The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

When I was sixteen, I visited my grandma one afternoon and, on arriving at her house, found her in tears. The last of the ‘Old Girls’ had died. The ‘Old Girls’ were her life-long friends – a group of women who had met during the War and stayed close for decades. They always referred to themselves as the ‘Old Girls’, even when they were young women. And so suddenly, my grandma was the last Old Girl. It was deeply shocking for me because, until that moment, I had never really thought about friends dying.

This is the subject of Charlotte Wood’s novel, The Weekend. Three friends in their seventies gather for a last weekend at the holiday home of their mutual friend, Sylvie, who has recently died. There’s former restaurateur Jude, organised and bossy; Wendy, an acclaimed intellectual, who continues to write; and beautiful, flighty Adele, a renowned actress whose work has dwindled to almost nothing.  Over the course of the weekend, the dynamics of their relationships are revealed, and the absence of Sylvie felt.

This was something nobody talked about: how death could make you petty. And how you had to find a new arrangement among your friends, shuffling around the gap of the lost one, all of you suddenly mystified by how to be with one another. Continue reading

Writers & Lovers by Lily King

If there is one sub-genre of grief-lit that will have me sobbing more than any other, it’s the one where kids lose their mother. I know we’re in the middle of a paper-products crisis but man, did I burn through my quota of tissues reading Writers & Lovers by Lily King.

It’s 1997, and Casey, in her early-thirties, spends her days working on the novel that she’s been writing for six years; her nights waitressing at an upscale restaurant; and every single moment grieving her mother. Her mother’s sudden death prompts Casey to consider all aspects of her life – her enormous student debt; her failed relationships; and the fact that her artistic friends have all ditched creative pursuits for ‘real’ jobs.

I haven’t mentioned my mother at the restaurant yet. I don’t want to be the girl whose mother just died. Continue reading

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

I was still at the point in my life when the house was the hero of every story, our lost and beloved country.

It was apt that I read Ann Patchett’s latest novel, The Dutch House, while I was at McCrae. McCrae is the place where I’ve spent all of my summers. This year, I saw for the first time, the house that has been built where my family’s fibro beach shack once stood. When the shack was sold (I was devastated) people said to me, “It’s just a house, you still have the memories.” Logically, I knew this to be true but it didn’t explain why I continued to pass the house, seeing the unfamiliar cars in the driveway, and the new curtains hanging in the window, and always wondering, “Did ‘they’ love the house as much as I did?” Continue reading

Here Until August by Josephine Rowe

According to the publishers, the short stories in Josephine Rowe’s collection, Here Until August, explore the point of change in people’s lives. And yes, the collection delivers that – the ten stories examine thresholds, internal and external boundaries, and points-of-no-return. But there’s also a theme of belonging in each of these carefully crafted stories, explored through memory; through people being in foreign places; and people returning ‘home’ (but not necessarily ‘belonging’).

The collection opens with Glisk, a story about the return of the narrator’s older brother to a small town. There’s a past trauma and a deceit, and when the deceit is revealed, it tips everything the narrator has known sideways.

I’m waiting behind the flyscreen, feeling everything I’d neatly flat-packed springing up in me. Continue reading

Monkey Grip by Helen Garner

We’ve all known a couple that breaks up and gets back together over and over again. As teenagers, that sort of relationship drama seems to be part of the adolescent experience, but once you’re in your twenties and thirties the debriefings and speculation over what has been said and done wears thin.

Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip unpicks the relationship between Nora and Javo. It’s predominantly a story of addiction – Javo has a drug habit and Nora has a ‘Javo-habit’. As frequently as Javo says he is giving up drugs, Nora says she’s done with Javo. Neither stop and that is essentially the beginning and end of the story. Continue reading

Joan Smokes by Angela Meyer

I rarely write standalone reviews for novellas, but Joan Smokes by Angela Meyer, has lingered in a way that I didn’t quite expect.

The story begins in Vegas, where ‘Joan’, is starting over – she buys a new dress; dyes and curls her hair; and begins smoking – all suited to a woman named ‘Joan’, she decides. She finds a job waitressing; allows herself to be distracted by the neon lights of Vegas; and does her best to forget the past, notably her relationship with a man named Jack.

She refuses to feel sad… but something happens to her physically. Ache is too soft a word. Continue reading

Three Aussie Audios

I’m at a bit of a loss when it comes to reviewing audiobooks – without being able to easily note favourite passages, I get to the end of the book with little ‘evidence’ of what I liked (or didn’t like).

I guess it’s worth mentioning narrators – in the case of these three, Perlman and Gilmore read their own work (I like hearing an author read their own work), and the Jordan is read by Caroline Lee, whose narration is always enjoyable.

Any thoughts on reviewing audiobooks? Continue reading

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume

Much of what I loved about Sara Baume’s second book (A Line Made By Walking) – namely startling descriptions of nature and being completely immersed in a character’s perspective, no matter how uncomfortable – is evident in her debut, Spill Simmer Falter Wither.

In summary, it’s the story of a loner, Ray, aged fifty-seven, ‘too old for starting over, too young for giving up’, who adopts a mongrel he names One Eye. Ray and One Eye are similar in many ways – both are accustomed to being alone; and both know what it is to be unloved and overlooked.

Sometimes I see the sadness in you, the same sadness that’s in me. It’s in the way you sigh and stare and hang your head. It’s in the way you never wholly let your guard down and take the world I’ve given you for granted. My sadness isn’t a way I feel but a thing trapped inside the walls of my flesh, like a smog. It takes the sheen off everything. It rolls the world in soot. It saps the power from my limbs and presses my back into a stoop. Continue reading