Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down

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

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

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

Berlin Syndrome by Melanie Joosten

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

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser

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

The 2017 Stella Prize – my prediction

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

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke

In Maxine Beneba Clarke’s twitter bio, she says “I try to write beautifully, about ugly things.” And that’s precisely what she does.

The Hate Race is a stunning, devastating, and powerful memoir. Clarke tells of her ‘typical’ Australian childhood – there was just one major difference between her and the rest of her classmates – she has brown skin.

The most striking thing about The Hate Race is how similar Clarke and my childhoods were. And also how very, very different. Continue reading

Poum and Alexandre: A Paris Memoir by Catherine de Saint Phalle

Poum and Alexandre by Catherine de Saint Phalle is a curious book. It’s a memoir, focused on Saint Phalle’s Parisian childhood with her unconventional parents, Marie-Antoinette (Poum) and Alexandre –

“The patterns of the eccentrics are often rigid. My parents have many idiosyncrasies and any new ones become instant habits. Theirs is a disciplined madness.”

The book reads like a fairy tale. Told through the eyes of eight-year-old Saint Phalle, her stories are studded with references to Greek mythology, The Odyssey, the Magna Carta, visits to Givenchy, the Napoleonic Wars and the French Resistance.

“He talks the whole time about Alexander the Great, Constantine, Caesar, Julian the Apostate. He tells me of palaces and forests, galloping  horses and raped women. His voice gathers momentum and his hands seize javelins and slave girls. He canters up hills where we stare at burning cities.” Continue reading

The Media and the Massacre by Sonya Voumard

Geez… it’s always a bit tricky when something doesn’t do what it says on the label. That’s not necessarily a bad thing… But expectations and what-not…

Which brings me to Sonya Voumard’s The Media and the Massacre. The subtitle is Port Arthur 1996-2016 – most Australians would understand that the title refers to the twentieth anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre. The blurb suggests an exploration of the journalistic intent after the tragedy, with particular reference to the ethics of reporting traumatic events. Voumard poses the question, “Is there a right amount of storytelling surrounding the Port Arthur massacre?” Continue reading