Below, a limp windsock gave way to a clearing in the bush that looked too small for a landing pad. The blue nose of a vehicle peeked through the trees. The helicopter hovered, swayed its hips. They inched lower, the pilot peering through the side window. He manoeuvred the throttle as lightly as a computer mouse. They were even with the treetops, now they were below them. Steph read a painted sign: MAATSUYKER ISLAND. A soft thud, a bounce, the kiss of solid earth, an exhalation as the rotors lowered pitch. They were down, they were safe.
Steph is not thrilled to be coming to Maatsuyker Island. She’s sixteen and supposed to be in her last year of school. Instead her parents have brought her to this remote outpost off the coast of Tasmania to act as caretakers of the island and its lighthouse. They hope that their time there, largely cut off from the outside world, will help the family to heal from the tragic loss of Steph’s twin brother.
Angry and resentful at being on the island, Steph drifts, her studies losing importance and her plan to become a doctor seeming unlikely. Meeting Tom Forrest, a deckhand on a cray fishing boat which visits the island, provides a welcome distraction. 19 year old Tom has problems of his own. He doesn’t want to be deckhand all his life, but his manipulative brother isn’t keen to let him leave. In the meantime, he’s fishing illegally, making Tom party to his behaviour. As the teens grow close, they dream of a life back on the mainland. When Tom goes missing, Steph is devastated.
Wildlight is a haunting, beautiful coming of age tale about first love, set amongst the wilderness in a way that makes the setting almost a character. With most of the book set in 1999, the use of a prologue and concluding chapters set in 2015 shows the impact the teen year events have on the adult lives of the characters.
Mundy’s poetic style and well-developed characters take the reader on an emotion-filled journey.
Wildlight, by Robyn Mundy
When orphaned Gabriel Poll is apprenticed to great London anatomist Edwin Poll, it is intended that he will study and advance himself. The son of a gentleman who fell on hard times, Gabriel is fortunate to have found a guardian who offered him shelter when he was orphaned and is now sponsoring his apprenticeship. He should take this opportunity and use it wisely. But Gabriel finds himself in a house touched by a nasty undercurrent. To study and teach anatomy, Poll needs a regular supply of dead bodies and, with these in short supply from legitimate sources, Poll deals with resurrectionists – grave robbers who come in the dead of night.
Gabriel finds himself involved in a trade which operates amidst dark shadows and, when he loses his apprenticeship, is taken in by the resurrectionists, sinking ever further into the dark depths of their trade.
In the second part of the novel a man with a different name teaches art in the colony of New South Wales and takes commissions for the trapping and painting of bird specimens. But when he takes an interest in one of his young students, he realises that it is not possible to escape a dark past forever.
The Resurrectionist is a bleak, dark novel, yet it is compelling, with the reader drawn into Gabriel’s dark descent and willing him to find a way out of its horrific depths. Gabriel appears at first an innocent victim of circumstance but the paths he chooses show he is not simply an unwilling spectator.
Whilst playing out to an uncomfortable conclusion, the novel has depths and implications which are absorbing well beyond the final page.
The Resurrectionist, by James Bradley
Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living
1. Contribute to society for the achievement of mutual benefit.
2. The only true foundation is a fact.
3. Keep up-to-date.
4. Avoid mawkish consideration of history and religion.
5. Keep the mind flexible through the development and testing of new hypotheses.
Robert Pettergree is a man with an unusual taste for soil. A scientist and soil sampler, he believes the key to success in farming and every other aspect of life is science. He formulates principles for scientific living, which he follows fervently. When he meets Jean, he expects her to follow them too.
Jean has grown up an orphan and trained in home economics. She meets Robert when they are employed together on the ‘Better Farming Train’ which tours the countryside teaching farmers better practises. When Robert proposes, Jean agrees, and soon the pair are making a go at farming in the Mallee, where they try to put Robert’s scientific principles into practise. It seems though, that there are some things for which science has no answers.
Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living is a powerfully haunting novel. Set in the period between the two worlds, in a community struggling through the depression and drought, this is a gripping first novel from a new Australian talent.
Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living, by Carrie Tiffany
Every Friday night the adult members of the Zing family meet in their garden shed; btu this is no ordinary garden shed – not a wheelbarrow or hammer or paint pot to be seen. Instead there is a meeting table, filing cabinets and high-tech surveillance equipment. All this is in aid of the Zing Family Secret – a secret so big that it consumes all of their lives.
Cath Murphy is just an ordinary second grade teacher. She loves her job and is also studying law part time, because it is something she has always been interested in. She is freshly over a broken heart incurred when her last boyfreind left for America and thinks she will probably meet someone new soon. None of these things link her to the Zing family in any way, except that young Cassie Zing is in her grade two class this year.
Yet perhaps Cath Murphy is more closely involved in the Zing family secret than she thinks. Cath seems to live a charmed life. She wins scholarships that she has never applied for and she wins every competition that she enters. Is she just lucky or is there some other force at play here?
Tagged as a fairytale for grown-ups, I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes does have a certain fairy-tale feel about it. The Zings are either msiguided or mad, and their zany actions are a pleasure to follow, even while they make the reader squirm. This is not a normal family, nor is it a normal story and whilst it does, in part, have a happy-ever-after feel, it also explores some serious issues. Adultery, family, growing up and dysfunctional families are all explored as is happiness and what it entails.
Part-mystery, part family drama, this one is definitely for grown-ups.
I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes, by Jaclyn Moriarty
Reviewed by Alex Marshall
This is a novel that sneaks up on you. The narrator is a freelance journalist who takes up a position as a speechwriter for a large banking organisation in order to afford the medical costs for her ill husband.
She hates her job, she hates the people she works for, believing that they are all parasites, and that nothing that she writes as a speechwriter has the least significance whatsoever. She has no life outside of of work, spending all of her free time caring for her husband, dying slowly from alzheimers disease. In short, she is in hell.
So what is the moral hazard of the novel’s title? It is the fear that pervades this book that the heroine of the story will become somehow complicit in this world that she hates, that she will somehow become a creature of this world, and lose her dignity as a human being.
She herself is not a particularly likable character. She has a kind of small ‘l’ liberal complaint against capitalism, while at the same time she is fixated by its apparent power, that appears in this novel almost omnipotent. She claims to be a radical, to have a knowledge of Marxism, yet she has been ground down by life, by her duty as a wife and as a citizen. Her closest friend, a colleague at work, she considers to be a terrible hypocrite, railing against the system while at the same time becoming very rich from its spoils.
It is this bitterness that gives the novel its authentic voice. It also gives the heroine’s character a taste of defeat for a life that in many other ways is full of strength and resilience.
Moral Hazard, by Kate Jennings
Picador Australia, 2003
Alex Marshall is a freelance writer and reviewer. You can visit his webpage here.