Tag Archives: Chris Womersley

Bereft – Chris Womersley

Sometimes a book arrives here unsolicited and just reaches out to me. It is likely that I haven’t heard anything about it prior to its arrival and yet it just tempts me to read it. This is what happened with ‘Bereft’ by Chris Womersley, it arrived and the cover seemed to constantly catch my eye and call out to me (I am wondering if this is because it looks a little like Catherine Hall’s ‘The Proof of Love’ which you know I adored). The quote from Evie Wyld, ‘I hammered through Bereft in a day; I didn’t want to be away from it’, was the final clincher especially after the success I had with her recommendation of ‘The Hunger Trace’ by Edward Hogan. It is interesting that its arrival made me think of these two books because in some ways it is of their ilk. It also fitted in perfectly with Kim’s Australian Literature Month, it all seemed aligned.

Quercus Books, trade paperback, 2012, fiction, 264 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The year is 1919 and Quinn Walker is returning to his hometown of Flint in New South Wales after fighting in WWI. This is not going to be some happy emotional family reunion as the reason Quinn left was that ten years earlier he was found seeming to have raped and murdered his sister, he fled. His return seems timely as Australia is in the grips of the Spanish flu epidemic, in fact many believe it is the end of the world, and when the end is nigh you have very little to lose.  Now returning, undecided if he will face his accusers or not without proof it wasn’t him, sheltering in the hills around Flint he meets Sadie a young girl living in secret like him and as these two outsiders form a bond of friendship they both realise her present and his past are more linked than either of them could have imagined.

I am aware that the last line in that paragraph above is a little bit clichéd and sounds rather melodramatic, yet in essence that is how the plot goes, it isn’t a melodramatic book however and that is what holds me back from giving it the ‘gothic’ label that I have seen in reviews since finishing the book and mulling it over. It does have elements of the gothic but despite the nature of the tale it tells this novel is rather quiet and understated until it leads to its climax. It has also been labelled as a crime novel and in some ways it is, there is a mystery at the heart of the book and yet it is never a whodunit, in fact that aspect of the book is really bubbling away in the background as we look at the effects of war and epidemic on people at the time.

It is this combination that I think makes this book such a brilliant read. You have the war and its effects, and in many ways the understated element of the horrors we read of and see in Quinn himself are the reasons they hit home, a country and its people believing the world may be ending, you even get some séances in Victorian London thrown in and yet it never feels too much, nothing seems out of place. Its historical, thrilling, has some magical elements (in fact while I loved the séance and how that worked into the story, there was an animal sacrifice that I just didn’t see the rhyme or reason for, small quibble) and most importantly is beautifully written. It’s understated but highlights the drama of the time; it’s to the point yet descriptive and wonderfully builds the brooding atmosphere and heat before the storm, a metaphoric aspect if ever there was one and one which again made me think of ‘The Proof of Love’, it’s writing that quietly holds you and takes you away to a calm darkness.

‘That night, Quinn lay back, snuggled into the curve his shoulders had made in the pine needles and stared up at the darkness. The moon hove into view. The forest spoke in its secret tongue, and if he turned his head and pressed his ear to the ground he fancied he might hear the millions of dead rustling in their mass, unmarked graves on the far side of the world. Sarah had always claimed to understand the language of animals and trees, the growls of possums and wallabies. But what of the dead?’

Since finishing the book I have been off finding out more about it and the author. It seems this book was pretty much long listed for every book award in Australia last year and I can certainly see why. ‘Bereft’ is one of those books that is set very much in its time and yet asks you to look back and put the pieces together. I like this effect in books as it makes me feel a little bit clever. It also makes this book nicely merge the divide between literary and thriller in many ways. The prose it beautiful, the characters fully drawn, there is also a mystery at its heart giving it that page turning quality, yet never at the expense of any of its other winning factors. It also covers a very interesting period in a countries history I knew nothing about yet came away with the atmosphere still lingering with me long after finishing the book. Highly recommended.

I am really glad I read this book, I have instantly started wondering if its eligible for a certain award this year but wouldn’t want to jinx it, it is only January after all. I am saddened to see that you can’t get his debut novel ‘The Low Road’ in the UK as yet, as I would definitely like to read more of his work. Has anyone else read that? Who else has read this one? I would love to know if readers in Australia have heard as much about this book as I imagine you might.

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I read this book as part of Australian Literature Month,    which runs throughout January 2012. The idea is to simply read as  many   novels as I can by writers from my homeland and to encourage  others to   do the same. Anyone can take part. All you need to do is  read an   Australian book or  two, post about Australian literature on  your own   blog or simply engage  in the conversation on this blog. If  you don’t   have a blog, don’t worry —  you just need to be willing  to  read   something by an Australian writer  and maybe comment on other   people’s   posts. You can find out more here.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Chris Womersley, Quercus Publishing, Review

Books By The Bedside #1

So not so long ago I asked you all if you liked the idea of me doing a regular feature on the blog where I share a picture of my bedside table and the books frequenting it. This was a slightly mean ask as frankly I was thinking of doing it anyway, but it was nice to get your thoughts on it as it is with all things. Anyway without further ado and further waffle here is what is on my bedside table and the reasons why…

First up is a very recent addition, yesterday in fact, in the form of Lucy Wood’s debut short story collections ‘Diving Belles’ which I have been really eager to read. The tales were inspired by the flotsam and jetsam of a Cornish beach and theses magical tales of straying husbands, creaking houses, whispering magpies and trees that grant wishes sound wonderful, I do love an adult fairytale after all, I meant to try one yesterday and suddenly two hours had gone and I was ¾ of the way through. I will be telling you all about this very soon. I had meant to start on Angela Carter’s ‘Burning Your Boats; Collected Stories’ this week after it arrived in the post (this seemed odd as I was in a bookshop with a nice chap last week who bought the book, it then arrived here the next day, spooky) and I love her fairytale like short stories. It is a rather massive collection so expect this to become a regular offender in these posts, speaking of which…

Two old offenders follow as I have been reading Marieke Hardy’s essay collection ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ and Chris Womersley’s novel ‘Bereft’ for so long that I am worried by the time I write of them you will be bored to death. I think I need to focus on ‘Bereft’ more now, as whilst initially languishing over it was working I am beginning to feel it actually might not be doing this book any favours (and it has been lugged about so much by me over weeks it is looking a real state) oops. In fact it looks rather like the battered 1971 Fontana edition of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mystery ‘The Moving Finger’ which I am going to read as a cleanser soon I think.

As for the rest of this loot, well really these are all the books that I am pondering over. I have been unbelievably excited that Hammer Horror and Random House have gone into partnership for some ghost stories new and old. While I await Jeanette Winterson’s fictional account of the Pendle Witches (sounds amazing) I have just received Helen Dunmore’s ghost story ‘The Greatcoat’ all starting on a cold night in Yorkshire and a hand knocking on a window. Oh goody. In fact Andrew Miller’s ‘Pure’ links into this as its said to be a gothic tale of cemeteries, grisly possibly but fascinating I am sure. It’s been the talk of the town with the Costa Book Awards and reminded me I really wanted to read it.

The TV Book Club has inspired me to push ‘Girl Reading’ by Katie Ward onto the bedside table. I started this then decided it was so good I might never finish ‘Bereft’ and so it’s on hold and it may have to stay on hold a while as we may have Essie Fox joining us on The Readers and so I must read ‘The Somnambulist’ asap, hence its appearance.

Finally to books that I have been recommended and am keeping at the top of my reading periphery, as it were. I already fancied reading Rachel Joyce’s debut novel ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ when I fell across a very advanced review, then its inclusion in the ‘Waterstones 11’ made it shoot up my TBR pile. Several recommendations for Kevin Brockmeier’s ‘The Illumination’ have come from The Readers listeners who have voted for it in the International Readers Book Award’s so when that arrived early this week (it’s out in paperback in February) I instantly popped it here, as I did ‘All Is Song’ by Samantha Harvey which William of Just Williams Luck reviewed and sold to me straight away. I may not comment on blogs as much as I should but I am very much reading them.

So that’s the state of my bedside table, and my reading brain too I guess. What are you reading and have got lined up to read? What is just tickling your fancy (I love that expression) right now books wise?

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When Did I Become A Multi-Reader (and the Reading Conundrum)?

Once upon a time if someone told me they read more than one book at once I would always be astonished, if I am totally honest a slight wince or sneer might even have been seen to pass like a shadow across my face, they could do it. I could never understand how anyone could keep up with that many books, until now that is…

You see since the start of 2012 I have not completed many novels (not that reading is ever a race but I do have a general reading pace) yet I have read a whole host of short stories and essays.

For example at present I have four books on the go at the moment, though only one of them is a novel, and they are as shown…

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Both Dan Rhodes ‘Dont Tell Me The Truth About Love’ and Sarah Hall’s ‘The Beautiful Indifference’ are collections of short stories. I was just reading Sarah’s on and off but then I started reading ‘Bereft’ by Chris Womersley, the only novel in the mix, and something about the settings was a little too similar and yet I wanted some short fiction for random short reading moments on the train (only ten mins to town and ten back) etc and so I picked up Dan Rhodes on a whim as I haven’t read anything by him for ages and I really like his books. Sarah will be being restarted once ‘Bereft’ is finished, yet that may be some time as I am enjoying it so much I am savouring it and waiting for the mystery at its heart to unfold slowly. Savouring is also the reason why Marieke Hardy and her memoir essays ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ are still only midway through completion. I love them so much I am only reading one or two a week.

Actually with the last two it feels like an odd reading conundrum, should I just go for it or simply take as long as I like? As its a year of whimsical reading I am going for the latter, unless suddenly something takes hold. It may make reviews thin on the ground for a while but it’s really enjoyable reading at the moment. Who would have thought I would find multi- reading so enjoyable?

Who else out there multi reads and who definitely doesn’t? Do you ever find yourself at the point of wanting to greedily devour a book in one sitting and spreading out the joy over weeks? Which books have left you in such a reading conundrum?

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Books on the Bedside & the Great British Book Off…

This morning I woke up, stretched, wiped the sleep out of my eyes and as I looked to my left was greeted by a bedside table covered with books. It suddenly gave me some inspiration for a new random feature for the blog, but as (if you are like me) you are a fan of a bit of book porn I took a picture of the mass of fictional worlds I am in or have ahead of me, apologies it’s a little grainy it was early…

I was looking at them and realised in a weird way this almost like a snapshot of the inner workings of my bookish mind. You have three books I am reading (yes I have taken up multi reading, more on this unusual turn of events soon) currently; ‘Bereft’ by Chris Womersley, ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ by Marieke Hardy and ‘The Beautiful Indifference’ by Sarah Hall – these naturally need to be close to hand as I am a dreadful sleeper at the mo and so they are the perfect company in the middle of the night.

The rest of the books are those on my periphery reading vision. I won’t explain all the reasons for all iof them now in fear of boring you (the Agatha Christie, Truman Capote and Dan Rhodes have all just been pulled out mount BR as I have been graving some friendly fiction faces, Elizabeth Jolley as an Australian Literature Month possible read) but I will give you a slight over view to explain what I mean. Sophie Hannah’s ‘Kind of Cruel’ proof has just arrived so it’s time to finally read ‘Lasting Damage’ as I like to read in order.  The same with the proof of Matt Haig’s new YA novel ‘To Be A Cat’ which one of the events guys at Waterstones sent me after I discussed YA the other day, so I pulled out ‘The Radleys’ –which I wish I had the hardcover of, so much darker. ‘Disputed Land’ by Tim Pears was on hand for a mention on this weeks recording of the Readers which has been postponed and Elizabeth Haynes and ‘Into The Darkest Corner’ has been lingering since the last recording of the Readers when we discussed the TV Book Club vs. Richard and Judy.

This might not interest you at all but I thought I would test the waters because it could become a future feature instead of my incoming book posts which I have decided to dump. I thought it might give people a small book porn fix whilst also showing you all the books new, old and in-between on my reading horizon, a bit like being even more in my reading head. What do you think?

Also I want to do something with the title ‘The Great British Book Off’ before someone else pinches it (this could already have happened 0f course) as this also popped into my head this morning, but I am stuck on what it could be. Might need more mulling though, what do you say?

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Australian Literature Month

I said yesterday in my ‘Reading Resolution’ post that I wouldn’t be starting or hosting any reading challenges in 2012, however that doesn’t mean that I can’t join in with some does it? Already there is one particular challenge of sorts that has attracted me, in fact it attracted me the moment it was announced, and that is the Australian Literature Month that Kim of Reading Matters is hosting throughout January, naturally of course this leads me to wanting some of your book recommendations etc. I also thought some of you might be tempted.

What really attracts me to Kim’s Australian Literature Month (apart from the fact that I love a lot of things Australian) is that there are no limits or levels to the books that I can or can’t read. The aim is simply “post about Australian literature on your own blog or simply engage in the conversation on this blog. If you don’t have a blog, don’t worry” and that is me sold as by chance, and all based on whim, I have about six or seven books on the periphery which are from Oz (do Australians find their country being called Oz rude, I do hope not and if they do I apologize) and three in particular that I am very keen to read sooner rather than later should the mood take…

  

Tim Winton’s ‘Cloudstreet’ is a novel that Kim actually gave me last year, so that seems like a sign, and is deemed as one of the modern Australian classics. I enjoyed his last novel ‘Breath’ which is the first and only of his books I have read so far and managed to make me interested in surfing which I really wasn’t expecting.  Anyway, ‘Cloudstreet’ has also had ‘The Slap’ treatment and the TV series is coming to the UK this month, be it on Sky One, and so I might read and watch, or just read – we will see.I have to admit I have been dipping into Marieke Hardy’s collection of memoir essays ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ since Christmas but I think I will be finished by the end of the weekend (I am trying to drag the utter joy that this is out for as long as possible) and though its not Australian fiction she loved her Australian Literature as she proves on ‘The First Tuesday Book Club’ most months, so that’s a given read. ‘Bereft’ by Chris Womersley is an unsolicited proof that Quercus have sent and appealed first because of the cover image, before the cover hooking me again when I noticed Evie Wyld had a given it a great quote too (and we know the success I had with the last recommendation I heard Evie making) and has been hovering on the bedside table urging me to open it since.

So those are the books I might dip into first but I wondered if there were any others I should really be looking out for? I would love your suggestions (as it’s a mutual relationship this reading recommendation malarkey on this blog I will have you know) please, and do let me know if you are planning on joining in with this too and what you might read.

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