I recently came to a realisation about my book and film tastes that, while obvious in hindsight, was a bit of a 'Eureka!’ moment for me. It happened w...more I recently came to a realisation about my book and film tastes that, while obvious in hindsight, was a bit of a 'Eureka!’ moment for me. It happened while watching some action movie with a friend, and by watching I mean spending two hours scratching my nail polish off because I was bored to tears. It hit me that no amount of blowing things up or chasing things on screen or on the page will hold my interest if the characterisation isn’t there. For me, stories are about the characters, above all.
The first time I read Finnikin of the Rock I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I wasn’t a big reader of fantasy and I had a sort of deep, emotional attachment to Marchetta’s contemporary novels. I grew up reading Looking for Alibrandi in the school library. I found comfort and empathy for my own experiences in Saving Francesca. I cried ugly tears over On The Jellicoe Road (and I do mean ugly).
Then I read Finnikin and I felt as if someone had pulled that nice, comfortable, contemporary carpet out from under me. I’m probably a classic example of something Marchetta has spoken about openly: the way the US audience initially embraced her fantasy novels more readily, while her Australian readers were more reticent, clutching their copies of Alibrandi and giving Finnikin the side-eye for a while.
On reading Finnikin of the Rock for the second time, however, it finally clicked for me that rather than just writing “contemporary” and “fantasy” novels, Marchetta writes about people. Whether her setting is Sydney’s western suburbs or the imagined Land of Skuldenore, whether her plot incorporates bridesmaid dress shopping or a blood curse, the stories are first and foremost about the characters: who they are, what they want, what drives them.
For that reason, I think this subsequent reading really solidified in my mind what a strong novel Finnikin is. Because all of these characters feel like real people. They are fully formed and vital on the page. They are engaging and relatable. And their stories resonate. Fantasy setting aside, the conflicts and relationships with which Marchetta fleshes out the novel are relevant and familiar, and they transcend the parameters of a single genre. This time around I felt I had a better handle on the world, and it was the relationships that struck me, the bonds between the characters that Marchetta carefully constructs and grows as the story progresses.
Without discrediting the intricacies of the plot and world building, which are considerable, if I could reduce my summary of the novel down to a few words, it would be that this is a book about displacement and hope. A people removed from their homeland and families, subjected to atrocities at the hands of enemies and prolonged exile – and how this affects them both collectively and individually. How they respond when they are broken down, scattered, compelled to live as fugitives or refugees. How language and culture unite a people. And how the struggle between hope and fear plays out in a people divided, dispersed and grieving.
It’s probably fair to say that my appreciation of this novel has increased on rereading it. Whether that’s because I just paid more attention this time, or I’m simply more used to the concept of “Marchetta-fantasy” now, I don’t really know. But I do understand now what a strong, complex book it is, and why its widespread love is deserved.
* * * * * This is actually a re-read, but I removed it from my "Read" shelf so I count it in 2012.
Suppose Season One of Veronica Mars and Rian Johnson’s 2005 neo-noir film ‘Brick’ met in dark alley for a secret liaison, and the result was...more2.5 stars
Suppose Season One of Veronica Mars and Rian Johnson’s 2005 neo-noir film ‘Brick’ met in dark alley for a secret liaison, and the result was a book. If you are anything like me, you’d assume that book would be awesome, right? It would be darkly toned, with hardboiled, gutsy characters and razor-sharp dialogue wrapped around a tight, switch-backing plot. You wouldn’t be able to put it down and the grit would be practically leaching off the pages onto your fingers.
Despite the clear potential, I’m not sure that All Unquiet Things is that particular lovechild book.
Given the synopsis of Anna Jarzab’s debut novel, I think it’s fair to say that some readers would see similarities in terms of genre and themes between this book and the abovementioned television series and film. From Jarzab’s website:
All Unquiet Things centers around the murder of teen heiress Carly Ribelli, who was found shot to death a mile from her house in a wealthy Northern California suburb. Carly’s uncle, a dissolute alcoholic, was convicted of the crime, but a year later his daughter still doesn’t believe her father is guilty. Determined to prove his innocence, Audrey Ribelli contacts Carly’s ex-boyfriend, Neily Monroe, the boy who found Carly’s body. She is convinced that he knows more than he thinks about the events that led up to Carly’s death. Despite Neily’s initial reluctance, he and Audrey begin their investigation at the posh private school they attend, identifying prime suspects from among their spoiled classmates and digging up secrets about Carly’s past to get to the truth behind her murder.
To her credit, Jarzab has crafted a reasonably tight murder mystery and the care she has taken with her plotting, clues and red herrings shows. It’s a structurally sound novel, so to speak, in that it works as a mystery and the details have been carefully thought out. Information is revealed and withheld with precision in order to keep the story taut and well paced.
However, what All Unquiet Things packed in premise and potential, I feel it lacked somewhat in execution.
The story is told through the alternating perspectives of Audrey and Neily, and while this works for the purpose of the plot, I didn’t find their respective voices to be particularly distinct. For a large amount of the book, I felt that the two characters blurred into one as they were quite similar in tone, despite the fact that much was made of their difference in lifestyle and background.
It’s possible that it was due to this lack of a distinctive quality to the narration that also I found the main characters difficult to emotionally engage with. In fact, this story as a whole failed to resonate with me because I just didn’t connect with the characters or their lives. I kept reading the book out of interest as to how Jarzab would eventually show her hand and reveal the murderer, how she’d pull off the denouement, rather than out of any real investment in Audrey, Neily or even Carly. While I don’t require that I like characters, I’ll admit that my enjoyment of a book hinges largely on how compelling I find them.
I would say the attention to minutiae and plotting in the book, while absolutely necessary, also lends the story a slightly.. methodical feel. Rather than darkly atmospheric and gritty, making the most the “noir” aspects of the genre, the prose seemed slightly clinical. Which makes for crisp reading, but not so much for vivid setting and ambiance, which I something I feel that this story could have really played up a lot more than it actually did.
Anna Jarzab’s ‘All Unquiet Things’ was well-written, considered and carefully conceived. I will definitely read her further work, as I believe Jarzab will go from strength to strength from her solid debut.
However, given the (mostly) unrealised potential for awesome (view spoiler)[a fairly unscientific measure, I’ll admit (hide spoiler)] and the lack of investment I felt in the characters themselves, this wasn’t off the charts for me in terms of reading enjoyment.
Edit: I really like this cover. Creep-tastic. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Every so often a book comes along that I have an intense, visceral reaction to. ‘Stolen’ is definitely one of those books. I read it rapidly, entangle...more Every so often a book comes along that I have an intense, visceral reaction to. ‘Stolen’ is definitely one of those books. I read it rapidly, entangled in the narrative, and when I closed the book I felt like someone had just delivered a sound, steel-cap booted kick to my chest. I just sat there feeling winded, trying to come up with a word for exactly what I was experiencing. In the end, I’d say I felt bereft. Shaken, disturbed, yes, but also a strange yearning for something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Written in the form of a letter from 16 year old Gemma to her captor, Ty, ‘Stolen’ is a powerful book, recounting Gemma’s experiences as she is taken from Bangkok airport to the Australian outback.
It is a testament to the skill of the author that as a reader you are compelled to run such a gamut of emotion, one that closely mirrors Gemma’s mental journey. Perhaps even to the point where you feel what Gemma feels as she, arguably and subject to your interpretation, develops Stockholm Syndrome. I found myself relating to and grieving for a person who committed a terrible act. Discovering empathy for a character who is deeply troubled and unstable. Treading the thin line between love and obsession. Sanity and insanity. Gentleness and evil.
The story takes you through panic and fear. Anger. Hurt. Confusion. Denial. Revulsion. Compassion. Manipulation. Trust. Attraction.
And then it flips all of that on its head and asks you to question everything you feel. Is it real? Or were you and the narrator manipulated? What is fitting justice for a criminal who’s strange and twisted logic you have almost come to understand? It is a complex, beautifully conceived novel that lingers long after the final page. I found myself thinking about the characters for days afterwards, and analysing my feelings about the ending.
I also need to mention how much I adored Lucy Christopher’s use of the setting, her portrayal of the danger and unique beauty of the outback. Almost a character in its own right, Christopher really captured the vastness of the landscape, while also heightening the claustrophobic sense of isolation of being, literally, in the middle of nowhere.
Of course, this won't be a story for everyone. It's troubling, challenging, but ultimately moving and thought provoking. A definite favourite. (less)