11 Jul 2009

The Book Of Emmett

by Deborah Forster
Vintage

Set in Footscray, Deborah Forster's home territory as a child, The Book Of Emmett is a novel with a great sense of place. Largely autobiographical, the novel tells the story of the Brown family and in particular the life story of Emmett Brown, patriarch and his dark, violent nature. This is a story of domestic violence and its effect on adults and children. Emmett is a man of brooding passions, whose rages terrorize his wife and children. The book traces the complex relationships between brothers and sisters and the love and pain that evolve between them. Deborah Forster has commented that Footscray is like an extra character in the novel, and she delights in recounting details of the suburb and culture of her childhood. The Book Of Emmett is a novel about love, hope and survival; at Emmett's funeral his children realise that they loved and learned from their father, who as a younger man had recited poetry to his wife but whose failures in later life had taken him back to his own abusive childhood with terrible consequences for all of them. Beautifully written, this is a book which will live long in the reader's memory.

by Chris

Fugitive Blue

by Claire Thomas
Allen & Unwin

The narrator of Fugitive Blue is a young art conservator in Melbourne who has been entrusted with the restoration of an unusual panel painted in ultramarine. As she tries to investigate the provenance of the painting, which has arrived in Australia with an post-war Greek migrant family, she is drawn into the history of the painting itself. The creation of the painting in Renaissance Venice was itself controversial; ultramarine was one of the most expensive pigments used by master painters and was never allowed to fall into inexperienced hands. Threaded through the novel is a parallel story which follows the conservator's developing obsession with her task and the collapse of her relationship with a young actor. Claire Thomas' novel is alive with references to art and the history of art; she looks at the role of women in art and the methods of the old masters. In a relatively short novel she has created a work of depth, with writing which brings Renaissance Venice to life and which also details the art of the conservation world of today. With a lightness of touch and beautiful writing Fugitive Blue is an exceptional first novel.

by Chris

The Virtuoso : A Novel

by Sonia Orchard
4th Estate

Sonia Orchard’s debut novel is inspired by the life of Noel Mewton-Wood, an Australian-born pianist and a prodigy of Sir Thomas Beecham. He first rose to fame in London during the Blitz in World War Two, performing concerts with Beecham and recitals which continued through bombing raids and which helped to galvanize the spirits of Londoners during the darkest days of the war. Sadly Mewton-Wood committed suicide in 1953 at the age of 31 after the death of a lover. The narrator of the novel is a young musician who himself is enthralled by Mewton-Wood’s youthful expertise and beauty. The young man’s longing and obsession for the charismatic Noel are sadly one-sided; the reader is left to endure the narrator’s inevitable decline into melancholy.  Sonia Orchard writes beautifully about music, which is at the centre of the novel, and about the hazardous nature of homosexual love in the England of World War Two and the more difficult, puritanical, post-war years when the police were active in the prosecution of such activity. The writing is absorbing; Sonia Orchard reveals the musical and emotional life of a young Australian musician of great promise. Anyone with an interest in music will find the book an absolute joy.

by Chris

Pescador's Wake

by Katherine Johnson
4th Estate

Based in part on the true story of the pursuit of a Uruguayan fishing boat by an Australian vessel in the Southern Ocean in 2003, Pescador’s Wake recounts on one level the chase through some of the world’s most dangerous waters and on another it describes the emotional impact on the families left behind in both in Uruguay and Australia. Desperate to escape enslavement to the unscrupulous Spanish owner of the Pescador, the ship’s captain chooses to risk the lives of his crew in order to land his illegally-caught catch. The captain of the Australian vessel, who is struggling to come to terms with the death of his son, is ordered to follow ‘in hot pursuit’. The text has an immediacy which both puts you the reader in danger with the seamen in the middle of the raging oceans and also gives you insight into this hazardous occupation and the fragile life of the families left at home. Katherine Johnson’s writing describes vibrantly the sprawling southern oceans and the extreme weather conditions endured by those who work there. She is also able to portray the searing impact of family loss and deprivation on the women left behind on shore. Excellent.

by Chris

A Beautiful Place To Die

by Malla Nunn
Pan

Detective Emmanuel Cooper is the main character in this murder mystery set in the small town of Jacob’s Rest in a remote South African province. He is sent to investigate the death of the local police chief in suspicious circumstances. He discovers a community deeply split along racial lines at a time in South Africa history when the recent introduced racial segregation laws are being rigourously enforced. The sons of the dead man are looking for someone to blame and the Special Branch, which imposes its presence on the investigation, is looking for a murderer who suits their needs. Cooper has to work surreptitiously with a coloured policeman and a Jewish doctor, unusual allies in the community, to go beyond prejudice to find justice. Many secrets, including those of the dead captain Pretorius, are uncovered during the investigation. As the plot unwinds the reader is presented with tales of sexual depravity and family members who are prepared to protect even the worst of secrets. Malla Nunn has written an intriguing novel which works both as a crime novel and an account of the devastating effects of institutionalized racial prejudice. A terrific novel with a great sense of time and place.

by Chris