'Go Went Gone' by Jenny Erpenbeck, Portobello Books

'Go Went Gone' is a deserving English Pen Award winner and is nominated for the Booker 2018.

A quote to think about: 'must living in peace ... inevitably result in refusing to share it with those seeking refuge, defending it so aggressively that it almost looks like war?'

I recommend this insightful book. It's focused on Germany but is sadly universal in 2018. I hope you can all read it.

 Go Went Gone cover design mirroring in many ways my KPM Berlin porcelain plate. Plate was  bought as a souvenir from KaDeWe while on a lovely Berlin holiday. The era was very different from that of the book.

Go Went Gone cover design mirroring in many ways my KPM Berlin porcelain plate. Plate was  bought as a souvenir from KaDeWe while on a lovely Berlin holiday. The era was very different from that of the book.

'The Three Of Us' by Kim Lock, Pan Macmillan, 2018

An absorbing love story is juxtaposed with its conservative, racist and repressed 1950s rural Australia setting. The secret, parallel world created by the main characters shows how the personal can provide solace and escape from a conformist social space.

As with ‘Like I Can Love’, Lock shows her strength in depicting personal relationships, especially between women through the stresses and experiences of life.

 Be like the woman in the painting and get reading in 2018! Start with 'The Three Of Us'!

Be like the woman in the painting and get reading in 2018! Start with 'The Three Of Us'!

With her evocative and descriptive prose Lock infuses the book with the ambiance of a languid summers day. The atmosphere and joyful, earthy domesticity depicts strong female alliance – as powerfully employed in ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’ and the ‘Virgin Suicides’ – that challenges and defies the times.

Lock has an uncanny ability to pick themes that gel with the zeitgeist: ‘Like I Can Love’ coincided with the public demand for action on the domestic violence epidemic and ‘The Three of Us’ comes after voters declared ‘Love Is Love' and dragged the government to Marriage Equality. ‘The Three Of Us’ is a welcome tonic of love in a world awash with hate, division and ignorance. ‘The Three Of Us’ celebrates tolerance, acceptance and love, in all its forms.

'Home Is Nearby' by Magdalena McGuire, Impress Books, 2017

'Home Is Nearby' is an evocative, lyrical and passionate debut from Magdalena Maguire. The narrative is involving and well-paced set in the 80's: the time of Solidarity in Poland. Cleverly, the political changes are charted through the journey of the 'next generation': heroine Ania, the artistic daughter of a rural stone mason, her move to university and the cast of bohemian, intellectual students she joins, loves and befriends there.

The major characters are well rounded, humane, idealistic and engaging. The reader is invested in Ania's tribulations, heartbreaking losses, choices, decisions, as they unfold against the revolutionary turmoil. There is also an integral refugee component reminding us of a time when Australia welcomed refugees (albeit of a certain approved 'type').

 The beautiful cover art of 'Home is Nearby' standing out in Vanuatu.

The beautiful cover art of 'Home is Nearby' standing out in Vanuatu.

The numerous settings of the novel are well evoked especially the rural country and the university days which provide a dramatic contrast to the later Australian scenes. Maguire writes convincingly and engagingly about the joys of art and creation and equally passionately of those who sell out, outsource, delegate or otherwise monetarise art.

Art and journalism – the power of words and culture to incite and inspire – play a central role in the narrative.

These arenas are Ania and her partner Dominik's sustenance and salvation. There is a performance artist, Malgorzata, who conjured a young Marina Abramović (seen in 'The Museum of Love') for me.

I'm glad Maguire has moved to novel writing, she's a talented addition. The icing on the cake is the gorgeous cover seen here nestled in a handmade wooden shutter on holiday in Vanuatu!

Reviewed as part of the Australian Women Writer's Challenge, 2018.



I've signed up for my 2nd Australian Women Writer's Challenge

This is a great and worthwhile challenge. Support Australian women's writing while you read it's a win / win. Here's the link for you to sign up also: http://australianwomenwriters.com/sign-up/

The AWW challenge was set up to help overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women. The challenge encourages avid readers and book bloggers, male and female, living in or outside Australia, to read and review books by Australian women throughout the year. You don’t have to be a writer to sign up. You can choose to read and review, or read only.

Happy Reading! xx


Here are the 11 I reviewed in 2017:

ASHLEY, Melissa.    The Birdman's Wife
Historical fiction (set pre mid-20th century)

BLAIN, Georgia.    Between a wolf and a dog
General fiction (set post mid-20th century)

Henry-Jones, Eliza.    Ache
General fiction (set post mid-20th century)

LOCK, Kim.    Like I Can Love
Crime fiction (mystery, detective, thriller, suspense, true crime)
General fiction (set post mid-20th century)

Moriarty, Cass.    The Promise Seed
General fiction (set post mid-20th century)

Moriarty, Cass.    Parting Words
General fiction (set post mid-20th century)

Peace, J.M..    The Twisted Knot
General fiction (set post mid-20th century)
Crime fiction (mystery, detective, thriller, suspense, true crime)

Piper, Sally.    Grace's Table
General fiction (set post mid-20th century)

ROSE, Heather.    The Museum of Modern Love
General fiction (set post mid-20th century)

VISKIC, Emma.    Resurrection Bay
General fiction (set post mid-20th century)
Crime fiction (mystery, detective, thriller, suspense, true crime)

 The 2018 AWW subscriber badge

The 2018 AWW subscriber badge

'The Secrets at Ocean's Edge' by Kali Napier Review

Happy New Year all! This year I have a new book coming out and am finishing my third so something's gotta give. The reviews are getting smaller. Here's my first:

Kali Napier’s evocative debut ‘The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge’ is set in Depression era rural and coastal Western Australia with a cast of interlocking characters pushed to the limit. Their flaws and dramas are well paced and revealed throughout. The prism of racism through which the characters interact, is well done and showcases Napier’s professional expertise. The powerless place of women in the era, socially and economically, is key to the book and shown throughout the restricted decision making of Lily, Mrs Feehely, and other female characters. Napier’s writing soars describing the varied landscapes, the horrors of war and racial injustice.

Thanks Kali for this pre-release copy. The book is launched in Brisbane at Avid Readers on 8 February.

 Kali Napier's debut, resting on the Ocean's Edge in Vanuatu (see what I did there?) ;)

Kali Napier's debut, resting on the Ocean's Edge in Vanuatu (see what I did there?) ;)

'Ache' by Eliza Henry-Jones

Ache by Eliza Henry-Jones
Fourth Estate, Harper Collins

‘Ache’ is a brave and perfectly constructed story for our new times: showing how disasters impact on families and communities and how people adapt and survive in different ways.

Much like Henry-Jones’ first novel ‘In the Quiet’, ‘Ache’ features layered and finely drawn characters. These characters have all been damaged by a terrible bush fire that tore through their town and mountain the year before – some have stayed put, shell-shocked – others have fled to the city only to remain scared and haunted by the events.

The central characters are the heroine, Annie, and her daughter Pip. All the other characters radiate and span Annie’s life from her youth on the mountain to her adult life as a partner and mother.

Discussions on motherhood, mistakes and assumptions made from love, fear and survival can carry through generations are well handled and layered.
 'Ache' was a juxtapositional piece to read on a beach holiday surrounded by so much water. But Stradbroke itself had been ravaged by one of the largest bush-fires in Australian history.

'Ache' was a juxtapositional piece to read on a beach holiday surrounded by so much water. But Stradbroke itself had been ravaged by one of the largest bush-fires in Australian history.

Henry-Jones experience and study in the field of trauma shines through the novel in the ways characters react and cope with the terrifying bush-fire event.

Cleverly, ‘Ache’ opens many months after the fire when the characters are living their altered and devastated lives. Annie is living in Melbourne away from the mountain where she grew up but her thoughts and dreams are increasingly drawn there.

The language, word pictures of place and the detail and evocative depiction of rural life were perfectly rendered and like ‘tree-change voyeurism’ for this city-dweller. Descriptions and rendering as part of the fabric of the place include chickens, bees, lyre birds, and of course, horses. They are all much more than background and are intrinsic to the novel in terms of the life, place and what’s at stake.

 Cylinder Beach ready with 'Ache'

Cylinder Beach ready with 'Ache'

This reader hopes that ‘Ache’ is compulsory reading for every politician who likes donning the Rural Fire Fighters Uniform for camera ready volunteering. They may even donate a relatively small amount of money on the one hand compared to the donations they take from the Fossil Fuel lobby (while denying the existence of Climate Change) on the other. Their obsequiousness to this industry is fueling these ‘Super-Fire’ bush-fires (the sort ‘Ache’ describes) that are coming earlier, lasting longer and destroying more. Perhaps books like ‘Ache’ which depict the harrowing, devastating and murderous impact of these events will help them realise the voters have joined the dots and there can see the consequences of their behaviour. I read 'Ache' while on holiday on beautiful Stradbroke Island itself the victim of increasingly savage bushfires, the worst being the most recent in 2014.

‘Ache’ has laconic, wry Australian humour which allows the reader moments of relief in the trauma and devastation. The character of Nigel in particular was well done and a star of the book for me.  Annie’s ‘made family’ was a reflection of contemporary Australia and the changing face of parenthood.

The subplot of the TV series was a clever addition providing a common enemy, unwanted outsiders and triggers for hostility and remembering. The crew and producer were used at key moments for different reasons and results. It also showed the increasingly desensitised world of the 24 hour news cycle and social media as distraction and isolator. The use of an individual to act as a figurehead and easy visual summary for everything about a tragedy: in this case Annie escaping on horseback through the flames clutching Pip.

The healing of the mountain – along with the characters that can be healed – was finely judged and paced taking the reader along seamlessly.

'Ache’ is an evocative, compassionate and cathartic depiction of loss in an Australian landscape being reshaped by devastating, as yet unchecked human impacts. Congratulations Eliza Henry-Jones for this fine and nuanced depiction of modern Australian life.


'Parting Words' by Cass Moriarty

Parting Words
By Cass Moriarty
UQP 2017

I was excited to read Cass Moriarty’s new book, ‘Parting Words’, after hearing so much about it and having loved ‘The Promise Seed’. ‘Parting Words’ lived up to all my expectations and hopes and is a fine consolidation from ‘The Promise Seed’.

‘Parting Words’ is a story of family – the limitations and demands of expectation – through the legacy of Daniel Whittaker and his unusual Will requiring tasks of each of his children. As such, it is a modern allegorical tale with subtle Aesop's fables overtones grounded with finely drawn characters each showing a picture of Australia: both modern or WWII generations. The mix of characters and their ages allows Moriarty to delve into changing (and stagnant) gender, sexuality, class, power, and racial stereotypes in Australia. Given the ‘Same sex Marriage’ Postal Poll, some are very current and add to a sense of a national discourse on these topics.

In discussing all these disparate themes in a organic and integral way Moriarty’s compassion for her characters in all their imperfect humanity shines through. ‘Parting Words’ is a warm and inclusive book. I loved the quiet injection of contemporary debates on refugees, the rightful place of the First Nation’s people, showing citizens are pawns in the political machine in both war and peace times.

 'Parting Words' by Cass Moriarty overseeing Frenchman's Cove at Stradbroke Island. Moriarty's skillfully unfolding family mystery is a perfect and thoughtful holiday read. I couldn't put it down.

'Parting Words' by Cass Moriarty overseeing Frenchman's Cove at Stradbroke Island. Moriarty's skillfully unfolding family mystery is a perfect and thoughtful holiday read. I couldn't put it down.

It develops a fine sense of place also and Brisbane itself is well rounded and identifiable. Many restaurants, cafes, attractions of the city's inner west owe Moriarty a standing discount (or at least a thanks). As a Brisbanite it is rare and lovely to have glimpses of places we know depicted in literature. Australia’s national cultural cringe is shrinking but it's been replaced with a dominance of stories from Sydney and Melbourne that can make people from other cities and locales feel their stories – places and lives – matter less. It’s great to have this addition to a broadening of the Australian identity. Here’s hoping for more to come.

Although dead from the start, Daniel Whittaker’s characterisation was very alive and multi-faceted both through his letters and his children and other character’s recollections.

The pacing is superbly done and borrows something from the thriller form in relation to the slow reveal and build up of information and insight into both Daniel and his children. There were revelations that distanced me from Daniel as a person but they were corrected later by another reveal and further information that explained his motivation. The building of these reveals shows the complexity and flawed nature of humanity and the rush to judge, label and write off by the reader or observer. In a global sense this is depicted by the changing idea of ‘Japan’ from the hated enemy of Daniel’s war days to the cultural and trading partner of today.

‘Parting Words’ is a masterful work by Moriarty that fosters love, understanding and acceptance for the next generation. It shows the human capacity to change and thereby develops hope something under attack in 2017.

'The Museum of Modern Love' Stella Prize Winner review AWW17 Challenge

The Museum of Modern Love

by Heather Rose,

Allen & Unwin, 2016

Heather Rose’s award winning novel is a brave and audacious riff on the importance of art and creativity. How art aids growth and reflection while providing context and meaning to life. Art is presented as an almost cosmic entity, an organic swirling force that can be tapped into by artists and ‘facilitators’ but always impacting on the living, the dying, the dead. Characters in those three states feature textually.

At the centre of the narrative are Marina Abramovic a prolific, enduring performance artist and an unnamed eternal creative muse who hovers over the narrative offering linkages, interpretation and philosophical discussion. Rose uses ‘The Artist Is Present’ MoMA installation as her focal point. All the characters radiate and crossover from that 2010 seventy-five-day event in NYC.

 'The Museum Of Modern Love' Blue period: The striking Op Art referencing cover against my architectural Italian glass wall referencing Art Deco and 'Scarface' era Miami. Showing again, that art is in everything. It is in every layer of our lives.

'The Museum Of Modern Love' Blue period: The striking Op Art referencing cover against my architectural Italian glass wall referencing Art Deco and 'Scarface' era Miami. Showing again, that art is in everything. It is in every layer of our lives.

The narrative is largely about the exhibition and the work of Abramovic but to leave the confines of MoMA, and to ground the themes, there is a sub plot about a married couple going through a crisis. The couple are also creatives: a composer and architect respectively.

The characters are divided into the two dovetailing narratives. The first group of characters are primarily concerned with ‘The Artist is Present’: Marina and her troop of agents, assistants, helpers and dead mother. The second group: the family and friends of Arky Levin (composer). Some characters cross between the two narratives through their professions and the actual exhibition space.

Abramovic, through her exhibition, acts as the overseeing muse or angel as well. Her act of sitting still for seventy-five days inspires and ‘unblocks’ Arky Levin (composer) and the recently widowed Jane Miller (teacher ‘facilitator’). Through almost daily attendance at ‘The Artist Is Present’ Arky is ‘unblocked’ professionally and personally and Jane is 'unblocked' personally deciding to undertake her own version of Abramovic’s, ‘The Lovers’, with her departed husband.

As a writer, the novel appealed to me for its insight into artistic process and its offering of a holistic, big picture, of a world made of art.

‘His thoughts abhorred a vacuum but his heart responded to the blank canvas. Every song, every painting, every book, every idea that changed the world – all these things came the unknowable and beautiful void.’

There is great discussion of the physical and mental cost of art. As a writer, I had never considered before the impact on the kidneys and other organs of great periods of time sitting. Maybe the novel will cause a ‘Marina Abramovic Fitness Regime for Sedentary Creatives’. I think we need one.

‘The Museum of Modern Love’ is the deserving winner of the 2017 Stella Prize both as an artistic tour de force from Rose and as a reflection on the impact of the crowning achievement of ‘The Artist Is Present’ by contemporary woman artist Marina Abramovic. The genders are very significant to me – a woman writer and mother of daughters – in this era of increasing misogyny. Indeed, one of the passages from the book that struck me the most was:

‘I will never sit for seventy-five days, Francesca thought. I will never slice my stomach with a razor blade or eat a kilo of honey … But because you do this, Marina, I am stronger. I am more certain of that every day. You live your art and it is inseparable from you. And with it you bring me courage. You are a woman and this is a fact. No matter what people make of anything else, your gender is unequivocal.’

Music features heavily through Arky Levin’s composer profession, allowing discussion of music and its effects on wider creativity through different eras and styles: jazz, classical and soundtracks as well as contemporary performers such as Leonard Cohen and Anthony and the Johnson’s. In writing this review I had ‘The Crying Light’ by the latter as background.

Hear about my 'Writing Life' in Writers Queensland

I was pleased to talk about my writing life. Have a read and see what it's like to write, be published in Australia.  Do you agree writers should have a wage in Australia as they do in Scandinavian countries?

Thanks, Writers Queensland!

To read the full article please follow the link:


Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain #StellaPrizeShortlist #AWW17

by Sarah Ridout, Le Chateau, Echo Publishing 2016

Between A Wolf And A Dog by Georgia Blain
Scribe, 2016

Outside, the rain continues unceasing; silver sheets sluicing down, the trees and shrubs soaking and bedraggled, the earth sodden, puddles overflowing, torrents coursing onwards, as the darkness slowly softens with the dawn.
Ester is a family therapist with an appointment book that catalogues the anxieties of the middle class: loneliness, relationships, death. She spends her days helping others find happiness, but her own family relationships are tense and frayed. Estranged from both her sister, April, and her ex-husband, Lawrence, Ester wants to fall in love again. Meanwhile, April is struggling through her own directionless life; Lawrence’s reckless past decisions are catching up with him; and Ester and April's mother, Hilary, is about to make a choice that will profoundly affect them all.
Taking place largely over one rainy day in Sydney, and rendered with the evocative and powerful prose Blain is known for, Between a Wolf and a Dog is a celebration of the best in all of us — our capacity to live in the face of ordinary sorrows, and to draw strength from the transformative power of art. Ultimately, it is a joyous tribute to the beauty of being alive.

The accolades and glowing reviews received for ‘Between A Wolf And A Dog’ are well deserved. It is a gentle scalpel to the human condition and contains descriptions of everyday sights and landscapes that are thoroughly realised and penetrate deep down to the intrinsic element of the tree or vista being described. It’s the descriptions of someone who observes closely because they understand the brevity of life and the necessity of living in the present to see beauty.

The Marcel family is depicted in all its contradictory human beauty and imperfection across three generations. The structure is well judged interweaving key moments from the past to develop the present and its nuanced layer of hurt, betrayal and devastation. The device of making the central character a therapist allows the privileging of emotions, feelings and relationships. The use of the 4 client / patients allow this to be further elaborated in vignettes which echo or develop that seen in the central Marcel family and the three female adult characters and estranged husband.

The title is the inversion of the French expression: ‘l’heure entre chien et loup’. It is their equivalent of the ‘witching hour’ or dusk, where shadows make identities and shapes indistinct. I would argue that all the characters in the novel are in this witching hour, in this liminal space where they are all changing shedding baggage, identities, patterns, thought processes, responsibilities, careers, memories and even life.

Ester, as the therapist character, is given the most raw insights into relationships and the pressures of living in the now. The name Ester has Biblical (a Queen who risked her life for her people) and Scientific (a compound produced by the reaction between an Acid and an alcohol) meaning and connotations. In the novel she acts to protect her twin daughters and also reacts to the chaos created by Lawrence (acid?) and April (alcohol?). Ester’s mother, Hilary, the filmmaker, is given the most holistic understanding of the broad brush of life and loving and is also the character who reflects on morality and choices.

Lawrence and April are the flawed twin characters of the novel who operate from pleasure without responsibility and their impulsiveness is used as a catalyst for destruction and upheaval to push the novel both emotionally and narratively. Both undertake narrative arcs though and are changed at the end of the novel.

As well as a fine dissection of the personal the book takes aim at the political. Lawrence is a morally fraught political pollster. For example the discussion of manipulation, truth and media manipulation seen in the premier issue of our time:

‘... the results of a rival poll making headlines. The issue is climate change and whether the government should do more to combat the effects ... Besides, what does it matter what people think? What does it fucking matter? The world is dying, and we are still asking the opinions of every person on the street while failing to listen to what our experts are telling us.’

I found this novel to be poignant and humane with a great respect for the challenges of life and selfhood. It’s been shortlisted for the 2017 Stella Prize a fitting acknowledgment of Blain’s literary achievement and contribution.

By Sarah Ridout, Le Chateau, Echo Publishing