Review: The Rabbits by Sophie Overett

Thursday, 4 November 2021

 

The Rabbits by Sophie Overett
Released: 2 July 2021
Published by: Penguin Australia
Genre: Australian Contemporary/Magical Realism
Source: Purchased
Pages: 336
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the winner of the Penguin Literary Prize and the Kathleen Mitchell Award. A multigenerational family story with a dose of magical realism. It is about family secrets, art, very mild superpowers, loneliness and the strange connections we make in the places we least expect.

How do you make sense of the loss of those you love most? Delia Rabbit has asked herself this question over and over again since the disappearance of her older sister, Bo. Crippled by grief, Delia and her mother became dysfunctional, parting ways not long after Delia turned eighteen. Now an art teacher at a Queensland college, Delia has managed to build a new life for herself and to create a family of her own. Only more and more that life is slipping: her partner, Ed, has gone, her daughter, Olive, is distancing herself, and, all of a sudden, in the middle of a blinding heatwave, her sixteen-year-old son, Charlie, disappears too. Suddenly what was buried feels close to the surface, and the Rabbits are faced not only with each other, but also with themselves. The Rabbits is a multigenerational family story with a dose of magical realism. It is about family secrets, art, very mild superpowers, loneliness and the strange connections we make in the places we least expect.

There is magic to be found in a story that is written with such a pointed and achingly real depiction of what it means to be part of a family, to experience a loss, and to know how to rediscover an identity you thought was long gone. The Rabbits encapsulates so much in its blisteringly honest characters. Each member of the family has their own insecurities, a need to be connected to something and mend relationships that have been broken either by losing a person's physical presence, or simply the absence of any true substance even when someone is standing right next to you. Set against the sweltering heat of a Queensland summer and with an original, well-executed twist of magical realism, Overett draws you in from the very first scene and from there it's very hard to let go as the pages fly by. 

You're no good at this, a voice tells her, and no, Delia thinks, she's not. She wants to tell him she's done this before. That she's been Benjamin and she's been Olive. That she's desperately searched, and been bitterly angry, but none of it brings back someone who won't be found, and sometimes the not knowing is better than the truth, because at least it means there's a chance. Her chest tightens, constricts to such a degree that she feels light-headed, and she leans back, putting her hand on the kitchen island to steady herself. 

While the string of missing people in the Rabbits' family life is a central aspect of the novel, what makes this book such a success is the way every character is invested in equally. From Delia's voice as a mother, reflecting on the disappearance of her sister Bo all those years ago, to her mother now slipping away with dementia and old age, Olive rebelling in the early phases of adulthood, and Ben navigating all the drama as a ten year old, every character's voice is portrayed in so much detail. It's rare to find a book that has this combination of both adult and child shifts in perspective which is achieved so seamlessly. You feel as though you've stepped right into the lives of the Rabbits where each secret is ripped open with tender prose that is a pleasure to read. 

There is something to be said also about the creativity of including even the slightest hint of something supernatural in the story. While some works may try too hard or stray beyond into fantasy where it doesn't quite hit the mark, Overett here uses these twists of magical realism to add even more interest and make it just to the threshold of being conceivable. I won't put any spoilers here, but just know that it's clever and done well!

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Rabbits is as creative as it is addictive to read. Fiction by Australian authors has always been promising for me, and I'm so glad that I picked this one up. The Rabbits is full of mystery, insights on troubled family ties and with a satisfying end, making Sophie Overett one to watch!

About the author



Sophie Overett is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and cultural producer. Her stories have been published in Griffith Review,Going Down Swinging,Overland,The Sleepers Almanac,and elsewhere. She won the 2018 AAWP Short Story Prize, and her work has been shortlisted for multiple awards, including the Text Prize and the Richell Prize. She’s passionate about storytelling in all of its forms, but particularly stories for the page and the screen. She writes across genres and formats, with a focus on magical realism, literary fiction and horror. The Rabbits, her debut novel, is the winner of the 2020 Penguin Literary Prize, and her first screenplay, All the Little Fishes,has been optioned by Cathartic Pictures. For more information, visit sophieoverett.com.

Review: The Golden Book by Kate Ryan

Friday, 22 October 2021

The Golden Book by Kate Ryan
Released: 3 August 2021
Published by: Scribe Publications
Genre: Australian Contemporary
Source: Purchased
Pages: 244
Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Jessie had said they should go at midnight. 'It’s the gods’ time,' she said, narrowing her eyes dramatically. 'Anything could happen.’ It’s the 1980s, and in their small coastal town, Ali and her best friend, Jessie, are on the cusp. With ‘The Golden Book’, a journal of incantation and risk taking as their record, they begin to chafe at the restrictions put on them by teachers, parents, each other. Then Jessie suffers a devastating accident, and both their lives are forever changed. When Ali is an adult, with a young daughter herself, the news of Jessie’s death brings back the intensity of that summer, forcing her to reckon with her own role in what happened to Jessie so many years ago. As this stunning debut moves back and forth in time, and Ali’s secrets are forced into the light, Kate Ryan asks profound questions about responsibility and blame, and, ultimately, about love.
The complexities of friendships while on the cusp of coming-of-age are brought into stark focus in Kate Ryan's dreamlike novel The Golden Book. Capturing the haze of nostalgia as the main character Ali reflects on the reckless stages of growing up with bohemian and risk-taking best friend Jessie, this is a story which explores the adventurous spirit of adolescence, blurred lines between responsibility and blame and what it means to move past events with shocking consequences. 

How could she say any of it? If only she hadn't suggested it in the first place. If only she had been clearer, stronger, braver, less envious of Jessie. If only Jessie had learnt to read. She was tortured by the idea of the Golden Book, that Jessie's family would read her looping writing, her meanness, her fury, her way with words. Her mind would circle over and over these things, and it seemed that even in sleep she was trying to work out what to do. How had it happened?

While the shifting timeframes between Ali's present state as a mother and writer and her past escapades with Jessie were sometimes jolting in the plot, there is something to be said about Ryan's mesmerising turns of phrase. The golden haze of the 1980s in all its carefree modes of upbringing, kids riding bikes in the street and reckless energy, are so effortlessly depicted. Each line feels deliberate and ebbs slowly towards the bigger revelations of just what happened to Jessie in the time before her death. Ali's memories and the attention given to the pair's competitive yet magnetic friendship, tainted with the knowledge that a power imbalance would always exist, are deftly examined. It's an interesting element to see Ali herself reflecting in her writing class about what she and Jessie would get up to, the wild adventures and dares, alongside the darker undercurrent that slowly began to permeate their bond. At times the pace of the novel may have lagged, but you can't help but be immersed once more by the desire to know what led to Jessie's fate and discover how not only Ali, but also Jessie's family, had reacted.

Maybe she could fix it all, get the real Jessie back from wherever she had gone. She thought of stealing the book, and planning this allowed her to sleep. Sometimes the repetitive thoughts were like voices, coming from a place that was part of her and Jessie too. She had began to wonder whether she had done it on purpose, after all, had really wanted to hurt her. And in the morning, drugged with pure exhaustion, she knew nothing could be done. 

Another interesting element of The Golden Book is the thread that ties past experiences of childhood into how we then choose to raise our own children. Ali's rawness in reflecting on her friendship with Jessie that influences her behaviours now as a woman in a new relationship, with her school-aged daughter Tam, adds another layer of depth to the story. There are some thoughtful points raised about how past trauma and guilt can still linger years after an event, the realisation that one day every child will stretch further from the ties of their parents, and that time while a great healer, can often shift back into memories which one would rather leave behind.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Imbued with nostalgia and exploring some deep themes on what happens when childhood friendships shift into reckless territory, The Golden Book is definitely worth a read. Though at times it may feel as though the shifting in time between the past and the present becomes blurred, Kate Ryan is one to watch for her mesmerising writing style and sharp eye for examining the relationships that shape us.

Author Interview with singer-songwriter Ziggy Alberts: Brainwaves

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Brainwaves by Ziggy Alberts
Released: 3 February 2021
Published by: Commonfolk Publishing
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 88
A debut collection of poetry from platinum ARIA accredited artist Ziggy Alberts, 'brainwaves', explores life's experiences and emotions, inwards and out. Deeply personal, frank, insightful yet relatable, Alberts uncovers his introspective thoughts and lessons learned in conscious and intentional living. Differentiating from his lyrical work, readers can discover some of Alberts' most personal realisations from life at home and on the road. Divided into 4 chapters, each poem entices the next train of thought. Alberts masterfully draws observations of the natural environment to paint his experience of introspective moments. He contemplates modern-day dilemmas, timeless topics of purpose, trust, stillness, and love.
I've long been a fan of Ziggy Alberts' music, with the lyrics that sing homage to nature, love and appreciating small moments of stillness bringing so much joy to listen to - especially on the open road driving down the coast! In Brainwaves, there's a thought-provoking exploration of these same themes, with even deeper insights through poems that demonstrate the talent of one of Australia's best independent artists.

Author Interview Ziggy Alberts

What were some of the best and most challenging moments during your time bringing Brainwaves together?

The best time was holding the first copy I had printed and collated myself while I was on tour - that was beautiful. The most challenging part was rising above the burnout I had a couple of years ago that inspired the beginning of this project.


Did your writing process for Brainwaves coordinate in any way with writing for your Searching for Freedom album? How does the creative process differ between lyrics for a song and a stand-alone poem?

There are some small crossovers you will find in the book - I hope you like them :) Largely they are stand-alone projects, with very few lyrics found in the poetry book. Poetry wells up largely from mindfulness, whereas lyrics are written with a message in mind! That is the best way I can describe the difference in the creative process. 


What I've noticed in a lot of your songs and this poetry collection is the recurring theme of the healing and peace afforded through a connection to the ocean. Was there a specific moment in your life that helped you reach this realisation?

There have already been many important moments in my life where nature has provided me with much-needed peace - it's an ongoing realisation for me. 


The phrase "The things I am most gravely frightened of is not experiencing life as beautifully as I can express it in words" is a powerful statement in the book. In Brainwaves you seem to reflect on some deeply personal experiences, heartbreak and finding beauty in the quiet moments in life. What inspired you to share these in the open with your readers?

Through sharing my songs, my life has been a wonderful adventure. With that in mind, I wondered if sharing my poetry could do the same, and perhaps even more!


Searching for Freedom, Bright Lights, Simple Things and the reminder that it's simply being 'guided by the warmth against your skin' from Brainwaves (p. 86) celebrate embracing the release of time pressures, societal expectation and being guided by more than just the usual 'formula' of life. What advice would you give to people aiming to live simply?

I don't know if I can give advice on that topic; I'm still learning (haha) - but I would like to encourage people to value themselves enough to be fulfilled in their work. If you can find something that does that, it will be amazing for yourself and many others.


What is your favourite aspect of performing on stage? I'm pretty sure there are many fans looking forward to attending readings of Brainwaves too when we can! Could you give us a sneak peek at what you might be working on next?


My favourite part is the connection with the crowd and musician, writer and reader. Doing these poetry nights has been unreal so far - I look forward to doing more. I can't give a sneak peek, but we continue to have exciting releases in the following months so keep your eyes and ears peeled! :) 

About the author


Ziggy Alberts is an Australian singer-songwriter and author, whose genuine grassroots story and captivating live performances have built his career as one of Australia’s leading independent artists. When it came to making his musical vision a reality, Ziggy Alberts was always intent on establishing himself as an independent artist. In 2015 Ziggy’s older sister Anneka began managing him. In 2018, Ziggy alongside his sister and father, co-founded Commonfolk Records and soon after in 2020, his independent publishing house, Commonfolk Publishing. Alongside the release of brainwaves, Ziggy’s new album searching for freedom celebrates the next chapter in the evolution of Ziggy Alberts. The 12-track record promises to be an exploration into some of humanity’s most heartfelt and complex emotions, translated into beautiful simplicity by Ziggy’s capable hands. In his own words, the album is “an expression of an adventure that I’ve realised will last a lifetime”  


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Author Interview with Sophie Cunningham: Wonder - 175 Years of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria

Wednesday, 8 September 2021


Wonder: 175 Years of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria by Sophie Cunningham and Peter Wilmoth
Released: 29 September 2021
Published by: Hardie Grant Books
Genre: Non-fiction, Gardening
Pages: 264
They sit in the physical and emotional heart of our city, and have done so for 175 years. Most of us have spent time there, and they mean different things to each of us. The Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne have been a place of calm, a site for reflection, creative inspiration, discovery, romance and even refuge. Anyone who has visited has a story. Now a range of these stories from Victorians from many fields is gathered in the lavish publication Wonder: 175 Years of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria

Told through conversations with writers Sophie Cunningham and Peter Wilmoth, there are stories of Nick Cave conceiving the first lines of a novel there, of actor and writer Michael Veitch being taught the classics on its lawns, of a marriage that took place just days before COVID-19 began its grim sweep across the world, closing sites such as the Gardens for the first time in history. Boonwurrung Elder Aunty Carolyn Briggs tells stories of Country that reach back through millennia, while Landscape Architect Andrew Laidlaw shares the inspiration for some of the Gardens’ more recent landscapes. Horticulturalist Gemma Cotterell tells us about her work on the Australian Forest Walk; architect Kerstin Thompson reminds us of the secrets the Gardens hold and the way those secrets transform landscape into dreamscape; and botanist Neville Walsh shares his excitement on the discovery of a new species of wattle.

The important matters of plant extinction and climate change (including water usage) are also addressed, reminding the reader of the critical role played by our public gardens in securing the future of the planet through its science, irreplaceable collections and conservation action.

With superb photography by Leigh Henningham, the book is about the people’s gardens, and these stories will resonate with readers who cherish their own experiences there.

Some 'coffee-table' books will sit on the mantelpiece or be discarded among the ornaments, scented candles and long-lost scented candles. Others, like Wonder draw you into their pages with personal stories that celebrate the beauty of nature and importance of green spaces in our everyday lives. This is a collection which specifically focuses on the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, but also reaches further in exploring what it means to look up at the trees, breathe in the fresh air and get lost among the paths of shrubs and flowerbeds to find your own hidden oasis. Read on below for my interview with one of the authors, Sophie Cunningham!

Author Interview Sophie Cunningham

One of the really interesting elements of this book is told as exploring "secrets the Gardens hold and the way those secrets transform landscape into dreamscape". What does this mean to you?

I love the way that public spaces can have private and personal meanings. As a child I always loved playing in gardens that I imagined to be jungles, and places of adventure. One of my favourite books was 'The Secret Garden'. But the point is, I suppose, that most people feel like that. It was lovely to be able to talk to people about their emotional responses to the RBGV.


What are some of your own favourite memories and experiences in the gardens?

I really love walking around the bottom of the gardens, where you can find traces of the Yarra's original path, and walk around the lakes that were once part of the wetlands in the area. There are some very special river red gum down there as well. The lion head tree is probably my favourite in the gardens. I also love the Oaks that have been planted throughout Melbourne's Botanic Gardens. Sitting under them is good for the soul.


How did the writing process for this book differ from some of your other works?

The book was interview led - it gives voice to other people's voices and experiences. I did write a book about Cyclone Tracy which also took this approach. I enjoy working this way. Other people's stories always strike me as more interesting than my own.


In collating these stories, was there one in particular which especially resonated with you?

To be honest I have trouble picking a favourite. I loved hearing from Senior Conservation Botanist Neville Walsh - I’m particularly interested in the research and conservation work that the RBGV does. Horticulturalist Gemma Cotterell is doing great things with the Australian Forest Walk. I had a very nice time hanging out with the Manager of Arboriculture, Charlie Carroll, and talking about trees. My interview with Dean Stewart, about the pre-white settlement life of the RBGV landscape, and setting up the Aboriginal Heritage Walks in 1998 were fascinating. Stewart is a great story teller and historian.


How do you feel that being immersed in nature through both the wilderness and in structured landscapes such as botanic gardens can improve and add value to our everyday lives?

I think that having access to natural spaces - designed or not - is as essential to us as breathing. (Indeed, if you want to draw a long bow - trees help us breathe). 


After bringing this book together, what would be your top recommendations of sites to see for people visiting for the first time?

I’m not sure I can or should make recommendations - everyone will be looking for a different private moment, to get back to your first question. As Den Fisher said when I interviewed Dennis Fisher, who has led Aboriginal heritage walks for more than ten years, picking a favourite section of the gardens would be like picking a favourite niece or nephew. Impossible!

 

What would be the top three things you've opened your eyes to after penning these experiences and stories of the Gardens?


1. The extraordinary leadership work of the RGBV particularly with the development of its Landscape Succession Plan, and founding of the Climate Change Alliance

2. The work of the Victorian Conservation Seedbank

3. Being allowed to see some of the early collections that are held by the RGBV, which includes a banksia collected by Joseph Banks

About the author



Sophie Cunningham AM is the author of six books, including City of Trees – Essays on life, death and the need for a forest; Warning – The story of Cyclone Tracy; Melbourne; Bird; and Geography. She is also editor of the collection Fire, Flood, Plague: Australian writers respond to 2020. Sophie’s former roles include as a book publisher and editor, chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council, editor of the literary journal Meanjin, and co-founder of The Stella Prize celebrating women’s writing. She is now an adjunct professor at RMIT University’s non/fiction Lab. In 2019, Sophie was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her contributions to literature.

Review: Thursdays at Orange Blossom House by Sophie Green - A vibrant celebration of friendship and belonging

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Thursdays at Orange Blossom House by Sophie Green
Released: 28 July 2021
Published by: Hachette Australia
Genre: Australian Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 410
Rating: 4 of 5 stars
From the author of beloved Top Ten bestsellers The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club and The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle comes a delightful new novel about friendship, love and finding yourself.

Far North Queensland, 1993: At 74, former cane farmer Grace Maud is feeling her age, and her isolation, and thinks the best of life may be behind her. Elsewhere in town, high school teacher Patricia has given up on her dreams of travel and adventure and has moved back home to look after her ageing parents, while cafe owner Dorothy is struggling to accept that she may never have the baby she and her husband so desperately want. Each woman has an unspoken need: reconnection. And that's how they find themselves at Orange Blossom House, surrounded by perfumed rainforest, being cajoled and encouraged by their yoga teacher, the lively Sandrine. Together, they will find courage and strength - and discover that life has much more to offer than they ever expected.

Set amid the lush beauty of tropical Queensland, Thursdays at Orange Blossom House is a heartwarming story of friendship and family, of chances missed and taken, and the eternal power of love.

Thank you to Hachette Australia for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

A layered and smoothly woven story of the bonds between three women who are brought together in unlikely circumstances, Thursdays at Orange Blossom House sings to the tune of an afternoon breeze and time to ponder what our expectations of our identities in life are and the people we want to become. Sophie Green has already showcased her ability to write well in the genre with The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club and The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle. In this book she brings to life the cane fields in Cairns in the 1990's and sense of place as forming a home, the longing for motherhood, quest for self-discovery as an adult and how old age doesn't preclude the making of new friends. 

What might happen if women really succumb to their pain? To the anguish of not getting what they really want, either because they've been told they can't have it, or because nature is conspiring against them? Or sometimes because life just seems so hard that what they see is an unscalable peak, always in sight yet beyond their reach.

At the beginning of the story we're introduced to Grace Maud, whose life has been one on the fields but her son is beginning to have his own new ideas on how the farm should run. Toughened by her experiences, it takes more than a little persuading to get her to Sandrine's yoga class at Orange Blossom House which is the central point for all three characters meeting. Patricia's plight caring for her ailing parents, unmarried and teaching but given up most of her dreams is next, followed by Dorothy; cafe-owner with her husband and has been trying for years to have a child but with no success. These descriptions don't do the depth of these three women justice - Green's ability to add so much detail to their lives, ideas, thoughts and fears feel so realistic and are issues that many readers could relate to. The real spark comes through when little by little the barriers begin to break down and conversations are had, where each of the trio start to open up to each other and from there solutions can be found to the problems they are facing. This idea of women leaning on each other and being able to bring down the facade of being so capable, strong and perpetually self-sacrificing, is brought to the fore with nuance and heart. A healthy dose of good humour and some laughs throughout add to the light and shade within the plot, making for a read which is just as comforting as a cup of tea on a breezy spring day.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In lockdown I find myself drifting towards the kind of reads that are thoughtful but end on a high note, with a view to capturing not only our sense of place in this beautiful country but also how we find homes in the connections built among the kindness of strangers we meet in life. Thursdays at Orange Blossom House is one example of this, and I'm looking forward to reading more of Sophie Green next!

About the author


Sophie Green is an author and publisher who lives in Sydney. She has written several fiction and non-fiction books, some under other names. In her spare time she writes about country music on her blog, Sunburnt Country Music. She has been practising yoga since 1993 and teaching since 2002. Sophie's debut novel, THE INAUGURAL MEETING OF THE FAIRVALE LADIES BOOK CLUB, a Top Ten bestseller, was shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards for General Fiction Book of the Year 2018, and longlisted for both the Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year 2018 and the Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction 2018. THE SHELLY BAY LADIES SWIMMING CIRCLE was also a Top Ten bestseller.