Chosen with care and a canny feel for what a person enjoys reading, a book is a great gift for Mother’s Day – or any other day and any of the special peeps in your life.
I lean towards British writers rather than Australian and I hadn’t really considered how many Australian female writers I might be reading – or not – until I stumbled across the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge. It was a relief to find, on going through my books on Goodreads, that I’ve read quite a few Aussie ladies.
And so here for Mother’s Day or any other time you’re looking for a good book by an Australian woman, is a few I’d recommend, and one or two which are on my TBR list.
Evie Wyld – All the Birds, Singing
If I could be any writer other than myself, I’d be Evie Wyld. Actually I’d rather be Evie Wyld as she’s more successful. She also works in an eclectic bookshop in Notting Hill, and is brilliant.
I stumbled upon this, a work of some strangeness and a sense of distance. The narrator is both troubled and in trouble. The setting is far-outback Australia in the early part, and then an island, we’re never quite told where – somewhere off Scotland possibly. There’s great imagination at work in creating a sense of threat, and later of hope. Shortly after I discovered this and proclaimed her as one of the greats to all my reading buddies, she won the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Very gratifying. Intensely readable and lyrical.
Lily Brett – New York
An upbeat choice. Lily Brett writes the perfect essay. These were written for a magazine, so they’d have to be spot on. Covering a bizarre aspect of her life, her personality, or telling some anecdote, they all have her signature dryness, slightly off-kilter way of looking at life, and occasionally a point of piercing clarity to make. Very satisfying. Everything from the hairdresser telling her she looks like Cher’s mother, to waving madly at a young man on a bicycle on Long Island, and realising later it was a member of the Kennedy family hoping for some privacy.
Maggie MacKellar – Core of My Heart, My Country
I read this as inspiration upon taking on the job of writing a history of Tasmanian Women in Agriculture. If every you think we women have it hard after the post-modern feminist revolution, this is the book to dip into. Awful tales of giving birth on beaches and trekking for weeks through impenetrable rainforest in mountains to claim land, having one pregnancy after another until finally karking it out of sheer bloody exhaustion. Not cheering, but salutary, and one of those important Australian works. A great choice for someone who loves Australian history.
Caroline Overington – I Came to Say Goodbye
A tightly, skilfully written book which I read in two gulping takes overnight – so compelling it kept me awake. Unheard of!! It uses the voice of a couple of characters as they give an account of themselves to a judge in the family court. It’s an unusual device and managed with complete conviction. I’ve found out recently that Overington is a journalist, and I’m thinking that’s why she’s nailed the particular detail of the story so well. It’s a downward spiral for its characters, and not exactly cheery, but it keeps hooking you in. A great read for somebody who likes drama with a real-life, gritty feel.
Robyn Davidson – Tracks
One of the seminal travel memoirs. I even recall seeing it on the shelf at Stanfords of Covent Garden where I bought it – and that was in the 1980s. Everything about this book inspired my wanderlust and convinced me that a woman can do exciting and unpredictable things with her life and live to tell an amazing tale. Twenty five years later I’ve watched the film with my children and it’s no less an enthralling story. Robyn Davidson is a one off, a maverick. We should all have one book like this in our lives reminding us what can be if we live without fear, and with an endless sense of curiosity.
Karenlee Thompson – Flame Tip
A curious confession. I haven’t read this. But Karenlee Thompson entered one of her stories into the Tasmanian Short Story Competition when I was a judge and I fought tooth and nail for it to win. It didn’t, but it should have – it was by far the best entry. It floored me with its imagination. Beautiful, forceful writing, and huge originality and flair in the structure – that was the key. Three different endings. I’ve no doubt her collection is just as outstanding, and I’d compare her to Audrey Niffenegger for originality. Must get me a copy.
Hannah Kent – Burial Rites
A bit of an old favourite by now, but deserving of perpetuity. It reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s Amazing Grace, inevitable I suppose. A woman is condemned for murder, caught up in a bad situation, and the tale is a sympathetic account from her point of view. The internal dialogue that Kent writes for Agnes when she is at her most desperate is deeply good, as is the descriptive writing – not overdone, just perfect in conveying the grief of the character. Very strong sense of character and place. Wonderful writing and storytelling. A great choice for those who like a good plot and story with literary flair.
Maggie MacKellar – When It Rains
Maggie’s second instalment on this list! This is her very personal memoir of a time in her life that few of us could imagine but most of us would fear. To lose a husband in the worst of circumstances and be left to rebuild. Maggie does it the way she knows best, by retreating to country New South Wales for solace and a chance to heal. One of those books that goes deep. A great gift for any woman in your life who’s a thinker and feeler.
Sarah Turnbull – Almost French
Completely delightful. An Australian woman falls in love with a Frenchman and moves to Paris. Cue months of struggling to fit in and adjust, and a very honest account of being a fish out of water, looking for work and friends. There’s pathos and humour in here and account observation with a lovely self-effacing tone of the unlikely overlap of two cultures and a sense of wonder that they should ever have been attracted to each other. Summed up in an early scene when her partner-to-be invites her to lunch in his flat and proceeds to lay the table impeccably with fresh flowers and napkins, and serve a lunch he’s cooked himself, while wearing a pale yellow cashmere jumper around his shoulders and tied casually in a knot at the front. As one who is surrounded by Australian men, I can vouch for the impact this would have .Turnbull was and SBS journalist, and so she’s an extremely competent writers, and this is a fine example of the clash-of-culture type travel memoir.
Some silly cow has written a hatchet style review on Goodreads. Ignore that.
M L Stedman – The Light Between Oceans
I confess I didn’t like this as much as I expected to based on the way people raved about it. I found it very cinematic but in a Hollywood way – too ready to pull on my heartstrings in a fairly obvious way. BUT, as the days wore on and I wondered what we’d say about it at my book club, I found myself reflecting on the way one or two of the characters were constructed, the clever and complex dynamics between them, the originality of the story, and the way the effects of the second world war were woven into the story so poignantly. I still find it a tiny bit trite in places, but I can see why it has a reading. The obvious choice for women you know who love an epic love story with ‘bestseller’ written across the front cover.
Liane Moriarty – The Hypnotist’s Love Story
This is a safe bet as a gift. Everyone seems to love Liane. Because she’s very diverting. This is not marvellous literature, but it’s a really great story that keeps you hooked in, and what I liked most about it is that it’s really well researched and there is fascinating detail on hypnotism – as a therapeutic art. I’ve read a couple more Moriartys after this and they are a mixed bag. I’d say this is one of the better ones. If you were going to wrap up a bundle of three as a gift, this would be a great one to include.
About the author
Fiona Stocker is an author and occasional farmer. She lives in the West Tamar Valley in Tasmania with her family, a retired sheepdog, a cat called Charlie and around forty-five Berkshire pigs. Her travel memoir Apple Island Wife – Slow Living in Tasmania was released by Unbound last year.
“It reminded me of two writers memoirs in particular – Chris Stewart’s Driving Over Lemons and Annie Hawes’ Extra Virgin (and of their sequels). Apple Island Wife deserves, I think, to be just as widely read.” Fi Cooper, Make Walk Read.
“Apple Island Wife is both heart-warming and hilarious. Filled with raw, honest real-life accounts of trying to attain the good life fuelled with a pioneering spirit and a positive attitude. Compulsive reading for anyone who has ever thought they are not living the life they should!” Steven Lamb, River Cottage