Tag Archives: australian women writers challlenge

Hanging on for the knicker sale – ‘The Fine Colour of Rust’ by PA O’Reilly

29 Apr

‘The Fine Colour of Rust’ is a departure from literary fiction for Paddy O’Reilly, who has previously written a novel and a short story collection. Hence she is writing as P.A., rather than Paddy.

The book is the story of Loretta Boskovic, who lives in Gunapan, a dusty town in north-west Victoria. Loretta describes herself as an ‘old scrag standing with her hands on her hips, pursing her thin lips, squinting into the sun. You could make a statue of that. It would look like half the women in this town.’

Gunapan is full of single mothers. As Loretta says; ‘It’s been so long for most of the single mothers in this town we’ve forgotten what it was that husbands do to make us mothers in the first place.’  Loretta fantasises about leaving her children in an orphanage and riding off into the sunset with a man on a Harley. The highlight of her year is the annual K-mart underwear sale in nearby Halstead. This is a finely judged affair as ‘the elastic only lasts ten to eleven months, which makes these last few weeks before the sale pretty dicey.’

‘The Fine Colour of Rust’ reads a little like a TV series, there are episodes rather than plot. The prodigal son returns after doing time in jail, the local councillor is a dodgy operator, a refugee family from ‘Bosnia Herzegobble’ appears, creating conflict in the community.

There are also a host of charming, idiosyncratic characters. Loretta’s closest friend is Norm, who runs the local junkyard. The new mechanic, Merv Bull, a single and passably attractive man is flooded by business as women desert the old eighty year old mechanic in search of a ‘tune up’.  Loretta’s two kids and her family in Melbourne add to the drama. One of Loretta’s former babysitters returns to the town to set up business as a witch.

This is my sixth review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. I’ve got a feeling I said I’d only do six, but what the hell, I’m going on!

A woman with strong sense of injustice, Loretta tries to rally the town behind her to save the school, which is slated for closure. This leads to one of the funniest scenes in the book, when the Minister for Education comes to town. Treated to a butchering demonstration, he is left shocked and ‘festooned with a morsel of raw steak glued to his upper lip.’

I enjoyed the Australian character and light-hearted appeal of this book. If you liked ‘The Castle’ you’ll love Loretta.

Book Review: ‘A Common Loss’ by Kirsten Tranter A Common Loss By: Kirsten Tranter

2 Mar

A Common Loss is Australian author, Kirsten Tranter’s second novel. Her first, The Legacy, was an assured, fresh retelling of Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady.

A Common Loss tells the story of five friends who meet at university and keep in touch over the next ten years. Following the death of one of their number, Dylan, the friends re-group for their annual visit to Las Vegas.

The story starts with the narrator, Elliot, remembering a car accident the five had together. The driver, Cameron, swerves to avoid a deer and they crash. Cameron has been drinking, so Dylan claims to be the driver. As the years go by, whenever Elliot remembers the crash, it is Dylan who he sees at the wheel. This trick of the memory becomes a motif for the story.

Elliot, a professor of literature, sees himself as a bit of an outsider in the group. With Dylan, who Elliot idealised, removed, tensions rise and relationships buckle under strain. Elliot discovers that not all of his friends viewed Dylan the same way he did. Dylan’s death sets events in train where each friend is forced to reveal long-hidden secrets.

The first part of the book seems a little slow, as Elliott comes to terms with Dylan’s death. Passages of introspection set the scene; ‘I felt strangely paralysed in that way that you feel in dreams sometimes, wanting to move and yet unable to take a step. Was this another symptom of grief, I wondered, catalogued and tagged somewhere?’

However, once the friends gather in Vegas it gets on quite a roll.  I enjoyed the observations on Vegas – how it all seemed like a stage set, changing rapidly from glitter and glitz to ‘desperation and emptiness’. ‘Backstage should be hidden with a curtain or a door from the audience, surely; it shouldn’t be so – well, just so easy to see all the crap and falling-apart stuff out the back,’ Elliot observes.

Essentially a psychological suspense novel, the narrative drive comes from waiting to see how the friendships will react to pressure. Tranter’s writing is clever and insightful. She digs deep into the undercurrents of friendship, guilt and shame. An enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

This is my second review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.