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Review: Inga Simpson’s Where The Trees Were gives a vivid evocation of growing up in rural Australia

IngaSimpsonPicThere were several occasions while reading Inga Simpson‘s new novel, Where The Trees Were, when I would close my eyes and feel the sensual complexity that vividly conjured up the landscape of rural Australia. From the raucous cacophony of flights of cockatoo to the, the rasping cadences of the wind in the beautiful gum trees, the taste of red earth dust in your mouth, the tantalizing anticipation of pregnant rainclouds. The novel opens in 1987 in a small rural community in the Lachlan Valley in Australia’s New South Wales. Jay and her friends Kieran, Josh, Ian and his younger, tagalong brother Matty, lead a near idyllic existence, disappearing at sunup roaming extensively across the wide although before returning tired and dust caked at dinner time.

Review of The Song Collector by Natascha Solomons

SongCollectorHarry Fox Talbot has become famous recasting local folk songs to create spectacular new classical musical works. But emotionally crippled by the loss of his wife, he exists in miserable solitude in Hartgrove Hall, the Dorset home in which he and his brothers had grown up. One day, desperately trying to entertain his troublesome four-year-old grandson, Robin, he opens his piano and the boy reveals an extraordinary inherent understanding of the complexity of music, and a prodigy’s dexterity in playing. Teaching Robin breathes new life into Harry, reconnecting him with the world he had abandoned and forcing him to face long passed demons.

Solomon transports the reader back and forth in time between the present and the post-war years when the three Fox-Talbot brothers had first returned to Hartgrove Hall ”submerged in lonely and silent anxiety at the prospect of our reunion.” They find the historic house, which had been

Australia’s emerging young writers get a boost with Hachette’s new $10,000 prize

Australia’s support for its community of vibrant young writers has received another boost with the launch by Hachette Australia of a new prize for emerging writers to be run in conjunction with The Guardian Australia and the Emerging Writers Festival. The winner of the Richell Prize, named after Matt Richell, the former CEO of Hachette Australia  who died suddenly last year, will receive $10,000 in prize money plus one year’s mentoring with one of Hachette Australia’s publishers.

Women dominate shortlist for Australia’s Miles Franklin Literary Award

Women writers dominate the short list for the Miles Franklin, one of Australia’s most prestigious awards which was announced tonight.  Only one man, Craig Sherborne, who wrote Tree Palace, made it through. The short list for the $60,000 prize which celebrates “Australian life in all its glories” is:

  • Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett, Penguin.
  • The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna, Allen & Unwin (reviewed here).
  • The Golden Age by Joan London, Random House.
  • After Darkness by Christine Piper, Allen & Unwin.
  • Tree Palace by Craig Sherborne Text Publishing.

The judges’ spokesman, Richard Neville,  said the shortlisted novels had “a rich cast of unforgettable characters, and themes ranging from childhood

Review of Jim Shepard’s moving The Book of Aron

BookAronEverything in Aron’s life is about making do. A young Jewish boy growing up within the ever tightening noose that had been placed around the Warsaw Ghetto he’s unhappy and morose. He is struggling to fit in, within his own family and within the wild sometimes brutal networks of children frequently left to their own devices on the streets.

Jim Shepard‘s The Book of Aron takes us deep into the organised misery that was the ghetto. Aron and his gang, particularly his friend Lutek, steal and scavenge, at first to be rebellious in a world where the normal constraints of childhood have all but disappeared. But eventually it becomes a necessity to help their families, and particularly themselves, survive. They learn to operate within, and sometimes successfully manipulate, the brutal hierarchy that administers and enforces life in the ghetto.

Inga Simpson’s Nest resonates with an infectious appreciation of nature that is becoming her trademark

One of my favourite books of 2013 was Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson, a gentle fable aboutnest loss and family set in the stone-fruit heart of rural Australia. It was Simpson’s debut novel so it was with a mixture of anticipation and some trepidation (was Mr Wigg a quirky, one-off success?) that I read her follow-up, Nest, recently released.

Sticking with what she obviously knows intimately Nest is again set in rural Australia. Jen, an artist and teacher, has been drawn back to her roots and bought a remote, dilapidated house deep in the forest near the small town where she grew up. For days on end, the only human she sees is Henry, a local schoolboy who she is tutoring in sketching and art. Whilst welcoming his cheerfulness and haphazard enthusiasm, solitude for Jen is no hardship. The native birds, her “forest orchestra” are the most welcome and intimate of neighbours infiltrating every

Gabrielle Zevin’s The Collected Works of A.J.Fikry has, at its heart, the redemptive power of love

FikryJust as some people have their “summer reading”, those books that are immediately identified as being perfect for the beach or by the pool, I find there are books which say “winter” or “wet afternoon”: these are the kind of books you want to curl up with in front of a fire, clutching a glass of Shiraz. The Collected Works of A.J.Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (released in America as The storied life of A.J. Fikry), is one of those books. It is sentimental (OK, a bit mushy) but ultimately charming.

A.J. Fikry is the staid and slightly uptight owner of Island Books, the less than imaginatively named bookshop on Alice Island, off fashionable Hyannis, in Massachusetts. It’s highly dependent on the annual summer influx of well-heeled tourists. Fikry has retreated further into his shell after the death of his wife,

Rachel Seiffert’s The Walk Home deftly sums up the complexity of the pressures that can fracture families

Stevie, the protagonist in Rachel Seiffert’s new novel The Walk Home, is too young to be so self-possessed. Toowalk-home-seiffert_2870179a young to be on his own. Having run away to work in London while still in his teens he has returned to his native Glasgow, Scotland, and lives in the large empty house the team of Polish tradesmen is renovating. He is geographically close to his family; close enough to know he cannot go home. At the beginning, everything had been so different: so hopeful. Stevie’s parents, Graham and Lindsay, were young then too. But they were in love and, when Lindsay found she was pregnant, had set up home together in a neglected apartment on the rundown Glasgow housing scheme. Undeterred, they clean it up, give it a coat of paint, and it was their own place.
Lindsay sees it as the beginning of their journey out of the tenements: a future. But Graham increasingly feels the tug of the insular world in which he grew up, particularly membership of the Orange Lodge band, symbol of the pervasive sectarianism that divides Glasgow almost as rigidly as Belfast where its roots lay.

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