Reynje's Reviews > Holier Than Thou

Holier Than Thou by Laura Buzo
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's review
Mar 03, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: australian, contemp-or-realistic, favourites, it-s-complicated, read-2012, young-adult, books-that-linger

4.5 stars

Perhaps it’s stating the obvious but I think there’s a direct correlation between a reader’s engagement with Holier Than Thou and the reader’s own experiences of life in their early 20s.

Maybe I felt an affinity for this book because I was 22 when my mother first – gently, cautiously – suggested to me that I consider looking for another job because my current one was making me bitter, angry and generally distrustful of people. (It was.) Maybe I felt it because, while I am a bridge-burner to the point of pyromania, I am also a deeply nostalgic person, hoarding scraps of my past and the memory of long uncontacted friends, pulling them out in secret to inspect and mourn over privately. Maybe I felt it because I saw in Holly something of the rigid defences I had built up around myself, and the tendency to bristle under any perceived threat to the exacting system of belief by which I measured and judged myself. Maybe it was the way I found myself inured in apathy and a general malaise that was no longer counteracted by a sense of worth and accomplishment (or admittedly a sort of bitter self-righteousness) in what I was doing with my life.

Or perhaps it’s just because this novel makes me think of sticky pub carpet underfoot and sunburn and hot sand and long, idealistic conversations in which I naively gave away parts of myself to people I would eventually lose, intentionally or otherwise. It makes me think of a sense of abandon and recklessness I lost long ago, of an ability to throw myself - into situations, into ambitions, into rooms, behind ideals, at people. It makes me remember how all that gung-ho toughness I thought I had developed was actually barely even holding me together. That everything I kept compartmentalised inside was eventually going to reach critical mass and manifest in some messy and irrevocable fashion. That while I thought I had been keeping my chin up and soldiering on, I was actually absorbing all the emotional dross I had tried to ignore and eventually I would have to wring myself out and see what was left.

What I’m trying to say, is that while I don’t indentify with every aspect of Holly herself, I identify with this book’s portrayal of grief and longing and disillusionment so much it hurts. My personal and critical readings of this book are too closely intertwined for me to separate them and speak about one without referencing the other. And of course, that’s not how every reader will respond to it. Perhaps they’ll see something self-indulgent, or at least self-inflicted, in the gradual unravelling of Holly’s life. But the concept of a person holding themselves hostage to their personal system of beliefs is one that I can identify with, and part of the reason this book resonates with me.

Laura Buzo’s writing feels familiar and comfortable. While both Good Oil and Holier Than Thou are novels that spark something deeply nostalgic in me, there’s immediacy to her writing that prevent her stories and characters from stagnating with the passing of time. Rather, the way she writes brings back past events into sharp focus, all the awkwardness and yearning of adolescence and the blustering navigation of the 20s with startling clarity.

Holier Than Thou loops backward and forward through Holly’s life, interweaving the past with the present to contextualise the eventual breakdown of her system of internal order. In a way, her past informs her present, and the regret and grief she harbours, constantly presses down, will eventually work its way out to infiltrate and alter the life she has carefully built for herself.

Similarly, Holly’s relationships, both past, present and those that exist through both, in some way influence the path her life takes. And here is where Buzo really excels for me, in the authenticity of these characters and the richness of their interactions – not only in their banter and familiarity – but in the way they evolve. Buzo depicts the natural and forced changes in friendships, and the loss thereof, with a sort of biting poignancy. She captures the fact that not all relationships survive change intact, and that the ideals we hold about those we love will inevitably be challenged. In Holier Than Thou, Buzo articulately conveys the bereft sensation that accompanies this knowledge, and the longing and confusion of unresolved history.

The deconstruction of Holly’s stoicism and her “holier-than-thou” mentality is a thorny area to navigate, yet I think Buzo wrote this with empathy and insight. Sometimes, I feel that when someone doesn’t give the desired or expected response to a given situation, its possible to deny them of their right to their feelings. While Holly’s manner of dealing with loss and change may seem less relatable to some, or her tendency to batten down the emotional hatches may not endear her to others, is she less entitled to express her grief?

Further, the novel addresses the issue that change is not always as simple and clear cut as it may seem from the outside. That extricating oneself from a pattern of thought and years of suppressed emotion can be a painful and complicated process.

Which brings me to this idea:


While I agree with the theory and sentiment behind it, I don’t believe that this one size fits all solution works as smoothly for everyone. For some people it might be a matter of flipping a switch in their head. For others, it’s a horrible process of ripping out their internal fixtures and settings, sandbagging the gaping holes left behind.

For me, that’s what this novel is about. Acknowledging that Holly’s journey can’t be reduced to a series of aesthetically pleasing circles and arrows. That there’s mess and jagged edges and no easy solutions – but there is something beautiful and powerful in recognising that fact.

* * * * *

Until I get around to writing an actual review, I thought I'd knock together a Holier Than Thou playlist, comprised of songs/artists mentioned in the book and some other stuff that I just thought fit. It's a bit out of order and I might have missed someone in there..

(*) denotes an artist or song referenced in the book.

1. Mace Spray - The Jezabels
2. The Bucket - Kings of Leon*
3. Rabbit Heart - Florence + The Machine*
4. Evil - Interpol*
5. Jona Vark - Gypsy & The Cat
6. Run The Red Light - British India*
7. Somebody That I Used To Know - Elliott Smith*
8. Endless Summer - The Jezabels
9. Jungle - Emma Louise
10. These Days - Powderfinger
11. Straight Lines - Silverchair
12. The Submarine - Whitley
13. Falling Away - Big Scary ("an ocean of disappointment" is my favourite song lyric of all time)
14. Somersault - Decoder Ring
15. Beast of Love - Cloud Control
16. Seven Nation Army - The White Stripes*
17. I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ - Scissor Sisters*
18. Hearts A Mess - Gotye (For Trin!)
19. I Thought You Were God - Clare Bowditch*
20. Last Day On Earth - Kate Miller-Heidke
21. Blood - The Middle East
22. Into My Arms - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds*
23. Big Jet Plane - Angus & Julia Stone
24. Precious Things - Tori Amos*

Bonus Fact - if my memory does not deceive me, The Jezabels is the band that Frankie & co are going to see in The Piper's Son
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Reading Progress

March 3, 2012 – Shelved
April 30, 2012 –
page 30
10.31% "So. Good."
April 30, 2012 –
page 52
April 30, 2012 –
page 71
24.4% "Spicks and Specks reference FTW!"
April 30, 2012 –
page 78
26.8% ""What are your legs?!" -- Gallipoli"
May 1, 2012 –
page 230
May 1, 2012 –
page 231
79.38% "Incidentally - this book is going to be released in the US under a different title. I'm willing to wager that it will also be somewhat... censored. I'll eat my hat if they leave all of the dialogue intact."
May 1, 2012 –
page 232
Started Reading
May 2, 2012 – Finished Reading
September 22, 2012 – Shelved as: australian
September 22, 2012 – Shelved as: contemp-or-realistic
September 22, 2012 – Shelved as: read-2012
September 22, 2012 – Shelved as: favourites
September 22, 2012 – Shelved as: it-s-complicated
September 22, 2012 – Shelved as: young-adult
September 22, 2012 – Shelved as: books-that-linger

Comments (showing 1-50 of 58) (58 new)

Sarah Oooooh! I am so excited for this! I'd been wondering if she had anything coming out...

Reynje So am I! I loved Good Oil, and this one sounds like my kind of book..

Choco I just bought the ebook too! The problem is I won't have time to read it for a while.. *sobs*

Reynje I'm excited to start this.. hope you get to read it soon, Choco

Catie Oh, I am soooo curious about this. I hope it's good. I've heard the ending is ambiguous and that just makes me want to read it even more.

message 6: by Gabriela (new) - added it

Gabriela Milanes I'm so jealous! I feel like this book is never going to come out in the states. I'm considering buying this on fishpond. Would it be ridiculous to move to Australia just for the books? :)

Reynje Catie - I'm really enjoying it so far. The characters are in their early twenties and I am relating so hard right now :)

Gabriela - I think I heard that it's coming out in the US later in the year under a different name?? Or you could just move to Australia! I think you'd love it. :)

Isamlq oh lord! I loved GOOD OIL. I hear this is good too. I want/need this one!

Reynje Isa - I think if you loved Good Oil, you'll like this one too :) Hope you get to read it soon!

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

yay! love my shout out & this playlist :D

Emily This is really cool, Rey. But what about Tori Amos?! :)

Reynje Emily wrote: "This is really cool, Rey. But what about Tori Amos?! :)"

ARGH! Nice catch, Emily.. Thanks!

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

How did we forget her?? Haha! p.s (view spoiler)

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Rey baby for some reason they're all linking to The Jezabels...well the first 3 anyway

Aly (Fantasy4eva) i read the spoiler.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Aly no! Why???? Back away from the spoiler! OMG back away!

message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Also it's been way too long since I've listened to The Bucket! *dances with nostalgia*

Aly (Fantasy4eva) hahahhaa. i am so nosy. but i've read your guys spoilers in the past, and well, they tend to never be spoiler-y. boooo

i will just block it from my mind.

is it better than good oil. i need to read both!

message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

*hangs head* I'm so sorry, I should've put a warning.
I liked it more but I still really liked Good Oil.

Aly (Fantasy4eva) heyyy np :)

i think i might give this one a go first then! going to review it?

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

Yes when I can think of something coherently worthy enough.

Amanda I don't think Trin's comment is a huge spoiler, there's a bit of a twist or potential twist at the end so it's open for interpretation!

Trin - I'm going to message you!

message 23: by [deleted user] (new)


message 24: by Jenna (new) - added it

Jenna Love the playlist!

Reynje GAH! *goes to fix links*

Catie This is such a great playlist Rey! I'm loving the last minute Tori Amos addition.

P.S. Mr. Ocean of Disappointment has EPIC hair!

Listening to all of them now. :)

Reynje Catie wrote: "This is such a great playlist Rey! I'm loving the last minute Tori Amos addition.

P.S. Mr. Ocean of Disappointment has EPIC hair!

Listening to all of them now. :)"

Thanks Catie! I can't believe I missed Tori Amos *facepalm*

Catie She doesn't have an asterisk - is there another reason you added her in? Obviously I haven't read the book yet but I'm curious!

Catie Also P.S. I am so in love with that first song.

Reynje It didn't have an asterisk because I am an idiot :) Fixed!

The Jezabels are amazing! I particularly recommend: A Little Piece, Dark Storm, Sahara Mahala, Easy to Love, Rosebud ... well, they're all good..

Catie I'm loving the video for Endless Summer. LOL! She showed them where to go. By shooting them in the chest.

What's up with that guy's face? Is it just mud?

Thanks so much for the songs! Going to have a marathon now. I'm having such a review-writing block at the moment. Maybe the Jezabels can help me get through.

Catie I'm really liking this one: Horsehead. All of their albums are so cheap on Amazon right now!

They are like the love child of Heart and The Cranberries.

Lenni I think I'm just going to have to go down to the shops and buy this one tomorrow. This playlist is just too awesome for words!

Reynje Thanks Lenni - looking forward to hearing what you think :)

Lenni I literally just finished it and, oh my word I loved it! And the playlist was the perfect accompaniment to my reading so thank you :)

message 36: by Jess (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jess Brilliant playlist. My song to contribute is "Thirteen" by aKido. :)

message 37: by Jess (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jess @ Trinity, I can't stop thinking about this book either! For some reason it's had a profound effect on me. I bawled when I read it!

Shirley Marr What playlist really is complete without "Last Day on Earth" eh?


You should make this into a mix tape and send it to Laura.

message 39: by B0nnie (new) - added it

B0nnie Thanks for taking the time and trouble to make that playlist Reynje

Meryl Three things to do this weekend:
- Get a copy of Holier than Thou
- Download all the songs in this playlist
- Listen to said playlist while reading said book

I cannot wait!

Emily Unliked so I could like again :-) I love your reviews, lady!

I really want to review this but... I'm so attatched to this book that it would probably come out all muddled. I just love it with all my heart.

Reynje Thank you so much Em! And I know what you mean, for so long I avoided reviewing HTT. I still don't feel like I've expressed my feelings about it very well :/ I could talk (or type) for hours about this book.. So many thoughts!

message 43: by [deleted user] (new)

Beautiful review, Rey. :-) You got so personal and emotional- my favourite types of reviews, haha. :-) And The Jezabels! I adore their music so much. <3

Reynje Thanks Leanne - I can't seem to stop myself from going on personal rants sometimes.. I love the Jezabels too ♥

Reynje Haha! Thank you Jana! (I love that song)

Maja (The Nocturnal Library) Honestly, Rey, I know I've said this before, but I don't know why the rest of us even bother.

Reynje Well, I do - because you write brilliant reviews :) (But thank you, lovely!)

Amanda Oh Rey, I had my hand over my heart while reading your intro and was thinking "Me too" I connected with Holly for the same reasons you did. Wonderful, brilliant, amazing review :) xox

Catie Reynje you made me cry! This review is so amazing - one of my favorite reviews. I related to this part so much:

"For some people it might be a matter of flipping a switch in their head. For others, it’s a horrible process of ripping out their internal fixtures and settings, sandbagging the gaping holes left behind."

I am a serial bridge-burner too - with personal relationships anyway. I don't really see myself being able to change that. Even though I've tried and tried to just hold myself back and be superficial as much as possible, I still tend to dive into relationships, exposed-underbelly-first. I'm just not good at hiding things; for better or worse I tend to be all or nothing with people. I still feel like it's worth it though. Don't lose your recklessness, Rey. You are strong enough to weather the burnings and someday you'll find one that's fireproof, or at least worth putting out.

message 50: by Jenna (new) - added it

Jenna Rey, if the book is anywhere near as beautiful as your review, it must be amazing. I relate to this so much. Just amazing.
Totally want to read this now.

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