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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A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer

What a marvellous and original book. In blending history and science fiction, Angela Meyer has created a work of literary prowess that lingers in the imagination long after the last page.

Told from two viewpoints (mainly), this is the story of Australian Jeff who, longing to escape not merely his past, but his secret, hidden self, flees Melbourne for the Scottish Highlands and, eventually, an island. But Jeff carries more baggage than simply what he regards as his shameful desires. He also has a device that allows him to escape his deteriorating corporeal frame and enter the mind and soul of someone from the past. That someone is young Leonora. Warned he can only use it three times, Jeff ignores the advice, and uses the equipment to escape his own life and experience Leonora’s at will.

Motherless Leonora lives in the Scottish Highlands in the 1860s with her father, tending the land and animals of the local laird. Content with her lot, loving the knowledge passed onto her by Mr Anderson who manages the laird’s many animals, Leonora is inquisitive, kind and keen to learn as much as she can. When she not only befriends the young laird but starts to have strange visions and yearnings which she cannot reconcile, she wonders what is happening to her.

When her father sends her to join her aunt in sooty, noisy Edinburgh, Leonora is inconsolable. Torn from her old life, the only constant is the man she senses lurking behind her eyes, on the periphery of her mind and the strange, impossible visions and strong, sensual urges his presence arouses. Uncertain what is happening to her, fearful she is going mad, possessed or both, Leonora’s life begins to unravel. There is only one way she can be saved, but selfish, indulgent Jeff is no hero.

Two lives are at stake, but only one can survive…

Exquisitely written, this book evokes both a distant future where human contact and companionship can be replaced by life-like devices and technology gives us entrée to the past and others that is both dangerous and exhilarating. It also plunges readers into history and Scotland post-enlightenment. This was a time when women and science were pushing boundaries and the mind was a new territory, ripe for exploration and exploitation.

Unique, rich and incredibly sensual and sexual, this novel takes us to the edges of desire and beyond, exploring issues such as loss, regret, choices, shame, sexual fantasy and reality, and the depths and heights to which human nature can both plume and strive. It also examines boundaries – those imposed by our sex and sexual desires, social constraints and culture and how, even we’re free, we create our own cages and then rail against them.

What also makes this novel so very different is the way it not only segues between male and female point of view but how, at times, these either blur or become so distinct as to appear as if they’re alternate species.

Clever, convincing and unputdownable, Meyer’s debut novel is sensational. My sincere thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for a copy. What a ride. What a read.

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The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland

 

Where do I begin with this heart-achingly, lovely book that moves between utter despair and glorious hope? Once I started, I couldn’t put it down – the prose and sto

ry captivating me in a way I haven’t been for a long time. Not only that, but I found myself shedding tears I didn’t even know were gathering. Some were from sadness, but others were from the joy descriptions of simple things arouse – like a beautiful flower opening its petals, a painter’s palette summer sky, the cry of a native bird, the sunlight refracting on a river. It was unexpected, quite astonishing and testimony to the power of Ringland’s writing and the magic this tale weaves around your soul.

So, what’s the book about? It tells the story of young Alice Hart who, at nine years of age, suffers a shocking tragedy that forces her to leave her childhood home and the oft dark memories and wonderful stories that reside there, and relocate with her grandmother, someone whom she’s never met before. Like Alice, her grandmother, June, carries dark secrets, secrets borne from a deep maternal urge to protect those she loves and which is reflected in the flower farm she runs and, even more significantly, in the broken women she takes under wing and who work for her. Known as The Flowers, they too have secrets and histories that both bond them and, in an attempt to shed the past or at least reconcile it, cause emotional pain. Among these women with their love of stories and each other and the gorgeous flowers, Alice finds a modicum of peace, many more stories to nourish her soul and even love – that is, until something occurs which catapults her into a future she neither imagined or wanted.

From fields of sugar cane and the deep rolling ocean, to the flower farm by the river, and ultimately, central Australia replete with its chthonic magic and ancient stories, the book spans over twenty years. It explores different kinds of love, our connection to place, how stories shape us, how secrets do as well. It also examines the choices we make – good and bad – and the consequences of these upon both the individual making them and those they inevitably affect. It’s about residence and forgiveness as well.

This is such a soulful, gorgeous book that it’s hard to put into words how it made me feel. All I can say is that my signed copy (gifted by my publisher – and signed to me personally by Holly – thank you, Holly) is something I will treasure. I have also bought the book for others so they too might share in this enchanting novel.

There’s no doubt that Ringland is a voice to watch – poetic, powerful and moving – one that has the ability to take the reader on a journey that doesn’t end when the novel finishes. If that’s not an accomplished storyteller with a great gift, I don’t know what is. Cannot wait to see what Ringland produces next.

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The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

A wonderful story of secrets, families, hope, regret, relationships and the way in which the actions of past can impinge upon the present from Liane Moriarty. imgresSet on an island (Scribbly Gum) in the Hawkesbury River, New South Wales, Australia, it centres around Sophie Honeywell, a sweet-natured woman who reflects upon her life and decides that because she is in her late thirties, single and childless, she may have made some huge mistakes, including letting the man who asked her to marry him, Thomas Gordon, get away years earlier.

When she is left an extraordinary bequest by Thomas’ Aunt Connie, one that sees her relocating to Scribbly Gum Island and becoming part of the commercial enterprise that is the Munro Baby mystery – a mystery that harkens back to the 1930s when two residents of the island, Alice and Jack Munro dramatically disappeared, leaving behind a baby which the then island residents, Alice and Connie, raised as their own – she is flung back into Thomas’ life and that of his rather eccentric family. Befriending them all over again, Sophie is forced to reassess her life and her opinions of those who both seek to include her in the Munro baby enterprise but also those who feel that as an outsider, she has no right to be on the island and upsetting the status quo.

The longer Sophie stays, the more she begins to understand herself, what she wants from life and the “enigma” that is the Munro mystery.

While this book doesn’t quite have the sophisticated plot and characterisation of Big Little Lies, it is a delightful, light-hearted examination of people and the way we form and maintain or break relationships as well as how decisions made on the spur of the moment can have a huge impact upon the future. Often funny, moving and with a serious side, it’s an easy read and a great way to pass the time. Moriarty paints the characters so well, even the minor ones are three-dimensional and, just like real people, can be alternately annoying, fascinating and adorable. I read this while on holidays and reluctantly tore myself from it. While some of the narrative is predictable, there is a marvellous twist at the end that I never saw coming and found eminently satisfying. Another good read from a simply fabulous writer.

 

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The Blue Mile by Kim Kelly

The Blue Mile is quite simply an extraordinary book. I absolutely loved it and, once I’d grown accustomed to its very original style, the quirkiness and authenticity of the language, as well as the way the tale is told, found it impossible to put down.

The Blue MileSet in the late 1920s and early 1930s in Depression-era Sydney, the book is narrated from two points of view: that of Eoghan O’Keenan, an Irish-Australian man eking out an existence in the slums of Chippendale, Sydney, and Olivia Greene, a lovely young designer who dreams of opening a couture’s salon in Paris. The Blue Mile is at once a simply beautiful love story, a homage to a largely forgotten time in Sydney, a story about the way politics impacts upon real lives, and a treatise on class and religious differences.

Seguing from Eoghan (Yo-Yo’s) voice and Olivia’s, we see the close of the 1920s through their very different eyes. Yo-Yo offers a masculine voice of desperation, ideals and firm work and religious ethics all of which have him fleeing the house in which he grew up, a house which offers him nothing but a bleak and violent future. A man of high principles and gallantry despite (or perhaps because of) his working class origins and abusive upbringing, Yo-Yo takes his seven year old sister, the adorable, Agnes (Aggie) with him, determined to give her what he never had: love, stability and a future.

Running counter to Eoghan’s dark tale is Olivia’s feminine and whimsical dreams, ones fostered by her hard-working mother who instills in Olivia an unusual spirit of independence and a belief in the power of dreams if only you work towards them. Olivia is the child of a dissolute British aristocrat who, after divorce, ships his ex-wife and daughter off to the antipodes without another thought. Only mildly bitter, Ollie is a kind and talented soul who though she longs for change, also fears its consequences. Determined to achieve her dreams and on her own, she eschews her mother’s offers of help and, later of relocation, and forges ahead, earning a reputation some covet and others envy.

 

But it’s when fate brings Eoghan and Ollie together and steers them onto a rocky and unpredictable path that both of them have to make difficult choices, choices that run counter to what their upbringings, dreams, class, parents and God have taught them to expect. Their stories intertwine and collide with heart-breaking, uplifting and calamitous consequences – for Ollie, Eoghan, Aggie and those who love and care about them.

I don’t want to say too much more lest I spoil this unforgettable tale except that the way the era is evoked is utterly magical. The phatic language, the everyday patois of the working, middle and upper classes gives the novel such authenticity and veracity as does the sense of time and place. The way Kelly understands and uses history, not in a boring didactic way but to make the story sing is marvellous. She makes the shape of a hat, a brooch, or the collar of a shirt signify an era and those who not only lived but worked through it in ways that are at once clever and lyrical. As the characters walk the streets of Sydney, so too the city comes alive for the reader in all its ugly glory and promise. The Harbour Bridge which, as the book opens, is incomplete is as much a character as the city, but it’s also a metaphor for the events in the book: for the span of time, for hopes, imaginings, and livelihoods built, shattered and salvaged. It’s a sign of union and unions, of a city on the cusp of transformation, of a new era about to be ushered in. It’s also signifies the journey the two central characters make – from opposite sides in every way to some kind of possible or impossible meeting.

This juncture, like that of the bridge, is not without battles – emotional, financial, religious and other. And it’s through these that the heart of the book (and the folk that live in its pages) come alive and beats at a frantic pace making it impossible to put down lest you miss one single moment.

A gem of a book that will captivate lovers of history, romance, politics and so many others things besides. It surprised me in the most wonderful of ways – it literally took my breath away and I cannot wait to read more of Kelly’s work. Cannot recommend this novel highly enough. It is stunning.

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