Posts Tagged ‘Australian women writers challenge’

Heather Rose has produced a work of considerable finesse. The Museum of Modern Love sets a high bar for Australian literary fiction.

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose, winner of the 2017 Stella Prize. Read more of my reviews at https://isobelblackthorn.com/my-book-reviews/

 

 

“Arky Levin is a film composer in New York separated from his wife, who has asked him to keep one devastating promise. One day he finds his way to The Atrium at MOMA and sees Marina Abramovíc in The Artist is Present. The performance continues for seventy-five days and, as it unfolds, so does Arky. As he watches and meets other people drawn to the exhibit, he slowly starts to understand what might be missing in his life and what he must do.”

It is always a delight to read an intelligent book. In The Museum of Modern Love, it is as though the author caresses the intellect through exquisite prose; coaxing, inviting engagement. Rose has produced a deeply introspective, slow-paced book, one that will appeal to lovers of literature, rather than those seeking page-turning entertainment.

The primary setting is the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where the main characters observe a piece of performance art by the renowned Marina Abramovíc, in which the artist sits unflinchingly still, all day for seventy-five days. The object of Rose’ pen is therefore a real life and contemporary figure, Serbian-born Abramovíc, who has loose and controversial associations with Australia. The Museum of Modern Love is faction, a considered rendering of biography in fiction.

What commences as the audience observes ‘The Artist is Present’ is the delicate unfolding of backstory, petal by petal, first here, then there, until the essence of the narrative, a poignant and bruised heart, is revealed.

It is her metier to dance on the edge of madness, to vault over pain into the solace of disintegration.”

Rose is a masterful writer, her depictions of incidental characters sharply observant, yet her prose is always gentle, haunting. The Museum of Modern Love is a meditation, on art and creativity to a large extent, but above that on pain, physical and emotional pain, the anguish of loss and grief. Can themes of art and creativity rescue a narrative that strolls along in the doldrums of lingering despair? The answer is immediate: Yes. ‘The Artist is Present’ installation represents trauma on a grand and complex scale, the artwork a culmination of a lifetime of suffering, depicted in a retrospective piece on display in the museum upstairs. Abramovíc’s artistic and personal pain is juxtaposed with the ordinary pain of ordinary people, yet each time another sits on the vacant chair and locks gaze with the artist, whatever they are feeling is transformed, subtly perhaps, to become a part of this ever changing, yet remarkably unmoving, work of art.

The narrator of The Museum of Modern Love is deft, light, observant, forgiving. If there could be a point of criticism it would be the use of self consciousness, at times the narrator identifying as a disembodied entity, an angel, a muse, naturally omniscient, one given to addressing the reader directly. Some may deem the exploitation of this device unnecessary and intrusive. When it first appears, the reader may be forgiven for worrying that this voice may overpower the narrative, but thankfully it does not.

All fiction is contrivance, a pasting together of characters, settings, themes. When drawing on real people and real events, such pasting can appear awkward and stilted. The Museum of Modern Love is not one of those works. Evident in abundance is Heather Rose’ passion for her subject and deep empathy for her themes. It comes as no surprise that the work won The Stella Prize, 2017.

You can buy a copy of this book HERE

I WOULD LIKE TO THANK ALLEN & UNWIN FOR MY REVIEW COPY. I REVIEWED THIS BOOK AS PART OF THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN WRITERS CHALLENGE #AWW

 

 

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All good books are hard to put down. Sandi Wallace’s Tell Me Why is no exception.

“Picturesque Daylesford has a darker side. Melbourne writer Georgie Harvey heads to the mineral springs region of central Victoria to look for a missing farmer.There she uncovers links between the woman’s disappearance and her dangerous preoccupation with the unsolved mystery surrounding her husband.Maverick cop and solo dad John Franklin is working a case that’s a step up from Daylesford’s usual soft crime; a poison-pen writer whose targets are single mothers.Georgie’s investigation stirs up long buried secrets and she attracts enemies. When she reports the missing person to the local cops, sparks fly between her and Franklin. Has he dismissed the writer too quickly? A country cop, city writer, retired farmer and poison-pen stalker all want answers.What will they risk to get them? What will be the ultimate cost?”

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The twin elements that will win the hearts of crime fiction fans are setting and an interesting sleuth. In Tell Me Why Wallace has both. The setting is Daylesford, a small country town east of Melbourne famous for its proximity to Hepburn Springs, rendering the locale a lure for the rich and famous, an area of luxury hotels and spa retreats. Knowing this before opening Tell Me Why, the reader may be forgiven for anticipating an Agatha Christie cosy mystery, or a sort of corporate crime conspiracy novel. Tell Me Why is neither. The novel is firmly situated in the sub-genre of Australian rural crime, since there is such a thing.

The novel has two sleuths, senior constable John Franklin, and Melbourne-based writer Georgie Harvey, each investigating a separate mystery. The inclusion of two sleuths, one from the country, the other the city, plays to the theme of the rural-city divide, although the dichotomy serves more as a backdrop than as an issue explored and developed in a literary sense. Both Franklin and Harvey are well-crafted characters, satisfyingly complex and damaged. Neither sleuth is especially likeable at first. Both are hard edged, carrying their hurts and prejudices close. Both are judgemental, Harvey more so, her heart filled with resentments and frustrations, whereas Franklin is prone to the sort of casual sexism found in Australian rural society. Through both pairs of eyes social realism veers close to stereotyping, with single mothers under the spotlight.

Inevitably, the various foibles of Franklin and Harvey drive the plot. The story opens with a short prelude, a catastrophic fire and a mystery. From there the  narrative jump cuts from Franklin to Harvey, as their individual inquiries unfold.

The jump cuts work well, if making for a seemingly disjointed narrative at first, more demanding of the reader’s attention. The style makes for a fast pace and creates natural tension, the reader forced to wait for vital information as her attention is diverted back and forth between the points of view. What unfolds is a cracking plot. There is never a dull moment. The reader sinks into the story, confident the author is in control of the narrative and won’t disappoint. No small feat. Crime readers are a sharp bunch, likely to extract a calculator to check up on a distance or a passage of time. Thankfully, Wallace manages to avoid stepping outside the bounds of plausibility.

The writing is strong, gritty, earthy and witty at times. Tell Me Why  is a considered work, written with care. Wallace knows her craft. Tell Me Why is a perfect balance of action, dialogue, and reflection. Description is kept to a minimum, just enough to be evocative. Wallace knows her readership too. Themes appealing to female crime lovers abound. Mothers and babies, the strong bonds of female friendship, a cast of utterly believable and endearing minor characters, all held together in a pleasing the rural setting.

Tell Me Why is a compulsive read. The novel should appeal to crime lovers everywhere. I am looking forward to reading the newly released sequel, Dead Again.

BUY Tell Me Why

Find Sandi Wallace here: http://www.sandiwallace.com/

This is the second book I have reviewed for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. To find out more about the challenge, visit the website

Today I have signed up to the Australian Women Writers Challenge and committed myself to reviewing at least 6 titles in 2017. I am certain I can manage that, especially since I have already read and reviewed two.

 

I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes me!