It has been stated that the Chinese are the “new kids on the block” and are getting a beating from the United States,because of China’s alleged behaviour in the South China seas.
‘I’ll tell you about my neighbourhood on the 8th of February 1967 …’
In this collection of seventeen short fictions, linked to the Black Tuesday bushfires in Tasmania on 8 February 1967, Ms Thompson explores many different themes. For those of you who weren’t around fifty years ago, this tragedy left 62 people dead and injured 900 others. More than 7000 people were left homeless and 1400 homes were destroyed. Most of the destruction was caused within a five-hour period. It was horrific. I was a school-aged child living in Launceston at the time, watching the local community mobilise to help those affected.
These fictions involve different people, with their different reactions to the fire and its aftermath. There’s one woman, in ‘Lost’, looking for the life she lost when the fire destroyed her home. In another, ‘The Keeper of the Satchel’, a man remembers the fire (and its impact) through his own regulated life. He wonders. In other stories, communities come together after the fire as differences that seemed important beforehand are erased. For the storytellers – danger, fear, loss and memories play a part as do empathy, humour and resilience.
This is a book to dip into. I will revisit these stories as a reminder of both the events of Black Tuesday (and other catastrophic bushfires) and the different ways in which such catastrophes continue to affect people long after the event.
‘It’s amazing what you can keep buried when you want to.’
A beautiful young woman’s body, strewn with red roses, is found floating in the lake near a small rural town. Her identity is quickly stablished: she’s a teacher at the local high school, named Rosalind (Rose) Ryan. Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock was at high school with Rose, but despite this connection she wants to investigate the case. Rose has been murdered, but by whom and why? Why did Rose quit her teaching job in the city to return to teach at Smithson High School? Why was the body strewn with red roses: many people seemed to admire Rose, but no-one seems to have really known her.
‘Beautiful things are hard to keep alive.’
Gemma Woodstock is an interesting, flawed character with her own secrets. Some of those secrets become apparent early in the novel, and while I found aspects of Gemma irritating, I liked her. Here’s a flawed woman, juggling family and work (not always successfully) trying to figure out who killed Rose. The deeper she digs, the more people she finds with a possible motive for murder. The deeper she digs, the closer she comes to revealing some of her own secrets that she would rather keep hidden.
‘Keep trying to figure out who killed perfect, precious Rose Ryan.’
I thought I had it worked out part way through the book, but I was wrong. Once all the pieces fell into place (no spoilers) it makes its own sense. A satisfying read, which left me wondering what the future might hold for Gemma Woodstock. This is Ms Bailey’s debut novel, and I’ll certainly be hoping to see more from her in the future.
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‘How has it all come to this?’
There are three main characters in this dystopian novel, set in an Australia which has largely been sold off to overseas interests. Rural towns are being closed by a remote central government, people are being displaced and dispossessed. The land is dry and food is limited. But the problems are not just confined to Australia: the countries and regions of the world are being realigned. Who cares about the human cost?
The main characters are Clare McDonald, Granna Adams and her grandson Roberto (Robbie). Clare walks the streets of Myamba most nights. She walks to escape: it’s the moving that matters. Clare thinks about the towns being closed, and what it means. Granna Adams creates and distributes care packages for those who have lost loved ones, their livelihoods, their homes. Robbie loves Ella, but they are often apart. Robbie travels around the world in search of newsworthy topics while Ella is a human rights worker, settling refugees where they are ordered to go.
From the opening page, this novel captured my attention. I was drawn in before I really had any idea of who the characters might be and where the story was heading. While Robbie’s story captured my heart, it was Clare and Granna who keep hope alive. These two very different, resilient women combine forces in Granna’s home, the House of Many Promises, to try to improve life for others. They do: in part because of the foresight of the man who originally built the house, and the rest you’ll need to read for yourself.
This is one of those novels which is best read, not explained. The components lack the magic of the whole. It’s imaginative, and disturbingly possible. This is Ms Abbott’s debut novel, and won the inaugural Richell Prize for Emerging Writers in 2015 from a field of almost 1000 entries.
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The UK election result is heartening, joining a series of demonstrations that people want positive change. But in Australia we seem to be paralysed, no-one willing to pick up the torch, many still …