What we’re reading: Eliza Henry-Jones, Eka Kurniawan and Sally Morgan
Each week we bring you a sample of the books we’re reading, the films we’re watching, the television shows we’re hooked on or the music we’re loving.
Ann Le Lievre is reading In the Quiet by Eliza Henry-Jones
In the Quiet by Eliza Henry-Jones is a radiant Australian debut – full to the brim of beautifully-drawn characters, against the backdrop of a semi-rural Aussie landscape. The plot centres around a family of three teenagers, their father and their close friends. Their mother Cate, the narrator of the story, has recently died. The story flickers through time as Cate sees small vignettes of her family and friends on different days and in different settings.
The author takes us to deep places of loss and longing. Love and family connection are curled around the edges like a straining tightrope, trying to hold the characters together. The three central characters, Jessa and her two brothers, are vivid with sadness and yet quiet humour is at play and glimmers of hope appear as they grow into their years. Somehow Jessa reminds me of another character I met this year, Etta in Emma Hooper’s Etta and Otto and Russell and James. One a child, one an old woman, both living with loss and yearning and both setting out to find their place in the world.
Reading In the Quiet reminded me (not that we ever really need reminding) that we gain strength in different ways through our experience of love, of loss and of family.
Emily Gale is reading Sister Heart by Sally Morgan
Sally Morgan is word-perfect in this narrative poem about the Stolen Generation, and it feels like a very close-up way for upper primary and young teen readers to learn about this aspect of our past. The story of a young girl who is taken far away from her family and her country in the north, is told with a lightness of touch and restraint, allowing powerful emotions to billow around the empty spaces. Like the very moving No Stars To Wish On by Zana Fraillon, light and hopeful humour is used to provide contrast as well as to show the incredible resilience and resourcefulness of the characters. The tone feels very true to the uncomplicated anger of a child taken away from what they know and love, the things they trust and who they are. I thought this book was beautiful.
Alan Vaarwerk is reading Beauty Is A Wound by Eka Kurniawan
I’ve been reading proofs of Beauty Is A Wound, the English-language debut of Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan, and it’s like nothing I’ve read before. Kurniawan intertwines Indonesia’s transition from colonial Dutch to Japanese occupation and finally independence, with the tragic tale of infamous sex worker Dewi Ayu and her cursed family, in a multi-layered narrative that reads like an old-school gothic folk tale, full of dark magic, hyperbole and gratuitous violence. Horrible things happen to every member of Dewi Ayu’s family – it’s not a book for the faint-hearted – but the story is told with a gleeful, almost comic tone that adds to its fantastical quality. Kurniawan has been hailed as the Next Big Thing in Asian literature, and it’s not hard to see why.
Chris Gordon is reading The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Patrick Ness' new book is as beautifully crafted as his other works and a joy to read. In some ways, it’s like reading the very best fanfiction there is out there. Imagine a group of super cool kids fighting evil, think of all the kids watching Harry Potter and co at Hogwarts and wishing it was them that was receiving the attention. This novel is about those daggy kids, the everyday kids, the ones that nothing really happens to except the ordinariness of adolescence. I don’t want to give the plot away, but I reckon it’s enough to say… Parents, here is a perfect example of what your kid may be reading on the internet, or writing on the internet although of course, much better because Ness is a Master storyteller. And kids, get into it; this is a book about you.
Emily Harms is reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This week I am heading off to spend a week visiting the Melville Islands in a once-in-a-life opportunity to exchange stories of our respective cultures and and learn as much as I can about the Tiwi people and culture. I am really looking forward to assisting the Indigenous artists and participating in the classroom activities with the local kids. I am also hoping to get a chance to get some reading done in transit and for the brief moments I can get in the sunshine by a local watering hole while I’m there.
I am planning to finish Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, which is such a riveting read. I also hope to read Not Just Black and White: A Conversation Between a Mother and Daughter, the winner of the David Unaipon Award 2014.
Amy Vuleta is reading Black Rock White City by A.S. Patrić
I’m currently re-reading a book that has stayed with me since I first finished it many months ago. Black Rock White City by A.S. Patrić is a perfect example of contemporary Australian writing – intelligent, compelling, readable and real. Even on the second pass through, I’m finding the characters, narrative and pace of it to be haunting, heartbreaking, breathtaking and beautiful. Propelled by a central, thrilling mystery, this novel captures perfectly the experience of a couple trying to live and sustain love in the aftermath of trauma and loss. This is a novel of immense feeling and depth; Patrić writes with power, precision and grace.