Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

First published 2015 by Macmillan Australia

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I did not enjoy this book at all at first. So I was mystified to see that 9 out of 10 people gave it five stars on Goodreads, and for a while I felt like Elaine from Seinfeld when she went with her boss to see The English Patient.

Cloudwish is about a Vietnamese Australian named Vân Uớc (excuse me if I don’t have the right letters, but anyway it’s Vietnamese for ‘Cloudwish’), who wishes that a certain boy, Billy Gardiner, would find her fascinating. Immediately he does. The rest of the book is what happens as she deals with unexpected attention of Billy, as well as the jealous reactions of the cool girls. Meanwhile at home her mother is dealing with some mental health issues, but they don’t seem to intrude on the Billy storyline, or even have anything to do with it.

Admittedly I had just finished a book by Tim Winton and before that one by Vikki Wakefield, and in comparison found Cloudwish rather ordinary. In addition I thought it was too politically correct, too didactical, and contained too much information of the boring variety. For some reason Wood felt some obligation to include all these ‘diverse’ characters such as Jess, the Vietnamese Lesbian-in-waiting. While they may be winning her a few awards, to me it seemed like she was trying a little bit too hard to be inclusive of minority groups.

I also prefer not to be force-fed chunks of feminist theory or any other sociological blah blah – for  example in chapter 11, we are introduced briefly to a Dr Fraser, a teacher with short orange hair…”and right now she was telling the class, incandescent, evangelistic, about how the allocation of space in department stores was just one more manifestation of the pressures put on women to conform to external social constructs.” Please! Why can’t a novel just be a novel? Like Jane Eyre. Tiddas by Anita Heiss was another shocker. Write me an essay, don’t hector me in fiction.

I did however enjoy the rich versus poor content, and always have been interested in social class in Australia, given that we lie to ourselves about not having any, so I thought the subtleties relating to class were presented rather well in Cloudwish.

And as for Cloudwish herself, what a sweetheart! Pity I still don’t know how to pronounce her name. Is it Van you-OCK or Van oo-OCK? We were told only that it is not Van-ock. Maybe Fiona Wood doesn’t know how to pronounce it either!

About 80 pages in I put the book down to read something else (Awful Auntie by David Walliams) and when I went back to the book, it had grown wings. From then on, it stuck to the story, and I was into it at last. I did not even mind the ending.

Inbetween Days by Vikki Wakefield

First published 2015 by The Text Publishing Company

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I’d heard great things about this Vikki Wakefield over the past couple of years, so when I came across her three YA novels at the Jamestown Library I thought, you bewdy!
The writing is so good that all professional envy is wiped away, and all that is left is awe and respect.

My favourite is the first one, All I Ever Wanted, which while not overly complex (which suits me fine BTW) is brimming with hope and contrasting lives. These people had their troubles but things were only going to get better by the end. And just before the end you find out some startling piece of information that makes you want to start the book over, with new info in hand.

Friday Brown was a completely different kettle of fish. I was at odds with the street kids from the start, and being out of a familiar environment, I was wanting Friday to be gone from them, but I did not get my wish. Altogether it was a bit too Lord of the Flies for me; I still haven’t recovered from reading that almost 30 years ago.

Inbetween Days for me was an in between novel. I liked the slower pace of it, and with such a title any other pace would have been wrong. It is set in a small town and the main character Jacklin is living with her older sister Trudy, and working at a roadhouse. Each Sunday she meets with a guy named Luke from the next town; Inbetween Days not only refers to the days she spends waiting for Sunday to come, but to this time she spends waiting for her ‘real life’ to start. And as the story unfolds this day to day life gradually goes to shit and she is unable to do anything about it. She feels rejected by her family and friends and ends up spending time with Jeremiah, the boy next door who is home from uni for the summer, Jeremiah’s friend Roly, Pope who is camped in the nearby ‘suicide forest’ and Mr Broadbent, her boss’s father who has dementia. Rather than risk giving out any spoilers I’ll just add that the novel did had a hopeful ending, a good one, in fact. Jacklin manages to find herself and make peace with pretty much everyone.

This novel is different to the other two in that the main character has a father around. Neither Mim from All I Ever Wanted or Friday Brown knew their fathers at all, nor had they much interest in having anything to do with them. Friday loses interest in her father all too quickly, which made me wonder about Wakefield herself and what father-related baggage she carries around (but I’d be too scared to ask such a personal question).

The town the novel is set in is named Mobius, and is a dying town people might be able to leave occasionally, but somehow they end up back where they started. I love the line, ‘people drove in by accident and left on purpose’. Another sentence that stood out was ‘Mrs Gates had a big mouth and reserved seating at the bar’. The book is also full of clever little insights such as when Jeremiah says, “Your problem is you still insist on mapping your own position relative to everybody else’s. It’s no wonder you’ve lost all sense of direction…you’re always checking who’s behind you and who’s in front. I just keep my head down and read my own compass.”

When it comes to settings, a novelist can be vague or they can be specific and use one of those map pinpoint things. Wakefield has opted to be vague. While All I ever wanted seemed to be set squarely in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, down the hill from where I grew up (Modbury), the city in Friday Brown could have been any of our big cities with a river, although I was imagining something south of the Murray in Victoria for the country setting. As for Inbetween Days, I spent most of the book ranging the mountains with a pinpoint in my head, trying to work out where exactly in the Great Dividing Range it could be. It’s humid but Jacklin thinks she can smell snow at one point. I think I settled on somewhere in NSW in the end. But am not sure which real life town Mobius might be near.

She has not stated when the novel is set either, and I can only guess by the landline and phone boxes, as well as the drive-in being closed but still able to function, that it is somewhere in the 80s, when Wakefield was Jacklin’s age. But I like the timelessness of Wakefield’s novels, and that they are not bogged down with social media which will make them seem dated very quickly. The beginning of Dirt Music by Tim Winton is spoiled somewhat by the main character’s surfing the internet pre web 2.0. For me it warns against a reliance on current technology in novels, yet such things are so integral to our lives now that it is a tricky thing to avoid. So hats off to Wakefield for succeeding in her novels.

The downside to reading Vikki Wakefield is the effect on whatever book I read next – the writing seems pedestrian; she ruins it for so many other authors! And for me too, I mean what is the point in trying to write…?

Challenge Complete – sort of

I signed up to do the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge as usual, aimed for the Franklin level (read 10 books, review 6) but only managed to get as far as Stella (read 4, review 3). The main thing that got in the way was the creative writing course I started through Tabor Adelaide, which ate time and led me to read differently. Getting an iPad for my birthday also contributed.

The three books I reviewed were:

Her Father’s Daughter by Alice Pung

Tasting Life Twice by Ramona Koval

The Messenger Bird by Rosanne Hawke

 

I read more than four, have read 9 and counting, these were mainly nonfiction:

A Fig at the Gate by Kate Llewellyn (again)

First Things First – Selected Letters by Kate Llewellyn (read it twice) Editors were Ruth Bacchus and Barbara Hill

Piano Lessons by Anna Goldsworthy (again)

The Floral Mother by Kate Llewellyn (again)

The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss

Kerenza by Rosanne Hawke.

the shifting fog

I have borrowed a stack of Rosanne Hawke books and some Kate Morton, who I’ve not read before, to read over the summer. Then I must read them, instead of playing Pocket Trains!

 

 

 

The dreaded TBR pile – saved for a rainy day

Today has been one of those rare rainy days that we get here, and at some stage I went through the pile of books in the little cupboard next to my bed.

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I set up this little bookshelf early 2012, taking anything I had not yet read out of my main bookshelf and storing it here. At the time I declared that I would not go back to the library until I had made my way through most of these, but I only read one or two. This is what is left, and the pile continues to grow while the library keeps tempting me to go astray. And before my Kobo fell from a great height and died, I had another stash of ebooks, all those lovely free classics, and only a couple of them were finished also.

Of the books pictured here, most were from secondhand bookshops, a couple were new, some were gifts from my mother and others gifts to my father (he returns them a few months later, so this influences what I buy him now!) Some I’ve had sitting around for almost 15 years. Naughty me! The stack at the front are books by AWWs (Australian Women Writers), so I might spend the rest of the year working through these, as I’ve only done one book review for #AWW2015 so far, and have five more to go!

I wonder at this tendency of mine to hoard books though. I live in such a dry place that when I save them for a rainy day, this is the result. But at the heart of it is fear I think, a  fear of what the future might bring. Perhaps I’m anticipating a future without libraries or bookshops or even books. So should it come to pass, well, you know where I’ll be!

Eyrie by Tim Winton

First published 2013 by Penguin Group (Australia)

Eyrie

I read Tim Winton for the first time when I was fifteen, the book was An Open Swimmer, and shortly before reading Eyrie, I had another read to see if I could make head or tail of it this time round. But I am not sure that I did. There have always been parts of Winton’s books where I’m not really sure what is going on or what has happened, but I will continue to read him because I love his broken protagonists and his rich imagery and am as soothed by the sea and the bush as his characters are.

In Eyrie there is less of the bush than some of the other books I’ve read (Minimum of Two, Cloudstreet, Land’s Edge and Dirt Music) as the story is set in central Freemantle. The main character Tom Keely has separated from his wife, lost his job and is clinging to his sanity, while hiding from the world in a crummy flat on the top floor of a crummy high rise.

Enter Gemma Buck, a waif from his childhood who with her sister used to stay with the Keelys when the domestic violence at home got too bad. She is now living a couple doors down with her grandson Kai. Kai is a strange kid who’s seen too much and this is probably why he’s drawn to Keely.

No sooner is Kai on the scene when the tension moves up a notch, and the reader spends the rest of the book wondering whether this child will fall from the tenth floor or not. In the meantime Keely finds himself sucked into Gemma’s crap, but through trying to help her he finds enough goodness in himself to hang onto the shred of sanity he has. It is a gripping tale which keeps you turning pages, but suddenly it ends.

Now Winton has never been the kind of writer who wraps up everything neatly, but he gives us enough to figure out where the characters are heading when we close the book. At the end of Eyrie, we do find out the answer to the main question of whether Kai survives and what makes Gemma tick. However I thought Winton left a few too many questions unanswered this time. We are told what went wrong with the marriage but only get hints about what went wrong at work. We never find out how the wet patch got on the floor at the very start, and I was also wondering if it was just the pills fucking him up or was there something more sinister going on neurologically. Honestly, it reminded me of The Dark Half by Stephen King! And for goodness sake, does he ever wash his towel or what?

 

 

AWW 2014 – Challenge Complete

Hurrah, the day I have been waiting for, as the year is almost up and I had to get on with completing what I set out to do, which was the Franklin level – read 10 and review at least 6.

The books I read and reviewed were:

The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny

All the Rivers Run by Nancy Cato

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss

Me of the Never Never by Fiona O’Loughlin

The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement by Virginia Lloyd.

The books I read but didn’t review were:

Playing With Water by Kate Llewellyn (yet again!)

Hannah and the Tomorrow Room by Libby Gleeson (and Hannah the Famous)

A Fig at the Gate by Kate Llewellyn

Tiddas by Anita Heiss

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Writing and reading is so often a one-way street, author writes the book and you the reader reads it, and never the twain shall meet – especially if the author is late. But this year I was blessed with some form of contact with almost all the AWWs on the list (with the exception of Cato (deceased), Gleeson and Kent). This was in the form of emails or twitter conversations, and one face to face meeting when Fiona O came to Quorn last Thursday.

heiss twitter

But the most surreal moment of the year was turning up in A Fig at the Gate by Kate Llewellyn!

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Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

First published 2013 by HarperCollins

maya's notebook

Here was a book with both my daughters’ names on the front cover so I had to read it. And Isabel partly got her name from Ms Allende.

I first heard of her when I was in Cuzco Peru almost 20 years ago, when a fellow traveller passed on one of her books to me – Eva Luna. And through that book I made a new friend Arturo, when he spotted me with it in the main square and struck up a conversation. Over the years I have read quite a few of her books (12 when I counted), some in Spanish, others translated over to English, but I had not done so for several years.

One thing I like about some of the Latin American writers is the way they are a law unto themselves. We westerners are so bound by rules such as “show don’t tell”, but Allende threw it away years ago and has so far managed to get away with it. Another rule we have is “stick to a genre”; Latin Americans say bugger that and go and invent their own!

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