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Category Archive for 'A – B'

In a novel widely regarded as the high point of his work to date, Australian author Tim Winton expands his view of the world and his ability to create fascinating, even symbolic, characters, placing them in circumstances in which they must take actions for which they may not be prepared. Set in the remote wilds of western Australia, where life is often raw and behavior sometimes lacks the constraints which “civilization,” by definition, requires, Winton creates two characters on their own, each one abused, and both trying to escape the events which have marked them for life. Jaxie Clackton, a seventeen-year-old whose family life has been significant primarily for his beatings, has lived through the lingering death of his mother. His father, a man who seemingly obeys no laws and feels no sense of love for anyone, takes his own frustrations out on Jaxie, beating him mercilessly, sometimes for no apparent reason. When he finds his father dead in an accident, Jaxie takes off into the outback, determined to walk almost two hundred miles to see the one person who had been kind to him in recent years. On the way he meets a former priest living alone in a hut, a man who also is rejected by his society but helps Jaxie for many days.

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This Prix Goncourt Winner in France, focuses on the country of Burundi between 1992 and 1995, when the civil war began there. Debut novelist Gael Faye creates a lively account of the life of a young boy and his friends between the ages of 10 and 13, concentrating on their emotions, understandings, their family lives, and their coming of age. Leaving the gruesome aspects of the country’s revolution till later, when the boy is older, he brings Burundi and its people to life. Beautifully organized and developed; sensitively depicted in terms of the human costs, both physical and psychological; vibrantly depicted in its historical setting and atmosphere; enlightening in its insights into the lives the children affected; and grand in its scope and emotional impact, Small Country is now at the top of my Favorites List for the year. It’s a gem!

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The latest winner of the Jolley Prize, Australian author Josephine Rowe creates a character novel driven by a father’s inability to deal with the horrors of the Vietnam War and the effects his traumas have on his abused family. In A LOVING, FAITHFUL ANIMAL, she presents the action in six chapters featuring five different members of the same family – the father, the mother, a twelve-year-old daughter, her elder sister, and her father’s brother, each of whom reveals his/her story in a separate chapter. In prose that often feels like poetry, Rowe creates lives for these characters, and the reader comes to know and empathize with them. They are what matter here, as there is little overriding plot, which the reader puts together from the many flashbacks and flash-forwards. Throughout, Rowe uses a series of animals to convey her characters’ connections to the wider world, avoiding the kind of sentimentality that a novel so emotional might suggest. Beautifully constructed, filled with original description and characters connected by vibrant themes, this debut novel establishes Josephine Rowe as a writer to watch for, one whose talents and accomplishments to date belie her thirty-three years. A new author to watch!

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On a New Year’s Eve in rural England, one would expect the cold to keep most people inside doing their celebrating, but Becky Shaw, a thirteen-year-old whose family has come to town for the holiday, has decided to go out. Leaving one of the “barn conversions” in the village, where she is staying, she suddenly vanishes. At dusk, her family comes running into town, shouting for help, and by the time the New Year is ushered in, a helicopter has been out searching for hours. The mountain-rescue teams, the cave teams, much of the village, and the police have found nothing, and a “thick band of rain [i]s coming in.” With this dramatic opening, author Jon McGregor paves the way for his primary story – the more internal, domestic activity which accompanies the search for Becky Shaw. The whole town is involved in trying to find her, but as time passes without any clues, her disappearance gradually becomes a backstory to the life which continues within the community, a story which features many characters each of whom is trying to make a living and find happiness, despite sometimes ominous odds. Love stories blossom and glorious descriptions of nature provide both irony and context for the lives of the characters here, as McGregor refuses to elevate humans and their lives above animals and their instincts.

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Set during immediate aftermath of Angolan independence from Portugal in 1975, this novel by Angolan author Jose Eduardo Agualusa reflects the conflicts involved in setting up a new government under the Marxists and Leninists who helped during the revolution. With the war for independence from Portugal over, many who fought in that war are getting ready to fight anew against the one-party Leninist state which has taken its place. Ludovica Fernandes Mano, the fifty-year-old main character and speaker, has been living in Luanda with her sister Odete and brother-in-law Orlando, who works in the diamond trade, and they now fear the future and their roles in Angola. Originally from Portugal, these residents have found that all allegiances and alliances are now in question, and no one knows, for sure, whom they can trust. One morning, without warning, Ludo wakes to find herself suddenly alone in the family’s comfortable apartment. Her sister and brother-in-law have escaped to Portugal, leaving her behind. Ludo takes surprisingly forceful action, and she does it alone. Using materials left behind the apartment, she bricks up and plasters over the entire entrance to her apartment. Once she has finished, she closes herself in and does not leave for twenty-eight years, essentially disappearing from the earth, and it is no surprise that much of her mental energy is concerned with other disappearances and the memories and the forgetting that are associated with them.

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