Book reviews for Aussie teachers and their students.

Posts tagged ‘Pan MacMillan Australia’

Book Review: “Words in Deep Blue” by Cath Crowley, Pan MacMillan Australia (2016)

Cath Crowley

This is, pure and simple, ‘a love story’ (yep it says so right on the front cover).  YA Romance authors pay attention, your writing masterclass is now in session.  Rachel is grieving.  After 3 years living by the coast, and in the aftermath of her brother’s drowning, she returns to the city.  It is a homecoming not without significant protests.  After all, she has flunked year 12 and failed to get into university. More importantly it means facing up to her ‘best-friend’ Henry the guy she was in love with, and who rejected her in preference for red-haired Amy the day before she left.  Seemingly, when the worlds of Henry and Rachel collide once more, Henry is in a world of pain.  Amy (the girl who loves her reflection more than she does Henry), has dumped him (yet again).   As Henry pines away for his lost-love, readers will certainly be cheering for Rachel and wondering how this couple will find their way into each other’s arms.  Of course, and in true Crowley fashion, while Words in Deep Blue might be a love story, it is so much more.  This is a celebration of words, literature and the power of both to bind us together through the human experiences of love and loss.

It goes without saying that, told through switching first person narration interspersed with letters, Words in Deep Blue is beautifully written.  The final product is a rich tapestry, a powerful celebration of language and storytelling. While this is not something that I would explicitly use in the classroom, it is certainly something that I will promote and which will be deeply cherished by those wonderful and rare students who proudly refer to themselves as ‘book nerds’.  Such readers will appreciate Crowley’s numerous references to literary works of note.  In saying this, I personally found the multiple references to the likes of John Green a little amusing.  Does Crowley even realise that she is firmly in this league?  If anyone deserves to be in the ‘Letter Room’ it is she.

It is not all serious though.  In fact in many ways this is a joyous book, immensely comedic in places.  I mean, the notion of two guys being stripped down to nothing and gaffer-taped to a city street light should be horrifying.  Instead Crowley has me laughing along with her central protagonist (who also seems to see light of the moment).

Evidence that great things really do come to those who wait can be found within the pages of this book.

Okay, so I read this as a digital galley.  I’d have preferred a paper copy (feel free to send me one Pan Macmillan), since an e-version could never hope to do justice to this superlative piece of literature.  Then again, beggars can’t be choosers, and this is Cath Crowley after all.  It has been a while (has it really been 6 years since Graffiti Moon?) since Crowley blessed us with a story. I’m not complaining, Crowley is quite possibly a perfectionist and she can ferment (or marinate) her manuscripts for as long as she likes if this is the outcome.

Tanya Grech Welden

“Burial Rites” by Hannah Kent, Pan MacMillan Australia (2013)

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In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover.

Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters.  Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes.  Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her.  As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s story begins to emerge – and with it the family’s terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed. . .

I’ve decided to share Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites with you; not because she’s from my home town of Adelaide, nor because I feel that she needs me to promote her book, but simply because I was immensely moved by her story and it is a story worth sharing.  In short, I encourage you to add this book to your list of books to read before you die.

A little about Hannah Kent is needed before I launch into my review wholeheartedly.  Kent is young, and this is her first book.  As mentioned previously, she originates from Adelaide in South Australia.  My first thought upon hearing about this book was to question the validity of an Adelaide girl writing about Iceland.  As it turns out she visited the country as a teenager during a Rotary Exchange.  It was during this exchange that she first came across the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir.  Kent was clearly moved by this and what followed was an obsession resulting in years of research finally culminating in a version of the tale sympathetic to Agnes’s experience.

In summary I relished every moment of the book as I would savor every last drop of a great Cabernet Sauvignon.  Kent’s prose is achingly beautiful, and her crystalline language renders a landscape of Iceland that is both pristine and unforgiving.  In fact, I felt as if I was taken on a pilgrimage in which my heart was constantly lodged in my throat.  Kent managed to keep me constantly on the verge of tears, although I never did quite manage to spill over.  Even so, I found myself resonating with Agnes’s story in the same way that I have with other tragic characters from great literature (Thomas Hardy’s Tess or Emecheta’s Nnu Ego).  This is a dark tale of suffering, devoid of any light and Kent promises this from the outset.  The richness of this story is in the journeying and the fortifying of the relationships between Agnes and Tóti and the family she stays with.    Kent refers to the servants, never named and always faceless, who sit in the badstofa and nightly experience Agnes’s unfolding narrative.  More than once I felt like one of these silent witnesses.

There has been considerable hype about this book since its release and rightly so.  Indeed there is talk about a film version of the story being created.  I do not doubt that Kent’s story will translate very well into this medium providing a visual feast for a cinematic audience, thus enabling an even broader audience to connect with the story.  That said, I encourage you not to wait for this, but to buy or borrow a copy, lock yourself away for a weekend (if it is wet even better), brew a cup of coffee and gathering a  warm quilt about yourself, wrap yourself in Kent’s mesmerizing prose.

Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden

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