The Nowhere Child by Christian White

When Christian White appeared on ABC breakfast to discuss his debut novel, The Nowhere Child, I was immediately struck by not only his humbleness, but about how he spoke about the craft of writing. Then, of course, there was the summary he gave of his novel. I confess, I was hooked, and wasted no time downloading The Nowhere Child, anticipating with no small degree of excitement what I might discover (another great novelist and tale).

I was not disappointed.

This story about a young woman, Kim Leamy, who is approached by an American man on the streets on Melbourne, is marvellous and utterly gripping. The man tells Kim he believes she is actually Sammy Went, a girl who was kidnapped from her home, Manson, in Kentucky 28 years earlier. Refusing at first to credit such an implausible notion, as she begins to delve into the possibility, everything Kim thought she knew, about herself, her family and her past is suddenly thrown into doubt.

Left with no choice, Kim/Sammy must now go backwards in time, to the place this man believes she originated from to confront what might be her past in order to reclaim her present and her future. But the past is a dark place filled with secrets, some of which should never be disturbed…

Segueing between “then” and “now”, the USA and Australia, as well as moving between first person PoV and third person, this is a masterfully plotted, beautifully characterised novel that draws the reader into not only small-town life with its strange folk, customs and religious devotees, but also into what makes and breaks a family. Able to move the reader between places and times with ease, White paints a picture of different kinds of family life, tragedy, grief, confusion, tolerance and intolerance, loss and guilt so well.

Particularly fascinating (and repellent) were the strange religious cult (who refuse to embrace that name) that have a peculiar hold over the township – even of those who don’t approve of or believe in its practices.

Eerie at times, always plausible and with some excellent twists, this is such an accomplished book (with a simply lovely Author’s Note and Acknowledgments). I am really looking forward to what White produces next. Highly recommended.

 

 

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The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

17802724Once more, Liane Moriarty invents a premise for her novel that is quite irresistible. Imagine if, after many years of happy marriage and three children later, you happen upon a letter your husband wrote years ago that states it’s only to be opened on his death. What would you do? Respect the instruction on the front, or break faith and open it?

That is the quandary facing Cecilia Fitzpatrick, one of the most ordered and organised working mothers and wives in the neighbourhood. Respected by other parents at her daughters’ school, well-known and admired within the community, she faces a very real dilemma: what did her husband consider so important that he put it in writing but didn’t want the contents known until after he died?

While this secret is central to the novel, as is usual with Moriarty’s work, she revels in what makes ordinary people tick. What women and men reveal and conceal from each other and even themselves. Intersecting with Cecilia and her husband’s tale is that of Tess, recently moved to Sydney from Melbourne with her young son after her husband drops a bombshell on her.

Tess enrols her son at Cecilia’s children’s school and takes an instant dislike to this together Fitzpatrick woman who seems to have a finger in every pie and a degree of control over her life that Tess can now only dream about.

And then there’s sixty-odd year old Rachel, the woman most don’t know how to speak to and treat her like a china tea-cup or bad luck omen. Afraid if they mention the daughter she lost years ago she might break or if they spend too much time in her company some of the ill fortune (her husband died as well) might rub off, Rachel is both loved and pitied.

But Rachel doesn’t want pity, she wants revenge.

A compulsive read that yet again, kept me up until the wee hours as I had to know how the story was going to resolve itself. Able to make the characters rich, complex and above all real, Moriarty makes the ordinary and every day extraordinary. Wonderful stuff.

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Acceptance Speech Norma K. Hemming Award

The Norma K Hemming Award was announced on June 11th in Melbourne, at the Continuum conference.

Sara Douglass was a joint winner for her book The Devil’s Diadem. For health reasons, i was unable to be there to receive it on her behalf, but I did write the acceptance speech which I know would have been beautifully read by fellow author and friend, Jason Nahrung.

I thought I would share the speech with you – it is only short. Here it is:

It is difficult to accept an award on behalf of a beloved friend who has died, suffice to say, you try to imagine how they would feel and what they would say and that’s what I will try and do now.

Firstly, however, I want to thank Jason Nahrung, my dear friend and fellow writer for being so kind as to accept this award on my behalf for Sara.

Secondly, I know Sara would want me to extend warm congratulations to the joint winner, Anita Bell – it’s lovely to share this recognition with you, Anita.

As for winning the Norma K Hemming Award for Devil’s Diadem, Sara’s last novel, it’s a great tribute and Sara would have been humbled by it but also, I think, grateful that the judges and this community understood what she did with the tale and, in particular, the character of Maeb.

The citation says that Maeb, the main protagonist, was “…an ordinary woman (who) lives extraordinarily, questioning and evolving her place in history, in patriarchy, and in an unfurling horror.”

This could have been written about Sara. Those of you who knew her would agree with me that she was simultaneously an ordinary and extraordinary woman. She was a trailblazer for us speculative fiction writers, a great but quiet supporter of the national and international community of writers, readers and fans, and someone who, while writing this book, suffered the unfurling horror of cancer.

What many of you won’t know is the pain, blood, sweat, and tears that Sara poured into this novel – something her original dedication noted. I was privileged to share this dreadful yet wonderful time with Sara. She loved this book with a passion – it was her escape, her salve.  Towards the end of writing and throughout the editing, when she knew unequivocally she was dying, Sara allowed her emotions, her fear, her dread, her confusion and grief to transfer into the story – into Maeb.

Yet, for all that, it’s not a bleak novel; on the contrary, it’s beautiful, otherworldly and haunting – like Sara really. Read Devil’s Diadem, and you will find Sara Warneke and Sara Douglass on every page, in every line and every word.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the honour you have bestowed upon her, thank you for remembering her. As she walks the falloway paths, I hope we’ll all continue to do so.

That was it. But I would like to add something here:

My heartfelt thanks to Jason, the organisers of Continuum and the judges of the award – and to all of you who love her works as much as I do.

Karen x

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