I read this in one sitting, literally couldn’t put it down. This story of Evie, a teenager who joins a Manson-like cult in the summer of ’69, really drew me in with its incredible evocation of girlhood and adolescence in all its rawness. Interestingly, this story is less about the allure of Russell (the fictionalised Manson figure) and far more about ‘the girls’ that accrue about him. Evie is desperate to be noticed, to be loved, to be someone, and the girls – particularly their aloof quasi-leader, Suzanne – seem to Evie to offer her the sense of belonging and purpose she craves.
I feel like I must have missed something with this book, considering the almost universal praise it’s received! To me, everything about this book was fine. Not terrible, but not outstanding. Just fine. I read and watch a lot of crime drama so I guess I have fairly high standards? Don’t know! I did enjoy the way Harper created the vibe of a small country Aussie town though. I think that if you’re Aussie or have lived here for any length of time – whether you were born here or not – everyone, and I mean everyone, knows the danger of a live flame in the bush during fire season. Harper creates and draws upon our collective dread of the ‘dry’ really well and it felt real and convincing, as well as providing an eerie threatening backdrop for a set of pretty gruesome murders.
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).
I heard about Annabel Smith a couple of years ago during an online book giveaway hosted by a group of writers from WA, where by subscribing to Smith’s blog (as well as the blogs of Natasha Lester, Dawn Barker, Amanda Curtin and Sara Foster), you could win a bunch of novels. I didn’t win, but I now read each of the blogs regularly and am making my way through the writers’ novels. Whiskey & Charlie (originally published in Australia as Whiskey Charlie Foxtrot) was Smith’s second novel, and I picked it up in the States instead of back home to support her international sales!
The story is basically a character study of Charlie, whose twin brother Whiskey is in a coma as a result of a bad car crash. Charlie and Whiskey have been estranged for years, so when Charlie is faced with the prospect of Whiskey’s potential death, he yearns to make amends with his bro. The story follows Charlie as deeply assesses why he and Whiskey became estranged in the first place, working out that his brother isn’t entirely to blame, then forgiving his bro and forgiving himself.
If the plot doesn’t sound action-driven, that’s because it really isn’t – Whiskey is unconscious for nearly the entire novel and most of the dramatic tension derives from Charlie’s inner emotional cycle – the grief, anger and guilt he experiences over and over as he mulls over his brother’s condition ad infinitum, to the point where it starts annoying his other relatives. But despite not being a novel one might read for plot, Smith has written an interesting and very moving story, primarily, I think, because she does such a great job at making the audience care for both Charlie and Whiskey. They’re both utterly infuriating, in their own ways; Whiskey for his arrogance and sense of entitlement, Charlie for his inability to recognise his own flaws, his tendency to blame Whiskey for every mishap that befalls him. But they’re also both likeable and endearing. It’s complicated. It’s good.
I walked the length of my cell from the wall with two windows to my altar, counting my steps – nine paces; then across the narrower side, from my fireplace to my squint – seven paces. This would be my world. I touched my squint, a thin window about the length of my two hands from fingertips to heel and as wide as my wrist. I knelt and looked through. It was so narrow…even if I moved closer to the slit or moved my head, I would see nothing more than the crucifix and candles.
For a while I didn’t buy this book as I was put off by the cover: it has a bird on the front, and I had assumed it was another novel using birds as a metaphor for life (‘learning to fly’, ‘leaving the nest’, ‘migrating’) which I am well and truly sick of. However, the blurb sucked me in. The Anchoress is about a woman in the 12th century who chooses to live in an enclosed stone cell for life. I was totally intrigued, partly because I’ve always been fascinated by the middle ages, and partly because I wondered whether a story set entirely in a tiny stone room could be sustained in an interesting way over a whole novel.
Turns out it totally could! It’s pretty full on. Sarah, the protagonist, is only seventeen when she becomes an anchoress and the opening scenes describe the door of her cell being nailed shut, the crushing darkness, the way it feels like death. Historically, anchoresses were real women who chose to cut themselves off from world and all the sensory temptations within it, in order to spend their lives in prayer and contemplation of God. They literally can’t leave: food is handed to them through a window and people chat with them through another window, usually curtained. Anchoresses would also speak regularly to village women, who would confide in the anchoress of their town, pray with them, and turn to them for spiritual guidance. This is Sarah’s life.