Wasted by Elspeth Muir

Two things to get off my chest about Elspeth Muir’s memoir, Wasted

  1. This is an extremely important book that examines the impact of alcohol on a family and, in doing so, highlights the fact that drinking to excess is normalised in Australian culture.
  2. In my opinion, this book was robbed – it really should have made the 2017 Stella Prize shortlist.

In 2009, Muir’s 21-year-old brother, Alexander, finished his last university exam, celebrated with friends, and then jumped 30 metres from the Story Bridge into the Brisbane River below. His body was found three days later, with a blood-alcohol reading of 0.25. This tragic event provides a starting point for Muir to explore her grief; her own drinking habits; and Australia’s drinking culture. Continue reading

Dying – a Memoir by Cory Taylor

“My body is my journey, the truest record of all I have done and seen, the site of all my joys and heartbreaks, of all my misapprehensions and blinding insights. If I feel the need to relive the journey it is all there written in the runes on my body. Even my cells remember it, all that sunshine I bathed in as a child, too much as it turned out. In my beginning is my end.”

I wobbled at the beginning of Cory Taylor’s memoir, Dying. She writes of her stage IV melanoma. I had my own meeting with melanoma last year – obviously not as far progressed as Taylor’s but nonetheless, the scar is still very large and very fresh (literally and figuratively) and I wondered whether reading this book was a good idea. It was. Because Taylor doesn’t dwell on her illness, her decline or her imminent death in the way that the title suggests. Instead, she reflects on her life, her family, and the largely dysfunctional relationship western society has with death. Continue reading

An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident is the story of a brutal murder in a rural Australian town. The victim, Bella Michaels, was a much-loved member of the community and her death stuns not only those that knew her but the whole nation. Her sister, Chris, is left to grieve, search for answers, and deal with the growing media interest in Bella’s death.

I’ll get straight to the point – I didn’t care for this book at all. Am I wrong to have immediately thought that the story exploited the Jill Meagher case? And that there was a hint of treading the same path as Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things? Continue reading

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

I confess that it was love at first sight when I saw the cover of Emily Ruskovich’s debut, Idaho. There was something about the rich floral artwork that caught my eye. Thankfully the blurb held up, as did the opening page, and fairly soon I was engrossed.

Idaho could be classed loosely as a literary thriller. It tells the story of Ann and Wade who live in a remote mountainside forest in northern Idaho. Ann tries to piece together the truth of what happened to Wade’s first wife, Jenny, and their two young daughters, May and June –

“Because Wade had thrown everything away – drawings, clothes, toys – each accidental remnant loomed in Ann’s mind with unspeakable importance. Four moldy dolls buried in the sawdust of a rotten stump. A high-heeled Barbie shoe that fell from the drainpipe… Artifacts heavy with importance they didn’t deserve, but which they took on because of their frightening scarcity.” Continue reading

Avalanche by Julia Leigh

There’s all sorts of reasons why I don’t feel I’m in a position to comment on Julia Leigh’s Avalanche, an account of her experience with IVF. However, Leigh makes a statement early in her memoir that made me pause and think –

“In the public imagination – as I perceive it – there’s a qualified sympathy for IVF patients, not unlike that shown to smokers who get lung cancer. Unspoken: ‘You signed up for it, so what do you expect…?'”

“Qualified sympathy” – it’s an interesting phrase. Have I ever been guilty of qualified sympathy? Probably, although certainly not in relation to someone’s desire to have a baby. It’s these kind of gritty bits that lodged as I was reading Avalanche. Continue reading

The Lover by Marguerite Duras

Marguerite Duras’s The Lover is the second book I’ve read in as many weeks that’s a memoir, thinly disguised as a novel (the other being by Lily Brett).

The story is set in Saigon in the 1930s, and describes the tumultuous affair between a relatively poor adolescent French girl and her wealthy, older Chinese lover. Interspersed between details of their clandestine meetings are descriptions of the unnamed narrator’s mother – headmistress of a girls’ high school and prone to bouts of depression, and her wayward brothers. Continue reading

Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford

Depending on your attitude, it’s either wildly inappropriate or absolutely hilarious that I was listening to Nancy Mitford’s Wigs on the Green concurrently with the podcast, My Dad Wrote a Porno. If you’ve experienced both, you’ll appreciate that the frequent mentions of hedge mazes, manicured lawns, horses and duchesses are quite similar in one sense… and also very much not. Anyway, the important thing is that both made me laugh. A lot.

There’s a juicy back-story to Wigs on the Green, notably that the novel was truly about Nancy’s two Fascist sisters, Unity and Diana, and that the relationship between Nancy and her sisters imploded after its publication (I really should read The Mitford Girls, which has been languishing on my TBR stack for over a decade). Nancy never allowed the novel to be printed after WWII, on the basis that jokes about Nazis were not funny in any context. And obviously they’re not, yet the elements of the story related to class and marriage are sharp and very, very funny.

‘Marriage is a great bore. Chaps’ waistcoats lying around in one’s bedroom and so on. It gets one down in time.’ Continue reading