualified doctor, but years of mental illness have made this career path untenable for her. There is this chaotic, obsessive, hyper-sensitive existence inside her head that somehow co-exists falteringly with the semblance of a ‘normal’ life: a job in medical research, friends, parents, a flat.
This hyper-sensitivity does give rise to moments of poetry, but also chaos, leading Janine to conclude, “This is such a brave book. It is simply written, but it is hard to read.”
Leaping from memoir to speculative fiction, Trudi Canavan’s The Rogue features a gay relationship which, Mark Webb writes in his review, was refreshingly normal, “with the same attention given to the gay character’s love life as the straight ones.” Oh, for a world where this is real rather than fictional!
There were also five reviews of works by Indigenous women writers, which is a great warm up for next month’s focus on Indigenous women writers. This is held in the spirit of NAIDOC week, from 6th-13th July, but all throughout July we’ll be encouraging readers to pick up a book by an Indigenous women writer, and we’ll also feature an interview by Ambelin Kwaymullina, author of the wonderful The Tribe series. And if you head over to Lisa Hill’s blog at ANZ LitLovers, you’ll find that she is hosting Indigenous Literature Week, also in celebration of NAIDOC week.
There were two reviews of Indigenous woman Keelen Mailman’s The Power of Bones, a memoir about Keelen’s difficult childhood and her later advocacy for her people. Brenda of GoodReads “enjoyed the basis of this memoir” but found the writing and time frame distracting. Meanwhile, Dark Matter Zine described Keelen’s voice in the work as “strong, talking as if we’re sitting at her kitchen table sharing coffee.” They also interviewed Keelen, noting that she is “passionate about protecting sacred sites and building bridges with non-Aborigine farmers” and explains that “Native Title co-exists with farming rights.”
Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby also details the strain and complexities created by Native Title. It’s good to see this work still being reviewed, as it’s an accessible way of learning out about Indigenous culture and connection to land. Maree of GoodReads also loved the book’s language, dialogue and humour.
Marilyn of Me, You and Books penned a review of Listening to Country by Ros Moriaty, who married an Indigenous man and came to know his family and their culture. Her book, Marilyn writes, “is meant to expand appreciation of the Indigenous people living so close to the edge of disappearance. Her goal is to honor her Borroloola family; not to appropriate their secrets but to hear their songs.” As Marilyn points out, listening – to country, and to Indigenous people – is part of the ethics of understanding European colonisation, and of writing about it.
Other books by Indigenous women writers that were reviewed include Doris Pilkinton’s Rabbit-Proof Fence, reviewed by Carolyn at GoodReads, which tells the story of three Indigenous girls taken from their families, who then escape and find their way home by following the rabbit-proof fence. Carolyn describes the story as a simply told and “incredible story of tenacity and survival [that] is powerful in portraying the devastation of white settlement on Australia’s Aboriginal communities.”
Finally, John of Musings of Literary Dilettante penned a spectacular review of Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, capturing its coiling narrative, in which he “sometimes felt like a mouse spinning in the loop of Wright’s wheel but not going anywhere. Maybe this was intentional on her part; maybe faced with the so-called greatest moral challenge of our time we are all, at the moment, spinning our wheels.” I also enjoyed his reference to the novel’s “loose-electricity,” derived from “Wright’s story-telling, fusing styles, tenses, high and low registers, first and third-person points-of-view with varying degrees of ‘closeness’, left-field similes/metaphors, and numerous references to swans from other works … all underpinned by the Aboriginal belief system.”
If you’re looking for a book by an Indigenous author to pick up over July, you can certainly try The Swan Book. It isn’t necessarily a straightforward work, but it is rewarding. You can also peruse our list of Indigenous women writers at our Weebly page. I’d love to see what you uncover!
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) and Entitlement (2012). I’ve recently received funding from the Australia Council’s new Artists With Disability program to write my third novel, The Sea Creatures. You can find more information about me at my website. I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.