I have loved this book for a fairly long time now, but have not re-read it in a rather long time, leading to some sweating over the possibility of the Suck Fairy waving her wand. Fortunately, overall that was an unnecessary concern…
This is still a rollicking fun adventure story. Pirates! Evil! Rescues! Fights! Sailing ships!!
I still adore the concept of ships that can set off at dawn or dusk into the cloud archipelago, and that places exist in both the Core and the Rim. That is, places exist in what we understand as the ‘real’ world, but those places with long histories especially of trade and contact with the exotic, and thus I guess have a firm grip on the imagination, can exist… outside of the mundane. And this applies to imaginary places as well as real – so Prester John gets a mention, and there’s one rather awesome place I remember from one of the later books too. Rohan goes so far as to discuss and explain why this Rim world uses old-fashioned weapons, too, which shows that he’s put a deal of thought into it.
I like the characters, mostly. I still love Mall – apparently based somewhat on a real woman attested by occasional mentions in historical records – I love that she is fierce and independent and a superb fighter and a passionate friend. Jyp is still amusing, although seemed a bit… shallower this time around? That is, not as well-rounded as I seem to recall. Maybe he gets more interesting in the later books. And Le Stryge, a rather unpleasant magicky type, is magnificent. If chaotic neutral is allowed to swing towards evil and then towards good, that’s him.
And then there’s Stephen, our Point of View. I was intrigued to discover that I found him more interesting this time around, and not because I found him any deeper – exactly the opposite. There is less to him, especially initially, and that is indeed the point of the entire book. He’s hollow. He’s forced other people out of his life, he’s marginalised meaningful human contact, to progress his career – and he’s made to confront that as the story progresses. And while Stephen is an extreme example, I think it’s fair to say that Scott is taking a shot at a whole section of society who have sacrificed love, family, imagination and dreams on the altar of Getting Ahead.
The Bad, or at least The Less Good
There are two aspects that left me somewhat uncomfortable. One to do with gender/sexuality, the other to do with race.
In the first few chapters, Stephen is presented as almost Mad Men-esque in his approach to women. His descriptions of them are physical, and while not entirely callous he does call his secretary ‘girl’ and his gaze lingers long on boobs. However, this is not entirely approved by the narrative. In fact, his approach to sex and love is very definitely seen as part of his nature as nearing hollow-man status, and this disappoints a number of characters whom the story sets up as moral compasses. So that’s an interesting take. Additionally, there is a moment where a female character has a lesbian smooch and Stephen is aghast, and clearly suggests this is not a normal thing to do. Now, it does get written off as shock, this-isn’t-really-real, but one of the other characters has no adverse reaction to the kiss, and in fact makes Stephen feel pretty small and pathetic for the way he reacted. So, not entirely positive, but also not entirely negative. Which is better than entirely negative, I suppose?
Also, one of the women is damsel’d pretty early on. On the other hand, there’s Mall.
The racial aspect comes in with the voodoo aspect. There’s always an issue when a white writer uses a non-white religious/magical/ etc system to their own ends, especially when those ends are not entirely good. Now, Rohan does suggest through the story that the original positive aspects of the African/Carib beliefs have been twisted beyond recognition, and by a colonial desiring power at that, but there is no denying that this book essentially sets up Haitian voodoo as the Big Evil to be combatted. I’m not sure how to grapple with that, except that it made me somewhat uncomfortable to read such appropriation – even when Rohan shows every sign, here and elsewhere, of appropriating other religious systems just as wholesale, to his own ends. So at least he’s not limiting himself to non-whites? Also, voodoo is shown not to be entirely evil, which I guess is also something of a redeeming feature. Not entirely, but a little bit.
I still like it. I will read the sequels at some point in the near future. Hooray.
I have had this sitting on my TBR pile for ages, and given how much I adore Hardinge it doesn’t make sense it took me so long to pick it up. Oh well, water under the bridge… heh… Anyway, I went in expecting a rollicking adventure like Fly by Night. After all, how bad could it be to take coins from a wishing well, right? And even if there is a spirit in there who doesn’t like being stolen from, how bad can it be? And if she decides that you need to help her in fulfilling some of the wishes, that can’t go badly, can it? Especially if she gives you some shiny powers to aid you in that effort?
Yeah. This book was way darker than I had expected. On reflection Mosca Mye’s adventures weren’t all sunshine and skittles either, but I don’t think I ever actually feared for her life, or that Saracen the goose would end up in a pie (much as he might have deserved it). Nor did Mosca ever end up with eyes growing on her knuckles.
Josh, Ryan and Chelle sneak off to a village they’re not meant to visit, and they miss the last bus their tickets will get them home on. To get more money for tickets, Josh goes down a wishing well. Over the next couple of days, all three children discover that weird things are happening: Ryan is growing weird itchy wart-things on his knuckles, Chelle can’t stop herself from randomly spouting what seems like nonsense, and Josh is making light bulbs blow and phones go staticky. Naturally, with some experimentation and a weird dream experience for Ryan, they discover this is connected to their theft from the well and they have now been press-ganged into granting wishes, with powers to help. Fun, eh?
Of course, we all know that wishes are – as Ryan describes it – a bit like conkers. There’s the outside bit that you can see, but then there’s the inside bit – the meaty bit – that’s often darker, and spikier, and not so speak-out-loud. But the spirit in the well knows that bit, too.
Things get out of control. Of course. There’s adventure – some exhilarating and some terrifying – and some occasions of just sheer terror for Ryan, our point of view character, in particular. As with the best stories there’s more than one level of problems to be dealt with, and I’ve rarely read a YA/kids’ book where parental arguments are shown quite so realistically, along with the child’s reaction. Also the fact that your parents aren’t necessarily going to get along with your friends’ parents, although that was mostly just funny. Adolescent friendship and its highs, lows, difficulties, competition, and hierarchy is treated very tenderly: Hardinge pulls no punches but does allow her characters to develop over just a few days in reaction to their circumstances. I’m quite sure most people will recognise aspects of Ryan, Chelle and Josh’s little clique, and not necessarily with rosy memories either.
As for other characters… there’s also a mean old lady who was, on reflection, actually treated rather poorly – she was certainly nasty but probably didn’t deserve quite the ending she got – and a nice young lady whose agoraphobia wasn’t explored in great detail but was treated with sympathy. There are five parents between the three children, which is rather a change from your classic YA where the parents are got rid of or otherwise not involved in the story; Ryan’s parents are very present in much of the story, and they get to be appropriately complex. And the spirit in the well – I won’t say much because I don’t want to spoil it, but I was really impressed with the context Hardinge develops, and especially with the ultimate resolution.
Look, I read this in an afternoon. It’s utterly absorbing and gloriously written. Just read it already. You can buy it from Fishpond.
(Apparently it was released as Well Witched in America. I do not know why.)
I totally intended to read this slowly. Honestly I did. I meant to savour it, and contemplate each story.
Is it my fault that I ripped through each story, eager to know where it was going? It is my fault that each story is short enough that before I knew it I had finished one, turned the page, and started another?
I think not.
In the interests of, etc, I should point that I do know both Thoraiya Dyer, the author, and Alisa Krasnostein, the publisher. If I didn’t like what I had read, I just wouldn’t write anything…
So. Asymmetry. In each story, a lack of balance, especially in power; sometimes, also, a lack of balance in an individual’s life, making them particularly vulnerable to direct manipulation or simply life’s vicissitudes.
The first story is “After Hours,” and I’m so pleased to finally read something of Dyer’s that makes use of her veterinary skills! I’ve been wondering when they would find an outlet in her fiction. Didn’t necessarily expect to find it in a story about werewolves, but that’s fine. I do wonder whether there’s a little hint of Dyer’s own experiences here, or those of friends, with how one of the senior, rather unpleasant, men treats one of the women – commenting that women aren’t worth training because they just up and leave to have babies. Anyway, Jess is a new vet in a rural town, where the clinic’s biggest client is the local RAAF base with its patrol dogs. Werewolves are involved, but I won’t spoil how. The asymmetric power dynamic comes in its experience/newbie aspect, as well as in its gender aspect. Dyer hints at the difficulties of being new to a job as well as being new to a small town – actually I’m just presuming it’s a small town, but that’s definitely the vibe I got – very effectively. You probably don’t want to read this if you’re going to be squeamish about matter-of-fact descriptions of veterinary procedures.
In “Zadie, Scythe of the West,” Dyer wrenches us out of a relatively familiar world into one where only women are soldiers, and they’re only allowed to kill as many enemies as children they have borne. The tiny detail in this story that delighted me was the rather obvious point that, as a consequence of this prohibition, the women have developed great skills at harming rather than killing. The asymmetric power here is once again a gendered one, as women have power because of their martial position, and presumably also because of the worship of a goddess who orders society and doles out punishment as necessary. The focus is on someone with a skerrick of power – an artist – whose expertise gets abused by someone with more power, for her own ends. The world of this story totally fascinated me, because there is so little back story: why the fighting? is this a fantasy or a SF world? And the story, in skipping to vignettes within the artist’s and Zadie’s life, suggest interesting ways for men and women, state and individual, to relate.
Having interviewed Dyer before I read this, I already know that she’s working on a longer treatment of the world she depicts in “Wish me Luck,” which is intriguing all by itself. Here, somehow, luck is a form of currency: it can be transferred between individuals, and used to purchase goods. As with the previous story, it’s unclear whether this is more of a fantasy or SF conceptualisation, although the ending suggests SF – as does, now I think about it, the fact that Kvivik is expressly discussed as another planet, and our narrator has come from Earth. Still, the luck aspect suggests a blurring of genres. Anyway! Our narrator begins sympathetically enough, but it must be said that much of my sympathy had transmuted to distaste by the end of the story. He’s one of those unpleasant people who keeps making promises… for tomorrow. But the world – oh, the world. Kvivik is a water world, with a human colony that appears to exist solely to supply water to its waterless sister-planet. Why these planets are worth the effort is unclear, and will perhaps be revealed by Dyer in her longer work. The story is mostly set amongst the dregs of society on Kvivik, which of course is where most of the best stories are found, and there are some distinctly unpleasant people there – and robots, and possibly half-humans, and a thoroughly mysterious Lady Adelaide. The asymmetry is found in the haves vs the have-nots, and in intention vs action. I think this is probably my favourite story of the quartet.
Finally, “Seven Days in Paris” gives the cover its Eiffel Tower. We’re back on Earth, some time – but not too far? – into the future. The story comes from the perspective of Marwa B, who first appears to the reader while looking at someone identified as Marwa. Marwa B is taken out into Paris, to have experiences which her captors/handlers/users hope will stimulate dreams that in turn will help them to understand the original Marwa. Exactly who or what Marwa B is, or how her operators use her, is left opaque – what matters is that they do, and they believe it’s necessary to do so. The asymmetry is a riff, I think, on that philosophic conundrum of whether it is permissible to torture one to save many. There’s also a huge knowledge imbalance, with Marwa B having no real understanding of what she is being used for until right at the end; and of course it’s a state vs individual thing, too. I enjoyed the development of Marwa B over her seven days – she’s not an entirely clean slate, but she still gets to experience things relatively innocently – and Paris is a sensation-filled place to do that. I also really appreciated the point at which Dyer left this story.
This is an entirely worthy eighth volume in the Twelve Planets series. It’s different from the others (that I have read… still haven’t brought myself to read the Warren or the Lanagan…), as it should be, but fits in with the overall scope of the project – quality writing from Australian women. You can buy it from Twelfth Planet Press.
This review brought to you as part of the Australian Women’s Writing Challenge 2013.
I went to see it, and you know what? I really, really enjoyed it.
Firstly: I know people have said they found the narrative structure difficult to follow. Perhaps if you’re only used to a completely linear narrative, with no interweaving, then this would indeed be somewhat difficult to follow, because there are lots of cuts back and forth. But each timeline is designed very differently – you can tell just from looking at the scenery what time you are in – so I didn’t find that aspect disturbing or confusing in the slightest.
Something that was a little disturbing, and intriguing, and uncomfortable-making, was the cross-race acting. Now, I am as anglo as it gets, so my take on this is to be read from that perspective. But anyway: I found most of the Anglos-as-Koreans to be cringeworthy; James D’Arcy was the only one that seemed passable, ish, while Hugo Weaving was verging on grotesque. But what I really liked was the fact that some of the non-white also crossed race. Halle Berry as Jocasta really worked, for me, although Doona Bae as Tilda was somewhat less convincing. I think the fact that the actors all played multiple parts made this race-crossing more acceptable – it made sense, in this weird cinematic world, that a version of Berry would exist in the rarified whites-only world of 1930s English snobbery. If it had just been ‘let’s put Weaving into Neo Seoul!’ there would have been a serious problem. I haven’t read any reviews of the film yet, because I wanted to go in totally unspoiled, but I’d like to read reviews by people of colour to gain an understanding of how it looks from a non-privileged perspective.
The multiple-character thing was immensely amusing, as I eagerly tried to figure out who each actor was in each time – and nothing will ever compare with Hugo Weaving as Nurse Noakes. Some of the cosmetics and prosthetics were genuinely very clever; there was some excellent use of fake teeth, especially for Tom Hanks, and some very good use of hair, too. Hugh Grant as an incredibly painted and very nasty warrior-savage-type was a magnificent casting-against-type instance, Hanks did well in all of his varying roles, and I really, really liked Berry, too.
This film was not, in the end, actually what I thought it would be. I expected that, because of the multi-time and multi-character acting, I was going to get something a little like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Years of Rice and Salt, where people keep getting reincarnated and being with the same souls generation after generation. And while some of the same actors found themselves together in some form or another in multiple settings, it’s not like Berry and Hanks were always lovers or whatever. In fact, there is little similarity between any of the epochs, with the exception of what I see as the main theme playing out: fate vs freedom. And, yes, there’s love as a real and binding force, but I don’t really see that as a theme, more as a Human Condition kinda thing.
So, fate vs freedom is really what it comes down to. How do you act within your fate, how can you fight against your fate, what are the limits of freedom… and tied up in this is the notion of an ‘established order’ within society, the existence of which a number of characters insist on – and when that’s contrasted between the ‘order’ of whites over blacks, and the ‘order’ of pureblood over fabricant – it could have got preachy, but actually I think it skated the line well enough.
There are big moments, of trying to change the world, and small moments, of trying to change one single person. There are intensely sad moments, and some brutal ones (I see why it’s MA, but it wasn’t nearly so bad as I had expected); some poignant, and occasionally funny ones as well.
I saw this with my friend Mel. Last movie we saw together at the cinema was Inception. We’ll have to be very careful in picking the next film we see together… it will either have to be the filmic equivalent of War and Peace, or maybe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
When I finished reading the second of the Bel Dame Apocrypha novels, Infidel, I was unable to write a review as such, so I wrote an open letter to the main character, Nynissa so Dasheem, instead. And now the series has finished, and… well. It wasn’t an easy ride, but it was a worthwhile one.
There are spoilers below. You know, things like Nyx is alive for this novel. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, but kinda is.
So, who would have thought that things could get more brutal than God’s War and Infidel? Well done to Hurley by surprising me with that one. I’m thinking particularly of the fact that while previously there have been references to what might happen if you bury a body with its head attached, I don’t believe the consequences have been described in quite such visceral detail. Er… squick. Also, the fight scenes. Brutal indeed.
As with the previous two novels, this one involves Our Nyx taking a a mark that she doesn’t particularly want to, but that she doesn’t feel she can refuse. It’s seven years since the last book, and this is perhaps one of the most remarkable things about Nyx: she got old. And slow. And maybe a bit on the pudgy side, like an ex-boxer or rugby player gets when they stop working out. You see this all the time in movies like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon, where the old heroes get to complain about being old before busting someone’s butt; it’s rare for it to be allowed to happen to a woman. Heck, even Ripley gets to come back as a fully modded clone rather than being old. But there are a number of references to Nyx being old, and a bit a slow, and by no means as stealthy as she would like to think she is. So that’s very cool, because of course she still gets the job done. Kinda. Mostly. Well, she gets something done, anyway.
Back to the plot: it sees Nyx move into quite unfamiliar territory, both literally – we go places we’ve barely even heard of previously – and metaphorically, because she’s actually not sent to kill someone, but rather to bring them back. And it’s a rather surprising someone for that particular mission for this particular ex-bel dame (no, it’s not Rhys). There’s a new set of crew that have to be broken in (er, perhaps a bit too literally), and seriously excruciating things like crossing deserts to contend with. There’s fights and unpleasantess and weird people and death to confront. Some of those things not even of Nyx’s doing. Also, a great big wall that could be a joke at GRR Martin’s expense, since this one is in a desert and has even weirder things on the other side than exist in Nyx’s ordinary world, and since that includes bugs that will turn a dead body into a zombie – well.
One of the really tantalising things that Hurley offers in this section of Nyx’s saga is a glimpse of the backstory of this crazy planet. Little hints about why and when it was colonised, and what happened in the early part of its human history, and how the human population manages to survive. It’s still not enough to make everything make sense, though, and OH MY do I wish Hurley would write a prequel (I know she’s written at least one short set in this universe, maybe that covers it?), because I really, really want to know about the moons and initial colonists and what the heck is going down with the surviving deadtech.
Anyway. The plot is a little bit convoluted but simple enough to follow. It’s not trying to be tricksy because dealing with the bugs is hard enough without having to unravel all sorts of narrative tricks. Once again, though, the characters are a highlight. Nyx doesn’t so much shine as reluctantly, grudgingly, and with a mean scowl shed as little light as she can get away with, but boy if she isn’t still mesmerising. Even when she’s spitting venom and being as cranky as she possibly can. As mentioned, most of her crew is new, with the exception of the shapeshifter Eshe, who is struggling to figure out how to be himself and not be like her, while still worshipping the ground she walks on. The rest of the crew are interesting enough in their own right, although I couldn’t help but see them as so much cannon fodder – much like Nyx sometimes sees them I think, for all she has a surprisingly well-developed sense of duty to those who sign on with her. Because, as well – and here’s a slight spoiler, sorry, but if you’ve read the other two this is important – they’re also outshone by Rhys. Yes, Rhys is here again, in a very surprising – for both himself and Nyx – twist. And that relationship is so fraught, so difficult, so sad and so bitter and so frustrating, that anything else rather pales.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the political side, which is important but somewhat overshadowed by the action. There’s the possibility of a treaty with Chenja (I know, right? The war’s only been going for like three centuries)… which means something rather unexpected: the boys are coming home. And they appear to be expecting that they’ll have, like, some sort of rights when they get there. And jobs maybe? Certainly some place in society. Outrageous, I say! I think this is one aspect that could have done with a little bit more development, if I’m being critical at all – but only because I’m intrigued by how the arguments could play out and would have liked to see more of the philosophical and political discussion that Hurley could bring to bear.
Nyx, you are heartless and cold, a drunk and a killer, mean and brutal. You have changed my perception of how female warriors can be portrayed, and your world has made me see bugs in a new, occasionally more revolted, light. Cheers.
You can buy Rapture from Fishpond.
I reviewed the first in the Thrawn trilogy, Heir to the Empire, here, and it’s taken me a while to get around to the rest of the series. But I have finally read Dark Force Rising and The Last Command and you know what? I continued to enjoy them. Such that I do plan on reading more in the expanded universe. Especially since I discovered there’s a Han Solo trilogy set just before the events of episode IV. (!!) What follows is in no way a comprehensive review of the last two books… more just some rambling thoughts. These thoughts do contain spoilers, both for the first book and the later ones.
Look, the first thing I have to say is WILL MARA AND LUKE JUST HURRY UP and get together already?? If they don’t end up having a beautiful Leia/Han relationship, or at least a tempestuous love affair, I will be righteously peeved. Because they are so clearly right for each other.
Oh my, this may be the first really serious case of ‘shipping I’ve ever experienced. It might mean I can never read any of the later books IN CASE I AM WRONG.
It’s really the characters that kept me reading here. I did enjoy the plot – and an enormous amount of kudos goes to Zahn, and I guess Lucas as the owner of the franchise for allowing him to do it: the idea that actually, it might take more than one battle to change the fate of an entire galaxy is brilliant and I am so glad it actually gets explored. Bizarre as it might seem, there wasn’t enough politicking in these books for me. I understand that the focus is on the threat posed by Grand Admiral Thrawn, especially as he keeps showing up, attacking important planets, and then running away again – and that Luke and Han and Leia get to go off and have exciting adventures. And there’s a bit of politicking as Admiral Ackbar is confronted by the weaselly Fey’lya with fraudulent bank accounts, and the occasional discussion about which planets are dispensable. But seriously, people! Where is the tit-for-tat bargaining to get planets on your side? Where is the committee taxed with the task of writing a new constitution? Are we having elections any time soon? These are the questions I want resolved!
Possibly I have been thinking about real-world revolutions too much.
So, characters. While the Mara/Luke thing frustrated me, my greatest surprise on finishing the trilogy was the revelation of who Delta Source – the source of all that oh-so-useful intel Thrawn keeps getting from inside the very bowels of the New Republic – actually was. And this was clever, and nicely played, etc. But I had been reading for 2.5 books absolutely convinced that the source was Winter, Leia’s aide. I do not remember why I thought this – I vaguely recall some scene in the first book that seemed to suggest she was secretly communicating with someone, but maybe my brain invented this as a reason for thinking she was eeevil. Perhaps she’s just too perfect and I am too accustomed to betrayal in my science fiction. Or maybe, maybe, the revelation in this book was a trick and she will still turn out to be a traitor! ha ha!
Luke is slightly less wet than in the films, which is nice. There’s still a lot of ‘oh my goodness what if I’m not good enough?’ which I always imagine in the voice of Annie from the eponymous movie. Still, he’s making advances in understanding and using the Force, so that’s a positive.
Han continues to be awesome, and still struggles somewhat with actually being respectable. I really like that he is cranky about not having time with his wife, and only going off on missions when they are of Direst Importance To Save the Galaxy. And even then he’s not happy about it. Also, he loves his kids. That’s nice. And there’s some good banter with Lando.
Leia is the great revelation for me, in these books. Yes she had some great parts to play in the films, but I was quite concerned – especially as the trilogy opens with her pregnant, with twins – that she would rapidly be sidelined. But oh no. She is on missions, and getting into trouble, and negotiating deals, pretty much until she gives birth. (She would probably get on well with Alexia Tarabotti… although she may not care quite so much about dresses.) Not in a run-around-oops-my-belly-got-in-the-way way, though; she is consciously aware of the twins, and of ensuring their safety – but she faces the difficult question of keeping them physically safe while also safeguarding the new republic she has also helped to birth. (Those metaphors could get a leedle clunky, not to mention questionable.) Anyway, she’s great. And shoots things. And uses the Force. And overrides the men for their own, and her own, good.
Of the lesser characters… Threepio is more annoying than ever. Lando gets a nice amount of page-space, and continues to be banterific. Mara is probably the most intriguing of the new characters, with the gradual revelations about her background – Emperor’s Hand, maybe some sort of access to the Force, an overwhelming desire to kill Luke but actually
wanting to shag him needing him to get things completed. I can see that she will be a big character in later books – or ought to be anyway.
There are of course lots of other new characters introduced in this trilogy… possibly too many, actually. Thrawn and his XO Pellaeon are interesting opponents, and I said in my first review that it’s an intriguing narrative device to give the reader such a clear insight into the ‘enemy’. While it makes Thrawn come across as a definite enemy – cos he’s a bit nuts; no one should be able to gain that sort of insight just from looking at a society’s art – that’s just creepy – Pellaeon is a good follower, a genuine believer in the empire but not a fanatic, delightfully concerned for the welfare of his crew, and basically sympathetic. It’s very sad that he’s on the wrong side, and I wonder if this is an intentional move: make the reader see that people on both sides are (for want of a better word) human? Because the same sort of thing happens, of course, with the alien Noghri – whose entrance into the story is as assassins, and who progress to being allies of the New Republic because of their allegiance to the children of Vader and because the Empire is shown as having screwed them over (…which actually makes their devotion to the children of Vader problematic, unless they’ve transferred their allegiance because of the revealing of the truth…).
And then there’s Talon Karrde, who if I’m not much mistaken will also feature in later books, because he is basically the replacement for Han in the bad-ass but basically good (chaotic good maybe?) stakes. Smuggler, racketeer, but still good to his people and basically honest… yeh. Han replacement. And he’d totally shoot first, too.
There will be more Star Wars in my future. Not sure when, but it will happen.
In which awards are dissected into itty bitty bits and eaten with relish. Tasty tomato relish.
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This looks like a short podcast, but it isn’t. No culture consumed for you! Which does mean that Alex will have read ALL THE BOOKS by the time we join you again.
(Well, that’s what Tansy thinks anyway… we’ll see how much reading vs how much knitting gets done!)
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Thoraiya Dyer is an award-winning Australian writer based in the lush, sweeping NSW Hunter Valley. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld #75, Apex #35, Redstone SF and Nature; it is forthcoming in Cosmos #51 (full list). Her collection, Asymmetry, is out now from Twelfth Planet Press.
I picked this book up at The Moat, a bar/restaurant slightly underneath the Victorian State Library. It has a shelf of books that can be taken by customers on the proviso that at some stage, you put one in yourself – although a further proviso is “No Dan Brown” (seriously it says that on the sign). Anyway I’d heard of Dubosarsky and never read any of her stuff, and the cover was immediately entrancing – look at that purple! and the gold is luminous!
There’s a little bit of Picnic at Hanging Rock around this book, which Dubosarsky herself acknowledges, as well as a lot of inspiration from art – especially that of Charles Blackman, whose paintings and drawings provide the chapter headings. It also, she says, draws on her own memories of being a Sydney schoolgirl.
Eleven little girls have a somewhat peculiar teacher, who takes them out of school down to the nearby gardens, to consider the world and attempt poetry and to listen to a gardener-cum-poet, Morgan. (It’s fair to say that there were a lot of alarm bells for me as a teacher with this book! The 60s were truly a different world…) But something happens – something unexpected and terrible, but probably not what you’re thinking: let me spoil this slightly and say nothing happens to the girls themselves, IT’S OK Tansy can read this if she hasn’t already.
While the ongoing repercussions of the Serious Event colour the entire book, Dubosarsky works other issues in, in the same way that such issues would probably be experienced by your average kid. It opens on the day Ronald Ryan is hanged (the last such event in Australia); the Vietnam War is ongoing. Closer to home, things are not entirely well in the homes of at least one of the girls, although exactly what is going on is never fleshed out; the reader sees glimpses in the way that a casual schoolfriend sees glimpses, only when they’re allowed or by accident.
It’s a very short book – 150 pages of well-spaced type. It’s a delightfully written book, with evocative descriptions of schoolrooms and gardens and slightly creepy creeks. Dubosarsky captures the innocence and bewilderment and childish cunning of children very nicely too; a student would have no trouble seeing themselves in this novel, in the attitudes and expectations of the schoolyard. It’s also potentially a frustrating book. It begins in 1967, with the girls about 10 years old; it covers about a fortnight in their lives, mostly in the schoolroom with occasional forays outside. It then jumps to one afternoon in 1975, with four of the girls sitting their final HSC exam, and a final intriguing addendum to their experience eight years earlier. The story is left ajar – not quite open, not quite closed… I guess this is fitting since the girls themselves are on the cusp of adulthood, so their lives at this point are liminal, balancing between two aspects.
The Golden Day is intriguing, and luminous like its cover; I have no doubt this will stay with me into the future. Especially when considering excursions.
You can buy The Golden Day at Fishpond.