All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Death Of Noah Glass by Gail Jones

The Death Of Noah Glass
Gail Jones
Text Publishing
2018, 320p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The art historian Noah Glass, having just returned from a trip to Sicily, is discovered floating face down in the swimming pool at his Sydney apartment block. His adult children, Martin and Evie, must come to terms with the shock of their father’s death. But a sculpture has gone missing from a museum in Palermo, and Noah is a suspect. The police are investigating.

None of it makes any sense. Martin sets off to Palermo in search of answers about his father’s activities, while Evie moves into Noah’s apartment, waiting to learn where her life might take her. Retracing their father’s steps in their own way, neither of his children can see the path ahead.

Gail Jones’s mesmerising new novel tells a story about parents and children, and explores the overlapping patterns that life makes. The Death of Noah Glass is about love and art, about grief and happiness, about memory and the mystery of time.

Today is International Women’s Day and also the day where the Stella Prize Shortlist will be announced. Checking in, I’ve read six of the longlist with another 2 in my possession to read. Another is on request at my library but I have to wait my turn and the other 3 I can’t seem to access. Watch those 3 make the shortlist this afternoon!

To be honest I probably wouldn’t have been interested in reading this if it hadn’t made the longlist and I’d made the decision to try and read as much of the longlist as I could. It’s not something I’d probably be interested in but sometimes you have to take the plunge and try something new. There’s plenty of times where that works out and you find something new to love and things that you like that you didn’t know existed.

I won’t say that precisely happened for me with this book. I started it when I really just wanted to get back to reading something else and I gave it 100p to grab me. I got to the 100p and it was just okay. I didn’t hate it but I wasn’t loving it however it was enough for me to keep pushing through to finish it.

The book begins with the funeral of Noah Glass, who was found facedown in the pool of his apartment complex, having suffered a heart attack. The coroner has ruled it natural causes and now his two children, Martin and Evie, attend his funeral in Sydney. Martin lives in the city but Evie has made the trip from Melbourne. The two siblings are surprised when Martin receives a phone call from a local detective, asking them to pop in. Apparently during a trip to Sicily that Noah made just prior to his death, he’s somehow managed to get caught up in some sort of art heist and is a potential suspect. Martin finds himself travelling to Sicily himself, looking for answers to half-there questions.

Some aspects of this I enjoyed. To be honest I wasn’t at all into the art theft (or whether or not there was an art theft and if so why and what happened) but I did like Martin’s trip to Sicily and his attempts to find out what had happened. It’s not the easiest of investigations and Martin really has no idea what he’s doing and seems to be getting played at every turn. I also really enjoyed the story of Noah’s upbringing (his father was a doctor in a leprosy community in Western Australia) and his marriage to Martin and Evie’s mother and the children’s upbringing. Martin and Evie also had quite a complex sibling relationship and this was well portrayed.

But I think because I wasn’t particularly interested in Noah’s movements in Italy and what had happened there, nor was I particularly interested in the job Evie gets in Sydney, I didn’t love this book. I didn’t really connect with the story and it seemed like just when I was feeling a flicker of interest in a thread, it was gone and we’d moved onto something else. I don’t know anything about art and I really don’t care to know anything about art to be honest. I’m not interested in painters or sculptors and what techniques they used or how this defines this particular art movement or style or whatever. I felt the most interesting part of the novel was Martin and Evie’s sibling relationship but they were wrenched apart when Martin decided to travel to Italy and Evie chose to remain behind. They are reunited later in the novel but it all felt a bit too late for anything else to really happen. Also….the ending really left me feeling a bit disappointed. It felt anticlimactic and a bit slapdash and I found myself thinking ‘is that it’? Which is never really a positive. I think I was expecting a bit more of a mystery thread/storyline. It’s such a quiet book that I often found my attention drifting a bit.

Some lovely writing (particularly about Martin and Evie) but unfortunately that wasn’t really enough for me. It was just okay.

5/10

Book #42 of 2019

The Death Of Noah Glass is book #20 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

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Review: The Bridge by Enza Gandolfo

The Bridge
Enza Gandolfo
Scribe Publications
2018, 384p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Did the dead exist? Were they watching? Were they ghosts? Not the kind he’d imagined as a child, draped with white sheets, with the ability to walk through walls, but the kind that lodged themselves in your heart, in your memories, the kind that came to you in dreams, that you could see when you closed your eyes and sometimes even when your eyes were opened.

In 1970s Melbourne, 22-year-old Italian migrant Antonello is newly married and working as a rigger on the West Gate Bridge, a gleaming monument to a modern city. When the bridge collapses one October morning, killing 35 of his workmates, his world crashes down on him.

In 2009, Jo and her best friend, Ashleigh, are on the verge of finishing high school and flush with the possibilities for their future. But one terrible mistake sets Jo’s life on a radically different course.

Drawing on true events of Australia’s worst industrial accident — a tragedy that still scars the city — The Bridge is a profoundly moving novel that examines class, guilt, and moral culpability. Yet it shows that even the most harrowing of situations can give way to forgiveness and redemption. Ultimately, it is a testament to survival and the resilience of the human spirit.

My quest to read as much of the Stella Prize Longlist as I can rolls on with this one, The Bridge, based around the real life construction of the West Gate Bridge. I live on the western side of Melbourne, so the bridge is a big part of our weekly life. It’s a dominant part of the landscape of this part of the city and many suburbs sit in its shadow. I’m not from Melbourne and it was constructed before I was born so I only know vague details about the collapse of part of the bridge during construction that killed 35 workers and injured and traumatised many others.

We begin with Antonello, a young Italian migrant who works on the bridge, high up in the air. He’s supposed to be working the morning the bridge collapses but he has swapped shifts with another worker in order to attend a bank appointment and is only just arriving for work when disaster strikes. Although he wasn’t directly involved in the collapse, it affects Antonello in huge ways – survivors guilt, what would now be termed post traumatic stress disorder, he has it all. He lost his boss and one of his closest friends in the collapse and it’s something that affects him for the rest of his life. He’s not able to go back to work on the bridge when it resumes, he can barely function. It affects his friendships, his marriage, even his relationship with his children (who aren’t even born when the bridge collapses). The grief never leaves him and even though he never leaves the suburbs under the bridge, he never travels over it and remains firmly convinced that it’ll collapse again, this time due to the sheer weight of the traffic it now carries each and every day.

In 2009, Antonella’s granddaughter Ashleigh and her best friend Jo are finishing year 12 and navigating that tough space between school and adulthood. They’ve been friends for years but lately Jo has been feeling the distance with Ashleigh and she’s desperate not to be left behind. One night out at a friend’s party and coming home disaster strikes – right under the bridge. For Antonello, the bridge takes from him again. Ashleigh’s family are left devastated and Jo’s mother finds herself struggling with her feelings and reactions as well.

I found the 2009 portion of the story really interesting. Jo is 19, she’s slightly older than most other girls in her year due to a delayed start at school, so she’s the only one of her friends with their license. She’s been raised by a single mother in Yarraville and lately, they’ve had that tough teenage daughter/mother relationship where it seems like they’re constantly at each other’s throats. Jo’s mother remembers when they were close but it seems like those days are forever ago now. When Jo’s life chances forever, it puts an immense strain on their already fragile relationship. There was a brutal honesty to this – I feel like often Jo’s mother really did not hold back about her feelings and I found them to be quite reasonable, her struggle was something that felt genuine, like this is how someone should feel when someone they love has made a horrible, preventable mistake that ended in tragedy. She also examines her own role in it, her complacency and how her ‘giving up’ fighting with Jo or bringing up things that lead to arguments may have led to what happened, simply because she’s tired, she’s exhausted of everything being a battle.

Jo was a frustrating character. I’m honestly not sure how much of her reaction was just an extreme shock….and a denial? But I found a lot of her attitude really off putting and her inability to accept her role and try and shift focus to everyone, to them all as a whole, juvenile and irresponsible and honestly? Pathetic. She commits an offence that everyone knows is an offence. There are no shades of grey, it’s all black and white. No middle ground. There are no excuses for it. At all. She gets careless, blasé about things and she ends up paying almost the ultimate price. I’d say there’s one person that pays for it more than her though, unfortunately. However, it’s not something she does on purpose, with the intent of harm. And she has to live with the consequences for the rest of her life. But that’s not enough…..there will also be a court case.

If you want cheering up, this is not the book for you. This is disaster, people dying in horrific ways and people messing up their lives and others, in numerous ways basically the whole way through. I found it a very draining read, even though I think it was incredibly well written and told a very good story that I became very involved in. But when I finished it, I had to admit, I was feeling quite…..down, I suppose. So many people in the book suffer in a lot of ways, there’s a huge amount of grief and loss and pain. But I loved the story it was telling and I think it’s probably a testament to how well it was done, in how it made me feel. I really enjoyed the portrayal of Yarraville and Footscray and the like, suburbs I know well and have spent quite a bit of time in. It’s good to see the west highlighted, from the working class of the 70s to the cafe culture and changing dynamics and vibes of 2009.

8/10

Book #34 of 2019

The Bridge is book #16 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019 and also my 5th book read from the Stella Prize Longlist.

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Review: Man Out Of Time by Stephanie Bishop

Man Out Of Time
Stephanie Bishop
Hachette AUS
2018, 291p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When Stella’s father, Leon, disappears in September 2001, the police knock at her door. She baulks at their questions, not sure how to answer. ‘What if I just write it down for you.’

One summer, a long time ago, Stella sat watching her father cry while the sky clouded over. He had tried to make amends: for his failures, for forgetting to buy the doll she once hoped for, for the terrible things he had done.

The first time Stella sensed that something was wrong was on her ninth birthday. There was an accident, and when she opened her eyes there was the tang of blood in her mouth. Leon was beside her. But not quite there. In the winter, when her father finally came home from hospital, he looked different. Looked at her differently.

Now he was missing, and Stella held the key to his discovery. But did he want to be found? And after all that has passed, could Stella bring herself to help him?

Stella’s whole life has been stained by her father’s very struggle to exist. Would this be her inheritance too? Could she choose the steady minutes of an ordinary day? Or would she follow the path of a man out of time?

A masterful and deeply moving novel about inheritance and self-destruction, and of how the memories we carry and the blood we share discolour our view of the world … and ourselves.

This is quite a hard review to write. In fact, probably one of the hardest I’ve had to tackle in a while. Every book has its challenges when it comes to writing reviews, some are much more challenging than others. This is another of the titles long listed for the Stella Prize and I’m not going to lie – at the time, I picked this one up to read because it was the slimmest of the ones I had in my possession and I was looking for something I could get read in the time that I had that day. However this was no quick, easy read at all. It’s a complex, detailed in some ways, vague in others type of story about mental illness and the effects that has on a family.

Stella is nine when there’s an ‘accident’ and after that her father goes away. Leon is treated for his condition, often with electroconvulsive therapy and when he returns, Stella is 14 and a typical teenager, at odds with her mother and in trouble for things like not going to school and smoking. Leon has trouble with this new Stella, who isn’t the child he remembers. It seems that while he was away, although his wife visited him, Stella did not. The two of them are almost like strangers when he returns and they have to reestablish their relationship, which is full of bumps in the road. There’s a scene that made me quite uncomfortable to read because I honestly thought it was going in a much more sinister direction than it did…..and I think that perhaps Stella was quite unnerved by it also.

Leon’s a character that’s hard to get a read on because of his illness. His actions are frequently frustrating and also sometimes, quite scary. His wife, Stella’s mother seems long resigned to managing this (and him) the best way she can and she soldiers on through her years of single parenting, after Leon is hospitalised and treated for his condition. When he’s ready for release, she takes him back, for where else does he have to go? Even though after five years of separation, it must feel like they’re not even really married anymore. It seems a sad and unfulfilling life for everyone at times and yet they are all trapped in it.

There were times when I really struggled through some parts of this book. The writing is very good but it’s not really my sort of style and sometimes the way in which the story was being told, things washed over me without me really absorbing them. I found myself having to go back and reread passages to make sure that I was actually taking in what was happening (going to be honest, sometimes that didn’t necessarily help!). It’s a very multi-layered read which drifts in and out of different time frames at different points and often we are presented with just a character’s viewpoint of what’s happening which doesn’t give the entire picture. Some character’s thoughts remain a mystery to the reader – I think I would’ve liked to know a lot more about Frances, Leon’s wife and Stella’s mother.

This is one of those books where I can see why it’s made the list – it’s tackling a very difficult topic and I think it addresses it in a unique and compassionate way and also a way that leaves much room for interpretation. But I didn’t love it, I found that my attention drifted a lot while reading it and it’s one of those books that kind of made me feel like I was missing things when I was reading it. It’s one of those things that’s hard to put a finger on but the story just didn’t touch me personally or affect me in the ways that it probably should have. The way it was told wasn’t particularly a way I enjoyed, even though I can see how beautiful the writing is in many places. Stephanie Bishop says a lot with few words and yet somehow I found myself wanting there to be more. And that’s just on me, personally. Although this wasn’t for me, I honestly won’t be surprised if it makes the shortlist.

Book #32 of 2019

Man Out Of Time is book #14 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019 and the 4th book read from the Stella Prize Longlist.

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Review: Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

Eggshell Skull: A memoir about standing up, speaking out and fighting back
Bri Lee
Allen & Unwin
2018, 358p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

EGGSHELL SKULL: A well-established legal doctrine that a defendant must ‘take their victim as they find them’. If a single punch kills someone because of their thin skull, that victim’s weakness cannot mitigate the seriousness of the crime.

But what if it also works the other way? What if a defendant on trial for sexual crimes has to accept his ‘victim’ as she comes: a strong, determined accuser who knows the legal system, who will not back down until justice is done?

Bri Lee began her first day of work at the Queensland District Court as a bright-eyed judge’s associate. Two years later she was back as the complainant in her own case.

This is the story of Bri’s journey through the Australian legal system; first as the daughter of a policeman, then as a law student, and finally as a judge’s associate in both metropolitan and regional Queensland-where justice can look very different, especially for women. The injustice Bri witnessed, mourned and raged over every day finally forced her to confront her own personal history, one she’d vowed never to tell. And this is how, after years of struggle, she found herself on the other side of the courtroom, telling her story.

Bri Lee has written a fierce and eloquent memoir that addresses both her own reckoning with the past as well as with the stories around her, to speak the truth with wit, empathy and unflinching courage. Eggshell Skull is a haunting appraisal of modern Australia from a new and essential voice.

I’d heard a lot about this book before it was announced as part of the Stella Prize Longlist last week. It’s been getting a lot of praise and attention in the blogging circles I frequent and I’d been curious about it. In my determination to read as much of the longlist as I can, I requested it from my local library.

This is not an easy book to read and it would be a massive, massive ***trigger*** for anyone who has ever experienced sexual abuse or assault and also self-harm and disordered eating. And the book deals with a lot of sexual assault and trauma to children as well, both from Bri’s own past and through her job as an associate to a Judge for the Queensland District Court. With her boss, the Judge, Bri travels around Queensland to various locations for him to sit in court and hear and adjudicate on criminal matters. A lot (an overwhelming number really) of these cases relate to sexual abuse and assault of children and Bri is party to all of the often gruesome details.

Now obviously identifying things have been changed but this book is still graphic enough to be upsetting and it’s a shocking realism of just how many cases there are of sexual abuse. And how difficult it is to get a conviction. Bri’s anger is palpable as case after case goes not guilty with no closure or recognition of their trauma for victims. The constant flow of cases also brings back to the surface memories of the incident she experienced as a child and her decision to finally confess it to the relevant people in her life and press charges in an attempt to find that closure and move on and make sure that if anyone else ever complains about her abuser in the future, there is already a conviction against him.

Speak to pretty much any woman and it’s likely you’ll find they have a story of an incident in their past that made them uncomfortable, or that crossed a line, or that escalated into violence or even rape. This is Bri’s experience as well, after she spends a year working with the Judge and after she decides to bring charges on her abuser. So many women have stories, most of them are kept inside. Bri knows the system, she’s a law graduate who has worked within it. She has patience and determination I think, to go through years of adjournments and delays when many people may have just decided to give up, make it all go away. Bri has a strong case and she’s an adult when she goes through the process – many victims are children going through giving statements and evidence and even being subject to cross-examination.

This book does little to endear defense lawyers to me. I know everyone is entitled to a fair trial but it’s infuriating to read about women being questioned on how much they drank, what they were wearing, why they waited to tell people of their abuse. None of these things fucking matter. Or even worse, children being questioned on their memories, on what happened, on whether or not they imagined it or made it up. What a harrowing experience for anyone to have to go through. The defense also regularly challenges women on juries of cases featuring sexual abuse or assault, trying to limit their voice and impact as much as possible. Bri Lee is frank about how much of an emotional toll the process takes on her over the several years it takes to get to trial when it becomes obvious that her abuser is not going to plead guilty and I think about young children or teens going through that, standing up against an adult. There are a huge number of cases where it’s young girls accusing their stepfather or stepfather-type figure. It was exhausting at times, reading about the number of times they were told not to tell their mother or they (or the mother) would be hurt, or the relief at when abuse stopped only to find it was because the abuser had moved onto their younger sister or the times they told their mother and weren’t believed, or it was dismissed because the abuser was supporting the family financially. So much of sexual abuse or assault is a ‘he said/she said’ type of case, often where there is no real concrete evidence because it can be years before it is reported. Even when there is clear evidence (the Brock Turner case comes to mind where he was literally caught in the act by two individuals) the reporting is skewed in favour of the abuser and the sentences can be woefully inadequate. It’s all about what it will do to the abuser’s life and prospects, not about what it has done to the victim’s.

This is a powerful, emotional and often disturbing read. I read it over two days because I needed a bit of a break from the things it was making me think and the pictures it was putting in my head. And I’m just reading it, not living it. I can put the book down and walk away…..the victims cannot do that.

9/10

Book #30 of 2019

This is the 3rd book read of the Stella Prize Longlist and the 12th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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Review: Bluebottle by Belinda Castles

Bluebottle
Belinda Castles
Allen & Unwin
2018, 247p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

With sea-salt authenticity, Belinda Castles sets the Bright family in the sprawling paradise of Bilgola Beach. But darkness is found both in the iconic setting as well as in the disturbing behaviour of one of the family.

As he tilted the blinds she saw her mother in her tennis whites, standing at the kitchen bench, staring out into the dark bushland that bordered their houses. That was what Tricia did these days, looked into the bush as though it would attack one of them.

On a sweltering day in a cliff-top beach shack, Jack and Lou Bright grow suspicious about the behaviour of their charismatic, unpredictable father, Charlie. A girl they know has disappeared, and as the day unfolds, Jack’s eruptions of panic, Lou’s sultry rebellions and their little sister Phoebe’s attention-seeking push the family towards revelation.

Twenty years later, the Bright children have remained close to the cliff edges, russet sand and moody ocean of their childhood. Behind the beautiful surfaces of their daily lives lies the difficult landscape of their past, always threatening to break through. And then, one night in late summer, they return to the house on the cliff…

Just last week, the Stella Prize Longlist was announced, which is an award for a work written by an Australian female author. Originally created after a slew of men won the Miles Franklin, a prestigious literary prize, it shines a light on work by women. The last two years I haven’t done a lot in regards to the list, just reading 1-2 titles but this year I decided to give the longlist the best crack that I could. I’d already read one, Chloe Hooper’s excellent The Arsonist: A Mind On Fire and my local library was able to help me out with 8 more. There are a couple of titles they don’t have so I probably won’t be able to read everything but I’m going to go as close as I can.

This is the first of the titles I picked up from the library, a story of a family of five who move to a clifftop house overlooking one of Sydney’s northern beaches in the mid-1990s. Dad Charlie has bought the house on a whim, dragging his wife and three children there to see it as a ‘surprise’. It’s a prime location, perched right on the edge almost, of the cliff. It’s an older house, complete with horrific shaggy carpet and a green formica kitchen but Charlie, flush from a property deal, has grand plans.

Charlie and Tricia have three kids – Lou, 15 and a promising swimmer who will benefit from the proximity of the ocean pool, Jack, less than a year younger than Lou and Phoebe, who is around 7 or 8. Lou is Charlie’s golden girl, talented swimmer, lean and blonde. Jack is mostly the recipient of Charlie’s disdain. He’s not particularly athletic, he seems to have anxiety (probably mostly brought on by Charlie himself) and doesn’t fit the mould of Charlie’s ideal son. The two older children recognise that their father is prone to some pretty severe mood swings. When Charlie is happy, when he’s busy with plans and dreams, the world can be a good place.

But Charlie isn’t always happy. Sometimes from a look or a word, the children know that things are going to go very different that day. Charlie is unpredictable and often irrational and they try as best they can to manage him out of these moments. Sometimes they are successful, sometimes they are not. Lou levels her mother with plenty of questions as to why this is the way it has to be, wishing her mother to take a more active role, but Tricia seems to prefer to pass off the management of Charlie to the older two, staying in the kitchen preparing meals and keeping up the facade. Her passiveness in the face of Charlie’s increasingly unstable behaviour is a real source of anger for Lou, who I think wants more from her mother in terms of help for them, rather than just them being left to deal with it, or smooth it over. Presumably Tricia has been dealing with it in her own way for over a decade now, so perhaps she’s figured out the easiest way, even if it is the one that seems to place most of the pressure on her kids.

Before they moved, a young girl who went to school with Jack went missing. As Charlie’s behaviour becomes increasingly more troubling, Lou becomes more concerned that Charlie’s obsession and inappropriate actions around it mean that he’s hiding something terrible. It’s hard to get a straight answer out of anyone and twenty years into the future, the family are still feeling the after effects.

It’s clear well into the future, with the children mostly in their 30s, that they are still very much shaped by what happened during that time after they moved into the clifftop house. Charlie’s moods and whims are what ruled their days and even in the future without that hanging over them, it still seems like they are still feeling that control. I’m not sure if Charlie displayed signs of a mental illness? He seems certainly manic at some stages, although if there were depressive stages, they were off page. There were mentions of how he got without work though, without something to stimulate and entertain him. Charlie was very fickle, flitting from one idea to the next, involving people with enthusiasm only to abandon it later. He buys the house without consulting his wife or considering her thoughts and feelings on the move and has all of these grand plans which amount to little more than a few lines scribbled on paper. Charlie is an interesting character, seen mostly through the eyes of his children who have varying feelings on him. Jack is particularly affected by Charlie’s ‘parenting’ which seems to be of the ‘toughen him up’ variety when directed at Jack.

I enjoyed the back and forth telling of this, with split narratives from the 90s and then 20 years later. It’s drawn out very well – this isn’t a long novel so the pacing is well done and it doesn’t feel either too frenetic or too slow to move. This is wonderfully atmospheric and really showcases that northern beaches lifestyle but seen through the lens of a less than perfect family trying to live that perfect life.

7/10

Book #29 of 2019

Bluebottle is the 11th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

 

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