What We're Reading / December 2019

Looking for books to read over the summer or wanting gift ideas? Have a read of our final What We’re Reading post for 2019 where the Writing NSW staff reflect on the books they have read in December.

The Nowhere Child by Christian White

Ashley Kalagian Blunt, Senior Program Officer

The Nowhere Child by Christian White

The Nowhere Child flashes between present-day Melbourne and 1990s Kentucky, where a little girl went missing. Most of her family believes she’s dead, but one amateur investigator has stayed on the case for nearly three decades. When he shows up in Melbourne, photography teacher Kim Leamy wants nothing to do with him. That is, until he starts to convince Kim that she might be the missing girl. But when Kim heads to Kentucky to uncover the truth, she finds a town divided by a snake-handling cult. Christian White’s debut thriller is fast paced, with corkscrew plot twists that will keep seasoned thriller readers guessing, and makes a great summer beach read.

Bruny by Heather Rose and
Room for a Stranger by Melanie Cheng

Julia Tsalis, Program Manager 

Heather Rose’s Museum of Modern Love was one of my favourite books in 2017. I’ve been looking forward to her next book since then. Bruny is such a different book from MOML, but brilliant in its own particular way.

Bruny by Heather RoseIt is set in Tasmania at a time when a very large and controversial bridge that is being built from the mainland to Bruny has just been bombed. The book has the pace of a political thriller combined with complex characters and complicated relationships – the premier of the day is the brother of the leader of the opposition and their sister has been brought into investigate the bombing (only in Tasmania!).

The book is at times fantastical but also so grounded in current concerns about climate change, foreign control, and the control of information, at times it was hard to distinguish between far-fetched future threats and things that have actually occurred. At the heart of this novel is the natural beauty of Tasmania and Rose is able to convey how special it is and why we need to cherish and fight for these places. It’s a book that could only have been written by a Tasmanian, someone who deeply knows and loves the place, without being blind to its flaws and quirks.

She strikes the balance of instilling a genuine fear for the direction we are taking without generating hopelessness. I hope that books like hers remind us of what is truly important so that we can avoid going in the direction that she identifies.

Room for a Stranger by Melanie Cheng

Room for a Stranger is a beautifully written novel focussed on the ordinary lives of two marginalised people. The novel examines with great insight and empathy issues of racism, ageism, and mental illness.

Room for a Stranger by Melanie Cheng

After a scare an elderly woman decides that she needs to take in a boarder as part of a homeshare program. Into her very restricted world comes a young Chinese student. The book is written from the perspective of each of them in alternating chapters. Melanie Cheng’s great skill is in creating each of the characters, so that the book carries the voices of two very different, complex, and fully fleshed characters. They both push up against their prejudices and discomforts with each other and yet manage to find a connection with each other and a better understanding of themselves. The great strength of this book is that it resolves the story without a happy cliched ending, but one in which the characters do find acceptance and a certain peace.

Voiceworks Issue 116: Pluto

Lou Garcia-Dolnik, Membership and Administration Officer

Voiceworks-116-Pluto—Front-CoverA very shameless plug from this here Voiceworks poetry editor, but Voiceworks Issue 116: Pluto was (objectively) the bomb. In this issue, we have non-fic about astrology, co-star and superstition; about Sailor Moon as queer icon (yas!), and falling in love with absolutely everybody and nobody (sob L). Speculative fic about digital trash collectors, skin puddles and Jonze-esque AI. Poetry more intergalactic than poetry already be. Also, quite possibly the cutest comic I have ever read about dog(s) by Yuna Yamasaki Davis (who is 10?!)—reader, I cried. My emotions about this issue remaineth not in the flesh and blood sac that is my bod. I love Voiceworks. Voiceworks loves you. Subscribe or, like, steal the one copy we have in the library.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Sarah Mott, Project and Communications Officer

As a teenage Brontë fan, it’s kind of embarrassing that it’s taken so long for me to read Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. It delicately and devastatingly unpicks everything so easily ironed over for the sake of gothic romance in Jane Eyre, asking us to question everything here that is held up as a feminist classic. Why does Jane so easily accept that Bertha is a “crazy woman”? Why didn’t she even question what that meant for women at the time given her own background? It’s easy to do this from a modern perspective though.

Wide Sargrasso Sea Jean RhysIn Rhys’ book, Bertha is Antoinette, a white Creole heiress whose fortunes and family are ripped apart in a country devastated by colonialism. The consideration of the racial-political problems inflicted on the West Indies is the first stark difference to the smoothly glossed-over explanation by Bronte of Rochester’s wealth. As the story we know unfolds, the facts become murkier and a haunting story of miscommunication, psychological abuse and tension culminates in Antoinette’s descent into something Rochester is tidily allowed to label madness.

Jane Eyre aside, Wide Sargasso Sea is a beautiful work in itself – Jean Rhys is sparing in prose yet everything is lush and steeped in oppressed emotion, tiny missed glances and agonising misperceptions. There are threads of the story I’ve been thinking about since, things unexplained and unresolved in the story – Antoinette’s mother, the arguments between Rochester and Antoinette hinted at but never fully resolved. I’m left wanting to sit down with Rhys and ask a hundred questions, maybe because the story we know in Jane Eyre is so pored over and flattened out. But Antoinette’s experience is pitted with half-truths, dismissals and unfinished stories, to ask anything more is to take Rochester’s side and demand a version that works for us.  It’s perfect as an examination of feminine agency and voice in literature. The top review the book in Goodreads sums it up; “Reader, I married him first”.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Sarah Poh, Project and Communications Intern

Gilead by Marilynne RobinsonGilead by Marilynne Robinson is an astounding epistolary novel. In a letter to his son, a dying Reverand looks back on his life experiences in a small town of Iowa. There is a quiet beauty to the relational and environmental details rendered through a spiritual lens. Robinson challenges readers to be more thoughtful in drawing out profound insights from life’s ordinary moments. An unexpectedly moving book for all readers.



Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Claire Thompson, Program Officer

In Three Women, Lisa Taddeo explores human desire through the true stories of three women, Maggie, Lina and Sloane. Taddeo informs us she spent ‘eight years and thousands of hours with the women in this book’ in the hope to write about human desire, in a way that shows how, ‘It’s the nuances of desire that hold the truth of who we are at our rawest moments.’ Taddeo ‘set out to register the heat and sting of female want so that men and other women might more easily comprehend before they condemn.’

Through alternating chapters we meet Maggie, Lina and Sloane. As the book progresses we begin to know these women intimately. Through the exploration of these women’s lives, their childhoods and relationships with men and their own bodies, we come to understand the often unspoken weight of a woman’s innate need to be wanted, desired and loved, and how those three things are so tightly interlocked. In reading about both the life-altering moments of these women’s lives and even the more mundane details, Taddeo achieves what she set out to do; we feel empathy and a connection with these women. Despite the fact that if we’d heard the things these women did as a news headline, or in the whispers of rumours, we might condemn them without a second thought.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

In being given intimate access to their thought processes, in knowing their relationships with their parents, siblings and those around them, we gain a deeper understanding of what inspired them to act and react in the way they did. And more, we are brought to consider how we might have behaved if we were them. We might even be confronted to realise we may have behaved in exactly the same way.

Taddeo infuses paragraphs with powerful statements, the truth of which jars you, causes you stop reading and reflect on the truth of them in your own life. For instance, this line: “Many years later she would realise that this was the precise moment an important man in her life made her feel unloved.” And this line also, “If people are denied certain parts of relationships they need as children, they hunt for these parts as adults.”

This book not only gives you a better understanding of these three women, but of yourself. It is difficult to read at times, uncomfortable in its honesty, but sometimes I think it is good to read what startles you, and question why it does.

For more book recommendations from the Writing NSW staff, have a look at our other What We’re Reading blog posts below or here. 

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