We all have those books. The ‘I fell asleep reading you’, ‘I dropped you in the bath’, ‘I covered you in crumbs as I devoured you over lunch’ – the un-put-downables that became like instant best friends or toxic lovers. To celebrate the powerful ways in which words can rouse us, we’re asking our favourite book bloggers to pen An Ode to A Tome, love letters to three books as penned by the authors and artists appearing in this year’s program.
This week, Danielle Carey from Half Deserted Streets shares her heartfelt gratitude to the books she loves best: The White Girl by Tony Birch, The Rip by Mark Brandi and After the Carnage by Tara June Winch.
The Rip, by Mark Brandi
Shelved as both crime fiction and literature, The Rip shies away from easy classification as it tells the unadorned story of a young woman living rough on the streets. The narrator, unnamed for most of the text, is a homeless drug addict who turns tricks to afford her habit. But whatever uninformed stereotypes that sentence conjures up fall away in this authentic character who has compassion, wisdom, and a deep appreciation for beauty. A woman with every right to be bitter, she is instead kind, comfortable with the grey areas of life, and possesses firm moral boundaries that she will not cross. Her two dearest friends are her dog, Sunny, and the quietly supportive Anton, but when an old acquaintance of Anton’s shows up and offers them a place in his flat, they discover the fine line between simple sin and pure evil, and a sense of quiet dread builds.
The Rip shines a light on those less visible in our communities, and does so in a way that is imbued with warmth and humanity. Although dark and broken in places, it also celebrates goodness and hope. Thank you, beautiful novel, for reminding us that darkness is not inevitably coupled with despair, and for demonstrating the essential dignity of being human.
The White Girl, by Tony Birch
In Tony Birch’s third novel, The White Girl, Odette Brown and her granddaughter Sissy live quietly on the fringes of a rural Australian town in the 60s. Odette’s life is clouded by the fear that, under the Aboriginal Protection Act, authorities can swoop in and remove Sissy at any moment. Odette’s every thought is for Sissy’s safety, and their quiet existence is weighted with suspense as threats appear in the form of brutal locals and a new copper with an axe to grind.
In the redemptive power of fiction, The White Girl manages to be a thing of beauty even while it showcases a period of great horror and shame in Australia’s recent history, a shame that leaves its trauma to this day. Yet rather than giving undue voice to the perpetrators of these evils, The White Girl celebrates the wisdom and resilience of strong women who rely on their wits and the kinship of community to stage their quiet rebellions while living on a knife-edge of danger and injustice. I’m incredibly thankful to Tony Birch for exploring such an essential, necessary story with characters who will linger long in my memory.
After the Carnage, by Tara June Winch
After the Carnage is a short story collection by Tara June Winch which explores the pivotal moments of realisation that occur in the spaces around the ordinary and extraordinary events of life. It’s a collection with a global focus, but what ties these tales together is the way each character wrestles with his or her otherness in key moments laden with import, moments on which hinge future relationships or opportunities or memory or even the preservation of life itself. It might be an adult child returning to visit his mother whom he still loves, “despite the circumstances” of her terrible taste in men and her immaturity, or a professional woman on a work trip in Guangzhou, who is overcome by a sense of loss previously left unexamined.
Winch’s characters know what it means to be out of place, whether separated from family, from projected images of their imagined future selves, or from the community around them. If we do, as so many have said, read to know we are not alone, then Tara June Winch has given us a group of grieving, flawed and flailing humans through which to see ourselves or recognise others better, and I applaud her for doing so in such a sure and certain voice.
Danielle Carey is a writing coach and humanities tutor from South East Queensland. She lives in a house overrun by books and is learning to be content with the eternal tension between the read and the unread. She blogs in longer form or with less words and more pictures on Instagram.