Atale of love, loss, grief and healing wrapped in magical realism and suitable for a wide range of readers. Families in this story have lost loved ones and are either handling their grief, not handling it, or ignoring it. They carry suppressed fears, squashed desires, and unfulfilled dreams but The Emporium of Imagination is here to help. And help it does, in the strangest of ways. I know the town of Boonah (and the camel farm) and felt an affinity as the story unfolded but apart from Story Tree café and Blumbergville Clock in High Street, similarities ended there.
A man, a cat and a key arrive with The Emporium and set up shop in the main street of Boonah, offering special ‘phones’, strange notes on scraps of paper and the ability to hear human grief in all its stages. Although this may sound gloomy, at worst depressing, the characters keep things moving, offering the reader many POVs and scenarios ranging from timidity to teen humour, guilt to anger, regret, and worse case scenarios like replaying the death of a loved one. The narrative often has dreamlike suspension of disbelief but the heartache is real.
The Emporium’s former custodian, Earlatidge Hubert Umbray, gives way to a new curator who decides not to answer the special ‘phone’ but believes the townspeople of Boonah deserve hope ‘I can’t take that away from them’ although cynical me wonders if it would give false hope? Surely a nicely worded pep talk about getting on with your life and following those cherished dreams would work? However, the story is more restrained than that and gently imparts the whys and wherefores of coping with grief.
I felt the inside of The Emporium was a bit Disney-movie. While I tried to put my own emotions into a character, the practicable side of me could not relate to uncertain concepts. Would a final ‘phone call’ to the recently deceased help the person in mourning, or would it tip them over the brink? Items include Ladybird lollipops (nobody pays for goods); special connections to memorabilia; a notebook which turns up in the oddest places for select clientele; and a subtle cat with an unsubtle name.
In the last pages of the book I found the experiences of author Tabitha Bird just as moving as the characters in the book (poor dear Enoch) but that’s just me. There is an end page headed The Owner’s Guide To Grieving in keeping with The Emporium’s roving notebook, offering the opportunity to write in ‘A quiet space to simply be’. I read a new library book so abstained from writing on the page—I bet someone does.
Now I’m off to bake Bedtime Muffins from Isaac’s (Enoch’s dad) recipe!
Hidden at the heart of the Harper family, veiled in secrets, is a mystery waiting to be solved. A skilfully plotted novel with intriguing characters, crime, cats and a brother and sister unaware of what they will expose when they start peeling back the layers.
Set in south-east England around 2005, Hilda Harper tramps across the North Kent marshland on a summer’s evening. She is mulling over an unusual meeting she had earlier in the day. A woman named Nicky had knocked at her door and revealed some astounding news. This unexpected visit impels Hilda to explore the truth about her family’s past.
How well did she know her father? What was the cause of her mother’s death? Is Nicky really who she says?
The story is told through the three main characters, Hilda, Dunstan and Nicky, each with their own chapters and different points of view. Hilda and her younger brother, Dunstan, approach their deceased parents anomalous behaviour in varied ways. The plot revolves around their strict, controlling father Dr Nicolas Harper and their religious mother Violet who suffered from a cardiac disorder.
Dunstan believes his father could do no wrong but Hilda couldn’t wait to leave home and start rescuing abandoned cats and kittens. Dunstan says “My sister Hilda is, to put it kindly, rather eccentric.” I agree, but she is a great character. I think Dunstan has way more hang-ups to overcome, courtesy of his disenchanted upbringing.
Touching on mental issues, domestic bullying and unsettled memories, there comes a time when the scales dip towards a desperate action. Poor Dunstan goes off the rails. A cliff-hanger tempted me to untap my bookmark and keep reading into the night. I followed the clever twists and turns until I arrived at two startling discoveries. One more shocking than the other.
Family secrets can be destructive, changing the course of lives.
For me, the sense-of-place is strong and characters are easily envisaged. Nicky is quite lively yet generally I felt a genteel vibe and imagine the setting would work equally well further back in time. I liked the medical details, and Hilda’s love of cats; her rescue of tiny Magic echoes author Jennifer Barraclough’s support for animal welfare.
The book title is taken from “The Yew Tree” poem by Valerie Dohren, but I will close with a quote from Hilda “I need a walk to clear my troubled mind, so after lunch I put on my oilskins and gumboots and set off over the desolate marshland towards the Thames. It is a cool and misty day with a light rain falling and there are no other people about, just a few sheep and gypsy ponies.” A perfect remedy.
Top marks for “You Yet Shall Die” an absorbing crime and mystery story without the gory bits.
After moving to her husband’s native New Zealand in 2000, Jennifer studied natural healing, and ran a Bach flower practice for ten years. Writing is her main occupation now but her other interests include animal welfare activities, choral singing, and visiting the local beaches and cafés.
My thanks to the author for a complimentary copy of this book. I appreciate the opportunity to read and review “You Yet Shall Die”—GBW.
FOR LOVERS OF CATS AND ILLUSTRATIONS – GUTENBERG CAT FILE https://www.gutenberg.org/files/35450/35450-h/35450-h.htm The Project Gutenberg eBook of “Our Cats and All About Them” by Harrison Weir (1892) a well researched and remarkable volume. Full Title: “Our Cats and All About Them. Their Varieties, Habits, and Management; and for Show, the Standard of Excellence and Beauty; Described and Pictured”.
Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, Maine USA, on 22 February 1892. Edna’s poetry and playwright collections include The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver (Flying Cloud Press 1922) winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and Renascence and Other Poems (Harper 1917)
Edna won a scholarship to Vassar College and became famous during her lifetime for her poetry with its passionate, formal lyrics, her flame-red hair, outspoken political views and unconventional lifestyle. She died on 18 October, 1950, in Austerlitz, New York.
The prologue is dramatic. A slightly unhinged magician Tim Williams is on stage at the Remember November Charity Cabaret in the local town hall, unaware of what his next trick will unleash. Tim has just finished Year Twelve, ready for a big future, when he dies in front of a roomful of people under decidedly suspicious circumstances.
Matt Tingle and Chess Febey are youthful amateur detectives. Like two high school students hungry for lunch, they embark on a serious yet magical mystery tour to unmask a murderer. The setting is Beechworth, a country town renowned for its tourist attractions rather than murder. The time is contemporary, give or take a decade for the way Chess talks, and her endearing dress sense. Matt is solid and sensible to a point, but he does get into some hazardous situations.
The opening chapter has some seriously ethereal vibes. Matt tries to concentrate on the sunshine dappled leaves as he sits in the manicured gardens of old Langton House. It’s an Open Garden, visitors stroll around the lawns talking in hushed whispers, and Matt sees a boy magician and a tough-looking man which makes him feel uncomfortable. Chess turns up with a mug of coffee and when she explains why she brought them to this place, he snaps.
Chess has accepted an invitation from Jacob Langton, the son of the owners of Langton House, to investigate the murder of his magician friend Tim, and Matt’s not keen on the idea.
The story is a classic locked-room mystery. Tim was poisoned by his own stage prop and nobody can figure out how the poison got there when it was under lock and key. Our dynamic duo investigate inside the hall, talk with colourful locals and Tim’s bereft family, and receive massive interference from a thug who roughs up Chess to warn her off. The story twists and turns with red herrings galore until the final reveal.
This is where I start to get cagey because I don’t know how much to tell you without ruining the plot.
My new favourite is young magician Paz, quite a character, who speaks with a lisp and is seemingly more mature than he looks. The Elsinore Vanish is a card trick (think Hamlet and ghosts) and Paz says ‘Magic is about the impossible. That’s what makes it beautiful’. He definitely knows something but flutters between the book’s pages refusing to be drawn into their investigation.
There are adults around but they loiter just long enough not to be annoying.
Sometimes Matt and Chess are determined, other times they have self-doubt, ultimately they are teenagers mature enough to handle the ramifications of their actions. Almost. Matt is thoughtful and his emotions are strong but he can misread people. Chess is a socially awkward analyst, prone to unusual outbursts. She has a troubled family background (there is a revealing vignette with her father) and although Matt and Chess would deny it, they are good friends.
I enjoy a clever whodunit and was frequently stumped by author Joanna’s clues; mirror reflections anyone? At times I thought there were perhaps a tad too many suspicious individuals because I had to think ‘Who was she again?’ but on the whole they were interrelated.
‘The Elsinore Vanish’ is the second book in Joanna Baker’s Beechworth trilogy set in the picturesque area of rural north-east Victoria. The settings are wonderful, like old Mayday Hills mental asylum, well, the atmosphere anyway, and they are written with such clarity that I typed Beechworth Victoria into my search engine and had a look around the historic town.
Not a crash ’em smash ’em YA story—put your thinking cap on.
Definitely a great book for those who like to think about what they read. There is one small point in the story where the ah-ha moment clicked for me and I enjoyed finding out if I was right. See if you can work it out before the dramatic reveal!
Joanna Baker is an award-winning Australian mystery writer. Her novel Devastation Road won the Sisters-in-Crime Davitt Award for Best Young Adult Novel and was described by The Age newspaper as ‘an outstanding first novel’.
Born in Hobart Tasmania, Joanna was educated at The Friends’ School, the Australian National University and RMIT in Victoria.
Joanna sets her novels in the two places she loves: Tasmania and the high country of north eastern Victoria. She also writes and speaks about murder mysteries – why they are so enduring, and why they are not trivial.
Author Joanna Baker knows how to start her books with a gripping first chapter. Matt Tingle had fallen asleep in front of Mr Roland’s computer in the office of Craft Gallery and Tea Shoppe, where supposedly he was doing his history assignment, when a noise wakes him . . .
. . . things get very dangerous very quickly.
Next day, in the small rural gold-mining town of Yackandandah, our protagonist Matt is sitting in the Yackandandah Bakery trying to steady his jangling nerves. He has a headache from inhaling toxic fumes during his misadventures the night before. In walks his friend Chess who says ‘Golly Matty. You look awful’. Chess’ dialogue is not always contemporary and it’s tricky to pinpoint an exact decade but it gives the story an enduring feel.
Then to make matters worse for sickly Matt, pretty Tara Roland walks into the bakery, a vision of shiny-haired loveliness. Tara is accompanied by her cousin Wando who gets a bit twitchy with the bakery assistant Debbie Wilson over her necklace and the drama escalates from there.
Egyptology comes into play in the form of an amber necklace named The Eye of Ra
At this stage, Matt and Chess are two teenagers who are unknowingly about to become amateur detectives and embark on solving two local mysteries. One is a cold case, a baffling hit-and-run road accident which turns Chess into the queen of concentration and Matt the emperor of emotions; they bounce ideas off each other . . .
. . . and the second mystery?
This one is more personal. Going for a walk, Matt and Chess find the drowned body of someone they knew well. After the initial shock, they begin to investigate, slowly unravelling the mystery to discover a horrible crime.
In both cases, our intrepid pair find anomalies in the witness stories, items gone missing, half-remembered half-overheard conversations and scraps of notes. They talk to a grieving fiancé and parents, chat to the mechanic at Yackandandah Motor Garage, join an apprehensive gathering at the Yackandandah Christmas Picnic, and Matt witnesses a hair-raising moment with Wando at Burrie Falls, the local swimming hole.
Their trial and error investigations are beautifully woven through the story with real clues and false leads.
At one stage Matt gets badly pummelled by the deceased’s brother Craig for inferring. Matt is limping around putting on a brave face when Chess arrives. ‘You get too carried away by things…you’re too theatrical’ she says, before getting embroiled in her own thoughts and hazardous hypotheses. I had difficulty in picturing them at first; Matt seems solid enough but Chess has family problems, making her seem wise beyond her years.
The settings for this novel do exist, for example the Yackandandah motor garage, bakery, the creek and Falls. I think it’s clever how Devastation Road was named but I am not sure it exists with that name. Here’s the link if you are interested in reading more about north-east Victoria https://www.exploreyackandandah.com.au/
This is the first book in Joanna Baker’s Beechworth Trilogy. I did a bit of swiping back-and-forth to see if I had missed anything vital. Concentration is needed! There is more to this story than meets the eye. The ending is a chilling and substantial psychological twist I bet you won’t see coming.
Joanna Baker is an award-winning Australian mystery writer. Devastation Road won the Sisters-in-Crime Davitt Award for Best Young Adult Novel and was described by The Age newspaper as ‘an outstanding first novel’.
Born in Hobart Tasmania, Joanna was educated at The Friends’ School, the Australian National University and RMIT in Victoria.
Joanna sets her novels in the two places she loves: Tasmania and the high country of north eastern Victoria. She also writes and speaks about murder mysteries – why they are so enduring, and why they are not trivial.
The book title is a typical Darwin expression with good connotations, and Mocco says she is an optimist, she lives on hope and in hope. Originally from Germany, she worked hard with what she had, overcame obstacles and adapted to Australian life with her Aussie-born daughters Susan and Kim and beloved husband Niclas.
The other love in her life is Darwin, 1950s Darwin, at the Top End of Northern Territory. No supermarkets, no fancy restaurants, definitely no air-conditioning, miles and miles of dirt roads, and at that time populated by about 8,000 people. Tough, rough and ready people at that.
The strength of a woman when put to the test reverberates powerfully through Mocco Wollert’s narrative. From good, bad and ugly circumstances, Mocco’s words shine. She comes across as forthright in her opinions, honest, funny, emotional, grumpy yet ultimately loveable. She certainly faced challenging circumstances, some which made me wince and some which would have seen me walk away, but not Mocco!
The chapters of Mocco’s book are grouped under headings, for example ‘Beginning the Adventure’, ‘Career Change’ (actually a couple of career changes) ‘Health Matters’ and ‘Decision Time’ all of which prepared me for her decade of thought-provoking reading.
Understandably there are heart-rending moments like depression in ‘A Night of Gin’ and the 1974 Cyclone Tracy devastation.
I remember sitting under our ceiling fan watching the ABCTV news on Boxing Day, 26th December, as black and white film footage showed our nation the flattened landscape which was once Darwin. On a lighter note, it was rebuilt and continues to thrive, as did Mocco. Small moments often stick and I enjoyed Mocco’s recollection of wigs and frizz hair-related matters in ‘Hairdressers’ where men were taboo.
Under the subheading ‘Sport’ on page 211, I think this paragraph typifies the tenacity of Darwinites and perhaps a large area of northern Australia. “In spite of the heat and humidity, people played sport. Golf was Niclas’ passion and he became quite a good golfer with a handicap of 16. Watching today’s golf tournaments on television, I marvel at the green fairways and manicured greens. There was none of this in Darwin. The fairways were rough and, in the dry season, as dusty as a (cattle) station in drought. The ‘greens’ were sandy plains without a blade of grass.”
There are 47 photographs throughout the book, vivid examples of the era, and a pictorial of Darwin homelife which includes Mocco in weather so scorching she wore a bikini to hang washing on the Hills Hoist. And there is a great little story behind the snapshot of her small daughter meeting Queen Elizabeth II. Not telling, you’ll have to read the book!
‘Bloody Bastard Beautiful’ is Mocco Wollert’s tribute to Darwin, an intimate recollection of a more rugged time in 20th century Australia, told openly and honestly, and ultimately life-affirming.
Born in Germany but a true-blue Darwinite by 1960, Mocco Wollert is now a recognised poet and author who lives in Brisbane, Australia.
Mocco has nine poetry books published as well as winning prizes for poems published in newspapers and anthologies.
When I first picked up Indrani Ganguly’s memoir-style book, I dipped into a couple of stories. It soon became apparent the pages contained a thoughtful mixture of poetry, artwork, travellers’ tales, photographs and fiction stories in a layout designed to gently lead the reader though Indrani’s world.
Chapters are grouped under different headings, the kind of book which anyone can read and everyone will find something that touches them.
The content captivated me with a mix of fact, fantasy and deep emotions initially triggered by Indrani’s return visit to her father’s house and her old room which had been left untouched since she moved out. This is where her thoughts begin to unfold, first with artwork and poems then a retrospective short story about her family titled ‘Menagerie Manor’.
As luck would have it, being a fan of crime novels, the first short story I read was ‘A Candle for Bob Carter’ in which plain-clothed Chief Inspector Bob Carter is on jewel-guarding duty at a swanky fancy dress Christmas party during a hot Australian summer. ‘We’ll turn the air-conditioning up dear,” says Leila as the sound system booms the obligatory yet incongruous ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’. Such a fun twist at the end.
Under the tribute heading Women Worldwide, I read in awe as determined elderly ladies went ‘Walking in the Land of the Gods’. Later I laughed out loud after reading ‘Durga Down Under’ a rather irreverent look at Durga, the Supreme Hindu Mother Goddess. The accompanying poems resonated with me, particularly ‘A Woman’s Solitude’ a brief respite before a hectic day. Under the title Travel Tales, Indrani writes with clarity and insight, transporting me to spectacular locations around the world. My favourite is Shimla in the Himalayas which also has a lovely photo of Indrani and her daughter Gitanjali on rugged little ponies.
In this deceptively compact hardback volume there is a lot to read and think about. ‘In My Father’s House’ is more than a treasury of family memories, Indrani’s words entertained and enlightened me. She is in tune with diverse levels of society and human nature as well as comfortable within herself and her writing.
In her foreword, Indrani says ‘I continue to look both backwards and forwards for ideas and inspiration’. I have already read and blogged her historical novel ‘The Rose and The Thorn’ and look forward to more literary adventures.
Indrani Ganguly was born into a Bengali family in Lucknow and now lives in Brisbane with her husband, son and daughter. She travels extensively around Australia, India and other countries.
She studied English Honours in Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, has a masters in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a PhD on the impact of British occupation on revolution and reform in Burdwan, now in West Bengal.
Who read The Casual Vacancy by famed British author J K Rowling? I certainly did! It was her first post-Harry Potter novel and caused quite a stir. I worked in library services at the time so I helped shelve this hardback hundreds of times. Fortunately the cover was so bright (and the original publication rather big) it was always easy to locate for prospective readers. Actually the book did not stay shelved for long, there were so many on the waiting list clambering to read it.
The Casual Vacancy was written under Rowling’s real name prior to publication of her Cormoran Strike detective series written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Don’t ask me why, it didn’t fool anyone. I do remember penning a scathing review of Lethal White the fourth book in that series.
In 2015, The Casual Vacancy was made into a British TV three-part miniseries. Directed by Jonny Campbell, scripted by Sarah Phelps, and starred Michael Gambon, Julia McKenzie, Emelia Fox, and others I recognised from sit-coms, but unfortunately never got to see. Actually this production may not have reached Australian television screens. By all accounts, viewers were outraged by the changed ending, giving rise to the old saying ‘the book is always better’.
Now, without further ado, I present—
my original book review (previously published on a now-defunct book readers website) hopefully without spoilers—
The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling 2012 Reviewed by Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2013
Quote “It was a brilliant piece of marketing strategy to publish this J K Rowling book prior to her (subsequently more popular) detective novel ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’. What better way to heighten interest and arouse social consciousness than her very first post-Potter novel. A long-awaited book, The Casual Vacancy is liked and loathed in equal measure but disliked more for the content than the writing – even though we’ve probably read similar books and met people similar to those in Pagford. I think the pace is well-crafted, the voice and sense-of-place are beautifully brought to life, tinged with the graveness of a modern-day Dickens.
“The characters are an inglorious burst of humanity, almost, but not quite, edging towards insanity. Indeed, most of the characters appear average but through various twists and turns the families in Pagford and the Fields are slowly stripped of their protective veneers and laid bare, exposing their ugliness beneath. Nothing is sacred and all manner of collective disorders appear from young and old alike as their every move is documented, every word faithfully recorded. We see the truths and witness the unveiling of secrets, motivated by revenge via website hacking.
“As we know from the blurb, the book kicks in with the death of Barry Fairbrother who arrives at the golf club for dinner with his wife on their wedding anniversary and keels over in the carpark. By all accounts, he’s a nice man and liked by many people considering he was a local Councillor on Pagford’s wheeling-dealing Parish Council. His demise leaves a casual vacancy on the Council board and the fight over his seat begins. The reader learns there’s a war going on between the communities of Pagford and Yarvil over maintenance of the Fields, a decrepit housing estate, and the closure of a methadone clinic. Not much political correctness goes on in council chambers.
“There you have it, henceforth The Casual Vacancy seethes with social snobbery, underage excess, racism, drug addiction and the ever-present spectres of greed, selfishness, ignorance and cruelty. But, hey, don’t let that put you off. This story hooked me like a continually unfolding TV saga or radio play. I’d put it down and then have to pick it up just to see what happens to Krystal Weedon and her dissipated mother Terri, or Howard Mollison and his new café, or the ill-fated relationship of Gavin Hughes and Kay Bawden.
“Social worker Kay is new to Pagford and not a big player but she’s hardworking, misguided and gullible and the one I wanted to shout at, tell her to grab her daughter and get out of town fast. The others, like Simon Price, are set up to be despised with appalling behaviour behind closed doors. Occasionally I grew tired of the angry men and the gossiping wives and found that the sabotaging teenagers had more diverse demeanours, although young Sukhvinder Jawanda is heart-rending. Was the ending so predictable? As this inharmonious story draws to a close, I know it’s all still happening in real life.
“What more can I say? The Casual Vacancy is an adult novel and anyone who’s been around the block a few times will related to its adult themes. Whether or not the right people read it and change their social attitudes is another thing. Sure it’s a tad depressing but I’ll give J K Rowling full marks for moving on from Hogwarts and writing something completely different.” Unquote.
David Burton has written an outstanding story about a tenacious young man determined to solve a mystery. In a tightly woven and highly readable plot he keeps the pressure up, and keeps it real. Shaun sees a man’s body floating in the local lake and when he returns with Constable Charlie Thompson the body has gone. The story kicks off from there and Shaun begins to investigate the mysterious death. He uncovers far more than he ever imagined. And he has a good imagination!
Set in a gritty, rundown Queensland coal mining town, the atmosphere is hot, dry and pulsating with undercurrents from personal relationships through to shonky mining regulations. My assumptions were overturned, clues were flipped and hopes were dashed. From angry picket lines headed by volatile Peter Grant, head of the mine workers union, to various forms of small town mindset, Shaun’s investigations pull him deeper and deeper into a world of unanswered questions.
The subtext throughout the story is “Who believes Shaun actually saw the man in the water?”. Not many people, it seems. Even his mother Linda struggles to accept the situation, although a family death may be clouding her reasoning. Shaun does appear to have a kind of obsessional limerence.
Fortunately Shaun has a keen ally in his long-time friend Will, a larrikin with a charming manner. They both believe the drowned man was murdered and someone has masterminded a cover-up. They negotiate their way through a minefield of possibilities, taking risks, and discovering the mental and physical challenges faced by coal workers and their families. Only once did I suspend disbelief when Shaun infiltrates a building, but it’s a pivotal moment.
In between covert operations, annoying teachers and school classes, Shaun and Will are on the school debating team with Megan Grant. Shaun adores Megan from afar and he imagines a future of “happy ever afters” together. Investigations continue in Brisbane with their debating team when a challenge is held in a Harry Potteresque private school perched on a hillside (I recognised it) and they stay overnight in enemy territory. A gripping spy-like chapter for you to discover.
I loved the personalities David Burton has created, the characters often did the opposite to what I expected, making them fallible yet understandable. In certain cases, there’s a fine line between liking and loathing. There is power in subtlety, and from the frustration of workers about to lose their jobs, to the death of a loved one, nothing is overstated.
David Burton has given Shaun a proactive role with plenty of intrigue. I have no hesitation in saying “The Man in the Water” is an excellent mystery for young adults and older readers. I became fully absorbed in the story and was right beside young Shaun trying to unravel the riddle. The end result is definitely worth it!
Quote from Chapter 32 “From the sky, Shaun’s home town looked like it was surrounded by yawning black holes. It was epic. The mines were colossal dark wounds in the earth, the town a sort of defiance among the rubble. It was a god’s sandpit. He pressed his face against the window and watched as the earth turned with the plane. They were coming in to land.”
David Burton is an award-winning director, playwright and author. By the age of 30, he’d written over two dozen professionally produced plays, published a book, and been a core part of some of the most innovative theatrical projects in Australia.
He’s now 32, a Dad, and has written a new YA fiction book “The Man in the Water” which I reviewed.
The incessant fights in the Salter family are too real, their plight is real, every word is real and that’s what damaged me the most. I took long walks due to the serious and unrelenting nature of the content. Loaded with the troubles of the Salter family, cruel sarcasm, too much drink, too many smokes, I was getting worn down right along with them. It took me a month to read this book in fits and starts but I’m glad I did.
Abrasive characters are well portrayed which makes them doubly annoying, they need to be accepted warts and all, like ‘mouthy’ Kerry Salter and her unlikable brother Ken who argue every minute of the day. I’m sure I’d have put Ken in hospital at about Chapter Three.
Maybe take the pressure off young Donny.
Early on, Bundjalung woman Kerry has returned to her home town of Durrongo, and grieves the loss of her girlfriend Allie, her Pop and her stolen blue backpack. She does a B&E, part retribution, part spirit world, and the universe turns a notch. Fair move, but repercussions come later. Then there’s romance in the form of her hot eye-candy boyfriend Steve Abarco who’s the flagship for level-headed, rock-solid men.
Kerry’s tarot card-reading mother Pretty Mary celebrates a birthday and those volatile chapters are my favourites. At the party is another brother, gay Black Superman, maybe long-dead sister Donna, plus assorted Aunts (called Mary) Uncles and children who gust through the pages like eucalyptus smoke. But forget about opening old family wounds, I’d say a lump the size of police headquarters sits in the pit of their stomachs, continually irritating their every move.
The battle against a new prison, to be built on sacred ground where Salter ancestors are laid to rest, ramps up with a land rights campaign. Enter cops like Senior Sergeant Trevor Nunne and money-hungry Mayor Jim Buckley. Ken’s flamboyant gesture on a piece of Buckley’s property was not appreciated and leads to disastrous retaliation.
You will have noticed that I am not giving too much away.
Writing style-wise, I did wondered why Kerry wasn’t written in first person. Some events are seeded in advance while others appear to be inserted later to up-the-ante. Every so often the voice changes, doubt creeps in, there’s a lull. Or a change in atmosphere with The Doctor. Occasionally things become omnipotent and POVs jump in and out of people’s heads but that can be overlooked for scary brave writing.
If you are not Australian, you WILL become lost in the slang and cultural references.
Read this rude, gutsy book if you ARE offended by swearing, truisms close to the bone, and the struggles of Indigenous people. As Ken says in Chapter 15 ‘How to invade other people’s countries and murder ‘em, and call it civilisation’.
It’s a strong insight into the modern world and an ancient culture, one which doesn’t need skyscrapers because Country is a place of belonging and a way of believing.
Good onya, Melissa, for audaciously holding your nerve*
AUTHOR PROFILE : Melissa Lucashenko is an acclaimed Aboriginal writer of Goorie and European heritage. Since 1997 Melissa has been widely published as an award-winning novelist, essayist and short story writer.
Author Indrani Ganguly based her historical novel in Lucknow, India, a city renowned as the most refined of the Muslim kingdoms where she, her mother and grandmother were born. In 1857 the Siege of Lucknow was also the scene of some of the most brutal fighting during the country’s uprisings.
Indrani Ganguly’s novel is an illuminating blend of fact and fiction. Twins Mukti and Lila Chatterjee—the eponymous rose and thorn compared to a black rose in their garden—are the heart and soul of the story. Ganguly’s research is comprehensive thanks to an academic background, and her foreword mentions some family memories. She explains the book is not a personal history of her family, although I think there are insights which add to the charm of the narrative.
Two parallel movements emerged in India in the 19th and 20th centuries, the national movement of Independence and the social reform to uplift the most vulnerable sections of society. During this time of national and social upheaval, the role of Indian women makes enlightening reading.
There are six families in “The Rose and The Thorn”. The main characters are Jai Chatterjee, history professor, his wife Shanti and their twin daughters Mukti and Lila. Then follows The Mukherjees, The Alis, The Johnsons, The Banerjees, and The Maharajas. It is easy to keep track as the years unfold, events develop in clear progression and the tension builds.
Young Mukti innocently reads the signs of civil unrest in a 1922 pamphlet calling for a boycott on foreign clothing, and the event is witnessed by her British friend Elizabeth and father Alan when riding in a tanga (horse-drawn transport). Protesters burn clothes on a huge bonfire, quickly followed by police aggression. One of the police inspectors, Anil, is a Chatterjee family member.
Around this time, non-violent resistance advocate Mahatma Gandhi is arrested and imprisoned for two years for publishing seditious material.
The twins Lila and Mukti grow up, marriages are arranged and their resilient personalities emerge to deal with life; the loss of loved ones, writing for radical newspaper Chandpur Barta, social work at a women’s centre, and an eventful protest march for women’s rights.
As a young woman in 1970s I was woven into the women’s liberation movement but did not realise how long Indian women had faced their own battles. They were invisible, they survived as long as they had a man, otherwise they were classed as nothing. From a 21st century stance, I find it difficult to comprehend the household dictates of that time and the shocking treatment of widows.
The character portrayals of the men and women in the story are strong, and they have firm opinions on the subjects of politics and political activism—handsome Rashid Ali spices things up! His mother Ruksana is also a driving force. Mosquito-hating Krishna Banerjee and the Maharaja are men not to be underestimated. Societal revolutions are brewing but the big question is ‘Will Congress win?’ If women had the vote things may have been different.
I was interested in the chapters dated March 1923 because that was the year my mother was born. As my mother grew up, I wonder how much she and her Australian contemporaries knew of the Partition turmoil in India? I knew India was part of the British Commonwealth but certainly didn’t learn about their struggles. To quote the prologue “There are no martyrs’ monuments or eternal burning flames…” for the ordinary women who led extraordinary lives.
On a lighter note, Chapter 25, March 1923 “The Governor’s Ball” has an outrageous encounter with the Governor’s wife. And during a family visit to the Taj Mahal, a wandering minstrel strolls by, strumming his ektara (traditional one-stringed musical instrument) singing a saucy song:
There was a rose and a thorn in my life One was my lover and one was my wife. Which was which I could not tell It changed day-by-day and as night fell . . .
. . . I don’t want to give too much away, dear reader, but I will say there is a secret.
Author Ganguly explains that representing the dialogue in English was a challenge. The two languages used in the book are Hindi and Bengali which have very different grammar syntax. She overcame this and the result is flowing dialogue containing a smattering of Indian words which enhance the story.
The woven cloth khadi, and sweet and savoury food references enticed me to look for translations. I found a recipe for Mukti’s favourite dish, freshly fried luchi and eggplant.
My curiosity was piqued by the influential roles of India’s royals, the Maharaja and Maharani, in the story. I read a quote from modern-day Princess Shivranjani of Jodhpur who doesn’t have a problem with only male heirs inheriting but aptly retorts “If you say a boy is everything and a girl is nothing, well, I have a problem with that!”
Powerful Goddess Durga, whose name is spoken several times in the book, also got me researching. “Durga” in Sanskrit means “invincible” and numerous Mantras are chanted for her throughout the year.
The era of Indian history from 1916 to 1947 is brought alive by Indrani Ganguly through the eyes of Mukti and Lila, and the wise and courageous women who supported them. While I did not choose a favourite between the rose and the thorn, I enjoyed their journey and learned a lot about the faith and endurance of families in India during those turbulent times.
The epilogue narrator says “I myself travelled many different paths till I joined my father in Delhi but that is another story.” I look forward to reading it!
Indrani Ganguly was born of Bengali parents in Lucknow, India. Her parents imbued her with a strong sense of Indian and world history and culture, and a great appreciation of diversity in all its forms. Indrani studied English Honours and sociology in India and did her PhD on the impact of British occupation on revolution and reform in West Bengal from the Australian National University. In 1990, Indrani married an Australian with whom she now lives in Brisbane, Queensland. They have a son, daughter and grandson.
Indrani’s website: https://indraniganguly139.wordpress.com/blog/
Here is the YouTube link to BBC’s Great Indian Railway Journeys video which documents the history and scenes of Lucknow, and shows the buildings which Indrani Ganguly writes about in her book. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CckjZafH0vI