Do all books about Tasmania have to include search and rescue teams in a spectacular physical setting (see Death of a River Guide)? The crisis of The World Beneath takes place on the Cradle Mountain trail rather than the Franklin River (but the parents of the heroine met during environmental protests on, you guessed it, the Franklin River). 15-year old Sophie is hiking with her heretofore estranged father who proceeds to get them lost, hence the search and rescue ending. The hippie mother, meanwhile, is trying to reinvent herself and worries, as she should, about her daughter and her irresponsible ex-husband. I found the relationship between the daughter and both parents very nicely told — until late in the story, when that 15-year old behaves with a strength and purpose that seems hard to believe in someone so young. The scenery is awesome and, at least for the portions of the trail that I know, felt absolutely faithful to the real thing, down to the boardwalk that is the first part of the trail.
So what didn’t work so well for me? That uber worldly 15-year old, for one thing, and way too much foreshadowing.
Death of a River Guide tells the story of, well, a dying river guide. Aljaz Cosini is drowning in a Tasmanian river, trying to save a tourist from the swollen water, and as he dies he tells the complicated story of his family (over 300 pages worth, which made me think of those opera characters that sing long arias while dying, but in a good way.)
The story is quite complicated and occasionally hard to follow as it jumps between multiple generations on two continents but it’s quite satisfying both as a family saga, complete with wars and rapes and babies dying, and also as an interesting angle of what it’s like to be an outdoor adventure guide, although it would have been nice to develop the characters of the tourists a little better. An interesting, although bleak look at Tasmania.
Additionstarts out as the memoir of a woman obsessed with counting everything, from the bananas she buys at the supermarket to the steps she takes to get there. Actually it’s the bananas that get the book started since she must filch one from another shopper’s basket to get to her required 10, which gets her a date with an apparently relentlessly normal, caring, and empathetic guy. Unfortunately the tone and details are not perfectly right (this is not The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which managed to stay completley in character for the duration) so the first half of the book, although pretty good, left me a tad frustrated.
But then, the heroin decides that her “cure”, which requires hefty doses of Prozac-like chemicals, is removing her personality along with her OCD, and the novel takes off in an unexpected and decidely satisfying direction. If you can power through the first 100 pages you will be rewarded.
I liked The Good Parents a lot and I’m not sure why the critics did not rush to deliver a more enthusiastic response to it. It’s the story of an Australian family through three generations delivered as a series of smooth flashbacks from the life of a young woman who has an inadvisable affair with her boss and whose parents go searching for her. You can smell the gum trees (eucalyptuses for us Americans) and feel the hot wind of Western Australia but this is not a travelogue. The story delicately highlights the complicated and imperfect ties between parents and children (and brother and sister) and the emotional pitch is perfect. Here’s one example, from the grandfather’s life: “The funeral [his wife's] represented everything he dreaded. Fuss. Emotion. Pity.” And this one, from the always action-oriented, not-so-young-anymore, rather lonely aunt’s, after she discovers in quick succession that she is pregnant but that her lover’s wife has come back to him: “By the time they reached the outskirts of the city, her beautiful dark-haired child was born, named, educated, lovingly reared.”
A frequent rant: don’t they have French speakers in Australia? (I know several, and I don’t even live there!) It would deliver us from silly mangled lines a la “Rien ne me surprise.” But this is only a nit: read this book!
The Lure of the Bush has a lot going for it: a detective with the magnificent name of Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony for short), an elaborate mystery a la Sherlock Holmes, in which we know pretty much from the start what happened (well, almost) but need the whole book to confirm it, and the exotic background of the Australian bush, complete with kukabooras and billabongs (not the surfing clothes.) So what’s the problem? Every few pages there’s a negative reference to the aborigenes’ choice of clothing, sexual mores, limited language abilities, and more. What started as a grating annoyance had me hopping mad by the end of the book.
I happened to read The Lure of the Bush immediately after Freshwater Road and I was very sorry to find that racism travels well…
A Fraction of the Whole is a grandiose saga of the Dean family, starting and ending in Australia but ranging to Paris and Thailand with unprobable situations every few pages but anchored in the outsized and definitely out-of-the-norm personalities of the narrator’s father and uncle. I thought the first part (based in Australia) was brilliant. The second part (based in Paris) seemed more forced, and he got a few details wrong. The last part, back in Australia with a little Thailand detour, is also pretty good so don’t get discouraged in the middle. It is a very long book.
A wonderful vacation book: you’ll want to read it in long installments so you can stay with the complicated story.