Book review: The Children’s Bach by Helen Garner

When I mentioned to a friend I had just read a great Helen Garner novella, they said they were conflicted because they love her writing, but couldn’t stand the person. Tongue in cheek, I said I didn’t know her personally so couldn’t comment on her character but thought her writing was beautiful. It was an interaction that sums Garner up quite well…both the woman and her work seem to attract controversy and elicit strong feelings.

‘Course I care. I always care. But there’s no point in making a song and dance about it, like that night he stayed here. Know something? There’s only one thing that’ll bring ’em back, and that’s indifference. The one thing you can’t fake.’
‘But you are faking it.’
‘At the moment I might be. But as soon as it stops being faked and starts being real, he’ll turn up. Rule number one of modern life.’

Beyond the personal satisfaction gained through the creative process of writing, we write with the hope that we will entertain, inspire, broaden horizons, challenge, or provoke, all outcomes which require the elicitation of emotions. It lends me to wonder then, whether Garner is not the personification of success if both the woman and her work can excite such polarised views.

The Children’s Bach (1984), Garners third published work, invites us into the 1980’s Melbourne suburban household of loving middle aged couple Athena and Dexter Fox who are united by their children, Billy who has autism and their a bright articulate son called Arthur. At its heart it is the story of a stable and caring couple’s life being interrupted by a the introduction of a disruptive influence. For Anthea (who is a bit suffocated by her own domesticity) and Dexter, it is the introduction into their orbit of Dexter’s old friend Elizabeth, her bohemian lover Philip and sister Vicki that fuel unrest.

‘She’s a frump,’ thought Elizabeth with relief; but Athena stepped forward and held out her hand, and Elizabeth saw the cleverly mended sleeve of her jumper and was suddenly not so sure.

Among the turmoil of relations between the adult characters, it is Billy who represents the manifestation of the parts of ourselves that are inaccessibility to others.

‘I used to be romantic about him,’ said Athena. ‘I used to think there was some kind of wild, good little creature trapped inside him, and I tried to communicate with that. But now I know there’s . . .’ (she knocked her forehead with her knuckles) ‘ . . .nobody home.’

Family, morals, ideals, and naivety are pitted against hedonism, freedom and independence. The Children’s Bach has been mooted as one of the best novels of the twentieth century and Garner is certainly a master of domestic drama, of female desire and the complexity of love and relationships. The point of view moves rapidly between the characters, and music, in which each of the actors finds a kind of solace, echoes through the book and lends a rhythm to Garners exquisite, precise, efficiently crafted, intimate and lyrical prose.

The novella was turned into an opera by Andrew Schultz as part of the Canberra International Music Festival in 2008. If we still have an arts sector post COVID-19 and the show is ever re-staged, I’ll definitely go and see it.

Book Review: The Good People by Hannah Kent

On finer days I have been labouring in the garden. Weeding, digging post holes, planting seedlings. Last weekend I spent three hours digging a hole, which I refilled with compost in preparation for planting passionfruit vines in spring. I also moved the compost bin and its foundation 1.5 meters to the left because it was being crowded by the lime tree. I did not see any fairies, but I did end the day physically satisfied with my work, and covered in mud.

The world isn’t ours,’ he said once. ‘It belongs to itself, and that is why it is beautiful.

Whilst I toiled, I listened to The Good People by Hannah Kent, also author of Burial Rites. The Good People is a fairly grim tale set in a 19th century Irish village governed by folklore, superstition, curses and changelings. Where the mischief of the Good People (fairies) is treated with rituals and herbal remedies.

At the start of the novel, the husband of the main protagonist, Nora, drops dead for no apparent reason. She hides her disabled grandson out of shame when the villagers come to her dirt floored cabin for the mourning. The visitors include Nance, an old hag, who turns up to offer her keening services along with herbal remedies for all manner of ailments.

How hidden the heart, Nance thought. How frightened we are of being known, and yet how desperately we long for it.

The death is the first in a series of unexplained happenings, signs that something is not right, and the villagers start to look for explanations in peoples failure to follow correct rituals, or for doing something to upset the Good People. Nora’s disabled grandson Micheal, who cannot walk or talk, becomes the object of blame for the towns ailments. The townspeople come to believe Micheal must be a changeling, the real boy stolen by the Good People. Nora turns to Nance and her remedies for help to restore her grandson to himself.

Some folks are born different, Nance. They are born on the outside of things, with skin a little a thinner, eyes a little keener to what goes unnoticed by most. Their hearts swallow more blood than ordinary hearts; the river runs differently for them.

The new village priest wants to rid the ignorant peasants of their pagan beliefs and does not approve of Nance’s hocus pocus, and he starts to turn the town against her. The two women and Mary, the young maid who helps care for Micheal, form an uneasy outcasts alliance of sorts and set about finding a remedy for Micheal’s state, believing success will restore the communities faith in them. I listened with increasing horror as the poor boy was tortured, knowing that he had become a vehicle for a goal the three woman could not achieve.

Nora had always believed herself to be a good woman. A kind woman. But perhaps, she thought, we are good only when life makes it easy for us to be so. Maybe the heart hardens when good fortune is not there to soften it.

I remember hearing Kent interviewed about the The Good People some time ago. She said the novel was inspired from a story she read in an old British newspaper. In the paper she came across an article about a woman called Anne Roach who was accused of committing a serious crime. She called herself a female doctress, and said she could not be held responsible for the crime because she was only trying to cure someone who was fairy struck, to banish a changeling.

The language and prose in The Good People is evocative, conjuring long forgotten Irish hinterlands, mud, poverty and the credulous belief systems infusing the village and rendering the villagers helpless to their own misfortunes. It’s gothic writing at its best, bringing to light the terrifying reality of being different, or being a woman undefined by a man in the early 1800’s, and of how grief and otherness can undo us.

Book review: Darkness for Light by Emma Viskic

Who doesn’t love a good crime novel set in their home town?

Caleb Zelic is getting his shit together. He’s in therapy. He’s reconciling with his pregnant wife. He’s building relationships in the deaf community. He’s making good decisions.

A mysterious new client, Martin Amon, wants to meet Caleb urgently at Collingwood Children’s Farm. Caleb finds Amon’s body, bullet to the back of the head, bled out amongst the chickens.

Federal cop, Imogen Blain, chases Caleb down in the street. She’s wants him to help her find Frankie, Caleb’s old business partner, whom he wants nothing to do with. Frankie was an unreliable, lying addict. Caleb thinks Imogen might be a rogue cop. When he refuses to help her, Imogen threatens him with a blackmail he’s afraid could stick, so he goes looking for Frankie. Seems, the not so good decisions of Caleb’s past won’t leave him alone.

The yachts in the marina were lifting on a choppy swell, their masts tickling a presto beat. Across the bay, the city towers glinted against a leaden sky. Nobody on the foreshore now, just a lone man fishing from the retaining wall, rainproof jacket zipped to the neck. No threat – he’d been here the past hour. Caleb glanced in his bucket as they passed: two small fish gaped desperately, their eyes dull silver coins.

Darkness for Light is the third thriller in the Caleb Zelic series, and like its predecessors it’s crawling with narrative tension and plot twists. From the tension caused by Caleb’s disability – he’s deaf but struggles to accept this himself, and missing lots of information he’s commonly misunderstood, often resulting in him getting entangled in dangerous situations. Then there’s the tension in his relationship – his wife has had previous miscarriages and he thinks the success of this pregnancy will make or break their relationship. To his love-hate relationship with his old business partner, Frankie who he’s never sure he can trust, but is bound to by their shared history. Viskic’s clipped writing style and generous sprinkle of short sentences give the reader a regular jolt, just in case you weren’t paying attention, and of course there are the complex series of alarming and often violent events that unfold from the twisty plot.

Relief from the carnage and story tension is provided in the moments when Caleb reflects on his love for his wife and family, his occasional meetings with Henry his therapist for a session at Queen Victoria Market, and the dry humour. Henry pokes and prods Caleb’s brain, exploring his neurosis while sniff testing melons and buy in potatoes.

Henry pressed his nose to another rockmelon. The man had clearly been a labrador in a previous life: the same floppy gold hair and outward geniality, same ability to grip his prey in unyielding jaws. Caleb usually went home from thier sessions feeling like his brain had been gently shaken loose. They’d been at it twenty minutes now and he already had a low-grade headache.

Viskic came out of the blocks firing with her first novel in the series. Resurrection Bay won the 2016 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction, three Davitt Awards, a shortlist place for the UK Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger and New Blood awards, and the iBooks Australia’s Crime Novel of the Year award. Book two, And Fire Came Down won the 2018 Davitt Award for Best Novel, so it will be interesting to see what accolades Darkness for Light attracts.

Book review: Gathering Dark by Candice Fox

Candice Fox’s latest novel Gathering Dark, in its second print run already, is a page turning romp of a thriller set in Los Angeles and spilling over with larger than life characters.

Recently released from jail, Blair Harbour was a well respected paediatric surgeon leading a privileged life and about to become a mother, then she shot and killed her next door neighbour, went to jail and had her child taken from her. Now she works the graveyard shift at a cartel owned gas station while she tries to get her life back together. When she is held up one night by the daughter of the woman she’d shared a cell with, and her cell mate, Sneak, turns up looking for help to track down her daughter who has disappeared, Blair agrees.

Screaming would have been a terrible idea. If I startled her, that slippery finger was going to jerk on the trigger and blow my brains all over the cigarette cabinet behind me. I didn’t want to be wasted in my stupid uniform, my hat emblazoned with a big pink kangaroo and the badge on my chest that truthfully read ‘Blair’ but lied ‘I love to serve!’

Gathering Dark

Jessica Sanchez is a detective who doesn’t quite fit the force and is being ostracised by her colleagues because an old man left his fortune to her after she solved the murder case of his daughter. The mansion he bequeathed her is next door to the house where the son of Blair, who Sanchez put away for murder, now lives.

But then she saw the blood on his hands, all over his face, her neck. Jessica thought of vampires and zombies, of magical, impossible things, and had to steady herself against a pool table. Her mind split as the full force of terror hit, half of it wailing and screaming at her to flee, the other half assessing what this was: a vicious assault in progress. Assailant likely under the influence of drugs. Bath salts–they’d been hitting the streets hard in the past few weeks, making kids do crazy things: gouge their own eyes out, kill animals, ride their bikes off cliffs. She was watching a man eat a woman alive.

Gathering Dark

What unfolds is a complex web of lies, crime and deception, packaged in a tight plot, with well crafted dialogue, rolling prose and a good dose of black humour. I loved the tough female characters, the bad ass baddies, oh, and the gopher, got to love the gopher.

Candice Fox has been running a regular Wednesday Facebook Live write club of late. You can logon and write with her for an hour, then take part in a half hour Q&A where she answers all your writing questions. She’s an incredibly generous, funny and talented writer. I have enjoyed her writing since picking up her first novel Hades, but am now a lifetime fan, so if you are a crime reader and haven’t yet devoured any of her work – get onto it.

Book review: Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar

There was something about listening to the audiobook of Wolfe Island whilst I worked in my own bubble in my vegetable garden – weeding, harvesting, fertilising, mulching, planting – the attention to detail those tasks demand slows time. The activity threw me deeper into a novel that I’m sure I would have been enthralled by anyway, and submerged me into the melancholic world of Kitty Hawke.

Kitty is a resilient and resourceful woman of fortitude, and the last human inhabitant of Wolfe Island, which is being devoured by the rising sea. She lives a solitary, creative existence with her wolfdog, Girl, and makes art from found objects that she sells to the mainland. Kitty and Girl both come across as half wild and half domesticated, each lends the other a strength that is fortified by the Waterman giant talisman statues Kitty constructed from found objects to protect the island.

It was exhausting being around people and noticing them, thinking about them. I felt roughened and coarse now, as if I was rubbing against the grain of Wolfe Island. It used to be that I could forget myself and be, spend hours in the marshes watching the tides and the grasses, birds walking over my feet. I’d been still so long, listening to the unintelligible wind, I was part of it then, and insignificant. I missed that. The writing helped a little.

Wolfe Island

Kitty is drawn to reconnect with the outside world when her granddaughter arrives with some friends who are in danger because of their status as climate refugees. On the mainland climate refugees are ‘runners’ and vigilante ‘hunters’ chase them down and kill them. Gradually the young people let her into their troubles and she connects with them, eventually their cause becoming hers. When the island ceases to be a refuge for the runners, the group set off seeking safety in the north.

The islands were worlds and you didn’t move lightly from one to the other, and people’s way of speaking wasn’t quite the same from one island to the next. If we ran into each other on the main – a no-man’s-land to us – we saw our resemblance to each other, and heard our own foreignness in each other’s voices and prickled up and felt the eyes of people on us, assessing us for threat in the same way that we did them, resenting them for it and feeling their resentment toward us.

Wolfe Island

Lucy Treloar’s first novel Salt Creek won the Matt Richell Award for a New Writer, the Dobbie Literary Award and the Indies Award for Debut Fiction. It was also shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, the Miles Franklin Literary Award, and the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction 2016. Wolfe Island is deserving of its own accolades and I’ll watch with interest to see how it goes.

I say, ‘Girl, Girl,’ and she comes to me like a myth, her coat sleeked smooth, her tail back out. She is in a line, a ripple through the long grass, and butterflies and hoppers rise in her wake, lifting like spume and catching the light. She passes me by with a rush of wind and her sweet wolf scent, leading the way to anything.

Wolfe Island

Wolfe Island is a slow, lyrical lament on the state of the world in the grip of climate change, and the subtlety with which Treloar brings you to realise you are in a very near dystopian future is a little alarming. The novel is written in three parts – the island, the journey and return home, each revealing a different lense on a climate impacted world and Kitty’s relationship with her family, her place in the world and herself. Oh, not to forget her wolfdog, Girl, I’m a sucker for a novel with a dog as girls best friend…now I must go and turn that pumpkin I picked into soup.

Book Review: Sold by Blair Denholm

Nothing like a bit of noir to make you feel better about your own circumstances…

He and Maddie should simply disappear from the Gold Coast. The gaudy city masqueraded as paradise, but sometimes it was hell on Earth.

Gary Braswell is a ball scratching Gold Coast car salesman, a chain smoking compulsive liar with drinking and gambling habits, and he’s not averse to a bit of illicit drug taking either. His act now, worry about consequences later approach to life have left him in debt to a loan shark, Jocko, whose hired muscle is the worst kind of ex crim. Gary thinks his luck has turned when a wealthy Russian couple buy four cars from him that enable him to pay back his debt to Jocko, but Jocko wants Gary to run a little package to Bali for him as a late payment penalty. If he refuses Gary’s wife will be paid an unwanted visit from Jocko’s muscle.

When it came to heterosexual couples and serious vehicle purchasing Mr usually did the talking and Mrs the listening, and sometimes the eye-batting, lip-licking and hair-twirling. There were rare exceptions, about as rare as Gary tipping the first try scorer. He imagined the ‘work’ the woman referred to might be pole dancing or selling pot.

While Gary’s trying to work out what to do, his wife goes to stay with her mother for her own safety. Meanwhile Gary gets a new job as a real estate salesman chasing bigger returns with his bullshit, and his best mate agrees to help him hatch a plan to get him out of his pickle with the help of the federal police, some of whom are as dodgy as Jocko’s muscle. Of course Gary just ends up in deeper shit involving dodgy money laundering Russians, and his life spirals more and more out of control on sex, drugs and booze.

Snot dripped from his nose. He placed a hand to his forehead. Temperature seemed normal, but his arsehole was red raw. And if that wasn’t enough, the itchy balls were back.

Blair Denholm’s novel published by Clan Destine Press is quintessentially Australian noir with plenty of Aussie expletives. Denholm, who has an interesting past himself, crafts a protagonist who is wholly unlikeable, but redeemed for the reader by his habitual haplessness and a huge dose of gaudy humour. I’m just glad I’m not Gary Braswell’s wife, Maddie.

Gary’s bag of excuses was empty. He stared at Foss and gathered his thoughts. Suddenly his arms and legs started to jerk like Peter Garret at a Midnight Oil concert. In one rapid motion he collapsed and curled his body into the foetal position. He pulled his arms in by his sides and, unseen by Foss, pinched the soft skin on the inside of his bicep, and launched into a juddering, rocking motion. He grunted out primal-sounding noises which soon escalated into unearthly wailing.

Sold is not for the faint hearted, or those who are queasy about body fluids – it’s no cosy mystery – but it is a fun romp of a read if you like a walk on the wild side, and it could make your isolation seem not so bad after all. The sequel, Sold to the Devil is due out soon.

Book Review: The Fragments by Toni Jordan

Who doesn’t love a writerly mystery novel?

Popular Austrian-American author Inga Karlson and her publisher were killed in a mysterious warehouse fire in New York in 1939, along with every copy of Karlson’s highly anticipated novel. The two were believed to be the only one’s who ever read the manuscript and all that remains are a few page fragments. Over the next forty years Karlson becomes a cult figure and the fragments become much studied and analysed.

And in the end, all we have are the hours and the days, the minutes and the way we bear them, the seconds spent on this earth and the number of them that truly mattered.
― Toni Jordan, The Fragments

Caddie Walker was named after a character in Karlson’s first novel and works as a bookstore assistant in Brisbane in 1986 after dropping out of university because of a failed love affair with a professor. When the Karlson fragments are bought to Australia and put on display in a Brisbane museum Caddie meets an old woman who calls herself Rachel and quotes what sounds like additional text from the book fragments that supposedly no one has read, and a mystery is born which Caddie is determined to solve.

“To spend her days reading and growing things. Could there be any better life?”
― Toni Jordan, The Fragments

The Fragments tells Karlson and Caddie’s stories across two different time periods, both of which Jordan brings brilliantly to life through her use of sights, sounds, smells and carefully selected cultural references. The character’s stories unfold at a pace into a twisty intermeshed climax. Part historical novel and part contemporary mystery the two stories are held together by the fragments and the theme of loss that runs through both characters lives. The Fragments is a page turner, and highly recommended.

“Books are time travel and space travel and mood-altering drugs. They are mind-melds and telepathy and past-life regression. How people can stand here and not sense the magic in them – it’s inconceivable to her.”
― Toni Jordan, The Fragments

The Fragments (2018) is Melbourne author, Toni Jordan’s fourth novel and the first I have read, but I’ll certainly be reading more her other work. Her debut Addition (2008) was long listed for the Miles Franklin Award, her second Fall Girl (2010) was optioned for film, Nine Days (2012) was named the Indie Book of the Year by the Australian Booksellers in 2013, and Our Tiny Useless Hearts (2016) was long listed for the International Dublin Literary Award.

Book review: The End of the Ocean by Maja Lunde

I almost drowned in the beauty and tragedy of this watery novel. The End of the Ocean is two stories that converge twenty-four years apart, either side of climate change induced environmental and societal collapse.

They talked, the two men, and the mountain ate up their words.

The End of the Ocean

In 2017, seventy year old Norwegian sailor, journalist and environmental activist Signe visits the place of her childhood. Once a place of great natural beauty, the river and waterfalls have been diverted for hydro electricity, events that destroyed the habitat of much flora and fauna, her parents marriage and her own first relationship. The glaciers are melting and she discovers her old love, whom she has never gotten over, is contributing to their destruction by selling glacial ice to the Middle East as a luxury item. She is infuriated and tips most of a load of ice into the ocean to melt and sets off in her sailing boat, Blue, with the remaining twelve non-degradable blue plastic containers in search of her old lover so she can dump them in his yard.

It is strange—no, surreal, surreal is the word—that I’m one of them, the old people, when I am still so completely myself through and through, the same person I have always been; whether I am fifteen, thirty-five or fifty, I am a constant, unchanged mass, like the person I am in a dream, like a stone, like one-thousand-year-old ice. My age is disconnected from me, only when I move does its presence become perceptible—then it makes itself known through all its pains, the aching knees, the stiff neck, the grumbling hip.

The End of the Ocean

In 2041, twenty five year old David worked at a desalination plant until the drought became so severe he had to flee with his family. He is a climate refugee in a French refugee camp trying to find his wife and infant son who he and his six year old daughter Lou became separated from when they had to abandon their home due to the drought and a massive fire. Once they have reunited they will head north to the water countries.

But the power came and went, the stores were emptied of food staples and the city became emptier, quieter. And hotter. Because the drier the earth became, the hotter the air was. Previously the sun had applied its forces to evaporation. When there was no longer any moisture on the earth, we became the sun’s target.

The End of the Ocean

Signe’s journey is fuelled by anger and despair at humanities destruction of the environment and personal sadness about her own relationships. As she encounters many perils on her sea voyage she reflects on her own life and relationships, and why she lives such an isolated existence. David’s journey is driven by desperation and the longing to be reunited with his wife and son as he tries to provide for himself and his daughter in a world where climate change and water shortages means day to day survival is tenuous. Gradually the two stories converge across time when David and Lou stumble across an old sailboat under tarps at an abandoned house far from the sea.

I have really tried, I have been fighting for my entire life, but I have been mostly alone; there are so few of us, it was futile, everything we talked about, everything we said would happen has happened, the heat has already arrived, nobody listened.

The End of the Ocean

The speculative fiction novel is a meditation on human destruction of the environment, climate change, family relationships and human resilience. The End of the Ocean, translated from the original Norwegian by Diane Oatley, is beautifully written yet a frightening rendering of what a future world might look like in the face of climate change. The ambiguous ending contributes to the haunting sadness infused throughout, a must read, but not a feel good one. Lunde, a climate change advocate, is also the author of The History of Bees (2015) and Przewalskis Horse (yet to be translated), both of which I will add to my reading list.

Book Review: The Dark Lake By Sarah Bailey

Secrets are at the heart of a good mystery and Sarah Bailey packs them into her debut psychological mystery, The Dark Lake.

The house turned out to hold more of Robbie’s secrets than I had ever expected, though I am sure there are many more that we will never know

The Dark Lake

Gemma Woodstock is a cop in Smithson, the small town in New South Wales where she grew up. She’s good at her job but a personal train wreck, which stems back to the suicide of her first boyfriend at the end of high school ten years earlier. Her relationship with her loving partner and father of her child is distant, she is sleeping with her married work partner Felix, struggles to be a good parent to the son she loves, and drowns her emotions in booze.

Probably I should move away, leave Smithson, but starting over has never been a strength of mine. I have trouble letting go.

The Dark Lake

When high school drama teacher Rosalind Ryan, who Gemma went to school with, is murdered, the small town is shocked. Gemma and Felix start to investigate the crime and the intertwined secrets of Rosalind and Gemma start to emerge. The investigation almost undoes Gemma in her effort to keep her own history and emotions separate from the case.

I allow myself to process the fact that Rosalind Ryan is dead. I suddenly feel startled to find myself a fully grown adult.

The Dark Lake

The book is a well written slow burner and hooks you in with a compelling and complex story line. It’s character driven with a well drawn cast who are easy to like and/or hate. The story shifts from the present to ten years earlier, gradually revealing the interlinking stories as the secrets are revealed.

Set in between a burst of mountain ranges, Smithson is a little oasis of greenery in the middle of endless fawn-colored acres of Aussie farmland.

The Dark Lake

I liked it enough that I will read the next in the series, Into the Night.

Book review: Circe by Madeline Miller

They say that writers should read widely, so not all my book reviews will be crime, though bloodshed may prove to be a common theme. Recently I dived into Greek Mythology. Madeline Miller’s Circe is a feminist spin on the epic tale of the immortal nymph sea witch by that name. Circe appeared as a minor character in the Homeric poem, The Odyssey.

Circe, the protagonist is the daughter of Helios, the sun god. As a child she is made brutally aware of her inferior status by her family. She was not born a god, is plain to the eye, and has the voice of a mortal. In her youth she was tormented by her siblings and barely seen by her parents.

I asked her how she did it once, how she understood the world so clearly. She told me that it was a matter of keeping very still and showing no emotions, leaving room for others to reveal themselves.

In coming to know love, jealousy and rage, Circe discovers her sorcerer powers, which she unleashes on her sister, a beautiful sea nymph, and the object of her envy. As punishment she is exiled to a picturesque, unpeopled island called Aiaia by her father.

Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.

Circe eventually comes to revel in her solitude and spends her time developing her occult arts and witchcraft, and taming the animals of Aiaia for company.

This was how mortals found fame, I thought. Through practice and diligence, tending their skills like gardens until they glowed beneath the sun. But gods are born of ichor and nectar, their excellences already bursting from their fingertips. So they find their fame by proving what they can mar: destroying cities, starting wars, breeding plagues and monsters. All that smoke and savor rising so delicately from our altars. It leaves only ash behind.

It is on the island, surrounded by tame wolves and lions and pigs – the latter formerly sailors who she turned to swine after they tried to attack her – that Odysseus comes across Circe. He becomes her lover and she bares his child.

I was captured by Miller’s lush poetic prose, which is like reading a song. Her reimagining of the myth brings one of the women from the original tale into the light. Her work was criticised by a few crusty old blokes for historical inaccuracy, perhaps because they prefer the original misogynist fantasy, but I found a beautiful remake of Homers epic poem in Circe. The novel gives a nod to other myths as well, including Daedalus and Icarus; Medea and Jason with the Golden Fleece.

I loved Circe’s chutzpah, she is a woman who will not be silenced and turns an ancient tale of female subjugation into one that is teeming with contemporary reverberations of empowerment and courage. Circe is Miller’s second novel and rivals her first, The Song of Achilles, a stirring reimagining of another of Homer’s epic poems, The Iliad. The Song of Achilles received the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012.

I highly recommend Circe, which was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year. It’s a particularly good read for writers who seek inspiration, and to broaden their writing technique, style, and craft skills.

No wonder I have been so slow, I thought. All this while, I have been a weaver without wool, a ship without the sea. Yet now look where I sail.