Tag Archives: Australian

Debra Oswald, Useful

9780670077823My apologies to Debra Oswald, but I have to confess that I grabbed this book in excitement at the local library on Friday because I thought it was written by Debra Adelaide who wrote The Household Guide to Dying. And I love Debra Adelaide. I love her enough to have emailed her when I read The Household Guide to Dying to tell her how moved I was by her book. So, you can only imagine that when I saw Useful by Debra … I jumped, pounced, grabbed. It was the last, lonely copy on the new release shelves. A ‘RED HOT READS’.

Anyway, long story short, I didn’t reailse that Debra Oswald was not, in fact, Debra Adelaide, until I sat down and started reading. After a momentary pang of disappointment, I was thrust into this wonderful book and I soon forgot that initial pang as I fell in love with Debra Oswald and her overwhelming skill at crafting such an intriguing novel filled with these wonderous characters.

I finished the book in less than 24 hours. I couldn’t stop. I had to find out what was going to happen, hanging desperately on to the tiniest thread of possibility that Sully would indeed find his way down the correct path, hoping that maybe I would be spared the weight of an ending that left me doubting …

Now, I won’t spoil it for you by revealing anything more. What you need to know about this book before you commit to reading it is that you will be intrigued. Meet Sully, a man who has never done anything useful in his life. He is the epitome of a bludger, in the true Aussie sense and an alcoholic to boot. He has a well meaning heart but is often sabotaged by his inability to stay sober and the outrageous commitments he makes whilst drunk. But, he’s a likeable guy and that is central to the novel’s success. We first encounter Sully on the edge of a tall building as he prepares to end his useless life. He has it all planned out. There is nothing to live for. He has given away all his possessions, said his goodbyes and he is ready to take a final leap.

What Sully doesn’t consider is the fact that he might survive … that he is so useless that he cannot even execute a suicide! The novel unfolds from that point and Sully goes on to encounter a range of wonderfully vivid and really Australian characters. As we journey with him, we discover the intricacies of attachments that he has made, the beauty of his relationship with a dead man’s dog and the fragility of being honest about emotions.

There is no doubt in my mind. It’s not Debra Adelaide, but this book has it all and I loved it. I loved it so much that I’m looking forward to my next Debra Oswald (as well as my next Debra Adelaide – hint, hint, nudge, nudge!).

If you like a well crafted Aussie drama with balls then this just the book that you have been waiting for!

The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama, Julie Szego

9780987381149I applaud Julie Szego for grabbing this story and shaking it until its bones rattled. I applaud her for dealing with the harsh, grating issues that lie beneath the facade of the shocking plot surrounding the ‘tainted trial of Farah Jama’ – a black Ethiopian man convicted on the flimsiest of evidence for a crime that he did not commit against a white woman … all in a country as democratic and beautiful as Australia.

Szego explores the crime, the crime scene and the various characters involved, from a range of different and compelling angles. She clearly and competently conveys the complexity of this case – the victim, the accused and his traditional, Ethiopian family, and the honour and pride of the Ethiopian community. In layers, Szego unwraps all of these elements, drawing readers into the heart of questions about morality, truth, justice and race relations in Australia.

I loved how this story unfolded. It is part investigative journalism and part social commentary with a touch of thrilling mystery. The way that Szego crosses the boundaries of these genres makes this a fascinating book to read. This book teaches us about humanity, about prejudice, about assumptions and presumptions and about the fallibity of our legal system. Most importantly, it forces us to appreciate the value of asking questions and investigating until we are certain that we have come to understand the truth.

Nine Days, Toni Jordan

downloadSo reading friends, I have discovered the awesomeness of overdrive and my local library. It’s not actually a new discovery, I’ve had the overdrive app on my iPad for the longest time. For some reason, I’ve just never used it. But lo and behold, the other night I was bored and found myself cruising the Randwick Library e-shelves and look what I found – miles and miles and miles of virtual books which are just waiting to be plucked and devoured by little old me. Who knew! It is like heaven, only better… and because I have multiple children, I have multiple cards which means no limit to the amount of books I can download at any one time … it’s overwhelming and dangerous and positively intoxicating for a reading fiend like me. So I downloaded some books for my kids – it’s their card after all – and then began browsing … ah the bliss! But before I succumbed to random book borrowing, I forced myself to consult my trusty and ever-growing Evernote list entitled “Books to Read”. I am too scared to count how many books there are on this list and I very rarely actually read these books. I simply add to the list. Often. Only occasionally erasing the odd book which I actually read. But somehow just having the list is enough to bring me the comfort of knowing that I won’t ‘lose’ the titles of those books which I just know I HAVE to read.

Anyway, back to business. Toni Jordan. One of the few Australian authors who can count me as their number one fan. She is simply stellar. A true genius, crafting softly worded tales about complex characters which punch you in the stomach, leaving you winded and on the verge of tears. She has a wonderful ability to truly capture a very Australian spirit without being cliche or kitsch. And while I generally loathe Australian fiction, Jordan does something that really grabs me – it is as though she brings to life the esse of a slippery Australian identity which is fraught with angst and loneliness and beauty.

Not only does Jordan weave a masterful story, but she does it so tenderly over generations. In this novel each of the central characters is given a chapter of their own which unfolds their role in the larger narrative. The Sydney Morning Herald calls Nine Days a “sprawling family drama” but I didn’t feel this sense of vastness or distance in Jordan’s telling. Quite the opposite, I felt a closeness that I see in many families; my own included. I found Jordan’s book to be sensitive, shocking at times and definitely loaded with a wonderful empathy that only became evident once the struggles of the individual characters had cleared to make way for the depth that hovers in this text. I loved that each character was so separated, described as having their own lives, their own problems and quirks, yet at the same time was so invested in the extended family – past and present – and so much a product of the influences of all these family members. “Like so many things that shape us, it’s the smallest actions that add up to leave the deepest marks.”

There are too many subtle themes in this book to convey them all in a short book review – family, love, friendship, honesty, belonging. One which resonated to me was exposed toward the novel’s end:

“‘Alec. You must know this. People disappear. They just go puff. Thin air. Every time you see someone, you never know if you’re seeing them for the last time. Drink them in, Alec. Kiss them. It’s very important. Never let anyone say goodbye, even for a little while, without kissing them. Press your lips against the people you love. Hands, they can touch anything. Open doors, hold cameras, hang clothes on the line. It’s lips that matter.”

I could share so many sections of this book that I have underlined for posterity but that would only give away the magic of this prose and ruin the dignity of the story which you have to discover for yourselves. Instead, I will leave you just with the last line of Jordan’s novel Nine Days:

“I can hardly believe my good fortune. Everything will be alright.”

The Ottoman Motel, Christopher Currie

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I can’t for the life of me work out what it was in The Ottoman Motel that captivated me so.

Allow me to explain, I hate Australian fiction. I don’t know why exactly, but it drives me nuts – and I know I’m generalising and that it’s ridiculous to feel this way about a whole body of work … but, I just don’t get it … perhaps I’m unAustralian?

Anyway, I tend to stay away from Australian fiction as a rule so that I don’t have to get riled up about how much I hold it in disdain. So there was no reason for me to read this book, let alone like it! I’m also not really a fan of small-town fiction (if that’s a genre?). Again, I can’t explain it … perhaps it is simply because I can’t relate to that way of life. I don’t know. Whatever it is, there really was absolutely no reason for me to enjoy this book. And enjoy it I did. I read it in one gulp. Sucked it down without pausing. Astonishing really.

And, to make matters more astonishing, I loved it. Let me be more specific: I L.O.V.E.D. IT. Really, truly, absolutely without doubt.

I found this book captivating on every level – the plot was so different, so unexpected and not in the fleeting way that a thriller throws a twist or in the way you find out that the main character has been cheating on his or her spouse. It was unexpected because of the characters, their conviction and the sense of loss which they had all experienced and I was overwhelmed by the way that Currie never led everything to a peaceful denoument, there was no resolution. There was just the idling sense of loss and despair and the knowledge that life would go on and somehow, everything would be ok.

This is one of those books that leaves readers devastated on so many levels, but primarily devastated because it is finished. It left me quite bereft and I will certainly be looking for more from this author.