Post Script: Music and Freedom – Zoë Morrison

Domestic Violence/Intimate Violence…and so it begins; “And instead of thinking this is unfair, and he is monstrous, I was starting to think, no, I am not very good at this, not at all, I must be such a disappointment. And to start to think such things, was almost the worst part.”(p.142)

music-and-freedom

Music and Freedom

Zoë Morrison

Penguin Random House Australia

Vintage

ISBN: 9781925324204

 

Description:

A gripping and beautifully written novel in the tradition of Elizabeth is Missing and the work of Elizabeth Harrower.

 

I have no use for forgiveness, not yet. But other ideas like that, kindness, for example, I think that is fundamental. Resurrection;

I like that too. And love, of course, love, love, love.

 

Alice Murray learns to play the piano aged three on an orange orchard in rural Australia. Recognising her daughter’s gift, her mother sends Alice to boarding school in the bleak north of England, and there Alice stays for the rest of her childhood. Then she’s offered a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, and on a summer school in Oxford she meets Edward, an economics professor who sweeps her off her feet.

 

Alice soon finds that Edwards is damaged, and she’s trapped. She clings to her playing and to her dream of becoming a concert pianist, until disaster strikes. Increasingly isolated as the years unravel, eventually Alice can’t find it in herself to carry on. Then she hears the most beautiful music from the walls of her house …

 

This novel’s love story is that of a woman who must embrace life again if she is to survive. Inspiring and compelling, it explores the dark terrain of violence and the transformative powers of music and love.

 

 

In breaking news:  The winner of The Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction in 2016 is Music and Freedom by Zoë Morrison.

Music and Freedom is Morrison’s first novel. Set over a period of 70 years, it is a profound and moving portrait of one woman’s life, ranging from rural Australia in the 1930s to England in the modern day. In the tradition of Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Strout and Ann Patchett, Music and Freedom digs deeply into the marriage, relationships and ambitions of its central protagonist, Alice. The novel examines what it means to suffer regret and heartbreak, to make difficult choices and live with the consequences, and to find hope and passion in your darkest hour.

 

Guest judge Maxine Beneba Clarke says, ‘Exploring themes of love, loneliness, and the price of artistic expression, Music and Freedom is an ambitious and considered debut novel. Morrison’s characters are vividly drawn, and their relationships portrayed with exquisite sensitivity. The novel is engaging and structurally sound. Morrison writes about sound and music with a joy and poetry even the unmusical can appreciate – providing a stunning and heartfelt counter to the dark relationship that forms between the two main characters. Music and Freedom is challenging, stylistically sure, accomplished, and consistent. Above all though, it is simply a good story, beautifully written.’

The Prize judges were united in considering the novel a sophisticated and intelligent work of fiction that demonstrated the author’s keen eye for detail and her extraordinary ability to write about classical music. The judges felt the novel to be deserving of a wide readership, both within Australia and overseas. Mark Rubbo, managing director of Readings, described Music and Freedom as a ‘stimulating, thought-provoking and immensely satisfying book’.     http://www.readings.com.au/the-readings-prize-for-new-australian-fiction

 

 

My View:

Domestic Violence/Intimate Violence…and so it begins; “And instead of thinking this is unfair, and he is monstrous, I was starting to think, no, I am not very good at this, not at all, I must be such a disappointment. And to start to think such things, was almost the worst part.”(p.142)

 

 

This is a poignant look at relationships, intimate violence, isolation and resurrection – a very powerful read. Through most of the book I was filled with a deep sadness… a deep brooding sadness reflective of the emotions and situations I was reading about. The portrayal of domestic violence/intimate violence was subtle and so accurate my heart ached for the protagonist, Alice. Yet the author does not wallow in angst on these pages, the control over and violence is intelligently handled and juxtaposed against the wondrous joy, connections and succor that music brings Alice until that too is manipulated and used like a weapon against her.

 

Alice’s journey, her resurrection, is uplifting and bittersweet. Music revives her. Love uplifts her.

 

This is a read in one sitting, deeply moving, lyrical, musical and wonderful read!

 

 

 

Post Script: Look What You Made me Do – Fathers Who Kill- Megan Norris

One Australian woman is hospitalised every three hours and two more lose their lives each week as a result of family violence. But for some women there is a punishment more enduring than injury or their own death.

Megan Norris

Look What You Made Me Do  

Fathers Who Kill

Megan Norris

Echo Publishing

ISBN: 9781760061838

 

Description:

One Australian woman is hospitalised every three hours and two more lose their lives each week as a result of family violence. But for some women there is a punishment more enduring than injury or their own death.

This book is a timely exploration into the evil done by vengeful fathers who kill their own flesh and blood in order to punish wives who have chosen to end abusive relationships.

 

Focussing on seven different but equally harrowing cases of ‘spousal revenge’, author Megan Norris draws on her own observations as a former court and crime reporter, examining the murders of thirteen innocent children who became collateral damage in callous crimes committed by angry dads whose real targets were the children’s mothers.

 

From the harrowing 1993 kidnap and murder of three-year-old Kelly East in WA, to the chilling murder of Darcey Freeman whose dad hurled her from Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge in 2009, these stories highlight the chilling connection between intimate partner abuse and retaliatory homicide. They show it’s not only mothers who are in danger when domestic violence turns deadly.

 

 

My View:

 

True crime novels are not what they used to be, and I mean that as a complement to contemporary true crime writers.

This book in particular surprised me with its well-researched, personal and sensitive account of the crimes committed against women, it could not have been easy sitting in the courtrooms, reading the court transcriptions or speaking with the women here. For the women – it must have been like dredging up hell all over again – yet their voices are so powerful and so necessary if we want to stamp out this type of violence and prevent another child’s senseless death.  I applaud the writer and the women who bravely retold their stories.

 

One Australian woman is hospitalised every three hours and two more lose their lives each week as a result of family violence. But for some women there is a punishment more enduring than injury or their own death.

This is a remarkable book; not always easy to read, written with disdain for the perpetrators whilst highlighting the amazing resilience that some women are able to find when the most horrendous punishment is metred out to them. The problem of male “entitlement” is very evident; women seen as possessions, play things, trophies, and props to paint a false picture to the outside world …these narratives paint an ugly and harrowing truth.

The dialogue between men and women needs to change.  Now.

This is a book that needs to be read by all politicians, police, all public servants, doctors, nurses… and the men and women on the street. We all need to be aware, recognise the signs (when there are any), talk more, support more and speak the truth, stop turning a blind eye, listen more and as a community – put more resources into creating safe places for women to turn to and enforce intimate partner AVO’s.  “An AVO is an Apprehended Violence Order. It is an order to protect victims of domestic violence when they are fearful of future violence or threats to their safety. They are sometimes called restraining orders or protection orders.” (ww.legalaid.nsw.gov.au/what-we-do/community-partnerships/…/what-is-an-avo)

 

I predict a Ned Kelly award – and another EVA (Eliminating Violence Against Women) award for Megan Norris in the near future.

Post Script: An Isolated Incident – Emily Maguire

This one will get your attention! 

An Isolated Incident

An Isolated Incident

Emily Maguire

Pan Macmillan Australia

Picador

ISBN: 9781743538579

 

Description:

When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm descends.

 

Unwillingly thrust into the eye of that storm is Bella’s beloved older sister, Chris, a barmaid at the local pub, whose apparent easygoing nature conceals hard-won wisdom and the kind of street-smarts only experience can bring.

 

As Chris is plunged into despair and searches for answers, reasons, explanation – anything – that could make even the smallest sense of Bella’s death, her ex-husband, friends and neighbours do their best to support her. But as the days tick by with no arrest, Chris’s suspicion of those around her grows.

 

An Isolated Incident is a psychological thriller about everyday violence, the media’s obsession with pretty dead girls, the grip of grief and the myth of closure, and the difficulties of knowing the difference between a ghost and a memory, between a monster and a man.

 

PRAISE FOR EMILY MAGUIRE

 

“At the heart of … Emily Maguire’s work lies an urgent need to pull away at the interconnecting threads of morality, society and human relationships.” Sydney Morning Herald

 

“what you get, along with a sharp mind and a keenness to investigate cultural confusions, is an engaging ability to put the vitality of the story first.” Weekend Australian

 

My View: This one piqued my interest as you may well notice.

 

Shoot this one straight to the top of my list of “Best Reads of the Year”. Brilliant, masterfully written.

 

Raw, tough, agonizingly truthful… the male gaze is reflected in a mirror back to us.  These reflections are a constant in our (women’s) everyday life, look around you will recognise it too! Misogyny, discrimination, entitlement, double values, violence or threats of violence, intimidation, judgments – the worthy/unworthy, beautiful/other…  Women’s everyday experiences, decisions, choices are under scrutiny of the male gaze – women are judged on whether they wear makeup or not, clothes can be fashionable/slutty, friendliness mistaken for availability as a sexual toy, she discounts you – she is a tease, she is self-assured – she is a “ball breaker”… how can a woman win? How does a woman tell the good guys from the bad when they all wear the same disguise?

 

I think it is the “entitlement” that bothers me the most in this book (and in life). A woman walks down a street alone– she is cat called, whistled at, judged, sexualised. There is a lot of social media chatter about the unsolicited attention men thrust on women at the moment, which if she ignores quickly turns to insults and rage.  (If I had more time I would write you an essay on these type of behaviours) There is a great example of this in the novel. The ugliness and ordinariness of entitlement goes like this; (May is jogging, alone, in suburbia);

‘Hey what you running for, sweet girl?’

May’s pace didn’t alter, her head remained high, her gaze trained at six feet ahead. She was used to running in the inner city, where dick heads calling from cars were background noise.

‘Aww, just a question. Why you running? Sweet arse like that, don’t wanna go running it away.’

She kept moving, taking the next left, focussing her mind on retracing her route, determining whether to loop back at the next corner or go another few blocks. She realises only two or three cars had passed since she’d left the main road, tried to picture  the town map, figure out  a more direct route back to her hotel.

 

A car turned from the opposite corner, came towards her, headlights on high beam, then no headlights at all. May’s vision flickered and swam. She noticed how dark it was, how few houses there were on this street…

‘Come on girl. Stop for a second. Just a second.’

The car was right behind her, engine revving, keeping pace.” (p. 49)

 

Sounds all too familiar to me.

 

 

Domestic violence is another behaviour is succinctly showcased in this novel –   I love you, love you, love you… until you hurt me…or those around me…I love you but not the violence … “he’s a good bloke”( is he?) … until he isn’t. “He is a good bloke” (really?) …until he is provoked. Where is the responsibility? Vision is blinded when it comes to violence against women…he is a good bloke …he couldn’t possibly…

 

I think this is a book that will polarise. Those who tune out the politics will read a work of crime fiction, an intriguing and moving narrative of crime fiction. Those who absorb the depth of this writing will read a crime narrative set in a world of male entitlement, gender inequality, violence…a feminist’s tale.

 

Absolutely loved it!

 

 

Post Script: The Blood On My Hands – Shannon O’Leary

The Blood On My Hands

The Blood On My Hands

Shannon O’Leary

Createspace Independent Publishing Platform

ISBN: 9781519695871

 

Description:

Set in 1960s and ’70s Australia, “The Blood on My Hands” is the dramatic tale of Shannon O’Leary’s childhood years. O’Leary grew up under the shadow of horrific domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse, and serial murder. Her story is one of courageous resilience in the face of unimaginable horrors.

 

The responses of those whom O’Leary and her immediate family reach out to for help are almost as disturbing as the crimes of her violent father. Relatives are afraid to bring disgrace to the family’s good name, nuns condemn the child’s objections as disobedience and noncompliance, and laws at the time prevent the police from interfering unless someone is killed.

 

“The Blood on My Hands” is a heartbreaking-yet riveting-narrative of a childhood spent in pain and terror, betrayed by the people who are supposed to provide safety and understanding, and the strength and courage it takes, not just to survive and escape, but to flourish and thrive.

 

My View:

A particularly horrific and grim story of ongoing domestic violence and psychosis that is not addressed in the perpetrator’s lifetime – this is a uncomfortable book to read  –  imagine what it must have been like to endure? And endure Shannon O’Leary and her family did – the depravity here is unbelievable – if the author hadn’t qualified the read with “autobiography” you would think this was macabre crime fiction.

To enjoy or not to enjoy? No I can’t say I enjoyed this read – the wounds, physical and psychological were open, raw and bleed onto the pages – I could not enjoy. Compelling – yes. An incredible story of courage and survival – yes.  Can we learn from the mistakes made here? I think this should be read by all in the agencies working in the field of domestic violence and community health; more education and resources are needed in these areas.

 

Shannon O’Leary – you must be one amazingly strong woman.  Whenever I think life is tough for me, I will recall what you have endured.

 

 

Post Script: The Saddler Boys – Fiona Palmer

Cover Art The Saddler Boys

The Saddler Boys

Fiona Palmer

Penguin

Michael Joseph

ISBN: 9780143799795

 

Description:

Schoolteacher Natalie has always been a city girl. She has a handsome boyfriend and a family who give her only the best. But she craves her own space, and her own classroom, before settling down into the life she is expected to lead.

 

When Nat takes up a posting at a tiny school in remote Western Australia, it proves quite the culture shock, but she is soon welcomed by the swarm of inquisitive locals, particularly young student Billy and his intriguing single father, Drew.

 

As Nat’s school comes under threat of closure, and Billy’s estranged mother turns up out of the blue, Nat finds herself fighting for the township and battling with her heart. Torn between her life in Perth and the new community that needs her, Nat must risk losing it all to find out what she’s really made of – and where she truly belongs.

 

 

My View:

Recently I have been reading a few “How to Write” type books and one piece of advice I see repeatedly offered is “write about what you know.” Fiona Palmer is an expert at this, her love of the county, in particular the Western Australian wheat belt, it small towns and the people who inhabit these town, shines in her books, this one is no exception.

 

Fiona’s love of the land is evident in every word, every sentence of this exceptional narrative; there are vivid scenes of sheep and shearing sheds, you can almost smell the lanolin, hear the buzz of the clippers, picture the farm/work ute and see yourself catching yabbies in the dam… I think this narrative works so well because you can so easily place yourself in the settings, the images are so alive.

 

Juxtaposed against the images of country life dictated by the seasons, a lifestyle built on community is the busyness and sterility of the city, Nat’s parents particularly showcase a world devoted to appearances, image, the creation of wealth, a world devoid of emotion. Uncle Kent is the exception in this city environment; a character that demonstrates that wealth and caring can go hand in hand.

 

Fiona Palmer’s writing is has depth and successfully tackles many contemporary issues – the demise of the small country town, the disproportionate number of males to females in country towns and the social implications of this factor, the closing of schools when numbers aren’t deemed viable and the negative domino effect this has on the rest of the community (the closing of the local shop, people moving to areas where there are a greater range of services etc.) domestic violence, custody battles… there is so much packed into this book.

 

This is an exceptional book; Fiona Palmer has created a country town that the reader can step into, a place where the characters are people you know and love (mostly), a place where family and community matter and woven into this rural scene are real and current issues. Fiona Palmer has successfully and engagingly written about what she knows best.

 

 

 

Post Script: Sweet Wattle Creek – Kaye Dobbie

History has never been so important.

Sweet Wattle Creek Kaye Dobbie Cover

Sweet Wattle Creek

Kaye Dobbie

Harlequin Australia

ISBN: 9781743693087

 Description:

A vintage wedding dress reveals family secrets she never knew…

 

The chance discovery of a vintage wedding dress weaves together the fascinating stories of three women from different eras: Sophie, in hiding from a troubled past; Belle, who must lose everything to learn what really matters; and Martha, forced to give up those she loves in order to avoid exposure.

 

It’s 1930 and Belle Bartholomew has arrived in rural Sweet Wattle Creek to claim her inheritance – a run-down grand hotel formerly owned by Martha Ambrose. Determined to solve the mystery of her birth and the reason why she was bequeathed the hotel Belle runs into difficulties with the townsfolk and their desire to keep their secrets safe.

 

Sixty years later Sophie Matheson is on a quest to find Belle and her family after discovering the wedding dress. The Sweet Wattle Creek Centenary brings more challenges when her past catches up and she must fight for all that matters to her. Who were Belle and Martha and what links their lives together?

 

 

My View:

Kaye Dobbie has masterfully married two times fames to produce an exciting narrative that is both historical (1930’s) and contemporary (1980’s) fiction and there are aspects of life in both time periods that are relevant to the world we live in today. I found the history and social commentary of Australia between the wars and of the Great Depression illuminating; PTSD, the aftermath of war on families and communities, poverty, the role of women in society, unemployment were and are significant worldwide issues and it was exciting to learn a little more about this period by the device of using Sophie and Ian’s search for the provenance of the wedding dress.

 

Chapters alternate between the two periods and each chapter is clearly marked with the location, the year and whose voice we are listening to– Sophie’s (1980’s) or Belle’s (1930’s) – there is no chance of getting lost in this duality of time that sometimes happens in novels that employ this device – all is very clear and I thank the author for making it so – I never had to go back and re read to work out where I was or who I was listening to.

 

In both time periods we have protagonists that are strong, determined, resourceful and caring women. Dobbie writes her lead characters with poise, grace and humanity. The issue of small town attitudes and prejudices of the 1930’s – in particular the perceived social, economic and moral attitudes towards the “travellers,” the displaced victims of the Depression is comparable to attitudes today to the to the displaced people of Syria – the same fears and misconceptions surrounding their plight leapt out at me as I read this book. I think there is a lesson or two here we can all take from Belle and Michael’s attitudes of social responsibility.

 

Belle lived in a time of great upheaval, upheaval is a theme that is also prevalent in Sophie’s life too. Sophie’s story evokes much empathy and her situation is just as relevant to many women today as it was back in the 1980’s (no spoilers here.) Dobbie successfully reflects upon attitudes of the time as we discover more about the life and history of both female protagonists.

 

A blend of historical and contemporary fiction, with a dash of empathetic characters, drama, suspense and social commentary and Kaye Dobbie has created a recipe for success.

 

 

Post Script: I Forgot To Remember – Su Meck with Daniel De Vise

The perfect book club read.

I Forgot to Remember Su Meck Cover

I Forgot to Remember

Su Meck and Daniel De Vise

Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 9781451685817

 

Description:

In 1988 Su Meck was twenty-two and married with two children when a ceiling fan in her kitchen fell and struck her on the head, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury that erased all her memories of her life up to that point. Although her body healed rapidly, her memories never returned.

Yet after just three weeks in the hospital, Su was released and once again charged with the care of two toddlers and a busy household. Adrift in a world about which she understood almost nothing, Su became an adept mimic, gradually creating routines and rituals that sheltered her and her family, however narrowly, from the near-daily threat of disaster, or so she thought. Though Su would eventually relearn to tie her shoes, cook a meal, and read and write, nearly twenty years would pass before a series of personally devastating events shattered the normal life she had worked so hard to build, and she realized that she would have to grow up all over again.

In her own indelible voice, Su offers us a view from the inside of a terrible injury, with the hope that her story will help give other brain injury sufferers and their families the resolve and courage to build their lives anew. Piercing, heartbreaking, but finally uplifting, this book is the true story of a woman determined to live life on her own terms.

 

My View:

This is a book that caused much debate, actually let me re phrase that; not so much debate – but rather a consensus and shared sadness that these events relayed in this memoir actually occurred – the systems that let you down Su, the situations that you coped with on your own are heartbreaking; this is an open, frank and at times confronting creative memoir that offers an insider’s view of life after suffering a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) but more or rather should I say in addition, this is a story of a family’s struggle to cope are with a horrendously debilitating injury and this is a story of domestic violence – Su, I know you probably dont want to hear that but the moment I started reading your story the warning bells rung loud and clear to me… such manipulation and control and anger…

 

Apparently Jim (the husband) agreed to have all these reflections of behaviour and attitudes “on record” (p.274), for me that does not excuse the behaviour. Su, you also reflect here on why you stay with Jim…I leave that you the reader to absorb and contemplate.

 

My voice clearly echoes the feelings this book has stirred up. This is an extraordinary book. Su you are living an extraordinary life; good luck and I hope you do find love.

 

This is the perfect book club read – I know it will educate and it will definitely create debate… and evoke many feelings.

**Reading/Book club notes for this book can be found here: http://books.simonandschuster.com.au/I-Forgot-to-Remember/Su-Meck/9781451685824/reading_group_guide