1950s Classics Novella

Walkabout by James Vance Marshall

 Source: Personal Copy

Five words from the blurb: Australia, outback, survival, Aboriginal, cultures

Walkabout is a classic book about two American children who become stranded in the Australian outback after a plane crash. They are rescued by an Aboriginal boy who teaches them how to survive in this difficult climate. It is a short, easy read that is written for children, but I think this powerful book deserves an adult audience too.

Walkabout was first published in 1959. It reads like an Australian classic, but was actually written by an English author who spent time studying the country. The descriptions of the Australian landscape were superb and I was particularly impressed by the details of the Aboriginal culture, many of which were new to me.

I read it to my sons (aged 8 and 10) and they both enjoyed it – particularly the scenes involving the Australian wildlife.

On the topmost branch of a gum tree that overhung the gully, there alighted a bird: a large, grey-backed bird, with tufted poll and outsized beak. Its eyes, swivelling separately, searched the gully for food; but instead of the hoped-for frog or snake sunning itself on the rock, it saw the children. The kookaburra was puzzled. The presence of these strange interlopers, it decided, deserved to be announced. It opened wide its beak, and a continuous flow of grating, melodious notes shattered the calm of the gully.

The overall message of the book is one of tolerance and understanding between different cultures, so it was useful to use this text to explain issues around racism. The only problem was the strength of language. I was quite shocked by some of it and deliberately toned down the racist language when reading this to my boys.

This is an atmospheric little book with a simple, but engaging story. I can see why it is a set text in many schools and recommend it to those who enjoy reading about the natural world.



Demons by Wayne Macauley

Demons Source: Free review copy received from publisher

Five words from the blurb: friends, remote, stories, society, fiction

A couple of years ago I read Wayne Macauley’s debut novel, The Cook, and loved it; so when I was offered a review copy of his new book I snapped up the chance. Unfortunately Demons isn’t in the same league as The Cook and, although there were a few good aspects to the novel, it didn’t work as a whole. 

The book is set in a remote house where seven friends arrange to meet for the weekend. They begin to tell each other stories, but the line between truth and fiction is often blurred, with each tale mirroring aspects of their own lives.

… it might have been true, I don’t know – but I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear any more of her stories, or for that matter tell mine…I wonder if stories can change how things are in the world or if they’re just us telling others what we think the world looks like? 

The main problem was that there were too many characters so it was hard to differentiate one from the another; and almost impossible to remember how they linked together. Some of the individual stories were very good and I especially liked the one involving fake patients in a hospital, but overall it just felt disjointed.

The book was easy to read and most of it flowed quite nicely. I read it quickly, hoping for an outstanding ending that mirrored the one in The Cook, but unfortunately it was a big disappointment. It didn’t shock or surprise me in the way I’d hoped – instead it was just silly and I felt let down by the text. 

There were a few good observations on modern Australian society, but it was trying to question too much at once (topics covered included: materialism, obsession with being connected to the Internet/phone, dodgy politicians, problems with the health service, greed and lack of respect for Aborigines) so the whole effect was watered down. 

If you enjoy reading short stories then I’m sure you’ll appreciate the ones in here, but it didn’t really work as a novel.




2015 Audio Book

Lost and Found by Brooke Davis (Audio book)

Lost & Found

Narrated by : Helen Walsh, Nicolette McKenzie and Nigel Carrington 

Five words from the blurb: girl, journey, discover, death, hope

Two trends seem to have dominated the fiction market recently:

  • Old people discovering the joys of life and doing adventurous/dangerous things
  • Child narrators, particularly those having a tough life.

Lost and Found manages to combine the two in a charming, but poignant way.

Millie is a seven-year-old girl who is abandoned by her mother after the death of her father. She is discovered by Agatha and Karl, two elderly people with their own set of issues. The trio embark on a journey across Australia in an attempt to reunite Millie with her mother. Lost and Found manages to combine the heartbreaking pain of a neglected child with the issues facing the elderly – wrapping it all together with warmth and gentle humor.

I started off reading a proof copy of this book, but when I was about a third of the way through the publishers contacted me, mentioning the audio version. I requested an audio download and switched to listening instead. This was definitely the right thing to do as the narrators were fantastic. They brought the jokes to life and the entire thing felt much more entertaining. The Australian humor benefited from being read aloud and I think this enabled me to pick up on many of the more subtle references.

It wasn’t great literature, but there were many original concepts that made me stop and think, particularly those involving the innocent logic of a child:

The start date and the end date are always the important bits on the gravestones, written in big letters. The dash between is always so small you can barely see it. Surely the dash should be big and bright and amazing, or not, depending on how you had lived…..Did Errol ever know that his life would be just a dash on a gravestone? That everything he did and all the food he ate and all the car trips he took and the kisses he gave would end up as a line on a rock?

Everything was much larger than life and the reader has to suspend their disbelief on many occasions, but I didn’t mind as it all added to the adventure. If you coped with The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson then this will seem almost plausible!

There were some points in the middle of the book where the story lost a little momentum and I occasionally became frustrated by Agatha’s aggressive rants at the world, but overall this was an entertaining read and it may well go on to win my mythical “ending of the year” award.

Recommended for those looking for an amusing distraction from conventional fiction.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…there’s an undercurrent of mischievous delight and black humour that stops it from being sentimental or emotionally manipulative. Reading Matters

Nothing in the book was really believable enough to allow me to engage with it properly. Stephen Lemon Good Reads Reviewer

 It might be a “light” novel, but it’s not a prosaic or formulaic one. Whispering Gums

2012 Recommended books

Into That Forest by Louis Nowra

Into That Forest

Five words from the blurb: girls, lost, wild, Tasmania, tigers

Into That Forest is a powerful book about two girls who find themselves alone in the wilderness after a tragic accident. Lost in the dense forests of Tasmania, they are cold and hungry; but their lives are saved by a Tasmanian tiger. They develop a relationship with a pair of these wonderful creatures, learning to hunt and communicate with them. Over time they begin to forget their human past, developing the posture and expressions of the tigers. This book does a fantastic job of questioning what makes us human and how close we are to being wild animals.  


Tasmanian tigers are large, carnivorous marsupials. I knew nothing about them before reading this book, but the atmospheric descriptions brought them to life. By the end I felt I completely understood the behaviour of these animals. They were thought to have become extinct in 1936, but recent discoveries indicate that there may be a small population surviving in remote regions. I hope that this is the case. 

The two girls were fantastic characters, each with their own unique personality. I loved the way they had different reactions to the situations they faced. It all felt very realistic and I felt immense empathy for them both throughout. 

The book was narrated in a halting dialect. It took a few pages to become used to this style, but it quickly became natural:

There were no reason to remember English any more. Words were no use to us when we were talking to the tigers, it were much easier to use our own language of grunts, growls, yawns, snuffles, coughing, looking, staring….Me parents, well, they just slowly slipped out of me mind. They were like dreams, not real people.

My only problem with this book was the small section towards the end involving the ship. I can see why it was included, but I felt that much of the emotional power of the text was lost over this section and I wish it hadn’t been included. Luckily this episode was brief and book quickly returned to its fantastic plot, finishing with appropriate power and sentiment.  

This book had me gripped from beginning to end. I loved the originality of the story and the way it introduced me to the lives of these half-forgotten creatures.  Highly recommended.


Has anyone read anything else written by Louis Nowra?

Was it as good as this one? 




2013 Other Prizes

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser

Questions of Travel Winner of 2013 Miles Franklin Literary Award

Five words from the blurb: world, guides, tourist, return, dreams

Questions of Travel picked up almost every literary award possible when it was released in Australia. It also received a very mixed selection of reviews. I was interested to see how I’d react to this divisive book so I accepted a review copy. Unfortunately I’m still unsure what to make of it – my reactions are almost as mixed as the reviews!

The book focuses on two main characters: Laura, an Australian travelling the world in hope of finding the culture that she feels is missing from her country and Ravi, a Sri Lankan forced from his home by horrific events. The book has very little plot, but instead it explores the thoughts and emotions of those travelling away from home.

I shouldn’t have liked this book and thought about abandoning it on several occasions, but every time the lack of action began to bore me I was re-engaged by a fantastic piece of writing. I have done a lot of travelling and the experiences described in the book often rang true:

Laura had read widely to ready herself for adventure: traveller’s tales, histories, guidebooks. They warned of pickpockets. rabid dogs, unboiled water, children’s eyes in which the incautious might drown. But no one mentioned the sheer tedium of being a tourist. Dreaming of travel, Laura had pictured a swift slideshow of scenes. But oh, the long, blank hours that linked! … It was like being trapped in a particularly irritating Zen koan: In order to advance, the traveller must stay still.

The analysis into the motivations for travelling were fascinating and I think most people will be able to relate to some aspects of it. It was also nice to see details about how the Internet has made the world a smaller place and comparisons between finding ideas online rather than by travelling were thought provoking.

This is a book to be savoured slowly. The meandering plot often frustrated me, but once I decided to treat it more like a series of essays than a novel I began to enjoy it more. The fact I finished all 500+ pages, despite the lack of a compelling plot, is a testament to the quality of the writing. It isn’t for everyone, but if you appreciate good writing and are interested in travelling then this is the book for you.





The Engagement by Chloe Hooper

The Engagement

Five words from the blurb: weekend, handsome, man, property, trap

Chloe Hooper was shortlisted for the Orange Prize her debut novel, A Child’s Book of True Crime. Her new book, The Engagement, is getting a lot of positive press in Australia and since I had an unsolicited review copy sitting on my shelf I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

The Engagement is psychological thriller with a Gothic atmosphere. The book is set in Melbourne, Australia, where Liese is working for her uncle’s estate agency. She agrees to show Alexander around a range of properties and they end up having sex in each of them. Alexander then offers to rent Liese for the weekend, leading to the strange situation where Liese is locked, voluntarily, in his house.

The writing in this book is fantastic. I loved the atmospheric descriptions of the Australian landscape and the Gothic feel of narrative.

As we drew closer the house was all windows, reflecting the blankness of the darkening sky. Grey clouds rolled over the glass, camouflaging whatever waited behind it. This building sat in the dust, expectant and watchful, emitting a low piercing sound. Every nearby tree was alive with bird-din. Hundreds, thousands of them were seething in the branches. They signalled to each other, the garden vibrating with their calls – although more truly the sound seemed to come from the stone walls of the house, from deep inside one of its rooms.

Unfortunately the plot wasn’t of the same standard as the writing. Liese and Alexander were both well developed characters, but their actions were unrealistic. I couldn’t understand their motivations, several of the plot twists were bizarre, and the ending left me feeling particularly unsatisfied.

If you enjoy reading books just for their brooding atmosphere then this is a must, just don’t expect any realism from the plot. 


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…a strange mixture of banality, naivety and menace… Euro Crime

…a brilliant novel that disturbed and enthralled simultaneously… Write Note Reviews

 …if you loved Gone Girl then this is it’s grown-up cousin. The Writes of Woman