I Came to Say Goodbye by Caroline Overington

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.

25 Responses

  1. i work in the book department at big w and when a customer asks me what is a good book to read i tell them the best book ive ever read is ‘to say goodbye’ i loved it. i loved how it was from the grandfathers point of view,how it talked about mental health issues,it was so well thought out and written i couldnt put it down. well done caroline you are one of my best authors.

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  2. I picked up this book a couple of months ago completely by chance in a second hand bookshop, intrigued by the opening pages but not with any particular interest. Clearly it was then only just released – lucky lucky me! When I finally remembered to read it I found it compelling almost from the beginning. As other readers have commented the opening chapter (after the prologue) took a little while to find its feet, but once it did I could not put this book down. The intimate style of story telling, the humble and sometimes guilt-ridden tone of Med made me feel like a part of this family. Can the story really reflect what goes on in our family courts? I haven’t had expereince (happily) but although it shocks me, I confess it doesn’t surprise me. Caroline what a wonderful book. I too had to sit for some time after finishing, and although that was 2 weeks ago I still think about those characters. Deeply moving, wonderful story. I’m putting this up as my choice for our book club, can’t wait to discuss it with friends.

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  3. When I first picked up “Ghost Child” i put it down again after a couple of chapters, thought, this isn’t for me. Fortunately, I flicked through 100 pages or so, found what I was reading was interesting, so went back to the start and discovered a terrific book – sharp, to the point, and dealing with an ailment that increasingly afflicts Australian society. If “Ghost Child” was terrific, “I Came to Say Goodbye” is just outstanding – emotionally devastating, yet ultimately uplifting. This is not just one of the best Australian books I’ve read, but one of the best per se.

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  4. I was so touched by this novel. Bravo Caroline for having the guts to bring us a book so relevant to Australia today. I finished it last week and have since bought 3 copies for friends. I think of myself as someone who has alot of life experience and I am not often brought to tears by books. This one though resonated deeply inside me and I must admit I unashamedly wept several times – for the loss of innocence, bureaucratic bullshit and at the heart of the novel, the love of a family.
    Thank you Caroline

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    • Thank you, Kim. People have said to me: it’s hard to read and I know it is, but I hope there is some joy in there, at the end. x

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  5. Thank you for your story…..I Came To Say Goodbye,Caroline. I am the 53 yr old mother of a drug/alcohol addicted son & we have been astounded by the lack of help available to both him & the family.
    We have had so many different “case workers”, social workers, psychiatrists etc etc dealing with us over the past 8 yrs with no positive results whatsoever………..files that are never read,endless waiting lists & constant scripts for “legal” drugs to mask the problems!
    Your book should be made compulsory reading for every prospective & current person “working”
    in the Mental Health system & for all politicians who seriously want to make a difference to our society.
    A heartbreaking read for me but beautifully written…….thank you.

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    • I have written to you privately. I hope you get the email.

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  6. Caroline, I think this should be required reading for Social Workers and family therapists. I wonder if you might think to send it to the ethics column of some professional journals eg Psychotherapy Today for review and to start some discussion in the industry.

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    • That is kind of you. Many have been in touch to say the book feels real to them, which means I have done my job.
      I have spoken to so many over the years and it’s been important to me to get their voices out there.

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  7. That’s exactly how I felt when I read the whole book. And I note that Room is on the short list for the Man Booker prize.

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  8. I was lucky enough to be given an advanced copy of this book and was reading it when Booktopia sent out its recommendation. I found it thought provoking and compelling. I especially liked reading a book written in the voice of the grandfather. It reminded me of the book Room which was written from the perspective of the young child. In both these books I was taken into a worldview that is so different from my own and really enjoyed the journey. I liked too that it raised so many ethical questions. I can see how from every individual’s point of view they were doing the “right thing” yet the outcome was such a disaster. This would be a worthy book for discussion, so many contentious topics covered and scary to think that it could quite possibly represent what does go on in families in Australia.

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    • That review means the world to me, Nitya. I’ve been so frustrated at not being able to report what really goes on cases of child abuse and child murder, because of the media laws that will soon make it impossible to say anything at all.
      So thank you for saying that it raises issues that are worth a discussion. You are very kind.
      Caroline.

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  9. Thank you for going to have a look, Jeanette. :)

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  10. The title and cover didn’t really grab my interest, but I’m glad I read the prologue & first chapter. That has grabbed my attention and will certainly look at purchasing a copy. :)

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  11. Believe me, Clare, writing it from the Grandpa’s point of view is the thing that is making me most nervous in these last, jumpy days before it comes out.
    Thank you for having a look. I hope you are tempted to read more.
    Caroline

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  12. The proglogue grabbed my attention and I wanted to know what it led to. I felt the first chapter a bit strange in that it’s from a grandfather’s point of view but it intrigued me and made me want to read more. Not sure about the style yet, but am willing to give it a go.

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  13. Not my cup of tea thank you. The first chapter didn’t really grab my attention for me to enjoy this type of genre. It’s more devoted to women than men of my interests and tastes.

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  14. Mr Cox, you have made my day.
    Caroline.

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  15. One word – WOW! I can safely say that this is the best Australian novel I have read in recent memory. This book is one that will stay with you long after you turn the final page. It poses questions about many sensitive topics, including child welfare, family, and mental health, and importantly does not attempt to tie up all the answers in a nice pretty bow at the end. If a comparison must be made, the closest I can suggest is Jodi Picoult. However this book will resonate much more with local readers as it is told in an unmistakeably Australian voice. I loved the way the story was told by reflecting back after the main event has occurred. The author drip feeds information throughout which hints as what eventually happens, but never fully reveals it. A real hook to keep you reading, as if the amazing story was not enough.

    This title would also be perfect for book clubs, as it provides so many areas for passionate discussion. I can’t wait for it to be released so I can chat further with others about it!

    So don’t miss out on your chance to read this fantastic new talent in Australian fiction. Get in early, so you can brag to your friends that you were there at the beginning.

    (This from Brett Cox of the Co-Op bookshop La Trobe University)

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  16. Can’t say the excerpt did much for me either. However, the book is on my “maybe” list.
    Jenny

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    • Hello Booktopia Buzz Clubbers,

      I am a long time customer of Booktopia; I’ve had them send me copies of my own books when I’ve run low, and needed a few extras!

      It was a big thrill for me to hear that they would review I Came to Say Goodbye.

      It isn’t easy to get a start in novels, and it means the world when you are just starting out, to be read and to get a review.

      So thank you, even for reading the extract and saying, okay, it’s not for me. I feel confident the book will find an audience, for the issues it raises are true, and truth is important to all of us.

      Thank you again,
      Caroline.

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      • Couldn’t put it down – finished it in two days and have now sent it to my Aunt in Melbourne. can’t wait to hear what she thinks. When I closed the final page I had to sit for a long time – it was just so moving.

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      • Thank you. A few people have now told me that there is a bit of sitting quietly that goes on after you’ve finished it, and I really want to be be because by the end, your heart is again full of hope.

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  17. Opening chapters did nothing for me at all. Also found a mistake: the baby “was LAYING face down” – should be LYING face down – laying is what hens do, and I find that error irritating. Won’t buy the book, though not because of the error.

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  18. Caroline has answered the Booktopia Book Guru’s Ten Terrifying Questions – click here to read Caroline’s answers.

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