The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

Homesickness is a peculiar thing. Unpredictable and urgent or gently tugging and constant. I have never really experienced homesickness (even as a 16-year-old exchange student in Germany) – not as an overwhelming sensation, anyway. But my brother would, even on our month-long family summers at McCrae – he just wanted his own bed and his usual routines. I was thinking a lot about people’s different experiences as I was reading Stephanie Bishop’s The Other Side of the World. Continue reading

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The Mint Lawn by Gillian Mears

Phew. I found The Mint Lawn by Gillian Mears intense. And dense. I was expecting to become completely absorbed (as I did with Foal’s Bread) but instead, I got bogged down in heavy prose, the shifting timeline, and emotionally taxing characters.

The story is set in the fictional town of Jacaranda, on the north coast of New South Wales (I believe Jacaranda is based on the town of Grafton). Clementine, aged twenty-five and married to her high-school music teacher, Hugh, is still living in the place where she grew up, bound by memories and her inability to make sense of past events. Told from Clementine’s point-of-view, the story rotates around her sisters, her parents (Ventry and Cairo), her grandmother, Hugh and her lover.

But it is one of those memory stories that has accumulated colours and meanings more potent than the event itself. Continue reading

The American Lover by Rose Tremain

I have two summer holiday traditions when it comes to reading – tackling one really big book (because if I get engrossed I can block out the day for reading), and a short story collection or two (because I can read and doze and not lose track of where I’m at). Which is why I selected The American Lover by Rose Tremain.

I think of Tremain as a short-story-master and this collection didn’t disappoint. The theme of loneliness, or rather loners, runs through the collection. There’s regrets, ‘could-have-beens’, unfulfilled wishes and compromises – all written about in Tremain’s precise style.

Four stories stood out – Continue reading

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

In my previous ‘before-children’ life, I worked in water management. The nineties were an interesting time in Victoria in terms of water resources – we shifted from simply river management to whole-of-catchment management; the importance of environmental flows were recognised; and paying for water that was collected on private property (in farm dams) was established. The changes don’t seem like much when I list them here but they took years to implement and had major implications for rural communities, legislation, and the way natural resources were managed.

What does this have to do with Anna Quindlen’s novel, Miller’s Valley?

Everything and nothing. Continue reading

Demi-Gods by Eliza Robertson

I won’t argue, there were parts of Eliza Robertson’s debut novel, Demi-Gods, that bordered on gratuitous. It’s important to mention that because some readers will abandon the book after they encounter a particular scene in the first chapter. Not me. I was hooked from page one, intrigued by the complex relationships and charmed by Robertson’s writing.

It’s 1950 and the lives of nine-year-old Willa and twelve-year-old Joan are transformed when their mother, a cocktail-swilling divorcee, invites her new lover and his two sons, Kenneth and Patrick, to stay at the family’s summer-house on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. The attraction between Joan and Kenneth is immediate and as they pair off, Willa is left in the company of the sly and unnerving Patrick. Patrick both intrigues and repulses Willa and the story focuses on the complex power dynamic that unfolds between them during the six times they meet in the following decades.

In the intervals between, we didn’t exist. He didn’t exist to me. I didn’t exist to him. Continue reading

Was She Pretty? by Leanne Shapton

My close friends know that there’s always one or two stories from their past that I could hear again and again – stories that represent everything I love about them.

My close friends also know that I assign my exes ‘stories’ and that those stories are usually reduced to one defining thing, one throwaway description, one random fact.  The guy that didn’t eat vegetables (I could never come to terms with it and we broke up). The engineering student that had long, blond hair, much nicer than my own. The guy who tried the cliché yawn/arm around the shoulder trick at the movies. The rower who was a sloppy drunk. Continue reading