What is the collective term for a group of booksellers? A fatigue of booksellers? A cynic of booksellers? A babble of booksellers? Whatever it is, it does take a lot to shift us from our collective ennui and back into that passion for character, plot and ideas which is, if you dig deep enough, the reason that most of the us are in the game in the first place.
I was at a function recently where there was a babble of booksellers, and they were all babbling about one book. And it wasn’t the one we were there ostensibly to spruik (which shall remain nameless at this present moment). In fact, the book that was the talk of the evening was Caroline Overington’s upcoming I Came to Say Goodbye.
I had resisted the book up until that time. The proof copy has been sitting on my shelf for months. It was covered with too many epithets for my liking – too many “compellings”, “memorables”, “addictives” and “brilliants” . What I had heard was that this story is an Australian, credible addition to the Jodi Picoult school of story writing. In fact, I had heard that Overington had out Picoulted Jodi herself.
Caroline Overington is a columnist for The Australian. She has picked up a couple of Walkley Awards and has written two non-fiction books, Only in New York, and Kickback, which is about the UN oil-for-food scandal in Iraq. Last year she wrote her first novel, a book called Ghost Child. There was a bit of noise around about it – a confident start etc etc. Her second novel, I Came to Say Goodbye, will be released on October 1.
I Came to Say Goodbye is going to place Overington firmly in the sight lines of general fiction readers. It will probably appeal to woman more than men, although it certainly isn’t a classic women’s read. There is a lot to get your teeth into with this one, a lot to discuss, a lot you will want to workshop with others. I am not going to give out any spoilers on this one. Most of the book is narrated by Med Atley, a knock about bloke in his late 60s who lives in Foster on the NSW coast. Med’s wife Pat disappeared in the 70s once she had discovered feminism, and Med ended up bringing up their much younger third child, Donna Faye (known affectionately as Fat) on his own. Fat was an unusual child, and then matured into an unusual woman. As for themes, suffice to say Overington starts with shaken baby syndrome and then covers a huge amount of territory including the family court, rights of children and family members, mental illness, demographics, adoption, immigration, aspirational life style, inter-generational change, child rearing and parenting, drugs, the nanny state, race relations. You name a personal issue that is on the worry list of contemporary Australians and Overington has somehow woven it into her story.
Despite a bit of a slow start, Overington draws these disparate elements together in a seemingly effortless way, all the while keeping plenty up her sleeve so that the reader is guessing all the way to the end. I get the impression that she must have spent a lot of time in a court room watching the ebb and flow of human endeavour and here she is now putting all those really tricky questions into one very readable story.
For the record, I left the booksellers’ event and dragged out my proof copy. It was an all night read. And while I am not so sure I would say “brilliant”, it certainly was “compelling”, “memorable” and “addictive”. And I can’t get some of those characters out of my mind.
Available from October 1.