The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

When I was sixteen, I visited my grandma one afternoon and, on arriving at her house, found her in tears. The last of the ‘Old Girls’ had died. The ‘Old Girls’ were her life-long friends – a group of women who had met during the War and stayed close for decades. They always referred to themselves as the ‘Old Girls’, even when they were young women. And so suddenly, my grandma was the last Old Girl. It was deeply shocking for me because, until that moment, I had never really thought about friends dying.

This is the subject of Charlotte Wood’s novel, The Weekend. Three friends in their seventies gather for a last weekend at the holiday home of their mutual friend, Sylvie, who has recently died. There’s former restaurateur Jude, organised and bossy; Wendy, an acclaimed intellectual, who continues to write; and beautiful, flighty Adele, a renowned actress whose work has dwindled to almost nothing.  Over the course of the weekend, the dynamics of their relationships are revealed, and the absence of Sylvie felt.

This was something nobody talked about: how death could make you petty. And how you had to find a new arrangement among your friends, shuffling around the gap of the lost one, all of you suddenly mystified by how to be with one another. Continue reading

Six Degrees of Separation – from Stasiland to All Our Shimmering Skies

It’s time for #6degrees. Start at the same place as other wonderful readers, add six books, and see where you end up.

This month we begin with Anna Funder’s examination of the East German Stasi – Stasiland. Continue reading

Heimat – A German Family Album by Nora Krug

In the mid-eighties, I was an exchange student in Germany. I was hosted in a small town in the south, and Heidelberg was the closest large town. My days at school were routinely interrupted by US airforce planes flying overhead and breaking the sound barrier – teachers and students were so used to this happening that conversation paused and resumed automatically. Likewise, no one seemed to notice US tanks rolling through the streets. It was 1987 and there were daily reminders of the Holocaust; what this nation had done wrong; and who was ‘in charge’ now. That’s what it felt like to me, anyway, and I was fascinated by how the past was felt in the present.

My trip in 1987 remains one of the most significant experiences I have had. Seeing the imbedded sense of guilt and shame carried by people born long after the war had an enormous impact. At the time, I couldn’t name what I was seeing, but we now know it as intergenerational trauma (and in no way do I mean to minimise, or compare it to, the trauma experienced by those persecuted during the Holocaust).

In her graphic memoir, Heimat, Nora Krug traces her family history, in an effort to uncover their wartime past in Nazi Germany, and to understand how her German history has shaped her life.

Continue reading

Writers & Lovers by Lily King

If there is one sub-genre of grief-lit that will have me sobbing more than any other, it’s the one where kids lose their mother. I know we’re in the middle of a paper-products crisis but man, did I burn through my quota of tissues reading Writers & Lovers by Lily King.

It’s 1997, and Casey, in her early-thirties, spends her days working on the novel that she’s been writing for six years; her nights waitressing at an upscale restaurant; and every single moment grieving her mother. Her mother’s sudden death prompts Casey to consider all aspects of her life – her enormous student debt; her failed relationships; and the fact that her artistic friends have all ditched creative pursuits for ‘real’ jobs.

I haven’t mentioned my mother at the restaurant yet. I don’t want to be the girl whose mother just died. Continue reading

Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts

01. It was our annual International Night dinner with friends last week. This year we were Rockin’ the Moroccan. My contribution included cocktails, nibbles, and dessert. Of the things I made, a few recipes will be repeated in the future – Gin and Mint Tea cocktail (the complex sugar syrup is well worth the effort – I doubled the quantity and made a pitcher); Moroccan ‘sausage rolls’; this orange cake and this lemon cake – I’m no baker but these cakes were easy and delicious. Continue reading

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

I was still at the point in my life when the house was the hero of every story, our lost and beloved country.

It was apt that I read Ann Patchett’s latest novel, The Dutch House, while I was at McCrae. McCrae is the place where I’ve spent all of my summers. This year, I saw for the first time, the house that has been built where my family’s fibro beach shack once stood. When the shack was sold (I was devastated) people said to me, “It’s just a house, you still have the memories.” Logically, I knew this to be true but it didn’t explain why I continued to pass the house, seeing the unfamiliar cars in the driveway, and the new curtains hanging in the window, and always wondering, “Did ‘they’ love the house as much as I did?” Continue reading