The Stella Prize 2019 winner in conversation

Last night I had the great pleasure of hearing Stella Prize 2019 winner, Vicki Laveau-Harvie, talk about her memoir, The Erratics.

Vicki was in conversation with Louise Swinn, chair of the 2019 judging panel. They began by discussing the broad themes of the novel – dysfunction and mental health in families, and sibling rivalries. The response from readers was overwhelmingly “This is my story.” Continue reading

Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin

Time heals all wounds… Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it… History repeats itself… Give me a child before the age of seven and I’ll give you the woman… You can’t enter the same river twice…

The sayings might be familiar but everything Maria Tumarkin does in Axiomatic to explore them, is not. In five loosely linked chapters, Turmarkin uses stories about suicide, a child’s kidnapping, Holocaust survival, crime, and past relationships to challenge our understanding of these well-worn axioms.  Continue reading

Little Gods by Jenny Ackland

Five truly wonderful elements of Little Gods by Jenny Ackland (a book about a girl called Olive; her complex family; dams, a country town and silos; and a bird called Grace).

01. The character of Olive is superb. She’s gutsy, clever, impulsive, bossy, curious, and cares about some things but definitely not others. In terms of child narrators, she’s made my top five.

Olive went through her wishes: to get a pony two hands taller than Snooky’s friend Megan’s, to find a baby owl and to be magic.

She, Olive Lovelock, child sleuth, smart kid, adventuress, reader. Imaginer, cryptologist and conqueror of high places. Keeper of bones, rocks and feathers. She would show everybody how clever she was and they’d say to each other: ‘Here comes Olive Lovelock. Did you know she solved the case of her sister who drowned? She’s going to meet the Queen.’ Continue reading

Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau

In the nineties, I had a flat mate who worked for an arts festival. She was an excellent flat mate to have because we were both on tight just-moved-out-of-home budgets and one of the perks of her job was tickets to all kinds of concerts and performances – and I was often her ‘plus one’. However, I soon realised that she was wasting a ticket by taking me to any kind of interpretive dance. I appreciated the skill and athleticism of these performances but I simply didn’t enjoy it.

I’m afraid Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau was the reading equivalent of interpretative dance for me. Continue reading

The Bridge by Enza Gandolfo

There would be few Melbournians who cross the West Gate Bridge without a slightly heavy heart – the 1970 bridge collapse and the horrific tragedy of Darcey Freeman in 2009 weighs on us collectively. It is perhaps why Enza Gandolfo’s novel, The Bridge, resonates so deeply.

There are two stories in this book, linked by the Bridge. The first tells of 22-year-old Italian migrant Antonello, newly married and working as a rigger on the West Gate Bridge in 1970. When the Bridge collapses one October morning, killing 35 of his workmates, Antonello’s world crashes down on him.

Another jolt; the span was almost vertical now. A stiff-legged derrick loosed from its mooring catapulted toward the river, its long metal arms flaying violently, a giant possessed. And now the men: the men were falling, falling off, falling through the air and into the river below. They were screaming, but their cries were muffled by the bridge’s own deathly groans. Continue reading

Small Wrongs by Kate Rossmanith

When an author gets the balance between memoir and journalism* just right, it makes for brilliant reading. Kate Rossmanith has done it with Small Wrongs, a book that explores how we say ‘sorry’.

Rossmanith looks at what constitutes remorse from many angles – the ‘theatre’ of courtroom appearances; how judges make their decisions; prison, parole and rehabilitation and how these systems create opportunities for offenders to show remorse; and retribution for victims of crime.

In the justice system…the act of forgiveness was unrelated to the duty of punishment; it was not the role of the courts to forgive a person…only the victims can forgive. Continue reading

Bluebottle by Belinda Castles

At a glance, Bluebottle by Belinda Castles seems straightforward – a novel about family relationships – and yet Castles has layered every element of this story with vivid detail. The result is a mesmerizing and immersive read and one that, like the title suggests, looks pretty but has a sting.

The story follows the Bright family – charismatic and temperamental Charlie; his wife, Tricia, the nervy peacemaker; and their three children, Lou, Jack and Phoebe.

There were eruptions, sometimes squalls, Charlie’s mood building and breaking and building again over several days like summer weather. Continue reading

The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie

One of the things I’ve learnt in counselling is to pay attention to my judgements, to examine very closely what’s behind my assessment of another person. In particular, what does a ‘judgement’ say about me (as opposed to my client)? To be clear, 95% of my time counselling is free of judgement – I listen, I try to understand and that’s it. But 5% of the time, someone will say something that triggers an immediate personal reaction, and it’s in that 5% where counsellors do their own work. Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s memoir, The Erratics, was a whole book of 5% for me.

Laveau-Harvie is Canadian-born and raised but has lived much of her life in Australia (hence this book being longlisted for the Stella Prize). The Erratics captures a short time in her life when, along with her Canadian-based sister, they moved their elderly mother into permanent care, and made arrangements for their father to stay in the relatively remote prairie home he loved. This sounds straight-forward, however, the blurb hints at something more dramatic – the mother is mentally unstable, hostile and delusional, and has systematically starved her father and kept him a hostage in his own home.

One of the few coherent messages my mother repeated to me and to my sister as we grew up, a message she sometimes delivered with deceptive gentleness and a touch of sadness that we weren’t more worthy prey, was this one, and I quote: I’ll get you and you won’t even know I’m doing it. Continue reading