Daily Archives: December 26, 2015

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015 wrap up


Well, I probably should have posted this ages ago because I met the challenge some time earlier.  I had vowed to concentrate on histories written by Australian women, and I didn’t do particularly well at that. A resolution for 2016 perhaps? Nonetheless… here’s the wrap-up, roughly in the order in which I read them,  for what it’s worth.


Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor

Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke

A Short History of Richardby Klein by Amanda Lohrey

The Anchoress  by Robyn Cadwallader

The Girl with the Dogs by Anna Funder

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey

Medea’s Curse by Anne Buist

The Fine Colour of Rust by P. A. O’Reilly

Nine Days   by Toni Jordan

The Strays by Emily Bitto

Charades by Janette Turner Hospital


In Good Faith? Governing Indigenous Australia through God Charity and Empire 1822-1855 by Jessie Mitchell

Restless Men: Masculinity and Robinson Crusoe 1788-1840 by Karen Dowling

This House of Grief by Helen Garner

The Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Keneally

Melbourne by Sophie Cunningham

Savage or Civilized? Manners in Colonial History by Penny Russell

The Hanged Man and the Body Thief: Finding Lives in a Museum Mystery by Alexandra Roginsky

The Boyds: a family biography by Brenda Niall

Warrior by Libby Connors

‘Charades’ by Janette Turner Hospital


1988,  345 p

I hadn’t heard of this book at all, although I’ve read several of Janette Turner Hospital’s books previously (see here and here for reviews).  It was written in 1988 which is, after all, quite some time ago, and was included in the New York Times Book Review‘s fifty most notable novels of 1988. It was long-listed for the Booker Prize, and shortlisted for the Miles Franklin, the Banjo and the Adelaide Festival National Fiction Awards.

Stripped back to its bare bones, it’s the story of a rather lecherous Canadian university lecturer in physics, Koenig, who embarks on a relationship with a young student who, between bouts of frantic and sweaty lovemaking, regales him with stories of her search for her father and her unconventional mother.  The stories distract Koenig from his own woes about his wife’s breakdown, the end of his marriage and his son’s conversion to the Moonies.

That’s the simple version.  It’s also a riff on Scheharazade, story-telling and truth.  It’s all a bit contrived: we have the rather twee twist on ‘Charade’ as the young student’s name.  Add to this some rather laboured complications of physics and the uncertainty principle. Hence we have Bea, her mother, or ‘B’ (as in the B-narrative) and Kay, her ‘aunt’ (as in K, the symbol for constant value in physics), Nicholas Truman (true-man) and the mysterious Verity.

It’s not an easy book, and I very nearly abandoned it after Part I. But just at that point, either it improved or I succumbed to it, and I’m glad that I did. As a reader, you have to tolerate leaps between the frame story and flashbacks, and to have one story immediately contradicted by an alternate story.  At this point, you just have to hold on and trust Turner Hospital that she’s going to hold it all together- and she does, largely.

I could have done without all the physics, which nearly tipped me over the edge.  There are elements of this book that she repeats in later work (looking for lost parents; mobility and dislocation; the Queensland setting; bohemianism etc) and I think that she has become more refined and controlled in her writing over the decades.  But the book is worth persevering with, and is a satisfying read as you reach the end.  The word ‘virtuoso’ is often used to describe her work and it’s apposite: she flies high and takes risks.  It’s exhilarating, but not comfortable.

Posted to the Australian Women Writers challenge site as surely my final contribution for the year!