Soon by Lois Murphy

Soon_cover-for-publicity-600x913.jpgTitle: Soon

Author: Lois Murphy

Genre: Literary Thriller

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $29.95

Synopsis: An almost deserted town in the middle of nowhere, Nebulah’s days of mining and farming prosperity – if they ever truly existed – are long gone. These days even the name on the road sign into town has been removed. Yet for Pete, an ex-policeman, Milly, Li and a small band of others, it’s the only place they have ever felt at home.

One winter solstice the birds disappear. A strange, residual and mysterious mist arrives. It is a real and potent force, yet also emblematic of the complacency and unease that afflicts so many of our small towns, and the country that Murphy knows so well.

Partly inspired by the true story of Wittenoom, the ill-fated West Australian asbestos town, Soon is the story of the death of a haunted town, and the plight of the people who either won’t or simply can’t abandon all they have ever had. With finely wrought characters and brilliant storytelling, it is a taut and original novel, where the people we come to know and those who are drawn to the town’s intrigue must ultimately fight for survival.
‘A dark and powerful novel that takes the reader on a journey through a disturbingly new and hostile world. Lois’s characters carry their old ways into this new order with grave consequences if they don’t heed the signs. Her haunting and persuasive tale which nods at the tropes of genre fiction while subverting and elevating them heralds a compelling new talent.’

Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, Kate Gordon and Chris Gallagher, Judges, Tasmanian University Prize, Tasmanian Premier’s Awards

‘A  powerful literary thriller where the dark, yet poetically beautiful detailing of events will draw you into a nightmarish world that will have you questioning your understanding of love and loss, and the very nature of your reality. Atmospheric, intense and thought provoking.’

Dominique Wilson, author of  That Devil’s Madness and The Yellow Papers

~*~

aww2017-badgeSoon is an unusual book – a paranormal mystery that envelopes a mysterious, fictional mining town in Western Australia called Nebulah, where Pete, Milly and Li are amongst the last remaining residents of the town after the winter solstice when the birds disappear, and the mist descends upon the town, picking people off slowly, one by one. Pete, an ex-policeman, Milly, Li, a Cambodian who fled the Khmer Rouge, and the other remaining residents, feel it is the only place they belong, and are forced to stand by, watching the mist suck the life out of people and the town, unable to explain it, and unable to get help from the police in a neighbouring town, who believe it to be a hoax, a prank or Pete covering up something they believe he – or another – has done. There is a sense of stubbornness about these people who won’t leave a town that has had the life sucked out of it and run from a mist that won’t stop until the town’s last resident has had their life sucked away. It is a strange story, where I felt a bit lost until half way through, where things started to make a bit of sense, and from there, the plot unfolded to reveal the fates of those left, and the lives that the town and mist mercilessly stole from innocent people.

The world that Lois Murphy has created is also hostile and dark world that perhaps uses the paranormal elements that kill Nebulah to explore dying towns around Australia that collapse after people or industries leave, having sucked the place dry of resources, or industries closing down. The press release cites Wittenoom, an ill-fated asbestos town as the inspiration for Nebulah, a town where the residents who have lived there for years, face grave consequences for straining against whatever new order or forces the mist heralds. The devastating consequences of the choices made by some characters are not sugar coated, but dealt with in a raw and very visual fashion.

It was an unusual story, though it had a sense of mystery, it was not quite the kind of mystery I was expecting. However, it was still intriguing enough for me to complete the novel. It may not be one I will read again, but I am sure there is an audience out there for it. As thrillers go, the air of difference about this one is perhaps what will make it stand out in bookstores for prospective readers.

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Siren by Rachel Matthews

Siren_cover-for-publicity-600x913.jpgTitle: Siren

Author: Rachel Matthews

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $29.95

Synopsis: A brave new novel that sensitively explores one woman’s experience of sexual violence and the silencing of those who feel compelled to speak out.

What happens when a young woman enters a city apartment early morning, with two footballers? Jordi Spence is sixteen years old and lives in outer Melbourne. By daybreak, her world has shifted. Max Carlisle, a troubled AFL star, can’t stop what comes next. And Ruby, a single woman from the apartment block, is left with questions when she sees Jordi leave.

In this remarkable novel, Rachel Matthews captures the characters of Jordi and her family, the players, and the often loveable inhabitants of a big city with a deceptive lightness of touch that seduces the reader. Siren reveals the often unnoticed life of a city while simultaneously drawing us deep into a dark and troubling world. What happens has an unexpected effect on all those who are both directly and indirectly involved.

The result is a powerful and haunting novel about cultural stereotypes and expectations, love, loneliness, family and our struggle to connect. In so many ways, Matthews subtly sounds the siren on sexual violence and its prevalence in our culture.

~*~

aww2017-badgeIt is rare to come across a novel that tackles concepts and issues that are rarely brought into the light, unless it becomes a major story that hits the news. In Siren, Rachel Matthews tells the story of Jordi, a teenager victimised by an AFL star, who would have all the power of a club and community behind him, and the privilege of money and standing in society that can and is, in some instances, used to silence victims and those without power and influence. Where the AFL player in question would have had the best defence he could afford, Jordi is silenced, alone, and feeling like she can’t turn to anyone, not even her mother. The witnesses are silenced too: the roommate of the AFL player, Max Carlisle, who knows what happened, and is consumed by fear, and torn between the desire to do the right thing, and the idea that he needs to protect the brand of the AFL, and ensure that nothing tarnishes it, even when a crime has been committed. And Ruby, the single woman in the same apartment building, who will encourage Max to speak out, or to try to, is caught up in this web of silence as well.

It is a web of silence that affects everyone, except the perpetrator, and it is this culture of silence and exploitation that forms the basis of the novel, complementing Jordi’s struggle, which is front and centre. It examines the culture of blaming the victim and questioning their role in the violence, whether it is sexual or domestic. By placing the story of Jordi front and centre, and showing how powerless even those who are in positions where they might be listened to are as well, Siren eloquently relates the gritty reality of sexual violence against young women. It has a sense of discomfort throughout the novel, because as a reader, you know Jordi is the victim and isn’t to blame, the doctor at the clinic urging her to report knows, and the witnesses know, and yet, everyone who can help, is unable to without Jordi saying so, or because they feel silenced by the community they are a part of.

Told in third person and moving between the perspective of Jordi and those who were unwitting witnesses, including the homeless woman Max befriended, whose concern for Jordi and finding out what had happened to her over her own health and living situation. Jordi’s home life isn’t perfect, with her father off all the time, and her mother’s current boyfriend isn’t great, and even her mother isn’t always there for her, but begins to change her tune, casting the boyfriend aside when she realises Jordi is struggling and does everything she can to get her daughter to open up, but is also afraid to speak out, to say what she fears has happened out loud. Jordi is ashamed, and doesn’t want anyone to know, but she feels like she is drowning, and the witnesses who feel compelled to speak out are equally silenced by their own fears and doubts, or by those of those around them, and the threats they might face – whether from those they know or the community at large, and the desire to bury the issues of domestic and sexual assault and violence behind closed doors, because there are those who would rather not acknowledge it.

The culture of silence is depicted cleverly through the actions of each character, and the way they think and respond. It is shown through the decisions Jordi makes and about who she tells and doesn’t tell, about what she does and doesn’t do and about the assumptions made towards the end of the novel, and the sense that I got whilst reading it that things could go wrong and might not be resolved.

Dealing with uncomfortable issues in literature is a good way to get attention on these issues, and out into the broader community. Sometimes media stories don’t give the full impact and only tell part of the story, or tell a narrative they want to. In a book, many facets can combine to show various sides of the story, but at the same time, illustrate that the privileged notion of victim blaming and being able to get away with something due to power and money – I felt this was what Rachel Matthews was suggesting in the story – can be shattered and broken down, and therefore discussed and ideas surrounding sexual and domestic violence that appear to put the responsibility on the victim can begin to be broken down.

It is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination and I don’t think it is meant to be easy and light. It is meant to be dark, and gritty and confrontational. Not only is the reader confronted by sexual assault and domestic violence, but by homelessness, and class divide, and the assumptions people make based on these characteristics and others, without getting the full story. It does not sanitise any of these experiences either, and combined, these make it an important book to read, even if you only read it once, it is a story that will stay with you, niggling at the back of your mind whenever these stories come up in the media. Rachel Matthews acknowledges these issues and writes about them in an in-your-face style that ensures the reader is unlikely to forget too quickly.

A powerful story that needs to be told, and is told without any sugar coating of the issues.

Tell It To The Dog: A Memoir of Sorts by Robert Power

Tell-it-to-the-Dog_cover-for-publicity-600x913.jpgTitle: Tell It To The Dog: A Memoir of Sorts

Author: Robert Power

Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $29.95

Synopsis: Tell it to the Dog is an exquisitely written memoir that is at once playful, heartbreaking and affirming. From a Dublin childhood to London, then on to Europe, to Asia and Australia, there is a deep engagement with the world in this book about growing up, about human and animal connectedness, about friendship, love and loss. Power understands the uncanniness and endurance of memory. He can make us laugh, and then stop us in our tracks at the profundity of this business of meeting life. Each of these short chapters is beautifully complete; together the whole thing shimmers. In the most delightful and subtle of ways, the language, trajectory and wisdom of Tell it to the Dog underscores our need to embrace our own vulnerabilities, to confront our experiences and memories, and to believe as Jane Austen once wrote, that ‘when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure’.

 

~*~

 

Tell It To The Dog is one of those books that is very niche and is written, I feel, with a very particular or specific audience in mind. Tell It To The Dog begins with the author recounting the day he adopted a dog, and then it slithers into reflections on his time in Lhasa before heading into short chapters that recount a single event or memory of the author’s life, or a story about a person. The disconnect between each of these short chapters, especially in the early parts of this six segmented book were confusing and often left me wondering how it all fit together – as a memoir, or as the cover states, a memoir of sorts, I found it hard to follow at times, and when I’d come to an interesting story, it would just stop, and I’d never get anymore of that particular story or event, which to me felt dissatisfying though it may appeal to other readers.

 

Tell It To The Dog traverses a life lived in Dublin, London, across Asia, Europe and Australia. In some places, there is a definite sense of place, in a specific city, or a specific place in a city, though in others, as a reader, I felt lost, not knowing where I was, or where the author was going. This contrast in how place was presented, though something I felt took away from the book, was one way Robert Power showed the fragmented nature of memory, and how our minds can play tricks on us.

 

For me as a reader, it took most of the book before I could see some connections being made, although some fragments of story were never resolved, left hanging at the end of a rope, swinging in the air without purpose, and lost to the reader. It was at a couple of these points that I felt very confused – something rare with reading a book for me, so I think it was the style and format it had been written in. As I got to the end of the book, and into the final two parts, some things started to make sense, and the final part read more as a meditation on the writing journey. Whether it was meant to reference the writing journey in general, and how some writers can experience it, the author’s writing journey, or both, I couldn’t discern this, and still found some of these chapters confusing, but some had a bit of interest in them.

 

Even though this wasn’t a book I completely enjoyed, I did read to the end before making my judgement, and to see if any of the first stories found connections in the later ones to help make sense of the story. It is an interesting way of writing a memoir, and not one that works for me as a reader or writer, but I do think this book might find an audience, even if it is a small one, there will be someone who might enjoy this story. It’s just not me.

 

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The Pacific Room by Michael Fitzgerald

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Title: The Pacific Room

Author: Michael Fitzgerald

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $29.95

Synopsis: ‘A wonderfully stylistic novel, dreamlike and mesmeric. It moves with ekphrastic cadences, from painting to writing and back again, between the present and the past, both muted and full of nuance, like a watercolour of archived time. Fitzgerald skilfully employs a controlled language of concealment and careful observation through which character is translated. All the while, there are subliminal disturbances below, indicating fatal and fateful meetings between culture and history.’

—Brian Castro, Winner of  the Patrick White Award for Literature

This remarkable debut novel tells of the last days of Tusitala, ‘the teller of tales’, as Robert Louis Stevenson became known in Samoa where he chose to die. In 1892 Girolamo Nerli travels from Sydney by steamer to Apia, with the intention of capturing something of Jekyll and Hyde in his portrait of the famous author. Nerli’s presence sets in train a disturbing sequence of events. More than a century later, art historian Lewis Wakefield comes to Samoa to research the painting of Tusitala’s portrait by the long-forgotten Italian artist. On hiatus from his bipolar medication, Lewis is freed to confront the powerful reality of all the desires and demons that R. L. Stevenson couldn’t control. Lewis’s personal journey is shadowed by the story of the lovable Teuila, a so-called fa‘afafine (‘in the manner of a woman’), and the spirit of Stevenson’s servant boy, Sosimo. Set in an evocative tropical landscape haunted by the lives and spirits which drift across it, The Pacific Room is both a love letter to Samoa and a lush and tender exploration of artistic creation, of secret passions and merging dualities.

‘Absolutely fascinating. The Pacific Room stays true to the Treasure Island life of Robert Louis Stevenson, yet frames it within a meta-narrative that moves seamlessly between contemporary Australia and nineteenth-century Samoa – with hauntingly curious twists in the tale.’

—Peter Hill, award-winning author of Stargazing: Memoirs of a Young Lighthouse Keeper

~*~

The Pacific Room cleverly weaves past and present together in a dual yet seamless story that tells the story of Robert Louis Stevenson, and his time in Samoa, where he was known as Tusitala, the teller of tales, in the place where he chose to live out his final days. Crossing between Stevenson and the people who make up his life, and the modern day art historian, Lewis Wakefield, and a woman, Teuila, as well as the sprit of Stevenson’s servant boy, Sosimo, the story slowly unfolds as the characters and their stories begin quite separately but eventually start to weave together, and form a story that has an interesting premise written in an intriguing style.

Throughout, Stevenson is referred to as “the Scottish writer” in prose, and when he is spoken to or about in his times, as Tusitala, and this suits the mysterious mood of the novel, and thought it took some getting used to, as well as double checking the back a few times, it is an effective way of giving the well-known author a new identity – a descriptive one, and one that I had not known about until this book, and possibly one that not many people may know about. The Pacific Room deals with the fall out of Lewis’s bi-polar and the aftermath of an episode, and how he dealt with losing his entire family in one go, and how that has affected the rest of his life. However, I did not feel that this defined Lewis wholly – it is a part of who he is, and the flashbacks that slowly emerged throughout the novel, and finally answered the questions that had been lingering since page one. Though i found not all my questions where answered – if Lewis and his brother were twins, I wondered why they’d both not stayed for their final exams, or why only one had gone on holiday with their parents?

I would classify this as a literary novel, more about character than plot, and Samoa was a character in itself, ensuring that the nation had a voice as much as the other characters did, and as a character, Samoa shines through the past and present, and acts as a soothing antidote to the stresses that Lewis and Stevenson go through in their respective lives and times, and it became clear to me why they chose Samoa as their respective resting places and convalescence places. It is a relaxed place, where life isn’t rushed – unlike the opening scene in The Mitchell Library of the University of Sydney, where I could feel the pressure and anxiety Lewis felt as things didn’t go the way he wanted them to.

Overall, it is a book that has an interesting premise, told in a way that I had not quite expected when I received it. It was a book I was not sure what to think or write about at first, and may not have been something I would have picked myself in a bookstore. It shows a new side to Robert Louis Stevenson and what people see in the world, and what they come to expect from people when they have prior knowledge of what they have been through. It is a story about growth and change for Lewis, and how a new place can help heal or find your way back to yourself.

I would recommend this book for fans of literary fiction and storylines that have a few secrets that will be held back, even at the ending. An insightful read into an aspect of the human condition and psyche, and the way we choose our identity amongst some people, but also who we choose to share things with.

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Small Publisher Spotlight: Transit Lounge — Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

Engaging with other cultures and ways of living beyond our own is perhaps the most powerful aspect of reading, and one reason I am doing the AWW challenge – not only to read more women writers but also to try and read more diversely. Although I often pick a book based on the plot, not…

via Small Publisher Spotlight: Transit Lounge — Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

 

Another of my small publisher posts – this time on Transit Lounge. perhaps not one that has many women writer’s on their books, rather one that publishes the stories they feel will do well.

 

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Disappearing off the Face of the Earth by David Cohen

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Title: Disappearing Off The Face of The Earth

Author: David Cohen

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st May 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Hideaway Self Storage, located just off Brisbane’s M1, is in decline. But manager Ken Guy and his assistant Bruce carry on with their daily rituals even as the facility falls apart around them. Lately, however, certain tenants have been disappearing off the face of the earth, leaving behind units full of valuable items. Ken has no idea where these rent defaulters have gone but he thinks he might be able to turn their abandoned ‘things’ into a nice little earner that could help save his business. But the disappearances are accompanied by strange occurrences such as Bruce’s inexplicable late-night excursions, Ken’s intensifying aversion to fluorescent lights, and Ken’s girlfriend’s intensifying aversion to Ken. While  further along the motorway, construction of a rival facility – Pharoah’s Tomb Self Storage, part of a nationwide franchise – hints at a  mysterious past and a precarious future.

A surprisingly funny study of physical and mental deterioration, David Cohen’s second novel is never quite what it seems. Sharply attuned to the absurdities of contemporary urban life, it is that rare literary beast, a comic drama that is at once intelligent and suspenseful, humorous and deep.

~*~

Dropping Off The Face of the Earth begins with the main character, Ken, working at his business, Hideaway Self Storage near Brisbane, with his assistant, Bruce, whom he has worked with before, yet, until Bruce started working at Hideaway, had not seen him for years. As the story progresses, Ken’s relationship with Ellen begins to deteriorate, and the people renting out storage spaces begin to go missing. And so begins a mystery that has elements of being disturbing and mixes it with a warped sense of humour to look at the day to day working life of an individual. And also, into how the relationships they have deteriorate or area affected by the strain on the body and the mind of the job Ken is in, interrogating the way the mind can begin to play tricks on you, and shake your sense of what is real.

As the story was told in first person narration, the world of the story was seen purely from Ken’s point of view. For what the author was trying to achieve, this worked but still had it’s flaws: the other characters didn’t feel fully thought out, and only seeing them through Ken’s eyes gave a warped view of his world that didn’t always make sense. As the novel flicked back and forth, I started to wonder if there was more to Ken, and when Bruce disappeared, and Ken went in search of him and recognised some places and names but couldn’t recall being there, I wondered if the author was examining how one’s mental health can begin to deteriorate and affect our perceptions of the world.

At times, the comedy shone through but at other times it was a little obscure for me – I may not be the right audience for this book. David Cohen has taken a usually dry and boring subject and injected humour, and wit into it. I felt that the story looked at the fragility of human life and mental health, and as the story progressed, Ken’s telling felt like it flickered all over the place, making him and the reader question a sense of what was real and what wasn’t by the end. I read the last few pages a few times, but the ending was obscure and offered little in a satisfying conclusion in either direction for me.

Whilst this book wasn’t for me, and I am unlikely to read it again because at times I found it confusing, and simply didn’t enjoy the story or connect with the characters, there will be an audience out there for this book.

The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy by John Zubrzycki

The Mysterious Mr Jacob.jpg

Title: The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy

Author: John Zubrzycki

Genre: Non-fiction, biography

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st April, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304 plus 8 page illustration insert

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: It was a scandal that rocked the highest echelons of the British Raj. In 1891, a notorious jeweller and curio dealer from Simla offered to sell the world’s largest brilliant-cut diamond to the fabulously wealthy Nizam of Hyderabad. If the audacious deal succeeded it would set the merchant up for life. But the transaction went horribly wrong. The Nizam accused him of fraud, triggering a sensational trial in the Calcutta High Court that made headlines around the world.

The dealer was Alexander Malcolm Jacob, a man of mysterious origins. After arriving penniless in Bombay in 1865, he became the most famous purveyor of precious stones in princely India, and a confidante of Viceroys and Maharajas. Jacob also excelled in the magical arts. He inspired all those who met him, including Rudyard Kipling who immortalised him as Lurgan Sahib, the ‘healer of sick pearls’, in his novel Kim.

Now for the first time, John Zubrzycki, author of The Last Nizam, conveys the page-turning colour, romance and adventure of Jacob’s astonishing life. Starting on the banks of the Tigris in modern-day Turkey where Jacob was born, Zubrzycki strips away the myths and legends. He follows Jacob’s journey from the slums of Bombay, to the fabulous court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, from the hedonistic heights of Simla, the summer capital of the Raj, to the Calcutta High Court. This is a story of India, of strange twists and unexpected outcomes. Most importantly Zubrzycki enters into and truly captures the spirit of the mysterious Mr Jacob, one of the most enigmatic and charismatic figures of his time.

~*~

The story of Alexander Malcolm Jacob is one that I did not know until I read John Zubrzycki’s book about him. Following his life in India and the surrounding area, The Mysterious Mr Jacob reveals how Alexander Malcolm Jacob arrived in India, and gradually, grew his diamond trade, using his activities to spy on everyone and report back to various contacts who were often enemies, gaining the best price he could for the diamonds, and following a path that incorporated aspects of magic into his faith. However, these nefarious activities come to a crashing halt in 1891, when Mr Jacob faces fraud charges, and a trial in the Calcutta High Court that would make worldwide headlines.

Alexander Malcolm Jacob’s story is one of mystery and intrigue, in a land that has been written about as an exotic mystery by authors such as Rudyard Kipling, at a time when the mysteries of India were looked at through a lens obscured by fascination of another world, different to the one most British subjects of Victorian England knew. It is also set against the back drop of the British Empire of the nineteenth century that had a far reach across the world, including towards India, and during the time Mr Jacob was operating, Queen Victoria proclaimed herself Empress of India, and took possession of the Koh-I-Noor Diamond.

Jacob’s world at one point is destined to become larger, as a friend invites him to London, where he will have the chance to meet Queen Victoria, and gain citizenship, but his choice to remain behind furthers his career, and ultimately, leads to the 1891 trial with an outcome that most at the time would not have seen coming, and that leads into Jacob’s isolated future until his death in 1921, aged seventy one.

More than just non-fiction, John Zubrzycki’s work is a narrative history, where Jacob’s world is revealed in rich and vivid descriptions, and contrasted against the modern India that the author visited whilst writing the book. We get a vision of two worlds: one trapped by an imperialistic empire forging its own identity in a modern world – through the eyes of Alexander Malcolm Jacob as he traverses India and the surrounding countries in search of diamonds.

It is an intriguing read, and was a surprise addition to my review stack from Transit Lounge and Quikmark Media. The victors and winners, or the figures that become well known write most history. There are some events and figures in history that are famous in spite of the failures, such as Bonnie Prince Charlie and Culloden. It is rare to find stories such as Alexander Malcolm Jacob’s in history books. Books such as John Zubrzycki’s bring to light the stories of lesser known but just as fascinating events and people, and show the diversity of these figures in their backgrounds, their personalities and the lives that they led.

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