triple choice tuesday at reading matters

Reading Matters is one of my favourite literary blogs, so obviously, I did a little dance around my study was completely thrilled when Kim from Reading Matters invited me to write a post for her.

1984For Triple Choice Tuesday at Reading Matters, I’ve selected three very different books – one very long book, one very short book, and a YA novel – and rambled a little about why I love them so much. Plus, as an added bonus, because Kim’s celebrating Australia and New Zealand Literature Month, all three books are by Australian authors.

Curious? Here’s a link to my post with my three selections.

I’ll be back tomorrow with, amongst other things, a list of thirty-six books on my to read pile. Why? Find out tomorrow…

Read More

2012 – darkness on the edge of town ~ jessie cole

Before I can finally settle into my writing groove for this year (I know it’s nearly March) there’s one review that’s been on my mind lately. It’s been sitting half-finished, on my computer’s desktop for longer than I care to admit. It’s about time I finished what I started – which I can see becoming a theme for the year.

Darkness on the Edge of Town

Jessie Cole // Published in 2012

darknessontheedgeoftown

Bruce Springsteen’s best songs celebrate the eternal outcast, still hoping to somehow make things right again.

It’s a thematic preoccupation he shares in common with Australian author, Jessie Cole. Her debut novel, Darkness on the Edge of Town, features a Springsteen-inspired title and a small cast of outsiders that would surely make The Boss proud.

Vincent lives out of town in a rundown shack hidden in bushland on the side of a mountain. He’s nearly forty, with a long string of ex-girlfriends and a physically demanding, dead-end job. His spare time is spent at the pub or coaching the local junior footy team.

The one success of Vincent’s life is his kind-hearted, introspective daughter, Gemma. She’s sixteen, and looks after her father as she would a child, making sure he has lunch to take to work and a meal ready for him when he gets home.

Coming home down the winding mountain road late one night, Vincent finds an upturned car, its engine still running, just outside the entrance to his house. He finds the driver, a young woman, crouching in the gravel by the side of the road, precariously close to the steep drop down the mountainside. One arm hangs limp by her side. In the other, she’s holding a badly injured baby.

Vincent helps the woman and her child inside, and does his best to make them comfortable as they wait for the ambulance to make its way up the mountain.

Days later, the woman, Rachel, unexpectedly returns to Vincent’s house. Bruised and weak, alone, her arm in plaster, she says little. When it’s clear that Rachel has nowhere else to go, Vincent reluctantly asks her to stay. Caring for Rachel’s injuries, both physical and psychological, forces an awkward intimacy between the two.

Gemma is initially suspicious of the beautiful, broken woman her father has brought into their house, as well as his reasons for letting her stay. She’s not the only one. It’s not too long before ugly rumours about Vincent and the woman he’s hiding in his house make their way into town.

When a middle-aged man from the city turns up in town, asking questions about Rachel and her baby, Vincent and Gemma begin to understand what Rachel was running from.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is relentless. Right from the opening scene, Cole manages to strike the right level of intensity and maintains that pace throughout. She writes about characters on the edge – not only literally on the edge of town, but also on the edge of adulthood, the edge of poverty, the edge of language. It’s the precariousness of this balance, this strange, liminal space in which this novel takes place that lends it such an incredible sense of tension.

The novel is narrated by both Vincent and Gemma, in simple, unadorned language that lends an air of authenticity to Cole’s characters. Though the story focuses on Vincent and Rachel, Cole takes great care to ensure that Gemma’s story isn’t lost, and it’s in Gemma’s sections that some of Cole’s most insightful observations take shape. Gemma’s simultaneous longing for her first sexual experience and her dread of it is particularly well-expressed:

I felt my cheeks go hot and I took another sip of the Jim Beam, hoping Dave wouldn’t see me blush. Even though I’d never been in this situation before – two boys, two girls and a bottle of Jim Beam and Coke – there was something familiar about it. Something sad and sick-feeling. I liked Dave, and I wanted him to like me, but I felt like walking into Mel’s bedroom would be following a sort of script. Some path that had been laid down years before, maybe forever. Like I was part of an old bad movie, and I didn’t want to be.

In the gaps between Vincent and Gemma’s narratives, we see a third thread emerge; the story of the relationship between father and daughter. While Vincent is a caring father, he fails to see what’s right in front of him:

She’s sixteen, my girl, and she’s only just reached that girly stage. Nail polish and lip gloss. She came home from school the other day all dolled up. It was photo day and her friends had taken her aside and done her makeup. I reckon she expected me to hit the roof, to tell her to ‘get that shit off’, but I just looked and didn’t say nothing. She washed it off anyway, soon as she got home.

Misunderstandings are rife in Darkness on the Edge of Town, as is silence. After her accident, Rachel takes a while to begin speaking again, relieving her trauma in ways that Vincent and Gemma struggle to understand. As she begins to heal, Rachel begins to express herself through art, attaching fallen leaves to the trunks of trees and preserving red autumn leaves in jars.

Other lapses in communication in the novel are more insidious. As Vincent begins to develop feelings for Rachel, he doesn’t ask her how old she is, secretly worrying that she might not be much older than his own daughter.

Vincent makes a difficult hero. At one point in the novel, as he comforts Rachel, he reflects that although he knows nothing lasts forever, he’s “sort of hoping that it could”. Later, when Gemma confronts him about his relationship with Rachel, Vincent can’t put into words the way he feels about her.

Vincent’s protective nature has its moments of tenderness…but it’s also worryingly posessive. When he meets the father of Rachel’s baby, he becomes livid with jealous anger:

Watching him, I began thinking of how easy it would be to crack him over the head from behind. To take him out, one whack to that creased old neck.

Masculine aggression begins as an unspoken, insidious presence in Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s a lingering threat eventually, perhaps inevitably, makes its way to the foreground – with devastating consequences.

This is a novel with a lot to say. And although her characters often find themselves lost for words, Jessie Cole speaks with perfect clarity and restraint.

Ultimately, Darkness on the Edge of Town is as fierce as it is fearless. It crackles with the same kind of anxious intensity that heralds an electrical storm, gathering energy before it bursts in a memorable final sequence that will leave you trembling.

~~

This is my first review for 2014’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can find more about the project here. Or, click here to read the opening passage of Darkness on the Edge of Town over at Jessie Cole’s blog. Once you’ve finished, you should probably head over to Booktopia, where you can buy a copy of your own.

And finally, because I can’t resist, here’s Bruce:

Read More

book to the future bookmarks #2

bookmarksiiiWelcome to edition number two of Book to the Future Bookmarks, a new series of fortnightly posts in which I share some of the many, many links I’ve saved to my bookmarks folder.

I started my first Bookmarks post with a huge picture of current crush, Benedingle Cumberwhatsit Benedict Cumberbatch. But in the grand scheme of things, what’s a mere crush compared to true literary lurve? Nothing! It seems only fitting that I begin the second edition of Bookmarks with…

Original image source here
Original image source here.

…Zadie Smith, of course. If you haven’t already read Zadie’s latest short story, Moonlit Landscape with Bridge, over on the New Yorker’s website, you’re missing out. Here’s a little sample:

“…But he remembered two young men bent over one battered paperback, under a tree in the cleared center of a village. Books had been important back then—they were always quoting from them. Long-haired boys, big ideas. These days, all the Prime Minister read was his bank statements.”

I enjoyed Smith’s novella, The Embassy of Cambodia, released late last year…but it left me feeling a little unsatisfied. I’m not sure whether this was because Smith left the story at a point where I desperately wanted to know what happened next, or whether I was just eager for something longer. Possibly both. Personally, I have my fingers crossed that Zadie (we’re on first name basis) is working on a collection of short fiction…

Anyway. Enough wishful thinking. You can read more about Moonlit Landscape here.

The 2014 Stella Prize longlist is out! The Stella is Australia’s most exciting literary award (and they got it so, so right last year, with Carrie Tiffany’s brilliant Mateship with Birds taking out the inaugural prize). Given the number of Big Novels released by Australian men towards the end of last year (think Alex Miller, Tim Winton, Christos Tsiolkas…), it’s great that the Stella Prize is on the case, making sure that writing by Australian women doesn’t go unrecognised.

…However, I’m yet to read any of the longlisted novels, so I’d better get a wriggle on! Luckily, there’s a review roundup over at the Australian Women Writers Challenge blog.

If you’ve ever wanted to flash Melbourne’s Federation Square, here’s your chance. The wonderful people at Spineless Wonders are looking for flash fiction to grace the big screen at Fed Square during the Melbourne Writers’ Festival this year…why, what did you think I meant? Writers can find out more about the project here.

Look, I know I mentioned Ryan O’Neill in my first Bookmarks post…and the post before that…and I’m beginning to sound like some kind of crazed stalker (sorry) but I’m really enjoying The Drover’s Wives project over at Seizure. O’Neill has taken Henry Lawson’s classic short story, The Drover’s Wife and is re-working it in sixty different ways. So far, The Drover’s Wife has become a self-published book cover, an absurdist play, a horoscope and more. Sadly, not all of the pieces are free to read, but here’s a link to the project so far.

underground

I’m kind of obsessed with these stunning 1920s posters advertising the London Underground. I love them almost as much as I love this collection of sarcastic, witty, puerile – and, ultimately fake Underground signs. Genius. Get me to London, pronto.

I’ve mentioned my longstanding adoration for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince on this blog an embarrassing number of times. When I spotted this article at Brain Pickings about Saint-Exupéry’s manuscript for the book, including the author’s original watercolour illustrations, I was, naturally, all over it. Whether you’re a fan of The Little Prince or not, these illustrations are beautiful. And this, from the accompanying article:

“In April of 1943, shortly after the book came out, 43-year-old Saint-Exupéry shoved his Little Prince manuscripts and drawings in a brown paper bag, handing it to his friend Silvia Hamilton — “I’d like to give you something splendid,” he told her, “but this is all I have.” — and departed for Algiers as a military pilot with the Free French Air Force.”

Just reading this short piece on Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex made me feel like picking de Beauvoir’s masterwork up again.  I read The Second Sex for for the first time at around the same age as the author of this article, greedily devouring the entire thing over the course of a single weekend.

From France back to Melbourne: Readings has announced a duo of new literary awards. Can we ever have too many literary awards? Somehow, I don’t think so.

And finally, my favourite discovery of the past fortnight is Poet Deploriate.

Other Things I’ve Been Reading…

the-line-of-beautyI’ve been kind of wrapped up with work the past week or so, and haven’t had as much time for reading as I’d have liked…

In my first Bookmarks post, I mentioned I was reading Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. I drew my reading out as long as I possibly could because I really didn’t want the book to be over. I think it’s kind of appropriate that I read this novel immediately after The Swimming-Pool Library. They work well together.

An odd coincidence: The Paris Review just happened to tweet their Art of Fiction interview with Alan Hollinghurst from 2011 the other day.

Unfortunately, I’ve got no time left to explore more of Hollinghurst’s writing. I’ve got a huge pile of books that has accumulated next to my keyboard, waiting to be read. Also, my ereader is full of unread things, all jostling for my attention.

But the good news? I’ve managed to get a heap of time off work, and I’ve got little else to do but catch up on my (many) unwritten reviews and work my way through the pile of books accumulating on my desk.

My next Bookmarks post is going to be huge. Meanwhile, thanks for reading!

bookmarksimagetwo

Read More

2013 – the railwayman’s wife ~ ashley hay

railwayman“It could be any day, any year: call it 1935, 1938, 1945 or somewhere decades away in her future. Perhaps it’s the day after her wedding, the day after her daughter’s birth, the last day of the war, the last day of her life. Whenever it is, Anikka Lachlan is reading, swallowed by the shapes and spaces made by rows of dark letters on pale paper…”

I’m very grateful to be over at Newtown Review of Books today, writing about Ashley Hay’s The Railwayman’s Wife. If you’ve got a moment, go and take a look.

~~

I’m counting this as my third review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge this year.

Read More