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Book List: Australian Literature

I have been meaning to pick up a lot more Australian authors since I spent some time in Sydney in 2015-2016.  I found a great list (here) on Goodreads of Best Modern Australian Literature, and thought that I would pick out ten books which really pique my interest, and which I would like to get to soon.

 

1. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta 2999475
‘Taylor is leader of the boarders at the Jellicoe School. She has to keep the upper hand in the territory wars and deal with Jonah Griggs—the enigmatic leader of the cadets, and someone she thought she would never see again.  And now Hannah, the person Taylor had come to rely on, has disappeared. Taylor’s only clue is a manuscript about five kids who lived in Jellicoe eighteen years ago. She needs to find out more, but this means confronting her own story, making sense of her strange, recurring dream, and finding her mother—who abandoned her on the Jellicoe Road.  The moving, joyous and brilliantly compelling new novel from the best-selling, multi-award-winning author of Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca.’

 

142362. Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan
‘Once upon a time that was called 1828, before all the living things on the land and the fishes in the sea were destroyed, there was a man named William Buelow Gould, a convict in Van Dieman’s Land who fell in love with a black woman and discovered too late that to love is not safe. Silly Billy Gould, invader of Australia, liar, murderer, forger, fantasist, condemned to live in the most brutal penal colony in the British Empire, and there ordered to paint a book of fish. Once upon a time, miraculous things happened…’

 

3. Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White 827327
‘Patrick White’s brilliant 1961 novel, set in an Australian suburb, intertwines four deeply different lives. An Aborigine artist, a Holocaust survivor, a beatific washerwoman, and a childlike heiress are each blessed—and stricken—with visionary experiences that may or may not allow them to transcend the machinations of their fellow men. Tender and lacerating, pure and profane, subtle and sweeping, Riders in the Chariot is one of the Nobel Prize winner’s boldest books.’

 

127384. The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
‘Caro, gallant and adventurous, is one of two Australian sisters who have come to post-war England to seek their fortunes. Courted long and hopelessly by young scientist, Ted Tice, she is to find that love brings passion, sorrow, betrayal and finally hope. The milder Grace seeks fulfilment in an apparently happy marriage. But as the decades pass and the characters weave in and out of each other’s lives, love, death and two slow-burning secrets wait in ambush for them.’

 

5. The Boat by Nam Le 2599523
‘A stunningly inventive, deeply moving fiction debut: stories that take us from the slums of Colombia to the streets of Tehran; from New York City to Iowa City; from a tiny fishing village in Australia to a foundering vessel in the South China Sea, in a masterly display of literary virtuosity and feeling.  In the magnificent opening story, “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” a young writer is urged by his friends to mine his father’s experiences in Vietnam–and what seems at first a satire of turning one’s life into literary commerce becomes a transcendent exploration of homeland, and the ties between father and son. “Cartagena” provides a visceral glimpse of life in Colombia as it enters the mind of a fourteen-year-old hit man facing the ultimate test. In “Meeting Elise,” an aging New York painter mourns his body’s decline as he prepares to meet his daughter on the eve of her Carnegie Hall debut. And with graceful symmetry, the final, title story returns to Vietnam, to a fishing trawler crowded with refugees, where a young woman’s bond with a mother and her small son forces both women to a shattering decision.  Brilliant, daring, and demonstrating a jaw-dropping versatility of voice and point of view, “The Boat” is an extraordinary work of fiction that takes us to the heart of what it means to be human, and announces a writer of astonishing gifts.’

 

56358496. To the Islands by Randolph Stow
‘A work of mesmerising power, against a background of black-white fear and violence, To The Islands journeys towards the strange country of one man’s soul. Set in the desolate outback landscape of Australia’s north-west, the novel tracks the last days of a worn-out Anglican missionary. Fleeing his mission after an agonising confrontation, he immerses himself in the wilderness, searching for the islands of death and mystery.’

 

7. Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park 17179385
‘The game is called Beatie Bow and the children play it for the thrill of scaring themselves. But when Abigail is drawn in, the game is quickly transformed into an extraordinary, sometimes horrifying, adventure as she finds herself transported to a place that is foreign yet strangely familiar . . .’

 

206003748. Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson
One of Australia’s most celebrated novels: one woman’s journey from Australia to London.  Nora Porteous, a witty, ambitious woman from Brisbane, returns to her childhood home at age seventy. Her life has taken her from a failed marriage in Sydney to freedom in London; she forged a modest career as a seamstress and lived with two dear friends through the happiest years of her adult life.  At home, the neighborhood children she remembers have grown into compassionate adults. They help to nurse her back from pneumonia, and slowly let her in on the dark secrets of the neighborhood in the years that have lapsed.  With grace and humor, Nora recounts her desire to escape, the way her marriage went wrong, the vanity that drove her to get a facelift, and one romantic sea voyage that has kept her afloat during her dark years. Her memory is imperfect, but the strength and resilience she shows over the years is nothing short of extraordinary. A book about the sweetness of escape, and the mix of pain and acceptance that comes with returning home.’

 

9. Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett 10762662
‘Brothers Joe, Harry and Miles live with their father, an abalone fisherman, on the south-east coast of Tasmania. Everyday their dad battles the unpredictable ocean to make a living. He is a hard man, a bitter drinker who harbours a devastating secret that is destroying him. Unlike Joe, Harry and Miles are too young to leave home and so are forced to live under the dark cloud of their father’s mood, trying to stay as invisible as possible whenever he is home. Harry, the youngest, is the most vulnerable and it seems he bears the brunt of his father’s anger…’

 

697478510. The Children by Charlotte Wood
‘When their father is critically injured, foreign correspondent Mandy and her siblings return home, bringing with them the remnants and patterns of childhood. Mandy has lived away from the country for many years. Her head is filled with images of terror and war, and her homecoming to the quiet country town – not to mention her family and marriage – only heightens her disconnection from ordinary life.  Cathy, her younger sister, has stayed in regular contact with her parents, trying also to keep tabs on her brother Stephen who, for reasons nobody understands, has held himself apart from the family for years. In the intensive care unit the children sit, trapped between their bewildered mother and one another; between old wounds and forgiveness, struggling to connect with their emotions, their past and each other. But as they wait and watch over their father, there’s someone else watching too: a young wardsman, Tony, who’s been waiting for Mandy to come home. As he insinuates himself into the family, the pressure, and the threat, intensify and build to a climax of devastating force.  This acutely observed novel exposes the tenacious grip of childhood, the way siblings seem to grow apart but never do, and explores the price paid for bearing witness to the suffering of others – whether far away or uncomfortably close to home.’

 

Have you read any of these?  Which titles are you interested in?  What is your favourite piece of Australian literature?

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One From the Archive: ‘Cliffs of Fall’ by Shirley Hazzard ****

First published in April 2014.

I had not read any of Hazzard’s books before, so I thought that this short story collection which I found in my library would give me a great feel for her writing style.  Ten tales in all make up Cliffs of Fall, and from the very first page, it is clear that Hazzard is an extremely perceptive writer.  She brings little details to the forefront of each scene, thus allowing her readers to focus on the elements which they may have otherwise overlooked. 

Each of the stories in Cliffs of Fall deals with human condition against a wealth of different, relatively ordinary settings and scenes – a party at a friend’s house, a couple sorting out a bookcase, an Italian man deciding to rent out rooms in his house, and so on.  Throughout, I was reminded of Alice Munro’s short stories.  Hazzard too is talented at presenting rather a quotidian occurrence and making it somehow immensely interesting.  Her characters are set against very distinct backgrounds, and the relationships which they have with one another play out accordingly.  Her descriptions, though sometimes a little few and far between, are sumptuous.

Hazzard is great at not stating the obvious; rather, she leaves some details up to the reader’s interpretation, and some of the stories are deliberately left ambiguous. As is often the case with short story collections, some of the tales here are more interesting than others, but I enjoyed them all.  I am now very much looking forward to reading her novels to see how they compare.

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Short Story Series: Part Three

I adore reading short stories, and don’t see many reviews of collections on blogs in comparison to novels and the like.  I thought that I would make a weekly series to showcase short stories, and point interested readers in the direction of some of my favourite collections.  Rather than ramble in adoration for every single book, I have decided to copy their official blurb.  I have linked my blog reviews where appropriate.

1. Tales from the Secret Annex by Anne Frank
‘The candid, poignant, unforgettable writing of the young girl whose own life story has become an everlasting source of courage and inspiration. Hiding from the Nazis in the ” Secret Annex” of an old office building in Amsterdam, a thirteen-year-old girl named Anne Frank became a writer. The now famous diary of her private life and thoughts reveals only part of Anne’s story, however. This book rounds out the portrait of this remarkable and talented young author. Newly translated, complete, and restored to the original order in which Anne herself wrote them in her notebook, Tales from the Secret Annex is a collection of Anne Frank’s lesser-known writings: short stories, fables, personal reminiscences, and an unfinished novel, Cady’s Life.’

2. M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
‘In this collection of wonderful stories, which range between fantasy, humour, science fiction and a sprinkling of horror, the reader will relish the range and skill of Neil Gaiman’s writing. Be prepared to laugh at the detective story about Humpty Dumpty’s demise, spooked by the sinister jack-in -the-box who haunts the lives of the children who own it, and intrigued by the boy who is raised by ghosts in a graveyard in this collection of bite-sized narrative pleasures.’

3. The Persephone Book of Short Stories
This is an absolutely marvellous collection of short stories, featuring a plethora of different authors.

4. The Wordsworth Collection of Classic Short Stories
‘Poignant, wry, chilling, challenging, amusing, thought-provoking and always intriguing, these accomplished tales from the pens of great writers are object-lessons in the art of creating a literary masterpiece on a small canvas. From the straightforwardly anecdotal to the more analytical of human behaviour, all are guaranteed to capture the imagination, stir the emotions, linger in the memory and whet the reader’s appetite for more. In this book, Wordsworth Editions presents the modern reader with a rich variety of short stories by a host of towering literary figures ranging from Arnold Bennett to Virginia Woolf. This disparate and distinguished company of writers has rarely – if ever – met within the pages of one volume: the result is a positive feast.’

5. Stories to Get You Through the Night, edited by Helen Dunmore
‘”Stories to Get You Through the Night” is a collection to remedy life’s stresses and strains. Inside you will find writing from the greatest of classic and contemporary authors; stories that will brighten and inspire, move and delight, soothe and restore in equal measure. This is an anthology to devour or to savour at your leisure, each story a perfectly imagined whole to be read and reread, and each a journey to transport the reader away from the everyday. Immersed in the pages, you will follow lovers to midnight trysts, accompany old friends on new adventures, be thrilled by ghostly delights, overcome heartbreak, loss and longing, and be warmed by tales of redemption, and of hope and happiness. Whether as a cure for insomnia, to while away the hours on a midnight journey, or as a brief moment of escapism before you turn in, the stories contained in this remarkable collection provide the perfect antidote to the frenetic pace of modern life – a rich and calming selection guaranteed to see you through the night. It features stories by: Katherine Mansfield, Alice Munro, Anton Chekhov, Oscar Wilde, Haruki Murakami, Wilkie Collins, Kate Chopin, Elizabeth Gaskell, The Brothers Grimm, John Cheever, Arthur Conan Doyle, Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, Helen Simpson, Richard Yates, James Lasdun, Martin Amis, Angela Carter, Somerset Maugham and Julian Barnes.’

6. Cliffs of Fall by Shirley Hazzard
‘From the author of “The Great Fire,” a collection of stories about love and acceptance, expectations and disappointment Shirley Hazzard’s stories are sharp, sensitive portrayals of moments of crisis. Whether they are set in the Italian countryside or suburban Connecticut, the stories deal with real people and real problems. In the title piece, a young widow is surprised and ashamed by her lack of grief for her husband. In “A Place in the Country,” a young woman has a passionate, guilty affair with her cousin’s husband. In “Harold,” a gawky, lonely young man finds acceptance and respect through his poetry. Moving and evocative, these ten stories are written with subtlety, humor, and a keen understanding of the relationships between men and women.’

You can find my review here.

7. The Red Garden, by Alice Hoffman
‘”The Red Garden” introduces us to the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts, capturing the unexpected turns in its history and in our own lives. In exquisite prose, Hoffman offers a transforming glimpse of small-town America, presenting us with some three hundred years of passion, dark secrets, loyalty, and redemption in a web of tales where characters’ lives are intertwined by fate and by their own actions. From the town’s founder, a brave young woman from England who has no fear of blizzards or bears, to the young man who runs away to New York City with only his dog for company, the characters in “The Red Garden” are extraordinary and vivid: a young wounded Civil War soldier who is saved by a passionate neighbor, a woman who meets a fiercely human historical character, a poet who falls in love with a blind man, a mysterious traveler who comes to town in the year when summer never arrives. At the center of everyone’s life is a mysterious garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look. Beautifully crafted, shimmering with magic, “The Red Garden” is as unforgettable as it is moving.’

8. Art in Nature by Tove Jansson
‘An elderly caretaker at a large outdoor exhibition, called Art in Nature, finds that a couple have lingered on to bicker about the value of a picture; he has a surprising suggestion that will resolve both their row and his own ambivalence about the art market. A draughtsman’s obsession with drawing locomotives provides a dark twist to a love story. A cartoonist takes over the work of a colleague who has suffered a nervous breakdown only to discover that his own sanity is in danger. In these witty, sharp, often disquieting stories, Tove Jansson reveals the fault-lines in our relationship with art, both as artists and as consumers. Obsession, ambition, and the discouragement of critics are all brought into focus in these wise and cautionary tales.’

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Three Viragos

I read a lot of books published by Virago (something which I’m sure will not be news to many people), and I thought it would be nice to group together three of them in one review.  Only one of these books is on the Virago Modern Classics list which I am working through (Love by Elizabeth von Arnim), and the other two are a great novel (The Clothes on Our Backs by Linda Grant) and a volume of short stories by an author whom I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while (Cliffs of Fall by Shirley Hazzard).

‘Love’ by Elizabeth von Arnim (Virago)

Love by Elizabeth von Arnim ****
Love is the 297th book on the Virago Modern Classics list, and it was written by one of my favourite Virago authors.  I thought that it would be the perfect choice of novel to read on a very sunny Sunday in early March, which I spent almost entirely in the garden.  I must admit that I didn’t read Terence de Vere White’s introduction in the Virago volume pictured – even though I am sure that it would have been most insightful – because I find a lot of introductions actually give away far more of the plot than they really should.

As seems rather obvious from the novel’s title, von Arnim presents a relationship of love, from its earliest beginnings.  Her protagonists meet at a mutually adored play in London – the rather enigmatic Catherine Cumfrit, the mother of a grown-up daughter, and Christopher Monckton, who is far younger than she.  The book’s blurb describes the way in which, ‘Beneath the humour of this engaging novel, originally published in 1925, lies a sharper note, as Elizabeth von Arnim uncovers the hypocrisy of society and the codes it forces women to ascribe to in the name of love’.

As can be said for all of von Arnim’s work, Love is beautifully written.  It is interesting that she has chosen that Christopher succumbs to being in love far before Catherine does, and the way in which she consequently presents gender and need is fascinating.  The story which von Arnim has crafted is eminently believable.  Love is a darling book, which is just the thing for langorous springtime reading.

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‘The Clothes on Their Backs’ by Linda Grant

The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant ****
I had wanted to read this novel for such a long time, and was so pleased to find a copy in my library.  Grant was a new author for me, and from reading the blurb, I was expecting a hybrid of the work of Andrea Ashworth and Natasha Solomons; dry, funny, shrewd, and intelligently written.  I was thrilled to discover that The Clothes on Their Backs was all of these things, and more.  It says in the blurb that it is ‘a wise and tender novel about the clothes we choose to wear, the personalities we dress ourselves in, and about how they define us all.’  I love the book’s premise too:

‘In a red-brick mansion block near the Marylebone Road, Vivien, a sensitive, bookish girl, grows up sealed off from both past and present by her timid refugee parents.  Then a glamorous uncle appears, in a mohair suit, with a diamond watch on his wrist and a girl in a leopard-skin hat on his arm.  Why is Uncle Sandor so violently unwelcome in her parents’ home?  Vivien wants to know.’

The majority of the novel is set in London in the 1970s, and it begins when Vivien is an adult, recently widowed.  She has returned to the city following the death of her Hungarian father.  Her story is absorbing from the very start.  The narrative voice which Grant has crafted is reminiscent of Kate Atkinson’s skill at seeming to effortlessly create believable protagonists with the very first stroke of a pen.  Each scene has clearly been given a lot of thought, and the novel is so vivid in consequence.  The Clothes on Their Backs is an incredibly enjoyable book, and I for one will certainly be reading more of Grant’s books in future.

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‘Cliffs of Fall’ by Shirley Hazzard

Cliffs of Fall by Shirley Hazzard ****
I had not read any of Hazzard’s books before, so I thought that this short story collection which I found in my library would give me a great feel for her writing style.  Ten tales in all make up Cliffs of Fall, and from the very first page, it is clear that Hazzard is an extremely perceptive writer.  She brings little details to the forefront of each scene, thus allowing her readers to focus on the elements which they may have otherwise overlooked.

Each of the stories in Cliffs of Fall deals with human condition against a wealth of different, relatively ordinary settings and scenes – a party at a friend’s house, a couple sorting out a bookcase, an Italian man deciding to rent out rooms in his house, and so on.  Throughout, I was reminded of Alice Munro’s short stories.  Hazzard too is talented at presenting rather a quotidian occurrence and making it somehow immensely interesting.  Her characters are set against very distinct backgrounds, and the relationships which they have with one another play out accordingly.  Her descriptions, though sometimes a little few and far between, are sumptuous.

Hazzard is great at not stating the obvious; rather, she leaves some details up to the reader’s interpretation, and some of the stories are deliberately left ambiguous. As is often the case with short story collections, some of the tales here are more interesting than others, but I enjoyed them all.  I am now very much looking forward to reading her novels to see how they compare.

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