Christopher Koch's The Memory Room is a book that's hard to define. The story centres on three individuals working for Australia's Foreign Affairs depChristopher Koch's The Memory Room is a book that's hard to define. The story centres on three individuals working for Australia's Foreign Affairs department - Derek Bradley, Vincent Austin and Erika Lange, though Vincent is working undercover as a spy. Essentially, the theme of the book is secrecy but ask me to read deeper than that and I can't.
I found The Memory Room to be an relatively read, at times even compulsive. But I also find it hard to dig deeper into my feelings about it. I wasn't expecting any sort of exiting spy shenanigans that might feature in a Bond film, a Le Carre novel or an episode of Spooks, so I wasn't disappointed on that score. But I did find it a strange read, one I can't quite put my finger on.
This might have been what Koch was going for – in which case well done.
To credit Koch, the settings – Tasmania, Canberra and Peking (now Beijing) – are well captured and the prose is beautiful. But it's a pity that's the only other positive thing I can say about this book.
My first problem is the characters. Vincent and Erika are vividly drawn, but they seem too cartoonish to be real. I didn't believe in them as human beings, couldn't relate or sympathise with them. Additionally, I hated the writing for Erika and the way she was treated by the narrative as this unstable, mysterious cardboard cut out of a woman. Derek Bradley is perhaps the most human character, but a vague sort of blob that serves as a translator and commenter for the audience and not much else.
Then there's the plot which is not there so much as a set of loosely connected scenes from their lives. Seriously. I'm not sure what the plot was – how Vincent joined and then left the Australian Secret Intelligence Service without achieving anything much, despite being given chance after chance when he screws up.
And while the book is about secrecy, it's hard to find a message about it. In fact, the book doesn't seem to be saying anything about anything or anyone in particular. And with all things considered, I find that The Memory Room is mildly distasteful. There's nothing in the book to make me care. ...more
An unnamed man known only as "M" comes to a remote community in Tasmania, posing as a researcher. He is there for one thing: to hunt down the last livAn unnamed man known only as "M" comes to a remote community in Tasmania, posing as a researcher. He is there for one thing: to hunt down the last living thylacine (better known as the Tasmanian Tiger) and butcher it, taking samples and organs for a multinational biotechnology firm who will pay him handsomely.
It's really hard to know how to rate this book. It is a disturbing and utterly disgusting story and I hated M so much. I wanted to punch him in the face repeatedly. I wanted bad things to happen with him. I wanted the book to end with the thylacine – who was never known to kill humans – getting a nice meal out of M. The fact that I wanted him to fail goes without saying from the beginning to the book.
I mean, M is a man who decides to hunt down the last surviving animal of a species believed to be extinct for money and takes pleasure in it. And the less said about his attitudes to sex and murder the better (though, thankfully, the two are not intimately connected). There is no redemption or growth for him – he comes to do a job, he does it, pats himself on the back when he's done and moves on.
There are no expletives strong enough for my burning hatred of him.
But. But. The prose was exceptional. It was a really beautifully written, compelling, gripping book, however disturbing the content. I have no doubt that there are people like M, who would take the life of the last surviving animal of its species and not give a single fig about it. The hunting and poaching of endangered animals continues in the real world, after all. And as long as people like M exist, narratives like this should exist to throw light on such terrible aspects of humanity.
(I did find it somewhat amusing that I picked this book up at the Lake St Clair National Park in Tasmania despite the rather unflattering depiction of two National Parks rangers in the book.)
My only criticism of Julia Leigh as the author of this piece is that there a couple of brief moments that seem to hearken back to the colonial view of the thylacine as a demonic and vicious killer that should be exterminated. I don't know whether Leigh was relying on old information or was trying to make M's actions seem somewhat justified or whether I'm being exceptionally sensitive, but I did not like these brief moments at all. Thylacines were tarred with a bad reputation and hunted to extinction. This is the tragedy of the species and the sin of humanity. It was not justified then and sure as hell isn't justified now.
The book has been adapted into a film that, according to wiki, presents a somewhat sanitised and more principled M and thylacines suspected to have paralysing venom in their bite (what the hell?). I have no intention of watching since I cannot stomach the thought of actually watching someone kill a thylacine....more
South of Darkness tells the tale of one Barnaby Fletch, who, through a series of misadventures, is transported to the new convict colony in Botany BaySouth of Darkness tells the tale of one Barnaby Fletch, who, through a series of misadventures, is transported to the new convict colony in Botany Bay, Australia. Roughly speaking, the story is divided into three separate parts. The first details Barnaby's life as an orphan on the streets of London, the second the voyage from England to Australia, and the third Barnaby's arrival in the colony.
I was keen to read this book because I have a little interest in Australia's convict past (visiting Tasmania's Port Arthur and other convict sites did what years of school education could not) and because the author, John Marsden, was an author that defined my reading habits as a teenager and I was keen to try his first book "for adults".
I thought he did well in making that leap. Though no stranger to writing about difficult subject matter, this is felt like a darker and grittier story than his previous books, but I didn't feel like he deliberately wrote something that screamed "look at how adult this writing is". While there is some grim content, such as paedophilia and rape, it felt like Marsden had written about it because he was acknowledging that it did occur and it would have likely for Barnaby to witness and experience it. Marsden handles it deftly – recognising it occurred but never describing it in lurid detail – and it's inclusion feels like a natural storytelling decision rather than a decision to include as many shocking details as possible.
Marsden captures the landscapes of the murky 18th century streets of London, a convict ship and the fledging English settlements in Australia in exceptional detail. I really enjoyed getting to hear about a few little quirks of Australia's early history. I'm pretty sure this is his first foray into historical fiction, but I hope Marsden continues to write in this genre because he does it so well. Barnaby's voice, that narrates the story in first person, past tense, felt very authentic.
However, I did not find Barnaby particularly likeable. He wasn't unlikeable, but more bland – I didn't feel like I knew him very well by the time I finished. Additionally, I didn't find myself as engaged in his narration as I could have been – Marsden's other protagonists often kept me glued to the pages, but not Barnaby. I would suspect that this was due to the style of the writing – like I said, it felt very authentic, like it was written in the 1700s, but this did create a distance between me and the character and events
I felt that the later parts of the book felt a bit too coincidental – too many faces from the past coming back into Barnaby's life at the same time as he's handed a miracle on a plate. Additionally, I felt like the last sentences of the book were a bit too obviously "there's going to be a series! Or at least a sequel!" rather than being a proper end.
Still, this was a good read and I feel like Marsden has transferred from the Young Adult to (adult) historical fiction genre very well. I'd definitely pick up any future books for adults he writes. ...more
Jessie Cole's Deeper Water is the story of Mema, a young woman who has lived most of her life in remote Australian hinterland. This is a simple, albeiJessie Cole's Deeper Water is the story of Mema, a young woman who has lived most of her life in remote Australian hinterland. This is a simple, albeit isolated life, social contact limited to her family and a few others, just as isolated as Mema is herself, if not more so. Mema is content with this life, happy to remain within her own little bubble. However, her rescue of a strange man, trapped in a flooding creek, becomes a catalyst for change and growth.
This is a truly awesome novel, which had me hooked from the opening line:
They say every hero has to leave home, but what those first steps are like I'm yet to know.
Like Mema's world, the novel Jessie Cole has crafted is undeniably beautiful and haunting. The prose is deft and light (but never light-weight), allowing this sense of calmness and quietness to permeate, but it maintains a sense of rawness and perfectly captures Mema's confusion and growth throughout the story. Imagine a lake. The surface is calm, barely a ripple, but underneath, the water is teaming with life and movement. That's Jessie Cole's writing.
Cole's characters are rich and detailed. No one – at least no one present in the narrative – is painted wholly good or wholly bad, with their flaws and good traits allowed to shine. For example, Hamish – the stranger than Mema rescues – is allowed to be seen as both incredibly and thoughtful and a man who uses women for his own gratification. I also particularly adored Anja and was a little sad that we didn't see more of her.
Mema's home, and the nearby town and community, are well developed, showing both the beautiful and ugly sides to this small, often close-minded, community. Setting is paramount in this story and Cole delivers beautifully.
I really, really loved the complexity of Mema's relationships with Hamish and the local boy, Billy. The relationships could easily be reduced to overly simplistic, somewhat stereotypical tropes. Hamish, while serving as the catalyst for Mema's growth, is not presented as someone who opens doors for Mema, whisking her off to a new, better life. Nor is the character of Billy used as a rebound figure, to ground Mema after a flight of fancy.
I'm really struggling to write this review because Deeper Water is such a stunning book. I don't feel like I can properly do it justice but I do highly recommend it.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley for review. ...more
I enjoyed reading Tasmanian Devil: A Unique and Threatened Animal more than I enjoyed reading David Owen's Thylacine: The Tragic Tale of the TasmaniaI enjoyed reading Tasmanian Devil: A Unique and Threatened Animal more than I enjoyed reading David Owen's Thylacine: The Tragic Tale of the Tasmanian Tiger. I felt as though the writing style was a step up (possibly due to co-author David Pemberton?) and the story was less tragic. After reading this, I cannot take any reading that suggests the devil is anything but an adorable badass.
Owen and Pemberton trace the devil's origins and history within Australia, tackling not only how it came to extinction on the mainland and how it survived white settlement in Tasmania when the thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) didn't, but also discussing Looney Tunes' Taz and concluding with final chapter dedicated to the tragedy of the Devil Facial Tumour Disease.
Obviously, it's a great resource on the devil and does much to combat the devil's poor reputation. Plenty of personal stories about the devil allow its character to be glimpsed. Like I said: it's an adorable badass.
As with Owen's Thylacine, Tasmanian Devil: A Unique and Threatened Animal was published in the early 2000s and then reprinted in 2011, without revision. Some things have changed: a disease-free colony has been set up on Maria Island, but more things have stayed the same: the 1080 poison is still being used (at the ZooDoo wildlife park, we were told that they no longer brought roadkill in to feed their devils due to the risk of 1080 poisoning) and primary industry is the government's priority (the federal government plans to allow logging in Tasmania's World Heritage-listed Tarkine Forest).
Apart from the need for some updated information, Tasmanian Devil: A Unique and Threatened Animal is well-worth the read. It's perfect for someone like me who lacks the specialist knowledge. Everything is well-explained and written for a general audience. ...more
I really, really enjoyed this. I thought it was going to be something belonging in the light and frothy genre of chick-lit/romance fiction and insteadI really, really enjoyed this. I thought it was going to be something belonging in the light and frothy genre of chick-lit/romance fiction and instead it was this extraordinary beautiful, gentle read about Mary, an elderly woman moving out to Bruny Island to wait for her death, and Tom, her son, haunted by a one-time visit to Antarctica.
Karen Viggers has a clear skill in re-creating the atmosphere of those incredible locations. Bruny Island, an island off the south coast of Tasmania, is beautifully captured – at first I thought it was because I had been to Bruny fairly recently (in fact I bought this book at the Kettering visitors centre, waiting for the Bruny ferry), but Antarctica too is beautifully captured and I most definitely haven't been there.
The book is not without fault. The relationship between Mary and Leon, a park ranger co-opted into checking on her, moves a bit too quickly. One moment, he resents being saddled with Mary, but soon he's very fond of her. The resolution Leon reaches in the book feels almost-jarring in its suddenness – it's a bit too neat, a loose end tied up so we can finish the story without wondering if Leon will ever be free. Mary receives a mysterious letter in the prologue, obsesses about it at times (it even serves as the catalyst for her journey to Bruny), but Viggers doesn't drop any hints on what's it about before revealing its contents at the very end (to be fair, I had guessed what it would say).
That said, The Lightkeeper's Wife is a truly wonderful read by a truly wonderful author. It was far, far, far better than what I expected. ...more
I really, really don't want to review this because I'm pretty sure it would just be an embarrassing love letter to Cate Kennedy, begging her to keep wI really, really don't want to review this because I'm pretty sure it would just be an embarrassing love letter to Cate Kennedy, begging her to keep writing because I am insanely in love with her short stories. ...more
Not far in, I wasn't too hopeful that I'd finish this book, much less enjoy it as much as I did. Anna Romer's writing style to me seemed a bit clunkyNot far in, I wasn't too hopeful that I'd finish this book, much less enjoy it as much as I did. Anna Romer's writing style to me seemed a bit clunky and amateurish. However, braving the early chapters that set up the location, I found the mystery at the heart of the tale that kept me rapt in the story and very forgiving of the occasional bit of clumsy writing.
The main appeal of the book was the mystery. It became swiftly apparent that Romer has an incredible skill in crafting a mystery (or mysteries) with enough twists and turns that kept me guessing and desperate to work out what was going on. The tension levels are raised until a truly satisfying ending, with only a few niggles for me.
(view spoiler)[Cleve's supposed death – he is shot, put in a car which is then sunk in a lake. Yet he somehow survives even though his wife and son never see him surfacing from the lake? And then somehow manages to survive for decades without anyone knowing? I also would have liked more information on whose body it was in the truck that everyone thought was Cleve's. (hide spoiler)] And then there's the fact that even though it's 2005, no one seems to have a mobile phone? At one point, someone makes a point about how there's no "cell" reception out in the bush... but no one seems to have one so why would they care about reception? If mobiles are the norm, why aren't they using them? And, for that matter, why are Australians calling mobiles cell phones? Is this a Queensland-only thing?
(okay that one's a bit petty)
And I really couldn't warm to Bronwyn, the protagonist's eleven-year old daughter. This is really petty because she's eleven years old and has just lost her father, but I never understood her motivations and often felt that she came across as annoying, bratty and ignorant instead of the bright-beyond-her-years that we're constantly told she is. In addition, I thought the love story of Audrey and Danny could have easily been cut – it was cute, yes, and not objectionable, but added very little to the story.
I wouldn't be shy of picking up Anna Romer's next book. The mystery at the heart of Thornwood House were incredibly engaging, and I think that Romer has potential as a writer. My main niggles with the book are fairly minor and petty and with such a tight and tense plot, the occasional bit of clumsy prose didn't throw me off. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A decent enough collection of short stories, though not one I need to keep on my shelves. There seemed to be an over-abundance of stories that have aA decent enough collection of short stories, though not one I need to keep on my shelves. There seemed to be an over-abundance of stories that have a disquieting note to them and the few stories I liked a lot I already own in different collections....more
In 1692, the Dutch East India Company ship, Batavia, was wrecked off the coast of as-then undiscovered Western Australia. Stranded on an island with nIn 1692, the Dutch East India Company ship, Batavia, was wrecked off the coast of as-then undiscovered Western Australia. Stranded on an island with no fresh water, things looked dire. When the senior officers, including the captain and the commandeur, left to find drinking water a man called Jeronimus Cornelisz took charge and began a reign of terror where murder and rape came to be the norm.
The Company retells of this dreadful time through the eyes of Cornelisz himself, which is tricky to pull off. With a story so dark, told with the voice of such a disturbed and depraved individual, it could really be an incredibly off-putting book. Who, after all, wants to read about these vile acts as narrated by the man who caused them all?
Yet there's a deftness of touch there. Edge lets us know how awful Cornelisz, his "council" and his actions were, but never rams in the knife to make us see it in vivid technicolour. Most acts are mentioned, only briefly described, if ever – which would normally be seen as a bad or weak writing, but works here because a vivid description would be nauseating. It also makes some sense for Cornelisz to describe these atrocities in sparse terms.
I was not expecting to find this a decent read, was drawn to the book by the possibly accidental aged appearance of the book and the cheap price tag. I would never call this an enjoyable or pleasant read, but I will say it is a decent read, albeit dark and grim and not for the faint-hearted....more