Australian fiction

Barracuda – Christos Tsiolkas

Posted in Australian fiction, Contemporary Fiction on January 24th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment



Atlantic Books


Real Readers

My Rating
4 stars


This is a review of Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas, not Finding Nemo by Walt Disney, so anyone offended by strong language and/or explicit sex scenes should turn away now.  It is Tsiolkas’ fifth novel but my first experience of his writing; perhaps all the more interesting as I went in with an open mind.

Our leading character, talented swimmer,  Daniel Kelly is a bit of an odd fish and the madcap, disjointed narrative is a perfect match for his unstable, ever changing  personality as he flits between Daniel/Dan/Dino/Barracuda.  This powerful novel deals with identity and how we fit/don’t fit in our own skin/family/country.   Kelly is far from likeable with his antsy ways and psychopathic tendencies but I found myself rooting for him – not for him to win the swimming galas and join the “golden boys” but just for him to find his place in life.

Barracuda is a challenging, thought-provoking read.  Yes, it’s not perfect and there is a lot of repetition of the swimming/water imagery but I really liked its honesty and “in your face” attitude, its representation of the less liberal side of Australia and its realistic lack of neat and tidy endings.

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The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Stedman

Posted in Australian fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on February 20th, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment

Front Cover

Transworld Publ. Limited UK, 11 Apr 2013 – Fiction – 464 pages
Source – Publisher
My Rating – 4.5 stars

The moors in Wuthering Heights, Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native, both settings which have drawn me in and remained with me long after turning the final page.  Now I have a new setting to add to the favourites list – the island of Janus Rock, set in the wild, remote region where the Great Southern Ocean and the Indian Ocean meet off the coast of Western Australia.   Here on Janus Rock, in the aftermath of World War I, ex-serviceman Tom tends the lighthouse and he and his wife Izzy hope to raise a family here.   Their plans are thwarted until one day, a foundling is washed up on the island and Izzy’s desire for a child of her own overrides any sense of moral obligation to investigate the child’s origins.

I loved how the author describes the love story of Tom and Izzy in a completely non-judgemental way, leaving it up to the reader to decide whether to make any moral judgements.  I was drawn into the lives of the main characters, particularly Tom who still feels the emotional fall-out of his time in the army.

You know in your heart that things will not turn out well for Tom and Izzy.  Who could possibly live with such a heavy secret?  You know there can’t be an idyllically happy ending but you find yourself rooting for these characters knowing that they mean well.

This is a compelling, beautifully written story peopled with real, flawed characters.  It’s hard to believe it’s a debut novel.

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Review – Now by Morris Gleitzman

Posted in Australian fiction, Children's Books on June 27th, 2010 by admin – 6 Comments

ONCE upon a time there was a 10 year old Jewish boy called Felix whose parents were taken away by the Nazis.  THEN, his close friend and ally, Zelda, was taken away from him also.  NOW, Felix is 80, living in Australia, and trying to protect another Zelda, his grandaughter who is also our narrator.  

NOW is the conclusion to Morris Gleitzman’s wonderful trilogy for children which brings us from 1940s Poland to present day Australia.  The author insists that all three books can be read as stand-alones and I suppose that, technically, that is true but if you want to reap the full benefit of these short but powerful novels, you need to read them in the right order, Once, Then and Now.

Even though NOW is firmly set in the present, there are constant reminders of Felix’s past experiences.  Zelda has some idea of his past but has been sheltered from the more brutal episodes.  She loves her Grandfather dearly but seems to inevitably end up getting into scrapes despite her best intentions – including nearly causing a bushfire.  Indeed, the dreadful trauma wrought by the Victorian bushfires of 2009 are vividly presented here. At 167 pages, this is a quick yet substantial read and alongside its fellow novels, would be an excellent way to introduce children to the Holocaust without frightening them off completely.

Although perhaps less poignant than its predecessors, it is a fitting conclusion as we return to the present and see how future generations have been affected yet are still able to move ahead in a positive manner.  The memory of Zelda lives on.  I will ensure that my own children will get the opportunity to read this trilogy and recommend it to all adults too, especially when we need reminded to count our blessings.

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Review – Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Posted in Australian fiction on May 29th, 2010 by admin – 8 Comments


I seem to be getting an Australian vibe recently in my reading (Sonya Hartnett) and now Jasper Jones which also gains brownie points from me for being a coming of age tale with an interesting, intelligent child narrator.

Jasper Jones is a mixed race teen who lives on the outskirts of town and of society too.  The novel is less concerned with Jasper though and focuses more on Charlie Bucktin, a young teen who, thanks to Jasper, becomes embroiled in a plot to cover up a young girl’s disappearance and murder in order to discover who the culprit was.  The boys are in Catch 22 territory as any disclosure of information could lead to suspicion immediately falling on Jasper whose colour marks him out as Public Enemy No One in the predominantly white town of Corrigan.

This novel is a joy to read and the young male characters literally jump of the page they are so vividly portrayed with all their verbal fencing and fierce loyalty to each other.  It’s at times reminiscent of the film Stand By Me and really very moving amid all the slapstick humour.  The topic of racism is further developed in the character of Jeffrey Lu, Charlie’s best buddy who bears the brunt of overt racism from his class mates – he is Vietnamese and this is 1965 when some local men are off fighting in the war so not the best place for Jeffrey to be growing up.  I loved Jeffrey and his irrepressible optimism and sense of humour which save him from bitterness.  The highlight of the book for me is a cricket match in which the locals reluctantly allow Jeffrey to take part – I don’t understand anything about cricket but it doesn’t take an expert to feel Jeffrey’s joy at being even temporarily accepted.  Equally Charlie is estranged from his other school mates due to his bookishness and complete and utter lack of sporting ability (Hey, I can truly empathise with this kid!)

Jasper Jones may be set in Western Australia but the themes of acceptance, childhood friendship, family relationships are universal.  It’s a relatively short, very readable book but it has so many different threads – echoes of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird with Charlie’s father being directly compared with Atticus Finch although he’s more into literature than the law.  I think if you have a brother, a son or can even summon up the slightest memory of what it was like trying  to be a kid fitting in and finding your place in the world, you will really enjoy this story.  If you are offended by the occasional swear word (yes, horror of horrors, boys swear when they’re away from their parents.. ;-)) you’d probably be better to avoid it.

I’ll leave you with an example of Charlie and Jeffrey’s delightful banter -

” I feel like an icy cold beer” he says.
“What? Why?”
“I don’t know.  It always looks so refreshing. I wishhhh to be refreshhhhed by an icy cold beer”
” But you’ve never had beer!”
“So, how can you feel like something you’ve never tasted?”
“You never kissed Eliza Wishart before but you still wished to do that. ”
I roll my eyes at him.
“That’s a lot different to a beer”.
“Telling me.  A  beer is farrr superior.  You don’t have to sit around holding its hand and saying nice things about its hair”.

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