February books

Toni Jordan: Nine days

The nine days are crucial days for nine people in the Westaway family. The first is Kip in 1939, then it moves backward and forward through three generations. Toni Jordan does a wonderful job of making each character alive and special, while at the same time gradually revealing the mystery of what happened during the War.

Not only does she create strong, engaging characters, she is able to recreate the Melbourne suburb of Richmond during the 30s and 40s. It has a physical presence. Here Kit speaks of it as he walks the bluestone lane to work:

Between the end of the footy finals and Easter the hot sweet of the jam [from the IXL jam factory] hits you first, then the tomato sauce, next burning malts and hops. Now in the middle of winter there’s nothing but the tannery and the Yarra, and it’s like the dunny cart had a permanent spot in the lane so I’m not standing around to breathe it in.

Jordan also paints Richmond’s strong social and moral presence, as expressed by the Westaway’s neighbours. It’s a time when respectable girls ‘saved’ themselves for marriage and being pregnant out of marriage was a crime punished by social ostracisation. It’s a time when everyone knew what was happening in the lives of others, but keeping up appearances was vital.

Jordan has a very light touch with her writing. (I also really enjoyed Addition.) I imagine her as a painter, adding little touches that bring a highlight or warmth to a scene. Such as when Alex, after a traumatic day, realises that he is taller than his mother. With those few words, Jordan conveys his growing maturity and a shift in their relationship.

Another moment was Jack watching Connie dance in the backyard of her little Richmond house. And he falls in love. (Got to love a line like “Bugger me dead. She is dancing.”!)

Maureen McCarthy: The Convent

Abbotsford Convent is an inner Melbourne icon, and not far from Richmond, where Jordan’s book was set. Not only was the Convent a house of prayer for nuns, it was an orphanage and  a ‘home’ for wayward girls. Instead of receiving help and advice these girls  worked long hours in the laundry. After the nunnery is closed local protests stopped the site from demolition and developers. The area has become a cafe and arts precinct.

Indeed Nine Days and The Convent have many aspects in common.  The Convent follows the stories of four generations of women who have strong connections to the Convent. Their stories are interwoven, building to the present, where the fractured relationships are mended. In both stories it is the characters who draw you on. I loved McCarthy’s strong, intelligent women. I enjoyed how the stories of these women allowed McCarthy to explore women’s roles and expectations. Thanks to Denise for placing this book in my hands!

Linwood Barclay: The accident

Nicholas Evans: The divide

I love finding new authors, and these are two authors that I will read more of — if I don’t get a mental blank as soon as I walk into the library! Technically I didn’t serendipitously come across Barclay. He was a recommendation (thanks Janis). But I did pull Evans off the library shelf. He is the author of The horse whisperer. Both books had good plots and everything had to wait while I read them.

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About anne54

Botanic artist
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