What We’ve Been Reading: May 0 Comments

What We’ve Been Reading: May

This month, the Ed Comm have been reading gems from their home states.

 

Ellen Cregan, VIC

Sometimes, as a young writer living in Melbourne’s inner north, stories written about being young in Melbourne’s inner north can make me cringe a little. Reading about trams, fixies and beer gardens spurs a panic in me that I am a walking stereotype, or performing some horrible parody of literary hipsterdom. Jennifer Down’s stunning ‘Our Magic Hour’ took me to many familiar places. From streets my friends have lived on and venues where I have seen my favourite bands play, to outer suburbs where I attended house parties as a ratty teenager. But it did so without prodding at my hyper self-awareness. Down’s depiction of inner-suburban life is warm and familiar, but never pretentious. Melbourne almost achieves protagonist status in this novel – it is omnipresent and totally integral to the way Down shapes her (human) characters. The way place speaks to her characters drives their development more than events do, which makes this a really special piece of writing. I can’t wait to see what Down does next.

 

Nina Carter, QLD

So there are some books you never see coming, and they bowl you over. I’ve just read All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld. The novel won the 2014 Miles Franklin Award, and has been praised all over the place. It was so engrossing that I actually stayed up all night to read it. I didn’t realise that the time was passing, and for some reason I had to keep reading even though my bedside lamp threatened to cark it.

Jake Whyte, a sheep farmer who lives on a remote British island, is having trouble keeping her flock alive. The plot is split between a few pivotal points in Jake’s farming life, which are explained in painstakingly beautiful prose. The descriptions of the countryside, both in Australia and in England, bring to life the places most important to the main character. It’s quite rare to come across a novelist who weaves two barren (or rich, depending on your perspective) farming landscapes together so seamlessly. Wyld is so controlled in her execution of storyline. She shows us just a little bit, just enough to get us hooked, and then leaves us hanging for such a long time that the suspense is immense.

Wyld has been described as a gifted novelist as her book exhibits impeccable pacing. Perhaps one of the best things about this novel is that the vivid descriptions really make you feel like Whyte is alive and living on a sheep farm. I’d say, for anyone who loves days spent worrying about the state of a fictional character, this book is a no-brainer.

 

Shu-Ling Chua, ACT

Every once in a while you come across a writer you wish you’d known about earlier. Elizabeth Caplice is one such writer. ‘Photos – Bodies that Matter – Images’ caught my attention in February with its unshakeable grace and resolve so this month, I’ve been reading more of her work here.

‘Our terminal bodies are not supposed to be sexy, but frail and breaking to pieces this close to death. My terminal body wants and needs more than that though. I want it to be outside that framework that seems to hover around the word terminal.’

Diagnosed with stage IV rectal cancer in June 2014, Caplice’s willingness to let us into her vulnerability is what makes her writing – ‘about cancer, craft, bipolar, and how these things intersect with other stuff’ – so powerful. To describe such writing as ‘honest’ doesn’t quite go far enough to capture its incredible depth; it’s unflinchingly visceral, with a touch of poetry and brutal icky-ness.

Admittedly, I know very little about cancer or illness and would ideally keep it this way. To remain ignorant however seems selfish. As this recent conversation between Ginger Gorman and Caplice shows, cancer is neither brave nor inspirational. But it can be eye-opening.

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