Christmas wish list

Christmas holidays are all about catching up with friends and family, and catching up on all the books that I haven’t had a chance to read during the year. I’m not a fan of reading on the beach – too sunny, too many kids to watch, too many friends to chat with. But once I settle into a shady spot with a good book, I can get lost for hours. Maybe a little too lost.

EyrieLast summer, on the hottest day of the year, I was immersed in Tim Winton’s Eyrie, under a shady ghost gum, when I noticed something moving out of the corner of my eye. A snake had made its way onto the arm of my sun lounger and was staring at me, flicking its tongue, inquisitively. I was so absorbed in Eyrie that I hadn’t even noticed, until the snake was centimetres from my face. I hurled myself off the chair and the snake took off in the other direction. A nasty interruption to my relaxing afternoon.

Once again this year my Christmas wish list will be filled with books, but I might just glance around now and then, when I’m reading, no matter how engaging the story is.

Here’s what’s on my wish list:

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

9781741666700I can’t wait to get into this Man Booker Prize winning novel, which my fellow blogger, Jon Page, recently reviewed.

“Richard Flanagan has written a tragic love story, a deconstruction of heroism and mateship, and captured a side of humanity I’ve never read before. Wars, according to our history books, have beginnings and ends but for those who take part in wars, who are swept up in its maelstrom, there is no beginning or end. There is only life. And the damage war causes must be endured by those lucky or unlucky enough to survive it.”

The Writing Life by David Malouf

The Writing LifeDavid Malouf examines the work of writers who have challenged, inspired and entertained us for generations – from Christina Stead, Les Murray and Patrick White to Proust, Shakespeare and Charlotte Bronte. He also looks at his own work and the life of the writer, where the danger is spending too much time talking about writing and not enough doing it.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

I am a huge fan of Hilary Mantel – the double Man Booker Prize-winning author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. The Assassination of Margaret ThatcherHer portraits of Thomas Cromwell’s England are epic historical tales, so I’m intrigued to delve into this collection of short stories, which promise to summon the horrors so often concealed behind everyday facades. 

The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb

The Wife DroughtUbiquitous journalist, Annabel Crabb takes a new angle on the work-family balance debate, by bringing working men into the picture. She asks why we have become fixated on the barriers that women face progressing in the workplace, and forgotten about the barriers that still block the exits for men? The Wife Drought is peppered with candid anecdotes from Crabb’s own work-family juggling act, is a thoughtful addition to the equality discussion and a call for a ceasefire in the gender wars.

I’d love to hear what’s on your wish list. Happy reading.

Julie

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River series for young readers, the Choose Your Own Ever After series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

All the Birds, Singing

Evie’s Wyld’s brooding novel, All the Birds, Singing is hard to let go of. A damp menace clings to the story from the very first line and draws the reader in as the main character Jake Whyte attempts to discover who or what is mutilating her sheep. At the same time we are sucked backwards to the Australian outback, to uncover Jake’s past and understand why she is living on an isolated British island – her only companion: a dog named Dog.

All the birds singingWyld’s book recently won the Miles Franklin award, beating Tim Winton’s Eyrie, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and others, with its evocative prose. “Spare, but pitch perfect,” was how the judging panel described Wyld’s writing – “visceral and powerfully measured in tone.” But it’s the structure of All the Birds, Singing that also has me intrigued.

Wyld uses alternating chapters to move the story forwards on the windswept farm and backwards through the outback. The tense of the writing also alternates, with Wyld using the present tense for the flashbacks and the past tense for the rest of the story. The book leaves great gaps in the narrative, but compels the reader to find the source of Jake’s damaged emotional and physical state as well as the identity of the sheep killer.

Wyld apparently had intended to keep the narrative simple when she started this story, but found barriers were thrown up by her choice of writing in first person. She had to find a way to solve them. After writing 50,000 words she decided that reversing the chronology of Jake’s past was a better was of telling the story.

“I was quite reluctant to do it,” she says in an interview with the BBC. “It ended up being a maths problem. I had to make endless charts and work out where I was. I did confuse myself a lot, writing it.”

Wyld builds tension with the flashbacks that take us deeper into Jake’s past, and ultimately to the decision that changed everything. We are fed uncensored snapshots of an ugly side of Australia – in outback towns, on a fly-blown sheep property and above a greasy take-away shop, meeting a cast of troubled characters along the way. These scenes are contrasted with the boggy sheep farm where Jake has gone to escape her past. But even here she’s haunted by some kind of beast.

A maths problem has never been so darkly engaging.

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