Review – ‘The Trick Is To Keep Breathing’ by Janice Galloway

Trick

This book is unsettling and upsetting – in a good way. It basically traces the workings of a young woman called Joy’s mind after her partner dies suddenly. Her grief quickly becomes extreme depression (and perhaps psychosis, though it’s not made clear), and she also struggles with alcoholism and social anxiety. We don’t learn a whole lot about her partner’s death (just enough to understand that it happened and was traumatic for Joy, narrated through brief and disjointed italicised flashbacks) and so the focus really is on the inner workings of Joy’s mind.
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Scotland, summer

Or, Tullohs gone wild in the highland fog.

Review – ‘A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald

fitzgerald

This book was good fun. Set in the 1920s, it follows Evie, a young American woman who wants to the first female obstetrician in the US in a time where girls even attending uni was frowned upon, let alone becoming doctors, let alone doctors that helped women give birth. The story traces her attempts to get in med school in NYC, and then to pay for med school once she’s in – she does this by becoming a showgirl with the Ziegfied Follies (another so called ‘scandalous’ choice that she strives to keep hidden lest she be expelled from university). At the same time a romance is brewing – Evie is falling in love with Thomas Whitman, a rich banker dude who is super nice and cool, but he keeps travelling abroad for business, and Evie is worried that because he’s such a high flyer, his relationship with her (and her associated scandals) could compromise his family business, etc etc…
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Review – ‘The Natural Way of Things’ by Charlotte Wood

the-natural-way-of-things I did think this dystopian story about young women being punished for sex with powerful men by being relegated to a brutal desert prison was good, but I found it hard to reconcile all the amazing reviews with my own reading experience…another case of being sucked in the by hype before I actually read the book, methinks.

Yolanda is one the girls in the prison (which is actually an abandoned sheep stations, manned by two male guards). I really liked Yolanda’s journey as she became more and more animal, stripping herself of cultural baggage and becoming no more than flesh and bone in a purposeful way (as opposed to a reductive way). The descriptions of her wandering the desolate paddocks slung with rabbit traps, carcasses and skins after she learned to hunt to survive were really powerful, and even though it sounds kind of gross, she was never a figure of horror – more of power and agency.

I also found the shifting power dynamics between the girls and the male guards really compelling, especially the way that Boncer’s ‘power’ could only be enforced by violence and threat (and finally rape), and that his desire for control basically emerged from his fear of the young women.
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Review – ‘Foal’s Bread’ by Gillian Mears

Foal's Bread

‘Foal’s Bread’ is grim, jubilant, violent, gentle, magical, heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time. This book has to be destined to become an Australian classic.

Set in the 1910s and 20s, it follows a family of farmers and horse jumpers – mostly Noey, her husband Roley, and her daughter Lainey. The story isn’t plot driven but there is so much going on…Noey losing a baby as a teen to her pedophile uncle, then marrying young, having two kids, keeping a dairy farm going, Roley getting struck by lightning, Noey and Roley’s mum’s volatile relationship…as well as horse training and breeding, anger problems, alcohol problems, weather problems, sex problems, small town problems, the kids growing up, etc. But it all feels really integrated, and the drama of family life becomes complicated and wondrous, validating human experience in even the most mundane, or most upsetting, situations.
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Review: ‘This Beautiful Life’ by Helen Schulman

this beautifulcover

Oh man, this was pretty hard to read – not because it’s badly written, but because of the subject matter. It’s basically the story of how people’s behaviour becomes ugly when the crap hits the fan – in this case a family/social crisis (teenage son receive sex video from a younger student; he forwards it on to his friends, who in turn forward it on; mayhem and shaming of various parties ensues).
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