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Christy Collins

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Australian Women Writers

Book review: Women of a Certain Age

Having just passed what a friend recently termed “the birthday that shall not be named” I was particularly keen to get my hands on a copy of Women of a Certain Age hoping that the collected wisdom of fifteen diverse Australian women would shed some light on a few issues my friends and I are beginning to see in a slightly less abstract light than was perhaps the case in our twenties and thirties.

 

I’m ‘all in’ on of the concept of this book: giving voice to women over forty to discuss aging, survival and being an age that reportedly makes women feel invisible and silenced by our patriarchal, youth-oriented culture. According to the back cover the essays are ‘tales of celebration, affirmation and survival about what it is like to be a woman on the other side of 40, 50, 60, 70…’  To my disappointment, however, many of the essays seem less interested in the authors’ current reality and experience than in relating stories from their childhood, adolescence and young adulthood – sometimes with only a short final paragraph linking this to their current age or viewpoint.

 

The strongest essays in the collection engage more fully with the experience of being middle aged or older and for me the standout is Krissy Kneen’s essay on the aging female body and the way it is perceived (and indeed sometimes not perceived) by the wider community. Kneen narrates an experience of going to the movies with her similar aged husband. When he hands over their two tickets the usher literally fails to see her standing beside him, and asks: ‘“Is your friend already in there?”’

 

Another of the essays that has stayed with me is Jeanine Leane’s ‘Black boxes’ in which Leane reflects that ‘Whitefellas never can decide what kind of Blackfella they want.’ Pointing to the changing and inconsistent expectations of those (white) people in various positions of power that have – often negatively – affected her educational and employment opportunities since the 1960s.

 

Perhaps my perception of these essays was overly influenced by my particular reading of the packaging and by the media materials I had read before the book arrived in my letter-box. Others will likely find a great deal of interest in what is certainly an interesting cross-section of Australian girl- and young woman- hoods recalled, but that is not what I was hoping to get from this book.

 

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, Fremantle Press.

The Stella Prize

In a few days the Stella Prize shortlist will be announced. A perfect opportunity to boost your reading of books by Australian women surrounded by the excitement and buzz around this prize. I followed the announcement of the longlist, on twitter, from home with a celebratory gin and tonic to hand. I plan to do similarly with the shortlist. Literary prizes are strange things and though I have sometimes been disappointed by the Stella lists (more by what was left off them, than what was on them), I very much admire the amount of interest, and the sense of celebration of books by women, that the team have managed to generate in the few years the prize has been running. Following the Stella is also a great way to encounter new books especially if you, like me, mostly read novels because the prize includes short stories, memoirs and non-fiction in its remit. This year in particular there seem to be a high proportion of non-fiction offerings on the list.

I’m excited to see who makes the shortlist next week. Good luck to everyone on the longlist!

Interview: Katherine Johnson

I recently interviewed Katherine Johnson about her new novel, The Better Son.

Katherine is a Tasmanian author and a fellow PhD student at the University of Tasmania. Her book is a fast-paced, sometimes claustrophobic, read and it brings to life a small corner of Tasmania, which she had a very interesting time researching.

If you are looking for a novel about families that never drops its pace, this is the book for you. I read it in a single day.

The full text of the interview is on the Australian Women Writers Challenge website.

Congratulations, Gail Jones

Last week Gail Jones was announced the winner of the Colin Roderick Award (for which my novella was also shortlisted) for A Guide to Berlin. I recently read A Guide to Berlin as part of the Australian Women Writers challenge. I very much enjoyed spending time with the protagonist in Berlin as she immersed herself in a group of expats who meet up to discuss their shared interest in the words of Nabokov. Congratulations to Ms Jones and to her publishers.

I thought this might be a good opportunity to report on the part of my committment to the Australian Women Writers challenge that involves reading a certain number of books by Australian women (in addition to reviewing a smaller number of these books) and to see if I can complete one of the AWW2016 Bingo challenges so here is a list of the books by Australian women I have read so far this year marked with the categories they fit:

Gail Jones, A Guide to Berlin (Bestseller)

Toni Jordan, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts (A funny book)

Rose Mulready, The Bonobo’s Dream (Published this year)

Aoife Clifford, All These Perfect Strangers (Contains a mystery)

Rochelle Siemienowicz, Fallen (A book I heard about online)

Lucy Treloar, Salt Creek (Set in the outback)

Rebecca Jessen, Gap (Written by someone under 30)
(Not reviewed because I teach this text and prefer not to have my views on it available to find online)

Charlotte Wood, The Submerged Cathedral (Published more than 10 years ago)

Myfanwy Jones, Leap (set in my favourite city – Melbourne!)

Ellen van Neervan, Heat and Light (Short Stories)
(Not reviewed because I teach this text and prefer not to have my views on it available to find online)

Lisa Bellear, Dreaming in Urban Areas (Indigenous author)
(Not reviewed because I teach this text and prefer not to have my views on it available to find online)

As well as stories by Maxine Beneba Clarke, Olga Masters, Elizabeth Jolley, Charlotte Wood, Jennifer Down and Barbara Baynton.

Currently reading: Emma Viskic, Ressurection Bay

By my count I’ve covered the AWW2016 Bingo Card One

I am now packing up a box to send to a friend overseas who finds it hard to find Australian books. The box contains several of the above, and of course a number of offerings from male writers as well as a selection of recent literary magazines. For me it’s been a year of discovering the diversity and richness of our literary landscape, and especially the richness of the books and stories by Aussie women and I look forward to the treasures still languishing in my TBR (to be read) pile.

 

 

52 Films by Women

We are coming up on 1/4 of the way through the year and it’s a good time to take stock of progress on things we’ve committed to for 2016. For me this includes a pledge to watch 52 films directed by women (I tweet about them using the hashtag #52filmsbywomen) and to read, a rather modest, four books by Australian women, reviewing three of them. The books are proving relatively easy – there’s an abundance of great books that fit the bill and I’ve already read Gap by Rebecca Jessen and The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead as well as the two books I’ve reviewed on this site Leap and The Submerged Cathedral and I have many, many more on my To Be Read (TBR) list – most of which are already on my bookshelf.

But the films are proving more challenging. It’s not that there aren’t many films directed by women but more that they form a much smaller percentage of the films out there than one might expect. No doubt that’s the point of the challenge in the first place. So, even if 52 films seems a bit much, I encourage you to have a think about who is getting to head up the film projects you’re consuming. And if you are looking for something to see at the cinema right now, you could do worse than check out the stunning SHERPA directed by Australian Jennifer Peedom. My full review is forthcoming on the Togatus website but in the meantime I would certainly recommend it, especially if you’ve ever thought of trying to climb Everest.

Australia Day Giveaway: The End of Seeing

After enjoying the Australia Day ‘bloghop’ for several years, I’m thrilled to be able to participate and giveaway a copy of my novella, “The End of Seeing,” as well as a memoir by Lesley and Tammy Williams “Not Just Black and White.”

 

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Determined to discover the truth about the disappearance of her partner, Nick, Ana sets out to re-trace the route he took as a photojournalist on the other side of the world – a journey that saw him presumed dead, on a ship wrecked off the coast of Italy. But Ana doesn’t believe Nick is dead. In his photos, in the messages her memories of him seem to carry, and in her growing suspicion about his own need to disappear, she is increasingly sure he is alive somewhere. As she tracks his journey, she begins to witness the world that Nick saw through his camera – a world in which disappearance is not unexpected.

‘Dazzling, intelligent and heart-rending. I have long been a fan of Collins, and this is why.’ – Toni Jordan

‘I raced through with a catch in my throat and tears in my eyes. A love-letter to a vanished husband . . . nuanced and tender, political and tense. Christy Collins has written a subtle thriller with mystery at its heart.’ – Katerina Cosgrove

Ahead of the Blak & Bright Festival coming up in Melbourne, I’m including a copy of  “Not Just Black and White: A conversation between a mother and daughter” by Lesley and Tammy Williams.

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To win, please comment below, telling me your favourite Australian book. If you wish you can subscribe to my blog or follow me on twitter @_ChristyCollins – but this is not compulsory.

I will randomly select a winner to receive a print copy of “The End of Seeing” and “Not Just Black and White” and contact the winner to find out their mailing address (open only to Australian residents). Entries close at Midnight on Wednesday January 27th and winners will be announced within 7 days.

You can find all the other participating blogs here: https://bookdout.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/its-the-2016-australia-day-book-giveaway-blog-hop/ The Blog Hop is a great opportunity to acquaint yourself with some new Australian writers or to add a few new book blogs to your favourites, so check it out.

Update

And the winner (selected from a literal hat) is: Wendy S. aka Womblywoo. Wendy, your books are on their way to you. Thanks to everyone for their excellent suggestions — I have quite a few new additions to my “must read” list.

Book review: The Submerged Cathedral, Charlotte Wood

Though I did not live in Australian when it was published, I am still a little surprised that I had never heard of Charolotte Wood’s 2004 novel The Submerged Cathedral, if only because its concerns closely echo my own: the sacred, the environment, travel and displacement, and the fragility of human relationships.

In the first section of this book Martin and Joss meet and begin to build a life together. Gradually, against a backdrop of family obligations, they begin to make some compromises which challenge the couple, both together and as individuals. Every interaction and every relationship dynamic in this first section felt so honest and true that it almost ached to read it.

Later, as Joss’ and Martin’s lives begin to push out into the world in various ways, the book seems to empty out. Martin follows the sacred, Joss the dream of a garden. Both of these paths seem hollow and though they each encounter symbols of the others’ path – for Joss her fascination with cathedrals, for Martin his work cultivating a vegetable garden – Woods allows her characters no shortcuts. She misdirects their correspondence and isolates them geographically so that the ache continues but now it is the ache of loss, emptiness and not knowing.

Martin’s journey in the centre of the book is difficult for the reader to understand. His life takes a turn that seems insufficiently motivated and the reader is simply asked to go with it, which perhaps compromises the resonance that this section might have had if we felt Martin’s own commitment to his new life, or the strength of the convictions he apparently holds.

The brief closing section of this book is earned and still it feels a little unsatisfactory. Somehow the emptiness of their time apart moves in to inhabit the book and a bittersweet, lonely, loss-filled close refuses to deliver the dream that The Submerged Cathedral allowed us to dream – that of a sacred and beautiful place where Joss and Martin might be finally allowed to find a home. Perhaps Wood herself could not quite believe in her own scaffolding. Perhaps she could not quite credit the idea of a real-world equivalent of the cathedral of the title, or of the Eden to which Joss constantly returns in her thinking, without it’s counterweight: Gethsemane. In the end it is emptiness and perhaps even the idea of being submerged, that remains.

I am very glad to have discovered this book and I know I will return to it.

 

 

Book Review: Leap, Myfanwy Jones

I picked up Leap because the cover, with it’s tiger stripes on midnight blue, kept jumping out at me. Jones is a Melbourne writer and Leap is on the Victorian State Library’s list of Summer Reads.

Leap deals with grief through an intertwining of two connected stories both set in Melbourne. Joe, in his early twenties, has paused his life due to regret and loss. He lives in a share house and keeps busy with his job in a restaurant, mentoring a young person, and training in parkour. On the other side of the city, empty-nester Elise’s marriage is breaking down but she finds solace in watching the tigers at the zoo.

The prose is clean and the book reads quickly. The relationships in the book are engaging and complex though I sometimes found the characterisation a little thin. We understand characters mostly through other character’s eyes, which fairly frequently led to my having revise my picture of a character well into the book. But perhaps this is intentional.

I had the sense that I was reading a book set as a high school text and I can’t quite put my finger on why. It’s not that the characters are young adults, but somehow the view of the world the book adopts seemed to fit that mold. Perhaps this is because Joe has been held in a sort of suspended adolescence due to his loss of his girlfriend in his own final year at high school.

I think Leap is probably quite a good selection for the Summer Reads program – it is clear, it reads quickly and is set locally – but it is not quite my type of book. I felt it wanted to manipulate me and I didn’t particularly enjoy the sense I got, about a third of the way in, of being ahead of where the author wanted me to be in understanding how the two worlds fit together. I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I had encountered it when I was in high school or perhaps my early twenties. That said Jones’ prose is skillful and her flair for storytelling is clear. I’ll be interested to see what she writes next.

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