Saturday, December 24, 2011

The White Earth by Andrew McGahan

Part gothic melodrama, part national allegory, The White Earth is a sweeping story of history, politics, settlement and racism. 

Published in 2004 by Allen and Unwin, this amazing Australian novel has won worthy praise:

The Age Book of the Year
The Courier Mail Book of the Year
Commonwealth's Writers' Prize for SE Asia and South Pacific Region
Miles Franklin Award 2005

This was quite a complex novel, with lots of themes, and yet it flowed really well. I enjoyed this book immensely, and don't understand we it is not more popular. Maybe is was a few years ago, and I missed it. I'm certainly glad I found it!

   The thing I loved most about this novel was how Australian it is. It is so tangible and real. McGahan obviously knows and loves the Darling Downs. His characters feel deep pulls to the land, and I think McGahan could only write about land if he has felt the same way. Unfortunately, the pull that his characters feel to the land are their ultimate downfall. It sends John McIvor crazy. It sends William's mother crazy.
   I have mixed feelings about John McIvor. I have come across similar people in regional Australia - people who are obsessed with the continuation of their line through heirs, and being able to keep a piece of land in their family even once they're dead and buried. John's views of protecting his land attracted bigots to him, because they thought his underlying motivation was racism. I don't think he was a racist. John just wanted his claim to his land to be ultimate. Property ownership has gone to the extreme with John.
   John was also very proud. He had doubts about his father, but could not abide his father's behaviour, but would not admit to his feelings in front of other people. He had his goal, and he wanted to achieve it, no matter how many people he burned along the way. He was a lonely, bitter man. I am sympathetic because he drove everyone away, and yet I know I would have left too because of his behaviour.
  I don't think this novel should be labelled into a pigeon hole: 'gothic', 'family saga', 'fairy tale'. It's none of those things, solely. It stands alone and surpasses those genres. There is no lesson to be learnt, but the reader certainly travels the same path as Ruth at the end. She learns a lesson, and the reader comes along for the ride. I also really enjoyed the historical context, and the political element.
   Overall, one of the best novels I have ever read.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2012 Classics Challenge

My second challenge for 2012: I have joined up for the Classics Challenge, hosted by November's Autumn.

The aim is to read seven works of classic literature in 2012. Only three of them may be re-reads.

What is considered a classic? A work that transcends time. Usually it's well recognised but there are many lesser-known gems too.

Here's my planned reading list for this challenge (please let me know if you don't think they're classics, and I'll try a bit harder!):

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

None of these are re-reads. I can't wait to get into them!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winner of Book Giveaway

I announced a book giveaway for followers of my blog a couple of weeks ago. It is now time to announce the winner:

Mlle Slimalicious is the winner of a copy of "Foal's Bread" by Gillian Mears.

Congratulations, and enjoy!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

In Cold Blood

I picked up Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood' last week. I finished it on the train this morning. It left me a bit numb, to be honest. I didn't know what the outcome was going to be. I was not familiar with the story, at all. I thought that it was going to be more blood thirsty, and that the murders would have been more shocking or sadistic. I thought I would be far more disturbed than I was. What I ended up feeling was shock at the capital punishment, rather than the murders themselves. I think it was because Capote made the killers' flaws known. He made them vulnerable, and you couldn't help but feel some empathy or compassion for them.

   Capote didn't build suspense through the novel. It was only really like a fiction piece because of the extent of the character development, and the skill that Capote has at description. Otherwise, I felt like I was been told a story, rather than being shown a story, or rather than a story being unwound around me. I didn't like the long monologues, or the big slabs of criminal/police information.
   This book is also about the loss of innocence that was occurring in many communities around the world at the same time. The middle of the 20th century seems to be when people gradually became less trusting, less willing to let their children roam freely, and more likely to lock their doors.
   The killers, I believe, were both sane. I think they had personality disorders, but they certainly were aware of what they were doing - they just didn't care.
   I don't think that this book makes the criminals heroic, or gives them any particular unwarranted attention. What this book does is stop people forgetting about one of many murders that occur every year. It reminds you of the wider affect that murder has on a community, or even a whole state.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Now is the time to start looking for challenges to participate in during 2012.

The is the first that I have chosen to join: the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Objective: This challenge hopes to help counteract the gender bias in reviewing and social media newsfeeds that has continued throughout 2011 by actively promoting the reading and reviewing of a wide range of contemporary Australian women's writing.

There are various levels of participation. I am not going to limit my genre, so will be a Devoted Eclectic. I will read  6 books by Australian writers in 2012, and review at least 3 (hence, the 'Miles' challenge level). It shouldn't be too hard. I've already got five authors in mind: Lisa Heidke, Rosalie Ham, Geraldine Brooks, Judy Nunn, and Belinda Alexandra. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bereft by Chris Womersley

An amazing Australian novel. If you haven't heard of it before now, you have been told - you should read this!

Winner of the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2011
Winner of the Indie Award for Fiction 2011
Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award 2011
Shortlisted for the Age Book of the Year Award
Shortlisted for the ALS Gold Medal 2011
Shortlisted for the Nielsen BookData 2011 Booksellers Choice Award
Shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction
Longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2012

'Bereft is a dark, brooding story of war, family secrets and a man's search for justice. Chris Womersley knows how to shine light into the darkest corners of rural Australia' - Malcolm Robotham.

Blurb: It is 1919. The Great War has ended, but the Spanish flu epidemic is raging across Australia. Schools are closed, state borders are guarded by armed men, and train travel is severely restricted. There are rumours it is the end of the world.
   In the town of Flint, Quinn Walker returns to the home he fled ten years earlier when he was accused of an unspeakable crime. Aware that his father and uncle would surely hang him, Quinn hides in the hills surrounding Flint. There, he meets the orphan Sadie Fox - a mysterious young girl who seems to know more about the crime than she should.

I never believed that Quinn was guilty of raping and murdering his sister. He is a soft, easily led, a-sexual kind of man. With a topic like the rape and murder of a young girl, this novel is not set up for a happy ending. I don't think that the achieving of revenge makes for a happy ending. It isn't justice. Everybody suffers and lives are destroyed.
   Quinn is physically and mentally damaged from the Great War. Despite the shell-shock he is experiencing, and the never-ending grief from the death of his sister, I don't think and never thought that Sadie Fox was a figment of his imagination. Some of her traits (her similarities to his sister) Quinn certainly projected onto her. She also seemed mentally damaged, and developed coping skills such as her own form of magic.
   The image of central New South Wales is a stark and beautiful one - harsh and rugged. I could almost smell the dust and feel the heat. The prose was unique and conjured vivid sensory reactions as I read it.
   The novel also addresses spirituality, and Quinn's struggle to believe that God hasn't forsaken him. He doesn't like people questioning God, yet he does so himself. He is both repulsed and drawn to the occult, to a medium who channeled his sister, and to Sadie's trinkets and spells.
   This is a novel that I could read a few times and get something different from it every time. It would also be a great novel to discuss as part of a book club, because of its subtlety and the variety of issues it raises. Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Book Giveaway

This is my first book giveaway. I have a copy of the new Australian novel Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears to give away to one of my followers. I participated in a read-along with an uncorrected proof of this book throughout October 2011. I now have a lovely jacketed copy of the published version to give away. The winner will be announced on 18th December 2011.

    The blurb from Foal's Bread:
Set in hardscrabble farming country, and the high-jumping circuit that prevailed in rural New South Wales prior to the Second World War, Foal's Bread tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and their fortunes as dictated by fate and the vicissitudes of the land.
   It is a love story of impossible beauty and sadness, a chronicle of dreams 'turned inside out', and miracles that never last, framed against a world both heartbreakingly tender and unspeakably hard.
   With luminous prose and an aching affinity for the landscape, Foal's Bread is the work of a born writer at the height of her considerable powers. It is a novel of remarkable originality and virtuosity, which confirms Gillian Mears' reputation as one of Australia's most exciting and acclaimed authors.

As for my own writing, it has been non-existant. I joined NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and didn't participate or write a word. November has been the busiest month. Working 12 hours a day. I also had an exam in my first subject in my Graduate Diploma of Applied Law, and I had an exam in my third-to-last subject in my Accounting degree. One weekend in November, I ran the Geelong fun run (12 kilometres, which I did in 1hour and 3 minutes). I also had a Christmas party in Melbourne on the last weekend in November that took the whole weekend to get to and back. So, no writing!
   I'm going to try to have my whole novel writing month this December - so be witnesses to my pledge - the bones of my novel will be finished by the new year.