“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.
(Our guidelines for what makes a good review can be found here.)”
Each of the books I’ve read for this year’s Australian Women Writers’ Challenge has been intensely engaging.
When I signed up, I hoped to read 6 books for this challenge this year. Now I am having trouble choosing only six.
(But I am also having a bit of trouble locating some titles and authors, which is one way of narrowing the list.)
Maybe next year I will aim higher. Maybe I will simply continue to make long lists which I do not read through…
Helen Garner’s The Last Days of Chez Nous & Two Friends (1992 and 1986; 2016)
Reissued as part of the Australian Text Classics series, these screenplays are a delight to read.
The author’s foreword considers her original motivation for writing them – money!
But she quickly discovers that you write a film for the same reason you write a novel: “out of curiosity and technical fascination, and the same old need to shape life’s mess into a seizable story”.
Relationships here – whether between sisters or partners or friends – are captured in details and dialogue, the atmosphere meticulously constructed against ordinary backdrops (the family home, a highway).
They were imagined in Melbourne but shot in Sidney, two cities as different as Boston and LA in the United States, Garner explains, which gives me an insight I lacked previously.
In Laura Jones’ afterword, she writes: “All the weeping, all the tears, all the crying, in both screenplays: I’ve never read so many tears.”
But there is a lot of tenderness, intimacy and humour here too.
Georgia Blain’s Between a Wolf and a Dog (2016)
This novel landed on my TBR because of its inclusion in the Stella prizelist; reading this single volume resulted in her entire backlist landing on my TBR.
Reminiscent of Anne Enright’s The Gathering and Carol Shields’ Swann, this story considers “what we cling to and what we relinquish”.
The perspective shifts between family members and the characterization builds slowly and powerfully so that, in approximately 250 pages, readers have a panoramic understanding of their histories alongside a pointed experience of their present-day.
The narrative is soaked with water imagery, from rain to waterways.
Drops on a window are described so beautifully that it is only later that one recognizes the relationship with tears.
Worth admiring is the steady balance between the novel’s components.
But truly remarkable is the fact that the narrative is both sorrow-soaked and buoyant.
Weeks later, I still think back to these characters; I long for their story to have been longer.
Elizabeth Jolley’s Mr. Scobie’s Riddle (1983)
When I learned that Lisa at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog was hosting an Elizabeth Jolley reading week, I could not resist picking up another of her novels, although I learned too late to participate properly.
Mr. Scobie is no more immediately likeable than any of Jolley’s lonely and disoriented characters; he is just as credible and complicated as the rest.
Which is to say that he is no more unlikeable than any of us would be, were we to find ourselves uprooted from the home we’d known for most of our lives and dumped into a nursing home.
There he is under the care of a matron who is overly interested in financials and extremely disinterested in anything inconvenient (such as caring for the elderly clients in the facility she manages, those very folks whose bank accounts fascinate her).
This is a very slim volume, but it contains everything that Miss Hailey’s manuscript-in-progress contains (she is another resident at the home) when she loans a copy to Mr. Scobie for his reading pleasure:
“Everything’s there,” she said. “Birth, marriage, separation, bigamy, divorce, death – several deaths, all kinds of human effort, memories, joy, pain, excitement, transfiguration, love and acceptance.”
Although I enjoyed the other two novel even more – The Newspaper of Claremont Street (1981) and Miss Peabody’s Inheritance (1983) – this was also very striking and secured my admiration of and fondness for her writing.
And, of course, there is a riddle. But isn’t there always a riddle.