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Posts Tagged ‘2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge’

Black-on-white silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat, with the words in white: 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge (and the url australianwomenwriters.com at the bottom)
The Sisters Antipodes by Jane Alison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

A gorgeous and deeply intimate memoir about families breaking apart When Jane Alison was a child, her family met another that seemed like its mirror: a father in the Foreign Service, a beautiful mother, and two little girls, the younger two (one of them Jane) sharing a birthday. The families became inseparable almost instantly. Within months, however, affairs ignited between the adults, and before long the parents exchanged partners, then divorced, remarried, and moved on. Two pairs of girls were left in shock, a “silent, numb shock, like a crack inside stone, not enough to split it but inside, silently fissuring” that would prove tragic.

My review

I loved this book.

To put this in context, neither non-fiction generally, nor memoir specifically, are among my favourite genres. But this book is so well-crafted, so compelling, I was drawn in from the start.

Alison describes the trauma of her childhood, caused by her parents switching marriages with another couple, combined with both families travelling for diplomatic purposes, with incredible clarity and emotional truth. She goes on to discuss the fall-out for herself and one of her step-sisters – both developed substance abuse problems – and the later relationships with her parents and step-parents.

At several points in the book, she questions whether her parents should have dealt with the situation differently, and what it might have meant to her life had they done so. Every time the question arises, she asserts that she is, ultimately, glad it was done the way it was done. I’m not sure I believe her.

And yet, the honesty – both the emotional honesty, and her attempt to tell the true story (and her acknowledgement that she does not know the whole story, and can only tell the truth from her own perspective) – is, again, compelling. That this was combined with the excellent writing meant I was drawn in, utterly reluctant to put the book down.

In addition, I had clear pictures of most scenes. Alison is also an artist and illustrator, and I suspect this is behind her ability to create such vivid images in her writing.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

This is an extra review for the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.

Cross-posted.

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Black-on-white silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat, with the words in white: 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge (and the url australianwomenwriters.com at the bottom)
Monkey Grip by Helen Garner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

In “Monkey Grip”, Helen Garner charts the lives of a generation. Her characters are exploring new ways of loving and living – and nothing is harder than learning to love lightly. Nora and Javo are trapped in a desperate relationship. Nora’s addiction is romantic love; Javo’s is hard drugs. The harder they pull away, the tighter the monkey grip. A lyrical, gritty, rough-edged novel that deserves its place as a classic of Australian fiction.

My review

I got a lot out of this book – and there’s a lot to get, for a patient reader. It’s a book about Melbourne in the mid-1970s, about community, about love, about addiction, about love as addiction, and about how you can only live your own life.

This is not a gentle or easy book. It is narrated in first person by the main character, Nora, and the reader is thrown in the deep end, only ever given as much about Nora’s external life and circumstances as is absolutely necessary (and this is usually divulged with great subtlety). Nora is (in no particular order) an actor, a woman in love, a mother, a some-time drug taker, a part of a hippie community/commune, a feminist, a writer for a feminist magazine. We are taken through the year or so of Nora’s relationship with Javo, a junkie, during 1975 (and a bit on either side).

What one learns from this book is up to the reader. If you trust to Ms Garner, you will be lifted by the current and brought safely to the end of the book.

This is an extra review for the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can see my full list of books here. You can find a full list of my reviews, and other posts relevant to the challenge, here.

Cross-posted.

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Black-on-white silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat, with the words in white: 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge (and the url australianwomenwriters.com at the bottom)

I have completed the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge!

This post is to record how I went compared to my challenge criteria, and to give a very short overview of each book.

First, the books. They were:

(more…)

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Black-on-white silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat, with the words in white: 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge (and the url australianwomenwriters.com at the bottom)
Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

This is an original take on a classic story – how a child of immigrants moves between two cultures. In place of piety and predictability, however, Unpolished Gem offers a vivid and ironic sense of both worlds. It combines the story of Pung’s life growing up in suburban Footscray with the inherited stories of the women in her family – stories of madness, survival and heartbreak. Original and brave, this is a girl’s own story that introduces an unforgettable voice and captures the experience of Asian immigrants to Australia.

My review

First, a bit of background to my reading of this book. I grew up in a part of Sydney where there were many people of Asian descent. Those who were my age had often either been born in Australia to parents who were recent immigrants, or had come to Australia as children. Many of my friends were of Asian descent, from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I tended to see the similarities between my friends and me – they were, after all, my friends – and I often did not understand why they reacted to certain things so differently, especially in relation to their interactions and relationships with their families.

In the years since high school, I have grown to understand much more. Unpolished Gem allowed me to take another leap in my understanding of some of my friends. At the very least, this means that if Ms Pung is writing for the wider Australian audience, to give them an insight into the life of a certain section of the Australian community, she has nailed it. (I am quite curious to know if she has nailed the audience within the section of the Australian community she is writing about.)

Ms Pung’s writing is impeccable. (more…)

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Black-on-white silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat, with the words in white: 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge (and the url australianwomenwriters.com at the bottom)
We of the Never Never by Jeannie Gunn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

An Australian classic. Depicts the enduring hardships of life in the Australian outback and the battles against sexist and racial prejudices.

My review

One of the things I tried to do for this challenge was to read a number of books I have been meaning to read for some time. We of the Never Never was one such book. Because it is an Australian classic from the early 20th century, I expected to find parts of it confronting, and in that, I was not disappointed.

A quick precis: the book is a memoir of the author’s first year on the Elsey, a station in the Northern Territory, several days’ journey (by the modes of transport then available) from Katherine. She is there because she has just married the Elsey’s manager, referred to in the book as “the Maluka” (this is later explained to be a name given to him by the Aboriginal people they have contact with and is, at least, so the author tells us, untranslateable). She is the only non-Aboriginal woman on the Elsey. She tells the story of her journey from Darwin to the Elsey early in the Wet season, and goes on to narrate other episodes, including staffing difficulties, the completion of the homestead and trips out on the station.

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Black-on-white silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat, with the words in white: 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge (and the url australianwomenwriters.com at the bottom)
Cargo by Jessica Au
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads (NB: edited for ableist language)

Gillian is fifteen, [disabled] by [an] accident but dreams of swimming across oceans.

Jacob is fourteen and yearns for his brother’s life.

Frankie is fifteen and in love with the new deckhand on her father’s boat.

As the story of these three desires intertwine over the course of one lazy summer in a small coastal town, Cargo is by turns heart-wrenching, beautiful and explosive.

In a simple time of truth and change, these are characters who do not know themselves, yet through their innocence we come to understand what it means to be young, and have all the troubles in the world.

My review

Cargo is a beautiful, moving book. Ms Au has captured the insecurities of adolescence brilliantly. (more…)

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Black-on-white silhouette of an apparently female figure in a top hat, with the words in white: 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge (and the url australianwomenwriters.com at the bottom)
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb from Goodreads

Carpentaria is Alexis Wright’s second novel, an epic set in the Gulf country of northwestern Queensland.

The novel’s portrait of life in the precariously settled coastal town of Desperance centres on the powerful Phantom family, leader of the Westend Pricklebush people, and its battles with old Joseph Midnight’s renegade Eastend mob on the one hand, and the white officials of Uptown and the neighbouring Gurfurrit mine on the other.

Wright’s storytelling is operatic and surreal: a blend of myth and scripture, politics and farce. The novel teems with extraordinary characters – the outcast saviour Elias Smith, the religious zealot Mozzie Fishman, the murderous mayor Bruiser, the moth-ridden Captain Nicoli Finn, the activist Will Phantom, and above all, the rulers of the family, the queen of the rubbish-dump and the fish-embalming king of time, Angel Day and Normal Phantom – figures of such an intense imagining, they stand like giants in this storm-swept world….

My review

I can see why Carpentaria won a Miles Franklin Award. It is a big book which tells an important story in a manner likely to be novel to many readers.

On its face, Carpentaria is the story of a town, Desperance, on the Gulf of Carpentaria, giving the reader an insight into tensions within the Aboriginal communities on the outskirts of the town and between them and the white people who live in the town itself. Underneath that, and far more importantly, it is a story about family, Country and Culture. (more…)

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