How has your spring been going? However it’s been going, reading has clearly been part of it because we’ve had a reasonable number of reviews posted this month. News-wise though, it’s been quiet, so let’s get to the round-up.
So, we had 25 reviews in October, with the following highlights:
- Charlotte Wood is this month’s most reviewed author with three reviews posted for her latest novel, The Natural Way of Things. (There were three reviews last month too.)
- Our most prolific reviewers were Karen Has Things To Say and Jonathan Shaw (Me Fail? I Fly!) with three reviews each, followed by Belinda Hopper (Biblionet Worker), Cassie Hamer (Book Birdy), Janine Rizzetti (the Resident Judge of Port Phillip), Jennifer Cameron-Smith, and yours truly, with two reviews each.
- No classics were reviewed. Just saying.
Although we have no classics this month, I’m leaving this heading here as a place-marker – and as a little reminder to us all not to forget them. Subtle aren’t I?
Wood was the only author with multiple reviews this month, so let’s talk a little about her. She’s published five novels to date, several to critical acclaim: Pieces of a Girl (1999), The Submerged Cathedral (2004), The Children (2007), Animal People (2011, longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award), and The Natural Way of Things (published just this month). She has also edited an anthology of writing about siblings, Brothers & Sisters (2009).
The Natural Way of Things is a dystopian novel which explores misogyny. Kylie Mason, writing in the Newtown Review of Books, praises the language, the terrifying way in which Wood teases out her theme, and concludes that:
Wood’s remarkable insight into human nature and deft control of her characters create a narrative that strikes to the heart of gender relations, laying bare the hatred and disgust at the core of so many.
Cassie, in her review, refers to Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech. She found the book so powerful that when she finished it, she:
started reading it again, to see what I had missed. There are clues, but not answers – and this is part of Wood’s mastery. This book is not a misogyny speech. It is not polemic. It is, first and foremost, a gripping story. Not a horror story for there is a point to the darkness – and it is about the way we are all debased when women are hated simply for being women.
Karen wrote an extensive review of the book, which clearly also impressed her. She writes:
The writing is fierce and darkly sensual and often confronting. The toxic violence in the language used by the men towards the women is absolutely misogynistic, and it is a bit sickening just to read it. Wood is unflinching in capturing the machinations of everyday hate, and writes with fluid fury on the page.
The David Unaipon Award
This award is one of the longstanding awards in Queensland’s suite of literary awards. It is for an unpublished manuscript by an indigenous writer, and, like most such awards, the prize includes publication. Over half of the winners have been women, and we’ve had several of them reviewed for the challenge over the years. Indeed one of our most reviewed books this year is Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and Light which won in 2013. However, the winner reviewed this month is Gayle Kennedy’s Me, Antman and Fleabag. It was reviewed by Jennifer Cameron-Smith. Like several of the books that have won this award, its form strays from the straight novel. This particular book comprises 22 vignettes, which Cameron-Smith says
are full of quirky characters, of black humour and of reminders that Aboriginal Australia still often remains quite separate from the Australia that many of us occupy.
Some of the stories are light and funny, but others Cameron-Smith writes, are dark, reminding us “that equality is still sometimes only a word”. I’ve only read four or five David Unaipon Award winners, but I haven’t yet met one I haven’t liked. If you haven’t read any, you can find the list here on Wikipedia.
The adaptation of a book to a film tends, of course, to give the book a second life. It wasn’t surprising then to see a review come in for Rosalie Ham’s 2000 book, The Dressmaker, the film of which was released late in October. Belinda only read it five years ago for the first time when her daughter studied it at school. (Woo hoo! A recent Australian novel on a school curriculum!) Anyhow, she writes that she decided to reread it:
a luxury that we don’t often allow ourselves because there always seems to be too many books on the “to read” list – and I am so glad that I did! There were many details that I couldn’t recall, and this time I was able to truly appreciate the book for all its hilariousness and devastation.
Good for her, I say. Rereading is, I think, well worth doing but, like Belinda, I don’t do it often enough. Anyhow, I read the book when it came out, but I remembered very little of it when I saw the film. Belinda suggests that the book is highly visual, and would adapt well to the screen. I’d love to hear what she says, after she’s seen the movie.
Coming-of-age is a popular topic for novelists. And why not? It’s a significant time of change for most of us and so is ripe for imaginative exploration. Julianne Negri (Wayward Fancy) reviewed a coming-of-age novel, Peggy Frew’s Hope Farm. She starts her review with:
At the outset I want to say three things: 1. that I dislike the prevalence for Australian novels to be heavily descriptive coming of age stories. 2. That “Hope Farm” could be described as a heavily descriptive coming of age novel. 3. That I thought it was brilliant.
She isn’t the only one to feel this way about coming-of-age stories but there are, in my experience, many good ones around to counterbalance the heavy-handed or stereotypical ones. Hope Farm, which tells the story of a mother-daughter relationship, is for Julianne, one of the good ones. She loves the characterisation, the astute language and inevitable drive of the plot.
Emily Bitto’s 2015 Stella Prizewinner, The Strays, could also be described as a coming-of-age novel, as the main story takes place over eight years in narrator Lily’s life, from when she is 8 to 16 years old. It was reviewed by Belinda. It’s an historical novel inspired by, but is not the story of, Melbourne’s Heide artist group. Belinda doesn’t focus on the coming-of-age aspect, but she does talk about some parent-child issues when she writes:
Through Lily’s eyes we see that the adults are quite self-centred about their own lives and their artistic pursuits, and small daily occurrences highlight the way that the children’s lives are neglected. As Lily and Eva, and the other two sisters grow older, it becomes quite obvious that the chaos and neglect of the parents will result in serious consequences.
Do you like coming-of-age stories? If so, are there any by Australian women authors that you’d particularly recommend? (And if not, why not?)
I’ve mentioned only a few of the books reviewed this month. To see all books reviewed for the challenge, please check our books reviewed search page.
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.