AWWNYRC#10: Duet by Kimberley Freeman

This is the tenth book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, which completes the exercise, though probably won’t be the last to fit the category this year*.


by Kimberley Freeman

Hachette, 2007, ISBN: 978 0 7336 2177 2

duet by kimberley freemanWhen the author of Duet — her first entry into the world of the depressingly named women’s literature field as a writer — announced the sale, she told me I’d hate this book. I bought it anyway, taking confidence in the fact Kim’s fantastical work was consummate and, besides, Hachette had whacked a ‘love this book or your money back’ sticker on the front.

That offer has no doubt expired by now, but it doesn’t matter, because I didn’t hate Duet. It was, however, an eye-opener.

This is the genre of the big tell, it seems, with motivations and feelings writ large — this is the genre of emotion, after all. And what a rollercoaster it is.

Two women who look so very much alike — one English, one German — share a false identity that propels them both into the spotlight, where both discover that fame and even fortune don’t deliver on their promise.

Angie, born poor and living rough, is discovered by music producer George who crafts her a pop career in the 1970s. It’s not so much sex, drugs and rock’n’roll as just the prescription pills, exacerbated by an abduction.

As Angie goes into rehab, George has had the good luck to stumble across Ellie, Angie’s lookalike with a brilliant set of operatic pipes, who is more than happy to escape rural poverty for a shot at the bigtime as Angie’s doppelganger.

The path to the charts has been anything but smooth for both women, but more setbacks are in store for all involved. There’s amnesia, marriage of convenience, thwarted love, all revolving around a slowly unveiled family secret that both destroys and resurrects.

Watching the characters manoeuvred through the various stages of life to finally arrive at the climax is a pleasure, as each change of fortune sets them up for the next with all the assuredness of dominoes.

There’s a little sparkle to enliven the text, too, thanks to phrases such as ‘the Seine dreaming of the ocean’, and some delightful springboards to end chapters as the mystery of the duo’s past unfolds.

Set against exotic backdrops in Europe as well as an isolated Greek island and the Australian coast and outback, it’s a global tour of ambition, regret and desire. This is a romance, so of course true love will out, but it’s all about the how. I was a little disappointed at just how neatly the boxes were ticked off by the final page, even if there were casualties along the way, but I am a cynical non-breeder so that disappointment should be expected.

While Duet is certainly outside my usual reading ground, I quite enjoyed this dip into the unfamiliar, thanks in large part to the twists and especially the Gothic influences to kept me interested.

* The final 10 has turned out a little different to the plan. C’est la vie.

Previous Challenge reviews:

AWWNYRC#9: Meg Mundell’s Black Glass is so very shiny

This is the ninth book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.

Black Glass

by Meg Mundell

Scribe, 2011, ISBN: 9781921640933

black glass by meg mundell

This is Melburnite Meg Mundell’s debut novel, and it’s a cracker. Once again*, we have Melbourne being gloomified in a near-future dystopia in which that mighty gap between the haves and the have-nots is bringing the city to the brink of anarchy. In the glass towers, the government manipulates its embedded media to try to keep a lid on. On the streets, the undocumented lower classes slink through the shadows, dodging security cameras and police patrols to earn a crust through corporate sabotage. And then there’s the young turks, looking to draw attention to the corruption at the top and the suffering at the bottom through increasingly violent demonstrations.

Into this tense social battlefield come two sisters, divided by an unfortunate incident, one seeking the other, and both forced to engage with the world beneath the veneer of identity cards and taxable wages.

The sisters provide the emotional thrust of the story, while other points of view are offered by a journalist delving into the underworld and a ‘moodie’ — a cross between tech and artist who uses lights, sounds and smells to exert subtle emotional control over people, usually in a crowd: say, keeping gamblers happy, helping concert-goers get frenetic without being destructive.

australian women writers challenge 2012And then there are the walk-ons, often undescribed, mere transcripts of conversation as their conversations offer extra explanations and bridge scenes.

It’s a fetching combination of character-driven narrative and reportage, as shiny as the black glass that hides the corporate shenanigans, but not dark enough to be opaque.

All the pieces fit together and the ending is sublimely satisfying. It reminded me a little of the most excellent Moxyland, by South African Lauren Beukes, with its ensemble exploration of social strata.

Black Glass has figured in a bunch of Australian awards short-lists this year; it wouldn’t surprise if Mundell goes all the way in the future.

* cf The Courier’s New Bicycle, below.

Previous Challenge reviews:

AWWNYRC#8: Debris by Joanne Anderton

This is the eighth book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.


by Jo Anderton

Angry Robot, 2011, ISBN: 978 0 85766 154 8

debris by joanne andertonDEBRIS, by Joanne Anderton, was initially published in the UK in 2010, but I’ve read the US edition that followed a year later. So, that clarification out of the way, it’s a pretty fine debut novel from the Sydneysider.

The world is fascinating: one where the haves build things, power things, move things by manipulating matter in the form of pions, while the have nots are left with far more mundane methods of constructing and lighting their world. As with any economy, there is ‘waste’ matter: in the case of pions, there is debris — random matter that can interrupt the systems of pions and cause lights to go out, water not to heat, even buildings to become unstable. As there are highly regarded wielders of pions, there are scorned debris collectors — akin to nightsoil collectors.

This first person account is that of Tanyana, a highly skilled and talented architect, whose career takes a plunge for the worse when an outside force destroys her crowning glory, leaving her broken in body and unable to manipulate pions.

What begins as a study of a person who no longer finds themselves in the upper echelons of society, shunned by her peers and unable even to pay her rent, changes emphasis to a mystery as Tanyana discovers she’s also a gifted wielder of debris, set on a course to uncover a great social secret and a threat to the world.

australian women writers challenge 2012The first volume of a series, Debris is a highly enjoyable tale in which Tanyana’s view of the social strata is rebuilt through her own experience with the under classes. Tanyana is convincingly drawn and likeable and her society is well described. The pion technology, melding with a Dickensian norm, is innovative and rather fetching, especially as the ‘silver’ in Tanyana’s body reacts to external threats with all the yummy visuals of Witchblade.

The second half lags a little as the conspiracy elements of the story overtake the more social aspects and the narrative drive falls a little short — my compulsion to get to the climax wasn’t great, but I was enjoying the world exploration and the unveiling mystery; I enjoy stories where the perception of history is at odds with the reality. A little vagueness in the description, the interruption of action scenes with dialogue and introspection, also served to slow the story in these crucial latter stages. While Tanyana’s arc here is satisfyingly self-contained, the underlying big-picture narrative hasn’t left me hungry to know what happens next.

Debris is a rewarding read, steeped in shadow and intrigue, and Anderton, through this and her highly regarded short fiction, has clearly pegged herself as an Aussie writer on the rise.

Read more about Joanne at her 2012 Snapshot

Previous Challenge reviews:


AWWNYRC#7: The Resurrectionists adds to a fine body of work

This is the seventh book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.

The Resurrectionists

by Kim Wilkins

HarperCollins, 2000, ISBN: 073226797 8

resurrectionists by kim wilkins

THIS is the third novel by Brisbane’s Kim Wilkins, one I’ve criminally and unaccountably not read until now. It’s interesting to look back at this, seeing how accomplished she was even back then: the prose is fairly tight, the narrative spot on, the characters engaging.

The story is told in two time lines, one in 1790s England and the other contemporary. In the past, a pair of daring lovers move into a cottage in a village near, and modelled on, it would appear, Whitby, there to encounter some seriously unnatural goings on in the suitably Gothic basement of the church. In the modern era, Aussie cellist Maisie Fielding journeys to the same cottage in the wake of her grandmother’s death, to find that those goings on are still, ahem, going on.

The setting lends itself wonderfully to the creeping dread: coastal storms, winter snow and isolation, and a village that keeps its secrets close and viciously guarded.

Maisie is going through a rough time personally, filled with doubt about her relationship with her opera singer lover Adrian, at sixes and sevens with her overbearing mother and ineffectual father; a few months sifting through her grandmother’s life — a life she never got to know, her mother and grandmother not having got on — seems like just the ticket for getting her head straight.

australian women writers challenge 2012But there’s the diary left by Georgette, and there’s her grandmother’s legacy, the attractive gypsy boy down the road and the not small matter of Maisie’s hidden psychic power to contend with. This is no simple holiday … especially when the spooky strangers come a’knocking and Maisie is left to feel very unwelcome indeed.

Told from several points of view, the Aurealis Award-winning story is a compelling jigsaw: Georgette sets the scene, Adrian adds domestic pressure, the unlikely villain offers tension as plans collide … and it all comes together as Maisie faces both her past and her future against a very old magic indeed.

While there are a couple of niggling elements in the plot — the way in which Georgette’s diary is compiled, the absence of a possible ally — they are more than overshadowed by the bold denouement that makes this a truly memorable read.

Previous Challenge reviews:


Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge

australian women writers challenge 2012So, I’ve signed up for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, because it seems like a worthy way to help celebrate 2012 as the National Year of Reading.

I’m going to be an official dabbler, reading across more than one genre, and I’m setting the bar at the Franklin level of challenge — 10 books. And here’s the likely suspects:

1. The Shattered City, Tansy Rayner Roberts
2. The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood
3. Burn Bright, Marianne de Pierres
4. The Road, Catherine Jinks
5. Frantic, Katherine Howell
6-9. I figure the Twelfth Planet Press Twelve Planets titles will fill these spots, but if not, I’ll slot Kimberley Freeman’s Duet in there (I can see her shaking her head at me now).
10. Carpentaria, Alexis Wright.

What a great kick in the pants to catch up on some reading I’ve been meaning to do for ages!

If spec fic’s your thing, or you’d like to sample it, then Tansy Rayner Roberts has assembled a list of award-winning Aussie women’s titles to plunder, and the AWW site also has multi-genre suggestions, too.