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…

My personal picks for 2011: Novels you can give as gifts with confidence

This year I read more novels by living, breathing writers than by stone cold dead writers. This is a first for me.

However, if the truth be told, many of the contemporary novels I started were left unfinished. It’s partly due to the nature of the job. Publishers throw box loads of fiction at us to review and I can’t read them all. And, it is partly due to the state of modern fiction – I expect a lot from the books I read and very few contemporary writers deliver.

That said, when I do fall for a novel, I fall hard.

The books of 2011 I recommend you read yourself and give as gifts to others are:


Australian Fiction


Last Summer by Kylie Ladd

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

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

——————————

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

The Book Of Rachael by Leslie Cannold. A Review by Kylie Ladd.

Have you found Jesus? The publishing industry certainly has, and they’re not letting him go. Why would they, when he’s responsible for so many sales? There’s that perennial best-seller, the Holy Bible, for a start, for which Jesus can take at least half the credit. There’s the multitudinous scholarly texts and mediations on his legacy; there’s all those prayer books and hymnals that have been churned out since medieval times. And then, more recently, there is the fiction. I sometimes wonder if we have CS Lewis to blame for this, if he set the ball rolling with “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,” an allegory of Christ’s crucifixion, with Aslan the majestic lion sacrificing himself for Edmund the sinner. In the past fifty years there have been a slew of novels reimagining the life of the carpenter’s son from Galilee who claimed he was the son of God… “The Last Temptation of Christ”, the banned Kazantzakis novel which became the banned Martin Scorsese film;  “The Passion” the movie about a man preaching poverty which made Mel Gibson a billionaire; “King Jesus”, by Robert Graves, bestselling author of “I, Claudius”; my personal favourite, Norman Mailer’s predictably earthy and libidinous Christ in “The Gospel According to the Son”; and then, in the last twenty-four months alone, an unholy trinity- “Christ The Lord” by vampire doyenne Anne Rice, “ The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ,” by the award-winning and much loved Phillip Pullman, and “The Final Testament of the Holy Bible” by James Frey, who likes to make up stuff.

All of which is why I found Leslie Cannold’s first novel, The Book of Rachael, so refreshing. Cannold approaches the time-worn tale of the life and death of Jesus Christ from a new and intriguing perspective- that of Jesus’s sister, Rachael, who falls in love with his best friend and eventual betrayer, Judas Iscariot. As she notes in a post-script to the book, Cannold was inspired to imagine Rachael’s life after watching a BBC documentary where the names, fates and even burial places of Jesus’s brothers were itemized, but- as the narrator casually announced- nothing had been recorded concerning his sisters. That those sisters existed is confirmed by the bible in the gospel of Mark, yet the status of women at that time was far too lowly for any further details of their life to have been set down. The challenge to ethicist and social activist Cannold must have been irresistible. In The Book of Rachael she sets out to correct the balance.

It’s an intriguing premise, and one on which Cannold delivers. Rachael is a fiery, rebellious but hugely likeable character. A natural mimic, she learns to write the alphabet (an activity forbidden to females) after only one lesson; she apprentices herself to the blind crone, Bindy, and becomes a skilled midwife and healer. Even more intriguing however, at least for this reader, is what Cannold does with the story of Jesus. Cannold’s Jesus (here called Joshua) is the seed of an illegitimate rather than immaculate conception; a good- but very human- man, one who serves his father and his Lord, but also falls in love and commits the sin of premarital sex. When his pregnant lover, Maryam of Magdalene, is taken away in shame by her father Joshua immediately leaves their town of Nazareth and searches for her throughout Galilee, along the way cursing the priests and the law-makers who would have her stoned for sinning. He quickly accumulates a following of outcasts and disciples, who travel with him to Jerusalem, where Maryam is eventually found.

The Joshua of the early sections of the book is clear-headed and compassionate, a reasoned and rational philosopher respected by both Judas (here named Judah) and Rachael. As the novel nears its climax, however, his thinking becomes more and more deluded, then dangerous, until Judah is left with what he sees as only one course of action to prevent them all from being killed. That the reader feels, in the end, more sympathy for Judah than for Joshua is not the only unorthodox twist in the tale. An avowed atheist, Cannold cleverly plays with many of the central events of the gospels- the raising of Lazarus, the over-turning of the moneylenders in the temple, the triumphant entry into Jerusalem- reimagining them from a secular point of view. (Spoiler alert) Tellingly, though the crucifixion scene is almost unbearably moving, there is no resurrection. Many of Cannold’s characters may recognise Joshua as the messiah, but she herself does not- a dichotomy which keeps the book absorbing and engaging to the end.

As, too, does the character of Rachael, who we first meet aged five and leave in her thirties. Though Joshua and Judah both weaken and waver at times as the story unfolds, Rachael does not. She remains constant- headstrong, compassionate, both cursed and saved by her fierce intelligence. Cannold has clearly researched the era thoroughly, and brings it vividly to life: the sights, the smells, the stranglehold of both the Romans and the law. In subject matter and setting, The Book of Rachael reminded me strongly of Anita Diamant’s bestseller The Red Tent; in tone I found it reminiscent of Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders. Despite this, it is truly original; a unique and appealing take on one of the oldest stories in the book.

Kylie Ladd’s excellent new novel, Last Summer, is available from Booktopia – click here. (Click here to read my review of Last Summer)

This review first appeared on mamamia.com.au

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

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