People say that a death like this, a quick death, sudden, no warning or portent, really no pain to herald it, such a death is a good death, lucky. There is even sometimes a suggestion that it is a reward, for a life well lived, for goodness, and noble behaviour. She’d said it herself in the past.
When William has a heart attack and dies suddenly, he leaves behind a loving wife, a stunned daughter. Here was a man with much to live for, a good man with a stable life. But the mourners include two former wives and two adult children. Between them they have different versions of the man they all loved and, in the days following death it emerges that there is still much about William that they didn’t know. AN unexpected mistress, who wants to be part of the mourning, pornographic images on his computer, and more. Will they find answers to their new questions?
Goodbye Sweetheart is a story about the aftermath of a death, but it also very much a novel about life, and its mysteries. The writing is superb. Each chapter is almost a short story, moving through the third person viewpoints of William at the time of his death, his various wives and children, his brother, his mistress and an elderly aunt. Readers are given fragments of William and his loved ones’ lives in a way which creates an intriguing whole.
An intimate look at grief, at family complexities and more, Goodbye Sweetheart is a book which haunts well beyond the final page.
Goodbye Sweetheart, by Marion Halligan
Allen & Unwin, 2015
Available from good bookstores and online.
To have your father shot when you are a small child is to lack a sense of him as a person. Even if you can remember a man who swung you up in his arms, who wore fleshy leather clothes and pressed you to cold prickling cheeks smelling of the night and cigarettes, or you learn him from a photograph smiling out of his wedding to your mother…you cannot talk to him, not in any way that he can answer you.
The streets of Paris are inhabited by beautiful, interesting people – but these people are as troubled as any of us. Fanny works in an antiquarian bookshop and is deeply in love with her builder husband, but they are unable to fall pregnant. Luc, who owns the bookshop, thinks of his shop as a resting place for volumes nobody can ever really own, making his business less commercially successfully than it could be. His partner, Julien, nurses sick and dying children. And Jean- Marie is a famous professor of Philosophy who allows his adoring female students to satisfy his libertarianist leanings.
Valley of Grace is a fine literary novel which interweaves the differing stories of the characters, with the themes of birth and babies running through each story. However, as the novel progresses it becomes apparent that it is more than just a theme which is common – with the characters’ lives also overlapping and coming increasingly together.
This is a tale of shocks and surprises, of dark and light, of birth and death, with characters and relationships blossoming while others fall apart. Set in Paris, it is an intriguing and sometimes disturbing read which is ultimately satisfying.
Valley of Grace, by Marion Halligan
Allen & Unwin, 2009
This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
A raspberry ute came up very fast behind us. I heard its deep revving roar, saw it flash past, on a tight left-hand bend. There was a logging truck coming down the other lane and the ute pulled in abruptly so that Al had to steer off the road to avoid hitting it. We veered on to as soft and leaf-slippery verge. I looked out my window and hastily looked away. It was a long and vertical way down.
Life in Australia’s capital, Canberra, is not as ordered and calm as it might be for Cassandra and the Colonel. When a friend’s teenage daughter is found dead from a drug overdose, it soon becomes apparent that this is not an accident. Fern has written a manuscript which exposes some of the more seedy aspects of Canberra’s prostitution scene, including child slavery and politicians’ private lives. Cassandra is determined, with her colonel, to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Murder on the Apricot Coast is a fantastic blend of humour, romance, tension and, of course, mystery. A sequel to The Apricot Colonel this story stands alone, but will delight fans of the earlier work.
The use of a first person narrative which at times feels that the narrator is speaking directly to the reader (the opening line quotes from Jane Eyre: Reader, I married him.) lends an interesting voice to this page-turning read.
Murder on the Apricot Coast, by Marion Halligan
Allen & Unwin, 2008
This book is available from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
On a promontory on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, an equisite glass building houses an equally exquisite resautrant. The city’s elite come to dine there, to eat the culinary marvels created by Flora, the city’s most celebrated chef. Nearby, in a ferry shelter which no ferry has ever visited, an eldery homeless man drinks cask wine and befriends a young drug addict. They are not part of the life inside the restaurant, until the man’s heroic actions draw them in.
As the novel focusses on food, so the story itself is like fine dining – served in differing forms, brought out layer by layer, to be savoured, explored and slowly digested. And like a good meal, the book leaves an aftertaste which lingers long after it is finished.
The art of the point is in its mix of narrative technique. Part diary, part third person recount. First one viewpoint, then another, the novel keeps the reader guessing from chapter to chapter. Flora, the charcater who would seem to be central to the varying plots and subplots is perhaps the one we come to know least. Other characters, chiefly her lover, Jerome, an ex-priest and the homeless Clovis are looked at from differing perspectives and seen to evolve. Flora is an enigma. The other characters all worship her, but few seem to know her very well.
The Point will be a special treat for those who love fine food, with meals playing an important part of the action, and also those who love Canberra – although The Point itself is a fictional place.
The Point, by Marion Halligan
Allen & Unwin, 2003