Kylie Ladd : Five Fiction Favourites for 2011

Kylie Ladd

author of Last Summer

and After the Fall

reveals…

The 5 best novels I read this year are…



Caribou Island

by David Vann

An Alaskan Revolutionary Road, Caribou Island from David Vann, bestselling and critically acclaimed author of Legend of a Suicide, is a devastating novel about a marriage, a couple blighted by past shadows and the weight of expectation, of themselves and of each other.

On a small island in a glacier-fed lake on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, a marriage is unravelling.

Gary, driven by thirty years of diverted plans, and Irene, haunted by a tragedy in her past, are trying to rebuild their life together. Following the outline of Gary’s old dream, they’re hauling logs out to Caribou Island in good weather and in terrible storms, in sickness and in health, to patch together the kind of cabin that drew them to Alaska in the first place.

Across the water on the mainland, Irene and Gary’s grown daughter, Rhoda is starting her own life. She fantasizes about the perfect wedding day, whilst her betrothed, Jim the dentist, wonders about the possibility of an altogether different future.

Brilliantly drawn and fiercely honest in its depiction of love and disappointment, David Vann’s first novel confirms him as one of America’s most dazzling writers of fiction.

BUY



The Life

by Malcolm Knox

Daring, dazzling, funny and heartbreaking, this is a story about fame and ambition, surfing and pine-lime Splices … a superbly written and ambitious novel by one of Australia’s rising stars. The Life will simply blow you away.

He looked into the Pacific and the Pacific looked back into him.

The Life tells the story of former-world-champion Australian surfer, Dennis Keith, from inside the very heart of the fame and madness that is ‘The Life’.

Now bloated and paranoid, former Australian surfing legend Dennis Keith is holed up in his mother’s retirement village, shuffling to the shop for a Pine-Lime Splice every day, barely existing behind his aviator sunnies and crazy OCD rules, and trying not to think about the waves he’d made his own and the breaks he once ruled like a god. Years before he’d been robbed of the world title that had his name on it – and then drugs, his brother, and the disappearance and murder of his girlfriend and had done the rest. Out of the blue, a young would-be biographer comes knocking and stirs up memories Dennis thought he’d buried. It takes Dennis a while to realise that she’s not there to write his story at all.

Daring, ambitious, dazzling, The Life is also as real as it gets – a searing, beautiful novel about fame and ambition and the price that must sometimes be paid for reaching too high.

BUY



Dog Boy

by Eva Hornung

Abandoned in a big city at the onset of winter, a hungry four-year-old boy follows a stray dog to her lair. There in the rich smelly darkness, in the rub of hair, claws and teeth, he joins four puppies suckling at their mother’s teats. And so begins Romochka’s life as a dog.

Weak and hairless, with his useless nose and blunt little teeth, Romochka is ashamed of what a poor dog he makes. But learning how to be something else…that’s a skill a human can master. Fortunately–because one day Romochka will have to learn how to be a boy.

The story of the child raised by beasts is timeless. But in Dog Boy Eva Hornung has created such a vivid and original telling, so viscerally convincing, that it becomes not just new but definitive:

Yes, this is how it would be.

BUY



Animal People

by Charlotte Wood

A sharply observed, 24-hour urban love story that follows Stephen Connolly – a character from the bestselling novel The Children – through one of the worst days of his life. The day he has decided to dump his girlfriend.

On a stiflingly hot December day, Stephen has decided it’s time to break up with his girlfriend Fiona. He’s 39, aimless and unfulfilled, he’s without a clue working out how to make his life better. All he has are his instincts – and unfortunately they might just be his downfall . . .

As he makes his way through the pitiless city and the hours of a single day, Stephen must fend off his demanding family, endure another shift of his dead-end job at the zoo (including an excruciating teambuilding event), face up to Fiona’s aggressive ex-husband and the hysteria of a children’s birthday party that goes terribly wrong. As an ordinary day develops into an existential crisis, Stephen begins to understand – perhaps too late – that love is not a trap, and only he can free himself.

Hilarious, tender and heartbreaking, Animal People is a portrait of urban life, a meditation on the conflicted nature of human-animal relationships, and a masterpiece of storytelling.

Animal People invites readers to question the way we think about animals – what makes an ‘animal person’? What value do we, as a society, place on the lives of creatures? Do we brutalise our pets even as we love them? What’s wrong with anthropomorphism anyway? Filled with challenging ideas and shocks of recognition and revelation, Animal People shows a writer of great depth and compassion at work.

BUY



Daughters In Law

by Joanna Trollope

Rachel has always loved being at the centre of her large family. She has fiercely devoted herself to her three sons all their lives,and continues to do so even now they are all grown up. They are, of course, devoted to her – she and Anthony, their father, hold the family together at their big, beautiful, ramshackle house near the wide, bird-haunted coast of Suffolk.

But when Luke, her youngest, gets married, Rachel finds that control is slipping away. Other people seem to be becoming more important to her children than she is, and she can no longer rely on her role as undisputed matriarch. A power struggle develops which can only end in unhappiness; her three daughters-in-law want to do things their own way, and so, to her grief, do her sons…

BUY


Earlier in the year I read and reviewed Kylie’s latest novel, Last Summer – here is a taste of that review…

By the simple act of telling a story a good book can carry a light into the dark and unexamined corners of a reader’s life. The darkest of these unexamined corners is occupied by the single irrefutable truth of our existence, death. Left in the shadows this stark fact can take on all of the attributes of a nightmarish spectre. Left unexamined we may be left entirely unprepared when death intrudes upon our own lives. Something it will do, eventually.

Last Summer by Kylie Ladd, begins with the sudden death of Rory Buchanan, captain of the local cricket team, a man in the prime of his life. We immediately enter the lives of those Rory left behind – his wife, Colleen, his sister, Kelly, her husband, Joe, and Rory’s friends and team-mates, Nick, James and Pete, and their wives, Laine, Anita and Trinity as they, in their various ways, cope with Rory’s death and face up to the fact that life does, and will, go on without him.

Last Summer is told from the points of view of these nine characters with full chapters from one point of view only. This method of storytelling requires strong characterisation so that each individual point of view provides a unique perspective on the events. By choosing suburban Melbourne as her setting, and the cricket club as her focal point, Ladd has made things difficult for herself. There is much that is necessarily shared by all of these nine characters. They are all white, they are all moderately well off, they are all around the same age and they all have some connection to the game of cricket. This seeming difficulty turns out to be one of the novel’s strengths. Click here to read more…

Kylie Ladd, author of Last Summer, answers Six Sharp Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Kylie Ladd

author of Last Summer and After the Fall

Six Sharp Questions

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1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

Last Summer is about what happens to a close group of friends when the man at their centre, Rory Buchanan, dies unexpectedly… it’s about loss and grief and desire and, uh, cricket. As I was writing it, it also occurred to me that Last Summer is about mid-life, about coming to terms with who you are and the choices you’ve made, though I do fear that describing it as a book about middle-aged cricketers is going to have readers expecting Warwick Todd’s Ashes diary.

If so, I’m afraid they’ll be disappointed. Last Summer is dedicated to Geoff Williams, one of my husband’s closest mates, who died unexpectedly at the age of only 39. The novel is a work of fiction- as far as I know, none of the Continue reading

Last Summer by Kylie Ladd. A review by John Purcell.

By the simple act of telling a story a good book can carry a light into the dark and unexamined corners of a reader’s life. The darkest of these unexamined corners is occupied by the single irrefutable truth of our existence, death. Left in the shadows this stark fact can take on all of the attributes of a nightmarish spectre. Left unexamined we may be left entirely unprepared when death intrudes upon our own lives. Something it will do, eventually.

Last Summer by Kylie Ladd, begins with the sudden death of Rory Buchanan, captain of the local cricket team, a man in the prime of his life. We immediately enter the lives of those Rory left behind – his wife, Colleen, his sister, Kelly, her husband, Joe, and Rory’s friends and team-mates, Nick, James and Pete, and their wives, Laine, Anita and Trinity as they, in their various ways, cope with Rory’s death and face up to the fact that life does, and will, go on without him.

Last Summer is told from the points of view of these nine characters with full chapters from one point of view only. This method of storytelling requires strong characterisation so that each individual point of view provides a unique perspective on the events. By choosing suburban Melbourne as her setting, and the cricket club as her focal point, Ladd has made things difficult for herself. There is much that is necessarily shared by all of these nine characters. They are all white, they are all Continue reading

Guest Reviewer Kylie Ladd on When My Husband Does the Dishes… by Kerri Sackville

When My Husband Does the Dishes . . . provoked much discussion in my household. Not regarding its contents, which I’ll get to, but instead over the title.

“When my husband does the dishes… what?” asked my eleven year old son when he first saw (or rather heard) me reading it. Knowing full well that the original title had actually been When My Husband Does The Dishes He Wants Sex I quickly and seamlessly steered the discussion in a different direction.

“Uh, um, nothing!” I stuttered. “It’s just ‘When my husband does the dishes’. Full stop! End of story!”

“No it’s not,” said my daughter, eight, who is quite frankly sometimes a bit too smart to be all that likeable. “Those dots are an ellipsis. It means there is another thought coming.” She turned to her brother. “You should have listened more in grade three.” I tried to sneak away, the book tucked under my arm, but she stood in the doorway, blocking my exit. “So mum”, she demanded, “what’s in it?”

I couldn’t tell her. Not because Kerri Sackville’s brilliant first book is filthy and depraved (though it does have some bits in it about wet patches), but because I couldn’t do it to the sisterhood. To the wifehood. To the motherhood. Couldn’t give away our secrets; couldn’t let the opposition (also known as our husbands and children) in on any knowledge that they might use against us. Couldn’t admit to my spouse, for example, that like Kerri I have fed the kids noodles and tomato sauce for dinner three nights running when he was away on business and told them to tell him it was spaghetti ; couldn’t confess to my progeny, that actually, the back of the sock drawer isn’t mummy’s special place, it’s just where she puts your homemade Mother’s Day gifts so she doesn’t have to look at them.

Kerri Sackville knows it all. She’s been in the frontlines of motherhood for more years now than she’d thank me for telling you. She has three kids, an, um, ‘back massager’ in her bedside drawer and her own painstakingly perfected delousing technique. She is also extremely bloody funny and made me laugh so loudly and frequently while reading this book that in the end my husband threw me out of bed and suggested that the title should really be “When my husband does the dishes it’s to get away from his unhinged wife”.

Those of you who follow Kerri’s blog, her tweets or her regular columns for the Mama Mia website will know what a gifted and hilarious writer she is, but also how very frequently she is bang on the money with her shrewd observations and razor-sharp wit. When My Husband Does the Dishes . . . certainly made me laugh, but it also made me go “Shit, yeah” under my breath so often that I had to keep glancing around to check that the kids hadn’t heard. If you know how to flirt without flashing your maternity bra, if you’ve ever kept a child home from school with a rash that later washed off, or if you sometimes dream of raspberry fondant instead of chocolate swirl (and I’m not talking ice cream here), this book is for you.

But it’s not for my children. “I know, mum!” my son declared a few days after I’d started reading Kerri’s book. “The whole title should be ‘When my husband does the dishes his hands get wet’.” Yes, I told him. Yes, you’re right! That shut him up, anyway, but I’m still keeping it away from the eight year old.

Available 2nd May 2011. Order your copy of When My Husband Does the Dishes … – CLICK HERE

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Thanks to Guest Reviewer – Kylie Ladd

Kylie Ladd is the author of After the Fall, and was the first author to answer the Booktopia Book Guru’s Ten Terrifying Questions – read Kylie’s answers here…

When Kylie is not busy scribbling, she is also a delightful distraction on Twitterfollow her here…

Kylie’s Website: here…

About After the Fall:

The story of a friendship between two couples – and an affair that blows their worlds apart.

Two married couples: Kate and Cary, Cressida and Luke. Four people who meet, click, and become firm friends. But then Kate and Luke discover a growing attraction, which becomes an obsession. They fall in love, then fall into an affair. It blows their worlds apart. After the fall, nothing will ever be the same again.

And pre-order Kylie’s new book Last Summer  here

I have read a proof copy of this wonderful book. I read it quickly. I really wanted to know what happened next. How these people would cope. When I wasn’t reading it – when I was at work – I kept thinking I should text the characters to see how they were doing… They had become such a part of my life. It was a wonderful feeling. A great thing for a novel to achieve. This is a warm, wise, entertaining and somewhat life-changing book. The Booktopia Book Guru.

Rory Buchanan has it all: looks, talent, charisma – an all around good-guy, he’s the centre of every party and a loving father and husband. Then one summer’s afternoon tragedy strikes … and those who are closest to him struggle to come to terms with their loss. Friendships are strained, marriages falter and loyalties are tested in a gripping and brilliantly crafted novel of loss, grief and desire.

Told from the points of view of the nine people who are mourning Rory, this riveting novel presents a vivid snapshot of contemporary suburban Australia and how we live now.

Marriage, friendship, family – all are dissected with great psychological insight as they start to unravel under the pressure of grief. The characters live on the page, their lives are unfolded and their dilemmas are as real as our own.

Last Summer is a novel about loss – the terrible pain of losing a husband, brother or friend, but also all those smaller losses that everyone must face: the loss of youth, the shattering of dreams, the fading of convictions and the change in our notions of who we thought we were. It is also about what comes after the loss: how we pick up the pieces and the way we remake our lives.

Author Kylie Ladd reviews Swallow the Air, a novel by Tara June Winch

I didn’t come across Swallow The Air, the début novel of indigenous author Tara June Winch, by accident. In 2010, my family and I left our Melbourne home to spend a year in Broome in the far northwest of Australia. It was an eye-opening experience. There was the sheer physical beauty of the region for a start, and the radically different lifestyle of the tropics, dictated as it is by the climate. Most of all though, I have to confess that it was the first time any of us- my husband, myself, our two primary-school aged children- had been confronted with the realities of indigenous Australia. Roughly 35 percent of the population of Broome identify themselves as of aboriginal descent, and at the school my children attended more than half the student body was indigenous. As a result, we all learned a lot about aboriginal culture and beliefs – but also, less pleasantly, about the ongoing discrepancy between black and white in housing, in education, in health, in employment, in life span and outlook and place in the community. Some of my frustration and despair at things I saw found their way into tweets, and after reading those tweets novelist Rebecca Sparrow sent me a copy of Swallow The Air.

I’m so glad she did. Swallow The Air is an aboriginal story, but it is not the Continue reading

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith – Reviewed by Kylie Ladd

Zadie Smith is one of those writers other writers love to hate. Not for her the years of unpublished obscurity, the endless tweaking of the query letter, the rejection after rejection after rejection that the rest of us tell ourselves is an unavoidable and indeed vital component of becoming a novelist.

Instead, Smith was offered a publishing contract for her first novel on the basis of some short stories written in her second year at Cambridge University and included in a student anthology. She turned that down, electing to be represented by the highly sought-after Wylie agency, who subsequently sold her unfinished manuscript to Hamish Hamilton (a division of Penguin) at a highly-contested auction. Smith completed the novel, White Teeth, in her final year at Cambridge. On its release the following year it quickly became both a commercial and critical success, winning the Guardian First Book Award and the Commonwealth Writers First Book Prize. The Autograph Man, her second novel, was again a bestseller, while her third, On Beauty, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction.

For all these reasons I was quite prepared to resent her when I first picked up White Teeth five or six years ago. The book had been out for a while by then, but I had eschewed it, intimidated by its success, until my husband finally bought a copy, devoured it avidly, then shoved it under my nose and insisted that I read it. He was right to do so. White Teeth, which deals with immigrant families in London adapting to their new society, is a masterpiece- clever, funny and full of heart. On Beauty was even better. Smith reminds me of a younger, sexier AS Byatt- they share the same aggressive intelligence, innate Britishness and absolute command of language, as well as simply knowing a hell of a lot about pretty much everything.

All these qualities are on display in Smith’s collection of “occasional” essays, Changing My Mind. As the author herself acknowledges in the foreword, such books are written essentially by accident, and- in contrast to a novel- with no unifying theme or voice. Quite possibly as a result, I found Changing My Mind significantly less accessible or Continue reading

FEATURE: So Much for That by Lionel Shriver – what is a human life worth? A Review By Kylie Ladd

Sharp-eyed followers of our Ten Terrifying Questions will know that Kylie Ladd, author of After the Fall, is an unabashed Lionel Shriver fan so she was the perfect person to be a guest reviewer for Shriver’s stunning new novel, So Much for That.

Kylie is currently packing her life into boxes for a move to the tropical north of Western Australia. On the strength of her review, I am going to have to ask her to fish out my copy of So Much for That and return it. Shriver is famous for her harrowing, psychologically astute tales and this one sounds like her typical Rubik’s Cube take on modern times. Can’t wait!

Now, over to Kylie to tell you all about it.

Lionel Shriver has long been a favourite author of mine, and thus I have to confess that I didn’t come to her latest novel, So Much for That, as objectively as a reviewer probably should. We Need To Talk About Kevin, which was feted worldwide and won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005, is one of the most intriguing, complex and sometimes downright scary books I have ever read, a sophisticated study of the psychology of both a teenage mass-murderer and of motherhood. Shriver’s follow-up, The Post-Birthday World, would also make it into my personal top twenty, if only for its cunning parallel narratives exploring the divergent paths our lives can take following one central choice.

All that said however, I must admit the premise of So Much for That initially left me quite cold. Shepherd Knacker is a middle-aged American man dreaming of what he calls the Afterlife, where he will ditch his job along with his middle-class comforts and responsibilities, to live self-sufficiently on a small island off the coast of Africa. Shepherd has been planning his escape for at least the last decade, and as the novel opens, he is packing his bags, determined to leave whether his wife Glynis and son Zach decide to come with him or not.

Then Glynis, unaware of his plan, arrives home to announce that Continue reading

Kylie Ladd, author of After The Fall, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

Welcome to the launch of the Booktopia Blog’s

Ten Terrifying Questions

Over the next few months we will invite authors from a variety of genres to answer, if they dare,

Ten Terrifying Questions.

What’s so scary about the questions? – I hear you ask – They don’t look so tough!

Ah! But you see, they have been designed to look cute and cuddly, they have been designed to invite the attempt, and they have been designed to strike once the writer’s guard is down.

Why be so mean?

We think readers and fans deserve more than just the heart and soul of an author.

What’s more than their heart and soul?

Ha! We don’t know until we ask, do we?

Brave Kylie Ladd, author of the brilliant After the Fall,  has volunteered to be first. (In fact, Kylie inspired the questions, so if authors are looking for someone to blame… well… you can find her on Twitter)

So, with no further ado…

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The Booktopia Book Guru Asks

Kylie Ladd, author of After The Fall

Ten Terrifying Questions

Booktopia Price $19.95 Save 17%

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Born, raised and schooled in Melbourne, which is where I live now. I love the city, though I do also love to travel – lived five years in Edinburgh and Montreal for my husband’s work, and am just about to move for one year to Broome, WA, for my husband’s mid-life crisis.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Nice question! At Twelve: An ambulance driver. Truly. At Eighteen: a journalist. Sadly, I got the marks for medicine instead, so my parents made me do that. I dropped out almost immediately and transferred to psychology (my real-life profession today) because I could do it as part of an Arts degree and study English as well, plus appease my parents because it counted as credit for when I went back to medicine – which of course I never did. At Thirty: a mother, to my great horror (see below). Also a writer… I finished my PhD in neuropsychology at 29 and went straight back to Continue reading

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