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Wednesday, July 5, 2023

'Dirt Town' by Hayley Scrivenor

From the BLURB:  

My best friend wore her name, Esther, like a queen wearing her crown at a jaunty angle. We were twelve years old when she went missing. 

On a sweltering Friday afternoon in Durton, best friends Ronnie and Esther leave school together. Esther never makes it home. 

Ronnie's going to find her, she has a plan. Lewis will help. Their friend can't be gone, Ronnie won't believe it. 

Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels can believe it. She has seen what people are capable of. She knows more than anyone how, in a moment of weakness, a person can be driven to do something they never thought possible. 

Lewis can believe it too. But he can't reveal what he saw that afternoon at the creek without exposing his own secret. 

Five days later, Esther's buried body is discovered. 

What do we owe the girl who isn't there?

I am so late to reading this novel that came out with Pan Macmillan last year, but after hearing author Hayley Scrivenor speak about it at Brisbane Writers Festival I simply had to dive in.

And - wow! - I was blown away.

This is the tale of Esther Bianchi; who goes missing from her small Australian country community, called Durton ('Dirt Town' to the local kids). We follow various characters in town - including Esther's best friend Ronnie, Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels who has come to town to try and solve the mystery, Lewis another friend of Esther's with a big secret and abusive father ... and then interspersed throughout their accounts are the 'We' chapters - a Greek chorus of Durton children which is how Scrivenor came to write this story in the first place. She wrote her PhD in creative writing in 2016 all about collective narration, and this (from what I gathered at BWF) largely influenced 'Dirt Town' and the 'We' of Durton children who are an omniscient, playful and secretive Greek Chorus to the events unfolding ... it's an eerie and imaginative overtone to the whole tale which works so perfectly, and harmonises beautifully with the over-arching mystery.

I absolutely loved this; having listened to the audiobook via BorrowBox and narrated by Sophie Loughran, it totally consumed me for a couple of weeks and was a brilliant walking and train-riding companion.

Scrivenor is a real talent, and I'm sure she'll be compared to Jane Harper for the small-town-Australia angle ... but I think she has a particularly beautiful and distinct wandering eye to dying rural communities and claustrophobic townships, and especially the angle of how this sociology impacts the next generation. This is the real over-arching thread in the book - "what do we owe the girl who isn't there?" - and what wounds are we inflicting by our actions or silence?

I'll be so keen to read whatever Scrivenor writes next. I do wonder if it will be more Sarah Michaels or another Greek chorus overseeing a mystery as the thing that hinges her books together. But no matter - I'll be there.


Saturday, July 1, 2023

'Crushing' by Genevieve Novak


From the BLURB; 

Getting over someone is not that difficult. All you have to do is focus on every negative thing about them for the rest of your life until you forget to stop actively hoping for their slow and painful death, then get a haircut ...

Serial monogamist Marnie is running late to her own identity crisis. After a decade of twisting herself into different versions of the ideal girlfriend, she's swearing off relationships for good. Forever. Done. No more, no thank you.

Pretty inconvenient time to meet Isaac: certified dreamboat and the only man who has ever truly got her. It's cool, though, they're just friends, he's got someone else, and she has more important things to worry about. Like who she is, what she wants, and what the hell she ever saw in the love(s) of her life in the first place.

Flanked by overwhelmed new mum Nicola, terminally single Claud, and eternal pessimist Kit, Marnie reckons with the question: who are we when we're on our own?

'Crushing' is the new adult fiction novel from Australian author, Genevieve Novak. 

I absolutely adored this book.

It was not on my radar, but I went into a cute little indie bookshop called 'Heads and Tales' in Barwon Heads (Victoria, Australia) and literally just asked "what's good?" and had 'Crushing' handed to me and THANK GOODNESS!

So ... look; I've been a romance reader for a while now. I read every genre of romance (save for, maybe, medical romances?) and I get my reading-recs from authors and booksellers I love who frequently and generously share their TBR's. Blogs ('Smart Bitches, Trashy Books' being a fave). General chatter on socials and Goodreads ... but nothing - NOTHING - would prepare me for what a garbage-fire of spicy chilis the TikTok algorithm's thoughts on "romance" would be.

I've struck out on that app with its BookTok recs so many times now - *especially* in romance. It's bad, bland, or downright disturbing (and yes, my generation had 'Fifty Shades of Grey' so everything is a wheel and Colleen Hoover's spoke is currently at the top, but hopefully it'll topple soon)

Why am I mentioning this?

Well, because I think 'Crushing' is a little sneak-attack for female readers especially, who need their imaginations subverted and stretched. And this is the book to do it, as we follow a nearly 30-something protagonist called Marnie who has just been dumped. Again. And this one has hit so hard it's made her look inward and acknowledge the ways she doesn't know herself. How she's warped and pretzel'ed herself into being the type of woman each one of her ex's wanted - to the point that alone again, naturally, she doesn't actually know herself.

Marnie decides to move in with a new roommate - the fabulous and instant-bestie Claud - and start filling her spare days not-working at a little inner-city (Pellegrini's-esque) cafe, with any amount of classes and gym routines until she begins to meet herself for the first time in decades.

The one spanner in Marnie's plan is the appearance of Isaac. A bloke who is definitely off-limits because he has a girlfriend, but who Marnie connects with instantly ... how can she juggle this need to find herself, while she's also keeping her eyes-peeled on Isaac? That's the 'Crushing' conundrum of it all.

So I feel like this is probably a book being called a Melburnian 'Fleabag' and if that wets your whistle and gets you onboard, then - YES! - it's a Melburnian 'Fleabag' revelling in what it means to be young and messy, not-feminist-enough, self-deprecating, isolated and isolating, and not know what to do and where to put all this love you have ... it's definitely that, and more Season 2 than Season 1 vibes to boot.

But god DAMN, is it more complex and fun than that too.

The fact that I want to press this book into the hands of so many female friends and family members, for the ways that Marnie's crisis of identity has her seeing clearly (for the first time) the way that other women in her life short-change themselves constantly;

She tugged on the arm she was holding, and Jesse was pulled into frame.

I felt guilt before I'd even identified why: my first thought when I saw him was Oh.

Nothing prepared you for the distinct blandness of someone else's boyfriend. After all their gushing and mooning, you began to expect a prince. Reality and more objective eyes eventually revealed that they were ... just some guy.

Which is SUBLIME and has the same energy as @hellolanemoore's September 2020 Tweet; "every one of my female friends is too good for her boyfriend. I don't know how to explain it, but even if I had a female friend who was just a pile of rats on a step ladder she'd still be too good for Brandon"

I don't think this is a romance book (but I also don't think it's a bad thing if readers come to this under that misapprehension either) I do think it's a very pure and glorious form of Women's Fiction ... one that will by its very virtue of sneak-attacking under the premise of endlessly pursuing romantic love; raise the bar for the genre and the reader. You'll be surprised, delighted, stretched and challenged reading this one - without feeling "ripped off" for no neat HEA by 'The End'. Because that's kinda the point. And it's a crafty point that Novak is making - with humour and heart in the right place.

Like I said; I want to press this book into so many women's hands.


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