The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser

I finished Michelle de Kretser’s latest novel, The Life to Come, on my way to last week’s Stella Prize announcement. It was appropriate to be reading de Kretser’s beautifully crafted words as I flew to Sydney, and even more fitting that I was there for the announcement of a literary prize – the book is set in Sydney (with snatches in Paris and Sri Lanka) and orbits around Pippa, a writer who longs for success.

The Life to Come is structured around various people at different stages in Pippa’s life, creating loosely linked stories from their individual perspectives. Some of these people are peripheral and others know Pippa well – from her university flatmate and a Parisian friend, to her elderly neighbour and a woman ‘adopted’ by her charismatic mother-in-law, Eva – it’s through their eyes that we see Pippa’s life progress. Structurally it’s interesting, and de Kretser provides lots of detail along the way to link the stories.

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The 2018 Stella Prize – my prediction

Today’s the day of the 2018 Stella Prize announcement. I’m excited (especially because I’m going!).

I haven’t managed to read all of the shortlisted books this year (I haven’t started on the 694 page Tracker and I’m cross at myself for not having read it. I also haven’t written a review for The Life to Come – yet). Nevertheless, I’m putting myself in the judges’ shoes. Continue reading

The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe

The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe is a short, grim story about an Indonesian girl, Mina, whose life changes when her father sends her to work for a Dutch merchant.

And what will she wear? What is the town like? Who will she work with? She asks herself these questions, a tremor of excitement finally mingling with the dread in her stomach, making her feel pleasantly sick like when she eats too much sirsak, the sweetness of the custard apple curdling in her stomach. Continue reading

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar is set in Iran in the period immediately after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Using magic realism and classical Persian tales, Azar tells the story of a family deeply affected by the post-revolutionary chaos and brutality.

Things I understand and appreciate about The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree:

01. That it is a stunning example of using folklore to tell a modern story. Continue reading

The Green Bell by Paula Keogh

Sometimes when I’m reading a book I find that a particular element of the story resonates very deeply. It’s usually an element that isn’t the main theme of the story and therefore catches me off-guard.

Such was the case with Paula Keogh’s memoir, The Green Bell. It’s essentially a story about Keogh’s experience in a psychiatric unit of the Canberra Hospital in the 1970s. The events leading up to her admission (notably the death of a very close friend), what happens when she is there (she meets and falls in love with poet, Michael Dransfield who is being treated for drug addiction), and her life after hospital is the guts of Keogh’s story.

There’s no way out after all. I turn around and make my way back to M Ward. I’m worthless, pared down to nothing. I’ve come to the very end of possibility. Continue reading

The Stella Prize 2018 – longlist predictions

With just hours before the Stella Prize 2018 longlist is announced, I thought I’d take a stab at what I think will appear.

Apparently the judges had to work through more than 170 entries (look at that ace pic below!). Unlike the judges, I’ve only read a handful of eligible books but I’m aware of a bunch that keep crossing my radar. On that rather flimsy basis, I’m predicting the longlist*.

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In My Mother’s Hands by Biff Ward

I have fiddled around with this review for weeks and it’s only today that I realised what was bothering me – other reviews (settle down, I won’t name names).

Biff Ward’s memoir, In My Mother’s Hands, describes her life growing up in the 40s and 50s. Biff has a younger brother, Mark, but there was also baby Alison, who drowned in her bath before Biff was born. The drowning occurred because Biff’s mother was ‘distracted’  – it was an event that would have a deep effect on their lives in many ways and would continue to haunt Biff for decades. Biff’s father, historian Russel Ward, was charismatic, strong and outspoken. He was also short-tempered and frequently unfaithful to his wife.

We may not have had ideas we could voice but we breathed it in, the irrational in her, the grief in him and the unpredictability all around. Continue reading