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 novelist Lynne Leonhardt.
Lynne was born in the South West of Western Australia and grew up on an orchard in a small rural community. As a young adult, she worked overseas, travelling extensively during a six-year period.
She later spent four years in the Riverina District of New South Wales. And while raising four children she took up tertiary studies in music and English literature — she graduated in 2000 with First Class Honours in Creative Writing. She went on to do a PhD in Writing at Edith Cowan University, after being awarded a postgraduate scholarship.
For many years Lynne has lived in Perth, Western Australia, but enjoys retreating with her husband to the natural beauty of the South West whenever she can.
Her first novel, Finding Jasper — which I reviewed earlier this year — was published by Margaret River Press in 2012.
Without further ado, here are Lynne’s Triple Choice Tuesday selections.
Over the years the blurring of one favourite into another makes choosing any one particular favourite problematic. A recent favourite that is still hovering brightly amid its five stars is Flight Behaviour, a Christmas present given to me by my daughter, and which I read while trying to escape a sweltering heat-wave which swept across Australia and left many parts devastated by bushfires. So much has already been said about this novel, I ask myself what can I possibly add other than to express my utmost awe at Barbara Kingsolver’s genius for creating something wonderfully abstract and epic out of one image and one pair of eyes.
The almost biblical revelation described so vividly and frighteningly in the opening chapter turns out to be a transformative process on so many different levels, not least the metamorphosis of a poor, young, uneducated woman. For Dellorobia, first witness to the “lake of fire” on the mountainside, it is also a moment of self-revelation, a moral and spiritual reckoning of what she had in mind. The fate of the flame-coloured Monarch butterflies gradually becomes a metaphor for Dellorobia’s own “flight behavior” in her efforts to rise above her “hillbilly” husband and the futility of their co-existence.
“The shards of a wrecked generation had rested alive like a heartbeat in the trees, snow-covered, charged with resistance… Their numbers astonished her. They would gather on other fields and risk other odds, probably no better or worse than hers.” The message is clear as to the fragility of our ecosystem on a global front, yet never once did I get the feeling that Kingsolver was being didactic.
I loved the power of this novel, its magnitude and depth and wonderfully detailed renderings of the natural world, always conscious of the author’s respect and compassion for ordinary people struggling to survive in a fast-changing world.
It takes a very special story to flame an impulse or light up a different course of action. Reading the great Australian classic My Brilliant Career for the first time as a forties-something mother of four helped re-ignite my long lost desire to be a writer. It amazed me back then, and still amazes me, that Miles Franklin wrote her debut novel in the 1880s when she was still a teenager. To know that someone so young could write with such ease and spontaneity, and have her story published despite the odds — her age, sex and all of the constraints and social expectations of her day — empowered me to write.
My Brilliant Career is a brilliant and passionate novel. For all her passion, the author does not stand in awe of anyone nor does her fiery bush heroine. “My organ of veneration,” Sybilla declares, “must be flatter than a pancake”. The girl has a quick wit. She is vivacious and refreshingly outspoken; smart, too smart for her own good. Sybilla is the daughter of a once well-to-do pastoralist who has fallen on hard times. As the family struggle with impoverishment, Sybilla finds herself becoming more and more downtrodden. Her work is menial, dull and degrading with no time for creative pleasures let alone pleasures of any kind. Stifled by a life of backbreaking servitude, the girl sinks deeper into depression.
Sybilla’s changing stature and states of mind are often personified in her painted surroundings. The girl’s earliest recollections of “majestic gum-trees” with “the sun glinting on their straight white trunks and on the gurgling fir-banked stream” also speak lyrically in their promise of freedom, happiness and good standing. What a contrast and awful comedown to be at Possum Gully with its “crooked stunted gums and stringybarks”.
From the harsh clarity of realism, the author will then break yet again into prose that is overblown or laced with old-fashioned abstractions as Sybilla rapturously laments her fate. First to appear on the horizon is “Grannie”, a distant and wealthy matriarch. Safely dispatched to Grannie’s homestead at Caddagat, Sybilla is quickly introduced to prospective husbands and “hobbledehoys”. It is here in a lifestyle of culture and confined gentility that we hear faint echoes of her childhood cry: “Action! Action! Give me action!”
It is not her drunken father, rather the pride and prejudices of the women in the family that would “rob” Sybilla of her “brilliant career”. A properly brought-up young woman should submit herself to the marriage market, be a good wife and mother, attend to her home and “do what God intended”. Not become some “low, vile, brazen hussy,” as Grannie puts it with a “bang of her fist”.
This wonderful period drama defines both the coming of age of a girl and of a nation. Stella Maria Sarah Franklin’s semi-autobiographical novel was published under her male pseudonym in 1901. This was ironically the year of Australian Federation, of a country shedding its Mother’s shackles while granting women the vote. Things have certainly changed for women since Franklin’s day, but I would have to vote for her novel as having changed my life in turn. Her example of courage and self-determination is timeless and universal. It stands to show that there can be no excuse for not putting pen to paper. You don’t have to banish yourself as Franklin did. These days you are never too young, too old, or too shackled to write!
The need to spread one’s wings was once an Australian tradition. Now everybody does it. There’s nothing unique about the disparate characters in Susan Midalia’s An Unknown Sky; it is more about what binds them in their comings and goings.
Most of these Australian short stories involve some kind of separation, from a person, a place or a situation. Invariably we capture intimate glimpses of Midalia’s characters between states, traversing the past and the present as they try to navigate where they are going in their everyday lives. There is often the feeling that we might know these people, so adept is the author at realising a character in the space of a few pages. Here we are made brief party to their longings, their inner conflicts and imaginings in the face of change: “I’d seen the flimsy wings and a ripple of flames and then a violent burst of orange filling up the sky. God help me, I thought, my husband sleeping beside me.” These are the words of an anxious mother waking up to face her worst nightmares after her son leaves home for the Andes.
Whichever generation she is writing about, a teenager, a young student teacher, an aging widow or a tourist “flaunting her rebellion”, the author is always at home. Susan Midalia writes with eloquence and insight. There is warmth and humour, quiet wisdom and universality in her stories which remind me a little of Alice Munroe’s. I highly recommend this anthology. It has only been published a short time but I think it deserves a much wider audience than it has received to date. Next time you are travelling take along a copy of An Unknown Sky.
Thanks, Lynne, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!
This is a wonderful selection of books — I’ve not read any of them, although My Brilliant Career has been staring at me from my bedside table for the past three years!
What do you think of Lynne’s choices? Have you read any of these books?