My #AWW2018 Round UP – Australian Women Writers Challenge

What a year 2018 has been! I signed up for a modest three titles with #AWW this year, because I didn’t think I would have the time for more. In the end I have totted up a whopping fifty-two reviews this year – not bad considering I have also had five novels of my own published! A healthy nine of those reviews were of novels written by Australian women writers. Here are my reflections of the Australian women writers I have read over the last twelve months.

Egyptian EnigmaMud and Glass by Laura E Goodin

My Australian Women Writers Round Up

I have travelled far and wide through this collection of novels, from Ancient Egypt with L.J.M. Owen to the Scottish highlands with Patricia Leslie. I have dwelt long in Queensland with Slatter and Saftich and western New South Wales with Bendon and Steele. With Nightingale I have entered the fantasy realm of Tarya reminiscent of Medieval Italy. Not quite sure where I landed with Goodin, but it was a thoroughly entertaining place to be.

I have journeyed through genres too, from Owen’s captivating cosy mystery to Slatter’s gripping dark urban fantasy; from Nightingale’s charming YA fantasy series to the very upbeat fantasy-comedy of Goodin. A heartrending historical memoir from Saftich and some intriguing contemporary fiction from Steele. A fascinating mystery laced with mysticism from Bendon and a gender-bending gem – part historical, part urban fantasy – from Leslie.

All of these novels are top reads and deserve the attention of readers. All these authors demonstrate great care with their prose, and with their plotting and characterisation. A reviewer’s dream!

Is there something that defines these women and holds these books together? I believe there is. Australian women writers seem to display a sensitivity and deep consideration of the world around them. These are warm-hearted stories, at times witty, always considered and considerate.

My only lament is that all authors need readers, so next time you are after reading something new, pause before you pick up another Rowling or King and take a punt on an author you have never heard of.

You can find my reviews of all of these titles by clicking this link

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Book review: Grasping at Water by Carmel Bendon

I do enjoy reading novels with strong mystical content. Especially when, as is the case with Grasping at Water, the author has profound knowledge of her subject.

About Grasping at Water

When a young, unidentified woman is pulled alive and well from Sydney Harbour in 2013, the connections to another woman – found in similar circumstances forty years earlier – present psychiatrist Kathryn Brookley with a terrible decision as the events of the present and past begin to mirror each other and the gap between truth and illusion shrinks.

When the young woman goes further and declares that she has lived continuously since coming to ‘understanding’ in the 14th century, her vivid accounts of life, love, childbirth, and loss in the Middle Ages seem so authentic that they test Kathryn’s scientific objectivity to the limit. As Kathryn delves she discovers that she is not the only one whose habitual assumptions about life have been torn asunder by an apparent experience of the miraculous in connection with the mystery woman.

My thoughts

Grasping at Water is an unusual book, possibly one of its kind. Told in the form of a mystery, what unfolds is so much more, as Kathryn, a traditional psychiatrist with all of the typical objectivist trappings of her job, is called in to assess a mysterious woman dragged out of Sydney Harbour. What unfolds will intrigue and fascinate the receptive reader.

The mystical theme is present early in the narrative through this mysterious un-drowned woman who eventually names herself Sophia (wisdom). The tales she tells at first mystify and puzzle, then reveal, slowly, fragment by fragment profound truths. Kathryn is at first reluctant and disbelieving, but her own prejudices are soon tested and she finds herself questioning her own rational understanding of the world. She notices coincidences, particularly of dates, the usual point of entry into the world of the unknown. From there Kathryn finds herself introduced to the anchoresses of medieval Europe immured in the walls of churches, and she is exposed to a feast of extraordinary knowledge as she grapples with her own life story.

Bendon deploys good pacing and plotting throughout, with believable and well-crafted characters. The protagonist, Kathryn, and the mystery woman, Sophia, are especially well-rounded. The style of prose is for the most part chatty and informative and easy to read. It is difficult to insert the theme of mysticism into the genre of a mystery and I commend the author for doing so.

The novel’s strength lies in the narrative control in the scenes exploring mysticism. The strange, mystical world Bendon portrays is utterly convincing, placing the reader right in amongst things. The insights into spirituality and mysticism contained in Grasping at Water are profound and important. Where else is the average reader to be presented with an engaging understanding of Julian of Norwich and anchoresses like her? I am reminded of L.J.M. Owen’s Dr Pimms’ series, in which the author draws on her extensive knowledge of archeology.

Grasping at Water is a story of loss, grief and acceptance, on one level a feel-good mystery to warm the heart. On a mystical level, here is a story of a rite of passage, one that will leave the reader questioning their everyday reality. A fascinating read.

 

You can purchase a copy of Grasping at Water on Amazon.

Find out more about Carmel Bendon here