Book Review: The First Stone by Helen Garner

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Helen Garner could write a book about painting one wall of her living room and it would still be fascinating, that’s how good a writer she is. But having now read three of her books, I’m seeing a theme: she is baffled at why everybody doesn’t think like her and more baffled when people won’t take the time to try to convince her to think otherwise, then give her the opportunity to do the same.

The First Stone is creative non-fiction, meshing tales from Garner’s own personal life, particularly emphasising her and her friends’ experiences with feminism and unwanted male attention, with the story of two accusations of sexual harassment at the University of Melbourne by two students against the head of Ormond College, one of the residences. It comes to her attention when she reads about it on the front page of The Age newspaper, as the students have taken their complaint to the police after being unsatisfied with the university’s handling of the matter. Continue reading

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Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

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Gayle Forman is a brilliant writer. They say that easy reading is hard to write and If I Stay was a very easy read. Told in a first person narrative by Mia, a seventeen-year-old high school senior and a gifted cellist, the news comes through that schools are closed for a snow day so Mia, her parents and her little brother plan a busy day out visiting friends, family and stores. They never even make it to their first stop on the itinerary though because a truck slams into their car.

Her parents die instantly and the scene Forman writes describing the aftermath of the crash is so visceral that I was nervous getting in a car afterwards. Seeing their lifeless bodies, Mia can’t bring herself to look for her little brother and instead stumbles across her own. Except she isn’t dead. She’s badly injured and for the rest of the book has an out-of-body experience watching the doctors and nurses trying to save her and her friends and family in the hospital waiting room coping with their loss and praying there won’t be any more. Continue reading

On Reading the Book That Beat Me for the 2016 Text Prize

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In 2016, I entered the then unpublished manuscript of my young adult novel Black Spot in the Text Prize competition for young adult and children’s writing. I wasn’t holding my breath about winning because I’m not the holding-my-breath kind of person. And when I received a blanket email from the Text Prize people thanking everybody for their entries and saying that the shortlisted authors would be contacted individually, I assumed I wasn’t one of them because I hadn’t heard anything.

A couple of days later, my phone rang. I didn’t recognise the number. I thought it might be about a job I’d applied for. Instead it was a woman named Ally, who told me she worked at Text Publishing. She was calling to let me know that Black Spot had been shortlisted for the Text Prize. And to invite me to the announcement of the winner in just under two weeks’ time.

If it sounds like I was very calm during that phone call, I wasn’t. I was stunned. I was overwhelmed. But I was happy. This was an achievement. This was amazing. This was bliss. Continue reading

Book Review: Beautiful Mess by Claire Christian

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Full disclosure time: in 2016, this book was shortlisted for the Text Prize for Unpublished Children’s and Young Adult Writing along with a book I’d written and three by other writers. Clearly, my book and those three others didn’t win and this one did. I was always going to read Beautiful Mess because 1) it won a writing prize and that’s a pretty great endorsement, 2) I wanted to know what Claire Christian had done better than me and use it as a learning process, and 3) I’m a little masochistic (but mostly the first two). I’m very pleased to report that it’s an amazing book because 1) it justifies that it won the Text Prize and 2) I get to write a glowing book review and avoid looking like a sore loser. Continue reading

Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

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This book has so many 4- and 5-star ratings on Goodreads that I was convinced there must be some sort of extraordinary twist at the end. There isn’t. It’s a well-written but averagely-plotted book. Anyone who has ever lived in a small Australian town where the landscape is brown more often than it is green will recognise the setting and the small-minded residents who think you can never be a local unless you were born there. But anyone who has ever read a crime novel will also recognise the formula. So I’m perplexed as to why there was so much hype. Continue reading

Book Review: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

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Liane Moriarty is Australia’s ‘it’ author at the moment on the back of a string of terrific books and the success of the Hollywood adaptation of the New York Times bestselling Big Little Lies. And there’s a reason for that. She takes the ordinary and usually manages to make it extraordinary. But despite the readability of Moriarty’s writing, Truly Madly Guilty starts out ordinary and stays that way. Continue reading

Book Review: The Spare Room by Helen Garner

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Reading The Spare Room by Helen Garner reminded me very much of reading Glenice Whitting’s Something Missing. Not because of their stories or characters but because I know Glenice and when I read her book, I realised that it was based heavily on and drew extensively from her own life. I don’t know Helen Garner personally at all but I’m starting to wonder how much of her fiction is actually fiction. Almost everything she’s written that is classified as such seems to have a real life twin.

Helen (yes, the main character’s name is Helen – more evidence of a thinly veiled story) has agreed to host her Sydney friend, Nicola, in the spare room of her Melbourne home while she undergoes three weeks of cancer treatments. Nicola has always been a bit flighty and end-stage bowel cancer isn’t going to change that. She’s already done the chemo, the radiation; it hasn’t worked. So now she’s placing her faith in the Theodore Institute where they intravenously pump her full of Vitamin C, have her hold electrodes while in an ozone sauna and perform cupping, all to force the “toxins” out. Nicola’s immense pain is proof that it’s working, they say. Continue reading