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Showing posts with the label Australian writers

Book review: The life to come by Michelle de Krester

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One of the characters I most enjoyed in Michelle de Krester's The life to come is Sydney's inner west.

I arrived in Newtown on a yellowy January morning in the early 1980s and lived above King St near the start of Erskinville Rd for six months before a succession of terrace houses across Newtown, Emmore and Macdonaldtown.

Coming from the country to study 'Communications' I could easily have been minor character fodder for the author, momentarily shuffling by in ill-fitting jeans alongside the ubiquitous Pippa and George (that is, they are the only characters appearing in all five sections of what is an artfully decentralised narrative).

I might not have done too well descriptively from de Krester's pen. She finds a way to poke holes in all of her characters, perhaps with the exception of expat Christabel who is the most downtrodden of characters, but not by the author, who otherwise sustains a mildly scornful, disapproving or comedic tone.

For example, George the E…

Book review: The Nowhere Child by Christian White

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Little Sammy Went is gone, and while The Nowhere Child tells us where fairly quickly - who, how, why and at what cost takes the rest of this fast-paced book to uncover.


I use the cliche 'fast-paced' on purpose because like most genre books, except for the exceptional few, the 'fast-pace' does rely on cliches to a fair degree.

Which is not to say The Nowhere Child is a poor novel. Rather it is a clever book, with more than enough periods of real tension and surprise to keep the reader turning pages (or flicking them as the case may be).

Clever because it embeds just enough themes that are deemed praiseworthy and admirable in the subjective group-think world that is publishing. (That is not a criticism of the book or publishing, just a reality in these days of thought-fear.)

Of course there is the obligatory references to reading and authors - we must worship at the the book altar of course. Being set in both Australia and the US may explain why at times Matthew Reilly c…

Book review: The Choke by Sophie Laguna

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The Choke tells the story of a young girl raised by her war-ravaged grandfather in a beat-up house near the fictional Victorian town of Nullabri on the banks of the Murray River.

Nullabri may well be located across the water from fictional Bellington and Riversend from Chris Hammer's Scrubland as we find ourselves in another rendition of dystopian rural Australia where the river (or lack of) is a silent presence.

Author Sophie Laguna has again given her child heroine Justine and the other young characters a warmth and vulnerability so easily observable in children and it is part of the growing tension of the book as to how this will be ripped apart by the mostly dysfunctional adults in their lives. Or by the eroding process of simply growing up in poverty and ignorance.

There is something dangerously criminal about Justine's father who is mostly absent yet longed for by Justine and her step-brothers. The depiction of his return, his dismantling of his sons' fragile confide…

Book review: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

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There's a rhythm to Chris Hammer's Scrublands that could easily have become monotonous in the same way driving to and from the small parched town of Riversend to the larger river town of Bellington again and again could be monotonous.

Except that both rhythms are edged with beauty and tragedy and cornered by the possibility of salvation or damnation which is why we are often addicted to the most monotonous things.

Post Gaza Strip foreign correspondent Martin Scarsden is sent to Riversend by his old-school editor Max Fuller who knows there's a half decent headline in revisiting the horrors of a churchyard massacre on its one-year anniversary.

At least equally as important to Max is the hope that it will provide a gently-therapeutic return to form for his star reporter. After all, having done a stint or two in the role, I've always believed editors of newspapers were print-pastors at heart - of their readers' weeping and rejoicing certainly, if not also of their lost…

Book review: The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton

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Fifteen-year-old Jaxie urgently flees his motherless home and what is left of his abusive father, taking his chances on foot in the vast and desolate West Australian desert, hoping for the solace of an unlikely reunion with the girl he loves.

With the undaunted, brutalised but majestic voice of a teenager on a desperate journey and the dust-in-your-eyes realism of Tim Winton's landscapes, there comes a god, not so much in the machine, but in an unlikely hut on the edge of seemingly endless salt plains.

Is the hut's occupant Fintan MacGillas saviour, or anti-saviour, we are not quite sure, and similarly unconvinced is Jaxie who reluctantly accepts sustenance but only after anger and threats and a degree of ongoing suspicion.

It turns out MacGillas is a banished priest and Jaxie perhaps not unfairly assumes incorrectly he must be a pedophile but with the relentless terrain a merciless (or merciful) leveller, a steady truce and growing companionship come to carry the story forwar…

Author Richard Flanagan's speech to the Garma Festival 2018: full transcript

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When my father died at the age of 98 he had largely divested himself of possessions. Among what little remained was an old desk in which he had collected various writings precious to him over the years: poems, sayings, quotes, a few pieces he had written, some correspondence. 

Among them my elder sister found a letter written by one of my father’s cousins many years before. In it she told my father that his mother, my grandmother, was of Aboriginal descent, and that in her family she had been brought up to never mention this fact outside of the home.

My father loved discussing interesting letters with his family. He never discussed this letter. Yet he kept it. The story of covering up Indigenous pasts was a common one in Tasmania, where such behaviour was for some a form of survival. There is no documentation to prove my father’s cousin’s story is true, but that doesn’t make it untrue. It leaves the story as an unanswerable question mark over my family.

The theme of this year’s Garma …

Book review: I'm not crazy I'm just a little unwell by Leigh Hatcher

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Leigh Hatcher’s book about his years suffering with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome nearly had a completely different name.

But all along he’d felt the Matchbox 20 lyric I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just a Little Unwell seemed to resonate with his experience and so he went with his heart and it became the title of his best selling book.

And that’s something Leigh is good at, going with his heart, and he bares plenty of it in this riveting story of one man’s crash out of life and into a world of misunderstood and often mysterious sickness.

In his preface, Hatcher - one of Australia’s best known journalists, news presenters and authors - explains that ‘no two CFS stories will ever be the same’ and so it is fitting that he simply tells his story, with its backdrop of iconic political moments, Olympic excitement and the inner workings of television and radio.

In a tightly written book that moves along at a clipping pace but still manages to pack in plenty of detail, Hatcher describes his fascinating life…

Book review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

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The Rosie Project's lead character, Don Tillman, would be satisfied that I read on the Kindle platform of his project to find a wife. While reading I was informed of what percentage of the book had been completed and also was given the estimated time in the current chapter so I could adjust my optimal reading speed.

Despite these and other efficiencies I found my reading broke into my sleep allocation such that I finished the book at 4.13am. I determined not to adjust my daytime schedule but to increase by 29.7 per cent my intake of caffeine.

But seriously... it is perhaps a tribute to the steadiness of voice and rhythm of author Graeme Simsion and the sympathetic, human and lifelike characters that he has written, that I now find myself thinking and talking like Don, who is apparently non-the-wiser of being well and truly on the autism spectrum.

A professor of genetics, he undertakes to find a wife through the mechanism of a fool-proof 16 page questionnaire and as a res…

Novelist Liam Davison among Australians killed on MH17

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The devastation of a disaster like the shooting down of MH17 is indiscriminate and ruthless - with people of all walks of life cut off in an instance in the most horrific of circumstances.

Australia's literary community is particular mindful of the loss of novelist Liam Davison, who with his his wife Frankie, a much-loved teacher, were passengers on the doomed flight.

Mr Davison published eight books and was awarded the National Book Council's Banjo Award for Fiction in 1993 for Soundings, as well as being shortlisted for several literary prizes such as The Age Book of the Year Award and the Victorian Premier's Literary Award.

Reviewer Perry Middlemiss said of Soundings:
'This is an impressive novel, short, and beautifully paced. Its concept of landscape lingers long in the mind, clinging on like the mud of the bay.' He is known for his 'sharp and perceptive insights into Australian history and landscape' and also taught writing for many years at the Chi…

Book review in brief: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

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For an Australian author like Richard Flanagan, there is material enough for a great novel just telling of the lives and suffering of Australian prisoners of war during World War 2.  Even more so considering his father was just such a prisoner on the Burma railway, something Flanagan speaks of 'imbibing' while growing up.

Instead he settles for a broader and more difficult panorama. Alongside the adept before and after descriptions of Australian soldiers - of love affairs and guilty confusion - we are also taken into the minds of Japanese officers and Korean soldiers and dystopian post-nuclear Japan.

Somehow it all rings as true as his depictions of Melbourne society and Tasmanian poverty. The heat of Adelaide is pitched against the humidity of Siam and the unresolved heroics of an Australian surgeon against the inconclusive brutality of Japanese prison commander.

It is not a triumphant book or a cheery one, and it offers little hope except that sometimes people survive, des…

Book news: early release of The Undesirables: Inside Nauru by Mark Isaacs

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Australian publisher Hardie Grant has moved forward the release of The Undesirables which is a whistle-blower's account from inside the asylum-seeker camp on Nauru.

Available from March 17, 2014 the rushed release is in response to the recent violence and death of one asylum-seeker at Manus Island.

Author Mark Isaacs was just 24 when, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports, he was hired as a support worker for Naura detention centre on the strength of a single phone interview. He joined other untrained Salvation Army contractors who were quickly assembled to serve at the camp, re-opened in a desperate attempt by then Prime Minister Julia Gillard to solve her asylum seeker political problem.

According to Hardie Grant's publicity of the book:
'His [Mark Isaacs'] unique voice and unbiased view allow readers to draw their own conclusions and holds up a mirror to the Australian government, and it's [sic] policies. This book is not a justification of the men's actions…

Book review: The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

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Probably the most interesting thing about The Tournament is how I received my copy.
Which is not to say Reilly's departure into historical fiction is bland or boring, but that fact is often stranger then fiction, even when the fiction is by one of Australia's leading action authors.

Returning from my favourite Sydney CBD coffee shop, Vella Nero on Clarence St, I saw relaxing in the sunshine on Druitt St, a young man, with all the indications of being homeless, and with this copy of The Tournament sitting next to him.

He was hoping people would drop a few coins in a hat, as I recall, and as I did I asked what he thought of the book.

'It's a great read,' he said. I got it last night and have been reading it ever since. Just finished it.'

'That's good to know,' I replied and before I could move one, the young man continued our conversation.

'Would you like to read it? Here, take it.'

I hesitated for a moment and will admit to wondering just wher…

Book review: Open House - Conversations with Leigh Hatcher

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Learning from the lives of others is one of the great opportunities we have for personal growth, as we see ourselves reflected in their stories.

Just such an opportunity, multiplied 30 times, is presented to readers of Open House - Conversations with Leigh Hatcher launched this week.

Open House is the popular Sunday night radio interview program hosted by well-known media personality and journalist Leigh Hatcher and the book is a collection of some of his best and most recent interviews.

Although I am somewhat wary of anthologies of this kind, sometimes feeling they are an easy excuse for a book, this one has been thoughtfully and carefully prepared so that it is a fast-moving and fascinating read and you never feel you are getting a re-run of past glory.

Instead the interviews are a good length for reading, not too long but enough detail to capture the pathos of people's story-telling - which is where personally I could at times see something of my own life - or a friend or fami…

Book review: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

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Receiving the kindle version of I Am Pilgrim as part of a bloggers book tour, I settled into read the novel without researching the author or any broader publicity for the book.

The brief blurb I had read set it up as interesting thriller and to be honest, I wasn't even aware the author was Australian although references through the book, such as Dr Sydney, convinced me this was the case.

After turning the last page (or more accurately tapping the last screen) I read the book's credits and was impressed with Terry Hayes lengthy and stellar career as a journalist and screen writer which, by then, fitted well with my admiration for his first novel. (click cover to purchase)

I Am Pilgrim starts at a suitably rapid pace with a shocking crime scene, steamy sex references, fast-talking New York cops and a mysterious, intelligent, brooding figure from whose eyes the story is told.

Briefly I was worried it was going to be a trashy tale of blood and guts and tits and guns but after the…

Australian Christian Book of the Year 2013 shortlist announced

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The story of a mother badly burned while protecting her children in the Ash Wednesday fires and a book challenging charities to hold fast to their original purpose are among titles shortlisted for the Australian Christian Book of the Year

The shortlist was announced tonight by SPCKA on the Australian Christian Literature Awards Facebook page, while the winners will be presented St Alfred’s Anglican Church, Blackburn North, Victoria, on August 8, 7.30pm.

The shortlist features:
A Faith to Live By - Roland Ashby | Mosaic Books Driven by Purpose: Charities that make the difference - Stephen Judd, Anne Robinson, Felicity Errington | HammondPress Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: Ethics and the beginning of human life - Dr Megan Best | Matthias Media Forged with Flames: A true story of courage and survival - Ann Fogarty and Anne Crawford | Wild Dingo Press Paul: A Pastor's Heart in Second Corinthians - Paul Barnett | Aquila Press Preach like a Train Driver - Tim Hawkins | Hawkins Minis…

Questions of Travel wins Miles Franklin award

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Questions of Travelby Michelle de Krester has won Australia's richest literary prize, the Miles Franklin, from a field of all-female finalists.

Described as a 'dazzling, compassionate and deeply moving novel from one of world literature's rising stars' this mesmerising literary novel charts two very different lives.

Laura travels the world before returning to Sydney, where she works for a publisher of travel guides. Ravi dreams of being a tourist until he is driven from Sri Lanka by devastating events.

Around these two superbly drawn characters, a double narrative assembles an enthralling array of people, places and stories - from Theo, whose life plays out in the long shadow of the past, to Hana, an Ethiopian woman determined to reinvent herself in Australia.

Award-winning author Michelle de Kretser illuminates travel, work and modern dreams in this brilliant evocation of the way we live now. Wonderfully written, Questions of Travel is an extraordinary work of imagina…

Henry Lawson's birthday celebrated with a Google doodle

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The 146  birthday of iconic Australian author and poet, Henry Lawson is being celebrated today through a mechanism which he could not have even imagined - a Google doodle.

A 'drover', some cows and a dusty landscape accompany the Google logo and of course a click through takes internet surfers to a Google search of Henry Lawson.

Searching for Henry Lawson is an apt phrase for although achieving some literary peaks - such as in short story collection While the Billy Boils (1896), Jo Wilson and his Mates (1901) and perennial favourites ranging from The Drover's Wife to The Loaded Dog - he was as well known for being restless, erratic and unwell.

Many Australian homes will have his collected works somewhere on a bookshelf, the township of Grenfell celebrates his birth there every Queen's Birthday long weekend, and some of his work is re-told to modern audiences such as the recent theatrical performances of The Loaded Dog.

Despite the bruising tale of his life which inclu…

Book review: Forged with Flames by Ann Fogarty and Anne Crawford

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The opening chapter of Forged With Flames seems as timeless as our continent's contention with bushfire and as immediate as this summer's smoky ruins.

It doesn't matter that it tells the events of Ash Wednesday, 1983, because it could be happening to someone, somewhere - today.

I read this chapter in the midst of a busy day and at the end had to take a few moments to collect myself. Ann Fogarty, with the assistance of Anne Crawford, tells what happens when "a massive fireball" leaping ahead of a raging bushfire heads straight toward her and her children.

I could see an entire movie being made from this one chapter.

Perhaps it is the kind of telling only possible so many years later and that is true of much of the rest of the book which is intensely personal and would not be easy to write without the passing of time.

It is a well-written book that ensures not only the compelling action scenes, but also the ebb and flow of an entire life, are engaging and fulfillin…