april + may reading

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Grace is a Victorian orphan dreaming of the mysterious African father she will never meet. Winsome is a young Windrush bride, recently arrived from Barbados. Amma is the fierce queen of her 1980s squatters’ palace. Morgan, who used to be Megan, is blowing up on social media, the newest activist-influencer on the block.

Twelve very different people, mostly black and female, more than a hundred years of change, and one sweeping, vibrant, glorious portrait of contemporary Britain. Bernardine Evaristo presents a gloriously new kind of history for this old country: ever-dynamic, ever-expanding and utterly irresistible.

Absolutely one of the best books I have ever read. The style of the writing is like reading a really long poem, but I think it only adds to the story and the way you read it (perhaps it helps that I love poetry). Each character is so complex and fascinating, and they are all connected in different ways (you can google Girl, Woman, Other character map if you get lost like I did). It gives an expansive history of the Black British experience, the insight into the characters’ lives and emotions, the structure of the story, the connectedness of the human experience even over 100 years; it is beautiful, touching, and truly one of the best books I have ever come across.

Come by Rita Therese

Two selves intertwine and it leaves you, in the dance room, making a decision that winged liner is just for work. Because you don’t know which self you are looking at right now, which person you are. The song stops and you break out of your trance and ask if he’d like to extend…

Rita is an escort, one of the best in Australia. It all began on a whim at 18, after she rang the number on a sign looking for nude models. Always the outsider, she quickly learns the sex industry is comprised of many other people just like her and she becomes immersed in this world: the drugs, the late nights, the glamour, being an outcast, the attention and validation from men. Mostly she thrives on how taboo her life has become. Following significant personal tragedy and trauma, the line between Rita’s sex worker persona Gia and her real self begins to blur in a seemingly endless loop of grief, work, sex, love and heartbreak.

In this achingly honest memoir, Rita learns that death and trauma do not always bring grand transformative experiences. Sometimes, in order to go forward, we have to write our own stories and choose to keep living. With its unflinching, compelling and darkly funny narrative, Come announces a fearless new talent in Australian writing.

!!!!!!. I always want to be careful in a review of an author’s first novel, because I’d prefer to be given the same courtesy when it’s my time. The world doesn’t work like that anyway, and with this, it doesn’t matter. I loved it. My only issue was the jumping around of the timeline, but Rita addressed this & said it was the main point of contention with readers. I think it’s enough to move past, though, because she jumps about with reason as her story is broken down into parts (sex, love, death). I shed angry tears multiple times throughout, annoyed at the way people demonise sex work only on behalf of the sex worker, never toward the ones who use it. At the sheer audacity and entitlement from some of the men she encountered, and the way life tried to pull down someone with so much vigour and intelligence; purely because she is a sex worker.

She wrote so eloquently about grief and PTSD. And then there was hope, for her as a human, for the future, for even the option to read such a tell-all about her life; and there was even a bit of sensual fun. I highly recommend this book to everyone. 

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

This was, at times, really hard to get through. In saying that, it was also hard to put down. I can’t quite say that I enjoyed it, per se, but it was fascinating and gruelling. Some of the scenes throughout the book can be quite triggering; some genuinely made me feel ill, some made me angry cry, and others made me feel an annoyance that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps at the audacity of an old white male, taking advantage of a young woman? Probably. I think you need to go into this book knowing that it touches on some really heavy issues, particularly as the main character (Vanessa) has been manipulated and coerced by this man, that she even doesn’t see anything wrong with the situation when she is an adult (also, obviously, shining light on the trauma that can work it’s way into you and stay with you for a long time).

Mia Culpa by Mia Freedman

Sometimes, when I meet someone new and I tell them I’m a writer, they ask  ‘What do you write about?’ Tricky question. It’s a lot like asking a woman who’s just come home from a girls’ dinner ‘What did you talk about?’  The short answer? 
When Mia Freedman talks, people listen. Perhaps not her husband. Or her children. But other people. Women. Mia has a knack for putting into words the dilemmas, delights and dramas of women everywhere. The new rules for dating in the internet-romance age? Yep, tricky stuff. Things are not what they used to be. And sex talk at the dinner table? Appropriate or not? Perhaps not, unless in an educational capacity and even then some things are best left unsaid . . .
With intrepid curiosity and a delicious sense of humour, Mia navigates her way through the topics – great and small – of modern life.

I don’t know how I felt about this? Like, I’m not sure it’s something I would generally recommend to people, but there were definitely some good points throughout it. Some parts made me laugh and nod in agreement, others haven’t aged quite well and it’s only nine years old. It’s a light read, but also reads more like a bunch of articles put together to make a book, rather than a cohesive book in itself. I picked it up at the Lifeline Book Fair, and probably will drop it off there again next year… 


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