Tag Archives: Australian Women Writers Challenge


aww-badge-2015-200x300I didn’t succeed in improving on my 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge, with only one book reviewed during 2015 and two featured as snapshots. However, I did read and enjoy eighteen books by Australian women writers and recommended many of them in my newsletter:

The Minnow by Diana Sweeney (YA) (read snapshot here)

The Wonders by Paddy O’Reilly (read snapshot here)

Beyond Home: A Daughter’s Journey by Robin Bower

The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader (read review here)

A Small Madness by Dianne Touchell (YA)

The Dying Beach by Angela Savage

The First Week by Margaret Merrilees

Black Glass by Meg Mundell (YA)

The Astrologer’s Daughter by Rebecca Lim (YA)

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay (YA)

Afterlight by Rebecca Lim (YA)

Feet to the Stars by Susan Midalia

A Guide to Berlin by Gail Jones

The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

In the Quiet by Eliza Henry Jones

At My Door by Deb Fitzpatrick (junior fiction)

Purple Prose (various, eds Liz Byrski & Rachel Robertson)

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I also featured six Australian women writers in my 2, 2 and 2 series showcasing new books:

The Secret Son by Jenny Ackland (read here)

Feet to the Stars by Susan Midalia (read here)

Afterlight by Rebecca Lim (read here)

The Insanity of Murder by Felicity Young (read here)

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay (read here)

A Small Madness by Dianne Touchell (read here)

secretson_coverfeet_to_the_stars_cover9781925240498Unknown-3ASingleStone_HiResASM Cover

And so to the year ahead…

It promises to be an exciting one. I will (I hope) be finishing my current work in progress. And I’ve begun the always-exhilarating process of research on something new—this time in a different genre. And there’s also the release of Elemental in the UK on 11 February.

I won’t be signing up for the 2016 AWWC, but it’s a given that I will be reading and recommending books by Australian women writers (there are already at least a dozen of them—books, that is, not writers!—on the crowded bottom shelf of my coffee table). As far as I’m concerned, they are among the best in the world, so why wouldn’t I?

I hope 2016 brings you health and happiness, the inspiration to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself—and, of course, a year of wonderful reading!



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Book review: The Anchoress, by Robyn Cadwallader

The scenario is claustrophic: in medieval England, Sarah, a seventeen-year-old virgin, relinquishes worldly life—family, human touch, comfort, light, fresh air—and is locked into a tiny stone cell attached to the village church. It is voluntary. And it is permanent. The door to the cell, or anchorhold, is nailed shut. Sarah conceives of this as ‘the nailing of my hands and feet to the cross with Christ’ but an equally fitting comparison would be the nailing of a coffin, because the anchorhold is to be Sarah’s home and also her grave: lest there be any doubt, she is told that the bones of a previous anchoress, Sister Agnes, are interred beneath her. Her life’s work is to devote herself to prayer—for the edification of the village and the soul of the wealthy landowner who is her patron.

9781460702987I was sent a copy of Robyn Cadwallader’s debut novel in preparation for a session I was chairing at the Perth Writers Festival. As someone who has trouble with confined spaces, and has nightmares about being buried alive, I felt a little uneasy when I held the book in my hand, knowing the situation of its protagonist. The stunning cover illustration,  a swallow soaring upwards, should have been a clue, should have reassured me. Because this novel soars, too.

Sarah’s isolation from the world is not as complete as I had originally feared it would be. She has two female servants who attend to her (extremely meagre) needs of food and clothing and cleanliness (such as cleanliness was in medieval times) through one window. Another window allows her to receive female villagers seeking her counsel. A confessor from the nearby priory comes once a month to hear her sins, and to interpret her written Rule. Charmingly, a cat visits through the servants’ window whether Sarah likes it or not, occupying the best place by the fire. And she can partially see, through a narrow slit in the stone wall called a ‘squint’, into the church.

Cadwallader, also a medieval scholar, convincingly creates a world outside the anchorhold that is patriarchal, class-based, punitive, predatory (for women) and austere. Sarah escapes that physical world but not, of course, these defining elements; they continue to shape her existence in every way. While I found her occasional displays of self-loathing disturbing to read (particularly those involving physical mortification—self-flagellation and the wearing of a hairshirt), I could understand them in the context of her time and circumstance.

For a work whose central premise is the act of ‘enclosure’, a determined, purposeful isolation of the self from the world, The Anchoress is a remarkably sensual novel. But perhaps this is not so surprising, because the act of isolation requires a constant repudiation of bodily desires of all kinds. Sexual desire is the obvious one (Bishop Michael tells her, ‘Enclosure is the only means by which your virginity may be assured’ and warns her that ‘Lust prowls, it prowls’), but Sarah and her confessor also speak of ‘keeping the flesh in need’—meaning in need of food, warmth, soft bedding, external stimulation. The narrative dwells in the intimacies and minutiae of deprivation and what passes as compensation. For example, with limited visual stimulation, Sarah’s other senses are heightened.

 The stewed meat smelt rich; the fragrance wound around my head and sank into my clothes.


His voice made me think of the river where it runs deepest, the silken sound of its slow eddies…


The squeak of metal close by, the sound of wood on wood as the church door shut. The smell of dirt floated in to me as it always did when someone entered the church. Muffled footsteps, a few soft thumps and then quietness. The cough of a sick man, dry and rasping, the sound of breath dragged in and out.

I had been intrigued, at the outset, to see how Cadwallader would create drama and pace in the story of this voluntarily entombed character, but it soon became apparent that there was rich potential for both. First, Sarah has a history, a back story, a reason for the extreme choice she has made. In the interests of avoiding spoilers, I don’t intend to say more about that. Second, although much of the narrative takes place in a cell, that cell is attached to a church, and the church is located in a village, and the village is connected intimately with two sources of significant power—the Catholic Church, in the form of the priory, and the land-owning class, in the form of Sarah’s patron; they, in turn, are intimately connected with each other. There is a strong character arc in the novel in relation to Sarah that could be described as a unique coming-of-age story. And there is are narrative arcs involving the wider world—Sarah’s family, her servants, the villagers, her confessor, her patron, the prior and brothers, the previous anchoresses—to which Sarah is central. The Anchoress unspools its threads at a pace that feels entirely consonant with the world it inhabits, but it never falters, is never less than compelling.

Good historical fiction tells us something about our own world as it narrates a story of the past. While reading The Anchoress, I was struck time and again by the operation of power along gender and class lines. While these play out in the most extreme ways in the novel, I could not help but think of the residues of powerlessness that still exist today, and of the ways in which people resist, fight back, reclaim, endure, create. Or fail to. I think it is one of the greatest gifts of fiction that it increases our empathy for the other, our understanding that the other is ourselves.

The Anchoress is a novel that I know I will continue to think about for a long time—and that’s my kind of fiction.


The Anchoress, by Robyn Cadwallader (Fourth Estate, 2015)

ISBN 978 0 7322 9221 7


aww-badge-2015-200x300This review counts towards my total for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.


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It’s sign-up time for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Every year I hope, in vain, that statistics about book reviewing (e.g. Vida Count, Stella Count) will show there is no longer a gender imbalance in favour of male writers—although I was delighted to see that the 2013 Stella Count listed the daily newspaper of my own state, The West Australian, as one of only two exceptions among major Australian publications (the other being the industry-based Books+Publishing). A big shout-out to the West’s Books Editor, William Yeoman!

It was, in part, because of statistics like these that Elizabeth Lhuede established the Australian Women Writers Challenge in 2012 (you can read more about that here), and I am signing up for my third year as a challenge participant. This year I’m nominating my own terms for the challenge—that is, rather than sign up for set minimum numbers of books to read and books to review, I’m committing myself to improving my 2014 result (21 read and 3 reviewed).

At the top of my to-be-read pile are books associated with sessions I’ll be chairing at the Perth Writers Festival next month, and the one I’m currently reading is Diana Sweeney’s brilliant debut, The Minnow, which won the 2013 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing.

aww-badge-2015-200x300If you’re interested in supporting Australian women writers by joining the 2015 challenge, it’s easy: details here. You can participate as a reader/reviewer or just as a reader—and even if you don’t have a blog, you can take part by linking your Goodreads reviews to the challenge.

Happy 2015 reading, everyone!


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Australian Women Writers Challenge—2014 wrap-up

awwbadge_2014It’s the end of the year and what a wonderful year it’s been for reading Australian women writers. There have been new books from some of my favourites, and I’ve been introduced to writers who I’m sure will be on my future lists of favourites.

But this is a wrap-up post for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge—my second challenge year—and I have to confess that, while I have handsomely exceeded my AWWC commitment to read at least ten books by Australian women writers, I have fallen short of my goal to review at least six. But I’m recklessly going to call it challenge completed, anyway!

Here are the challenge books it’s been my pleasure to read in 2014, with links to my reviews and to new books by Australian women writers featured on the blog this year in my 2, 2 and 2 series.

Debra Adelaide, Letters to George Clooney (Picador, 2013)
Andrea Goldsmith, The Memory Trap (Fourth Estate, 2013) *reviewed here
Andrea Goldsmith, Reunion (Fourth Estate, 2009)
Catherine Jinks, A Very Unusual Pursuit: Book 1: City of Orphans (Allen & Unwin, 2013) *reviewed here
Tracy Farr, The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt (Fremantle Press, 2013)
Carmel Macdonald Grahame, Personal Effects (UWA Publishing, 2014) *reviewed here
Felicity Young, The Scent of Murder (HarperCollins, 2014)
Moira McKinnon, Cicada (Allen & Unwin, 2014)
Brooke Davis, Lost & Found (Hachette, 2014) *featured here
Dawn Barker, Let Her Go (Hachette, 2014) *featured here
Simone Lazaroo, Lost River: Four Albums (UWA Publishing, 2014)
Evie Wyld, All the Birds, Singing (Vintage, 2013)
Fiona McFarlane, The Night Guest (Penguin, 2013)
Inga Simpson, Mr Wigg (Hachette, 2013)
Deb Fitzpatrick, The Break (Fremantle Press, 2014) *featured here
Joan London, The Golden Age (Vintage, 2014)
Danielle Wood, Mothers Grimm (Allen & Unwin, 2014)
S.A. Jones, Isabelle of the Moon & Stars (UWA Publishing, 2014) *featured here
Annabel Smith, The Ark (self-published, 2014) *featured here
Paddy O’Reilly, The Factory (Affirm Press, 2014 edn)
Michelle de Kretser, Springtime: A Ghost Story (Allen & Unwin, 2014)


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This year I also introduced eight Western Australian women writers with manuscripts that I hope we will have an opportunity to review, as books, in the future: Rashida Murphy and Kristen Levitzke, Amanda Gardiner and Emily Paull, Karen Overman and Kim Coull, and Michelle Michau-Crawford and Louise Allan.

I do intend to sign up for the 2015 challenge and already have a pile of books ready to go.

And as this is the last post from me this year, I’d like to acknowledge the AWWC bloggers who chose to review my own books in 2014. I really appreciate it—thank you!

Sonja Porter, Sonja’s Bookshelf
Angela Savage
Monique Mulligan, Write Note Reviews
Danielle Burns
Bernadette, Reactions to Reading
Natalia Clara

The Sinkings
Karen Has Things to Say

Karen Has Things to Say

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Happy New Year, everyone!



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Book review: Personal Effects, by Carmel Macdonald Grahame

Personal_Effects_FNL_02_mainEdnYears ago, on the first festival panel I ever took part in, there was a question from the audience that I had heard many times before and have often heard since: Why don’t writers write about happy things, happy relationships? That first time, another panel member, the prodigiously talented Sonya Hartnett, replied: Because happiness is beige. This is not true in life, of course, but I could see Hartnett’s point when it comes to fiction. When we write narrative, we place our characters under pressure in order to explore who they are, to see what they’ll do. In fact, the narrative arc of fiction is sometimes described as: Something happens. Then things get worse.

That is not to say that fiction must deal solely in sadness, nor that happy couples are unknown in novels. When The Guardian posed the question Can happy marriage ever be interesting in books? earlier this year, readers were quick to offer examples (including a favourite of mine, Carol Shields’s Unless). But, on balance, these are less common, because when things get worse, things often get sad, too. And relationships may be the cause or the casualty of that sadness.

I thought of this when reading Personal Effects, the debut novel of Carmel Macdonald Grahame, because at the heart of this beautiful work of fiction is that rare thing: a very long, very happy marriage.

I have looked at Ross countless times and been struck by the depths of our separateness. I am not you is a thought that still has the power to enchant, easily becomes a desire to say, Come here, you. He has been the great force for tenderness, generosity, consideration and kindness in my life … The result, as it turns out, is this mutual symbiosis that never ceases to astonish me and yet is so perfectly ordinary. We have become These Two, You Two, Those Two. Ross’n’Lilith. Lilith’n’Ross. You and I. Us. We.

Personal Effects is not an extravagantly happy novel, however. There is joy in abundance, but grief, too, as the novel’s narrator, Lilith, meditates on the pushes and pulls, the ordinary and extraordinary, in the life of an individual, a relationship, a family.

Lilith, a ceramic artist and former teacher, and Ross, a geologist, are middle-aged empty-nesters whose two adult daughters are making their own way in the world. And now they’re faced with the prospect of, once again, relocating overseas because of the exigencies of Ross’s work in the resources industry. This latest international move is a return—to Calgary, Canada, where they lived many years before.

The narrative progression of the novel is non-linear and almost tidal in the way it moves in slow swells and glancing ripples, gathering in meaning and depth. Things happen, but the circuitous structure means that crucial events from the past, events that have shaped Lilith, are withheld, to be woven into the story when she finds the words to relate them. This sense of holding back is not merely narrative, either; Lilith knows that survival sometimes depends on things being hidden:

You live in an intimate regime with a man you love and your two daughters, but not even they need to know everything there is to know about you. Not everything can be told.

There is artistry here, in the melding of substance and form.

The quote above hints at ambivalences that the neat term ‘happy marriage’ cannot accommodate. Moving overseas for Ross’s work means the sacrifice of Lilith’s teaching career. Suddenly she is ‘a fully fledged dependent’. In an impressive scene showing a gender divide between two people bound together by love, history and respect, Lilith says:

I have no money in my purse and no prospect of putting any there. You have money in your wallet all the time. Money in this day and age is what keeps body and soul together, and now I have to ask you for it. I have to ask.

The final italicised ask comes as a cry, a humiliation, a protest at frayings in the fabric of a relationship between equals. Such cries can destroy or save, and this one brings for Lilith the realisation that ‘I have to find other, unexpected ways of being independent.’

The Pinnacles

The Pinnacles

One of the pleasures of the novel comes from its descriptions of place—Lilith’s childhood home of Cervantes (a small coastal town of Western Australia about 200 kilometres north of Perth, famous for its proximity to the unique limestone formations known as The Pinnacles), Rottnest Island (a holiday island off Perth with a dark history) and wintry Calgary—and the association of place with notions of home and belonging as Lilith contemplates yet another relocation overseas. As she observes, memories cannot be uncoupled from place:

… everything that happens, happens somewhere, a self-evident fact that strikes me as significant and overlooked. Memories insist on staging themselves, so events, moments, periods of a life come back with their mise en scène.

An image that is introduced early in the novel (page 8) is of the mosaic:

Spode_Bl_Room_Background_Cropped-758x749Pique assiette mosaics, for example, are a mode of recomposition. Like fabric applied to a quilt, pieces of a grandmother’s broken cup, say, can be arranged and rearranged, each bringing its particular accidental shape to the whole and determining form. You take damage and convert it into something that will differently endure. You take what is old and preserve it. You revel in disparity as much as harmony. You transform, reconfigure, complete … You take the past and send it, refashioned into the future.

This evocative passage serves as metaphor for the non-linear structure already discussed, and feels apt coming from Lilith the ceramicist. But the full weight, the richness, of the image is not realised until near the end—and I won’t spoil the impact of that discovery by saying any more here.

Personal Effects is a novel to savour, to rest face-down on the arm of your chair for a pause to allow reflection on what you’ve just read, to hug because it has articulated something true and special and perfect.

Carmel Macdonald Grahame was once my writing tutor, and many years ago she and I belonged to a small writing group for a time, and in both these capacities she taught me infinitely valuable lessons about writing. In Personal Effects, she has continued the lesson.

Personal Effects, by Carmel Macdonald Grahame (UWA Publishing, 2014)
ISBN 978 1 74258 534 5
You can read an excellent review by Lisa Hill here and Annabel Smith’s Q&A with Carmel Macdonald Grahame here.

awwbadge_2014This is my third review for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge.




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Book review: A Very Unusual Pursuit, by Catherine Jinks

Very-Unusual-Pursuit-234x346I used to read more junior fiction when I was editing more often than I currently am. But recently I had the pleasure of being on a panel with Catherine Jinks at the Perth Writers Festival, which prompted me to read the book she was talking about: A Very Unusual Pursuit, Book 1 in the City of Orphans series. Not long after I finished it, I heard that it had won the children’s category of the 2014 Adelaide Festival Award for Literature—a well-deserved win, and congratulations to Catherine!

Set in London c. 1870, A Very Unusual Pursuit gives us a Dickensian grimness leavened by gallows humour, a world sharply divided along class lines, an unsentimental portrait of childhood in which children work or they don’t eat—and, even then, they don’t eat much, or well. There are cafflers (rag-and-bone men) and costers (street sellers), dippers (pickpockets) and toshers (sewer scavengers), lurkers (criminals) and moochers (tramps), mumpers (beggars) and shirksters (layabouts). Nearly all of them are gammoners (liars). There’s Sarah Pickles, a matron with a gang of young pickpockets doing her bidding, and she’s far more ruthless than Fagin ever was. Life is cheap in Bethnal Green.

Into this realist portrait of time and place, Jinks introduces a coexisting supernatural realm held in fear and spoken of in hushed voices, populated by creatures inhabiting dark places like chimneys, drains, privvies. Children go missing here, presumed eaten.

Enter the Go-Devil man, Alfred Bunce, who, for a few shillings and an extra charge for materials (salt), will lure out and exterminate these creatures, generically called ‘bogles’. And what does a bogler use for bait? A child. The novel’s central character is Bunce’s ten-year-old apprentice, Birdie McAdam, whose sweet, pure singing voice draws the bogles from their lairs.

The orphan Birdie is a beautifully realised, wholly believable character. Jinks arms her with a Victorian version of ‘girl power’ that would resonate strongly with young female readers especially (although the book’s appeal is wider than that), but she never breaches the boundaries of plausibility. Birdie is gutsy and forthright but always within the context of her time and place, her social position. If she says too much, if she oversteps the line of authority, the curmudgeonly Bunce hauls her back, and Birdie accepts his right to do so. But it will not stop her speaking her mind or overstepping again.

Birdie is fiercely proud of her work—‘It’s a good living, and a respectable one’—and at the same time is aware of her vulnerability: the threat of the workhouse or Sarah Pickles is always looming should anything happen to Mr Bunce.

A rogue doctor preying on the weak is at the centre of a satisfying plot, but there are subplots involving Sarah Pickles and her interest in Birdie, and a refined lady who also takes an interest in the welfare of the bogler’s girl, and offers a gentler kind of future for Birdie. Miss Eames, a student of folklore and the spirit world, dares to suggest that Bunce might try ‘scientific’ bogle-attracting methods instead of offering up little girls and hoping they’re quicker than the bogle. But Birdie is defensive and suspicious, afraid of losing her much-valued apprenticeship, and more generally, like Bunce, afraid of change.

The language of Birdie’s world is delightful, and, together with the rendering of accents and the singular grammar of the slums, is used to effect in the novel’s strong, vibrant dialogue. An example:

‘Seems to me, if they was moved, they must have come from inside the house.’

‘Or inside the privy,’ Birdie piped up…‘Mebbe that’s where it lives.’

‘But the skipper said as how he slept all night in that privy, and weren’t troubled, save by rats,’ Elijah unexpectedly volunteered.

Alfred frowned. ‘Is he a child, this moocher?’

Jinks gives us a glossary at the back of the book, although in most cases it’s easy enough to discern the meaning of unfamiliar terms through the context in which they’re used.

Catherine Jinks has won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year three times, among many other prestigious awards, and has published more than twenty books. I loved this one. If, like me, you’re a bit of a kid yourself, you might love it too.

A Very Unusual Pursuit, by Catherine Jinks (Allen & Unwin, 2013)
ISBN 978 1 74331 306 0
Junior fiction (ages 10–12—and all points beyond!)
There are two more books in this series: A Very Peculiar Plague and A Very Singular Guild.

awwbadge_2014This review counts towards my total for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge.


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Book review: The Memory Trap, by Andrea Goldsmith

This is my first review for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge. My tardiness can, in part, be attributed to the delightful experience of participating in this year’s Perth Writers Festival. And it was through that participation that I had the pleasure of reading the book I’m reviewing here: Andrea Goldsmith’s seventh novel, The Memory Trap.

the_memory_trap_cover1The Memory Trap is an engrossing character-driven novel underpinned by ideas about obsession, memory and memorialisation. Four of the five main characters whose relationships are the novel’s engine are sets of siblings: brothers Ramsay and Sean, and sisters Nina and Zoe, who grow up in suburban Melbourne as next-door neighbours. Ramsay is a child prodigy pianist who is nurtured and cosseted into a musical genius; he is also a poor excuse for a human being. Sean, his acolyte, is cast aside in adolescence and becomes estranged from his brother; he grows up to be a restless, diffident man, a travel writer who spends most of his life away from home and his long-term partner, Tom. Zoe, also a musician (a cellist) but not in Ramsay’s league, loves Ramsay from the earliest days when they played duets together, and her continuing devotion allows little space in heart or mind for anyone else, including her husband and children. Only Nina, it seems, escapes the poisonous influence of Ramsay’s self-absorption and utter disregard for others, but her love for her sister and her closeness to Sean mean that she cannot escape his influence entirely. It is Nina who sets the story in motion when, following the breakdown of her marriage, a work opportunity draws her back from London to Melbourne, back to Zoe, Sean and Ramsay.

The fifth principal character in this web of relationships is Zoe’s husband, Elliot. We first see him through Nina’s eyes as a monster, tormenting Zoe with snide, vicious comments that she, bafflingly, seems able to ignore, even accept. In the first third of the novel, I felt, as Nina does, indignantly hostile towards Elliot and nonplussed at why Zoe would remain in such a destructive marriage. It is a tribute to Goldsmith’s excellent use of shifting points of view that these perceptions changed, to the point where I was able to feel empathy for Elliot.

This shift begins when Nina witnesses a scene between Zoe and Ramsay in which it is painfully clear to her and to Elliot, who is also watching, that Zoe does not love her husband and never has; that she is capable of loving only Ramsay. The story then becomes Elliot’s, and we see the monstrous armour fall away, revealing the naked pain of a man unloved by the object of his obsession.

The use of narrative shifts from character to character works very well, giving us access to interior lives and creating characters of substance (although a short section towards the end of the novel from the point of view of a minor character felt slightly jarring to me).

Some of the novel’s most profound observations about memory come via Nina, who is a much sought-after international consultant to organisations planning to establish a monument to memorialise an event or a life (a role that Goldsmith invented but seems perfectly plausible). In a conversation between Sean and Nina about her work, Sean says:

But remembrance and history aren’t the same thing. Remembrance selects from the past, it appropriates a snippet of history for a purpose, perhaps to justify a grievance or a recent act of aggression, and ignores practically everything else.

As interesting as this is in relation to the building of monuments, it also reflects the way individuals may memorialise their own past, and how obsession can be a trap born of remembering and forgetting.

The notion of entrapment encircles the novel’s two tragic obsessions—Zoe’s for Ramsay, Elliot’s for Zoe. Each is caught in the past, each driven by a memory of a perfect moment that is ultimately shown to have been one-sided, a delusion, not the stuff from which a mutually enriching relationship is possible. And the preservation of that precious memory also requires a determined kind of forgetting. There is no other way to explain Zoe’s continuing adoration of Ramsay after a harrowing scene between them in New York (I don’t want to give a spoiler) that would surely, if not erased from memory, kill all possibility of affection. But Zoe manages instead to enshrine a memory that is, like most memories, partial and selective:

In the years to come Zoe held on to those five weeks with Ramsay in New York as her sojourn in Eden. Brief and complete, that time together remained perfect, a snowdome to be taken out when life weighed in with trouble.

There are interesting ambivalences in the ending of The Memory Trap for all of its main characters—a measure of despair, some reconciliation, some hope, but not of the hearts-and-roses kind. It seems appropriate that this should be so, for sometimes the only hope we have lies in change. As Nina—arguably the novel’s strongest voice—observes on the final page:

So many things—ancient trees, books, memories, monuments—give the impression they’ll endure. But they don’t. And a marriage? You want it to be solid, you want it to be secure. But it lumbers into the future on the back of its past; a past of castles, a past of straw.


Some people say the best endorsement for a book is the desire to track down others written by the same author. So I will just conclude by saying I’m currently reading Andrea Goldsmith’s sixth novel, Reunion (Fourth Estate, 2009), and finding it to be another intelligent, compelling study of character and relationships.

The Memory Trap by Andrea Goldsmith (Fourth Estate, 2013)
ISBN 978 0 7322 9672 8 (pbk)


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Signing on to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

Yesterday I learned that a leading Australian bookseller had confessed to not having read a single book by a female Australian writer in 2013. Apparently, nothing interested him. And he didn’t like the covers. So yes, I am signing up for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge, a challenge established in 2012  to raise awareness of the exciting and varied work of Australia’s women writers and to redress the gender imbalance in book reviewing in major publications that stats tell us still exists. You can read more about the challenge here.

As I did in 2013, I’m opting for the Franklin level—a commitment to read at least ten books by Australian women writers and to review at least six. In 2014 I hope to better my 2013 totals of twenty-three read and six reviewed.

Already I have a pile of books I want to read, and a long wish list—and 2014 is sure to bring many more. Some of them might even have great covers—hey, you never know.

If you’re interested in joining the 2014 challenge, either as a reader/reviewer or just as a reader, you can sign up here.

awwbadge_2014Happy 2014 reading, everyone!


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Australian Women Writers Challenge—2013 wrap-up

awwbadge_2013I signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge this year—the first reading challenge I’ve undertaken. I chose the Franklin level, committing myself to read at least ten books by Australian women writers and to review at least six. The year is nearly over, and it’s time to look back at my totals: twenty-three books read, six reviewed. Challenge successfully completed, although clearly there has to be a could do better comment against the reviewing total.

I noticed a couple of things in my pattern of reading. First, it decreased generally in the second half of the year and, especially, in the last two months. I wonder whether that’s just me or if other people experience that same sensation of life speeding up as the year draws to a close, with less time available for reading? And second, I have a bias towards reading Western Australian women writers. I’m sure the same could have been said of my reading in previous years, and I make no apology for it.

And so, here is my summary for 2013, with links to reviews and also to short extracts featured in my Reasons to love a novel series:

Dawn Barker, Fractured (Hachette, 2013)

Emma Chapman, How to Be a Good Wife (Picador, 2013) *extract here

Caroline Hamilton, Consumed (ABC Books, 2008) *reviewed here

Wendy James, The Mistake (Penguin, 2012)

Favel Parrett, Past the Shallows (Hachette, 2011)

Iris Lavell, Elsewhere in Success (Fremantle Press, 2013) *reviewed here

Lynne Leonhardt, Finding Jasper (Margaret River Press, 2012) *reviewed here

Natasha Lester, What Is Left Over, After (Fremantle Press, 2010) *extract here

Kirsty Murray, Vulture’s Gate (Allen & Unwin, 2009)

M.L. Stedman, The Light between Oceans (Vintage, 2012)

Courtney Collins, The Burial (Allen & Unwin, 2012) *reviewed here

Julienne van Loon, Harmless (Fremantle Press, 2013) *reviewed here

Felicity Young, Antidote to Murder (crime fiction, HarperCollins, 2013)

Hannah Kent, Burial Rites (Picador, 2013)

Deb Fitzpatrick, The Amazing Spencer Gray (junior fiction, Fremantle Press, 2013)

Yvette Walker, Letters to the End of Love (UQP, 2013) *reviewed here

Romy Ash, Floundering (Text, 2012)

Kirsten Krauth, just_a_girl (UWA Publishing, 2013)

Marlish Glorie, Sea Dog Hotel (Etext Press, 2013) *extract here

Paddy O’Reilly, The Fine Colour of Rust (HarperCollins, 2012) *extract here

Angela Savage, Behind the Night Bazaar (Text, 2006)

A.J. Betts, Zac & Mia (Text, 2013)

Debra Adelaide, The Household Guide to Dying (Picador, 2008)

These are fine works deserving of acclaim and respect—and my list only scratches the surface of what’s available from Australian women writers. A quick browse through the reviews on the AWWC site will introduce you to many more.

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If there is to be an Australian Women Writers Challenge in 2014, I will sign up again—and resolve to do better with reviews!

elemental_COVERAnd finally, I would just like to acknowledge some of the wonderful bloggers who chose to review or otherwise support Elemental in 2013 (some through the AWWC):

Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
Magdalena Ball, The Compulsive Reader
Rashida Murphy, Rashida WriteNow
Serje Jones, Kill Your Darlings
Marisa Wikramanayake, Guys Read Gals
Marlish Glorie, Book Stew
Lynne Leonhardt
Natasha Lester, While the Kids Are Sleeping
Britt Ingerson, Buggalugz Book Blog
Kristen Levitzke
Louise Allan, Life from the Attic
Emily Paull, The Incredible Rambling Elimy
Joy, Book Coasters
John Paul Newbury, Open Writing

A big heartfelt thank-you to you all!


Filed under Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

Australian Women Writers Challenge: April–June progress check

awwbadge_2013I didn’t read as much in the second quarter of 2013 as I did in the first, but I put that down to the lovely distraction of Elemental’s release in May. Even so, I’ve reached my goal for the challenge, the Franklin level: a commitment to read at least ten and review at least six books by Australian women writers in 2013.

The books I read in the April–June quarter were brilliant, every one of them:

Courtney Collins, The Burial (Allen & Unwin, 2012) *reviewed here

Julienne van Loon, Harmless (Fremantle Press, 2013) *reviewed here

Felicity Young, Antidote to Murder (crime fiction, HarperCollins, 2013)

Hannah Kent, Burial Rites (Picador, 2013)

Deb Fitzpatrick, The Amazing Spencer Gray (junior fiction, Fremantle Press, 2013)

Yvette Walker, Letters to the End of Love (UQP, 2013) *reviewed here

My tally now is sixteen read and six reviewed. And there’s still the Stella and Miles Franklin lists to work through, plus a raft of new releases, plus a list of must-reads on that ever-growing pile…

How are you going with various 2013 reading challenges?




Filed under Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013