AN UNFINISHED LIFE by Mark Spragg
Jean Gilkyson has been round the block more times than she cares to admit after the accidental death of her 21 year-old husband Griff in a car which she was driving. The child of their union, 9 year-old Griff never knew her father but knows with certainty the relationship her mother is in now will end in violence and tears – if they are lucky.
They flee to a little town in Wyoming, her dead husband’s birthplace; Jean is desperate enough to throw herself on the mercy of her father-in-law Einar, who blames her utterly for his son’s death. She can’t break down his hatred for her – but Griff can: gradually, old and terrible wounds heal, the sun shines again and hope, that most elusive and tremulous emotion in the grief-stricken, lifts its delicate face to bask in its rays.
Mark Spragg writes beautifully of all the trials we must face as family – and all the rewards we can gain, too. There is a wonderful vein of humour throughout the story, softening the hard truths.
BORN UNDER A MILLION SHADOWS by Andrea Busfield
Fawad, aged ‘around ten or eleven’ lives with his mother and her sister’s teeming family in Kabul; Fawad’s aunt suffers their presence because Allah decrees that she must be merciful to family members more unfortunate than she – and how true that is: Fawad’s father and brother are dead, fighting the Taliban, and his older sister has been abducted years before and taken who knows where in a midnight raid by the same fanatics. Life is hard, but, he reasons, no harder than for any other Afghan; everyone he knows has suffered similar if not worse hardships, so what’s the point of complaining? Instead, he gets on with his life, begging money from tourists in Chicken Street (Fawad has turned his ability to look pathetic into an art form) so that he and his mother can survive on more than her sister’s reluctant charity, and who knows – if God is good, they may even get enough behind them to find their own place to live; it will be as Allah decides. Journalist Andrea Busfield lived in Afghanistan for many years and in this, her first novel, she pays homage to the country and people she loves, creating unforgettable characters and spinning a magical tale of love and loss, friendship and hope. And Fawad will stay with the reader for a long time – optimistic, devil-may-care in the way of all children, but tough and wise beyond his years: I was sorry when I reached the last page. Please, Ms Busfield, may I have some more?
A FRACTION OF THE WHOLE by Steve Toltz
It’s impossible to categorise this novel: is it a tragicomedy or a comic tragedy? Either way, the reader is fated to join the wildest ride ever as the Dean family – father Martin, his brother Terry and Martin’s son Jasper – speed inexorably towards Hell in a handbasket. As they hurtle towards the abyss there is a chortle on every page; even the most shocking and heartrending events are disarmed by a delicious wit, and though that hapless family’s misadventures are entirely unbelievable they take on an unexpected credibility in the reader’s mind which makes one say –‘Hey: hang on a minute – this shouldn’t work!’ But it does. Mr. Toltz demonstrates admirably in this, his first novel that despite being the most dysfunctional family in Australia (if not the world), the Deans are ultimately ennobled by their love for each other, even as they indulge themselves in the most extreme forms of familial selfishness and betrayal. This novel is a paradox, a work worthy to be shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize – and also a manic, messy, heartbreaking, chaotic, hilarious tour-de-force that shouldn’t be missed. May 2010
POOR LITTLE BITCH GIRL by Jackie Collins
Jackie Collins always produces the perfect beach and Airport read; fast-paced, unbelievable and full of the most improbable characters, all of whom we mere mortals will NEVER meet in real life: the babes are hot; the lawyers are cold; the heroes have brooding good looks, heaps of money and rippling abs to match, and the villains are murderous, evil and out to sin as much as they can, (the thugs!) until they are ultimately vanquished by the forces of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. What more could we possibly ask for? It goes without saying that Ms Collins has employed her old, tried and true pulp formula here –(she’s inclined to have her heroines speak ‘crisply’ and her characters to take a long or a short ‘beat’ before replying) - but why shouldn’t she? This formula sells books by the tonne. I’m sure that she would be the first to admit that she doesn’t write Lofty Literature, but this lady knows her subject (Hollywood and its Denizens) intimately; no-one writes more truthfully or shrewdly about LaLaLand than she who has lived there for many years and survived brilliantly to tell its tales. Last but not least, she’s very, VERY funny. May 2010