I have been reading the extraordinary and prolific Rebecca Solnit for the first time. Her memoir Recollections of My Non-Existence follows many wide-ranging books including Men Explain Things to Me and Hope in the Dark. In the memoir Solnit writes about herself in her twenties, finding herself as a woman and as a writer, and in so doing makes much of the lack of agency so common to young women, both then and now. ‘All the worst things that happened to women could happen to you because you were a woman…You could be erased a little so that there was less of you, less confidence, less freedom…your body invaded so it was less and less yours…’.
These themes are echoed and explored by Australian writer, Kathryn Heyman in her memoir Fury, about how she was raped by a taxi driver on the way home from a party when she was 20—and the inevitably terrible court case that followed, resulting in the man being acquitted. But like Solnit, as the years unfold, Heyman creates her own agency and regains her sense of self. This idea that young women are not important and have no voice is also at the heart of the astonishing debut A Burning by Indian writer Megha Majumdar in which a young woman is wrongly accused of terrorism and those who could help prove her innocence and choose not to—revealing again, how little young women can matter.
No more cheerful is the wonderful novel by Australian Steven Conti (The Zookeeper’s Wife) whose new novel The Tolstoy Estate follows Paul Bauer, a young German Doctor at the Russian Front in WWII. Tolstoy’s Estate has been seconded as a base hospital and it is here Paul meets and falls in love with a passionate Russian communist, the keeper of Tolstoy’s memory. This is a marvellously old-fashioned war novel destined (like his previous book) for the big screen. Another stunning book which looks at WWII from the German perspective is The Vanishing Sky—about a German family during the dying days of the war. The eldest son is sent home irrevocably damaged while his younger brother absconds from the Hitler Youth. In beautiful prose L. Annette Binder brings home to the reader the futility of war and the humanity in us all.
Lastly, I am loving The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey. I’ve always loved her books (Camille’s Bread a fave) and this new novel does not disappoint. It’s a sparse but richly written story about a woman who moves to a seaside town to be close to her son who is serving a life-sentence in a nearby gaol. But of course, that’s not all it’s about and the metaphor of the labyrinth is still playing on my mind. I must-read for lovers of Australian literature.
There is no Dulwich Hill Fair this year but I will try to do some Saturday morning events – Rosa Cienfuegos from the very popular Tamaleria and Mexican Deli over the road has a book (Comida Mexicana) coming out and we’ll organise something with her to celebrate. Will keep you posted!
See you on D’Hill, Morgan