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review 2019-02-08 23:06
Dark, scary, and gripping.
The Nowhere Child - Christian White

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I’ve read quite a few books by Australian writers recently (Liane Moriarty, Jane Harper, Liza Perrat), and although very different, I enjoyed all of them and could not resist when I saw this novel, especially as it had won an award Harper’s first novel The Dry also won.

Although part of this novel is set in Australia, it is not the largest or the most important part of it. This novel is set in two time frames and in two places, and the distance in time and space seems abysmal at times. The novel starts with a bang. Kim, the main protagonist, an Australian photographer in her late twenties, receives an unexpected visit and some even more unexpected news. This part of the story, the “now”, is narrated in the first person from Kim’s point of view, and that has the effect of putting the readers in her place and making them wonder what they would do and how they would feel if suddenly their lives were turned on their heads, and they discovered everything they thought they knew about themselves, their families, and their identities, was a lie. She is a quiet woman, and although she gets on well with her stepfather and her half-sister, and she badly misses her mother, who died a little while back, she’s always been quite different to the rest of the members of her family, and enjoys her own company more than socialising. There are also strange dreams that bother her from time to time. So, although she does not want to believe it when the stranger tells her she was abducted from a small town in Kentucky as a little girl, she is not as surprised as she should be. At this point, we seem to be in the presence of a domestic drama, one where family secrets are perhaps a bit darker than we are used to, but the plot seems in keeping with the genre. And most of the “now” section of the book is closer in tone and atmosphere to that genre.

But we have the other part. The “then”, written in the third person, from a variety of characters’ points of view. Readers who dislike head-hopping don’t need to worry, though, because each chapter in the “past” section is told from only one character’s point of view, and it is quite clear who that is, avoiding any possible confusion. The story of the background to the kidnapping, and the investigation that followed, is told from the point of view of members of little Sammy’s family, the sheriff (I really liked him), neighbours of the town, and other characters that at first we might not grasp how they are related to the story, but it all ends up making sense eventually. This part of the novel feels much more gripping and dynamic than the other, and although we don’t always follow the characters for very long, the author manages to create credible and sympathetic (or not so sympathetic) individuals, some that we get to feel for and care, and even when they do some pretty horrible things, most of them feel realistic and understandable. And the story of what happened in the past makes for a pretty dark combination of thriller and mystery, well-paced and gripping.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I must say the town of Manson of the novel is a place that seems right out of a dark fairy tale, and I kept thinking of the opening titles of the TV series True Blood (not because of any supernatural thing, but because of some of the images that appear there). While some of the scenes seem typical of a small town in the middle of nowhere, others reminded me of Southern Gothic novels, and, a word of warning: there is violence, and there are scenes that can be terrifying to some readers (although no, this is not a horror novel, the author is not lying when he says he admires and has learned a lot from Stephen King). The story is full of secrets, red-herrings and confusing information, clues that seem clear but are not, and Kim/Sammy is a woman who keeps her emotions to herself, understandably so considering the circumstances. I am not sure many readers will connect with Kim straight away because of her personality, but I understand the author’s choice. If she was an emotional wreck all the time, it would be impossible for her to do what she does and to learn the truth, and the novel would be unbearable to read, more of a melodrama than a thriller or a dark mystery. The part of the story that deals with the present helps reduce the tension somewhat while keeping the intrigue ticking, and although it feels slow and sedate compared to the other part, it does ramp up as they dig into the past and the two stories advance towards their resolution.

Without going into detail, I can say that I enjoyed the ending, and although I suspected what was coming, I only realised what was likely to happen very late in the story. Despite this being the author’s first novel, his screenwriting experience is evident, and he has a knack for creating unforgettable scenes. This is a novel destined to become a movie, for sure, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t.

This is not a typical mystery or thriller, and although it has elements of the domestic noir, it is perhaps more extreme and darker than others I have read in that genre. We have a very young child being kidnapped; we have murder, extreme religious beliefs, prejudice, postnatal depression, a dysfunctional family, snakes, secrets, lies, child abuse, and more. If you are looking for an intriguing read, don’t mind different timelines and narrators, and are not put off by difficult subjects and scary scenes, you must read this one.



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review 2016-07-02 15:23
Dear Mr. Rushdie,
Joseph Anton: A Memoir - Salman Rushdie

Belated Happy Birthday. I don't know how much satisfaction there is to you, these days, in having reached an age which the Ayatollah Khomeini and his acolytes never wanted you to reach, but anyway, since I happen to have been reading your memoir of the fatwā years while you were celebrating your 69th, wishing you well on the occasion of your birthday just seemed in order.


Now having said that, could you please enlighten me as to just what the flying f*ck is up with that third person narrative voice of Joseph Anton? The book is subtitled "a memoir," for crying out loud, and that's precisely what it is – the memoir of one Salman Rushdie, author, of the years when he had to deal with a death order issued against him, for having written a book allegedly offensive to Islam, issued by the supreme religious leader of Iran (notice my not putting that in caps, as a title is wont to be) and loudly propagated throughout the entire Islamic world. It is not, in other words, the would-be memoir of one Joseph Anton, like the characters of the much-maligned Satanic Verses a figment of their author's imagination; an alias composed from the names of two of your own favorite novelists (Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov) and slipped on like an ill-fitting glove that you couldn't get rid of again soon enough, or would have, if Special Branch and the Home Office had let you. It is not the memoir of "Rushdie," the maligned author, separated in public opinion – who for obvious reasons were widely ignorant of the mere existence of Mr. Anton – from the Salman you were privately struggling to remain. It is the memoir of precisely that last person: You, Salman – Salman Rushdie –, proud bearer of a last name that your father had intentionally styled on that of the 12th century sage Ibn Rushd (Averroës) for his enlightened views on religion, and on the world in general. And that being the case, the third person narrative voice of your memoir startled the hell out of me right from the very beginning and remained the one jarringly discordant note until the very end.


Oh, I get it:


"When a book leaves its author's desk it changes. Even before anyone has read it, before eyes other than its creator's have looked upon a single phrase, it is irretrievably altered. It has become a book that can be read, that no longer belongs to its maker. It has acquired, in a sense, free will. It will make its journey through the world and there is no longer anything the author can do about it. Even he, as he looks at its sentences, read them differently now that they can be read by others. They look like different sentences. The book has gone out into the world and the world has remade it."


Very astute: Once a book has been published it no longer belongs to its author alone, but to all of us readers, too. (I actually wish there were more authors, particularly these days, who share that feeling.) But that's not really the point here, is it? Because the story doesn't change. And the story isn't that of Mr. Anton, publisher of vaguely international extraction (as his landlords in London would be told by his representatives), nor of "Rushdie," the first-nameless author of "that terrible book," but – pardon me for harping on it – it's your own story. And to be told that story in the third instead of the first person just didn't feel right, however much you may be distancing yourself in your own mind from the "Joseph Anton" as who you had to accept being addressed even by the protection officers with whom you interacted daily, so as to make it easier for them to think of you as Joe and not accidentally slip in a "Salman" when speaking of you. It seems to me that writing this book actually played a large part in your personal reconciliation with those years. Even more so would it have made sense, then, to be written in the first person: which I suspect (and conjecture from at least one instance of a perceivable slip-up in the transition from "I" to "he") it actually has been, initially. Then why, in the name of everything that is precious (I won't use the word "holy" around you), the switch back to a third person narrative perspective that is so clearly in discord with the narration itself?


It's a heartfelt book, full of the wit, sense of humor, passion and irony, and the trenchant analysis that I've come to love in everyone of your works, fiction and nonfiction alike. I won't even try to imagine what daily life during those years must have been like for you, because I'm pretty sure whatever I can conjure up will still be woefully short of the real thing. (For some reason, probably because of the framework setting of The Moor's Last Sigh, I'd always vaguely imagined your hiding place to be somewhere in Spain. Should have figured it had to be somewhere where the British authorities actually had the power to protect you, which obviously meant somewhere right in Britain.) It was also tremendously enlightening to read about the important role that some of the leading lights of the British and international literary scene have played in, variously, shielding you and supporting your cause for well over 10 years; even if I do admit to considerable envy of your ability to name-drop the likes of Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, Bruce Chatwin, Günter Grass, Václav Havel, Harold Pinter, Antonia Fraser, Martin Amis, J.M. Coetzee, Robyn Davidson, Carlos Fuentes, Ian McEwan, John Irving and plenty of others, not merely repeatedly but sometimes even in the same sentence or paragraph. My envy is even greater, though, for the fact that you actually have read, and are able to discuss in the most everyday, matter-of-fact tone, more than half of the literary masterpieces that are still languishing on my TBR shelf, which I know I should have read ages ago, too, and am promising myself to do just that on a regular basis – without however actually making much progress in the matter.


So yes, I certainly am glad I have read Joseph Anton: It answered a lot of questions I would have had of you if I ever had the privilege of meeting you in person, it shed light on plenty of things that wouldn't even have occurred to me but for your discussing them, and it reinforced my belief that, albeit on the grounds of circumstances that I personally wouldn't wish on my very own worst enemy, yours is one of the most important voices to be heard these days, on the issues of religious fundamentalism, racism, and freedom of speech, as well as the state of the world at large.


I still would have wished for your memoir to be written in the first person, however. That third-person distancing, to me, made the experience just that tiny fraction of a degree less than it could, and absolutely should have been.



Favorite Quotes:


“Nobody ever wanted to go to war, but if a war came your way, it might as well be the right war, about the most important things in the world, and you might as well, if you were going to fight it, be called "Rushdie," and stand where your father had placed you, in the tradition of the grand Aristotelian, Averroës, Abul Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd.”


"This was what book reviewing did.  If you loved a book, the author thought your praise no more than his rightful due, and if you didn't like it, you made enemies.  He decided to stop doing it.  It was a mug's game."


"This was the literature he knew, had always known.  Literature tried to open the universe, to increase, even if only slightly, the sum total of what it was possible for human beings to perceive, understand, and so, finally, to be.  Great literature went to the edges of the known and pushed against the boundaries of language, form, and possibility, to make the world feel larger, wider, than before.  Yet this was an age in which men and women were being pushed toward ever-narrower definitions of themselves, encouraged to call themselves just one thing, Serb or Croat or Israeli or Palestinian or Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Baha'i or Jew, and the narrower their identities became the greater was the likelihood of conflict between them.  Literature's view of human nature encouraged understanding, sympathy, and identification with people not like oneself, but the world was pushing everyone in the opposite direction, towards narrowness, bigotry, tribalism, cultism and war.  There were plenty of people who didn't want the universe opened, who would, in fact, prefer it to be shut down quite a bit, and so when artists went to the frontier and pushed they often found powerful forces pushing back.  And yet they did what they had to do, even at the price of their own ease, and, sometimes of their lives."


“When a book leaves it's author's desk it changes. Even before anyone has read it, before eyes other than its creator's have looked upon a single phrase, it is irretrievably altered. It has become a book that can be read, that no longer belongs to its maker. It has acquired, in a sense, free will. It will make its journey through the world and there is no longer anything the author can do about it. Even he, as he looks at its sentences, reads them differently now that they can be read by others. They look like different sentences. The book has gone out into the world and the world has remade it."


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review 2013-11-14 08:11
Fear and fundamentalist dogma
The Crucible - Arthur Miller,Christopher Bigsby

Many people debate which play would be considered to be the greatest play written by an American and to be honest this play comes pretty close. However, I am not a really big fan of American Literature (in the same way that I am not a really big fan of Australian Literature). I think it would be stretching it a bit to refer to American and Australian Literature as being colonial because I have a feeling that that form of literature is limited to British colonies that had not sufficiently created an identity for themselves, as opposed to Australia and America which in the mid to late 19th century certainly had their own identity (even though at that time Australia was still referred to as 'The Colony').

This play is set during the Salem witch trials that occurred during the early colonial period of the United States (or its precursor) and is a play about what happens when fear takes hold of us to a point that we begin to suspect innocent people of being guilty of committing hideous crimes. This is the main theme that Miller was exploring because at the time of its writing the United States was going through a period known as Macarthyism, a time where pretty much anybody and everybody could be accused of being a communist spy and found guilty on the flimsiest of evidence. In a way Joseph McCarthy's actions were very similar to the actions of the people that were behind the Salem witch trials.

Some people seemed to be surprised that the events that occurred in this play were real events (and have even produced links to the Wikipedia article). Personally, I am not surprised that such events occurred (and since I have been a student of American history, I had heard of that particular period). The thing is that the setting and the culture of the colony would no doubt eventually give rise to such hysteria. Witch trials had been occurring in Europe for well over three hundred years (I cannot be accurate on the dates since I am currently sitting in a plane at 30,000 feet, and while this plane does have internet access, my computer is not set up to access it, and even if it was, I suspect that it would be hideously expensive, so I am happy to go without).

What we had in Salem was a Puritan colony that pretty much existed at the edge of Western Civilisation. To the colonists at the time the original inhabitants of the land were little more than pagan devil worshippers and as such there was no doubt a fear that their haven of puritanical Christianity was in danger of being influenced by the practices of these inhabitants. As such, they did their best to keep themselves pure (as they had originally fled Europe due to being persecuted for practising their own form of religion). In a way, the Puritans were an early form of fundamentalist, though I do not actually believe that there is such as thing as an early fundamentalist because fundamentalists tend to be closed minded in their thinking and that easily crosses the boundaries of sects, denominations, and religions.

Further, it is not necessary that it is a primitive reaction and ignorant understanding of the world because, as Miller subtly points out in writing this play when he did, the exact same thing was occurring in the United States at that time. Further, I have even been to churches where there is an intense fear of the outside world, and that we should only go out and interact with the outside world to bring people into the church, and that any prolonged contact with the outside world has the potential to undermine a person's faith. There is also the question of belief: any belief that moves away from a rigid doctrine is considered heresy and certain actions are banned (such as dancing) because such behaviour has the potential to damn the soul. As such, we come upon the sects who are referred to as 'fun-nazi's' because any form of fun opens us up to sin, and by opening ourselves up to sin opens ourselves up to damnation.

It is not just the Islamic world that is being threatened with the scourge of fundamentalism. Yes, it is true, that there are sects within Islam that consider any deviation from their strict domga to be heretical and members of these sects will kill anybody who steps outside of that doctrine. Further, there are countries were it is illegal to hold any other religion than the religion that is sanctioned by the state. However, while in the Western World we have embraced freedom of religion (which includes the freedom to have no religion whatsoever – if that is actually possible) there are those who rile against it and seek to undermine the freedom that many of us have fought for. There are those who argue that America (and Australia) were originally established as Christian nations and that the reason that we are facing the problems that we are now is because we have wondered from that heritage.

As if we did not face problems when a majority of the people still went to church. If that were the case there would never have been economic depressions, wars, diseases, and all other manner of disasters. I personally am opposed to any form of theocratic state because these states will no doubt end up looking like the community that we see with The Crucible. In a way The Crucible serves as a warning to us, as well as to the people at the time that it was written, and that is that any form of fundamentalism is a bad thing, whether it be religious fundamentalism as in the world of the Crucible, or economic fundamentalism, as we see assaulting us today, and that fundamentalism tends to create the idea of a devil, or a great evil, in an opposing force to make it seem much worse than it really is. To the people of Salem it was the original inhabitants of the land, to the people of the 1950s it was the communists, and today, in modern Australia, the Labor Party takes that role.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/762057433
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review 2010-09-15 11:50
Those who fear that which is different
The Chrysalids - John Wyndham

I remember that when I bought this book somebody said to me that it was brilliant. Having now read it (and it only took me the first ten pages to realise it) I must wholeheartedly agree with this person. This is indeed a brilliant book. As I was reading it I was reminded me a lot of 'The Day of the Triffids' and my hunch was correct that it indeed was written by the same author.

This book is set far into the future. The world has been destroyed by nuclear war (we assume, though it is never actually spelled out) and the setting is a small collection of villages on the island of Labrador. The village is inhabited by humans who believe that they are the true image of God. The reason for this is that we are told that only two books survive from the old time, the Bible and an interpretation of the Bible called Repentances. It is from Repentances that the belief of the villagers about the true form comes. They believes that unless one has the form of a human as we know it then they are cursed and are cast out of the village to live on the fringe. An animal that is deemed to be deviant (as well as crops) are automatically destroyed. However, it is only the obvious defects that are usually found out because the hero of the book (David) and a group of his friends have the power of telepathy, however they quickly learn that they must keep this ability a closely guarded secret.

The introduction to this book compared it with 1984 in that it is really a criticism of British society at the time of writing (1984 is an anagram of 1948, the year the book was written). It is sad that science fiction and fantasy have degenerated to the corporate rubbish that it is today, though there is still a lot of quality writing available. The Chrysalids is about change and a society's resistance to it. It is interesting that looking back at the 50's we do not see the problems that are raised in the book, and the only fear that I know of was the fear of communism. However it is difficult to link communism with the mutants in the Chrysalids. Further, it is difficult to picture a church as powerful in the 50's as it was in the book. However, it is possible that the idea is that the church in the book represents the government, and that the mutants represent thinking and belief that is in opposition to the government of the day. While people were not killed or exiled for differing beliefs, the red scare did lead to a lot of needless persecutions (which is similar to Arthur Miller's The Crucible, which, while set in Salem during the witch hunts, was reflective of the communist purges of his times). However, the Chrysalids is not about people being falsely accused for ulterior motives, but rather a fear of change and the unknown, and those who show difference are hated. Even more so, where the telephaths (or, as I believe, the Chrysalids) are concerned, feared intensely because the norms simply cannot know who they are.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/187588849
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