BOOK REVIEW: I Came to Say Goodbye (Caroline Overington, Random House)

Caroline Overington’s second novel proves her as an author whose following is destined to grow in leaps and bounds. Jam-packed with family issues, it’s a gripping blockbuster that booksellers can recommend unreservedly—and especially to book clubs. Told mostly in the voice of beleaguered father Med Atley—an uncomplicated country bloke whose wife leaves him to raise three children on his own—it tracks the story of his wayward and simple daughter Donna-Fay, who struggles with mental illness. Her disturbing life decisions lead to a teen pregnancy with a no-hoper sociopathic boyfriend and her ongoing battle with Community Services. The determined efforts of Med and his older daughter Kat to obtain custody of the baby are both heart-warming and compelling. It hardly seems possible that Overington can pack so many themes into one story—abandonment, mental health, education, unemployment, welfare, child custody, parenting, our family court system, immigration and multiculturalism. All of them are handled with sensitive and thought-provoking aplomb, guaranteeing a cracker of a conversation with any fellow reader. With great commercial appeal, Overington has the potential to leave Jodi Picoult’s sales trailing in her dust.

Scott Whitmont is the owner of Lindfield Bookshop and Children’s Bookshop. This review first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Most mentioned books this week

Who is left behind when a family falls apart? Caroline Overington explores this question in her latest book I Came to Say Goodbye (Bantam), which topped the most mentioned chart this week. Also receiving several mentions this week were Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall (HarperCollins), in which successful Manhattan art dealer contemplates leaving his wife for her younger brother; celebrated Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly’s How to Make Gravy (Penguin); Free-range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had without Going Nuts with Worry (Wiley), in which Lenore Skenazy argues that in a world where the rights of chickens to roam freely are championed, it’s time to liberate the kids; and Corinne Grant’s Lessons in Letting Go: Confessions of a Hoarder (A&U)Media Extra.

Top picks from the current issue

Which books got good reviews in the October issue of Bookseller+Publisher you ask?

Well…

The proof copy of Caroline Overington’s novel I Came to Say Goodbye came covered in glowing quotes from Random House staff who’ve read the book and our reviewer Scott Whitmont has joined the chorus. He calls the novel ‘a gripping blockbuster that booksellers can recommend unreservedly’ and predicts Overington’s following ‘is destined to grow in leaps and bounds’.

Toni Whitmont was impressed with That Deadman Dance by Miles Franklin winner Kim Scott (Picador, October), suggesting it will ‘surely attract consideration for a raft of major prizes’. ‘While the story is compelling,’ writes Whitmont, ‘what makes this an extraordinary book is the writing. Scott’s prose shimmers.’

Andrew Wilkins was equally taken with a collection of work by the late Dorothy Porter. Love Poems (Black Inc., October) ‘brings together poems and song lyrics from across Porter’s career, gathered into sections that suggest love in its various phases’ and is ‘simply an essential collection of Australian poetry,’ says Wilkins.

Other eagerly awaited books being reviewed in this issue include Tim Flannery’s Here On Earth (Text, October), which Eliza Metcalf says is ‘an important read’. ‘Flannery traces our species’ evolution and expansion out of Africa and across the globe, noting the trail of destruction we left in our wake,’ she writes. ‘The picture he paints is a fairly devastating one, but also quite awe-inspiring.’

Paul Landymore assures readers that When Colts Ran, the new novel by Roger McDonald (Vintage, November), lives up to expectations raised by the author’s Miles Franklin win in 2006. ‘If you’re a fan of Australian literature then I’m sure you will find this book, as I did, a deeply satisfying read,’ writes Landymore.

Deborah Crabtree, our regular music book columnist, was taken with Paul Kelly’s How to Make Gravy (Hamish Hamilton, October), a book that grew out of series of performances Kelly put on in 2004. ‘Part memoir, part tour diary, part song-writing manual, this sprawling book is filled with all manner of letters, lists, confessions, hymns and yarns,’ writes Crabtree, adding that the book gives Kelly ‘space to explore his storytelling skills further, which he does admirably, weaving in and out of the past and present easily and with an intimacy that invites the reader into his world’.

And that’s not to mention Lloyd Jones’ Hand Me Down World (Text, October), Kate Holden’s The Romantic (Text, October), Things Bogans Like (E C McSween et al, Hachette, November), Toni Jordan’s Fall Girl (Text, October), and many, many more…

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