SPRINGTIME: A GHOST STORY by Michelle de Kretser

Springtime_coverI was really looking forward to reading Michelle de Kretser’s novella, Springtime: A ghost story. I first fell in love with de Kretser’s writing style while reading Questions of Travel, winner of the 2013 Miles Franklin Award. She has a way of creating magic on the page, her words spinning a world that comes alive, bursting with detail, that captivates me. In this sense, Springtime did not disappoint.

Frances has moved from Melbourne to Sydney with her partner, Charlie, and her dog Rod. Charlie has left his wife and young son to be with Frances and the new relationship and new location are unsettling. The transition is alienating; the Sydney weather, landscape and even the people and are strange, nothing is as it once was.

“She was still getting used to the explosive Sydney spring. It produced hip-high azaleas with blooms as big as fists. Like the shifting sun, these distortions of scale disturbed. Frances stared into a green-centred white flower, thinking, ‘I’m not young anymore.’ How had that happened? She was twenty-eight.”

Frances takes to walking Rod along the river in the mornings in an attempt to get her bearings in this foreign environment. It is during one of these morning walks that Frances feels time stop still. As she looks through the back fence of one of the houses that backs onto the riverside path, she notices a woman in a long, flowing pink dress and a wide-brimmed hat. A white bull terrier stands guard near the fence. He keeps a keen eye on Frances and Rod as they pass by. Rod, a rescue dog, is easily intimidated by other dogs, and Frances is anxious to make sure that he isn’t distressed by the bull terrier. Over the weeks, Frances comes to realise that whenever she sees the woman in the pink dress and her dog, she is always alone on the walking path.

The writing in this novella is distinctive of de Kretser’s style with delightful descriptions that bring moments and locations to the fore, placing the reader squarely in the scene.

“Sydney came to them as a series of visions held in rectangular glass. They were serious Melbourne people. They wore stylish dark coats, and Sydney could seem like an elaborate joke. T-shirts in winter! A suburb called Greystanes! On wet days, gumbooted stumps showed under the striped and sturdy domes of vast umbrellas, while subtropical rain pounded Frances and Charlie’s black foldaways into collapse.”

This novella differs from the long form novel in that the story skips over time, and not everything is clearly explained or laid out for the reader, and this makes for an interesting technique. There are jumps and gaps where I felt I had to fill in the blanks. At times I struggled with this technique – it was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle only to discover that some of the pieces were missing. I wanted to know what had happened in those missing gaps, but this desire was not to be satisfied. This may frustrate some readers, as it did me, initially, but I think it’s important to not let this put you off reading this book. The experimentation with style brings its own rewards, and I think that being challenged while reading a work is a good thing. Rather than let the story simply unfold as I read, I found myself musing on those gaps, filling them in myself with different scenarios. It made me engage with the writing, and pay close attention because I couldn’t rely on all the events being revealed piece by piece. I would have to hunt for clues in this ghost story.

Being a novella, Springtime is a quick read and I finished it easily in a day. It was like a refreshing little break in time, a sojourn to somewhere else in the midst of my day. A pleasurable read, that will delight and surprise.

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Springtime: A ghost story by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin 2014)

eISBN: 9781743439241

If you missed my review for Questions of Travel, you can read it here.

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QUESTIONS OF TRAVEL by Michelle de Kretser

Questions of Travel coverQuestions of Travel is one of those books that touches you, it lingers long after you’ve finished it. I find that images float up and interrupt my day, weeks after reading it, reminding me of the strength of the story, the brilliance of the writing.

This story focuses on the lives of two people, worlds apart. Laura is eager to leave Australia and see the world. Civil unrest in Sri Lanka has devastating effects for Ravi and his family. His world falls apart and he finds himself fleeing Sri Lanka for Australian shores. Both Laura and Ravi become travellers, tourists in other countries, for vastly different reasons. Their lives ultimately come together and they meet as work colleagues at a travel-book publishing house.

A traveller at heart with a fascination for the Other, I related to the concepts of travel, and was intrigued by the questions of why we travel that form part of this story. Laura leaves Australia behind for the excitement and thrill of travel, basing herself in London, and travelling to other exotic parts of the world. She explores many cities and countries but can’t seem to find happiness. There is something missing, it’s indistinct, but haunts her as she moves from place to place.

What I really enjoyed about this novel was the questions of why we travel, and the exploration of Australian stereotypes that made me cringe, partly in recognition of having witnessed this behaviour in fellow Aussies abroad, but also that I may have been guilty of similar behaviour at one point or another. This travel thread is but one part of this rich, evocative novel. There is also the exploration of how visitors feel in Australia, the struggles involved to understand the cultural requirements to ‘fit in’. I particularly liked the portrayal of this aspect because I think all too often as travellers we are quick to cast judgement and opinion about the places and cultures that we visit, yet give little regard for how we might be perceived in the reverse situation. Michelle de Kretser has created a wonderful exploration of culture, looking both outward and inwards that is richly rewarding to read.

The writing in Questions of Travel is alluring, vivid and engrossing. There is a boldness in the depiction of the characters accompanied by a sharp intelligence in the underlying themes and storytelling. I savoured reading this book, and will no doubt re-read it again, and again.

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin 2012)

eISBN: 9781743435182

Questions of Travel Awards:

Winner, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, 2014

Winner, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural NSW, 2014

Winner, Miles Franklin Literary Award, 2013

Winner, ALS Gold Medal, 2013

Winner, Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction, 2013

Winner, Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards, Premier’s Prize, 2013

Winner, Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards, Fiction Prize, 2013

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TSUNAMI AND THE SINGLE GIRL by Krissy Nicholson

TsunamiSingleGirlCoverTsunami and the Single Girl is a combination of chick lit and travel memoir that manages to include a host of love affairs gone awry, expat excesses and the noble job of aid work in countries affected by disaster.

In a bizarre turn of events, a broken leg on the dance floor in a club in Vietnam leads Krissy to her dream job of becoming a humanitarian aid worker. Krissy’s other dream, of finding her ‘dream man’ are not so easily achieved and she becomes entangled in series of love affairs fuelled by the drama and intensity of living in disaster-stricken countries. There are plenty of comedic moments, and the portrayal of the stereotypical expat partying hard, drinking and having a privileged life (compared to the locals) is cast against countries ravaged by natural disasters and war. The plight of locals in these events is dealt with compassionately and conveys the stress and trauma felt by both locals and aid-worker staff members, and the often insurmountable challenges that they are faced with.

After a series of romances gone astray, Krissy returns home in search of a man on more stable ground, in her home town of Melbourne. Yet, she is conflicted – her heart is addicted to the adrenalin-charged disaster situations, the heightened emotions that go with it, and she finds it difficult to settle in Melbourne. She undergoes a change in career direction and also faces serious health issues of her own. The book covers themes of self-reflection, the ticking of the biological clock, the endless yearning that accompanies the search for love and romantic fulfilment, and finding satisfaction in a career and friendships. Krissy does eventually get her man, but he’s not where she expected to find him, and he’s not who she thought he would be.

Tsunami and the Single Girl by Krissy Nicholson (Allen & Unwin, 2013)

This Week’s Read…

The One-hundred-year-old-man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

by Jonas Jonasson

The One Hundred year old man  who climbed out the window_cover image

The title of this book grabbed my attention: not only does it break with current conventions of short succinct minimal wording but it also tells a story within itself, a story so curious and intriguing that I just had to get beyond the cover. 

Allan is about to celebrate his one-hundredth birthday – something that he is dreading and would prefer death over the impending party organised by the Old Folk’s Home. Minutes before his expected star appearance, he climbs out of the window, tramples a few pansies in the flowerbed and makes his escape. What follows is a ridiculous, chaotic and thoroughly enjoyable trek across Sweden, and the world, as Allan recalls his finer moments in life to the eclectic band of conspirators who join him along the way. Allan meets up with the antisocial, sometimes-thief Julius, aged in his seventies, and these two old men embark on escapades that had me chortling and  chuckling. I never imagined that a story about a couple of old guys on the run could be so entertaining. Major political figureheads such as Stalin, Mao, Kim Il Sung,  Churchill, Truman and a host of American presidents all make an appearance in the course of Allan’s life, all accompanied by the quest for good food, vodka and the desire to avoid any political discussions or involvement.

This lighthearted book is filled with comedic moments and wry observations, which made its characters all the more endearing as they venture through the totally implausible yet ultimately believable course of events.

published by: Allen & Unwin