Tag Archives: snapshots

Snapshots from a novel #5

Wow. When I finished Scot Gardner’s Happy as Larry it was late at night. Bad move. I closed the cover and lay awake, tense and restless, for several hours. Outside my room, traffic growled and hissed. In my mind, a postman buzzed along the footpaths of Villea. Scot’s characters still inhabited my imagination.

I’m not going to serve up any hints or spoilers here – other than to say this book is like storm clouds on the horizon. When you see a mess of dark, bruising clouds you might think ‘there’s a storm over there’ but, based on blue sky above, make the assumption that distant turbulence won’t darken your day. That’s how I read Happy as Larry. And, with my attention elsewhere, I didn’t hear the wind change, didn’t sense the temperature dropping, didn’t feel the raindrops until the hailstones had me ducking for cover.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve read so many of Scot’s novels that I was caught unawares. Each of them is a yarn that could be happening wherever you are. Right now. Step outside and you could be one of the characters. (I grew up in rural Victoria so the stories feel particularly real to me. In Gravity, the shift from the country to a dingy urban block of flats felt like a chapter from my life.)

Happy as Larry‘s Villea feels like any number of rural towns I’ve lived in or visited as a journo. Despite the familiarity, I didn’t see this particular story emerging. From where I’m sitting, that’s good writing.

Here are some extracts:

(p34) They ate breakfast and dressed as quietly as they could, loaded up their gear and set off for the long jetty at four-year-old kilometres per hour.

(p168) While Larry knew and trusted his father, his mother had been battered and marked like a lunch-box peach.

(p189) Mal lay beside his wife in bed and felt the ocean of indifference rise between them. It had been winter in their bedroom since the baby died, and his sex-drive had gone into hibernation.

(p194) Sadness he didn’t know he had crept out of his belly and grabbed at his throat.

I’ve dog-eared lots more pages but I’ll resist further extracts. When you read it, please send me some of the lines that resonated with you.

Happy as Larry was published by Allen & Unwin in 2010 and is a CBCA notable book for 2011.

Snapshots from a novel #4

I’ve been re-reading Peter Temple’s acclaimed The Broken Shore, partly because I wanted to prep for reading his Miles Franklin award-winning Truth. As I understand it, the two books aren’t sequential but some of the characters are shared. Whatever the case, I’ve enjoyed my second reading of The Broken Shore even more than the first.

The descriptive writing is very, very good and takes me back to places I visited and covered as a journalist out west on Victoria’s shipwreck coast. The images of small towns and their residents ring true, as does the daily pain endured by the battered lead detective.

The story begins and ends with this detective senior sergeant and his dogs – a pair of poodles. I can’t remember ever seeing dogs portrayed so vividly. Thanks to Temple, I can imagine their thumping tails, their cavorting through overgrown paddocks and exuberant exploration of puddled creekbeds.

Here’s a sample of the poodle passages:

“… as he put his hand out to the gate, they reached him. Their black curly heads tried to nudge him aside, insisting on entering first, strong black legs pushing. He unlatched the gate, they pushed it open enough to slip in, nose to tail, trotted down the path to the shed door. Both wanted to be first again, stood with tails up, furry scimitars, noses touching at the door jamb.” (p1)

“They walked back the long way, it was clearing now, pale blue islands in the sky, dogs ranging ahead like minesweepers.” (p64)

“… the dogs hunted the cleared area, much taken with the smells released by the mowing…” (p131)

“He fell asleep in the big shabby chair, woke in early light, two dogs nudging him, their tails crossing like furry metronomes.” (p135)

“The dogs bounded back to him, the lovely bouncing run, the ears afloat. They jumped up, put their paws on him and spoke to him.” (p184)

“It was long dark by the time he switched off and saw the torch beam coming down the side of the house, saw the running dogs side by side, heads up, big ears swinging. They were at the vehicle before he could get out. He had to fight their weight to open the door.” (p264)

There’s plenty more, too. I’m not a ‘dog person’ but Temple’s writing just about persuaded me to head down to the Lost Dogs’ Home and find a new friend. Don’t tell the kittens.

Snapshots from a novel #3

Extracts from the sensory and beautiful How To Make A Bird by Martine Murray.

‘I didn’t mean to say it like that. Sometimes sentences rushed out before I checked them over for holes or hidden weapons.’ p6

‘I spent a lot of my life waiting, to tell you the truth, which was why I was getting out of town. It was a deliberate strategy, a counterattack to waiting, which wasn’t getting me anywhere. There are two types of waiting. There’s the waiting you do for something you know is coming, sooner or later – like waiting for the 6.28 train, or the school bus, or a party where a certain handsome boy might be. And then there’s the waiting for something you don’t know is coming. You don’t even know what it is exactly, but you’re hoping for it. You’re imagining it and living your life for it. That’s the kind of waiting that makes a fist in your heart.’ p16

‘It’s not surprising that someone in my circumstances would always be wanting something. Probably ever since I started out with the wrong shoes. There was the wanting and there was the waiting, too. That’s two feelings that move all out of step with each other. Waiting doesn’t really move, it doesn’t have direction, whereas wanting dashes out of you, like an arrow. So if you wait and want and wait and want, then you live in a jagged way. You go along in zig zag, not in a clear line forward, like most people do.’ pp41-42

BTW, I was reading Martine’s Henrietta Gets A Letter aloud to the Little Monkey (5) recently and was pleasantly surprised when the Little Dragon (9) joined us, then my god-daughter, aged 10. Moments later my god-son (7), added to the throng. Only a good story draws kids in like that. The Henrietta books are junior fiction in the vein of Lauren Child’s Charlie & Lola books – quirky & fun.

Snapshot from a novel #2

Extracts from the excellent The Beginner’s Guide to Living by Lia Hills (Text Publishing 2009).

From a scene describing a funeral wake:

Dad’s not far away, leaning into the lounge room wall like it’s the only thing that will hold him up, his suit all corrugated with grief. (p5)

From a scene describing the bustle on the State Library steps:

It’s hot, hot on my face, on my chest, and the warmth feels good; it’s evaporating something that doesn’t belong. I find a spot on the steps out of the traffic but still in the sun. Below me, there are some emos huddled in as much shade as they can manage, a flock of them all in black like suicidal crows. (p29)

And sleep disruption:

Jigsaw night made up of pieces of sleep. The dawn of my first exam. (p199)

And here’s a quote Lia brought to our attention during her month at insideadog:

“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” – Nietzsche