Australia, Author, Book review, crime/thriller, Fiction, Publisher, Scribe, Setting, Tania Chandler

‘Please Don’t Leave Me Here’ by Tania Chandler


Fiction – paperback; Scribe UK; 304 pages; 2015. Review copy courtesy of publisher.

For someone who supposedly likes to champion Australian literature, I’ve not done a very good job of it this year — indeed, I’ve only read two Australian books (a novel and a short story collection) — so when Tania Chandler’s debut novel, Don’t Leave Me Here, arrived unsolicited from her UK-based published, I bumped it to the top of my pile. It proved to be an excellent move, for this psychological thriller is a proper page-turner, one that not only had me guessing right to the end, but gave me goosebumps all along the way…

A puzzle to put together

The story reads very much like a puzzle that Brigitte, the protagonist, is trying to put together in her head, and you, the reader, follow her every step of the way. There’s a murder victim, a hit-and-run accident, a sordid extra-marital affair, a shady past as a stripper, domestic violence, childhood neglect, a police investigation and dreams of Kurt Cobain wearing a brown sweater — and somehow all these “clues” come together in a rather dramatic, and satisfying, ending.

The beauty of the present tense narrative, which is told in the third person but largely from Brigitte’s point of view, is that you’re never quite sure how much you can trust her version of events. Is she the loving wife and devoted mother of twins she purports to be, or is there something more calculating and conniving about her?

The author offers a steady, well-paced drip feed of information that constantly has the reader reassessing their opinion of Brigitte, who goes from being a busy and stressed out young mum one moment, to a woman capable of having sex with a man who is not her husband in her own home, the next. But as her back story is fleshed out, as we come to learn of Brigitte’s troubled past and her uncertain future, there are times when you begin to wonder if Brigitte might simply be paranoid or mentally unbalanced. Is she, perhaps, suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder? Does she actually need medical help? Is she popping one-too-many painkillers?

An exciting read

I realise I’m not really summarising the plot of this remarkably plotted book. To do so would be counterproductive to those who want to read the story for themselves, because it is the narrative journey — sometimes confusing, often unsettling and always tinged with sadness and regret — that makes Please Don’t Leave Me Here such an exciting read.

I especially like the way the author plays with memory and links it to music — there are lots of music references from the early 1990s in this novel, including a heavy dose of Nirvana and Nick Cave — because we all know that hearing snatches of songs from our past can pull us back to different times and places. The author also explores the notion of whether people alter over time — can a leopard, for instance, really change its spots? And she’s very good at showing how a person, who so desperately seeks normality in her domestic life, can easily slide into an unhealthy mindset following a personal tragedy. This passage, midway through the book, is a good example of a woman going off the rails:

Brigitte pushes a supermarket trolley aimlessly around the plaza. The twisting involved in controlling a trolley hurts her back more than anything, but not today — this morning she took enough medication to stop the pain. She can’t understand why she didn’t think of this before.
Giant gold-and-silver decorations hang from the glass ceiling and she sings along with ‘Winter Wonderland’. She’s done the grocery shopping — extra flour, eggs, and butter for more cakes — and bought wine and the last of the twins’ presents from Father Christmas. Still, she feels she’s forgotten something. If she keeps wandering around, maybe she’ll remember what it was. Something from the chemist? The newsagent? The butcher? The crowd of shoppers is reflected on the ceiling — people walking on the roof. It’s too bright, and she can see auras. A headache claws at the right side of her head; it’s going to turn into a migraine.[…] She gives up trying to remember what she’s forgotten. If it was important, it’ll come back to her. […] Maybe Aiden will join them? No, he’ll spend Christmas with his wife. She thinks about his lips, his deltoid muscles, the tattoo on his arm — whatever it says, his… Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. She shakes her head.
Kurt Cobain walks with her. Sometimes she sees him, but usually he’s just a voice in her head.

All in all, Please Don’t Leave Me Here  is a sexy and stylish debut. It’s dark and intriguing, the kind of story that gets under the skin and leaves you feeling a little dirty and sordid. Interestingly, Tania Chandler is currently working on a sequel. I’m already itching to read it…

Australia, Author, Book review, Fiction, literary fiction, Publisher, Setting, short stories, Text, Wayne Macauley

‘Demons’ by Wayne Macauley


Fiction – paperback; Text Publishing; 304 pages; 2015. Review copy courtesy of publisher.

A couple of years ago I read Australian writer Wayne Macauley’s The Cook, a deliciously dark satire about modern gastronomy, which amused and disturbed me in equal measure. Indeed, it was one of the most memorable — and original — books I’ve read in, say, the past four or five years.

His new book, Demons, has just been published in the UK and, for obvious reasons, I was keen to read it.

The narrative, as such, is structured around a group of (annoyingly) middle-class (snobby and pretentious) friends, who spend a  weekend together in a holiday home by the coast on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. There’s no TV or internet at the property and they’ve all agreed to leave their phones and tablets behind so that they can truly unwind from their busy lives. It’s winter and the weather is rather wild, which makes the getaway rather conducive to sitting around the fire, imbibing wine (there’s a lot of wine in this book) and telling tales.

All right, said Lauren, once everyone was seated in the living room. The sky had darkened and a full moon was rising over the water. The sea was loud, but faraway loud. All right, she said, I’m going to start. My story is called Woman Killed By Falling Man.
Are we going to give them titles? said Evan.
Adam, said Hannah, do you think we should give them titles?
Titles are good, said Adam.
Wait, said Megan. She handed Lauren the piece of driftwood she’d brought back from the beach. The story stick, she said.

Dark tales

The book is structured around these individual tales, each one more ludicrous and outlandish than the last. They span all kinds of dark and edgy themes, including adultery, suicide and murder, with a good smattering of politics, crime and corruption thrown in for good measure.

Most of them are embellished and dramatised to a ridiculous degree, yet no one ever seems to challenge or question the authenticity of what they’re being told. And all the stories, most told second- or third-hand, expose the failings and foibles and prejudices of the people telling them.

There’s some terrific and truly memorable short stories here. In particular, almost two months after having read this book, I’m still thinking about the city couple who have their heart set on buying a farm only to find the farmer doesn’t want to sell it to them. They way in which they resolve this situation is truly shocking — to say the least — and left me feeling slightly ill at ease.

Microcosm of Australian society

The book’s strength lies in the way in which it shines a light on modern Australia, where everybody should be happy, but no one seems content. Or, as one character puts it, “everyone’s so bloody negative; they can’t see what they’ve got ’cause they think they’re entitled to more”.

Look at us, Ad, said Leon, without looking at him: a bunch of well-off, well-educated fucks, the generation in charge, and yet we don’t know shit. We went to uni, and it didn’t cost us a cent. We found jobs, made careers. We’ve lived off the fat. We saw the world, conquered every corner of it, but what did we ever do but stare at ourselves?  […] We could have done something, left a legacy. But what did we do? Talked crap, argued, bickered, ate, drank — we’re always eating and drinking, stuffing our faces, telling everyone what we had for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s obscene. We’ve let the world go to the dogs, Adam.

And so the weekend getaway that is depicted here — with its focus on food and wine and fanciful fireside tales — is a (cleverly written) microcosm of Australian society.

But (the appropriately named) Demons is not so much a novel but a collection of short stories masquerading as a novel and you either like that kind of format or you don’t. Admittedly, I’m not a fan, and while I admire Macauley’s silky and immediate prose style, his masterful way with dialogue and his clever expose on pertinent Australian issues — land rights, refugees, the dream of owning the quarter-acre block, 21 years of economic growth et al — I felt the book was weakened by the format. In other words, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. You may beg to differ.

5 books, Book lists

5 classic ANZ authors to discover — a guest post by Sue from Whispering Gums

5-books-200pixThis isn’t a strictly “5 books” post but a “5 authors” post, but that’s all semantics. I thought it might be nice to look at writers from Australia and New Zealand who have been around for a long time. Who are the classic authors from these countries that we should know about?

Sue, who lives in Australia and blogs at Whispering Gums, seemed the perfect person to ask:



‘A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.’ (Italo Calvino)

Most readers I’ve noticed – and I include myself in this – mostly read recent books. That’s not surprising, I suppose. We all like to be in touch with what’s going on around us, and be able to join in the conversation about current books. But, what about older books – those that have stood the test of time, and that have laid the foundation for contemporary literature? They are worth including in our reading diet.

So, when Kim asked me to write a post on classics (or, older books, as how do we define “a classic”), I jumped at the chance. We agreed that I’d do it by naming some authors rather than by simply listing a few books. Even so, it is a very select list. There are many, many great “older” Aussie books. This list just gets your toes in the water!

So, here goes, in order of the author’s birth!


Miles Franklin (1879-1954)

Any list like this has to start with Franklin — she  endowed our most important literary award, the Miles Franklin. Moreover, one of her middle names, Stella, has been adopted for our new women-only literary prize. Miles Franklin wrote many books of fiction and non-fiction, but by far her most famous is My Brilliant Career (1901). It’s heavily autobiographical and tells the story of a young woman from a grazing family who is desperate to become a writer. It is still relevant as an account of a feisty, independent young woman who is prepared to buck her family’s expectations to follow her dream.


Christina Stead (1902-1983)

Stead is, possibly, one of Australia’s most under-appreciated writers. She is best known for her novels The Man Who Loved Children and For Love Alone. Instead of arguing for her myself, I’ll let American author Jonathan Franzen speak:

Although “The Man Who Loved Children” is probably too difficult (difficult to stomach, difficult to allow into your heart) to gain a mass following, it’s certainly less difficult than other novels common to college syllabuses, and it’s the kind of book that, if it is for you, is really for you. I’m convinced that there are tens of thousands of people in this country who would bless the day the book was published, if only they could be exposed to it.

I rest my case – read her if you dare!


Patrick White (1912-1990)

This list of course has to include Patrick White, Australia’s only Nobel Laureate for Literature. He was a rather irascible soul, and absolutely refused for his first novel, Happy Valley, to be published again in his lifetime. Fortunately, Text Publishing released it as part of its Australian Classics series, letting us all see where this writer started. It’s a good read, and is a readable introduction to some of White’s main preoccupations – lives frustrated by the inability (or refusal) to rise above the restrictions of their circumstances. My absolute favourite White, though, is Voss, his re-imagination of the tragic Australian explorer (we have many of those!), Leichhardt.


George Johnston (1912-1970)

In discussions about that problematical question, “the great Australian novel”, one of the books regularly put forward is George Johnston’s My Brother Jack, the first in his trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels. In the novel, the narrator, a successful journalist, contrasts his life with his brother, Jack, a “typical” Aussie bloke, uneducated, hardworking, a good mate, and more interested in things physical than intellectual. Johnston was married to author Charmian Clift and they remain one of Australia’s best-known literary couples.


Ruth Park (1917-2010)

New Zealand born Ruth Park made her literary career in Australia, after marrying Australian writer D’Arcy Niland. She won the 1977 Miles Franklin Award with her moving and very readable saga, Swords and Crowns and Rings, but she is best known for her Harp in the South trilogy about the Darcy family. The first two published novels (Harp in the South and Poor Man’s Orange) chronicle the family’s struggles to survive in the slums of Sydney, while Missus, which was published much later, tells the story of the parents before they came to Sydney. I love Park for the warmth of her writing about real characters, who struggle to cope with hard times in hard places. She’s still relevant for this very reason – and is, besides, a darned good read.

Thanks, Whispering Gums, for composing this wonderful list. I’m especially pleased to see George Johnston on it because I’ve read all his work and My Brother Jack is my favourite book of all time! Also delighted to see Ruth Park here. Her trilogy is highly recommended. I would also add her husband, D’Arcy Niland, to the list, as his novel The Shiralee, which I reviewed a few years back, is an absolute classic. I loved it so much I sourced all his other books online (they were all out of print) and I have a tidy little pile here ready to explore when the mood strikes!

Has anyone read any of these authors? Or can you suggest other classic writers from Australia and New Zealand worth looking out for?

NB: All pictures are taken from Wikipedia/GoodReads and reproduced under the relevent Creative Commons licence.

5 books, Book lists

Five books by Australian writers I’m looking forward to reading

5-books-200pixLast month I went to Australia to visit family for four weeks. But that trip  seems a very long time ago now — especially as I am now immersed in loads of Canadian fiction.

As luck would have it, my return to London has coincided with a flurry of big-name Australian authors releasing long-awaited novels — why couldn’t they have released them all in the first week of September? Oh well, I would have never fitted them in my suitcase anyway.

Here’s five I’m looking forward to buying at some point — if they’re ever released in the UK or if I can scrape together enough cash to pay for international shipping charges!

The books have been arranged in alphabetical order according to author’s surname.

Narrow-road-to-deep-northThe Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

“August, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma death railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever. This savagely beautiful novel is a story about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost. “

Published by Vintage Australia last month. There is no date available for the UK — as yet.

Coal Creek by Alex Miller

“Bobby Blue is caught between loyalty to his only friend, Ben Tobin, and his boss, Daniel Collins, the new Constable at Mount Hay. He understands the people and the ways of Mount Hay; Collins studies the country as an archaeologist might, bringing his coastal values to the hinterland. Bobby says, ‘I do not think Daniel would have understood Ben in a million years.’
Increasingly bewildered and goaded to action by his wife, Constable Collins takes up his shotgun and his Webley pistol to deal with Ben. Bobby’s love for Collins’ wilful young daughter Irie is exposed, leading to tragic consequences for them all. Miller’s exquisite depictions of the country of the Queensland highlands form the background of this simply told but deeply significant novel of friendship, love, loyalty and the tragic consequences of misunderstanding and mistrust. Coal Creek is a wonderfully satisfying novel with a gratifying resolution.”

Published by Allen & Unwin in Australia earlier this month. Not published in the UK until next March, but a Kindle edition is available on Amazon.

by Christos Tsiolkas

“Daniel Kelly, a talented young swimmer, has one chance to escape his working-class upbringing. His astonishing ability in the pool should drive him to fame and fortune, as well as his revenge on the rich boys at the private school to which he has won a sports scholarship. But when he melts down at his first big international championship and comes only fifth, he begins to destroy everything he has fought for and turn on everyone around him. Barracuda is a powerful and moving novel of sport and violence, class and education, dreams and disillusionment; it is the story of a young man who eventually comes to realise that it is in family and friendship that his strongest identity lies.”

Published in Australia by Allen & Unwin on 1 November, but not published in the UK until 2 January 2014. But international buyers can purchase the ePub edition from the Booktopia website.

by Tim Winton

“Tom Keely’s reputation is in ruins. And that’s the upside. Divorced and unemployed, he’s lost faith in everything precious to him. Holed up in a grim highrise, cultivating his newfound isolation, Keely looks down at a society from which he’s retired hurt and angry. He’s done fighting the good fight, and well past caring. But even in his seedy flat, ducking the neighbours, he’s not safe from entanglement. All it takes is an awkward encounter in the lobby. A woman from his past, a boy the likes of which he’s never met before. Two strangers leading a life beyond his experience and into whose orbit he falls despite himself. What follows is a heart-stopping, groundbreaking novel for our times – funny, confronting, exhilarating and haunting. Inhabited by unforgettable characters, Eyrie asks how, in an impossibly compromised world, we can ever hope to do the right thing.”

Published in Australia by Penguin Australia earlier this month, but not published in the UK until June 2014.

Swan-bookThe Swan Book
by Alexis Wright

“The new novel by Alexis Wright, whose previous novel Carpentaria won the Miles Franklin Award and four other major prizes including the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year Award. The Swan Book is set in the future, with Aboriginals still living under the Intervention in the north, in an environment fundamentally altered by climate change. It follows the life of a mute teenager called Oblivia, the victim of gang-rape by petrol-sniffing youths, from the displaced community where she lives in a hulk, in a swamp filled with rusting boats, and thousands of black swans driven from other parts of the country, to her marriage to Warren Finch, the first Aboriginal president of Australia, and her elevation to the position of First Lady, confined to a tower in a flooded and lawless southern city. The Swan Book has all the qualities which made Wright’s previous novel, Carpentaria, a prize-winning best-seller. It offers an intimate awareness of the realities facing Aboriginal people; the wild energy and humour in her writing finds hope in the bleakest situations; and the remarkable combination of storytelling elements, drawn from myth and legend and fairy tale.”

Published in Australia by Giramondo Publishing Co last month. Not published in the UK, but a Kindle edition is available on Amazon.

Please note that the release dates quoted for the UK are subject to change.

Are there any on this list that have piqued your interest?