Road Story by Julienne van Loon – Book Review

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It’s like a dream or perhaps a nightmare. Diana Cooper has fled a car accident and disappears, eventually finding herself at a remote truck stop. She takes a job in the kitchen and hides, wondering what happened back in Sydney. What is more painful – not knowing and imagining or having her worst fears realised?

I’m a huge fan of Van Loon’s writing. I like the way she releases the story piece by piece, and when punch is thrown, it really lands hard. Road Story is a short novel but so deep and painful.

Road Story won The Australian Vogel Literary Award and was shortlisted for several other awards.

Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany – Book Review

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Australia, 1934. Jean Finnegan is a quiet young woman who has taken a post on the ‘Better Farming Train’ – a train that travels around rural areas presenting information for those in these areas. When the men attend talks on grain and animals, the women learn about sewing, cooking and child rearing. Over months, Jean finds herself with two male admirers; the mysterious Japanese chicken sexer, Mr Ohno, and the odd grain and soil expert, Robert Pettergree. She marries Robert and set up their own farm, where he experiments with his theories on grain production. Both discover things do not always go to plan.

Tiffany’s writing is beautiful and to be savoured. Throughout the novel, she builds up a tension in Finnegan that is subtle yet all-consuming, and I just wanted to grab her and shake her and tell her that she had other choices, other options. For me, this is what fiction is all about; getting caught up in the life of a character and wanting to be involved.

Tiffany won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript for Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living. It won a number of awards and was shortlisted for both the Miles Franklin Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Night Games : Sex, Power and Sport – Anna Krien – Book Review

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Football is so important. Sport is so important. I write this and am torn between genuinely feeling that football, and sport in general, is both extremely important in our society and far too important. Sport gives people the chance to bond, to grow in ways that other activities can’t. There can be life-long bonds formed, and people from many walks of life can come together. I personally would argue that this could be said for many group activities where the group has a common goal, but sport really is important. With the popularity of AFL in Australia (and many other codes both in Australia and worldwide), the players are seen as gods by many and loyalty to the code and the team is above all else. So, what happens when women are involved?

Over the last few years there have been numerous sex ‘scandals’ (although, as Krien points out, rape is a lot more serious than simply being a scandal) involving players, sometimes several players involved in the same incident. Some people cry that the women want it; stalking the players at nightclubs and wanting an AFL star as a notch on their bedpost. But there is a lot more to it than this. There is a whole culture involved with footy; a culture that Krien has managed to peek into.

The main part of the story follows a non-AFL footballer who, after partying with some of his professional playing mates, is charged with rape of a woman in an alley outside the party. Krien is conflicted in covering this in her book as the victim and her family would not talk with her, but the accused and his family embraced her. Yet it is such a key part of the culture Krien was looking into, I’m glad she wrote it as she did.

This is a book that will disgust you, but really make you think. There are a lot of changes that need to be made within this kind of sporting culture, and Night Games gives some suggestions. Definitely worth a read, especially for anyone involved in elite sport.

Sex and the Citadel : Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World by Shereen El Feki – Book Review

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This is a non-fiction dive into the world of sex, religion and the law across many Arab countries, although focusing mostly on Egypt. Though, this makes it seem like it is a dry, academic work. Shereen El Feki is interested in people; their beliefs, their contradictions and generally the way they work together. El Feki grew up in Canada with Egyptian and Welsh heritage, and has worked in broadcasting and other fields, including serving as vice chair of the UN’s Global Commission on HIV and the Law. This gave her a unique way in to talk to people in the region about sex, and led to some very interesting insights.

I found that I skip-read the book – that is, that the bits I really enjoyed were the anecdotes and the interviews, but a lot of the history and context I didn’t engage with as much. I feel as though I’ve had a bit of an insight, however this is still a world that is a mile away from my own.

The session at MWF with El Feki and Anna Krien was fabulous. El Feki is an extremely interesting, passionate woman whose enthusiasm for the topic was obvious in the way she talked and engaged with both the panel and the audience.

Harmless by Julienne van Loon – Book Review

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Eight-year-old Amanda and Rattuwat, an elderly, Thai man are walking across unfamiliar landscape after his car breaks down on the way to visit her father in jail. Gradually, it is revealed that Rattuwat’s daughter was in a relationship with Amanda’s father before he was put away. She has recently passed away and Rattuwat is trying in his own way to find a future for Amanda.

The book is told in chapters from the point of view of different characters in the story, and it keeps you guessing right until the end. It is heartbreaking – so much pain and devastation. Some is brought by their own actions and some is uncontrollable, but all is painful. For such a small book, Harmless packs an incredible punch and still brings a tear to my eye when I think on it for too long.

Julianne van Loon will be appearing at the Melbourne Writers Festival at The Morning Read on Friday August 23 at 10am at Beer DeLuxe, Asian Stories Australian Postcodes on Saturday August 24 at 10am at The Cube, ACMI, The Morning Read on Saturday August 24 at 10 at Beer DeLuxe and is hosting First Flight on Sunday August 25 at ACMI. For tickets and more information visit MWF.