Bruny by Heather Rose [also available as eAudio & eBook] -Well, there’s fiction that you know is fiction – and then there’s Bruny. The novel is set in contemporary Tasmania, where the Liberal government of the day has decided to build a huge bridge across from mainland Tassie to Bruny Island – and lots of people, mistrusting the government’s spin, are upset about that. Before the bridge is half-built, someone blows it up. And there the story begins. Rose’s interest in politics is forensic and partisan, so expect a polemic. But expect also a lot of fierce intelligence amongst the protagonists; dialogue that sizzles; Rose’s dry wit filtering every situation; people who are real, not stereotypes; a political thriller that, by the end, is extremely moving. When I read Heather Rose’s first novel years ago I thought, here’s a writer I’m going to follow. Haven’t changed my mind. I want every Australian to read this!
The Bee and the Orange Tree by Melissa Ashley [also available as eAudio & eBook] – In her second novel, Ashley takes us to Paris. It is 1699. Mathe has talked her friend Nicola, a well-to-do socialite, into visiting a soothsayer. “You will enjoy it,” says Mathe good-humouredly. But Nicola’s skin prickles as she enters the soothsayer’s room. She hears the woman say, “In two months your great trouble will be over…” Nicola is married to a cruel, jealous man named Claude, so she hopes the prognostication might mean a settling of their differences.
Ashley’s research into the Paris of that period is beautifully embedded in her narrative, so that we are there, in Paris streets, houses, salons, cafes. It is a time when ‘justice’ is unjust; medicine is crude, politics is mean, class-conscious and gender-biased. Women struggle against these odds. But at the same time, the telling of stories and fairy tales is a popular pastime amongst Parisians, and there are women who preside over eagerly-attended literary salons. The storytellers are really centre-stage in this novel. I enjoyed Ashley’s unsentimental reading of Parisian life 300-odd years ago, her robust language, and her own considerable storytelling skills.