Welcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.
Today’s guest is Australian writer Peggy Frew, whose short story Home Visit won The Age short story competition in 2008.
Since then she has been published in New Australian Stories 2, Kill Your Darlings and Meanjin.
Her debut novel House of Sticks, which I reviewed late last year, won the 2010 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.
Peggy is also a member of the critically acclaimed and award-winning Melbourne band Art of Fighting.
Without further ado, here’s Peggy’s Triple Choice Tuesday selections:
My mother gave me this book — Mears’ debut novel — when I was a teenager, and I can still remember reading it in my winter-cold Melbourne bedroom and being transported to Mears’ small-town northern New South Wales, a world of languorous warm rivers and secret lives. I have returned to The Mint Lawn many times over the years, and it’s worked its magic every time.
Everything Mears touches with her words turns to gold. She brings poetry to even the most unsavoury or upsetting ideas and themes: infidelity, loss and grief, sexual relationships of a reasonably disturbing nature. And a different, raw, kind of beauty is to be found in her fearless examination of the interior lives of her characters.
One of her many strengths is her ability to invest emotion in minor, perfectly observed, details. In the opening scene main character Clementine — in her early twenties and already unhappily married to her former music teacher — presses a coffee plunger into wet grounds, and in this small act Mears somehow conveys a world of sadness and desperation. The Mint Lawn is one of my favourite books, and Gillian Mears one of my favourite writers.
Like many people, I studied this book at secondary school. I had a wonderful literature teacher — a true inspiration; someone who genuinely loved his job — and I will always associate the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald with that teacher’s gentle, precise voice. I think The Great Gatsby was the first book I really took apart and understood from a craft perspective. Reading it — and studying it under the guidance of that teacher — changed my world because it showed me, in one neat package, all the many things that a great book can do.
It taught me about voice, about the power of the narrator, and how close the author brings the reader to the narrator, and how much of what lies beyond is revealed, and when, and how clearly. It taught me about the assiduous use of motifs and symbols. About characterisation, dialogue, structure, pace and plot. And about mirroring larger themes in the up-close action. And of course the synchronicity of all these things in action, the momentum of them as they move together like muscles and drive the story forward. Of course I’ve observed these mechanics many times since in other books, but seeing and understanding them for the first time was a very significant experience.
This novel, published in 2010, was longlisted for a couple of big awards, won the 2011 Indie Award for Debut Fiction and was very well reviewed. But I think it deserves to have been read — and talked about — by more of the general reading public. It’s a challenging book, but Bauer does the weighty subject matter justice.
Rocks in the Belly explores the darker side of family life, raising difficult questions about love and need as we follow the relationship between a precocious child and a damaged mother living with the legacy of enormous personal tragedy, and destined for more. There is tremendous darkness here, but Bauer is able to balance it skilfully with splashes of beauty and hope, and also some very effective, if grim, humour. Bauer’s unnamed protagonist, who we meet in alternating narratives both as a boy and as a man, is a compellingly complex character, and so masterfully drawn it’s possible to maintain compassion for him no matter how close to the edge of likability he is taken. On all levels — plot, characterisation, line-by-line writing — this really is a very satisfying novel, and it’s hard to believe it’s Bauer’s first.
Thanks, Peggy, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday.
Having just read Mears’ latest novel, I’m keen to read her first, so am grateful to Peggy for choosing it and so warmly recommending it. The Great Gatsby is an old favourite, but I’ve not read Rocks in the Belly, although do very much remember reading the review at ANZ LitLovers and adding it to my wishlist.
What do you think of Peggy’s choices? Have you read any of these books?