Two books topped the most mentioned chart this week: Bereft (Chris Womersley, Scribe), a postwar tale of loneliness and suffering during the Spanish flu epidemic in Australia, and Freedom (Jonathan Franzen, Fourth Estate) about a US Midwestern family and the temptations and burdens of liberty. Also on the most mentioned chart are Atlantic (Simon Winchester, HarperPress) a history across the Atlantic ocean, the chilling thriller Trick of the Dark (Val McDermid, Little, Brown) and Mary Delahunty’s memoirs Public Life, Private Grief (Hardie Grant)—Media Extra
Chris Womersley’s Bereft, his second novel after 2008’s award-winning The Low Road, is a rich, gripping tale of love, loss, conflict and salvation. The prologue states that in 1912, during a storm in the ‘fly-speck town of Flint’, New South Wales, a teenage boy was found holding a knife next to his sister’s battered body. He fled the scene.
The novel then begins with this long-thought-dead young man, Quinn, contemplating life and death after his time in the trenches in the Great War, on a ship bound back home. Remnants of the war include a large scar across his face, and fits of coughing from gas exposure; but deeper scars lie from Quinn’s past, and he is returning to confront them. In the town of Flint, he is known as ‘the murderer’, so he cannot show his face—but he sets out to at least unburden his sick mother. He befriends a tough orphan girl, Sadie, who has strange abilities, a calming presence, and issues to resolve that are related to his own.
Womersley’s descriptions of this western plains town, its inhabitants and outsiders, plus the flashbacks to the war and to London, are fresh, rich and emotionally charged. The main characters, though their plotlines are not incredibly complex, are compelling, and even fascinating. There is an added layer of mood in both the setting and characters—gothic, magical—which makes the book a delight to consume, and makes the reader appreciate why the resolution (which could come sooner, really) is dangled, tantalisingly, through chapters of character development and skillful (but never thick) description, so that when it comes—when that moment finally comes— the reader’s reaction may be similar to mine, and that was to go ‘oh … cool!’ By then you have such a complete picture of Quinn, his state and his surrounds that it is like watching the final satisfying moments of a richly coloured and well-directed film.
This book is thoroughly enjoyable, compelling, moving, warm and completely memorable. I had that very rare experience of wanting to read it again, almost immediately. This book crosses the lines of popular fiction, literary fiction and mystery. It could be recommended to fans of Kate Grenville (though I think Womersley’s a more interesting writer), Tim Winton, Matthew Condon, Craig Silvey, Peter Carey, Peter Temple, Alex Miller and more.
Angela Meyer is a writer, blogger, and former acting editor of Bookseller+Publisher. This review first appeared in the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher, which reached subscribers in early July.
There was a time a couple of years back when this book wouldn’t leave the Nielson BookScan top 10 bestseller charts, and now Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert, Bloomsbury) is back on top. The film adaptation staring Julia Roberts won’t screen in cinemas until October and the film tie-in edition is not due on shelves until September, yet the anticipation for the film appears so strong that the book is already generating big sales in bookshops. Teen sailor Jessica Watson is second on the bestseller charts with True Spirit (Hachette) after a nationwide book tour and TV documentary series. 4 Ingredients: Fast, Fresh and Healthy (Kim McCosker, Rachael Bermingham & Deepak Chopra, Hay House) is in third place followed by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson, Quercus) and Don’t Blink (James Patterson, Century). Angelina (Andrew Morton, HarperCollins) is number one on the highest new entries chart—Weekly Book Newsletter.
With climate change on everyone’s mind, there’s no shortage of eco-thrillers on the market. Michael Crichton (Next, Jurassic Park) casts a long shadow, but this Australian-based debut deserves a place among the big names. The Genesis Flaw is set in a near future where genetically engineered crops supply most of the world’s food. Unknown to the public, they are triggering dangerous changes in human DNA, and there’s a conspiracy to hide the truth. But the appeal isn’t so much the science as the situation, the characters and the tension (sexual and otherwise) between them: sassy corporate exec Serena Swift must avenge her father by revealing the truth; computer hacker John Flynn will do almost anything to help—even if it means breaking the law; and the enigmatic, handsome and single-minded CEO Al Bukowski will stop at nothing to protect his company. This book definitely sits at the Crichton/ John Birmingham end of the spectrum—a sweaty-palm page-turner with short chapters and loads of action. The dialogue is occasionally a little clunky, and the science is a touch far-fetched, but when has that ever mattered in a thriller? It’s the literary equivalent of The Day AfterTomorrow or Lost; exciting, compulsive reading.
Lachlan Jobbins is a freelance reviewer, editor and x-bookseller, and is currently the communications officer for the Australian Society of Authors.
Tomorrow, When the War Began is such a cherished book that adapting it to a movie was a major challenge for Stuart Beattie, but the producer looks happy and relaxed on stage, confident that he’s created something the kids (and the ones that have grown-up) will enjoy. At a premiere screening after a book signing at the Jam Factory in Melbourne, Beattie and the cast answer questions about the film.
‘John Marsden allowed me to make the movie because he wanted someone who has read the books and saw the books as a fan, rather than someone who just wanted to profit from it,’ says Beattie, one of many film producers to approach author John Marsden about adapting his book Tomorrow, When the War Began. Beattie who previously worked on Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, has used his skills to make a film quite true to the book, that has an action-packed style comparable to anything coming out of Hollywood, with the warmth and humour of an Australian drama.
Ellie Linton, the main protagonist, is played by the outgoing Caitlin Stasey, an actor many teens will recognise from Neighbours. ‘I’m the only one who hasn’t read the books,’ she admits to the friendly taunts of the other cast members. The story focusses on Ellie’s relationships with her friends, specifically her best friend Corrie (played by Rachel Hurd-Wood). When Corrie cries, Ellie is there to comfort her. Corrie has a relationship with Kevin, played by Home and Away actor Lincoln Lewis, but their relationship becomes strained during the course of the movie. An angsty relationship also begins between Ellie and Lee (played by Chris Pang) during the movie.
The idea of an invasion of Australia is central to the story, but the identity of the invading army was kept secret in the book. Marsden says he didn’t want ‘people to use the books to justify some racist belief they may hold’. The invaders are Asian in appearance, but no particular country of origin is identified. Beattie says, ‘John (Marsden) was very smart in keeping the identity of the invaders vague. With a movie about politics and the motivation behind war you need to know the countries involved. This is really a drama about eight kids, so the country of the invaders is not really important’. Beattie says the logical choice for the invaders was from one of Australia’s neighbouring countries, but he treats the Asian identity as unimportant to the story, and uses the invasion as a device to unleash the drama without looking for underlying motivations of war. As Homer, one of the characters in the film (played by Deniz Akdeniz) says, ‘It doesn’t matter who they are. They’re here now. What difference does a flag make?’
The audience of teenagers at the premiere screening find plenty of laughs in the movie, especially from Homer the prankster. Often humour is also used to deflect bad occurrences during the war. Action scenes are graphic and shocking, but for today’s teens who are immune to screen violence, there’s nothing they can’t handle. The film does show how awkward and fragile the teenagers can be in matters of love and especially when fighting back, where their military strategies are based on luck.
As well as a story of survival, it is about the loss of innocence, epitomised by a scene with Ellie sitting in her cubby house. Ellie finds it hard to come to grips with the death of soldiers and says, ‘At what point do we loose our souls if we haven’t already?’ The character development from the begging to the end of the film shows a real change, because of their experience of the war.
One noticeable difference from the book is that the movie has been updated for the digital age. The movie begins with Ellie talking into a video camera instead of writing out the story in a notebook. When the characters all arrive back in Wirrawee they all check their phones at the same time and find no signal. ‘It was only logical that when they would all have cell phones, when Ellie wanted to talk to Corrie she was Skyping to her rather than sitting in a cafe, and the laptop would still have battery power when she checked the internet,’ says Beattie.
Some little things have changed in the story, which happens with every adaptation. Beattie says, ‘When we were writing the script, John (Marsden) kept away and that’s probably the best thing he could’ve done. The movie is a different animal than the book, and John knows that.’ The characters are slightly more exaggerated versions of the book characters. Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin) is the rich-girl stereotype, Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings) is the uber-Christian and Chris (Andy Ryan) is a complete stoner (something barely mentioned in the books). There’s also a cameo by Colin Friels, who is excellent as the crazy dentist Dr Clements.
Beattie does include an in-joke when Corrie is reading My Brilliant Career (Miles Franklin). Ellie asks, ‘Good Book?’ Corrie replies, ‘Yeah. Better than the movie.’ Ellie says, ‘Books usually are’.
Tomorrow, When the War Began opens in cinemas nationally on 2 September. Film tie-in editions of the book (Pan Macmillan) are currently available in bookshops. Movie and television sequels will follow if the film is successful.
Read Andrew Wrathall’s article on John Marsden’s response to the movie in the August edition of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.
In the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher Andrea Hanke rounded up some of the picture books that might appeal to fathers of little ones this Father’s Day. Here are her picks:
My Aussie Dad (Yvonne Morrison, illus by Gus Gordon, Scholastic, August) celebrates Aussie fathers in all their guises; My Dad Thinks He’s Funny (Katrina Germein, illus by Tom Jellett, Black Dog Books) explores that sense of humour that’s unique to fathers; and Me and My Dad (Sally Morgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illus by Matt Ottley, Little Hare) introduces a father who isn’t afraid of stinging jellyfish or hungry sharks, but cowers at the sight of a seagull.
Because You Are With Me (Kylie Dunstan, Hachette Children’s Books) is a thankyou to dads for their help and encouragement; Me and My Dad (Alison Ritche, illus by Alison Edgson, Koala Books) is a sweet story about a father and son bear; and there are kisses aplenty with Daddy Kiss (Margaret Allum & Jonathan Bentley, Little Hare) and from the ‘My Little Library’ series Kisses for Daddy (Fraces Watts & David Legge, Little Hare).
You can check out Andrea’s Father’s Day recommendations in the realms of fiction, biography, sport, military, food and wine and much more in the article from page 22 of the magazine, now online here.
Well, the weekend’s election result (or lack thereof) may have taken some by surprise, but it’s not exactly a shock that an election-related title topped the most mentioned chart this week. Jessica Rudd’s new novel Campaign Ruby (Text) has come in at the top of our chart for a second week in a row. Other politically themed titles getting a mention in the chart were Dominic Knight’s story about student politics in Comrades (Bantam) and Mary Delahunty’s political memoir and story of love and loss in Public Life, Private Grief (Hardie Grant). Joe Bageant’s Rainbow Pie (Scribe) and Stephen Daisley’s Traitor (Text) also nabbed a spot on the most mentioned chart this week—Media Extra.
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In the words of author Angus Trumble, The Finger ‘contains a lot of information that may be useful for future inquirers about fingers and finger lore,’ as well as being interesting for the rest of us too. And, hey, I may just be a future-finger-lore-enquirer, because I found this book truly fascinating. Trumble fuses the worlds of medicine and history, sociology and economics, and throws in a bit of sport and combat for good measure. But the focus here is mainly on art and art history. Trumble, from the Yale Center for British Art and former Curator of European Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia, is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about art, and he speaks with reverence of sculptures and paintings both ancient and modern. Yet his wisdom knows no bounds, and he asks and answers many questions that I, for one, would never have thought about—yet am suddenly fascinated by. Why do we point? Why is the middle finger rude? Why do we wear gloves? What’s the deal with nail polish? How do fingers work? You could say we know our fingers pretty much like the backs of our hands … but how well do we really know them?
Hannah Cartmel is a bookseller and former publishing assistant. This review first appeared in the May/June issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.
I think because it’s a story. It’s not a joke or an idea or a comedic premise; it’s a good old-fashioned yarn. And it’s my family’s favorite story. It had been told thousands of times around the dinner table before I put pen to paper. I’d heard it told in different ways and different voices and every time it just got funnier.
The delivery of a story is critical to a writer and a stand-up comedian for very different reasons. Did your method of storytelling have to change to put it on paper? Was it harder or easier than writing for stand-up?
It was different. Not harder or easier, just different. If anything, working the story into a written work allowed me to ‘finish’ the stories. I could take the time to flesh out every scene and find every element of humor. I could also keep the more sincere moments of the story because there wasn’t a live audience saying ‘we need a laugh every 30 seconds or we’ll get bored’. And I think by virtue of taking the time to write it down, it has become the best possible version of this story.
Now you’ve written the story down, have you robbed yourself of a standup routine?
Not really. The book began its life as a stand-up routine. I performed it for 30 nights in a row at the Melbourne Comedy Festival and then at other festivals here and overseas. I feel that it has lived a full life as a routine. That said, having written the book and found new angles on the story, I could definitely stage it again and it would still be a new and challenging thing to try.
Your account of your family in the book is always warm and respectful. Were you ever concerned about how your family would respond to being treated as comic material?
I learned very early in my stand-up career that I had to be careful about how I portrayed my family. I decided to be a comedian, not them. If I was going to share their life, I had to do it respectfully. The first time I really did an autobiographical show, I actually sat at a table and performed it for my parents. It was after that they said ‘Okay, we trust you. We know you’re not out to make us look bad’. The other thing I’ve discovered is that audiences and readers would much prefer to hear a comedian tell funny, happy stories about their family than to use the opportunity as some kind of depressing therapy session.
Have the exploits of your father (your early training) and his goodhumoured nemesis motivated you to stage your own practical jokes? Or did they warn you off?
My father is a practical joking genius of a level I could never aspire to. If anything he has warned me off. I learned from him that if you’re going to be a practical joker it is a career choice and will take a lifetime of dedication. I have instead opted for the non-practical variety of jokes. It’s a little easier to control and there is less retaliation.
There are so many funny stories in this book. Will we be seeing more of the Pickering family in the future?
There are definitely more stories to tell and I plan to write another book soon, but I’ve only just finished this one. For now my agenda is just a cup of tea and a lie down.
Ex-PM Kevin Rudd’s daughter Jessica Rudd graced the cover of the latest Good Weekend in promotion of her new novel Campaign Ruby (Text), and her book was certainly the most mentioned this week. At just 26 years of age, Jessica Rudd is already an ex-lawyer and an ex-campaign worker. Her previous careers must have come in handy when it came to write Campaign Ruby, as her protagonist finds herself accepting a role as financial policy adviser to the Federal Opposition Leader just before the announcement of an early election. In the book, Australia gets its first female PM by a way of a political coup. Perhaps Jessica Rudd is an ex-psychic as well! Also scoring a number of mentions this week were Bret Easton Ellis’ Imperial Bedrooms (Picador), after a controversial appearance by the author at the Byron Bay Writers Festival, and Karl Marlantes’ Matterhorn (Corvus), Jon Bauer’s Rocks in the Belly (Scribe) and Sheila Fitzpatrick’s My Father’s Daughter (MUP).
You can check out our interview with Jessica Rudd in this post.