Monday, September 6, 2010

what I'm reading: some great Australian novels (including a good choice for a book club)

I've read a few great Australian novels this year.

The first was Kate Grenville's The Secret River, which I noticed on Nic's 2010 reading list. It's the kind of novel reviewers call "powerful", and it certainly packs a punch: it's about emancipated convict William Thornhill, his wife Sal, and the bloody choices he makes to keep the land he will hand down to his children. I confess I don't usually read books about Australia's history, but this gloriously written book won me over. I was fascinated by the descriptions of London and Sydney during the early nineteenth century.

Another Australian author I've enjoyed this year is Alex Miller, recommended by my sister-in-law, who was spot-on when she told me that his great skill is his evocative description of place.

Alex Miller's Journey to the Stone Country is about the relationship between Anabelle Beck, who flees her shattered marriage in Melbourne and escapes to her childhood home in tropical northern Queensland, and Bo Rennie of the Jengga tribe, as they explore their origins together. This haunting book drew me deep into the broken landscape of the stone country.

Alex Miller's Conditions of Faith is again about a woman who flees Melbourne (what's going on here?!). History graduate Emily Stanton marries a Scottish engineer and goes to live with him in Paris during the 1920s. I found this book more interesting than The Stone Country, and it doesn't feel so Australian: its flavour is taken from France and Tunisia.

I was intrigued by how Emily frees herself from the traditional roles of wife and mother as she revisits the story of Christian martyr Perpetua. This would be a fantastic choice for a book club made up of Christians and non-Christians, because in Emily's eyes, Perpetua isn't a Christian martyr (for how could any woman give up her child and die for some myth of eternal life?) but a liberated woman whose story was rewritten by early Christian apologist Tertullion. What a great chance to talk about the reality of eternal life and the way it affects our choices as women!

I'll conclude with a few quotes from Alex Miller's Journey to the Stone Country to whet your appetite:

She remembered him, the hollow space of his absence in her heart now. To love a person, then, is to love him forever. (183)

...intuition, that delicate mode of thoughts in which the spirit of fantasy is partner to the certainty of an inner logic. (169)

Behind her in the kitchen, Matthew and Trace were doing the washing up, laughing and teasing each other, as if they played at domesticity, delicate and light in their approach; a game they might yet hope to abandon without pain. (85)

Memory, intuition, young love: they are described with such tender precision that these quotes all made it into my reading journal.


Gordon Cheng said...

I've read 1 1/2 out of 3. Will pick up the Stone Country again, I got bogged down. The Secret River is great, a powerful psychological picture of sin and guilt without atonement.

Jean said...

Interesting take on The Secret River, I didn't pick that up (I was too busy enjoying the history of it all!).

Conditions of Faith is a better book than The Stone Country, so I'm not entirely surprised you got bogged down, I'd read CF as well or instead of SC!

Jenny said...

I loved the Secret River - didn't like her next novel The Lieutenant as much - felt like it was a bit same old, same old

Jean said...

That's helpful, at least I know what not to read! :D

Kath said...

Thanks Jean,
I am keen to read Conditions of Faith from what you've said.