'The Geography of Friendship' by Sally Piper (UQP)

'The Geography of Friendship' by Sally Piper (UQP)

'The Geography of Friendship' is circular in structure, further echoed in devices including the bush walk which produce an oppressive, claustrophobic world where nature provides no escape. It shows the trials of being a girl and a women in this world of toxic masculinity.

Sally Piper's 'The Geography of Friendship' is a claustrophobic read concerning toxic masculinity and its impacts on women

Sally Piper's 'The Geography of Friendship' is a claustrophobic read concerning toxic masculinity and its impacts on women

'She wanted to tell him that a woman's body wasn't a confection though; that women weren't a free for all feast of the eyes with some bits of them looking tastier than others.
She said nothing to her son though. Instead she hurried him along on to the car.
In this she knows she failed him.'

What is unsaid is the greater failure of the mother: to the girls and women a boy or man with this unchecked toxicity would hurt.

The looping, repetitive thoughts of the women across their 20-years-apart-walks build a trap which is mental, physical and geographical. Congratulations Sally on your second book.

The photo is closest I could get to a bush walk in my inner city 'hood! 🤐. It shows off Sally's gorgeous cover, which from memory is by the same designer as @sylviemina 's, fab 'The Birdman's Wife' #coverart

 

'A Superior Spectre' by Angela Meyer (Ventura Press)

'A Superior Spectre' by Angela Meyer is a disturbing & masterful read. Finely crafted it recalls the classic prose of an earlier time while tackling futurist notions as well as an earlier era. Jeff the White Male Privilege anti-hero is an extreme example of the type: invading, colonising, exploiting & using the heroine Leonora life for his own idle pleasure only questioning his morality too late after great harm. As such a flawed, disturbed, complex Humbert Humbert character in the #metoo era.

'A Superior Spectre' by Angela Meyer, snapped against my David Bowie 'The Archer' photo. The author and I are both Super Fans.

'A Superior Spectre' by Angela Meyer, snapped against my David Bowie 'The Archer' photo. The author and I are both Super Fans.

Kudos, Angela on this achievement. I know I'm so lucky to be published by a great writer (Angela also is head of Publishing at Echo Publishing).

Re the artwork. I try to use relevant or visually harmonious selections as cover photo backdrops. I chose my David Bowie signed 'The Archer' as super fan ⚡️status is something I share with Angela.

'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?) ;)

'The Birdman's Wife' by Melissa Ashley: Review #AWW2017

This is my first review under my pledge to Australian Women Writers Challenge AWW2017

The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley
Affirm Press, 2016

‘The Birdman’s Wife’ is the timely resurrection to prominence of Elizabeth Gould, a fine artist and wife of John Gould, a noted Ornithologist in Regency England. The book tells Elizabeth’s story from through courtship, marriage and motherhood focusing on her work as an artist. As a work of ‘historical fiction’ the time and multiple settings are so well researched and depicted they come alive including the figures of Edward Lear, Charles Darwin and the Franklin's. The Regency world in all its contradiction and change is seen in the lives and rise of the Gould’s and their family.

Here's one of my Tasmanian Tweets featuring the inside cover of this beautifully written and produced book. Which one do you think is the Resplendent Quetzal? Hint long green tail feathers...

Here's one of my Tasmanian Tweets featuring the inside cover of this beautifully written and produced book. Which one do you think is the Resplendent Quetzal? Hint long green tail feathers...

Elizabeth Gould: a modern woman?

It was a clever strategy of Ashley to imagine her heroine, Elizabeth Gould in a modern way, as a woman much like today’s professional mother who had to do it all. Elizabeth is a worker, mother, provider, lover – all pre-modern obstetrics, telephone, and even ocean liner. This depiction encourages readers to identify with Elizabeth despite the large historical gap and her obvious added assistance of servants, governess’s and cooks (and even mother and relation to look after assorted children while the Gould’s voyage to Australia). This stance also allows Elizabeth to voice other ideas narratively, in keeping with modern views regarding the abundant specimen capturing of her husband’s expeditions. It allowed Ashley to offer criticism of the practice through the character and also to have Elizabeth, liberate some prized captives. To this reader there were parallels between the treatment of the native animals in Australia and that of the aboriginals. That they were all treated as specimens to be used as the English saw fit, without any qualms of conscience. The unnecessary deaths of the Australian animals captured for the return voyage to England was particularly hard to bare and written so deftly as to ride that fine balance between the ‘superiority’ of the modern reader and the outdated, immoral former modes of behaviour. The character of Elizabeth at least, shows remorse for this savage waste.

Loss, family and sea travel

Ashley handled the loss of Elizabeth’s early children with great sympathy, compassion and depth which helped bring the character to life and importantly again differentiate her from the relentless desire to ‘collect’ and ‘possess’ seen in her husband.

The voyage to Australia and the rendering of convict era Tasmania was well done and the difficulty for families being separated by hemispheres pre reliable communication added to the layering of the character of Elizabeth. The novel presented five Elizabeth’s: mother, wife, artist, sister and friend and each role allowed Ashley to further develop and round her heroine. The interactions between Elizabeth and her brother in Australia was made more moving knowing she would probably never see him again after she returned to England.

Ashley has a great knowledge regarding birds and taxonomy and this depth and experience comes through on every page, especially the sections when dissections are occurring in the UK, on the voyages, and in Australia. The respect Ashley has for Elizabeth and her life and challenges is also evident and richly shown throughout.

Collecting: a construct of time, place and ideology

Fortuitously, I read the book while on holidays in Tasmania, where it was partly set. As an aside, while in Launceston, I saw ‘The Art of Science - Nicholas Baudin’s Voyagers 1800-1804’ an art exhibition of French explorers of Australia and their artworks from their voyages. I attended a lecture and was interested to learn the French didn’t kill and return stuffed specimens for benefactors as the English (Gould et al) did, they drew and painted them only. Interestingly of course, they also only visited Australia, never ‘claiming’ it as their colony. The French expeditions predated the Gould’s.
One of the biggest insights for me from the novel was the act of collecting itself and what was entailed in the Gould expeditions. The detail Ashley provided of the sheer number of specimens killed shocked me. I think I'd always assumed they were all more like the French explorers and drawing from nature not killing and preserving to take back trophies for museums or individual rich collectors.

Art and research creating layered characterisation

Scenes are cleverly done offering layers of characterisation for multiple characters simultaneously. For example the portrait painting scenes where the reader learns perhaps more about John Gould and his insecurities, cunning and political maneuvers than they do of Elizabeth.

It’s hard to choose, but my favourite scenes were those depicting Elizabeth lost in her art, in the sheer ecstasy of creating and seeing something appear and fuse together on her blank page born from her sheer talent and vision. The near possession Elizabeth experiences while creating the Resplendent Quetzal causes a very moving communion with her deceased children.

Reading the authors note I was filled afresh with admiration at Ashley’s achievements in rendering Elizabeth Gould, having only eight pages of her diary remaining to act as a decoder for her thoughts and voice. Everything else was gleaned from years of research and study in Australia and America towards Ashley’s PhD. That layering of information and detail is rendered with dexterity.

Book Production Values: Congrats Affirm!

I can’t complete the review without reference to the production values of the book. I’m sure there’s many an Australian author and publisher in awe of this thing of wonder: a hard cover first novel. The beautiful Wedgwood or Robin’s Egg blue with its reproduction of Elizabeth Gould’s nested Fairy-Wrens feeding around a ‘tear’ invite or lure the reader further. Inside there are many illustrations featured in the book including the pivotal Resplendent Quetzal.

This is an important work of redress allowing a woman of note to step out into the light again from where she had been hidden and neglected behind the plumage of her husband. Thank you Melissa Ashley for letting Elizabeth Gould ruffle some feathers again. I look forward to Melissa’s next book.