Obsession or escape?

What do you know about dead things? How do they make you feel?

Charlotte (Lottie) seems oddly fixated on dead creatures – collecting them from her local neighbourhood in the hope of preserving them. Her interest extends to anything at school which alludes to preserving life, such as the embalming rituals of the Egyptian culture. Is there a reason for this?

Her Aunt Hilda (who cares for her, and her father, since the death of her mother) struggles to cope with Lottie’s obsession, calling it crazy and unhealthy. Thus she constantly tries to block Lottie’s collection and preservation attempts.

In his own grief, Lottie’s father also struggles. However, as a scientist, he supports her investigations – and encourages her scientific curiosity and interest in taxidermy.

In “The Art of Taxidermy”, death, grief and emotions are both raw and beautiful. Mix in a few elements from the past (an immigrant history) and cultural conflicts of the time (mid 60’s?) and you can understand the turmoil Charlotte/Lottie and her family experience.

As a verse novel, the reading flows easily. (If you haven’t tried a verse novel before, this is a good one to choose.) Australian readers will lap up the vivid and concise descriptions of all that Charlotte finds beautiful – dead or alive e.g.:

The corellas were grazing
with a scatter of galahs.
We sat on a fallen log
and watched them squabble and tussle,
beat their wings and waddle
like hook-nosed old men
with their arms tucked
behind their backs.

What some might struggle with is her fascination with ‘dead things’. But then, that may be the key to understanding the issues of dealing with premature death – from sickness, accidents and war – to intentionally make you uncomfortable. Through all these things, Sharon Kernot explores how we might feel in this wonderful, but heartbreaking verse novel. Don’t hesitate – read it – available from your school library – and in ebook version from other sources too!!

Have you read a verse novel in the past? Did you like it?

Don’t you love Kernot’s descriptions of the Australian countryside? Which part is your favourite?

Why do you think Aunt Hilda is so much against Lottie’s ”obsession”? Is it the right choice?

Note: this book is shortlisted for CBCA honours this year. Will it be a worthy winner?

Choices – Nine Days by Toni Jordan

nine daysWe are all connected to our past; to our relatives and to choices – sometimes choices and determinations made by someone else.

‘Nine Days’ opens with the voice of Kip as a young boy, dealing with a grieving mother and the family situation which has resulted from his father’s untimely death. Kip is accepting, but seems unfairly dealt with; he is the younger twin sent out to work, while his spoilt, 7-minutes older brother is able to remain at school.

In his ‘day’ we learn much about the Westaway family, whose history unrolls as further chapters unfold. The days that follow deal with other members of Kip’s family and across four different generations, with many questions along the way…

How was his older sister, Connie trapped/ affected by the attitudes of the times? Did the favouritism offered to his twin brother, Frank, lead to a prosperous and happy lifestyle?

For Toni Jordan, this is her third novel; though it differs from her past books. Inspiration began with a photo – shown on the front cover of the book. From this, Jordan has magically woven and interwoven her tales of the Westaway family, each chapter dealing with a defining day in the life of one of the family members.

‘Nine Days’ feels like a bit of a jigsaw puzzle to me. Since the chapters focus on one individual in the extended Westaway family, then jump across time and back again. As a reader you have to join the pieces together to see how they fit. It raises a number of different issues, and makes you wonder how things might have turned out differently with slight changes to choices made by some of the characters. Indeed, some chapters leave you with a sense that more could be told. In many ways, this is a sign of a good book –  it shows the reader is hooked and wants to know more.

Many people have commented favourably on this book – particularly online at GoodReads (a great site to share everything about great reading!). For a longer review, see http://whisperinggums.com/2012/09/09/toni-jordan-nine-days-review/. For an interview with Toni Jordan about writing ‘Nine Days’, see the video below:

# ‘Nine Days’ was a winner recently in the Indie Awards for Best Fiction 2013 – http://www.indies.com.au/BookAwards.aspx

Mothers’ Love? – the Light between Oceans

What would you do if a baby washed up in a boat, accompanied only by her dead father? Would you wonder what had happened to her mother? And if you lived on a remote island housing a vital lighthouse, how would you go about reporting the lost (and found) baby?

Add another complication – you are a young couple who have faced the loss of several babies before they had time to even be; the last being stillborn just a few weeks previously. Is the baby perhaps a gift from God? Why was she alone in the boat with a dead father? Perhaps her mother had also perished?

Tom and Isabel live a solitary life as lighthouse keepers. Together they decide on a path which is always destined for sorrow and trouble. By the time they have their regular visits to and from the mainland, Lucy has well and truly become part of their life. Isabel’s parents, who live in on the mainland welcome their only grand-daughter with open arms, convinced of course that she really is their flesh and blood. And Lucy delights all who see her. How can they change the course of action they have slipped into by caring for baby Lucy?

This is an amazing debut novel for M.L. Stedman – told with gentleness and mystery. It succeeds in getting you to change your point of view, depending on whose story you are reading at the tim, without making you feel you have deserted one of the other characters. There are many different perspectives from which they can all be judged, as Stedman reveals the inner workings of each person in the tragic turn of events.

And as a reader you can sympathise with each one: Tom the solitary returned soldier; his wife, Isabel grieving several miscarriages; Isabel’s parents who have lost their sons to war; and of course, Hannah, who has lost both a husband and a child.

Though set in a fictional coastal community, the Light Between Oceans represents what life might have been like for those performing essential duties along our coastlines in times gone by.

As the author states: “The plot of THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS isn’t based on personal experience, other than to the extent that it’s set in Western Australia, where I’m from, so the landscape and weather hopefully have an authentic feel” ( comments from a GoodReads forum about her book). The setting describes the isolation of this part of Australia (and the lighthouse even more so), heightened even further by its post war time period. The tale reflects things which might occur in relationships when life doesn’t always give people what they want.

The impacts of war, isolation and loss are some of the key issues Stedman weaves into this tale of several tales, and the reader is left guessing, never quite sure of the final outcome. While the pace of the story has been criticised by some, it really just echoes the way things would have been before communications were so instant, and gives the reader time to consider how different things might have been in the past.

Movie options have been discussed, and the book has recently won the Indie Awards for a Debut novel. For more about M.L.Stedman see: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/interview-ml-stedman-20120322-1vkty.html

What did you think of the book?