Liz reads: 4 Australian novels

How amazing is fiction? People just MAKE UP STORIES, which I then buy and read and insert these ideas from other people’s heads into my brain!

Er, yes, I’ve read some Oz fiction lately — two crime novels, two YA. Let’s have a look.

A Time To Run, J. M. Peace

This is not a great work of literature. The writing is workmanlike, there are too many PoVs, and honestly, I found aspects of the storytelling problematic.

On the other hand, I read a sample chapter, then went out and bought it (cheaply, it was on sale in the Kobo store) and inhaled it in a day.

It’s a simple thriller, in which a serial killer gets more than he bargained for when it turns out the woman he has abducted is a cop. Pretty standard fare, except that it’s set in and around Brisbane — in fact, the serial killer’s hunting ground is near the town where I grew up, which seems perfectly fitting in every possible way. And the author is a former Queensland cop, which brings her writing an authenticity similar to that in P. M. Newton’s novels about NSW cops.

What’s missing is Newton’s relentless interrogation of police biases — this isn’t that kind of book. But, as a former local, it was fun to see familiar suburbs turned sinister.

resurrectionbayResurrection Bay, Emma Viskic

Somehow I managed to see all the hype, praise and awards this book was getting, and yet missed — until partway through the first chapter — that the main character, Caleb Zelic, is Deaf.

A Deaf private investigator sounds like a gimmick, but Viskic takes too much care for that — this is a different calibre of crime novel to A Time To Run. I can only guess at whether or not Viskic has portrayed Deafness well, but certainly she did her research, learning Auslan when she realised that her main character was Hard of Hearing.

Once again, it was the local setting — Melbourne, this time — that attracted me to the book, but the appeal is a lot wider. We have a wide variety of characters, from Caleb’s professional partner, a recovering alcoholic, to his ex-wife, a Koori artist who rankles at the ableism he faces, just as he rankles with the racism she deals with. There’s also a truly delightful “IT specialist” who frankly deserves six seasons and a movie of her own.

The plot, dealing with warehouse theft, imported guns, drugs and a police conspiracy, is a bit on the over-complex side. But it’s worth it in the end.

Becoming Kirrali Lewis, Jane Harrison

This was a lovely book, and I’m extremely glad I bought it in hardcopy, but fair warning: if you’re a massive pedant, you may struggle with it. Because I am, and I did.

Set in 1986, the novel follows Kirrali Lewis, an Aboriginal girl raised by a loving white family, as she goes to university and comes face to face with an identity she doesn’t even understand, and begins the search for her biological parents.

This is a good story, well-told, written by a respected Indigenous playwrite. But I kept being thrown out of the narrative because it is full of anachronisms. These range from the “Oh, Liz, only a tiny number of people will care” type (a Borg joke in 1986) to “no, actually, someone should have caught that” (a character saying “legit”).

I found these incredibly distracting, and went so far as to put it down for a couple of weeks, until I was in a frame of mind to get past them. And I’m glad I did, because then the story finally opened up for me, and it’s stayed with me since I finished it.

So I’m definitely recommending it — but try to get your inner pedant, if you have one, to sit down and shut up until it’s all over.

whenmichaelmetminaWhen Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah

This, on the other hand, I picked up expecting to mildly enjoy, and instead fell madly in love, and recommend it without reservations. It’s a YA romance between Michael, whose parents run an anti-immigration party along the lines of Reclaim Australia (it’s called Aussie Values, naturally), and Mina, who came to Australia as a refugee from Afghanistan, and who has just won a scholarship to attend Michael’s posh private school.

If I organised my books by theme — which I don’t, it would be a total mess — I’d probably shelf this quite close to Laurinda, which is also about a schoolgirl with an immigrant background getting a scholarship to attend a prestigious private school. But Mina’s school experience is a lot nicer than Lily’s, even though she, too, is expected to be the school’s diversity poster child. This is less about the school as an institution, and more about the social milieu Mina enters. And, of course, Michael.

I started out hating Michael, and deeply resenting that he was going to end up with a great character like Mina. And yet, I came to like and care about him a lot. I’m not surprised, because I trusted Abdel-Fattah, but I’m impressed — especially at how well she portrayed racism in a middle-class family. It would have been easy to portray Michael’s parents and the other Aussie Values supporters as cashed up bogans, uneducated yobbos, but they’re more nuanced than that, even when they’re hassling Mina about the halal meat served in her family’s restaurant.

In some ways, Mina’s probably a bit too nice — when she comforts her best friend over a dying dog, reassuring her that grief isn’t a competition, while dealing with her own PTSD, I wished she’d be more selfish. She skirted dangerously close to becoming unreasonably angelic. But I’ll forgive it, because she also has lines like this:

I start to take off my shoes. She [the best friend] tells me not to. I tell her my mum would have a fit if she found out … I explain that I’m quite happy to make up stories to extend my curfew, or manipulate library closing times to stay out late, but not taking my shoes off would be the ultimate betrayal.

One thought on “Liz reads: 4 Australian novels

  1. kejumonyet

    Hmm, I passed the recommendation on to my partner… she’s not keen on YA but she does like reading about Australians being racist.
    (As a side note… she is convinced she will get harassed by Hansonites when we visit Brisbane – it’s not that bad there, is it?)

Comments are closed.