Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2015 – Wrap up

This is the second year that I have participated in the AWWC and not only did I exceed my nominated level, I thoroughly enjoyed every book that I read.

I committed myself to the Miles Challenge – to read 6 books and write reviews for at least 4 books.

I am happy to say that I read 9 books, and wrote reviews for all of those books. And a big thank you to everyone who read my reviews! 🙂

  1. Isabelle of the Moon and Stars by S.A Jones
  2. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
  3. All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld
  4. Snowy River Man by Lizzy Chandler
  5. What Came Before by Anna George
  6. Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser
  7. Springtime: A Ghost Story by Michelle de Kretser
  8. The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham
  9. The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville

 

It’s always such a rewarding experience searching out new Australian women authors to read, or to add a book that’s long been on my reading list to my AWWC list. Joining the AWWC gives me a valid reason to commit to reading (and writing reviews), which isn’t easy when life is hectic and full to overflowing. It’s been a great year of reading and I look forward to participating again next year.

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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.

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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