'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.

Grace's Table by Sally Piper #AWW17

Grace’s Table, by Sally Piper

Grace has not had twelve people at her table for a long time. Hers isn't the kind of family who share regular Sunday meals. But it isn't every day you turn seventy. As Grace prepares the feast, she reflects on her life, her marriage and her friendships. When the three generations come together, simmering tensions from the past threaten to boil over. The one thing that no one can talk about is the one thing that no one can forget. Grace's Table is a moving and often funny novel about the power of memory and the family rituals that define us.

The fitting cover design with missing pepper pot!

Grace’s Table by Sally Piper was shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards, a nomination richly deserved.
I found this novel near perfect in its execution, characterisation, language and delivery. It’s a deceptively simple story about a family gathering for a 70th birthday party but manages to achieve the life story of that family in the telling. I read it in two sittings over one weekend and I’m glad I did. The gentle un-spooling of the story allows the reader to be fully ‘in the room’ with the family.

The central character, Grace, is so finely drawn through human observation, tics, experiences and her interaction with time, places, people and food to lend a layering akin to trifles as rich as any made by Grace’s mother.

It is an excellent depiction of family dynamics, power and dysfunction and the way a marriage can define and shape a family’s world, for better or worse, as well as the strengthening solace of lifelong female friendship.

As a writer I was impressed with so much Piper achieved here in her elegantly simplistic story: the characterisation is perfect, every single character so well rounded and believable. The descriptions of food its power to bring people together and to separate: it’s meaning, preparation, symbolism, connotations were poetically and evocatively depicted. The lush, poetic descriptions of food had echoes of Babette’s Feast by Karen Blixen and the preparations and memories echoes of Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. The discussion of the reason for Grace’s choice of ‘baked custard’ as one of the deserts for her birthday meal is an example. The list of deserts Grace was choosing from, and why they weren’t selected made my mouth water.

Still life in blues: Grace's Table communes in my kitchen

The historical, socio-economic and fad significance of food across the four generations of the book: Grace’s parents, Grace and Des, her children, her grandchildren was like a snapshot of the urbanisation of Australia through the same period. Moving from rural people living off the land, the era of butchers and meat and two vege, today's awareness of sugar and the trend to eating less meat and deserts. Butchery, and all its connotations and meaning, was at the heart of the characterisation of Des. Piper dissected and employed all those connotations with impressive mastery and a great sense of timing.

But for me the most impressive element was the clever pacing and withholding of information, the teasing of the reader throughout the novel. There’s a great tragedy within the novel and it is revealed perfectly and travels throughout the narrative from the first to last chapter. Grace’s Table is a masterful, wise and life-affirming novel that brought this reader to tears. I look forward to Sally Piper’s next novel with excitement.

I also loved the cover design of the book and was pleased there was no pepper pot on the table!

By Sarah Ridout, Le Chateau, Echo Publishing

'The Promise Seed' By Cass Moriarty #AWW17 Review

The Promise Seed by Cass Moriarty
UQP 2015

To tell you the truth, I kinda felt sorry for the kid. There was something in his eyes that stirred a memory inside me. For a moment, I was him, I was that boy hiding by the woodshed . . .

An elderly man, living alone in the suburbs, thinks back on his life - the missed opportunities, the shocking betrayals, the rare moments of joy. When his ten-year-old neighbour hides in his garden one afternoon, they begin an unexpected friendship that offers a reprieve from their individual struggles. The boy, often left on his own by his mother, finds solace in gardening and playing chess with his new friend, who is still battling the demons of his past.

As a sinister figure enters the boy's life, he must choose between a burgeoning friendship and blood ties. Can the old man protect the boy he has come to know - and redeem the boy he once was?


I read ‘The Promise Seed’ over six months ago and it’s a testament to the strength of Cass Moriarty’s writing that so much of it is still with me. It’s no surprise it was shortlisted for the People’s Choice Award at the Queensland Literary Awards in 2016. It is a masterful, moving and ultimately life affirming novel about the hope found through chosen families. It concerns an old man living next door to a young boy with a difficult home life and their growing friendship. It’s about impacts outside of our control and coping with life choices foisted on you.

The characters are nameless, a Brechtian device that highlights both the character's ‘roles’ and the sad fact that while this is 'their story', it is a story tragically echoed in the lives of many others. It is principally the story of the friendship between the Old Man and the Boy, but has there ever been a more aptly named character than ‘Snake’?

‘The Promise Seed’ is about difficult subjects: child, institutional and elder abuse, and system failure. However, to counter the heavy subject matter, Moriarty cleverly injects a language or renewal through seasonal change, growth, replenishing and rebirth in both the literal ‘seed’ and the chickens and the symbolic 'seeds' or skills the old man also shares with the boy. This imagery and the associated narrative tangents gives welcome relief to the reader from the spiraling unravelling of the boy’s home life.

The old man teaches the boy both another way to be as an adult (an alternative to the life foisted on him by his mother’s bad choices) and a set of skills to find peace and solace, a calm place away from the horrors of his home life.

Moriarty deploys beautiful prose especially in her depiction of the natural world and the renewal of the man’s garden and chickens. This beauty acts a balm to the reader and as a rest point in between the depicting of the grim realities of both childhoods: the old man’s in the past and the boy’s in the here and now.

The depth of research Moriarty employed to understand how the social services system operates / fails in these cases is clear and well depicted which adds a further layer of strength to the novel. It is a story of these characters but also the story of thousands of others who have been interviewed by principals, police, social workers, and all the other stops along the intervention and monitoring chain.

The simple die-cut cover design evokes the age old wisdom and parable nature of the novel.

I can’t wait to read Cass Moriarty’s next book, ‘Parting Words’ which comes out in August this year. I will do that review immediately.

Review by Sarah Ridout, 'Le Chateau', Echo Publishing, 2016

'The Promise Seed' resting by a hiding cherub in my garden