Tin Man by Sarah Winman

tin man.jpgTitle: Tin Man

Author: Sarah Winman

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Tinder Press

Published: 1st March 2018 (25th July 2017 earlier edition)

Format: Paperback

Pages: 197

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The unforgettable and achingly tender new novel from Sarah Winman, author of the international bestseller WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT and the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller A YEAR OF MARVELLOUS WAYS.

SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2017 COSTA NOVEL AWARD

The beautiful and heartbreaking new novel from Sarah Winman, author of the international bestseller WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT.

‘Her best novel to date’ Observer
‘An exquisitely crafted tale of love and loss’ Guardian
‘A marvel’ Sunday Express
‘Astoundingly beautiful’ Matt Haig

It begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things.

And then there are two boys, Ellis and Michael,
who are inseparable.
And the boys become men,
and then Annie walks into their lives,
and it changes nothing and everything.

TIN MAN sees Sarah Winman follow the acclaimed success of WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT and A YEAR OF MARVELOUS WAYS with a love letter to human kindness and friendship, loss and living.

~*~

Ellis and Michael have been friends for as long as they can remember, a life time of friendship, of mutual respect and a desire to support each other, ad remain close to each other. Theirs is a friendship that blossoms into a little something more, until they are caught – but their friendship remains intact, and Michael will always love Ellis in a variety of ways. Then, one day, Annie, a book lover, comes into their lives, and the bonds of friendship, love, trust and respect grow. Until tragedies strike the group, all three of them, and so their touching story of acceptance and tragedy is told, first through the eyes of Ellis, then a letter from Michael, explaining things, revealing his true feelings and finally, Ellis closes the story. It is an ending of realism, where the unavoidable and unpredictable comes to light and worlds are shattered, and where the story has hope and friendship, the ending shows that nothing in life is promised, that nobody is immune from the tragedies of life.

It is a story of love, but not just romantic love. The love Ellis, Annie and Michael have for each other as friends, and as the family they’ve created, is just as strong and just as important. They worry for each other, they respect each other, they would do anything for each other.

Sarah Winman has sensitively dealt with issues surrounding HIV, and LGBTQI+ representation with Michael, and the battles he would have faced during childhood and adulthood, with a sad end to his story, yet at the same time, realistic as he explores who he is, and his place in the world.

What I liked about the romantic elements in this novel was that they were realistic. Representations of unrequited love – for anyone – often seem rare in literature. For Michael, not being able to love Ellis as he marries Annie, is hard, but he still has their love as friends. I think this was important to show all these aspects of love as it made the characters more believable and relatable.

At the heart of the book is Annie, who brings Michael and Ellis back together, years after the two young men had an affair together and were ripped apart by families and a society that didn’t accept that behaviour. I loved that Annie did – she allowed them to be who they were, and her acceptance and encouragement was very touching. At the same time, Ellis has to come to terms with time lost with Michael, with Annie and acceptance and letting go – I felt this was more of the focus than the romance, and perhaps why it made the story so powerful – it showed that love isn’t the perfect kind we see in movies all the time, that life isn’t perfect, and at the intersections of life and love, things can get very messy, very painful and very unpredictable. Ellis didn’t choose to fall for Annie and Michael – he simply did. This aspect is at the same time simple and complex – that he simply did shows how feelings just happen, whilst the complexities of how he dealt with this were subtler but gave the story the gravitas and emotion it needed.

Though their lives are tinged with tragedy, the story is still hopeful and positive. People can move on and find acceptance, and those who resisted once can accept difference where they might not have before. It is the story of a generation who lived vastly different lives in a post-war period, were convention and tradition were at the forefront, and any deviance from it was punished and disrespected.  Evoking these emotions has created a strength of narrative and character that will hopefully mean these stories are remembered,

I enjoyed this touching story, and I hope others will too.

Sarah appeared at the Adelaide Writer’s Festival this morning, the 5th of March at 9.30AM.

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The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

the wicked cometh.jpgTitle: The Wicked Cometh

Author: Laura Carlin

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, Hachette Australia

Published: 13th February, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 343

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Even in the darkest of times, you cannot bury the truth . . . A debut historical novel that will appeal to fans of Sarah Waters and THE ESSEX SERPENT.

THE WICKED COMETH will take readers on a heart-racing journey through backstreets swathed with fog to richly curtained, brightly lit country houses; from the libraries and colleges of gentlemen, to sawdust-strewn gin palaces where ne’er-do-wells drink and scheme, all told through the eyes of a heroine with nothing to lose. 

The year is 1831.

Down murky alleyways and in filthy hovels, acts of unspeakable wickedness take place and vulnerable people begin to disappear from the streets. Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible.

When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the mysterious Rebekah Brock. But both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations as whispers from Hester’s old life return to poison the present. Something is lurking in the black heart of their city, and it is more depraved than either of them could ever imagine . . .

~*~

Every city has its secrets, and so do the people who live in them. Hester White is run over by the cart of an aristocrat and injures her ankle. The gentleman, Calder Brock, insists on taking her back to his family home to heal, and she is soon turned into a project, for Calder’s mysterious sister Rebekah, whose indifference is off-putting, but the whispers about missing maids and girls are more concerning. Hester’s life in hovels and alleyways has changed now that she is in the Brock home, but the dangers that the maids and servants whisper about girls who have disappeared without a trace, and Hester knows she must find out what has happened, or potentially meet the same fate the others did. Initially afraid of Rebekah, Hester runs to save her life, only to discover the dark and dangerous truth about people she thought she could trust.

In her life, Hester, the narrator, has seen two Londons: the rich, opulent one of the Brocks, and the slums she lived in, the parsonage she grew up in. Through Hester’s eyes we see how her experiences being poor and rich affect her, and her ability to move between the two worlds is effective, especially as the novel is told in first person. When Hester is talking about Rebekah, there are hints that it is more than respect and friendship, but I felt that this grew and developed over the novel and complemented the mystery nicely. Hester’s father regaled her with stories about his travels. building up an ideal London in her young mind. Orphaned at eleven, Hester is living with an alcoholic Uncle Jacob, and her Aunt Meg, who encourages her to leave to save herself from the rage of Jacob.

When Calder takes her in to prove even those from the gutter can be educated, much like Henry Higgins tries to prove with Eliza in Pygmalion, Hester assumes a persona of ignorance, though she has been taught to read and write by her father. The mystery slowly unfolds, and towards the middle of the story, it starts to move faster than the beginning as Rebekah and Hester undertake their own investigations and try to stop the dark disappearances. The slow beginning acts as a deceptive set-up, lulling the reader into a false sense of security before slowly chipping away at this feeling through maid’s whispers and Hester’s doubts as she tells the story. This is used effectively to begin the mystery, which soon becomes the main story, and the relationships develop as the mystery goes on. I quite enjoyed the mystery, though it was quite dark, and disturbing, but highlighted the depravity that exists in society, and the lengths that people will go to in order to hide this depravity and present a respectable front to society.

Hester’s narration allows the reader to see it all through her eyes, and experience her confusion, her guilt and the feelings she is unsure about that bubble to the surface when she is around Rebekah and thinking about her. It has elements of friendship and romance, and finding one’s own identity, and the development of this evolves with the mystery. It was nice to see a relationship develop over time and not be instantaneous, and get equal attention to a rather dark and intriguing mystery that took the characters through the shadows of London.

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My Lovely Frankie by Judith Clarke

my lovely frankie

Title: My Lovely Frankie

Author: Judith Clarke

Genre: YA Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th June 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A masterful, moving story about a teenage boy caught between faith and love, by one of Australia’s finest YA writers.

‘Frankie believed in Heaven quite literally, as if it was another lovely world out past the stars. And when he spoke the word “love”, it seemed to spring free and fly into the air like a beautiful balloon you wanted to run after. But I couldn’t tell my parents about Frankie, not properly. I told them I’d made friends with the boy in the room next to mine, and how he’d come from this little town out west. I couldn’t tell them how he was becoming the best thing in my world. I couldn’t tell anyone, I hardly admitted it to myself.’

In the 1950s, ‘entering’ the seminary was forever, and young boys were gathered into the priesthood before they were old enough to know what they would lose. Tom went to St Finbar’s because he was looking for something more than the ordinary happiness of his home and school.

But then he discovered that being able to love another person was the most important thing of all. For Tom, loving Frankie made him part of the world. Even when Frankie was gone…

~*~

aww2017-badgeSet during a time when entering the seminary was for life, with some boys sent there from a very young age, unable to know or discover what they would be giving up, and a time when homosexuality was something that wasn’t spoken about , or accepted, and given different names, or described differently, being able to talk about how you felt was hard. What My Lovely Frankie does is take a young boy, just realising he is gay, and entering St Finbar’s with a desire to join the seminary, on his journey of the conflict he finds between the love he feels for someone that society tells him he shouldn’t, and the faith he has followed in his heart, into a priesthood. Tom tells the story as he is nearing the end of his life to his cousin Miri, who has always known, and accepts him for who he is. In the world they grew up in, the gay couple Tom’s parents knew are accepted by Tom and his family, and his father always says “Love is love.” Clarke moves easily from Tom’s narration as an elderly man into the voice of a sixteen year old boy, discovering what love and faith mean, and finding a way to accept who he is.

Entering St FInbar’s later than most of the boys. Tom is befriended by Frankie, sent there by his father for something he shouldn’t have done with a girl – had sex – as a punishment, yet to Frankie, it is almost a sanctuary. He is friendly and bubbly, and takes Tom on as a friend almost immediately upon meeting him. As Tom tells the reader, Frankie always did things his way: arriving at the school, caring for the younger kids such as Hay, who might need food or a handkerchief, or even just reaching out for Tom, who escorts him to a dentist and then keeps his secrets about his feelings for one of the St Brigid’s girls. Frankie is not gay, but still loves Tom, still loves those who care for him, but in a different way to how Tom does. Tom uses his love to try and protect Frankie from Etta, the bully who spies on everyone and reports to the Rector to get those he feels need punishing in trouble. Together, Tom and Frankie work – the love they share, though different for each boy, is written beautifully and with great care and sensitivity.

Though heartbreaking in the knowledge that Tom will never be able to tell Frankie how he feels, telling the story of an LGBTQ+ character in the 1950s, where it is not accepted and fear can prevent people from revealing their true selves, as it did with Tom – he always knew but also knew he would not be accepted, and the fear that Frankie would think less of him – My Lovely Frankie reveals that the love of a friendship can be just as powerful as romantic love, and examines how faith and love are at times, in conflict with each other and how this affected someone like Tom.

I fell in love with Frankie and his exuberance and kindness towards just about everyone, and the way he just accepted Tom as a friend the first time they met. Reading and watching their friendship grow, I hoped that things would work out nicely for Tom and Frankie, that maybe they would fall in love – and perhaps they did, but in different ways for each of them. I felt it celebrated the differences in love, and highlighted the importance of accepting yourself for who you are, and not what others expect you to be, or to see yourself as a mirror of another who might share your feelings. I felt though there was tragedy and heartbreak, this made it more realistic for me, the unrequited love, the unspoken love, because it is probably something quite relatable for many people, whoever they love from afar.

It is a great book for any YA readers and fans, and Judith Clarke has tackled this subject matter sensitively and in an accessible way that does not present too much darkness, yet at the same time, is telling readers that it is okay to be who you are.

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