WORD Christchurch: Juno Dawson Gender Games

WORD Christchurch Juno Dawson: Gender Games

Given the subject matter at hand, a 10am Saturday session with Juno Dawson could easily have been a dark and morose affair – addictions, mental illness, gender and sexuality are all key themes in Dawson’s body of work, though it was ultimately a light and enlightened session, which has encouraged me to look deeper into her work.

Juno-DawsonGender-GamesDawson has published work in both Young Adult and Non-Fiction. Conversation for a time moved around the way that Young Adult, as a category, is often very liberating for writers in terms of genre, with romance, horror, fantasy or drama all ultimately ending up in the same place in the bookstore. This has allowed her writing to shift between styles in a way that Adult Fiction’s more rigid genre divisions wouldn’t allow. Dawson’s background is in education, though she deliberately doesn’t use her fiction as a means to try and educate young people, there is a wonderful sense here of the ability to create worlds where the hard discussions and intensely personal feelings of youth around identity and substance (ab)use and sex can be raised and thought about and considered in a safer way by locating them in fiction.

Of note also was discussion on Doctor Who (Dawson has been commissioned to write the first novelisation of the Dr) and of the transformative power of the Spice Girls, for those who were of the right age in the 90s. I can only look back hazily on the world before those 5 iconoclasts entered, but it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to consider their important part in making the world a safer place to be queer or questioning as a teenager than it was before.

Reviewed by Brett Johansen

Book Review: Afternoons with Harvey Beam, by Carrie Cox

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_afternoons_with_harvey_beam.jpgIf we listen to talkback radio, we form a relationship with the host, love them or hate them, and Afternoons with Harvey Beam is a book which takes the reader into the life of a talkback host, his problems, his loves and his family.

Harvey Beam left his small home town of Shorton to work in talkback radio in Sydney but after many years his popularity is waning and he is facing redundancy.

When the head of HR says, ‘What I see is a man no longer making connections, a man who is not happy in himself, a man who is not playing nicely with the other kids, and all of that equals bad radio,’ Harvey believes his biggest mistake is ‘not sleeping with the head of HR’.

Being called back to Shorton because his father is dying gives Harvey time to think and reflect on his life and where he is going in the future.

Beam’s entire family still live in Shorton and the reader is introduced to his mother, brother, and two sisters as well as his father Lionel .He still has a good relationship with his ex wife and his daughters as well as his mother but finds his sisters behaviour challenging and his brother Bryan is not at all welcoming. But it is his father’s hostility which is at the heart of the book and the reader is never fully informed what has caused the dysfunction between the male members of the Beam family. As Harvey takes time to reflect we learn about his divorce as well as his parents split, but a talkback session reminds him ‘it all starts and ends with family.’

I enjoyed this book. It was well written with pockets of humour, and the author is able to write with great clarity to reveal the strength and emotions flowing amongst the characters. There is hope for the future as new relationships develop and family ties are strengthened but I was disappointed more was not revealed about what had caused the hostility between Harvey and Lionel.

An interesting Australian family drama, the book will appeal to a wide age group both male and female.

Carrie Cox is a journalist , author, tutor and mother who lives in Perth Australia This is her first novel but she has written two non fiction books, Coal , Crisis, Challenge and You Take the Road and I’ll Take the Bus.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Afternoons with Harvey Beam
by Carrie Cox
Published by Fremantle Press
ISBN  9781925591088

Book Review: Mazarine, by Charlotte Grimshaw

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_mazarine.jpgWhen Frances Sinclair loses contact with her daughter Maya, travelling in Europe with her boyfriend Joe, the Auckland writer begins to feel alarmed as, ‘It was unusual. My girl had always kept in touch’.

But when she came home to find her ex-partner Nick inside her townhouse and an assault takes place, she borrows her neighbour’s car and drives away. ‘The only idea I had was to get out of town, to go south and find a nice motel where I could decide what to do next.’

Award winning author Charlotte Grimshaw is a wonderful descriptive writer and her use of short and long sentences intensifies her writing. ‘For half an hour, the downpour slowed and there was a last showing of watery evening light, then the squalls intensified, and huge rain roared on the corrugated iron roof. Still I lay on the sofa, not moving.’

Grimshaw takes the reader on a road trip to the Waikato where Frances meets Joe’s Mum Mazarine and they share their family concerns and Frances makes a decision to fly to London. ‘I’m going to tell everyone I’m doing research for a book. And when I find the kids, that’s what I’ll do, I’ll make a start on a novel set in London and Paris.’

Following the narrative thread left by her daughter, Frances travels through cities touched by terrorism and surveillance, joined at times by Mazarine, and was it just in her imagination that she sighted Nick around London?

This is a complex read in which the author touches on many modern issues, bringing them together in a gripping novel which has enough mystery to keep the reader guessing until the end.

I enjoyed this book and anyone who enjoys reading about modern family life, and taking a deeper look inside oneself will find this a rewarding read. ‘Two selves. One understood: the situation had changed and Mazarine’s reaction was rational, there was no reason for us to stick together, after all we had just as much chance of finding our children if we separated. This self processed : words, reasons, solutions. The other self didn’t understand and wouldn’t be calmed or soothed, this other self cried out and smashed its own face and beat its hands against-.’

Even the cover of this book is a joy, the beautiful design by Kate Barraclough is fresh and original. Mazarine explains in the book, ‘A Mazarine Blue is a kind of butterfly….. …..Actually, Frances, the male of the species is deep blue, but the female Mazarine is brown, which is kind of confusing’.

Charlotte Grimshaw is based in Auckland where she writes a monthly column in Metro magazine which won her a Qantas Media Award. She has written a number of novels and short stories which are featured in the back of this book alongside three pages of reviews.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Mazarine
by Charlotte Grimshaw
Published by Penguin Random House NZ
ISBN 9780143771821

 

Book Review: The Sparsholt Affair, by Alan Hollinghurst

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_The-sparsholt_affair.jpgThe Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst is an ambiguous tale of the permeating aftershocks of encounters with the charming David Sparsholt: war-hero, strong-man, closet gay man prior to the British sexual liberation of 1967. Set over five parts, numerous narrators give us peep-hole insights to the influence and lasting touches of Sparsholt, and cleverly leaves the unspeakable to occur behind blinds, during blackouts (of both varieties), and between parts. Be warned: the Sparsholt Affair is not entirely what it seems.

We are first introduced to David Sparsholt as an entry in Freddie Green’s memoir of Oxford during the war, in ‘that brief time between sunset and blackout when you could see into other people’s rooms’. Spied by Green and his contemporaries Evert Dax and Peter Goyle, Sparsholt’s impressive aesthetic ignites a male infatuation that will both mire Sparsholt’s life and carry the novel. Sparsholt is an engineer and athlete training for the RAF, and is embroiled in sexual scandal from the outset thanks to the ‘rhythmical creaking’ from his room during visits from his to-be wife, Connie. Sparsholt’s blatant heterosexuality seems to only fuel the intrigue as Green, Dax, and Goyle each fall into pursuit of Sparsholt in their own ways. Between the suggestive war time black-outs, this competition is won by Dax, and recorded as told to Green. Sparsholt is doused in secrecy and scandal, spoken about in the same way neighbours may trade gossip in whispers before an inevitable disgrace.

Leaving Sparsholt’s war to occur in the part break, the novel now jumps to 1965, where Freddie Green’s literary journal has been replaced with a contemporary yet equally insightful narrative from the perspective of Johnny, Sparsholt’s adolescent son. Sparsholt is now a war-hero and established industrialist, married to Connie. Together with Connie, Johnny, French exchange student Bastien, and the Haxbys, the story moves to summertime in Cornwall. The Cornish setting allows air to two flames: that between David Sparsholt and the noisome Clifford Haxby, conducted in secrecy yet with a recklessness that makes one’s stomach turn somersaults, and simultaneously for Johnny – the typically sexually repressed English teen – who is besotted with his liberal French counterpart, Bastien. Should Johnny not have been so consumed by his own pubescent crush, he might have had warning of the scandal his family was on course for.

The story jumps again, this time into Evert Dax’s house in London post the 1967 decriminalisation of homosexuality. We re-connect with Evert as Johnny Sparsholt, now a strapping young gay man, enters Evert’s house as an art restorer. Oblivious to the relationship once shared between his father and the paunchy old art enthusiast, Johnny is both eager to gain a place in the gay scene based at Cranley Gardens and naïve about the intentions of those around him. We learn that the actual Sparsholt affair that was so pregnant in the previous setting has been and gone between parts, and we turn the pages in eagerness for a climax, trembling for the revelations that might come with it.

But Hollinghurst holds back, denying us any juicy details, giving us only scraps: ‘money, power, gay shenanigans…it had everything!’ This is somewhat frustrating, as up until this point the reader has been led to believe the explosiveness of the affair was the carrot we’d been patiently chasing. Once the disappointment abates, however, the Sparsholt Affair morphs away from a legacy instead into a story of life’s vice and drama, particularly for gay men in a liberated London. It is a generational comparison, pulling a colourful contrast of experience from each side of 1967.

By the 90s we are led by Lucy, the child (born in the part-break) of Johnny and a lesbian couple who had requested him to ‘do a baby for us’. We see Johnny finally in the new millennium, where parenting and dating apps have again revolutionized the gay landscape. Johnny does his best to adapt, as a successful portrait painter who suffers love, loss, and reincarnation.

As a first-time reader of Hollinghurst, his tendency to let pivotal scenes happen between the parts can leave you feeling crestfallen, but the Sparsholt Affair withstands these temporary disappointments as one begins to recognize the larger, comedic, and charming design of the story.

Reviewed by Abbie Treloar

The Sparsholt Affair
by Alan Hollinghurst
Published by Pan Macmillan
ISBN 9781509844937

Book Review: Force of Nature, by Jane Harper

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_force_of_natureThis is the much-anticipated second novel from Jane Harper. Her debut, The Dry, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript and the film rights were snapped up. Jane Harper lives in Melbourne and has worked as a print journalist in Australia and the UK for thirteen years.  I loved her debut and was keen to see if her second novel was as engaging. I was not disappointed.

In Force of Nature, we once again meet Aaron Faulk, a Federal Police Agent working in the rugged outback of Australia (he in The Dry, and too good to be a one-novel wonder). He is asked to help to search for a woman missing in the bush. While five women embark on a corporate team building exercise, only four make it out three days later. For Faulk, this is more than a missing person case, as the woman is his key source for an investigation into her employer’s dealings.

Faulk is a man troubled by his past, a little of which was exposed in The Dry. We again glimpse his background through a series of tramping maps left to him by his late father. These maps include the area of the search, and Faulk is forced to recall his memories and ] re-evaluate his ideas about his father.

The Australian landscape is very much a part of this story. The bush, the mountains and the struggle to exist in a small town. I like Harper’s style. She keeps the pace up but manages to capture patterns of speech and the guilt of survivors. As the story unravels, we discover all is not as it first appears. There are tensions within the family company, and suspicions among the staff. This is the stuff of an excellent crime novel.

Force of Nature is a great Australian crime novel because we are drawn into a world where land and man work together to reveal the truth. This is the Christmas novel that will be passed around our family and never actually make it back to me.

by Kathy Watson

Force of Nature
by Jane Harper
Published by Macmillan
ISBN 9781743549094

Book Review: To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

to_the-bright_edgeBeautiful writing depends on many factors: a desire to tell a good tale, interesting characters, a challenging setting, but above all, an ability to weave words through a landscape. Eowyn Ivey has done all this and more in her novel of exploration, love and cultural sensitivity s\set in Alaska in the late nineteenth century.

We find Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester commissioned to forge a new trail up the Wolverine River to the Yukon. While these place names may now be familiar after the gold rush, they were home to tribes and spirits from another time when he set off with his small group of men. The harsh environment plays an important role in this story, as do the tribes who cling to their seasonal territories. The relationship between explorer and Indian is based on a trust which is easily upset.

Left behind is Forrester’s young bride, Sophie. She also faces loss, loneliness and the pressure to resist her own intellectual curiosity. Her decision to develop her interest  in photography shows the challenges women faced when deciding to pursue activities beyond home and hearth.

The framing of the narrative is superbly achieved as an elderly relative of the Forresters’ seeks to archive the remaining family documents, back in the Wolverine territory. An unlikely friendship develops between the elderly, Walt, and Josh, the young curator of the museum, himself a Wolverine descendant.
A series of catalogue entries of artefacts and photographs as well as contemporary documents are interspersed between the chapters. This adds an air of authenticity which is deserved, as the research for this book was extensive.

I enjoyed the simultaneous stories and the way they all came together to create such a beautiful tale. Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel The Snow Child gave promise of more good reads to come. I was not disappointed.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

To the Bright Edge of the World
by Eowyn Ivey
Published by Tinder Press
ISBN 9781472208613

Book Review: This Must Be The Place, by Maggie O’Farrell

cv_this_must_be_the_place_smlAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

Some people have complicated lives, complex families and confusing memories. Daniel O’Sullivan is one such person, and while he is a New Yorker by birth, this love story is set mainly in the wilds of Ireland. Throughout the book, we follow his journey to discover what really matters in his life. His marriage to a reclusive ex-movie star adds mystery to the tale and it takes some time to unravel his children and hers, his friends and her secrets, his mistakes and her quirkiness.

Maggie O’Farrell has written a sophisticated book which draws you into a love story with a difference. I am always surprised to see how a writer gets inside relationships and identifies the issues which surface years in to the partnership. It is not obvious where this story will lead and the changes of location as well as the people on the journey add variety to the telling.

Daniel is a linguist who embraces change in language, and wonderful words are very much a part of this story. While he lectures on words, he himself struggles to use language clearly to communicate feelings. This reticence leaves confusion behind, and the events of his childhood and time at university, need to be re interpreted to find the real truth.

I thoroughly enjoyed the world painted between the covers. I love language and found it being used superbly to captivate me over a cold winter week in bleak Christchurch.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

This Must be the Place
by Maggie O’Farrell
Published by Tinder PRess
ISBN 9780755358830