Drusilla Modjeska, The mountain

Drusilla Modjeska, The mountain

We must have had great weather in October because reviews in Classics-Literary Land were down! I do hope that means everyone was outside getting fresh air and exercise instead. Meanwhile …

As we get to the end of the year, the awards excitement is slowing down. However, we did see the announcement in October of the shortlist for the Barbara Jefferis Award:

  • Amy Espeseth: Sufficient grace
  • Tracy Farr: The life and loves of Lena Gaunt
  • Jacinta Halloran: Pilgrimage
  • Margo Lanagan: Sea hearts
  • Fiona McFarlane: The night guest
  • Margaret Merrilees: The first week
  • Drusilla Modjeska: The mountain

My main reason for listing these is to say that Sufficient grace and Pilgrimage have not been reviewed this year for the challenge, and only Pilgrimage was reviewed (once) last year. So, if you are looking for something to read that will make a BIG contribution to the challenge, you know what to do!

Oh dear, October

October must have had the least number of reviews we’ve had to date, with just 18 being posted. Still 18 is better than a spit in the eye as my father would say and, anyhow, I only contributed one review myself this month!  On with the highlights:

  • Only one of the novels shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award was reviewed this month, Tracy Farr’s The life and loves of Lena Gaunt
  • One book received three reviews, Annabel Smith’s The ark, and another received two, Helen Garner’s The house of grief.
  • Our most prolific reviewer was Debbie Robson with 3 reviews.
  • No reviews this month (in this category) were flagged as being by indigenous authors or dealing with indigenous issues or reflecting diversity.

The highlights say it all, a quiet month.

The Classics

There was just one classic reviewed this month and it was another new one for the challenge, Jean Curlewis’ The ship that never set sail, reviewed by Debbie Robson who has been our most prolific reviewer of classics over the last few months. Debbie reviewed another work by Curlewis last month, and writes this month that she is pleased to have discovered Curlewis who she says is “a very original novelist”. This novel is about a young girl with big dreams for adventure. Debbie particularly liked Curlewis’ evocation of 1920s Sydney and is keen to read more “lost authors, to read, review and discover the Australia they lived in.” I couldn’t agree more.

Older, but not yet classics

Fifteen of the eighteen reviews this month were for books published in 2013 or 2014 which, as I’ve said before, is great to see. We want our current authors to be able to eat. However, it’s always good to see books from the recent past getting some air, so I thought I’d focus on the two (besides the classic above) that were reviewed this month.

The older one is Candida Baker’s The hidden, which was published in 2000. It, too, was reviewed by Debbie Robson (hello Debbie!). I was intrigued when I saw this because, embarrassingly I suppose, I only know of Baker through her books Yacker: Australian writers talk about their work (1986, 1989, 1990). Robson, though, has sussed out one of her novels. It’s a short novel “told in the first person by Caroline Savage a British photography who is putting together an exhibition of the photographs she took in Australia way back in the late 1970s”. Baker enjoyed it though said it was a challenging read because it switches in time, place and point of view, with Caroline’s voice switching to third person for her time in Australia. Robson found these switches “dispersed” the tension but despite this:

I enjoyed the novel and found the mounting tensions and my desire to find out what happened was one of the best reading experiences I’ve had in twelve months.

Amanda Lohrey, VertigoThe newer book was published in 2008, and is Amanda Lohrey’s fifth novel, Vertigo. Like The hidden it’s a short novel. Reviewer Angie Holst describes it as “a beautiful reflection of a marriage in transition”. It’s told third person, and gives us the perspectives of both partners in the marriage. The couple, in their mid-thirties, have come to the point where they are assessing what their inner-city based lives are about, with the result that they opt for a country sea-change. The ending, says Holst, is reassuring and generous, and she concludes her review by saying:

Lohrey writes simply and elegantly: this is well worth a short read.

Newtown Review of Books

Tracy Farr, The life and loves of Lena GauntA regular provider of reviews to the challenge is the Newtown Review of Books. I’m not sure whether the reviews are posted by the individual reviewers, or by the Review editors, but it’s good to see such a source appearing regularly among our reviews. For those of you who haven’t heard of this site, the Newtown Review of Books promotes itself as “Sydney’s original online review of books”. It was established in March 2012 by writer Jean Bedford and publisher/editor/literary agent Linda Funnell “as an independent site for book reviews” because they “believe that a strong reviewing culture is important for both writers and readers”. It is a volunteer run enterprise. Twenty of this year’s literary-classic reviews have come from this site, so I’ve decided to give some love back by highlighting the five reviews posted this month.

Favel Parrett, When the night comesThe five reviews are:

  • Tracy Farr’s The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt: Jeanette Delamoir found “much to enjoy in this novel [longlisted for the Miles Franklin and shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Awards]. Like its narrator, it is unconventional, sometimes irritating, but always intelligent, intriguing and very closely controlled.”
  • Paddy O’Reilly’s The Wonders: Michelle McLaren liked O’Reilly’s “riotously clever, dark-hearted look at fame and the human body”. It’s about a young man with an implanted artificial heart and the woman who offers to turn him into a superstar. Sounds like it might address a few issues of concern to us in the 21st century, don’t you think?
  • Favel Parrett’s When the Night Comes: Robyne Young enjoyed Parrett’s debut novel, “Into the shallows”, and found this second novel about siblings and struggling parents authentic, so much so that when she got to the end, she wanted to return to the beginning and experience it all over again
  • Lorelei Vashti’s Dress, Memory: Kylie Mason says that “the power of this memoir lies in the sensitive way Vashti handles the retelling of her own life and in the familiarity of many of her experiences to her readers”. Dresses apparently provide the impetus for Vashti’s memory and also work, says Mason, as a metaphor for her growing up.
  • Danielle Wood’s Mothers Grimm: Folly Gleeson opens her review with: “This wonderful title has been lurking in the zeitgeist for over 200 years. I don’t think it’s been used before and that is perhaps because it was waiting for this book. It’s a title that is almost magically apt – four stories and one wicked prologue go to make a motherhood statement that is like a slap.” She enjoyed this collection finding it “often witty and so very, very perceptive” despite some “gloom”, and argues that it liberates readers from the schmaltz often associated with maternity. “Expect”, she says, “to recognise some painful truths, pleasurably.”

I’ve mentioned only a few of the books reviewed this month. To see all of the Literary/Classic books reviewed this year to date, please check this Weebly page.


About Me

I am Whispering Gums and I read, review and blog about (mostly) literary fiction. It was reading Jane Austen when I was 14 years old that turned me on to reading literary fiction/classics, which is why I am here today doing this round-up! Little did Jane know what she started!

My love of Aussie literature started with Banjo Paterson’s ballads and Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians in my childhood. But, I didn’t really discover Australian women’s writing until the 1980s when I “met” and fell in love with Elizabeth Jolley, Thea Astley, Olga Masters, Helen Garner and Kate Grenville. Ever since then I have been making sure to include a good percentage of Australian (and other) women writers in my reading diet.