Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 7, 2016

Radiance, by Shaena Lambert

radianceShaena Lamber’s Radiance is a book from back in 2007, and I think I probably bought it on the recommendation of the late Kevin from Canada, a friend and blogger sorely missed.  It’s a thought-provoking novel, the kind I really like.

The novel traces the story of Keiko, a ‘Hiroshima Maiden’ and her ‘house mother’ Daisy Lawrence, but it’s also a devastating exposé of the way ordinary people are used to serve political purposes, no matter the pain it causes.  The Hiroshima Maidens were, in real life, Japanese girls with facial disfigurements caused by the atom bomb, who were brought to America for facial surgery to restore their appearance.  Keiko stays with Daisy and her husband Walter, an ‘all-American family’ living in the quiet anonymity of the suburbs – while the Hiroshima Project committee organises the speaking tour that Keiko will undertake after her surgery as a poster girl for the nuclear disarmament movement.  This is the period between the atom bomb and the hydrogen bomb and also the era of the Cold War: peace activists were urging an international ban on the development of nuclear weapons.  But as Daisy soon finds out, Keiko’s calm, polite mask conceals a young woman too traumatised by survivor guilt to share the ambiguous truth of her memories.

Radiance is also a novel about national guilt.  As Richard Flanagan recently pointed out in a documentary called Life After Death (which you can maybe still see on ABC iView), more people died building the infamous Burma Railway than at Hiroshima.  So it is instructive to see how different nations deal with guilt arising from acts of war.  It seems to me that Japan has felt very little of it and for all its wealth has done little to atone for what they did throughout Southeast Asia in WW2.  It also seems to me that the Coalition of the Willing (Australia included) has turned a blind eye to the human cost of its enterprise in the Middle East and the chaos it unleashed.  It is ironic that Germany, the pariah nation of the 20th century, is in the 21st century a model for compassion with its welcome to the Syrian refugees.

(You see, this is why Radiance is the kind of novel I like.  It makes me think.  I extrapolate from it, and consider how its meaning has resonance in our own time.  It adds to my knowledge of the world, of people, and of ideas.  You can see how the vacuous narcissism of Pond fares so very badly by comparison.)

But the devastation at Hiroshima aroused an uneasy sense of guilt in America and so the idea was born to ‘rescue’ the girls from their fate as unmarriageable women who must be hidden away.  (As this article shows, it was a project fraught with contradictions, yet we still see occasional examples of disabled war victims ‘rescued’ from their fate, though these days it is mostly children that we see paraded in the media.)  Lambert deftly shows the emptiness of life for childless Daisy in the fecund suburbs of postwar America, and late in the book we see the beginnings of McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare.  But we also see the tragedy of a neighbour suffering what we now call postwar PTSD having to confront ‘the enemy’ in his own neighbourhood, and the residents’ fear that radiation sickness might be contagious.  Ignorant, yes, but what else would they be, at that time and in that place?  These ambiguities show the moral complexities of the situation.

The story is told from Daisy’s point-of-view by a well-disposed narrator who sees into her anxious heart. Her yearning to mother Keiko is contrasted with the diffidence of the committee that wants to use the young woman for their own ends, noble though those aims might be.  Daisy struggles to understand Keiko’s small betrayals (stealing things from the houses she visits) but she is also disconcerted by her own jealousy about her husband Walter’s easier relationship with Keiko.  She doesn’t know how to handle her friend Irene once she realises that Irene’s determination to use Keiko is going to rupture their friendship.  And the characterisation of the affection that binds Daisy and Walter’s marriage is superb: intense, troubled Daisy repressing herself because that is what’s expected, and Walter, offhand and cynical, fond but vaguely paternal.

Shaena Lambert has since published a collection of short stories called Oh, My Darling, but alas, no novels since this one.

Author: Shaena Lambert
Title: Radiance
Publisher: Virago UK, 2008
ISBN: 9781844080182
Source: Personal library

Available from Fishpond: Radiance


qe-the-australian-dreamWhen I reviewed Stan Grant’s powerful Talking to My Country back in March of this year, I predicted that it could be a game-changer, but now I think that perhaps this Quarterly Essay might be the book that achieves more.  In a coherently argued essay, what Grant is basically saying is that the image of indigenous poverty and disadvantage is only one part of the picture of indigenous life, and should not be the dominant one.

There’s a man I met at a recent function who I hope reads this essay too.  Making idle pre-dinner chat, he was telling us about his recent holiday up north when he launched into a diatribe about the dysfunctional Aboriginal communities he saw.  I was uncomfortable with what he was saying but since I’ve never been to one of the communities I held my tongue until he extrapolated from what he’d seen to make generalisations about all Aborigines.  ‘Whoa,’ I said, ‘I’m not having that.  You can talk about the people you’ve seen but you can’t make judgements about all indigenous people on the basis of that.  There are plenty of middle-class indigenous people in Australia who are better educated than you and I are.  I know because I’ve read their books.’

(It might not be polite to tackle people about their racism at social occasions, but I don’t tolerate racists and anti-Semites any time.  The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.)

I wish I’d had Stan Grant’s essay to hand! In a chapter entitled The Quiet Revolution he tells us that

There are around 30,000 Indigenous university graduates in Australia; in 1991 there were fewer than 4000.  Those students who are breaking through are crafting a new narrative of empowerment and individuality.  Dr Sana Nakata is a second-generation Indigenous PhD.  Her father, Martin, was the first Torres Strait Islander to complete a doctorate, and his daughter finished hers in 2013.  She is now teaching political theory at the University of Melbourne.  She is part of a wave of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students earning doctoral degrees.  The number has quadrupled in the past twenty years.  Between 1990 and 2000 there were fifty-five Indigenous students awarded PhDs; between 2000 and 2011 there were 219. (p.72)

Grant argues that parents like his own who left the missions and took on whatever work they could so that their kids could become part of the Australian economy, were ‘economic migrants’ in ways not dissimilar to those who came in successive waves of migration to Australia.  Just as illiterate European migrants had children who have now joined the professions – so have large numbers of Indigenous people:

The report “mapping the Indigenous Program and Funding Maze” reveals that 65 per cent of Indigenous people in Australia are employed and living lives, materially and socio-economically, like those of other Australians.  This is three times more than the number living in urban and regional areas who are largely welfare-dependent (22 per cent).  Another 70,000 people (13 per cent) are languishing in remote areas, also locked in cycles of dependence and welfare far from regular education or employment opportunities.

There is a story here, a story largely untold.  It is a story of success and how it is spurned like an unwanted child.  Indigenous lives have been framed by suffering.  (p. 68)

Between 1996 and 2006 the Indigenous community was transformed.  Numbers of educated, well-paid professionals exploded.  In just a decade, they increased by nearly 75 per cent.  That was more than double the increase in the non-Indigenous community.  By 2006 more than 14,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders between twenty and sixty-four years of age were employed in professional occupations.  The government defines these jobs as analytical, conceptual and creative work in fields that range from the arts and media to engineering, education, health and the law.  Put simply, we were using our brains as teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers and journalists.  These people comprise 13 per cent of the total Indigenous workforce.  This still lags behind the general population, where the number of professionals is nearly 22 per cent, but the gap is closing fast.  (p. 69-70)

While he acknowledges that he doesn’t speak for all indigenous people (who could?) what Grant is asserting is that identity politics isn’t helping.  Assimilation is a dirty word, but being economically integrated into Australian society without losing cultural identity or denying Black history is how many Indigenous people are successfully living.

I don’t want to misinterpret what Grant says.  The essay is complex and sophisticated and some of what he says is, he acknowledges, contentious.  Well, the QE is inexpensive and also readily available in libraries.  Just get a copy and read it, yeah?

Author: Stan Grant
Title: The Australian Dream, Blood, History and Becoming
Quarterly Essay #64, published by Black Inc 2016
ISBN: 9781863958899
Source: personal subscription

Available from Fishpond: The Australian Dream: Blood, History and Becoming (Quarterly Essay) or better still, subscribe through the QE website.

Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 5, 2016

2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards Shortlist

It’s a nice Christmas present for the authors shortlisted for the just-announced Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for 2017, and there are some interesting books for me to chase up, hopefully before the prize is announced on January 31st.

The shortlisted books in each category are:


  • Between a Wolf and a Dog (Georgia Blain, Scribe) See my review
  • The Healing Party (Micheline Lee, Black Inc.), on my TBR
  • Wood Green (Sean Rabin, Giramondo) See my review
  • Waiting (Philip Salom, Puncher & Wattmann)
  • The Rules of Backyard Cricket (Jock Serong, Text) (crime fiction)
  • The Love of a Bad Man (Laura Elizabeth Woollett, Scribe) (short stories)


  • Songs of a War Boy (Deng Adut & Ben Mckelvey, Hachette)
  • The Hate Race (Maxine Beneba Clarke, Hachette)
  • The Killing Season Uncut (Sarah Ferguson & Patricia Drum, MUP)
  • Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru (Madeline Gleeson, NewSouth)
  • Position Doubtful (Kim Mahood, Scribe) See my review
  • The Fighter (Arnold Zable, Text)


  • Carrying the World (Maxine Beneba Clarke, Hachette)
  • Painting Red Orchids (Eileen Chong, Pitt Street Poetry)
  • Bull Days (Tina Giannoukos, Australian Scholarly Publishing)

Young adult

  • When Michael Met Mina (Randa Abdel-Fattah, Pan)
  • The Bone Sparrow (Zana Fraillon, Lothian)
  • The Other Side of Summer (Emily Gale, Random House)


  • Girl Shut Your Mouth (Gita Bezard, Black Swan State Theatre Company)
  • Trigger Warning (Zoë Coombs Marr, Melbourne International Comedy Festival)
  • The Drover’s Wife (Leah Purcell, Currency Press).

Each category winner receives $25,000 and is eligible for the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature. The winner of the People’s Choice Award will receive $2000.

For more information and to vote for the People’s Choice Award, visit the Wheeler Centre website here.

Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 5, 2016

Pond, by Claire-Louise Bennett

Oh dear, I am going to be right out of step with the world’s literary elite with this one: I am supposed to be bowled over by the brilliance of Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett, but I was bored brainless by the time I got to the end of the second story chunk of text and pressed on to the obligatory page 50 only because it is polite to an author to give a book a fair go.  Then *smacks forehead* I pressed on #IgnoringMyReliableInstincts because I thought that the literary elite must be right and I must be wrong and that there must surely be something special which I’ve missed.  And then I gave up altogether at page 103 because really, #Life’sTooShort and reading about the quest to replace broken stove-knobs and the importance of sitting on a particular ottoman at a party is IMO just too lame, while reflections on  drinking to get drunk and ennobling it as purposeful are merely briefly puzzling and of no intrinsic interest.

The writing is described in the blurb as feverish and forthright, but since the publishers sent me an uncorrected proof copy (though my Review Policy tells them not to) I can’t quote from the book.  (I can’t show you the cover image either.) Let me try to convey its style by emulating it:

I sit here at my computer all alone in my bedroom except for the dog on the end of the bed for a reason I don’t really understand trying to write a review of a book that bored me.  I don’t know where the Spouse is I should think he is in his office getting on with some work but he might be messing about on Facebook or reading the paper though he might be in the kitchen making the scrambled eggs he undertook to make for breakfast.  Scrambled eggs are very nice for breakfast though it’s important to put them on the right sort of plate.  White plates look nice but blue can look nice too but not green especially not a sage green.

On second thoughts maybe you should take a look at Paul Fulcher’s review at Goodreads.  He must have a different edition because he’s been able to quote direct from the book in his fulsome review.

I was expecting to like this book, or at least be intrigued by it because it’s marketed as innovative fiction that eschews traditional narrative conventions.  As I said when I reviewed Mud Map, Australian Women’s Experimental Writing, I can be out of my depth when reading experimental texts but still enjoy having my mind stretched and my horizons widened.  Mud Map was exhilarating.  But I did not feel like that when reading Pond.  Pond feels like standing next to one of those sad and lonely old folk in the queue at the post office as they ramble on about the minutiae of their day to the counter staff who are desperately trying to find a way to wind up the monologue without hurting the feelings of someone who has no one else to talk to.  It feels like being forced to eavesdrop on one of those inane one-way mobile-phone ‘convos’ that young women have on the train, breathlessly describing their narcissistic lives – breathless not because their lives or thoughts are exciting but so as to prevent anyone interrupting, even to say ‘Stop, please, I implore you’.  Pond actually feels more like a swamp.

Blurbers from Eimear McBride to Jenny Offill and the NYT Book Review to the Paris Review and the New Yorker have raved about this book.  The Guardian says it’s a truly stunning debut, beautifully written and profoundly witty.

If this is the future of writing, the narcissistic meandering of Pond is a vindication of my book hoarding habits.  Intended as insurance against the eBook, my library now looks like sustenance for the bleak years ahead.

The book will be published by Pan MacMillan Australia in late December.

#Update, a few hours later:

pondAs luck would have it, as you can see from my comment below, when I went to the PO box en route to visiting Daddy for the day, lo! there was another copy of Pond, this time not a proof copy (and therefore without the irritating spelling mistakes) and this time with a striking cover.  Its ISBN is 9781760550936 which is the same as the ISBN of the book you can pre-order at Readings if you want to, but the cover of the edition at Readings is entirely different.  Mysteries of publishing…




Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 4, 2016

Six Degrees of Separation, from Revolutionary Road , to….

#6Degrees is back again, how quickly the month comes around!  Hosted by Kate at Books are My Favourite and Best this month’s starter book is Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, and once again I have read it!

revolutionary-roadRevolutionary Road is a story revealing how The Great American (Postwar) Dream creates dysfunctional families. (See my review).  Now while I can see that systemic reasons lie behind various forms of dysfunction, I thought it was absolute rubbish when I read on Twitter recently that ‘all families are dysfunctional in some way’.  Well, no, they’re not.  There are plenty of families around that are functional, and it’s a misuse of the word, and a way of denying the real misery of genuinely dysfunctional families, to appropriate it for families that are just experiencing the everyday business of individuals getting along together, or not.

The Man Who Loved ChildrenA genuinely dysfunctional family that comes to mind is the one depicted in Christina Stead’s  The Man Who Loved Children.  As I said in my review: The title is ironic.  Sam Pollit does not love his children at all.  This novel is  a withering dissection of a dysfunctional family, a story to challenge any Brady Bunch stereotypical ideas about family life forever.  Most horrific is that Louisa is so used to verbal and physical abuse from her stepmother that she barely reacts, and worse still is that her father witnesses the violence from the window and does nothing about it.

all-day-at-the-moviesStepmothers, of course, often come in for a bad rap in fiction. The ironically named Charm in Fiona Kidman’s All Day at the Movies (see my review) is brutal to Belinda and her siblings Grant and Janice, but when Belinda shows her father the rope burns on her wrists, he tells her that she’s knocking around with the wrong sort of friends.  Fortunately Belinda gets a second chance through being able to access the education denied to the older women in the novel, but it’s no thanks to the father who turned a blind eye to what was going on.

crimes-of-the-fatherWhether it’s a case of turning a blind eye or deliberately orchestrating a cover up, the Catholic Church is now notorious for systemic child abuse in its institutions.  Tom Keneally tackles the issue in his new novel Crimes of the Father (see my review) where his imperfect hero Father Docherty tries to warn his superiors that they need to face up to what is going on.  He has already been exiled to Canada for holding Leftie views during the Vietnam era but on his return to Australia for a conference he becomes aware of proof of abuse and tries to initiate action.  Up against personal prejudice against him and the secrecy and arrogance of the prevailing ecclesiastical culture, he seems like a man against insurmountable odds.

alpine-balladThe book I have just finished reading is another case of a man against insurmountable odds.  Alpine Ballad by Vasil Bykau (see my review)  is the story of a Belarusian POW on the run after his escape from a Nazi camp.  His escape is made more difficult because an impulsive Italian girl is also on the run with him, and the noise of her impetuous laughter attracts the Gestapo search party and their dogs.  She speaks no Belarusian and he speaks no Italian so they have to communicate with a limited vocabulary of German as they try to make their way over the inhospitable alps.  Bykau’s writing is brilliant: you can almost feel the winds pierce their inadequate clothing and the snow on their bare feet.

The World BeneathAnother book where the weather brings great peril is Cate Kennedy’s The World Beneath.  (See my review).  A man takes his daughter hiking in the Tasmanian Wilderness, but too busy proving that he’s a great dad to his ex-wife, he fails to make adequate precautions for Tassie’s changeable conditions.  The adolescent daughter Sophie, estranged from her father for fifteen years, provokes Rich into abandoning the recommended hiking path with her scornful contempt for him, and then the weather turns nasty.  Kennedy evokes the cold, the hail, the fog, and the biting wind of this remorseless environment with an authenticity that will have the reader reaching for the extra warmth of a blanket!

the-longingJust recently I learned something about blankets that I should have figured out for myself.  As most people know, blankets were often traded or used as bribes during the dispossession of Australia’s indigenous people.  Sometimes they were traded for beautifully-made possum-skin cloaks which were not just warm but also rainproof, and the too-efficient distribution of the inferior blanket is said to have contributed to the spread of diseases such as the common cold.  But the possum-skin cloak was also a cultural history of the wearer through symbolic decorations and they were handed down as heirlooms through the generations.  The use of one such possum-skin cloak is told in Candice Bruce’s powerful novel The Longing, (see my review) and you can read it in this Sensational Snippet.

From dysfunctional families to heirloom blankets, that’s my #6Degrees this month!


Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 4, 2016

Alpine Ballad, by Vasil Bykau, translated by Mikalai Khilo

alpine-ballad Alpine Ballad is, as the title suggests, a beautiful book, uplifting and inspiring because it’s a testament to the human spirit even in times when it’s sorely tested.

Vasil Bykau (1924-2003) is well-known in Belarus and beyond for war-themed novels based on his own personal experience.  This translation of Alpiyskaya Balada is the first to be published without Soviet censorship – it had apparently attracted their displeasure because there are some minor criticisms of Soviet life, though you and I in the 21st century might find it hard to see what they were upset about.

Alpine Ballad is the story of a Belarusian prisoner of the Nazis who manages to escape the camp when an allied bomb they were defusing went off.  It’s towards the end of the war, and Ivan has been a prisoner for long enough to have witnessed some terrible things and to be very hungry.  On the other hand, the privations he has experienced have toughened him up, which stands him in good stead for what lies ahead.

He flees into the mountains followed by an Italian girl called Guilia, also from the same POW camp. She is loud, impulsive and sunny-natured and he tries to shed her company because her erratic behaviour puts his escape at risk.  As the ‘target badges’ sewn onto his clothes attest, he has escaped before, and he knows the perils and the punishment he faces if he survives and is brought back to the camp.  But before long they reach an uneasy companionship and travel together.

Their immediate problems, apart from recapture by the SS and their dogs, are hunger and their prison uniforms, striped garments that offer little protection from the elements.  Only one of them has shoes, and Guilia’s clogs keep falling off as they make their way over the rugged terrain.  So moral issues arise quickly.  Pursued by Alsatians (German Shepherd dogs) and with the gun stolen from a wounded German at the time of the escape, Ivan feels he has no choice but to shoot the dogs.  But he misses the second dog and there follows a horrible struggle between man and beast which leaves the dog helpless with broken legs but still alive.  Because he has only a few bullets, Ivan feels he has no choice but to leave it to die in pain, but he feels intense remorse about it.

It’s harder still when he robs an Austrian forester for food and a jacket.  As he makes his way towards the man he struggles with the dilemma:

He lay prone on the ground and waited, frequently looking downhill at a glistening turn in the path among the treetops.  He had no doubt that the man walking there was a civilian, that he would give away his clothes without resistance – after all, Ivan had a gun.  But what should he do next?  While his conscience would not allow him to kill an unarmed person, it would be almost suicidal to let him pass. No matter how he racked his tired brain, he could not think of anything and felt very bad about his indecision. It was obvious, however, that they would not be able to cross the main ridge without robbing that man. (p. 58)

It turns out that the man is friendly and offers to help, and when Guilia comes running down the path to warn of the approaching German search party, the man gives them bread from his pack.  But as they turn to go, Ivan also demands the man’s jacket at gunpoint, and is then tortured by guilt and wishes terrible misfortune on those who had forced him to do such a thing.

Was he a robber, a villain, why would he have stopped that peaceful fat man and pointed a pistol at him, let alone stolen from him, if it had not been for Nazism, for the war, for the captivity with thousands of tortures and indignities visited on people by the Nazis? They had forced him to commit that robbery, and he hated them all the more. (p. 63)

From a war where the collective guilt of nations still reverberates, Bykau reminds us about the culpability of individual actions.

At the heart of this novel is man’s struggle between looking out for himself and a sense of shared humanity.  Told entirely from the 3rd person perspective of Ivan (with occasional flashbacks to provide the backstory and some retellings of recurrent nightmares), the narrative shows that Ivan’s bond with Guilia is reluctant, tentative and contingent, but it contrasts sharply with his unmitigated hostility to the other escapee, characterised as a German madman.  This man is on his own but is never far away, miraculously distracting the German search party but always after Ivan and Guilia for a share of their bread.  Yet even with this man, one who represents nothing but a threat to their survival, Ivan feels moral restraint.

Alpine Ballad is not a Steve McQueen romanticised escape adventure.  It is a dogged, brutal quest for survival.  The reader can almost feel the cold penetrating their bones, can almost taste their hunger and their ever-present fear.  The love that grows between Ivan and Guilia blooms suddenly like the red poppies that cover the valley, but the path to freedom lies over the snow-covered mountains…

For those like me who are unfamiliar with the work of Vasil Bykau, there is a useful short introduction by Arnold McMillan which sets the author’s writing in context.

Author: Vasil Bykau
Title: Alpine Ballad (Alpiyskaya Balada)
Publisher: Glagoslav Publications, 2016, first published 1964
ISBN: 9781784379445
Review copy courtesy of Glagoslav Publications

Available from Fishpond: Alpine Ballad


Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 1, 2016

Authors from Western Australia (Australian Authors #3)

I’ve had a draft of Australian Authors #2 in the innards of this blog for a while, but I’m scampering on to #3 because the Australian Society of Authors is tweeting that literature funding in WA is in crisis.  There is a petition here, but I want to do my bit by bringing to your attention some of the cultural capital that Australia owes to WA writers, and that’s at risk because of funding cuts.  I don’t know the first thing about the economics of arts funding in WA, but I do know about literary talent that brings money into an economy, and you don’t need to be an economist to know that funding is always all about choices.

The Sugar MotherMiss Peabody's Inheritance (UQP) 001Doing LifeThe most notable WA author I know of is Elizabeth Jolley whose books fascinated a whole generation of readers.  I’ve only reviewed The Sugar Mother and Miss Peabody’s Inheritance but she’s an author I re-read so there will be more to come in due course.  Her biographer, Brian Dibble who wrote Doing Life hails from WA too.

Then there is Ralph Stow who wrote some of the most memorable books I’ve ever read.  Many readers remember The Merry-go-round in the Sea, but there is also his Miles Franklin winning To the Islands and also the enigmatic Tourmaline.

In alphabetical order, here are some WA writers that I know of.  If you haven’t read these authors, buy or borrow their books, because in a demoralising period, WA writers need your support.  (Links are mostly to my reviews).

Louise Allan: not published yet, but she was shortlisted for the TA Hungerford award in 2014 and her novel is due to be published by Allen & Unwin in 2017.  Louise blogs here, including a terrific series called Writers from the Attic, where you can discover more writers from WA.

two-sisters-a-true-storyFrom the Walmajarri people in the Great Sandy Desert, there is the superb memoir, Two Sisters from Ngarta Jukuna Bent and Jukuna Mona Chuguna with Pat Lowe and Eirlys Richards.  Two Sisters is an authentic account of an ancient way of life as it was lived by sisters Ngarta and Jukuna in the Great Sandy Desert, and then it covers the period when this way of life was disrupted by the coming of Europeans into the north, and as I said in my review the same epic quality as Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington.

Georgiana Molloy the mind that shinesBernice Barry: author of a beautiful biography about a significant botanical artist during the early settlement of WA, Georgina Molloy, the Mind that Shines.

The SinkingsElemental (Curtin)Amanda Curtin: I discovered her work through a serendipitous find at the library: I was really impressed by The Sinkings and her follow up with Elemental is utterly unforgettableI think another novel is on the way.  Find out more at Meet an Aussie Author.

TraitorComing RainStephen Daisley is one of my favourite authors.  I first read Traitor when it was shortlisted for multiple awards and then Coming Rain won the Ockham New Zealand Awards for Fiction.

Salt StoryThe Weaver FishSarah Drummond has a new book called The Sound, endorsed by no less an author than Kim Scott, but so far I’ve only read the fascinating Salt Story.

Robert Edeson wrote that brain twister The Weaver Fish.

Spinnerthe-breakRon Elliot: author of Spinner, which has the rare distinction of being a book about sport that I enjoyed.  (of course, it’s really about much more than that.  See Meet an Aussie Author.

Deb Fitzpatrick: author of The Break and also a popular YA novelist.  She has five books to her credit, and you can find out more about her at her website.

My PlaceWildlightSally Morgan was the first indigenous author I ever read.  Her memoir  My Place is unforgettable.  Robyn Mundy wrote the stunning novel Wildlight.

the-furNathan Hobby: author of The Fur (which won the TA Hungerford in 2003 and was shortlisted for the 2004 W.A. Premier’s Award Young Adult Fiction, and is waiting patiently on my TBR).  Nathan is working on a mammoth biography of Katharine Susannah Pritchard., blogging his progress at A Biographer in Perth.

Isabelle of the Moon and StarsS.A. (Sarah) Jones: author of Isabelle of the Moon and StarsOk, she lives in Melbourne now, but she hails from WA.  See Meet an Aussie Author.

The Mind's Own Placethe-end-of-longingIan Reid: author of The Mind’s Own Place and The End of Longing Find out more about the author of these intriguing books at Meet an Aussie Author.  

Kim Scott is one of my all-time favourite authors.  He is a two-time winner of the Miles Franklin Award, with his novels Benang and That Deadman Dance, which is one of the most magnificent books I’ve ever readI’ve also read Kayang and Me which he co-wrote with Hazel Brown (and some of the bilingual books he’s written for children in the Noongar language)See more at Meet an Aussie Author.


Craig Silvey was nominated for the Miles Franklin with Jasper Jones, and Annabel Smith has three books in the marketplace and is hard at work on her next one.  She is the author of A New Map of the Universe, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and The Ark.  See Meet an Aussie Author.

Letters to the End of Love

Reading by MoonlightThen there’s Julienne Van Loon whose novel Harmless followed Bloodwood Tree and her Vogel-award-winning Road Story, and Brenda Walker: author of The Wing of Night and the memoir Reading by Moonlight.  Thanks to Elisa McCune for reminding me:).

And finally, Yvette Walker: author of Letters to the End of Love, find out more at Meet an Aussie Author, and Josephine  Wilson whose novel Extinctions is on my TBR.

Now this is just a list of authors that (with the help of Amanda Curtin, see comments  below) I’ve read and been able to identify as being from WA, and of course there are many more, including those who are writing in genres I don’t review.  Still, this is an impressive list of talent, and shows you why the WA government needs to get its act together.

BTW I should also mention four publishers that I know of.  The links take you to all the books I’ve reviewed for these publishers, and I think that many of these titles have WA authors too:





Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 1, 2016

The World Repair Video Game, by David Ireland

the-world-repair-video-gameOh, words fail me when I try to describe the experience of reading this book. With no disrespect intended, I have to say that words failed the judges when they shortlisted it for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards too.  This is what they said:

The publication of David Ireland’s The World Repair Video Game, his first novel to appear in almost 20 years, is something of a literary event. It confirms, above all, that the imaginative powers of this three-time Miles Franklin Award winner remain undiminished. The novel is framed in the form of a journal or diary written by 42-year old Kennard Stirling. Though born to a wealthy Sydney family, Stirling now chooses to spend his days living a modest and solitary existence, with his dog Jim, in a small coastal town in NSW. The novel covers just a few brief months in his life, recording his largely uneventful days spent planting trees, and helping out the town’s elderly residents—mowing their lawns, delivering meals, or ferrying them to medical appointments.

Occasionally, the darker side of Stirling’s character surfaces, as he pursues his unconventional scheme to regenerate the landscape of his bushland property on Big Hill. Then there is the voice of Pym, which habitually interjects itself into Stirling’s narrative, and which may be an element of Stirling’s consciousness, or may be something else entirely. David Ireland’s novel, shot through with philosophical asides, irony and dark humour, ultimately presents a bleak vision of our modern world. While Stirling’s response to the realities of economic rationalism, community breakdown and environmental degradation, is blatantly absurd, his strategies to repair the world ultimately present themselves as beyond good and evil. In a novel largely devoid of conventional character and storytelling, David Ireland has given us a complex, challenging and deeply committed work.

The judges wanted to avoid spoilers.  But in doing so, they have failed to convey just how enthralling this book is.  So I’m going to reveal the spoiler you will recognise for yourself by the time you get to page 2.  You have been warned!


The World Repair Video Game is the story of a serial killer, narrated by the warped mind of Kennard Stirling, aged 42, and living in a country town in NSW, doing odd jobs as a volunteer while living off the income of his wealthy family.

He’s an odd-bod and a loner, always has been, as the reader can tell from the memories he recalls in his daily diary: scenes with his parents and siblings, scenes that show that he had difficulty relating to people from the start but that (like most parents who have a child who is ‘different’) his mother and father accept him for what he is.  His father is okay with him leaving school without a qualification or a desire to work in the family business; he quotes his mother saying (more than once) “You can’t help it, it’s how you are”;  and his sister Simone teases him about some of his opinions.  But he has no contact with them except through occasional correspondence.  He has had a relationship with a woman called Leonora but it has failed, and throughout the novel the reader feels a level of anxiety about her whereabouts…

His best friend is Jim, his dog, not the only example of anthropomorphism in Kennard’s life.  He also attributes emotions and intentions to his ute, Brian; to his stiletto, Ott; and Big Manna (his tree).  He is obsessively tidy and very well-organised.  His anarchy, he says, is orderly.

Significantly, Kennard shares the opinions and attitudes of some of our not-so-beloved political leaders.  He is particularly exercised by the prevalence of a sense of entitlement and although he doesn’t use the notorious phrase lifters and leaners few readers will fail to recognise the rhetoric of a certain treasurer.  Although Kennard rejects the consumerist values of his super-rich family and is concerned that we have moved beyond a market economy into a market society, he has absorbed the work ethic of his parents and believes that everyone should work or give back to the community in some way.  That’s ok, most of us feel like that – up to a point, and where that point lies is a place along a moral and humane continuum.  So the reader nods approvingly at Kennard using his privileged position of not needing to work, to do voluntary work in his community: mowing the lawns of the elderly, taking them to medical appointments, delivering meals-on-wheels, clearing out gutters.  Although he listens to the people he helps, and recounts in his diary the ways in which they contributed to society through the work they did, he keeps them at arm’s length, never calling them by their first names.

But Kennard rejects the idea of equality altogether:

If all were equal and of equal value, there would be no movement, the population would set like concrete.  No one with eyes to see  can maintain the fiction of equality as actuality.  (p. 120)

And he has an absurdist solution to the problem of society having to support people who have no value:

Markets, careers, bureaucrats, solidarity with others, none of these are for me.  Free society can never be perfect, busy conscientious humans must be allowed their imperfections.  My modest aim, while keeping mostly to myself, is to repair the world around me in small ways.  Make it better.  Adjust it, so it’s better to live in. Not perfection, but more tidy around the edges.  (p.15)

His method of ‘adjusting it’ is to dispose of the wastrels who drift into his town, getting rid of the outliers.  He identifies them by the birds he sees sitting on their heads, encourages them to reveal how they manage the welfare system so as to avoid work, and justifies what he does to them by rejecting their ‘entitlement’ view of the world:

I reflect about yesterday and Turpie.  Here is another follower of the mendicant Jesus, without the doctrines.  He lobs somewhere, anywhere, and all is paid for.  Like Jesus he has no property or possessions and no dwelling place.  Is this social justice? Ryle‘s fairness?  He’s coddled for doing nothing, he takes, never gives.  This is not a fair go to all the others who make an effort to keep the social machine in motion.  Where is Donald H. and his Avenue of the Fair Go?  I exist for myself, persons like Turpie are outliers on the world’s graph.  (p. 112)

(You might say, with some justification, that denying welfare benefits to young unemployed people for an entire six months, would inevitably result in some of them dying, if not of illness or malnutrition, then from suicide.  So absurdist solutions to reducing the welfare budget do exist, at least in the minds of some politicians).

Yes, this is a creepy book, not least because Kennard has some attractive characteristics.  He is kind to the old people he works for, even anonymously providing a substantial loan to help one of them.  He has the habits of cultured people: he listens to Mozart and Berlioz; he recognises quotations from Heraclitus; he references Lucian Freud and Emily Dickenson; Montaigne and Magritte; Hobbes on vegetarianism and even President Obama.  He is at home on his bush block, lovingly describing the bird and animal life, exulting in the sunsets and the changing weather, and spending long hours working hard at regenerating the soil damaged by careless overstocking.  He doesn’t hesitate to join in fighting a grassfire that endangers the town (where the reader discovers that there are more than a few conspiracy theorists amongst the townsfolk).

Kennard himself is very anti-government, and goes to some personal inconvenience to be able to continue to help his old folk once new regulations for volunteers come into force.

Tomorrow is meals day.  I’ll need to alter my method of delivery, since government bureaucrats have clamped new regulations on us volunteers.  We’ll need to provide photocopies of licences, registrations, read a manual, attend training sessions, sign statements, pass tests, sign codes of conduct and confidentiality.  That’s for the birds, I’ll put on no government chains, the folk can ring me.  I’ll take them to the charity building, they can pick up their meals and I’ll take them home.

What genius came up with the revenue-shrinking madness?  How many staff will be hired to handle the paperwork but do nothing productive? (p. 185)

With a mounting sense of horror, the reader learns to recognise Kennard’s signs of ‘restlessness’ but also to note the occasional hint that the justice he regards as an ‘inconvenience’ might be closing in.  As the pages turn towards the end of the book, there’s a sense of hope that this madness will come to an end.  You’ll have to read the book yourself to see how Ireland resolves it.

Absurdist as this novel is, Ireland, it seems to me, is suggesting that when political rhetoric abandons humanitarian impulses, there is a chilling inevitability about devaluing some lives.  There is a horrible moment when Kennard observes a child who is intellectually disabled, and ponders his options…

I am very much indebted to Tony from Messenger’s Booker for the opportunity to read this book, a limited edition hardback publisher by Island Magazine.  When it was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award (*chuckle* surely without the PM reading it!) Tony very kindly sent me a copy.

Author: David Ireland
Title: The World Repair Video Game
Publisher: Island Magazine, 2015
ISBN: 9780994490100, copy 277 of 350


Now sold out.  But Library Link’s Zportal reveals that there are 10 Victorian libraries that had the foresight to buy a copy.  (Mine, alas not among them).  So in Victoria at least, copies are available through inter-library loan.

Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 29, 2016

Reading Bingo 2016

Following Emma at Book around the Corner, I’m also having a go at Reading Bingo via Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books. The idea is that you’re supposed to find a book for each square from among this year’s reads.


Poor Fellow My CountryLa Debacledoctor-faustusA Book with more than 500 pages

I read quite a few chunksters this year, including La Débacle by Émile Zola and Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann and but the place must definitely go to Poor Fellow My Country by Xavier Herbert, which at 1443 pages is the longest book I’ve ever read.  It took me four weeks to read, reading, reading about 50 pages a day whether I felt like it or not.  (And some of the time I didn’t, Xavier Herbert is like that).

the-beauties-and-furiesJourney to Horseshoe BendA Forgotten Classic

Journey to Horseshoe Bend by TGH Strehlow gets an Honourable Mention but obviously this spot goes to Christina Stead’s The Beauties and Furies! (Hopefully Christina Stead Week and the re-release of this novel by Text Classics will mean Stead is forgotten no longer…

 The Breaker (Kit Denton)A Book That Became a Movie

I think I usually fail this one but this year I’ve got The Breaker, by Kit Denton. I’ve seen the Bruce Beresford film too.

Seeing the ElephantThe End of SeeingA Book Published This Year

Would you believe that (as of today’s date) I’ve read 62 books published this year?  I started tracking the Year of First Publication this year, and have surprised myself with this one.  Spoilt for choice, I am torn between Seeing the Elephant by Portland Jones and The End of Seeing by Christy Collins.

One (Patrick Holland)seven-poor-men-of-sydneyA Book With A Number In The Title

Easy: One by Patrick Holland, destined to be one of my Top Ten Reads for this year, and also Seven Poor Men of Sydney by Christina Stead.  But if it’s not cheating to have the number in the sub-title I could also have Ryan O’Neill’s spoof  Their Brilliant Careers: The Fantastic Lives of Sixteen Extraordinary Australian Writers

IndianaA Book Written by Someone Under Thirty

The trick to doing this one is to choose a dead author with a title list at Wikipedia!  George Sand (1804-1876) was twenty eight when she wrote Indiana, and I read this novel in French!

the-famished-roadA Book With Non Human Characters

The Famished Road by Ben Okri is full of capricious spirits wreaking havoc on the wonderful world Okri creates. .

GiftedOur Tiny Useless HeartsA Funny Book

I tend to like subtle satires rather than laugh-out-loud comedies, so although I’m going to mention Toni Jordan’s romcom farce Our Tiny Useless Hearts, the gong goes to Gifted which is a delicious spoof of the literary industry in New Zealand by Patrick Evans.

A Book By A Female Author

The Floating Gardenan-isolated-incidentSalt CreekAgain I am spoiled for choice because I read 108 female authors this year, and it feels mean to choose just three because so many of them were great reading, but I’m going to go with a recent read, The Floating Garden by Emma Ashmere, and you can read more about the author here;  An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire; and you can also read about the author here; and Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar and you can read about her here!

The SympathizerA Book With A Mystery

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is the ultimate mystery because spies are a mystery to themselves as well as everyone else.

ChappyRadishA Book With A One Word Title

This could be Radish a little novella from China by Mo Yan, but I’m choosing Chappy by Kiwi Patricia Grace.  This is one of the few war-themed novels that I could happily read again and again.

After the CarnageDining AloneA Book of Short Stories

This is usually a difficult square for me because I like long-form fiction, but this year I read After the Carnage by Tara June Winch, and also a really interesting collection about the experience of solo dining for women Dining Alone, Stories from the table for one, edited by Barbara Santich.  .

The Book of FameFree Square

How about The Book of Fame by Lloyd Jones?  I really enjoyed this story of a Kiwi Rugby team’s tour of Britain and Europe, a very clever pastiche forming a commentary on celebrity culture.

haiku-rhapsodiesA Book Set on a Different Continent

I have lots to choose from for this square, but I’m going to choose Haiku Rhapsodies, verses from Ghana by Celestine Nudanu because it is such a beautiful book of poetry that I really would like to spread the word.

translation-a-very-short-introductionA Book of Non-Fiction

Again, I have lots to choose from but this has to be Translation, a Very Short Introduction by Matthew Reynolds, because it introduced me to many new ideas about translation and I know that it has really enriched my understanding of the translation process and the issues involved.

Hill of GraceThe First Book by a Favourite Author

The closest I can get with this one is Hill of Grace (2004) by Stephen Orr.  But it’s actually his second novel, after Attempts to Draw Jesus (2000).

 QuartetA Book You Heard About Online

This is Quartet by Jean Rhys, and I read it for Jean Rhys Week, hosted at The Lonesome Reader and JacquiWine’s Journal. .

crimes-of-the-fatherA Best-selling Book

Tom Keneally is always good for this square: everything he writes turns out to be a bestseller.  But Crimes of the Father, tackling the issue of clerical abuse is also particularly topical this year, and a brave choice of topic for Keneally to choose.

The Fringe DwellersA Book Based on a True Story

The Fringe Dwellers by Nene Gare.  Gare was upfront about distrusting fiction and based this novel on her life experiences in rural Western Australia.  It could also have ticked off the square for Movies because it was made into a film by Bruce Beresford.

Bridget Jones's DiaryA Book at the Bottom of your To Be Read Pile

*chuckle* This one is Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding.  I picked it up for a song in an Op Shop because I was under the mistaken belief that it was included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.  I resurrected it from oblivion when I was in the mood for reading (a-hem) light fiction.  Very light fiction…

A Book Your Friend Loves

For reasons that escape me now, I didn’t review this one, but I know I read The Enchanted Bluff because of Sue’s review at Whispering Gums.

The Notebook TrilogyA Book That Scares You

The Notebook by Ágota Kristóf.  One of the most chilling books I’ve ever read, though if I’d finished it, I might have chosen my current read, The World Repair Video Game by David Ireland.

Ricochet BabyEarth (La Terre)A Book That Is More Than Ten Years Old

Another one by Kiwi Patricia Grace, Ricochet Baby, published in 1996.  Oops, that’s 10 years, not ‘more than’ 10 years. Let’s have one of my Zola’s: Earth, published in 1887 instead.

The Second Book in a Series

I usually have trouble with this one because I’m not a great reader of series, but this one comes after The Notebook Trilogy for the Scary square: The Proof (The Notebook Trilogy#2), by Ágota Kristóf.

A Book with a Blue Cover

The Faint-hearted Bolshevikout of irelandOut of Ireland by Christopher Koch, though I could also have The Faint-hearted Bolshevik by Lorenzo Silva.



Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 26, 2016

Position Doubtful, by Kim Mahood

position-doubtfulI had bought a copy of Kim Mahood’s new memoir Position Doubtful before I went to the Bendigo Writers Festival where she was in conversation with Susan Martin.  Although I felt that Craft for a Dry Lake (2000) was a bit too long for itself and I lost interest in Mahood’s identity issues with her father, nevertheless it was a book in which she wrote memorably about the beauty of the outback, and perceptively about Aborigines especially women.  (And it won the 2001 NSW Premier’s Award and The Age non-fiction Book of the Year).  So I hadn’t hesitated to buy the new one, and listening to Mahood talk about it at the festival ensured that I kept it near the top of the TBR pile so that I could get to it soon.

It’s a book that repays slow, careful reading, and I was drifting through it when I was unexpectedly able to take up a place at the Indigenous Language Intensive program organised by Writers Victoria.  So it was just serendipity that I was learning about ways in which non-indigenous authors could write respectfully about Indigenous people, their culture and history, when I was reading a memoir by an author who has made it her life’s work to do just that.

Mahood’s family were part of the pastoral industry in the Tanami district and she grew up enjoying close relationships with the local indigenous people who were employed there.  Although the Tanami Downs Station is now in the hands of its traditional owners, the Warlpiri, she has retained her connections with them and with the descendants of the Walmajarri stockmen who worked for her father on the station.  Torn between modernity and a need for quiet privacy, and her love of the desert country and the interconnectedness of life in indigenous communities, she spends part of each year in the Tanami and Great Sandy Desert region, working on projects with the people, who have given her a ‘skin name’ and treat her much like one of their own.  To the reader it seems that part of her identity is enmeshed with theirs though she doesn’t presume to claim any entitlement.  In fact it seems to be the reverse: she has acquired obligations, some of which are onerous and tiresome, but others which bring her joy.

Mahood is an artist, a writer and a maker of maps, but the maps she makes are not like the ones in a school atlas.  Like the maps my small students used to make about their weekends (instead of laboriously writing a ‘journal’ each Monday), Mahood maps story.  It’s a case of identifying the significant places, and showing that ‘this happened there’.  This means that the maps are not topographical and representational in the way that we are used to.

Horizon and ground, and the numinous ground between them of mirage and reflection…

These words, first scribbled in pencil in one of my drawing diaries from the 1990s, flag a preoccupation that continues to haunt my work. The tension between ways of seeing the landscape – the perspectival view of foreground, middle ground and horizon, and the bird’s-eye view of a schematic, inhabited topography – mirrors the tension between ways of being in the landscape. (p.294)

Mahood’s cultural and environmental maps are created collaboratively, and take a great deal of time and patience to make. They involve trips across bone-breaking landscapes and hours outside in the paralysing heat of the desert.  More than anything else, they involve developing trust so that the traditional owners are willing to tell their stories…

(You can see a picture of Mahood working on one of these maps with Walmajarri elders at Paruku here and at this link you can see one of her fire maps, and read a truncated version of the processes she uses.)

Slides of these maps/art works were part of the presentation at the BWF, and IMO this is a book that demands images to amplify Mahood’s descriptions, so it is a real pity that it’s been published with small B&W images that merely frustrate the reader.  I know that decisions about colour plates are commercial decisions, and I know that this book will get a wider readership because it costs less.  But still, reading it, I hankered for the kind of publication that Wakefield Press would have made of it.  It would have been produced on the right kind of paper on bigger pages to show off the images clearly, and it would have included full colour reproductions of the paintings.  Wakefield’s motto is that they make ‘beautiful books’ and Position Doubtful deserved to be a beautiful book as well as an interesting one.

The reader, however, has to rely on Mahood’s words (and the occasional Google search) to imagine the world she describes.  But she is a wordsmith, conjuring the vast landscapes and oppressive weather while also describing the life of the community, its joys and woes.  Here she is writing about the desolation of the abandoned homestead:

At the gateway where the road forks, I leave the vehicle and walk. I want to come to the place without insulation, with all my senses alert.  In the sand and gravel of the old road, I make out the tracks of dingo and camel, kangaroo, python, goanna and bush turkey.

The iron roof is slumped and buckled, draped like a heavy cloth over the pink stone walls. One end of the house is engulfed in crimson bougainvillea, and the white satellite dish has slid from the roof and nestles like an eardrum in the blaze of flowers. Sections of the roof are missing, all the interior windows are gone, the fly wire ripped away from verandahs that surround the building. A dozen Major Mitchell cockatoos have stationed themselves on an overhanging branch to keep an eye on me.

There has been a fire, and charred roof beams collapse into rooms that are middens of crumbling plaster.  Ceiling fans hang from their entrails.  In the office, filing cabinets have been overturned, documents buried under rubble.  Tarnished sachets of condoms are scattered among the bleached bougainvillea flowers that pile in drifts along the corridors and verandahs.  (p.282)

Mahood is painfully honest: there is no sentimentalising and she is brutal about some of the dysfunctional life she observes amongst both inhabitants both Black and White.  When she drives an incontinent old man across the desert for miles, you can almost smell his acrid clothing, but she treats him with respect and his stories are invaluable. [Autocorrect just turned my typo of ‘his stories’ without the ‘s’ of ‘stories’, into ‘histories’, and of course, that’s what they are.] When she observes with an experienced eye, the arrival of new staff in the White community, she predicts trouble arising from their arrogance and authoritarianism, and she is deeply grieved to be proven right.

As in Craft for a Dry Lake where she analysed her relationship with her father, Position Doubtful explores her sometimes fraught relationship with fellow-artist and dear friends Pamela Lofts.  It was a long-standing friendship, and they made many trips into the desert together to work on their art.  But they had a very different view of what art is, and this impacted on what they actually did out in the desert:

Her formal training at art school in the 1980s had taught her that ideas had to be interrogated and deconstructed through the prism of philosophical and political positions: that materials had inherent qualities which carried their own meanings, and should dictate the form of the work.  For me, classically trained in the old-fashioned skills of life-drawing, tonal painting and clay sculpture, having been taught to observe the nuances of form and colour and light, art-making was all to do with the senses.  It was observational, intuitive, haptic and emotional.  That materials had their own integrity was self-evident – I had no quarrel with this – but to apply a rigorous intellectual approach to the making of the work afflicted me with a kind of claustrophobic horror. (p.281)

What this difference in approach translated into, in practice, was that Lofts insisted on Mahood taking on a persona of ‘Violet’ and dressing up in the desert in ironically stereotypical female ways with high heels and skirts.  She posed her in ways with an arsenal of post-colonial and feminist critiques that challenged the white settler culture to which I nominally belonged, with varying degrees of cooperation from Mahood. (You can see an example here).  Somehow their friendship survived an entirely different way of being in the landscape and making art about it.  For Mahood, the indigenous stories she has been told shapes her awareness that a rock or a hummock represents an ancient culture:

I don’t believe in the ancestral beings, but there’s a space in my mind that registers their shimmering traces.  The tremor of their passage moves like a ripple of light along a dune, leaving its trace in a rime of salt flushed into the samphire.  It’s impossible not to read country this way, with the voices of its custodians in my ear. (p.268)

The book is aptly titled.  Position Doubtful is how old maps of desert country noted features that before satellite imagery were not neatly located by lines of latitude and longitude. Places heard about, but not seen, or not recorded accurately, or were ephemeral like the intermittent river systems of Australia’s capricious rainfall.  Waterholes that came and went; man-made structures that fell into disrepair when their discouraged entrepreneurs abandoned them.  Mahood and her Aboriginal collaborators are mapping these places and their stories, but the doubts remain.  There is a hesitancy about the place of any people in this region: change has made everything tentative as we see when Mahood tells us about the fragile health of the keepers of the stories.  How some gendered stories have had to shift to female custodianship. How the young people seem mostly not interested.  Some parts of the book are rather melancholy.

But not pessimistic.

The desert people I know have a powerful sense of entitlement. Their personalities are big, their lives unpredictable, provisional and epic – full of tragedy, drama, violence and humour.  Their one immutable commitment is to family and country.  Although they suffer the incremental effects of poverty, violence, and poor health, their ability to live one day at a time, their focus on having their immediate needs met, creates an astonishing capacity to recover and endure.  They did not survive one of the harshest environments on the planet and the vicissitudes of colonisation through passivity and fatalism, but through a fierce and insistent determination to exploit every available resource. (p.269)

I learned a lot from reading this book…

Author: Kim Mahood
Title: Position Doubtful
Publisher: Scribe Publishing, 2016
ISBN: 9781925321685
Source: Personal library (I think I bought it via Readings Monthly).


Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 26, 2016

Nil by Mouth, by Lyn C

nil-by-mouthAnd now for something completely different!

My readers know that I don’t read much in the way of speculative fiction, but I bought the eBook version of this one on impulse when I met the author Lyn C at the Indigenous Language Intensive workshop. I was curious… and at $4.31 AUD for the Kindle edition it was cheap enough to experiment with an unfamiliar genre.  I started reading it over breakfast at QV Square before the workshop… and soon found myself totally hooked by the story.

Nil by Mouth is what I recognise as classic SciFi.  It has aliens who invade earth and they have various capabilities which enable them to exert control over the humans, but they have a fundamental flaw which enables the situation to be resolved.   However, what makes this an interesting and satisfying book to read is the character development so I was not surprised to learn that it was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award Best Science Fiction Book in 2014.

The portrayal of an Earth defeated in war reminded me of other occupation novels I have read.  The central character comes to be known as Ale, a shorthand version of Alien-lover, and he is scorned as a collaborator because his pub on the outskirts of Melbourne is taken over as a base by the Aliens.  His point-of-view narration reveals a sense of resignation and despair:

Like I said, no-one likes a collaborator, and as I walked down the street people looked darkly at me, and, on occasion, someone would spit on the pavement as I passed, but they didn’t dare touch me. They got to me in other ways like calling me ‘Alien lover’ or ‘Ale’ to my face, and doubling the price when they saw me coming. A month ago, these had been my friends and neighbours. I kept my mouth shut, my eyes lowered, and paid what I was asked to pay.

For Ale, collaboration is a matter of bowing to the inevitable while also having an opportunity to surreptitiously help the hundreds of refugees streaming out of Melbourne.  But while of course his initial reaction to events is justifiable fear of the pain the aliens can inflict and the slaughter he has witnessed, he comes to form an alliance with Dranders against the General and his soldiers, and eventually realises that the three types of aliens are in conflict with each other.

The conflict arises because of the means that the General’s apparently genderless ‘people’ use to reproduce, and at the insistence of Drander Ale becomes a covert saboteur.  Much to his own surprise he feels a sense of guilt about extinguishing life, even though it is the life of the enemy.  He also finds himself challenged by his recognition that the horrific reprisals – for which he feels responsible – are a kind of patriotism too:

 “… what could I do? I could hardly stop what was happening. Us humans were conducting a guerrilla war against the invaders, and it was their job to stop us. How did what the [General] was doing differ from what I had done when I had annihilated a thousand hatchlings?

(BTW the use of square parentheses is a clever way of denoting the words that Ale is translating from the language that the aliens speak).

The sci-fi elements of this novella are ratcheted up a bit when Ale himself is used as an incubator, and the Ship People also have a novel way of conveniently curing wounds.  But the world created is credible enough, and I liked the notion that aliens might be much like humans with a potential for both great brutality and for compassion, honesty and love.

You can find out more about Lyn C at her website, and also read the launch speech by popular YA author George Ivanoff (one of whose books I reviewed at LisaHillSchoolStuff)

Author: Lyn C
Title: Nil by Mouth
Publisher: Satalyte, 2014
ISBN: 9780992460129/ ASIN B00JECXESA
Purchased from Amazon for the Kindle.

Visit Lyn’s website for details of availability.

Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 26, 2016

Indigenous Language Intensive, Day Two with Bruce Pascoe

Yesterday was Day Two of the Indigenous Language Intensive program organised by Writers Victoria.  Our facilitator was author, educator and researcher Bruce Pascoe who has Bunurong, Tasmanian and Yuin Indigenous heritage.

Bruce’s message was simple: if you want to include Aboriginal issues, stories or characters in your writing (and often you should) then you can do the research (and you should), but it is also essential to talk to the people whose story it is.  You can only tell the story that you’ve been told, not what you’ve read.  He mentioned a well-known Australian author who repeated in his novel a story that he should never have been told and explained about the hurt this caused to the Aboriginal people of that place.  I could see by the expression on people’s faces that they would never want to cause that kind of distress.  The issue is, how to avoid it?  Did that author know that he was trespassing?  Did his editors?

Reinforcing Tim Rose’s presentation from yesterday, Bruce gave a presentation that showed that writers (like everyone else) have a responsibility to learn.  He mapped the indigenous grain belt that was observed by early explorers, and he showed slides that showed both agricultural practices and buildings.  The most exciting slide showed a stone tool (held at the Australian museum) that had been proven by researcher Judith Field to have traces of starch material at least 36,000 years old.  Bruce credits the user of this tool as the world’s first baker, and admires her intelligence, firstly in experimenting with grinding the grain to make flour, then in adding water to make a dough, and finally in adding heat to make bread.  Yet we know nothing about her, except that she was here in Australia 36000 years ago.  You won’t find any mention of her at the Wikipedia page about the history of bread. But Australian Gourmet Traveller was onto the story straight away, describing a Welcome Breakfast where they enjoyed the sweet nutty flavours – flavours that Mitchell and Sturt first tasted in the 1830s and ’40s and that Aboriginal people have been enjoying for millennia. 

This is the kind of history that we Australians need to know, and research is bringing new discoveries all the time.

BTW Bruce is involved in a project to regrow indigenous grains which have many qualities that make them ideal for a drying climate.  There was a Pozible project to raise the necessary funds and you can see some of the slides that Bruce showed us here.  Bruce says that you and I will be able to buy this bread before long…

I liked Bruce’s forthright approach: he says we are all Australians, we eat breakfast here, we walk our dogs here.  Neither Blacks nor Whites are ever going to go away.  How we deal with those facts determines what kind of country we will have, what kind of Australians we will be.  (I couldn’t help thinking how relevant this also was to the current refugee debate).

Bruce asked which of us had Aboriginal ancestry.  There were a couple of participants who were confident and knowledgeable about family members from the past, and one who said there were rumours in her family, rumours which had been suppressed because of shame.  Bruce chuckled and said the rumours were probably true: in 1840, he reminded us, there were about one hundred white women in Victoria.  There were about 2000 babies born.  Do the maths, and then extrapolate down the generations…

One of the projects Bruce is involved in is a project to alter street signs and the names of places so that their Aboriginal meanings are known.  He mentioned Genoa in Gippsland, Victoria, and gave the Aboriginal word which sounds somewhat similar but I can’t reproduce here because I didn’t write it down.  Far from being a nostalgic naming for a town in Italy, our ‘Genoa’ actually means foot of the path to the mountains (i.e. the Great Dividing Range).  Wouldn’t we like to know the real meaning of names like Murrumbeena, Korumburra, Buninyong and so on?  We would indeed.  (I have always rather liked that I happen to live in a Melbourne suburb named after the town in the Cotswolds where I once visited my only aunt when I was four, though I didn’t know the name of her town when I first moved here).  Knowing the meaning and significance of our place names, Bruce says, is a matter of respect.

After morning tea, participants began sharing pieces of writing.  We were asked to bring along a piece of writing that we admired, and something we had written ourselves.  The variety of texts were amazing, and I can’t comment on all of them, but a couple stood out for me.  One was from a memoir of living in WA, where the writer had described the season using its Noongar name.  It was beautiful writing, but it was also powerful in intent.  It was asserting that for millennia the local indigenous people had named the seasons and knew the changes in flora and fauna associated with different times of the year.  (I happen to know from reading a children’s book that there are not just the European four seasons in WA).  This naming and describing gave the writing a terrific sense of place and told us that, for example, the cry of a black cockatoo heralded rain.  Bruce was on to that, because (who knew?) there are multiple kinds of black cockatoo and she needs to know which one.  He advised her to get in touch with the local people, and reminded us all that a cheery email asking for information doesn’t cut it when making initial contact with Aboriginal people because they have often learned to be distrustful of non-indigenous people.  It takes face-to-face contact, and more than a couple of meetings before people are willing to sit down over a cup of tea and share their stories.

The other piece of writing that stood out for me was Michelle Scott-Tucker’s, and not just because she’s an internet (and now f2f) friend.  Michelle is writing a bio of Elizabeth Macarthur, due for publication in 2018, and she read an excerpt from Watkin Tench’s 1788 Diary, (now issued as a Text Classic) drawing our attention to footnotes which showed Tench’s empathy for the indigenous people and the strategies he used to avoid having to obey instructions to arrest six Aborigines in reprisal (any six, it didn’t matter who they might be).  She then read an excerpt from her bio about one of Elizabeth Macarthur’s employees – and you could tell that Bruce was really pleased by the thoughtful, respectful way that it had been written.

Things didn’t go quite as planned for me so I missed the afternoon session, but I got to join the march for White Ribbon Day on my way back to Flinders Street, and although I was pressed for time I also whizzed around the John Olsen exhibition at the NGV.  And couldn’t help noticing the way he has represented our landscapes with respect for indigenous stories as well…

PS I can’t resist mentioning one participant who really annoyed me at this event.  We all listened to her contributions with courtesy (even though I couldn’t quite see the relevance of the writing she admired) but she was reading emails on her laptop all through the contributions of others.  Why would you do that?  Why would you come to a workshop that was booked out, denying other people a place, if you didn’t want to learn from it?

Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 25, 2016

The Burning Elephant, by Christopher Raja

the-burning-elephantFrom the opening image of a burning elephant in a schoolyard to the violence of its ending in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Christopher Raja’s debut novella The Burning Elephant is confronting reading.  It might, therefore, seem surprising that it’s marketed as Young Adult Fiction but I think it’s appropriate: I think that Australia’s young people ought to be exposed to stories that show that social cohesion is a privilege we should value and protect more than we do.

The young protagonist, Govinda, lives a privileged life in India.  Growing up as the son of  a schoolmaster in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), he has a comfortable lifestyle and is inclined to be a little priggish.  As an only son, he is more than a little indulged.  Unlike the poor and disadvantaged who surround him, he has the luxury of parents he can criticise and servants he can patronise.  He resents his father Sunil Seth and is supercilious towards the cook, patronisingly nicknamed Mumbles because Govinda can’t always understand what he says.  He idolises his mother and is appalled when he realises she is having an affair with Mumbles, not so much on moral grounds but more because of the differences in caste.

Yet Mumbles is a man of great dignity.  He is a Sikh, and through him Govinda comes to realise that the father he would like to admire, is an intolerant man.  Warning Mumbles that he doesn’t want any more trouble after an incident with a prophesying hijra (a transgender person), Govinda’s father switches tack and complains about finding a long hair in his food.  Govinda is appalled by his father’s demand that Mumbles should therefore cut his hair:

Govinda recognised how callous his father was to say this.  He had accepted what the turban, hair and beard meant to Mumbles.  These traditions, he knew, dated from the seventeenth century, when the last Sikh guru, Gobind Singh, decided that followers should allow their hair to grow as a sign of respect for God, whom they knew as Kesh.  Taking away his Sikh dress would be a travesty, because it would disconnect Mumbles from all his principles.  Sometimes, Govinda decided, his father could be very thoughtless. (p.32)

As we learn later in the book, for a Sikh to use the razor is as sinful as incest.

Through Mumbles, Govinda learns about the atrocities that accompanied Partition.

Mumbles rejoiced in the kitchen, but occasionally talked of the day of the giant white horse, the train from Pakistan, when his grandparents were killed during partition. He recounted the story of how the train was held up by marauding gangs.  His grandparents were doused in kerosene.  Politicians refused to take responsibility.  There was little reporting and no one was held accountable.  And then he would get very dark.(p.29)

When this happens Govinda’s overprotective mother Gitanjali whisks him out of the kitchen to buy sweets at the market so that her son isn’t confronted by this event in the history of India’s independence.   However, as events unfold, Govinda cannot be protected either from the breakdown of his parents’ marriage, or from the violence on the streets in the wake of Sikh separatism and Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

As trouble looms, Sunil Seth’s disdain for his own people leads him to seek migration to Australia, a place he has idealised:

‘Nothing bad happens in Australia?’ asked Govinda.

‘Nothing like this happens in Australia,’ said Sunil Seth. ‘Australia is one of the most gorgeous places in the world.  There are beaches with golden sand.  Islands fringed with palm trees. Oceans full of whales and dolphins.  Snow covered mountains against tranquil green valleys.’

‘You live in a fantasy,’ said Gitanjali anxiously.

‘This is not a fantasy.’ Sunil Seth did everything to show his family that his spirits were high. Yet just as quickly he would explode, saying he was frustrated and tired of ‘corruption and pervasive negativity’ and ‘a lack of leadership.’ (p.60)

But at the interview for migration, he articulates aspirations common to many would-be migrants:

‘How come we want to leave?  Naturally for our child.  We think Australia is a land of opportunity.  We can create a future there for our son.  In India everyone has a label.  you are Hindu, Christian Buddhist, Sikh or Muslim but in Australia everyone is equal and everyone can be free.  In Australia everyone is Australian.’  (p.97)

Perhaps this is a belief that we in Australia would do well to reflect on.  Do we deserve this reputation?

Govinda has a lot to contend with.  The burning elephant in his schoolyard is a harbinger of the trauma to come.  Serpent Lane is his childhood haunt but it is transformed by the violence.  He sees the ordinary people of his community turn on each other, carrying pitchforks, knives and swords.  He sees sectarian hatreds explode into arson and bloodshed.  The school where his father is headmaster is targeted because the dacoits think that it is being used as a refuge for Sikhs; there is unexpected courage from those who help to hide them from the mob.  At the same time Govinda is conflicted about the safety of Mumbles and his family because of his relationship with Gitanjali.

The narration is that of a young boy, naïve, confused and inclined to make hasty judgements. It seems simplistic sometimes. But as the tension rises, Govinda’s is forced into a maturity that represents a loss of innocence, and perhaps a loss of hope too.

Christopher Raja migrated to Australia with his family in 1986, and has previously published short stories and plays.  There is a really interesting interview with Raja at the Asian Australian  Film Forum website.  It will be very interesting to see what he writes next.

Author: Christopher Raja
Title: The Burning Elephant
Publisher: Giramondo, 2015
ISBN: 9781922146922
Review copy courtesy of Giramondo

Available from Fishpond: The Burning Elephant or direct from Giramondo


Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 24, 2016

A day at an Indigenous Language Intensive workshop …

I have had a lovely day today.

It’s always a privilege for me to be in the company of writers, and it was especially so for me today because I got to meet Michelle Scott-Tucker in person (and I am so excited about her forthcoming biography of Elizabeth Macarthur)!  We had this opportunity to meet today because we were at the first day of workshops organised by Writers Victoria, as part of a program called Indigenous Language Intensive.  I wasn’t expecting to be able to go because the program was fully booked, but I had asked to be waitlisted and lo! I got a phone call at 4:00pm yesterday because somebody had cancelled.  The Spouse and I shuffled responsibility for the dog and the electrician and away I went for a most enjoyable event…

It was just coincidence but as I listened to an audio book today, I heard the expressions ‘stepped into the taxi’ and ‘picked him up and piled him onto the floor’ of the taxi.  You don’t need to think twice to know that this is a reference to a London taxi, they’re the only ones you can ‘step into’ or have a floor that a human being (having been ‘pacified’) could be piled onto. This is a cultural reference that signifies a distinctive place, and it gives us great pleasure when we recognise such signifiers about our own place, Australia, in the books we read.  Well, our place is home to the oldest living culture in the world, and while that’s not something that’s going to feature in everything we write, it is an aspect of our culture that ought to be acknowledged more often than it is.  This is as true for contemporary fiction and memoir as it is for historical fiction…

This first day was about writers building cultural competency so that they can address indigenous issues with respect and in an appropriate way.  These are some of the reasons people gave for wanting to learn more about Aboriginal history and culture:

  • uncertainty about what a writer can claim as indigenous knowledge or as a place of connection without giving offence;
  • hesitancy about talking to or about indigenous people because of fear or shame;
  • as a newcomer to Australia, feeling a sense of responsibility to learn and know about indigenous people;
  • feeling a sense of responsibility to teach responsibly and with sensitivity;
  • wanting to write ethically, accurately and sensitively;
  • as an editor, wanting to be able to recognise issues that she as editor needed to research when dealing with writers who are writing about indigenous people ;
  • feeling a need to have permission to tell the story of an indigenous ancestor, and needing guidance about a genre that would be suitable to use;
  • juggling the need to have permission to write about indigenous issues with the need to have permission to be able to imagine, because if people feel inhibited then the story may never be told;
  • wanting to address the silence about indigenous language and culture, feeling shame and guilt and not knowing what to do about it;
  • wanting more stories to be told, by both indigenous and non-indigenous people because it’s our (white) story too;
  • wanting to fill in the blanks, understand the concerns and to be able to write about our places in our country with respect, because omitting these issues is the same as acting as if they don’t exist;
  • wanting to overcome the awkwardness and to help students of writing to handle these issues; wanting to be a better teacher; and
  • (my favourite) believing that it’s a matter of personal education – as a writer, as a person, as an Australian.

Our facilitator, Tim, was excellent.  Immensely knowledgeable, patient and understanding, and with a ‘deadly’* sense of humour, he guided the group through issues of identity; stereotyping; cultural protocols, flags and icons.  He mapped Victorian and Australian indigenous languages for us and showed us massacre maps of Australia.  We learned about assimilation practices and the offensiveness of being labelled by blood quantum (half bloods, quadroons and octoroons).  He talked about indigenous service during WW1 and Ww2 and the way in which memorialisation of wars is a political issue.  (If you don’t memorialise Aboriginals who died in the frontier wars, then the way they died must have been murder. Neither is properly acknowledged in our history).

Sometimes it was confronting: through Aboriginal eyes our post-settlement history raises issues of Terra Nullius, Invasion, massacres, disease and dispossession; of cultural clash, reduction of cultural activities and loss of identity.  In the first session, each of us had spent some time listing features of our own identity on slips of paper: name, family, community, and something about ourselves that we were proud of… I suppose most of us thought that at some stage we would share these identity portraits with each other but when we came back after lunch Tim tore them up and scattered them on the floor, to symbolise how the destruction of identity is so painful and how difficult it is to restore fractured selves.

Tim showed us in many ways that it’s not so hard to get it right.  We need to know and respect Aboriginal family and community values, to understand the role of traditional and community elders, to be aware of communities in the places we go or write about, and to be alert to some key Aboriginal issues: health; education, employment and income; law and justice; Stolen Generations; deaths in custody, Native Title and Constitutional and Treaty issues.  How can we do this?  By taking the initiative to learn, by engaging with Aboriginal communities, by having organisations seek guidance to develop policy and protocols, by reading indigenous authors and by asking indigenous people if we’re not sure of what to do or say.  Writers need to do their research about this as they any other issue.

the-convincing-groundTomorrow is Day Two, and our facilitator is Bruce Pascoe, whose books I have reviewed on this blog.  I bought another one of his today, it’s called The Convincing Game and I got it downstairs at the Koorie Heritage Centre shop. This Koorie Heritage Centre is a great place to visit because the exhibitions of authentic traditional artefacts and contemporary art works are stunning.  If you’re anywhere near Federation Square, the Centre is on Levels 1 and 3 of the Yarra building, and the exhibitions are free.  There is also a good collection of children’s books too, a great resource for teachers

*’deadly’ in Aboriginal parlance means ‘great, fantastic, wonderful’.  Each year Deadly Awards are given to indigenous people who are excellent in the arts, sport, leadership and so on.

Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 23, 2016

Meet an Aussie Author: Emma Ashmere

emma-ashmere-1the-floating-gardenAs you know if you read my recent review, Emma Ashmere’s debut novel The Floating Garden was shortlisted for the 2016 MUBA (Most Under-rated Book Award). Set in 1920s Sydney, The Floating Garden is about a woman facing eviction for the building of the Harbour Bridge.  Like the other reviewers I mentioned in my post, I was really impressed by this book and was keen to find out more about the author…

Emma wrote her first ‘real’ short stories for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide in the late 1990s. Since then several have won competitions, and over 20 have appeared in journals, anthologies, and newspapers including: The Age, Review of Australian Fiction, Griffith Review, Sleepers Almanac, and Text online. In 2017 two more stories will be published in the Philippines University Press anthology 100 Love Letters, and Spineless Wonders Landmarks anthology.

Like many authors she has chalked up a wealth of experiences to draw on for her writing, and it shows in the diversity and authenticity of her characterisation in The Floating Garden.  She spent a wandering decade working as a cook on film sets, an isolated cattle station, London pubs, and an art school in the south of France – all useful fodder for writing. She’s worked as a tutor, and research assistant on two Australian gardening history books Green Pens and Reading the Garden, and the Australian instalment of Women and Empire.  After finishing a PhD on the use of history in fiction at La Trobe University, Emma moved to northern NSW for a slower life.

(Those gardening history books sound fascinating.  One of my favourite garden books is Remembered Gardens: Eight Women and Their Visions of an Australian Landscape (2007) by Holly Kerr Forsyth, a book which made me realise that there is more to gardening history than you might think.  I’ve found Reading the Garden at my local library so I’ll be checking it out as soon as my reserve comes in).

Though it’s a bittersweet kind of award to win, I was a bit disappointed that The Floating Garden didn’t win the MUBA, because it deserves more recognition than it’s had, and it’s recognition (and sales!) that encourage authors to write another novel for us to enjoy.  But as you can see from her answers to my interview questions below, Emma is already at work on a new novel which sounds very interesting indeed.

Anyway, without further ado, here are Emma’s answers to my questions:

  1. I was born … in 1960s Adelaide. Our suburban garden was a mini orchard with too many chooks and a fly-in fly-out peahen.
  2. When I was a child I wrote… stories I never finished.
  3. The people who encouraged/inspired/mentored me to write are… the people who work, live, and create in difficult circumstances.
  4. emma-ashmere-dragon-fruit-flowerI write in… the corner of a room, in a country town, with a view to a dragon fruit plant, and the sound of cows, cars, and frogs.
  5. I write… whenever I can get to it. Weeks might pass, but I jot lots of notes, and rework plot lines and characters in my head.
  6. Research is…. endlessly interesting, sometimes confronting, always surprising. I’m drawn to the gaps and silences in history, the people who’ve slipped out of view.
  7. I keep my published works … tucked behind some old favourite postcards.
  8. On the day my first book was published, I… felt relief, disbelief, relief etc.
  9. At the moment, I’m writing … a novel set in 1870s London and Australia about three wayward sisters and their artist aunt.
  10. When I’m stuck for an idea/word/phrase, I … open a random poetry book.

I do like the sound of the new novel, I love books about art and artists:)

I hope I’ve convinced you to get hold of a copy of The Floating Garden – you can buy it from the publisher’s website for $26.95 (where if you are impatient you can do an instant download), from Fishpond: The Floating Garden; or from good bookshops everywhere.

You can find out more about Emma at her website.

Thanks, Emma, for participating in Meet an Aussie Author!


Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 22, 2016

2017 International Dublin Award Longlist

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see Joseph’s review at Rough Ghosts

The Dublin International is a prize that’s a bit hit-and-miss for me: any longlist that has both Submission by Michel Houellebecq and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins can’t be really be trusted to deliver good reading, IMO.

Still, there are some titles – especially amongst the translated fiction – that I know are good reading because I’ve seen reviews from trusted bloggers, and it’s nice to see that we in The Antipodes are so well represented on the list as well.

The shortlist will be announced on 11 April 2017 and the winner on 21 June 2017, and you can find out more at the official website.

FWIW, here’s the longlist, with links to my reviews.  Australian and New Zealand nominees are in bold, and they feature in the slideshow.  When I have time I will hunt around to find my fellow-bloggers’ reviews of other ones as well.


A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa – Translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn, see Tony’s review at Messenger’s Booker and Joseph’s at Rough Ghosts

Woman of the Dead by Bernhard Aichner – Translated from the German by Anthea Bell, see the Complete Review

The Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa Al Aswany – Translated from the Arabic by Russell Harris, see my review

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis, see Kim’s review at Reading Matters

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende – Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor & Amanda Hopkinson

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Dry Season by Gabriela Babnik – Translated from the Slovene by Rawley Grau, see Joseph’s review at Rough Ghosts

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman – Translated from the Swedish by Henning Koch

The Blue Guitar by John Banville, see my review

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry, see Kim’s review at Reading Matters

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume, see Kim’s review at reading Matters

The Sellout by Paul Beatty, on my TBR

Inside the Black Horse by Ray Berard

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

Sweet Caress by William Boyd

The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle

Clade by James Bradley, see Peter Pierce’s review at the Sydney Review of Books

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks, see my review

The Weather Changed, Summer Came and So On by Pedro Carmona-Alvarez – Translated from the Norwegian by Diane Oatley

Out in the Open by Jesus Carrasco – Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa

Forever Young by Steven Carroll, see my review

It I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

The Birthday Lunch by Joan Clark

Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg

Confessions of the Lioness by Mia Couto – Translated from the Portuguese by David Brookshaw

Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley, see my review

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud – Translated from the French by John Cullen, see Tony’s review at Messenger’s Booker and Joseph’s at Rough Ghosts

Ancestral Affairs by Keki N. Daruwalla

The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt, see Kim’s review at Reading Matters

Hollow Heart by Viola di Grado – Translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar

The Heat by Garry Disher

The Green Road by Anne Enright, see Kim’s review at Reading Matters

Against Nature by Tomas Espedal – Translated from the Norwegian by James Anderson, see Tony’s review at Messenger’s Booker

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum, see Kim’s review at Reading Matters

The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence

Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

The Pope’s Daughter by Dario Fo – Translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

Hope Farm by Peggy Frew, see my review

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, see Kim’s review at Reading Matters

The Mare by Mary Gaitskill

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale, see my review

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George – Translated from the German by Simon Pare

Craving by Esther Gerritsen – Translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison

Gliding Flight by Anne-Gine Goemans – Translated from the Dutch by Nancy Forest-Flier

The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov – Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel, see Tony’s review at Messenger’s Booker

Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb

Chappy by Patricia Grace, see my review

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

The Silent Room by Mari Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Delicious Foods by James Hannaham

One Minute to Midnight by Diyar Harraz

Dictator by Robert Harris

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This Place Holds No Fear by Monika Held – Translated from the German by Anne Posten, see Kim’s review at Reading Matters

The Making of Zombie Wars by Aleksandar Hemon

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill

Submission by Michel Houellebecq – Translated from the French by Lorin Stein, see Tony’s review at Messenger’s Booker

Black River by S.M. Hulse

The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, on my TBR

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

Day Boy by Trent Jamieson

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Where All Light Tends To Go by David Joy

The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau, see my review

Man on Fire by Stephen Kelman

The African Equation by Yasmina Khadra – Translated from the French by Howard Curtis

The Helios Disaster by Linda Boström Knausgård – Translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Imperium by Christian Kracht – Translated from the German by Daniel Bowles

The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera – Translated from the French by Linda Asher, see Tony’s review at Messenger’s Booker

Fortunate Slaves by Tom Lanoye – Translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison

The Prophets of Eternal Fjord by Kim Leine – Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken

The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre – Translated from the French by Frank Wynne, see my review

Birdie by Tracey Lindberg

The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa – Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli – Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney, see my review

Bits of Heaven by Aishah Madadiy

Don’t Forget to Remember by Sonia Mael

The Offering by Grace McCleen

The Antipodeans by Greg McGee, on my TBR (I keep forgetting to read it because it’s on my Kindle)

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Slade House by David Mitchell, on my TBR

A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell

The Legend of Winstone Blackhat by Tanya Moir, (abandoned, on my Kindle, maybe I should try it again)

The Promise Seed by Cass Moriarty

Signs for Lost Children by Sarah Moss

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, see my review

Till Kingdom Come by Andrej Nikolaidis – Translated from the Montenegrin by Will Firth, see Tony’s review at Messenger’s Booker and Joseph’s at Rough Ghosts

Girl at War by Sara Nović

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, see my review

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien, see Kim’s review at Reading Matters

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor

The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan

Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

When The Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen – Translated from the Finnish by Lola M. Rogers

Asking for It by Louise O’Neill

A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk – Translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap

The Horn of Love by Bozin Pavlovski – Translated from the Macedonian by Vesna N Krsteski

The Lost Child by Caryl Phillips

A Measure of Light by Beth Powning

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash

You Have Me to Love by Jaap Robben – Translated from the Dutch by David Doherty

Feast of the Innocents by Evelio Rosero – Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean & Anna Milsom

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie, see my review

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

The Kindness by Polly Samson

The Mystics of Mile End by Sigal Samuel

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler – Translated from the German by Charlotte Collins, see Tony’s review at Messenger’s Booker

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag – Translated from the Kannada by Srinath Perur

The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard

Yo-yo by Steinunn Sigurðardóttir – Translated from the Icelandic by Rory McTurk

The English Spy by Daniel Silva

The Chimes by Anna Smaill, see my review

Golden Age by Jane Smiley

Before the Feast by Saša Stanišić – Transtlated from the German by Anthea Bell

The Winter War by Philip Teir – Translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally

Duke by Sara Tilley

The Last Flight of Poxl West by Daniel Torday

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar, see my review

The Orange Grove by Larry Tremblay – Translated from the French by Sheila Fischman

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

The Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

Aquarium by David Vann, see my review

The Illogic of Kassel by Enrique Vila-Matas – Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean & Anna Milsom, see Tony’s review at Messsenger’s Booker

Yugoslavia, My Fatherland by Goran Vojnović – Translated from the Slovene by Noah Charney, see Joseph’s review at Rough Ghosts

The Dying Grass by William T. Vollmann

Ledger of the Open Hand by Leslie Vryenhoek

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

These Are The Names by Tommy Wieringa – Translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood, see combined reviews

Weathering by Lucy Wood

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Eighty Days of Sunlight by Robert Yune

Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 21, 2016

2016 Christina Stead Week, wrap up and thanks

Christina Stead Week 2016

Christina Stead

Well, here we are at the end of Christina Stead Week, and hopefully the profile of our ‘forgotten’, ‘underestimated’ Australian author has improved, thanks to the contributions of readers around the world.

As you can see from the new Christina Stead Week page here at ANZ LitLovers, the reading week has brought a wealth of posts covering

If you check out the comments on these posts, you can see that there has been stimulating discussion as well!

My sincere thanks go to everyone who contributed to #ChristinaSteadWeek.  If at any time there are more reviews I’d be very happy to add them to the Christina Stead page.

PS Thanks also to Text Publishing whose release of  four new titles in the Text Classics range all available in eBook or print) was the catalyst for holding the reading week, and who provided the giveaway copy of The Beauties and Furies.

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Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 21, 2016

Meet an Aussie Author: Jacinta Halloran

Photo credit: Mish Mackay

Photo credit: Mish Mackay

I first discovered the writing of Jacinta Halloran when I found her debut novel Dissection (2008) in a bookshop.  I thought it was an outstanding novel (see my review and a Sensational Snippet) so I was prepared to be perhaps disappointed by the follow-up, but Pilgrimage (2012) turned out to be great reading too.  (See my review for that one too). When along came The Science of Appearances in 2016 (see my review), it was time to find out more about the author of these absorbing novels.

I was a bit hesitant about asking Jacinta to participate in Meet an Aussie Author, because as well as being a GP here in Melbourne, she is also involved in initiatives for the Stella Prize (see her profile at Scribe Publications) but somehow she has generously found time to answer my questions!

  1. I was born … the oldest of six. You’d think my bossiness skills would be better honed than they are.
  2. When I was a child I wrote…far less often than I read. I devoured fiction – Alan Garner, EM Nesbit, CS Lewis – but didn’t entertain the possibility of becoming a writer until much later in life.
  3. The person who encouraged/inspired/mentored me to write was…my year 9 English teacher. She told me I could do anything I set my mind to. I’ll never forget it.
  4. I write in…  a white-walled upstairs room at Glenfern, a National Trust house in East St Kilda.
  5. I write in … the mornings, with coffee and silence.
  6. Research … doesn’t feel like work – in fact it feels a lot like play – but it’s crucial. The Science of Appearances wouldn’t have existed without it.
  7. I keep my published works … scattered around the house. There’s probably a dusty copy of Dissection under a bed.
  8. On the day my first book was published… I felt like a fraud. But the day I received my first publishing contract was one of the happiest of my life.
  9. At the moment, I’m writing … my fourth novel. (‘Writing’ being code for mucking around with a few words in defiant capitals in an exercise book.)
  10. When I’m stuck for an idea/word/phrase, I … go to my phone for a stickybeak at whatever. (I’m not particularly proud of that but I might as well be honest. And I’ll break the habit . . . soon.) And I now trust that the phrase will come when it’s ready.

jacinta-halloran-studio There are some intriguing objects shown here in Jacinta’s studio.  A set of Russian dolls, a mini Christmas tree, some maps, and – unless I am mistaken – some images from the art of Shaun Tan.  Maybe from his picture book, Rules of Summer.  On the wall, some unusual small masks with huge black eyes.  Just miscellaneous objects, or clues to her next book?  We shall have to wait and see!

Jacinta’s latest novel is available from Fishpond: The Science of Appearances and good bookshops everywhere.

Thanks for participating Jacinta!

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Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 20, 2016

Letty Fox: Her Luck, Christina Stead

A last, and most welcome contribution to #ChristinaSteadWeek – and how I love that allusion to Virginia Woolf’s room of her own!


ANZLitLoversChristina Stead Week Nov 14-20 2016


The copy of Letty Fox I have is not that pictured above but one from Imprint (A&R) in 1991 with an Introduction by Susan Sheridan which begins:

Letty Fox: Her Luck (1946) is the first of a trio of satirical novels which Christina Stead wrote about the sexual and political lives of New Yorkers as she had observed them while living there before and during the Second World War.

Without further ado, here is the first paragraph (a review will take much longer, sorry).

“One hot night last spring, after waiting fruitlessly for a call from my then lover, with whom I had quarreled the same afternoon, and finding one of my black moods on me, I flung out of my lonely room on the ninth floor (unlucky number) in a hotel in lower Fifth Avenue and rushed into the streets of the…

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Christina Stead Week (November 14-20, 2016)

Well, it’s time to draw the winner of the book giveaway for the new Text Classics edition of The Beauties and Furies by Christina Stead.

As can be seen from the Opening Lines, and my review, this second novel by Christina Stead is great reading and I hope it sets the winner off on a wonderful journey of discovery to the rest of Stead’s oeuvre, which can be explored at my page about Christina Stead Week, where there are reviews and all sorts of other contributions from readers round the world.

There were not many entries, perhaps because many enthusiasts have their own libraries of this great Australian author’s work.  (I myself already had a copy which is why I’m giving away the one Text sent me, though I was sorely tempted to read the intro by Margaret Harris.  But no,  don’t worry, this giveaway copy is pristine.)

The entries were:

  • Fay Kennedy
  • Claire Thomas, writer
  • Sue from Whispering Gums
  • Bill from The Australian Legend
  • Jeniwren

And using the random number generator at, the winner is *drum roll* Jeniwren!

*chuckle* Jenny, I already have your address from the last giveaway you won, so the book will be on its way to you tomorrow.

Many thanks to Text for the giveaway copy.  If you missed out this time, here’s the link to buy your own copy: Text Classics

Author: Christina Stead
Title: The Beauties and Furies
Introduction by Hilary Bailey
Publisher:  Virago Modern Classics, 1982
ISBN 0860681750
Cover image: detail from ‘Portrait of Lucy Beynis’ by Grace Cowley, (held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales)

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