The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood
Paperback, 320 pages. Published October 1st 2015 by Allen & Unwin
A group of ten young women find themselves imprisoned on a dilapidated property in the Australian outback. They have no idea how long they will remain and all are forced to shave their heads and wear strange uniforms. They are lorded over by three employees, two young men their jailers and a woman who plays nurse. Over all of them is the mysterious security company that impacts on all their lives.
I have wanted to read this book for some time but as it has won a slew of awards for me that usually does not bode well. I have to say I am kicking myself for not coming to this book so much earlier. It is quite an amazing story and Wood does something extraordinary she makes you the reader, the 11th person in the story.
You find yourself brought into the story as the characters do. You have the same questions as they do. Why are we here, why do we not run, where do we run to? All these questions and you are trying to reason what is happening. Through the whole narrative you are only given as much information as the women in the group have and it is wonderful. You never really get any answers but neither do the women in the group. I really enjoyed that as a reader as I was constantly engaged and felt part of what was going on.
The primary focus is on two characters Verla and Yolanda from different backgrounds, who form a friendship. It is through these two women that we understand the other young women and come to know them. Nobody is painted in a good light, nobody is perfect in this book and you revile and feel sympathy for all the characters. Even the biggest bully Boncer, who terrorises and beats the girls has a moment when you realise he is young man with a family.
Wood is a skilful writer and she captures the hardness of the Australian outback. Her writing is concise and the pacing is wonderful. All the characters lift off the page and are beautifully flawed.
This novel is bleak, dark and utterly compelling. There are layers and layers of meaning, themes and study of character. This novel is deserving of all the accolades and more. It is a stunning novel.
For more on Charlotte Woods visit her website.
The One Who Got Away – Caroline Overington
Paperback, 336 pages, Published May 1st 2016 by HarperCollins – AU
Is a relationship ever perfect, does having money make your life pure bliss or is there dark secrets threatening to be revealed?
Overington has created a thriller that keeps you guessing as to who did what and who is responsible for doing what. I have not read any of Overington’s work before so came with no expectations. What I discovered was a taut thriller that keeps you turning the pages and making you wonder just how this was all going to end.
The story is told through several points of view and for the majority it does work. I did find the interview with David just did not resonate. It was meant to be a hard hitting interview but we just were given more of David’s charm. To be honest we already had plenty of that and his façade cracking just a little bit would have been nice. It is a minor quibble.
While the two main characters are step sisters Loren and Molly, I did find them as characters that I had little sympathy for either. When Loren’s disappearance is revealed I have to admit I did think her as superficial to set David up and just never return. As for Molly, she played the aggrieved sister but some of her skill set does not become apparent until the end.
What I did enjoy was the Judge’s part of the story and his wife’s interpretations of the proceedings. This part was humorous and rather insightful. His voice was the strongest and most unique.
The ending it is a nice twist.
For more on Caroline's works visit her website.
The Amazing Mrs Livesey
Freda Marnie Nicholls
Paperback, 320 pages Published March 1st 2016 by Allen & Unwin
One thing that Australian history certainly has is some interesting characters who have been able to dominate the headlines for short periods of time but eventually fade away. The story of Mrs Livesey with her numerous marriages and scams may have gone the same way.
Nicholls has been able to craft a narrative about Livesey's life through research and access to some family source material. The first half of the book is engaging and captures how Livesey found a life of 'fleecing' people for money became her stable means of making a living.
The second half that in a way looks at Livesey's downfall becomes somewhat bogged down. Nicholls starts reciting all the schemes and the values involved, while they are considerable and it just keeps coming and coming. The human toll fades into the background until you move into the court cases.
Livesey almost achieved her ambition of being a social media celebrity and Queen of high society but her chequered past was always going to stop her being successful.
Paperback, 279 pages, Published February 7th 2017 by Bloomsbury
It was hard to contain my excitement when I heard this book was coming. I mean being a fan of Neil Gaiman and having a great love of mythology this was either going to be a great combination or straight up disaster. Thankfully the book is a wonderful bringing together the myths of the past being updated for the modern reader.
Gaiman brings about the right kind of humour, deference to the source material that brings the myths beautifully to life. While there are only fragments of these myths available the skill in the story telling is to breathe life into them and Gaiman does that with ease.
Bringing these old stories to a new readership just may be Gaiman's greatest literary achievement.
For more on Neil Gaiman check out his website.
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective - Kate Summerscale
Hardcover, 360 pages, Published April 15th 2008 by Walker Books
I agree there are parts of the book that are wonderful. The research is meticulous, the realisation of the Victorian era lifts off the page and you have a deep understanding of the social and political environment at the time. At times that information can be overwhelming and slows down the narrative of the crime of young Saville. The references to novels that extol the virtues of the Victorian Detectives become a labour to read through. At one stage I wanted to scream, I know everyone thought the Detectives were the rock stars of their time can we now please move along. I did understand the need to explain the fascination about the role of the dectectives and how everyone and their dog thought they could solve the crime.
This is a well researched book and captures the world at that time brillantly. I just found that at times the research slowed the narrative.