Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

First published 2015 by Macmillan Australia

cloudwish

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.

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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…?