Books find their way into your life by all sorts of means. Often they’re bought, or borrowed, or picked up from somewhere unremembered. The unforgettable ones then find their way into you. A novel read is more than just a story consumed, pages turned, characters met. Each time I read a good book it somehow steals off the page into my molecular makeup. I may not always remember their details, but it is as though with each memorable book I am laying down bricks, one by one, building a slow Taj Mahal of experience. It means this lamentable little body can be so much more than just me.
My little ‘books of 2018’ series celebrates these ones that have, indeed, become part of me. So to Louise Allan’s The Sisters’ Song. This book feels as much part of me as my own. Louise and I were in a writing trio while both of our manuscripts were emerging from the swamp. We worked on them at the same time, sending each other (along with our third member, GP and writer Dr Jacquie Garton Smith) snippets: long and short, wordy and clipped, drafts and outlines. We took wrong turns together and rescued one another from the mire.
I learnt a lot from seeing Louise struggle with her manuscript – as much as I learnt from my own rejections and failures and dispiriting tussles with this process which seemed overwhelming at times. In Louise’s book I was witness to the characters’ evolution, watching them come into their own and stake their claim in the world of literature. I was also party to the improvements and momentum, from a shortlisting in the TAG Hungerford award, to a contract with a large commercial publisher.
And thus The Sisters’ Song was born. It is a book both contemporary and historical. Its themes are universal – women’s lives thwarted by the expectations of both society and their own selves. Louise examines the relationships within families and within marriages, fraught all of them, with painstaking care. Early 20th century Tasmania is evoked with exquisite detail, and the lives of the characters are incredibly well, and beautifully sketched out. Louise’s book is officially a bestseller. Its gentle themes and questions have resonated with the reading public, and it has sold incredibly well. Louise is also a great supporter of other writers, both emerging and established, and she deserves her place in the canon of Australian literature.
It has been an honour and a saviour having Louise for a writing buddy. Our styles are distinctly different, but that does not mean we haven’t been able to offer one another what we both desperately needed to turn our manuscripts from nonsensical early drafts, into completed books.
Here is The Sisters’ Song.
The year will soon be thinking about folding away its linen, packing up and preparing to roll out its credits. It’s been a bit of a one really. Awful in many ways: cruel, fetid, tribal, amoral. But amongst all of this there has been, as always, beauty, hope, joy, amazement. And, of course, as the flapping banderoles of the latter, there are books.
I’m a terrible blogger; a hopeless archivist. I’ve read many, many books this year, and haven’t always shouted into the ether my thanks to those who’ve slaved over their creation. I know how hard it is to produce a book. I understand the fragility of releasing one. I appreciate what it means to have one’s book connect with a single other human.
So this tiny, likely unread, series, is to give name to the top 12 books that have regaled me with their words this year – those books that have given me delight and elation and rapture and that have, for many reasons, entered my heart. Books do that, you see. Become part of your being, your memory, your DNA, your circuitry, your life.
Each one of these books have given me something precious in their own way. They have slung shot me further along this business of existence, and made me happy that I’m part of it, this writerly, readerly life.
One a week, until 2018 properly shuts down, twelve books for which I am grateful.
THE EVERLASTING SUNDAY, Robert Lukins.
It was odd reading Robert’s book. We released our debut novels at pretty much the same time. What, I wondered, would happen if they were both really similar? University press, unknown writers, not overly fitting into any pigeonholes, what if they were cut from the same pattern? Reader, they were not.
The Everlasting Sunday is a trip and a half. It is unsettling and dizzying and downright extraordinary. Set somewhere Englishy, boarding house lonely and snowy, it is never quite real, but never unbelievable. It is the Lord of the Flies I always wanted to read. Robert’s writing is magic; every sentence crafted with intelligence and fierce control. I was immersed from the first page, and found it difficult to crawl out of a night. His language slows my heart down, his prose divine.
Somewhere in this is a bit of strange pride that I get to call Robert my contemporary. Perhaps it is more simply contemporaneous, but whatever it is, I feel a tiny kinship with the release of this book. I still see the falling flakes on the front cover, lit up from within, floating to the ground. I can feel the disconnection of the boys in Godwin Manor. I celebrate Robert’s masterful ability. It was the perfect novel to read when I was lost thinking about my own creeping out into the world.
Deeply excited to know what is coming next for Mr Robert Lukins. And if he doesn’t hurry up I shall need to go back and read this one again.