Anything But Fine by Tobias Madden

I had quite hopes for Anything But Fine and the first few chapters promised a ya coming-of-age in the realms of The Sky Blues, Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, and You Should See Me in a Crown. As the story progresses however I found myself growing weary of the unnecessary miscommunication. If you are a fan of Netflix teen comedies/dramas, Anything But Fine will likely be your next favourite read however, if you prefer more nuanced characters and more realistic scenarios/dynamics well, this may not deliver.

Set in Australia Luca Mason, our 16-teen-yr-old narrator has dedicated his life to ballet. His hopes of being accepted into the Australian Ballet School are thwarted after a bad fall results in a broken foot. After his doctors tell him that he is unlikely to ever be able to dance again Luca is more-or-less booted out of his fancy private high school. A lost and confused Luca distances himself from his ballet friends, three girls who do not seem to truly understand the irreversible consequences of his fall. At his new high school, Luca is befriended by Amina, an affectionate, dorky, genius. Luca also falls hard for Jordan Tanaka-Jones, the school’s handsome, popular and allegedly straight jock.
While the novel does rely on insta-love Luca’s crush/obsession with Jordan did strike me as fairly believable. Luca is a horny teenager whose life has recently experienced an unwelcome drastic change so he decides to focus his attention on the seemingly unattainable Jordan. Luca’s dad, who is still grieving the death of his wife, Luca’s mother, tries to reach out to Luca and talk about how his ballet-less life is affecting him but Luca is quick to shut down this conversation. He spends most of his time daydreaming about Jordan and only on occasion allows himself to think about ‘what-ifs’ where he is able to dance again or has never fallen in the first place.

Some positives: the writing was fairly engaging and there were even some well-delivered moments of humor. I appreciated that Luca was portrayed as flawed. He makes mistakes, he is rather self-involved, a bit desperate when it comes to Jordan, and could be a more attentive friend/son. The author also shows that while he is often at the receiving end of homophobic ‘jokes’ and verbal abuse, he has a lot to learn about other people’s experiences. He does grow aware of this and works to improve himself, which was nice to see. Amina, for 70% of the novel, was a very sweet lovable character. Yeah, she had the type of personality that is often given to secondary characters in teen movies, so some of the stuff she does/say is a bit ott but overall it kind of worked (or at least it did until that scene…). She had her own arc, which made her character more rounded.

And the negatives (spoilers ahoy): we are told that Luca’s raison d’etre is ballet and while he does now and on occasion think about I didn’t really buy into this aspect of his character. Look, I get that he would avoid thinking about it too much but surely he would notice how different his everyday life is now. He only comments on this once or twice which isn’t entirely credible. Like, the guy dedicated most of his life to ballet, something that requires a certain amount of devotion. He would have been performing/practising daily and followed a strict diet etc., yet he seemingly adapts to his new life with no problem. Also, while he does one time acknowledge to his father that he is in pain due to his foot, the author seems to gloss over his physical recovery. He has physio but those scenes are all about developing his romance. I just would have liked for ballet (or lack of ballet) to play more of a role in his story. As things stand, we are told he love(d) it but there were few scenes showing this. His former ballet friends are portrayed in a very mean girl way. And sure, there are girls who behave like they do but I did not appreciate that Lucas is dismissive of them from the start. He uses certain terms that were low-key sexist and the story doesn’t challenge any of them. Even the popular girls at his new school receive a similar treatment, and even Jordan and Amina dismiss them and imply that ‘popular’ girls are promiscuous/bitchy/and-other-negative-descriptors-almost-exclusively-used-for-women which seemed a bit out of character if I’m honest. Also, while I am a fan of media that falls under cringe comedy, and I am aware that one’s teen years may be filled with plenty of embarrassing/awkward moments, here there were several scenes that just seemed gratuitous. I am not keen on adult authors going out of their way to embarrass their teenage characters. And here we have a major plot point involving a character doing something very unbelievable and utterly embarrassing themselves and the people around them. Amina has a crush on Jordan and suspects that Lucas is hiding something from her, possibly something that has to do with Jordan. Lucas tells her he has a girlfriend but Amina doesn’t seem to believe him and decides to declare her feelings to Jordan in front of his teammates who have bullied her and Lucas. Why…why would she ever do such a thing? While I am willing to believe that she would confess her feelings to Jordan despite Lucas’ attempts to stop her, I didn’t believe that she would do it publicly and seemingly on the spur of the moment. Her refusal to listen to Lucas’ pleas not to go ahead with her plan also struck me as inconsistent with her characterization so far. Sure, she is shown to be a tad naive and very wholesome, her fangirling over one direction comes across as a tad childlike at times but she is also portrayed as empathetic and in many ways more mature than her peers. I struggled to reconcile her actions at that party with her character. She’s obviously turned down and made fun of by the one-dimensional-jock-goons. Both Jordan and Amina take it out on Lucas, which wasn’t entirely fair. In fact, this whole section strings together scene after scene where Lucas is made out to be an ‘awful’ guy. The boy is not perfect sure but I didn’t think it was fair that he was blamed for so many things and rather than communicating/explaining himself to Amina, Jordan, or his dad, he just chooses not to. After being blamed by Amina and Jordan for making her embarrass herself, he inadvertently outs Jordan to his homophobic teammate. In an attempt to warn Jordan about this he forgets that he and his dad are meant to be celebrating his mother’s birthday (i think it was her birthday). Rather than explaining what was going on, he lets his dad think he is simply ‘boy obsessed’ and too busy to care. The dad also insinuates that Lucas ditched his old ballet friends, and the boy doesn’t think of telling him that said friends mistreated him and were racist to Amina.
Now, onto the romance. Jordan was a slightly one-note character, and I am a bit tired of lgbtq+ YA novels where the lead falls for the popular and ‘totally straight’ person who isn’t ready/or sure they want to come out. But rather than discussing this with our protagonists, they make them feel ashamed of who they are. While Lucas does call Jordan out, he is ultimately made into the bad guy because hey ho he outs him!!! Like…ugh. I am not a fan of that plot point, at all. It would have been more suited to a show like Glee or something. But here it just comes across as totally unnecessary. While I do acknowledge that the author does allow both Jordan and Lucas to have valid opinions on the whole being ‘out’ and dating someone who is not ‘out’, towards the end he seems to just dunk on Lucas. Amina too after that whole confession-gone-wrong thing is angry at Lucas. Surely, the following day or whatnot, once she learns that the two were in a secret relationship, she would understand why Lucas couldn’t tell her? Best friends or not, Jordan told him he wasn’t ready to be out, so Lucas respected that. And Lucas even tries to stop her from making a fool of herself…and she blames him? Argh. The drama and miscommunication really annoyed me.
I would have liked for this book to be less focused on the romance with Jordan and more on Lucas’ character growth. His personality was not particularly well-defined, and I would have liked some moments of introspection where he truly thinks about ballet, what it means to him, etc. His character instead is more or less defined by his crush on Jordan, which ultimately does his storyline a disservice.

I’m sure a lot of readers will love this but I am just not a fan of the latter half of the novel.


my rating:★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au

“Maybe it’s good, I said, to stop sometimes and reflect upon the things that have happened, maybe thinking about sadness can actually end up making you happy.”

Cold Enough for Snow is a slight novella narrated and characterized by a crisp prose. Despite the introspective nature of this work (there are no dialogues and the few conversations that occur are summarized by our narrator), I felt a certain distance from the narrator and her musings had a remoteness to them that I was never quite able to immerse myself into her story. That is not to say that this was not an enjoyable read. It brought to mind authors such as and Rachel Cusk as well as María Gainza (Optic Nerve is a personal favourite of mine). These kinds of books are not plot or necessarily character driven but they present us with a series of observations regarding art, travel, places/spaces, memory, connection, and human nature. Similarly to Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts, the people that our nameless narrator speaks of remain unnamed, and the vagueness surrounding her and others struck me as very much intentional. The narrator, who lives in, you guessed it, an unnamed country, and her mother, who is based in Hong Kong, meet up in Tokyo for a holiday.

“It was strange at once to be so familiar and yet so separated. I wondered how I could feel so at home in a place that was not mine.”

The narrator describes the various landscapes and locales she visits, all the while thinking back to her and her mother’s pasts. We are given brief glimpses into their lives that are often somehow connected to their present journey. This is the kind of novella that is more about creating and sustaining a certain nostalgic mood than of presenting us with a particularly immersive story. While I did appreciate the narrative’s melancholic and reflective atmosphere, I did find my attention wandering away from our protagonist’s contemplations and introspections. Her relationship with her mother often fades into the background, sidelined in favour of eloquent observations that don’t really leave a lasting impression. The title in many ways is rather apt as this novella is in many ways like snow. At first, you are taken in by how beautiful it is but within a couple of hours (or days), well, the snow has melted. That is to say, the beauty of Cold Enough for Snow is of a temporary nature.
Still, if you are a fan of travel journals or the authors I mentioned above you may find this to be your kind of read.

“I had wanted every moment to count for something. I had become addicted to the tearing of my thoughts, that rent in the fabric of the atmosphere. If nothing seemed to be working towards this effect, I grew impatient, bored. Much later, I realised how insufferable this was: the need to make every moment pointed, to read meaning into everything. ”

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Friends & Dark Shapes by Kavita Bedford

That is the truth of someone’s character: how a person makes you feel after you walk away from spending time with them.”

Kavita Bedford’s Friends & Dark Shapes is an exceedingly millennial novel. We have a directionless and nameless narrator, a modern flâneur who is afflicted by a vague sense of ennui. There are no quotation marks because apparently, they are passé, and a meandering story that consists of a series of ‘relatable’ vignettes portraying disagreements between housemates, commutes, get-togethers, conversations with strangers.
Our Indian-Australian narrator is approaching thirty and she works as a freelance journalist. She lives with three other people who are around her age. The narrative strings together snapshots of her everyday life in Sydney, capturing certain moments or conversations that our narrator has indoors and when she’s out and about. While the manner in which she observes those around her is somewhat anthropological, the people populating this novel never come truly in focus. They are hazy renditions of a certain type of person, and they never struck me as particularly fleshed out our multidimensional. The narrator too is exceedingly generic. Her voice, if anything, is far too mild and forgettable compared to other millennial narrators. Her housemates functioned as comedic relief, either giving witty spiels about the state of the world today or ‘relatable’ lines about their love lives or jobs. For some reason when they voiced their concerns over their future (especially when they talked about mortgages) I just felt really disconnected from them. Maybe because in my eyes most of them were already doing the kind of careers they wanted to (ahem i am stuck in customer service hell), well, their worries frustrated me somewhat. Maybe those who are closer to them in age will be able to get them in a way I couldn’t…

The narrator often thinks about her father, who died sometime before the beginning of the novel. Childhood episodes pepper her narrative and these don’t really give us a clear image of this man nor of his relationship with her.
Still, I did like Bedford’s vibrant portrayal of Sydney. She renders its rhythms, giving us some vivid descriptions of its streets and neighbourhoods. The dialogues too, if repetitive, had this mumblecore quality that I appreciated and it suited the naturalistic tone of the novel. The narrator often slips into a collective ‘we’ to describe certain events/situations or when making ‘relatable’ millennial statements. I can’t say that I was a fan of this technique as it succeeded in blurring different characters and their voices together.

my rating: ★★★¼

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A Lover’s Discourse by Xiaolu Guo

On paper A Lover’s Discourse is the type of book that I generally like: we have an unmanned who recounts her relationship to her unmanned ‘lover’—a man she addresses as ‘you’. Our narrator met ‘you’ after moving from China to Britain in 2016. Recently orphaned and feeling somewhat alienated by her new environment the protagonist of A Lover’s Discourse enters into a relationship with a German-Australian man. They begin living together in a houseboat, but while ‘you’ finds freedom in this kind of ‘unmoored’ lifestyle, our narrator would much rather live in an actual house or apartment. While ‘you’ earns money as a landscaper, our protagonist works on her PhD.

The structure of this novel is what initially caught my attention. The narrative is comprised of a series of dialogues in which the protagonist and her partner discuss an array of subjects: British-related issues, love, sex, nationality, identity, landscaping, architecture…sadly their conversations aren’t particularly deep or compelling. Maybe I write this because I found both characters to be different shades of obnoxious: our mc isn’t particularly passionate or interested in anything. While I should have found her efforts to understand British customs and culture, as well as trying to master the English language, to be relatable, given that I am in a similar position, I disliked profoundly the way she was portrayed. She was acerbic nag. She makes generalisation after generalisation about other countries, her own country, and about men. Not only does she repeatedly use the word ‘peasants’ to refer to the residents of her hometown, but her tone, when using this word, left a lot to be desired. She comes out with obsolete comments that make me question why she would ever want to be in a relationship, especially with man, given that she considers sex to be a violent and invasive act that she doesn’t enjoy. Her navel-gazing was far from thought-provoking. She laments her boyfriend having to work, seeming to forget that he is their sole provider as she’s busy completing this PhD she doesn’t even particularly care for (she kind of forgets about her studies once she starts her relationship with ‘you’). Her PhD actually sounded quite interesting, and I wish that it had played more of a role in the narrative.
‘You’ is a condescending man who is kind of dull. He ‘explains’ things to our narrator, and he does so in an exceedingly donnish way.
Attempts are made to connect their ‘discourse’ to Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse and I wonder…why? These two characters didn’t strike me as the types who would care about Barthes’s writings.
Bland, uninspired, and repetitive, A Lover’s Discourse was a deeply disappointing read. Thankfully it was a relatively slim book.

MY RATING: 2 of 5 stars

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The Survivors by Jane Harper

Alas, figuring out the murderer’s identity in the first 15% made this book kind of a drag.

Having highly enjoyed Jane Harper’s The Lost Man, The Survivors felt by comparison vaguely uninspired. While the setting is just as atmospheric and vividly rendered as the ones in Harper’s other novels, the characters and mystery were very run-of-the-mill. In many ways it reminded me of Tana French’s latest novel, The Searcher: we have a not-so-young-anymore male protagonist who thinks he is a regular Joe and a crime forces him to reconsider his past behaviour/actions/attitudes. The Survivors begins with a juicy prologues that is meant to intrigue readers but I was not particularly lured by it. A lot of the dynamics in this novel seemed a rehash of the ones from The Lost Man and The Dry. Our protagonist, Kieran, returns to his small coastal hometown where a violent crime brings to light secrets from his own past. Kieran is happily married and a new father, and there were a lot of scenes featuring him being a soft dad and they just did nothing for me. I guess they were meant to emphasise the gulf between teenage-Kieran, who acted like a typical Chad, and father-Kieran. The ‘tragedy’ that irrevocably changed his life did not have the same emotional heft as Nathan’s family struggles in The Lost Man. Kieran tells other characters that he feels guilt-ridden but…it just didn’t really come across. Anyhow, Kieran returns to his home, he catches up with two best-friends, one is a bit of a loudmouth and kind of a douchebag while the other one has always been the more sensible and mature in the trio. The discovery of a young woman’s body lands the community in crisis. There is a lot finger pointing and gossip on a FB-knockoff. Kieran, who is not a detective nor a crime aficionado, wants to know what happened to this young woman as he seems to be acting under a sense of misplaced obligation towards her (and her death reminds him of his own tragedy). While he doesn’t starts snooping around he’s lucky enough that he happens to hear people’s private conversation, which often reveal something essential to the mystery. For some bizarre reason the person who is actually officially investigating this young woman’s death confides in Kieran, which…I had a hard time getting behind (job integrity? None).

Anyway, chances are you’ve read this kind of story before. Maybe I wouldn’t have minded this type of boilerplate plot if the characters had been somewhat interesting or layered. But they remain rather one-dimensional. Dick guy acts like a dick because deep down he’s insecure. The cold mother is cold because she’s still suffering the loss of her son. Artistic woman fears she will never leave her ‘dead-end’ job and ‘make’ it. Kieran is they type of character who is blandly inoffensive. After the trauma he experienced and now that he is a father & husband he realises that as a teenager he acted badly. Most of the conversations he has with women seemed to exist only to make him reflect on ‘toxic masculinity’ and the harm caused by the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality. And these realisations he has about sexisms seemed forced. Also, Kieran is meant to be in his thirties…and he comes across like a middle-aged man. I understand that there are people in their thirties who may as well be luddites but really? Kieran’s voice just wasn’t very convincing.
The male side characters like that writer, Kieran’s friends, and that impertinent young guy, were rather dull. The female characters were so obviously meant to be ‘strong’ and ’empowering’ but that didn’t really make them into realistic or likeable characters.
The culprit was obvious, so I did not feel any real ‘suspense’ or curiosity. Sometimes, even if you know who did it, you can still be able to enjoy the ride…but here I just wanted to get it over and done with. The murderer was extremely underdeveloped and their explanation at the end was very Scooby Doo-ish.

All in all, this was a disappointing read. While it wasn’t all that bad, and the story had at least a strong sense of place, I expected more from Harper.

MY RATING: 3 out of 5 stars
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Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings — book review

46184288._SY475_While Kathleen Jennings is an undeniably wonderful illustrator, I’m afraid that I wasn’t particularly impressed by her novella. What first struck me as somewhat discordant in Flyaway was the prose itself. At times the writing was clunky and there were passages that seemed as if they were trying to echo someone else’s style. The way Flyaway started was also incredibly reminiscent of my favourite novel by Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. While in Jackson’s novel the ambiguity felt almost ‘natural’, Flyway seems to be blaring its own mysteriousness. Our narrator, Bettina (I had to check her name, that’s how ‘unforgettable’ she is) has this excessively creepy monologue which consists in her repeating to herself her mother’s ladylike beliefs/rules. Bettina cannot remember why her father disappeared. She isn’t concerned by her hazy memories until she receives a letter that for plot reasons convinces her to embark on a road-trip with her former best friends. Quite a few people have disappeared in their small town, and these three decide to figure out what’s going on. Interspersed in this already short story are chapters about minor characters who are connected to the town and its mystery.
The characters were mere names and lacked personality. Bettina’s narration isn’t nearly as ambivalent as it believes, the various stories were both boring and predictable, and I simply could not get into the flow of Jennings dissonant writing style.

My rating: ★★✰✰✰ 2 stars

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Dolores by Lauren Aimee Curtis – book review

I guess that I’m but a fickle creature: I saw and fell for the cover of this novella (the neon colours, the pose of the model, the simple font…I was a goner).
Sadly the actual inside of Dolores has little in common with its fantastic cover design.

Written in a prose that manages to be both sickly and apathetic, this novella isn’t all that concerned on mapping out Dolores’ psyche and turmoils (yes, its title is rather misleading), rather it devotes itself to create a gallery of intentionally repulsive bodies.
Curtis’ writing style had this sticky quality that can at times have an almost nauseating effect on the reader. Rather than using this aspect of her prose to create atmosphere or render the novella’s setting (which actually takes place in part in an unmade country, and later on in what should be Spain…but could be any place in particular) it often goes to emphasise our discomfort towards the various characters populating this story.
These characters are often introduced to us in terms of their physical flaws: we have Dolores who is possibly ‘big’ or ‘voluptuous’ (other characters praise or ridicule her for her ‘largeness’ but we never get a description of her actual body), the nuns have all crooked teeth or misshapen jaws/faces. They are made to be repulsive, to inspire a sense of abjection in us. These characters’ are defined by their ‘repugnant‘ bodies, they do not seem to possess actual personalities or a sense of self, but rather they are little more empty shells made to disgust us.
This obsession with ‘the body‘ and its functions was tedious. Curtis seemed to go out of her way to stress the ugliness of her characters. The nuns shower once a week, and apparently that makes them filthy. Given that they do little work outside, and they are covered head to toes, isn’t an exaggeration to make it seem as if washing once a week would have them in such a state?
There were many instances when Curtis’ descriptions seemed gratuitous , especially since the narrative seemed to almost gleefully revel in detailing the inadequacies of the human body. And to dedicated a whole novel to the fallacies of our bodies is a bit much.

Dolores doesn’t have a voice. She does some things, but we never know what impels her to do what she does. What did she actually think of those Love Hotels? Was she having sex because she enjoyed it or did she feel pressured to became sexually active? What did she think of her pregnancy? I have no idea!
That this novella doesn’t bother to develop its central character is somewhat frustrating. Dolores seemed reduced to her ‘large’ body, as if that vague description equated a personality.
The majority of male characters want to use, and possibly abuse, Dolores…and sadly I have no idea of the way in which that affected her. Did she even realise that she was being manipulated? Or was she the one exercising some form of control over them during their encounters? This detachedness is never clearly explored, rather we are made to be content with a character who is as responsive as a rag doll.
Additionally, he novella fails to explore the possibility of there being a language/cultural divide between Dolores and the nuns. The setting of the story is completely murky, so much so that throughout the narrative there was no sense of place or time.
There is no heart in this story nor in its characters. The narrative is so concerned with making its characters as repelling as possible that it completely forgets to endow them with even a speck of personality.

My rating: ★★✰✰✰ 2 stars

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Between a Wolf and a Dog : Book Review

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Between a Wolf and a Dog
by Georgia Blain
★★★✰✰ 3 stars

This novel had a really strong start: Blain’s style was compelling and brought her story to life.
However, as the narrative progresses, I started to notice that the language and descriptions could be very repetitive and, at times, even overdone.
Although there are flashbacks and chapters set in the past, the majority of the story chronicles one single day. The focus is on Ester, a family therapist, her mother Hilary, who is a filmmaker, her estranged sister April, who is a singer, and Ester’s ex-husband Lawrence. The characters are portrayed with exquisite detail and within the space of a few pages their personalities are richly rendered. They all going through long moments of introspection, where they examine their present, past, and possible futures. The rift between Ester and April is one of the central aspects of the novel.
Failed ambitions, forgiveness, and loneliness are a common thread between these characters. They might not be extremely likeable but they seemed, for the most part, incredibly human.
I enjoyed the role that art has in this novel. At times the narrative pokes fun at the pretentiousness that exists in the ‘art world’, while in other occasions it embraced the creative process.
Sadly, halfway through I found that both the writing and the characters to be slightly more dramatic then what was necessary. All the women are ‘golden’ and ‘beautiful’, with ‘golden hair’ and ‘golden skin’, they are ethereal beauties….Lawrence is also incredibly handsome. It wouldn’t have bothered me if this had not been repeated throughout the course of the novel.
Also, there were many times where the writing seemed excessive. We have at least three instances were someone wants to ‘drink’ someone in (they specify ‘teeth’ and all). Everything was magnified to intensify certain feelings.
An absorbing start leads into a self-indulgent litany.

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THE LOST MAN: BOOK REVIEW

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The Lost Man
by Jane Harper
★★★★★ 5 of 5 stars

“What happened to him?”
“Usual story out here.” Nathan made himself keep his voice even. “Wandered the wrong way and got lost.”

To call The Lost Man a crime/mystery novel seems somewhat reductive. I guess that at its heart this is a story about a family, but even writing that doesn’t do this novel justice.
From its opening pages until the very last line we are made aware of—what seemed to me—the characters’ surreal surroundings: the sheer scope their land is mind-boggling. Living in the Australian outbacks is a real challenge, even if you were grown&bred there.
Harper gives her setting an almost palpable quality: the red sand, the unforgiving and oppressing heat, the treacherous terrain. All of these elements affect the story, making each scene all the more evocative.

It was the stillness that scared him. They did not see another car or person the whole drive home, Nathan remembered clearly. That wasn’t unusual, but that day he had noticed. There was no-one else around.

I would go as far as to say write that the setting functions as one of the players in the story.
For Nathan survival is hard enough, given the unyielding nature of his land, and his troubled relationship with his former community. After the death of one of his brothers, Nathan finds himself staying in his childhood home. The fraught relationship he has with his remaining family is apparent and the reasons behind his isolation are given to us…eventually. Piece by piece we start to gain the picture of Nathan’s past and of his current circumstances. There isn’t a big and unbelievable twist (hurray!), but rather Harper slowly provides us with the right information at the right time.

Nathan felt an unpleasant sensation creep through him and he had the sudden urge to check over his shoulder. There was nothing there but cattle and stubby grass and the horizon. All was quiet.

Soon enough I found myself almost moved to tears by Nathan’s past and present experiences. His uneasy reconciliation with his actions and behaviours was painfully believable. The other characters are just as nuanced and realistically ambivalent as Nathan. His relationship to his youngest brother, Bub, his son, Xander, and his dead brother’s wife, Ilse, are truly compelling. Kudos to Harper who, unlike other authors, is able to 1) depict abuse without recurring to cliched banalities and attributing this abusive behaviour to cartoonishly villainous characters 2) create believable teenagers and children.

Lo gave him a look that could kill a cow. “Not Santa.” She left the dickhead implied.

There is a perpetual sense of suspense, given by the unknowns in our characters’ past, the outbacks, and the legends surrounding the stockman’s grave.
Nathan, as well as some of the other characters, finds himself wanting to know exactly what made his brother, Cameron, abandon his car and wander to his death. Nathan’s unease is increased by his estrangement from his family (and others in general).

“I’m afraid, all right? That the property, and all this—” he gestured at the void outside the window,—all this bloody outback—is going to get to you”

I could easily go on and on about how fantastic this book is…but I will stop. The less you known, the better.
ps: Jackaroo is my favourite new word.
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The Dry by Jane Harper

Harper delivers an absorbing yet somewhat ‘run-of-the-mill’ thriller. The story is one that has been done time and again: our main character returns to the small town where they are from (having left after certain traumatic events) and is forced to confront his past ghosts as well as his new ones.
Now, despite these stereotypical elements, Harper reworks this stock plot into one gripping tale. The very first scene is thrilling: Aaron is at the funeral of his old best friend, Luke, who committed suicide after mercilessly killing his son and wife. This opening chapter brims with a tense unease: Aaron and his father where forced to leave their hometown Kiewarra years earlier, and people have not forgotten him. Aaron is all too aware of how his small town works: gossip, suspicions, petty jealousies. Yet, before he can leave, he finds himself helping the local police: was his friend capable of murder? Had he done it before?
The setting is one of the strongest aspects of the novel. Kiewarra is facing the worst drought in centuries, and locals are desperate. Harper captures this feeling of dread perfectly: farmers and shopkeepers alike are restless. The violent act that Aaron’s friend is accused off does not help the community: now more than ever, they are itching for a fight, or someone to blame. And the heat spurs their hatred and fear. Against this sizzling backdrop, Aaron confronts this latest act of violence as well as seeking answers for what happened all those years ago.
While I found this novel to be engrossing, I wasn’t very shocked by the storyline. I was hoping it would turn into much more of complex mystery, but I predicted every single twist and turn of Aaron’s investigation. The old ‘mystery’, the one surrounding his childhood sweetheart, was rather pointless. It just stole the limelight from current events. And those flashbacks were just so…clumsy. They interrupted the flow of the story. By showing obvious events Harper diminishes the thrill of her own story. Also, they read more awkwardly then the rest of the novel.
So, while this novel is predictable, and I did find Harper’s structure – as in the inclusion of flashbacks – to spoil the overall suspense, the vivid setting that accompanies Aaron’s investigation keeps the momentum of the story going. A promising beginning that needs some tweaking.

My rating: 3 stars

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