This book. Wow.
Harrowing. Courageous. Repulsive. Compelling. Heartbreaking. Uplifting. Fascinating.
The Trauma Cleaner, like its star, Sandra Pankhurst, is genre-defying. Author Sarah Krasnostein shadowed Sandra over a number of years, observing her day-to-day activities and recording the story of her life before she was a cleaner. And that story is remarkable – Sandra was a husband and father, drag queen, sex reassignment patient, sex worker, businesswoman, and trophy wife. As a ‘trauma cleaner’, Sandra cleans places others dare not go – homicide, suicide and death scenes; meth labs; homes of hoarders; and places ravaged by water, mould and filth.
Sandra knows her clients as well as they know themselves; she airs out their smells, throws out their weird porn, their photos, their letters, the last traces of their DNA entombed in soaps and toothbrushes. She does not, however, erase these people. She couldn’t. She has experienced their same sorrows. Continue reading
There’s grief-lit aplenty at the moment. Honestly, you can’t scan a bookshelf without YA novels about parents or best friends dying; memoirs about cancer battles; suicide stories; and generally just loss, loss and more loss. But if you only read one bit of grief-lit this year, make it Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down.
Audrey, Katy and Adam have been friends since high school—a shared history of inside jokes, sneaky cigarettes, ‘D&Ms’ and looking out for each other –
Katy’s family ate dinner together every single night. Her parents umpired at weekend netball matches, took orange quarters for the girls in their pleated skirts. Audrey’s parents destroyed each other.
Now in their twenties, they juggle the pressures of adulthood – relationships, work, their families. When Katy takes her own life (within the first few pages), Audrey and Adam are left to deal with their grief. The story explores the ripple-effect of Katy’s death rather than the reasons why she took her own life. Continue reading
Here’s the thing about Geraldine Brooks (because I’m totally qualified to comment on Geraldine Brooks, obvs) and Caleb’s Crossing (which, according to many aggrieved Goodreads members, should be called Bethia’s Crossing) –
01. Stating the obvious but she knows how to write historical fiction. I reckon Brooks tests every single word for authenticity – it’s meticulous.
02. Even the emotions her characters are feeling are ‘historically appropriate’ (tricky, right?) and yet, she manages to create these wonderfully strong females who both make a mark on their time and offer something for the present.
Is it ever thus, at the end of things? Does any woman ever count the grains of her harvest and say: Good enough? Or does one always think of what more one might have laid in, had the labor been harder, the ambition more vast, the choices more sage? Continue reading
Melanie Joosten’s fresh-to-the-big-screen thriller, Berlin Syndrome, is a story about Stockholm Syndrome. Set in Berlin, obvs.
Australian photographer (with an interest in former Eastern Bloc architecture), Clare, meets native Berliner and English teacher, Andi.
He was not really following her, he told himself, he was just curious to see where she was going. An anthropological study of a foreigner in Berlin.
There is an instant attraction and suddenly a holiday fling turns into something more sinister than Clare could have anticipated. Within days, Clare realises that she is trapped in Andi’s apartment and although she initially tries to escape, her attitude changes and she becomes a compliant prisoner. Continue reading
I’m fairly certain that books about cults have their own genre (and devotees) and I’m also fairly certain that The Family by Chris Johnston and Rosie Jones is the first book I’ve read about a cult. Continue reading
If you have a neat row of Lonely Planet titles on your bookshelf – their bright blue spines and bold white lettering proclaiming exotic locations – then you ought to read Michelle de Kretser’s novel, Questions of Travel. Anyone who has sought an ‘authentic experience’, ‘immersed themselves’ in the culture of another country or thought they were ‘off the beaten track’ is likely to squirm –
“…the fraudulence of souvenirs that suggested pleasure while commemorating flight.”
“France – well, France had always been blighted by the necessary evil of the French. But if only Laura had seen Bangkok before the smog/ Hong Kong before the Chinese/ Switzerland before the Alps/ the planet before the Flood.” Continue reading
A quick review of two very different books – perhaps unfair to lump these together but my blogging has not kept up with my reading during the last month, so I’m catching up. Continue reading
Fairly sure I said something about not reading much about the Holocaust in the last decade or so because I overdid it in the eighties and nineties… Anyway, seems that went out the window when I read The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman and The Toy Maker by Liam Pieper, one after the other.
The books are similar in many ways – both tell the story of an Australian man living in the present alongside the story of a Holocaust survivor; both are set in the ‘Canada’ barracks at Auschwitz–Birkenau and examine the role of the Sonderkommando; both have themes of good versus evil, penance, and the measure of crime; both show that there are lessons in history.
“History can provide comfort in difficult or even turbulent and traumatic times. It shows us what our species has been through before and that we survived. It can help to know we’ve made it through more than one dark age. And history is vitally important because perhaps as much as, if not more than biology, the past owns us and however much we think we can, we cannot escape it. If you only knew how close you are to people who seem so far from you… it would astonish you.” (Perlman)
We’re a day away from the 2017 Stella Prize announcement. I’m excited.
I’ve read all of the shortlisted books and have put myself in the judges’ shoes.
And it seems there will be a three-way tie… Is that allowed? It comes down to Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain; The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke; and The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose. Continue reading
Sometimes a book comes along at exactly the right time and it’s exactly the book you want to read. Such was the case with Georgia Blain’s Between a Wolf and a Dog.
The story takes place predominantly over one rainy day. Ester is a single mother to twin girls and works as a family therapist.
“It’s rare that she hears about love in her consulting room. Most of her clients talk of anger, failure, boredom, depression, conflict: the flipside of love.”
Although Ester spends her days helping others find happiness, her own family relationships are in disarray. She’s estranged from her directionless sister, April, and also from her ex-husband, Lawrence, whose reckless decisions are catching up with him. Ester and April’s mother, Hilary, is desperate for her daughters to reconcile.
The delicacy and brilliance of this book is captured in the title, translated from the French phrase, ‘l’heure entre chien et loupe’. Literally, ‘the hour between dog and wolf’, it refers to twilight, the time when distinguishing between a dog and a wolf might be tricky. The title reveals the duality of Blain’s story – friend and foe; outward calm and inner turmoil; what to discard and what to keep; safety and danger; what we reveal and what we keep hidden. Continue reading