Tag: australian fiction

Tom Houghton by Todd Alexander

Posted January 19, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Tom Houghton by Todd AlexanderTitle: Tom Houghton (Goodreads)
Author: Todd Alexander
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2015
Pages: 295
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

As a child growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, Tom Houghton was an innocent boy with an obsession with classic cinema; an obsession that he inherited from his grandmother. His favourite actor was Katherine Hepburn. As a man who just turned 40 years old, Tom Houghton is a completely different person, bitter and jaded with the world. Tom Houghton is an exciting new coming of age story from Todd Alexander.

Told from the two different stages of life (twelve and forty) Tom Houghton offers an interesting look into this character’s life. I suspect that the book is semi-autobiographical but I found this a well-developed characterisation. I was particularly interested to see just how much Tom has changed over the years. In fact, this often felt like two different people.

As this novel progresses, events start to hint at what makes Tom the person he is today. I am always fascinated by the way the world shapes people. Particularly if society turns people evil (ever since reading Frankenstein), or in this case, making people jaded. There is so much that could be pulled out if I had a psychology background but as a novice, I just enjoyed the direction this novel took.

I was sent this book by the publisher with a note saying that they thought I would enjoy it. I am glad I listened and picked this book up because it was right up my alley. Tom Houghton reminds me a bit of the writing of Christos Tsiolkas, albeit a much tamer novel. I do hope that Todd Alexander writers more novels like this, I will be eager to pick up another.

Nest by Inga Simpson

Posted September 24, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Nest by Inga SimpsonTitle: Nest (Goodreads)
Author: Inga Simpson
Published: Hachette, 2014
Pages: 296
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: Book Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Jen was once an artist and a teacher, but now she spends her times watching birds and working in her gardens. Her house is surrounded by her lush sub-tropical gardens which help keep her from being disturbed by other people in the small town that she grew up in. The only person she sees regularly is Henry who comes after school for drawing lessons. However a girl in his class has gone missing, which pulls Jen back into her past where she lost both her father and best friend in the same week. Now forty years later, the town is talking about those disappearances in connection to the newly missing girl.

If I went into Nest as a book on nature writing, I may have a completely different reaction to the book. For me I went in thinking this was going to be a novel revolving around the disappearances and possibly solving the mysteries of her past and what happened to this young girl. Nest focuses mainly on a life of seclusion and the birds Jen finds within her garden. It is a quiet and even gentle novel that I did not connect with at all.

The mysteries only served as a sub-plot and no real depth went into developing it. I found Jen was very evasive and did not want to explore her past or talk about the situation. This was meant to be a way to show the damage caused by the loss of her father and best friend but it was just over done. It was a useful technique for exploring Jen’s hurt and pain but because it was used so much the mystery plot really suffered.

I know I went into the book with the wrong expectations, and I eventually did enjoy the nature writing, and the quiet and peaceful sentences. I put too much focus on the sub-plot and this really highlighted the problems I had with the novel. Inga Simpson can really write and there are some great sentence structures to be found in this novel. Nest is beautifully written and if you love nature and bird watching, this will be worth reading; just do not read this for the mystery.

The Yellow Papers by Dominique Wilson

Posted April 10, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

The Yellow Papers by Dominique WilsonTitle: The Yellow Papers (Goodreads)
Author: Dominique Wilson
Published: Transit Lounge, 2014
Pages: 348
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In an effort to learn the secrets of the West, China sent a group of boys to America to be educated. This was following their defeat in the two Opium Wars in 1872. Seven-year-old Chen Mu was one of the boys sent to America; but at nine he fled to Umberumberka, a mining town in outback Australia. The Yellow Papers is a story of love, obsession and friendship set against a backdrop of war and racial prejudice.

The title refers to a Chinese tradition of determining a soul is at rest; this involves a priest determining if the death fell on a lucky day or not as well as performing some rituals. I couldn’t find much information about this process but the book suggests that the family is given yellow papers to indicate the soul is at rest. Also it may be interesting to note that the colour yellow is considered lucky in Chinese culture but Westerners use it as a racial slur. You might think this information would be useful and paid a big part in the novel, especially when it comes to tackling racism, but it doesn’t.

One of my major gripes with the novel is the fact that it attempts to look at a subject but ends up just glossing over it. The Yellow Papers tries to be a big sweeping historical epic but compact into 300 pages. This means that there are huge gaps that we have to fill in for ourselves and while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing it does detach the reader from the novel. The novel could go into detail about racism, culture clashing, even the Opium Wars but this book avoids dealing with these subjects in great detail.

While The Yellow Papers is essentially the story of Chen Mu, this book is broken into three parts that shifts into different focalisation.  Chen Mu, Edward and Ming Li are the primary focus on the three parts. While Chen Mu is not a well-developed character by any count, Edward and Ming Li’s development fell flat. Both characters are two dimensional with no real indication on personality or motivation. This causes The Yellow Papers to start off well but plateaued out a third of the way through the novel.

There is some beauty within the text; some of the syntax reviews great imagery. While Dominique Wilson never really gives us much to do with scenery, the discourse is often very revealing. “Since that evening the thought that she could not love him had festered like a cancer in his belly.” This sentence hit me pretty hard; the idea of not being love and cancer being used in the same sentence, an idea that suggests being unloved is both unwanted and weighed heavily on him. Sentences like this are found throughout the novel and what saved this book from abandonment.

I wasn’t happy with The Yellow Papers at all and while I see some beauty in Dominique Wilson’s writing, I think she needed to flesh this one out a lot more. It is her first novel and I’m sure she learnt from writing it; her next novel will really determine my opinion of her style. As I’ve said, I found beauty in the syntax, enough to try her again.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Posted May 3, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

Burial Rites by Hannah KentTitle: Burial Rites (Goodreads)
Author: Hannah Kent
Published: Picador, 2013
Pages: 352
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In a small town in northern Iceland 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is waiting her execution for her part in the brutal murder of two men. District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and two daughters have been appointed to act as Agnes jailors leading up to her death. Horrified to have a convicted killer living with them leads to the drama that is Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites.

I remember hearing about this book when Waterstones released their Waterstones Eleven list for 2013. This list is their picks for the most promising Fiction debuts of the year. While I’ve never really known of this list till this year I was very interested to discover some books that I thought I would need to get my hands on. Books that I immediately added to my list included Idiopathy by Sam Byers, The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence, Pig’s Foot by Carlos Acosta and of course Burial Rites. Hannah Kent is an Australian author and Deputy Editor for Kill Your Darlings, an independent literary publication. I was surprised how much buzz this book got leading up to its release and the fact that she sold the manuscript to so many countries before people had a chance to read it and talk about it.

Burial Rites is told from multiple perspectives.  There is a first person narrative from Agnes which appears to be unreliable as she doesn’t seem to have a clue about some of the things going on around her. Then there are all the other perspectives which are told in third person, I thought I would get annoyed with the switching perspective and the reliable third person verse the unreliable first but really it didn’t bother me at all. The way the story progresses you don’t really notice too much in the change and it really helps the reader to understand what is happening in this little town even if Agnes is unaware.

The differing opinions towards Agnes were really fascinating, in this sense I found myself being reminded of Crime and Punishment. The psychology of each character gets explored, from Agnes’ acceptance and waiting for her fate to Jon’s fear of corruption to the compassion, understanding and a whole range of issues. As the novel progresses and people learn more about Agnes and/or the crime, you can see the way they change in behaviour. I was so drawn to the way Hannah Kent really explored her characters and the way they behave towards Agnes as they learn more about the whole situation.

This is based on real events; Agnes Magnusdottir was the last application of capital punishment in Iceland and while I didn’t find much about the crime and the execution, I did feel like Kent has researched enough for this novel. Using historical events to write fiction is a trick thing to do, sometimes you can get it right, like in the case of this novel and Wolf Hall, but sometimes you just mess too much with the personalities of who you want to portray and it doesn’t feel authentic, A Treacherous Likeness is a good example of this. I’m sure it helps that a quick search of Agnes Magnusdottir doesn’t give you much information apart from being convicted for the murders of Nathan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson so it is hard to tell just how accurate this novel is. Though I feel like I know a little more about the last execution in Iceland than originally (which was nothing); even if it was learnt from a historical novel.

Burial Rites was a great read, I found myself being sucked into the world and enjoying the way each character was explored. Trying to pronounce the Icelandic names is always hard but I’m pleased to see there is a little guide at the start of the book to help with pronunciation. A brilliant debut novel from Hannah Kent and she will be one Australian author I will be watch in the future. This psychological novel really is worth reading, but then again I do enjoy a novel that explores the psychological elements of murder.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

Posted January 25, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 53 Comments

The Slap by Christos TsiolkasTitle: The Slap (Goodreads)
Author: Christos Tsiolkas
Published: Allen & Unwin, 2008
Pages: 485
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

To celebrate Australia Day (January 26th) Book’d Out and Confessions from Romaholics have hosted a blog hop/giveaway. In celebration of Australian literature I am giving away a copy of one of my favourite Australian novel (open internationally).

At a suburban barbeque, one slap will change the lives of these people. Christos Tsiolkas unflinchingly looks at domestic life in the Australian suburbs in the twenty first century. The slap and its consequences cause everyone to question their own families and the way they live, their expectations, beliefs and desires. A gripping novel of loyalty and happiness, compromise and truth from the very start to the end.

You’ll either love it or hate it; Christos Tsiolkas’ controversial novel The Slap is heavy reading and very confronting and it all starts with a Slap. The Slap starts at a barbeque for group of family and friends, when one adult slaps an unrelated child the universal tension begins. The book changes perspectives of the different characters at the Barbeque to show different emotions and feelings about the events.

The Slap goes through topics like Discipline, Child Raising, Family Life, Adultery, Friends verse Family, Gossip and Multiculturalism. While the characters are extremely flawed and sometimes you want to slap them, don’t let that put you off. If you are not a fan of course language, be warned it does feature very heavily in this book. Apart from that the writing, the characters and plot are well crafted, I have noticed women seem to hate this book more than men, it could be because of the subject matter. But it doesn’t matter whether you think the child deserved to be slapped (He did), or if the adult should have known better (he should have) this book is going to challenge you in one way or another.

The Slap will play with your emotions all the way through this book and you will rage at the characters and want to slap them senseless. But the turmoil and the internal monologue of all the characters was done really well and makes for an excellent read. It’s like you have an intimate look into the head of all the characters involved in this one incident at a barbeque. It’s a compelling read all the way to the end.


To celebrate Australia Day, I am giving away a copy of this book to one of my lucky readers. Entries are open to all my readers as I plan to send a copy of this book via book depository, so if you would like to win a copy of this book, enter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Make sure you pop over to Book’d Out to see the others involve in this blog hop with other chances to win.