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“Life isn't fair, it's just fairer than death, that's all.”

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“If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged.”

  Not quite straight. Molle Street, Hobart. February 2021. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood Alias Grace  is an intriguing exploration of the life of one Grace Marks, a once-notorious Canadian murderess. Convicted at age 16 of the double murder of her employer and his mistress, a significant cause célèbre in 1843 Ontario. Given the ongoing discussion of literary appropriation and of who exactly can tell whose story, I declare that I am agnostic on the issue of an author taking a real-life event and exploring broader themes – as Atwood has done here – as long as it is done well and without sensationalism. Atwood does not fixate on the guilt or innocence of the protagonist, or at least no more than she explores the responsibility or integrity of the society that produced the events that drive the tale. It is a meandering novel, large parts epistolary, extensive parts interior monologue. It is a slow-moving piece with a hypnotic quality to it. This approach fits with our central character b

“He was a mighty beast, mightily muscled, and the urge that has made males fight since the dawn of life on earth filled him with the blood-lust and the thirst to slay.”

  Sunset. Geilston Bay, January 2021. The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs The Land That Time Forgot  is a pulpy sci-fi/ fantasy romp first published in serialised form in  Blue Book Magazine  in 1918. As such, I should not have been surprised by the primitive understanding of gender politics or the solitary female character's presentation as quite so feeble. I was more taken aback by the presentation of the ‘Wobblies’ – the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) – as evil ne'er-do-wells hell-bent on the destruction of all that is good in the world. Now, one might expect such a thing from the vicious Hun (yes, the Germans are all bestial monsters too), but I’ve always liked the IWW. There’s no point in me exploring the implications of Ho-hum. Given the above, I found this a tedious and simplistic tale that pales in comparison to Jules Verne or H.G. Welles, and the thoughts of Edgar Rice Burroughs on primitive man and the upper and lesser races are best left unexplo

"'I am Jessica Olive,' he heard her say absent-mindedly over breakfast. 'I am Cornelius and Nadine and George.'"

Jen and Ezra heading out. Sisters Beach, January 2021. It's Raining in Mango by Thea Astley Thea Astley is an interesting case study of gender and publishing in Australia. The winner of four Miles Franklin Awards (tied with Tim Winton as the most frequent recipient), most of her books remain out of print. It Is fair to say that she’s not as widely read as a great talent and unique voice in the Australian literary landscape deserves. Which leads me to  It's Raining in Mango , which spans multiple generations of the Laffy family in Far North Queensland. The book covers from the 1860s through to the 1980s. In it, they carry the family (and local) stories with them, and they identify as something more than themselves. These stories intersect with the history of Australia itself, from the brutal invasion and settlement, the scramble of the gold rush through the misery of the Depression to the Stolen Generation, two World Wars and the hippies, freaks and dropouts of the 1970s.

“That was the problem with Australians playing tourist. They dressed for comfort and it was impossible to tell how much they were worth.”

Jen and Ezra entering the tunnel through Hell. Haw Par Villa, October 2014. Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu A delightful murder mystery made all the more interesting to this reader due to the contemporary Singaporean setting and harsh assessment of the Australian national character! A unty Lee harks back to older, ‘cosier’ mysteries than the darker, harsher and colder examples of the genre that I usually read. As such, it proved a wonderful ‘palate cleanser’ from its bleaker relations. A large part is due to the presents of Rosie "Aunty" Lee – widowed restauranteur and amateur sleuth – and the frequent reference to cooking and eating. Seriously, this is a book bound to make you salivate as Aunty Lee prepares wonderful meals while trying to solve crimes. Yu introduces a host of other characters that I am certain will form the backbone of future mysteries. Together, they forge a wonderful foundation for entertaining readers over a whole series of books. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2

“The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.”

  Facing the waves, Binalong Bay, Tasmania January 2021. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The novel's opening is an opaque and intricate introduction to both a large cast of characters and Nigerian social and political complexities. Once the domestic world starts to settle down (in conjunction with the heightening political tensions), the story positively rockets along. Adichie constructs a rich and vibrant sense of time and place and draws the reader along with horror and excitement at the formation and eventual destruction of the Biafran state. The indifference of the outside world and the wilful culpability of the (former) British colonial masters bristles off the page. Deftly shifting backwards and forwards in time, this is a beautifully constructed book. There is an adroitness in handling such weighty themes, and the righteous anger forms naturally as only high art manages. While there is a danger that such a topic can drift into a polemic of backstory, e

“No,” she said again, just because it felt good to say no to this person.”

Goodbye Ned, we barely knew you. Birches Bay Sculpture Trail, Tasmania. January 2021. An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten A decent little collection of vignettes featuring the unlikeliest of serial killers I’ve come across thus far. Much as if Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple turned out to be the murderer all along, Maude – the subject of this collection – is an unlikable old biddy who happens always to be around when people turn up dead. It’s probably appropriate that Maude does come across as a bit of an entitled prig (I’m not sure on where we stand of positing the killer as heroine these days), and the choice to present these brief segments than a singular novel was a wise decision. I’m not sure that I would be up for sharing the page with her for an extended period. All up: an interesting twist on the Swedish crime tale. ⭐ ⭐ 1/2