Silence is not always Golden

Golden BoysGolden Boys by Sonya Hartnett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sonya Hartnett’s Golden Boys is a novel of simmering tensions. Set in a sleepy small town, a new family, the Jensons, arrives and on the surface they seem perfect. Rex and Tabby and their boys Colt and Bastian (great names) have a clean, beautiful home and the boys have all the toys and games any child could want. But Colt lives his life on a knife edge, sick of his father and the way he ingratiates himself into the lives of others, particularly the other kids of the neighbourhood. Enter their neighbours, the Kileys. Joe is a drunkard and his wife, Elizabeth, barely tolerates his presence most of the time. They have six children and possibly another on the way. Freya aches to be rid of her father – he disgtusts her – and Syd and Declan wish they could stand up to him more.

This story concentrates on the minutiae of the lives of these two families and the friends of the children – Garrick and Avery. The characterisations are expertly drawn – no words wasted on flowery prose when simple imagery will do. As you delve deeper into the lives of the protagonists and those that surround them, you can feel the pressure building steadily. I only started this book yesterday and I picked it up today and had to keep going until I was at the end. I was expecting something to happen, and it did, but not in the way I expected. That is the genius of Hartnett – she leads you down a path and then diverts you to exactly where SHE wants you to go.

One passage in the book, where Freya asks her mother,”Why did you marry Dad?” is a total heartbreaker. I won’t go into more detail here, as I would consider it a spoiler, but there is a searing honesty in this conversation that took my breath away.

At the end of the book I just wanted to tell all the kids it would be okay, that the world IS a good place, but the whole point of the novel is them realising that it really isn’t – even if adults say it is. There are no neat resolutions here, nothing comforting apart from the knowledge that these children are stronger than they realise and that perhaps they are more empowered going forward.

Thank you, Sonya Hartnett, for giving us such a gift, and making it so compelling.

For ages 15 and up.

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Invisible Movies? See them here!

The Greatest Movies You'll Never See: Unseen Masterpieces by the World's Greatest DirectorsThe Greatest Movies You’ll Never See: Unseen Masterpieces by the World’s Greatest Directors by Simon Braund

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this book for Christmas 2013, along with I Am Malala and Doctor Sleep (neither of which I have yet read, I am embarrassed to admit). This title was one I had anticipated for some time, so it makes sense I would pick it up first.

It is basically a pocket history of movies that were planned, written and sometimes began filming, yet never ended up being completed or if made, released. Starting in the 1920s and ending as recently as 2012, the contributors describe projects from the who’s who of the film industry that never reached fruition.

Orson Welles features quite prominently, in fact he had a junked project in every decade until his death in 1985. Steven Speilberg’s name appears a few times, alongside notable directors such as Eisenstein, Coppola, Lean, Burton, Scorsese, The Coen Brothers, Hitchcock, Kubrick – and many many others.

I found it fascinating to learn more about the machinations of the movie industry, in particular the ravages of securing funding and recalcitrant studio heads who could change their minds with a click of their fingers, consigning an erstwhile amazing film to the bin in an instant.

Some ideas metamorphosed into other projects. Steven Speilberg’s 1980 idea, Night Skies, contributed material to E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Terry Gilliam’s The Defective Detective had concepts that were incorporated into The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

If you have a favourite director from the last 50 years or film, the odds are they will make an appearance here. Each article features a “Will It Ever Happen?” tag at the end where a score out of ten is given. The highest score is 5/10, reserved for Speilberg’s The Trial of the Chicago Seven, David Fincher’s (Seven, Fight Club) Black Hole and Blomkamp’s (District 9) Halo: The Motion Picture.

The saddest part of reading this book, for me, was the amount of projects that sounded so fantastic on paper but just didn’t have legs for various reasons. I found myself constantly thinking as I read this book “I would see that – and that – and that!” At least it shows that with all their clout, even acclaimed directors have their also-rans. It gives me hope for the rest of us plebs!

Anyone with even a passing interest in movies would enjoy this book, I think, because of the quirky subject matter. There are plenty of great illustrations and photographs, including poster art for every “non-movie” featured.
Highly recommended!

A Narrow Road to an Emotional End

The Narrow Road to the Deep NorthThe Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I say about this book that has not been effusively said already? I am sorry to say I put off reading this book for a while because I knew some of it dealt with POWs along the infamous railway in Burma. Whilst the passages about the camps and the railway are harrowing, I feel for the first time after reading them that I finally have an inkling of how horrendous these places, and their place in history, were. Flanagan does not step back the atrocity, he takes it on and it is a memorable and emotional experience. As one by one members of Dorrigo Evan’s company die or cholera, malnutrition, gangrene or beating by the Japanese colonel and his guards, part of him dies too and us as well.

Not all the imagery is horrific, thankfully, and Flanagan’s prose soars. His descriptive powers are elegant and precise.
“Backdropped by woodlands of writhing peppermint gums and silver wattle that waved and danced in the heat, it
was hot and hard in summer, and hard, simply hard, in winter.” (p. 4)
This can only be an Australian landscape being described here. A few pages on, there is a superb description of a game of kick to kick in the school yard, with its pecking order and etiquette (recently featured in the sport section of the Sunday Age) that captures it perfectly.

“The smell of eucalypt bark, the bold blue light of the Tasmanian midday, so sharp he had to squint hard to stop it slicing his eyes, the heat of the sun on his taut skin, the hard, short shadows of the others, the sense of standing on a threshold, of joyfully entering a new universe while your old still remained knowable and holdable and not yet lost – all these things he was aware of, as he was of the hot dust, the sweat of the other boys, the laughter, the strange pure joy of being with others”

Sublime.

Dorrigo Evans is an enigmatic character and the book swings back and forth between his life before and after WWII, and the years in the POW camp where he served as doctor. In his life before the war, Dorrie has an affair with Amy, who happens to be his uncle’s wife. Amy is his touchstone through the rest of his life – as the one woman whom he really truly loved.
As well as Dorrigo’s story, we also glimpse the lives of some of the Japanese officers and guards after the war, as well as some of Dorrigo’s men who survived the Camp.
I will not give spoilers here, but my favourite part of the book occurs quite late in the story, at a place called Nikitaris Fish Shop. As you read the novel, look for this name – you will understand once you reach the end of the novel. The other moment I found very affecting involved Dorrigo finding out more about Darky Gardiner (a prisoner brutally bashed to death in front of the other prisoners over the course of several hours) – it was truly a gasp-out-loud moment.

Thank you, Richard Flanagan, for being a beacon in the Australian literary landscape, both as a writer and a damned fine human being too.

Defintiely a book for ages 16 and up. Anyone younger would find it too much to bear I think.

You won’t want to wake up….

Nightmares! (Nightmares!, #1)Nightmares! by Jason Segel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nightmares! is a fun little book about a scary subject. Charlie Laird lives in an imposing purple mansion in Cypress Creek with his dad, little brother Jack and his stepmother, Charlotte. When we meet Charlie, he is not sleeping well. He is plagued by nightmares every night about a witch who wants to eat him. Is the house haunted? As the dreams continue, Charlie becomes convinced that his stepmother is also a witch, who is somehow helping the witch from his nightmare. To make matters worse, it looks like the witch has kidnapped Jack so she can cook him up for her dinner!
One night after waking from a particularly terrifying nightmare, Charlie sees the witch running into the forest with Jack thrown over her shoulder. One thing is even stranger, the forest is where the wall of his stepmother’s studio used to be. Without thinking, Charlie races after them and into an amazing adventure where he must rescue Jack, and others, from the Netherworld – the world of nightmares.
Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller have penned a little gem. This story has just the right balance of dark humour, pathos and heart-warming moments to hold the attention of any child. Charlie got on my nerves a bit at the start, but I guess that was the idea – to allow the reader to see just how weird and irrational he was becoming. Charlie’s friends, particularly Paige and Alfie, are fabulous and a wonderful foil to Charlie’s lack of self-awareness. They call him on his over the top behaviour and don’t let him get away with much (as best friends are supposed to).
Because this is a book for children, there are happy endings (for some) and they are reached in a way that teaches the child reader a lesson without beating them over the head with it (always a plus in my book). There is a sequel on the way, so it will be interesting to see how that develops. Not all the ends were tied up, so there is definitely scope for more to happen in the Netherworld.
For ages 8 and up

A Goddess Indeed…

GoddessGoddess by Kelly Gardiner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kelly Gardiner’s Goddess is an engaging version of the life of La Maupin, Julie d’Aubigny, in 17th Century France. Julie is beautiful, smart, witty and feisty. This fictional account of her last confession (and basically retelling of her life) grabs the reader’s attention right from the get-go.

“Don’t hover in the doorway like that. Come in or piss off – I don’t care either way. Who the hell are you?”

This is how Julie greets the priest confessor in the first lines of the novel – and it sets the tone for the rest of the book really well. It is clear that Julie does not suffer fools gladly and she has confidence to burn. The road Julie travelled to become the famed swashbuckling opera singer, La Maupin, is full of twists, turns, heartbreak and humour and I thought Gardiner nailed her tone throughout. Julie learns to adapt to her surroundings quickly and learns that her looks are to be her fortune and her curse very early on. Despite her strong persona, there is always the feeling that just under the surface she is very fragile and on a knife edge emotionally. It is a great depiction of an enigmatic historical figure.

It is clear that Kelly Gardiner did extensive research for this book- even down to which operatic works La Maupin performed and where she performed them. You can check out this blog to learn more about La Maupin’s life here. I started reading this book having catalogued it into our Senior Fiction collection at work, but now realise it is definitely for a young adult/adult audience! The language, whilst completely in context, is quite prolific and the relationships in the novel are most certainly for a more mature reader.

I found this a most enjoyable read – this one is definitely for the grown-ups and would suit those who like historical fiction with a bit of romance and adventure thrown in. I look forward to reading Kelly’s next project with avid interest.