Monday, 26 September 2016

Where the Light Falls

A fabulous book . Here's what I said for Arts hub
Life and art explosively collide in this magnificent, deeply moving novel.
Where The Light Falls
 Where the Light Falls by Gretchen Shirm.

The author of this excellent book, Gretchen Shirm, is a writer and lawyer. She has been published in The Best Australian Stories, Art Monthly, Etchings, Wet Ink, Australian Book Review, The Saturday Paper and Southerly among others. In 2011 she was named one of the Sydney Morning Herald's Best Young Australian Novelists for her collection, Having Cried Wolf.
Exquisitely and beautifully written in vivid, sparse prose, this is a book that entices you in. Written in the third person the book is all seen through the protagonist’s Andrew’s eyes.It is a small to medium sized book in thirty chapters of compelling writing. The book moves at a relatively slow pace but this helps increase the tension. Sometimes almost cinematically there are flashbacks – in some ways it reminds me perhaps of Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell (made into the film Lantana) .It isn’t a murder mystery as such, rather we follow a middle aged artist trying to find himself and discover what happened to his previous girlfriend.
Andrew Spruce, a photographer compelled by 'the honesty in broken things', now living in Berlin, returns to Sydney when he learns that his former girlfriend Kirsten has disappeared near Lake George. When he returns to Sydney, Kirsten’s body has still not yet been found. He extends his visit to investigate her shadowy past, putting his current relationship with Dominique, a dancer in Berlin, at risk for reasons he hardly comprehends. While in Sydney he meets and befriends a damaged young girl Phoebe and her mother Pippa – he knows Phoebe will be a startling, captivating subject for his new series of photos. As he struggles to comprehend his motivations, Andrew realises that photography has become an obsession based on his need to hold on to the things he has lost in his life – His father especially. Andrew re-evaluates his art and why he has become a photographer. The book is all about light, about ‘the photographer’s eye’ and capturing light – how Andrew as a photographer sees everything as light – we learn why he became a photographer and what he regards as the essence of photography. The Meaning of Life and Art and why people become artists is also discussed. Also how we perceive the world and how we hope other see us; for example Andrew’s various subjects and his tentative relationship with Pippa and Phoebe.
The mystery of Kirsten’s death and the rather unsatisfactory conclusion by the coroner are important as they also lead to Andrew redefining his relationship with his mother and also Dominique in Berlin. Andrew's father died suddenly, and Andrew never knew why – he finally learns the truth about his father’s death when he was eleven.
Andrew tracks down Kirsten's mother, her stepfather and her sister in an attempt to find out why Kirsten chose to disappear into the icy depths of Lake George, her car left abandoned by the shore. The funeral without a body answers no questions, leaving the mourners trapped in a permanent unanswered state of limbo and grief. It’s also a book about damage, especially that which is quietly hidden from others.
Finally Andrew has to choose – will he acknowledge and return to his current personal and professional life – Dom in Berlin and a major exhibition in London – or will he let himself to be drawn back into his previous world with Kirsten even though she is no longer around? The question of what happened to Kirsten, and the hints of something mysterious with the stepfather, keep us turning the pages until the conclusion.
There are superb, striking descriptions of Sydney that capture it brilliantly. There are also terrific descriptions of Canberra, the mysterious Lake George as well as London and Berlin. While somewhat bleak and melancholy at times, the characters are finely written and distinctively created, firmly visible against the unfolding dramas. Andrew’s best friend Stewart is delightfully depicted as are Andrew’s mother and Phoebe and Pippa. The complexity and frailty of human relationships is very well written too.
Life and art explosively collide in this magnificent, deeply moving novel.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Where The Light Falls by Gretchen Shirm

Category: Literary fiction
ISBN: 9781760113650
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date: July 2016
Page Extent: 320
Format: Book
Subject: Literary fiction

The Windy Season

A compelling read .  
Mysteries abound in a bleak country town.
The Windy Season
 The Windy Season by Sam Carmody via Allen & Unwin.
'There are things out there worse than sharks'. Sparse and bleak at times, this is evocatively written and quite austere and dramatic .This is Sam Carmody’s debut novel and extremely impressive. Powerfully written, fresh and sharp and at times it feels ominous yet desolate and one of the two main central mysteries is never really resolved.
Most of the story is about Paul searching for his brother Elliot and how he moves to the WA country town of Stark and works as a crayfisher like his brother. For Paul, the novel's young protagonist, Stark is where his older brother, Elliot, was last seen before he went missing. Now two months after they have received the news, Paul is disturbed by his parents' apparent lethargy (his father discusses the loss: 'the tone that someone used when musing on some minor complication, as if he were talking about the printer in his study running out of ink') and dissatisfied with the police's quite laid-back attitude so Paul moves to Stark to find out what actually occurred.
Was Elliot (and/or Elliot’s girlfriend Tess) involved with drug running? The story is told through Paul’s eyes and is interwoven with the story of Troy (known as The Swiss) and ‘The President’ head of a bikie gang/drug cartel. The twp are traversing the outback towards WA and The Swiss is obtaining an education in violence on the way.
Stark, a small fishing town on the West Australian coast, has become a magnet for a particular sort of person. Stark is described as a ‘destination for sad cases‘ by one character and another calls it a place mistaken for 'the edge of the world. Everyone has got some issues here. Not that it's a retreat or anything. There's no healing. It's more a containment kind of thing.'
Paul ends up working on the same crayfishing boat as Elliot, run by their troubled cousin Jake, he rents a room from a fellow deckhand, Michael, and unearths what snippets he can from eavesdropping on the circumspect fishermen at the tavern. Paul soon learns how many chances there are to get lost in those many thousands of kilometres of lonely coastline. His tactics cause the locals great unease, especially at first.
What becomes obvious to Paul as he settles into the town is the variety of ways in which his brother could have been hurt. Stark thrums with the undercurrent of violence. Boats are pounded by big seas to remind people of the delicacy of the men aboard them, sharks are an ominous and resented presence looming around the town and on land there's the barely hidden methamphetamine trade that runs through the community, destroying its core. Stark’s precarious social and economic balance is ready to be shattered. Nothing, as Elliot had previously warned Paul, is quite what it seems.
Carmody renders the underlying malice in Stark excellently and the cast of rather misfit residents – bar tender Jule , larrikin but hardworking Jungle, emaciated meth addict Roo Do and, newly arrived cop Freda are all viewed and created vividly. There is also Michael, a philosophizing German backpacking tourist who is an escapee from an Oxford education.  His awkward, intense relationship with Polish backpacker, Kasia, temporary barmaid at the local, reveals quite a lot about Paul's lack of experience in matters of the heart, and the lost way in which he wanders about the world without his brother to guide him.  Through the book’s journey we see how Paul is forced to define himself and discover find out what kind of man he is – not an easy journey for him to make. There are also Paul’s parents and his rather brusque and brisk Aunt Ruth.
Carmody writes in a bleak, gritty rather fierce style at times and has a great ear for dialogue. Paul is a fully developed and original character. Carmody's wonderful descriptions of the atmosphere on the boats at sea reveals the length of time he spent on crayfishing boats researching for his book. When on land, the sections describing the fishermen's drinking sessions at the local tavern are equally subtly depicted. Carmody’s writing is innately evocative in its setting of place, making us vividly feel Paul’s seasickness and the roll and crash of the crayfish deck, the delights of snorkeling or the grisly but fascinating sight of white sharks feasting on the decaying carcass of a bloated humpback whale all drawing on Carmody’s experience and love of the sea as a keen swimmer and surfer.
A striking Australian narrative set in a place surrounded by a harsh and unforgiving sea, where disturbing and mysterious influences uncover hidden secrets in the lives of the residents of the rather uncongenial town.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The Windy Season by Sam Carmody

Category: Literary fiction
ISBN: 9781760111564
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date: August 2016
Page Extent: 344
Format: Paperback - C format
Subject: Literary fiction
RRP AUD $29.99​

Family Skeleton

A most intriguing book 

Lynne Lancaster

Mysterious and intriguing; hidden family secrets are revealed.
Family Skeleton
 Family Skeleton by Carmel Bird, photograph via UWA Publishing.
You can’t dig a grave without disturbing the smooth surface of the ground. Hot off the press, Family Skeleton is Carmel Bird’s ninth novel (Altogether she has written roughly thirty books).
Family Skeleton examines the history of a family that has for generations been engaged in the dark business of death – running a funeral home. The book opens in the skeleton’s voice and we meet Margaret, the family matriarch, widow of Edmund Rice O’Day of the exclusive O’Day Funerals, inside her posh, elegant Toorak mansion, secretly spying on her family in the garden. Everyone, including Margaret herself, is oblivious to the secrets that threaten to be uncovered by a visiting American relative, Doria Fogelsong, a historian and researcher who seeks to examine the O’Day’s family history.
We learn of various family scandals – including an explosive family secret that rocks Margaret’s world, revealing that the beloved idol of her father had clay feet and Doria must never know. An accident happens to Doria – is Margaret guilty? Is Doria after Margaret’s money? Is Doria blackmailing Margaret? How far will Margaret go in order to bury the truth?
The book jumps fluidly and clearly between the Skeleton as narrator and Margaret’s hidden, unpublished journal.The Skeleton has a rather sarcastic, ironic, jovial tone at times and Margaret’s quite revealing journal is also catty in her comments about her family in parts. There are comments about the two parts of the O’Day family and how they live in different suburbs (Toorak and Eltham and the great divide between them). We also learn of the secret history of Edmund and Margaret’s sister Cecilia – Sissy.There is also the quite sad story behind a historic quilt that Doria brings and presents to a museum in Tasmania.
Another theme throughout is the fragile delicate beauty of butterflies and their symbolism in Margaret’s world. Also interweaving throughout is the importance of the name of Ophelia and how this relates to the family and the hidden secrets. The family’s Catholicism is also important.
Perhaps somewhat quirky and subversive, Family Skeleton has a very contemporary feel and is set in a not-too-distant future where funeral plots are able to be customised in a way that somehow feels awkwardly conventional. If you enjoy books by Margaret Atwood, Kate Grenville and Thomas Keneally you will probably like this. Bird is a writer fully in control of her writers and character’s voice – Family Skeleton jumps, fluid dips sprinkled with sharp comments and ironies. The rather breathless ending is perhaps a trifle rushed but that is personal taste. Family Skeleton is a densely detailed depiction of both the process of forging personal and family identity and the art of deconstructing these .
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Family Skeleton by Carmel Bird
UWA Publishing 
AUTHOR: Carmel Bird
PUBLICATION DATE: September 2016
FORMAT: Paperback
EXTENT: 250 pages
SIZE: 234 (h) x 153 (w) mm
ISBN: 9781742588902
RIGHTS: World rights
CATEGORY: Carmel Bird, Fiction​