Mental Health Week 2015

Mental Health Week is in full swing (thanks for reminding me, ABC) and as such, I couldn’t help but reflect on the lives of influential 20th century authors who are now almost synonymous with mental illness: Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway. Creating such beautiful works of influence, moving in circles of influence, and yet also living with probable mood fluctuations, self-doubt, fear and maybe much worse.

I also thought about the ground breaking work of Dr Oliver Sacks (author of many books on the brain including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), and role he has played in promoting inclusive and community based mental health treatment.

That’s all. The more we can try to understand mental illness, and realise so many in our communities are touched by it, perhaps the better. And knowing that authors and artists we respect may have also battle mental health issues may help toward a path greater acceptance.

Right…time for a coffee




Posted in General musings | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Promise Seed by Cass Moriarty

‘Me? Me….yep I guess I was a seed once. Not anymore though. Now I’m just a husk.’ (p212).

So says the old man to the young boy, standing in a suburban backyard that is home to avocado, coriander, baby chickens and possibly hope.

2015-09-30 20.53.39


Cass Moriarty’s ‘The Promise Seed’ is all about the family and the familiar. Relationships, life stories, every-day settings (backyard, home, school, street). In this every-day setting is the story of two unique lives: a 10 year old boy struggling to survive in a life that has not been very kind, and an old man, in his 70s looking back across time at his own hardships and failings.

The boy and the man (never named in the text) meet first when the boy steals some flowers from the old man’s garden. Instead of using the experience to childe the boy, the old man has the wisdom to use it to develop the relationship, to show kindness.

From that point, their friendship progresses and we learn more about each character, the boy in the present and the man looking back to the past, which includes reflections on his life in a boys home and his experiences of being a young and overwhelmed father.

The boy, it is revealed, faces daily challenges to maintain some order in his chaotic life, with struggles at school and at home. His mother, a single parent, works in shifts, waking up late and unable to care properly for the boy. She is also facing her own deamons…craving love and release from responsibility, release from her own past choices.

The old man is a source of great hope that the boy’s life does have potential to be easier, to be happier. But will this really happen? With the presence of Snake, his mother’s boyfriend, always in the preiferary, the outcomes may be much worse.


Moriarty certainly has a way with her characters…making them likeable but not too much so. She skilfully deals with subject matter that is often taboo: substance use issues, abuse, parental neglect, elder care and community isolation. While the literary trope of the kindly grandparent figure (who offers an avenue out of hardship) is nothing really new, Moriartiy certainly gives it a good twist.

She also taps into the tried and true metaphor of the garden….nurture a plant and it will grow. Neglect it a watch it wither, and includes some beautiful descriptions of nature at it’s most healing.

Her narrative builds and falls, builds and falls, with unexpected twists and conflict, serving to give a real edge to a story that threatens to become predictable.

Certainly not what you’d call ‘feel good’, it is an interesting story that is well written, insightful and does not stray into sentimental territory – well worth a look.


University of Queensland Press, 2015. ISBN: 978 0 7022 5375

Quote | Posted on by | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

An old art through new technology?

It’s funny. Even if I don’t have time (or energy) to keep my eyes open at night to read words on a page (or kindle screen), I still find comfort in being lulled to sleep by a tale, a narrative, some words that take me on a journey. I’ve been listening to a few podcasts and documentaries recently, and plan to get on board with an apparently enthralling podcast called ‘The Serial’ someone mentioned at work last week.

Somehow, the very title ‘The Serial’ reminds me of stories my Dad would tell, of his family huddled around a 700ft radio in the lounge room, listening to a 1940s murder mystery or something called ‘The Outer Limits ‘ (actually, now  I think of it, that was a 1960s TV show he’s also talk about…?) Anyway, I digress….

I’ve recently experienced the strange comfort of listening to story-telling via a YouTube channel called Lazy Masquerade, a horror-thriller channel that focuses on old fashioned terror tales, narrated by a (potentially) young person with a compelling yet comforting British accent (like I am SURE I’ve met this guy before, perhaps  at a backpackers pub in St Kilda.)

Now, Lazy Masquerade is a site probably pitched at an audience at least a decade younger than me and includes artwork/visual imagery that I refuse to look at *shudder* but it has a certain appeal – maybe it’s tapping into the thrill of the ghost story told around the campfire, the urban legend ‘friend of a friend’ tale that none of us believe but repeat anyway. It’s perhaps not as relaxing as listening to Gregorian Chants before bed…but sometimes it does the trick! So, that’s my recommendation for the week (not very literary, I know!)

Next book on the list to review for 2015….’The Promise Seed‘ published by Queensland University Press.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Frozen Moment – Camilla Ceder

‘FroFrozen Moment Hard Copy Cover 2010zen Moment’ is Camilla Ceder’s first novel. This Swedish crime thriller seems pretty run of the mill at first. As the back cover of my edition states ‘Move over Wallander.’ Says it all, really. But I just got very hooked on this book and fast. Now, I don’t think it’s the most sophisticated book I’ve read, but it’s good for a cold winter’s night.

It opens with a grizzly murder in a remote location. A motor mechanic and sometimes photographer, Lars Waltz, is shot dead then run over. Motive – unknown. Enter jaded detective Christian Tell and his team, set to solve the case. But something doesn’t add up. The murderer is driving a hired vehicle. There’s no real motive. And there’s the strange case incident with one witness, Seja, who lies about discovering the body with her neighbor.

Then another murder occurs – in a similar mode (a man named Olof Bart), but the victims are seemingly unrelated in any way. What is the secret behind the murders of these two middle-aged men?

And then there’s the second story, threaded with the current murder case. The story of Maya, a teenager trying to find her way in the world when she herself is damaged. But what is her connect to a murder case that occur 20 years after we first meet her?

The real stand out for me with ‘Frozen Moment’ is that it delivers characters with unusual depth, and presents  complex human behaviors and relationships in a well-crafted and memorable way. Her examination of the role of toxicity and enmeshment in families is understated, but somehow almost equally chilling as the murders themselves.

This insight into the dark side of human nature is probably due, in part, to Ceder’s background in social work and psychology, but brought to light by her ability to tell a good story. Her social commentary on gender roles, racism and care for children and young people in need, also adds interest.

There’s also a bit of romance between two key characters for good measure (I guess). While it reveals interesting aspects to each personality and adds some tenderness to the story, this element was, to me, the most irritating aspect. I suspect it was designed to show that sometimes emotions can get in the way of good old fashioned policin.

Anyway…if you’re into icy thrillers, you’d probably enjoy Frozen Moment. It does deliver even if it is in a pretty familiar format. Sometimes is nice to go with what you know!

Publication Date: 2010 by Orion Publishing Group

ISBN 978 0297 859475

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Terry and all that…

I know, I know, I’m too lazy to properly maintain this blog these days, what with working four days a week and chasing a toddler around who has just learnt the phrase ‘cup of tea’, but I just need to write a bit about Terry Prachett. For myself, not for you, dear reader. Because I am sad and when I am sad I like sharing. On and on.

For those of you just catching up on the news, Mr Prachett passed away peacefully last night, surrounded by family and a feline. A good way to go, hey.

I just finished Good Omens this week, Terry Prachett’s combo work with Neil Gaiman. Man it is was so funny in places, so scathing in others. Hey there were parts that were not quiet there, parts that were a little dull and overworked. It was still clever, and amusing, and highly, highly original. That’s Terry for you, I guess.

Overall, I was a fan of the majority of  Prachett I read, and I felt some kind of stranger personal connect to his quirky sense of humour and talent for the absurd. The people that I know who know Prachett…well….we are better friends because of it. I guess I am just feeling cheated. How could someone with such a sharp mind, that exercised it regularly, be diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers.

If anyone is still reading, I’d be interested to know your favourite Prachett book. I personally loved anything with Granny Weatherwax in it (Diskworld series) and thoroughly enjoyed Monstrous Regiment.

And with that, I bid you adieu.


*Prachett joke.

Posted in Authors L-Z, Children's fiction, Classics, General musings | Tagged | Leave a comment

I’m hiatus….for now! Thanks for reading!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The other John Snow…and the mystery of cholera

The father of epidemiology? A man that helped stop cholera in its tracks? Nope, not this Jo(h)n Snow….

John Snow

This one! A somewhat more dashing but less follicle-d  (Dr) John Snow.

Dr John Snow

About Cholera….

For me, cholera was always most comfortably viewed at a distance as a disease entrenched in the past, keeping company with the likes of typhoid, dysentery and typhus. A disease, that while sometimes fatal, could almost be glamours (owing perhaps to deceptive fiction titles such as Love in the Time of Cholera. ) Oh, how wrong I was! Sandra Hempel’s non-fiction history book, The Medical Detective: John Snow and the Mystery of Cholera is a fascinating account of the spread of cholera to Europe in the 19th century, its impact on the human body, and the fact that, despite the amazing work of Dr John Snow, it still persists today.

Summary and Analysis

The Medical Detective is a richly detailed read that chronicles the spread, treatment and eventual prevention of this deadly virus. Central to the story is the ground-breaking work of the now famous Dr John Snow, who fought to prove that cholera was a water-borne disease, despite conventional wisdom suggesting its source came primary from ‘bad air’ or miasma.

Despite the slow start, Hempel’s account of the rise of cholera in Europe, and the investigative work of  Dr  Snow, is gripping. She tells, in just enough detail, the frightening pace in which cholera spread from India across to Europe, and the toll it exacted on the populations of major 19th century cities, including St Petersburg, Hamburg, and finally, London. By using extracts of letters, personal accounts, speeches and various images, Hempel is able to give her reader a rare insight into the real ‘time’ of cholera.

Hempe’s tell-all style also draws out the shocking impact that cholera (or the Blue Death) had on the human body, including discoloration of the skin, vomiting, low blood pressure and diarrhea. She also details the frightening  ‘treatments’ ministered by the medics of the day: hot mustard “poultices applied to the abdomen and boiling water to the feet; enemas of every description…and draughts of medicine containing ammonia, oil, pepper, spices and sulfuric acid” (p42).  It is here, in the first stages of the book, where Hempel’s experience as a health and social issues journalist really shines.

Cholera and miasma theory of disease spread

The Work of Dr Snow

As cholera swept  to the UK from Continental Europe, the quest to discover how the disease spread became even more urgent. The dominant theory of disease spread in the 19th century was based on the idea that a disease was caught via ‘bad air’ or miasma, a theory that had its roots in medieval times. While the efforts of leading miasmatists, including Sir Edwin Chadwick, did lead inadvertently to some reduction in disease via promoting better hygiene, cholera outbreaks were still occurring into the mid- late 1800s.

It was the ground breaking work of anesthetist, Dr John Snow, that identified that cholera was spread through water, thus leading the way to the rise of modern sanitation in London. The turning point for Snow was when, during the  1854 cholera epidemic that swept Soho, he was able to map the presentation of the disease across the local areas, linking water from the Broad Street pump as the source of the cholera outbreak. This water was supplied by a private company who used dubious sanitation and filtration measures .

Sadly, Dr Snow’s work was only acknowledged in the years after his premature death at 45. In fact, during his lifetime, not only was his work not considered serious, he had to face ridicule and skepticism from the medical establishment in London. As Hempel tells it, Snow’s ground-breaking work in disease theory and epidemiology eventually prompted William Farr,  a statistician, to conduct further work into the spread of cholera in 1866, resulting in further, concrete, evidence to support Snow’s hypothesis. This led to vindication for Snow and the demise of miasma disease theory.

Not only is Hempel’s book a celebration of Snow’s work, but it is a lesson that sometimes being right is one thing, but being heard is absolutely another…


I recommend The Medical Detective to readers with an interest in medical history, Victorian literature (Dickens gets a mention) and public health.

On a sadder note,  I did some further reading about cholera and discovered it caused the death of 7000+ people worldwide in 2011, primarily due to poor sanitation and limited access clean drinking water (Source: WHO). A dire situation indeed, when, due to the diligence and hard work of Dr Snow, we do know how to prevent this disease. However, the lack of resources limits what can be done. It’s a strange world.

Book Details:

First published in Great Britain by Granata Books in 2006. ISBN-13: 978-1-86207-842-0

Further Reading:

What do you know, a vampire/cholera article!….

World Health Organisation

John Snow and Epidemiology 

Cholera and the Thames

Posted in Authors A-K, History, Non-Fiction, Titles L-Z | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bad Sex in Fiction: Even more awards for The Narrow Road….

Well, well. According to the London Literary Review, the Narrow Road to the Deep North, a book I have just publicly raved about, is a contender for this year’s ‘Bad Sex in Fiction’ Award (see recent article here).

In my defence, I actually read the passage in question, thought, ‘hmmm that’s a bit odd. Not sure what point Flannagan was trying to get across there…?’ and kept moving. I thought perhaps it was a comment on the unexpected nature of life. Or that extramarital sex can be a bit tricky, especially when you are out in the open? ;)

Anyway, have a great weekend and happy reading



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Narrowroad Deep North

Richard Flannagan’s most recent novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North has propelled me out of my reading impasse and back into the blogsphere. It is an incredible book, full of intense imagery,  beautiful dialogue and an enduring topic at its heart: war and lost love. It is this year’s Man Booker winner and rates as one of the best books I’ve read in 2014.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North made my (sparse) reading list after I saw a clip of Flannagan’s Man Booker acceptance speech in October. Here was writer with an air of alacrity, intelligence and determination minus the attitude. More than that,  Mr Flannagan seemed to struggling for spondulas.


The Narrow Road to the Deep North  tells the story of a brilliant surgeon and former Prisoner of War (POW), Alwyn ‘Dorrigo’ Evans, a slave labourer on the notorious Thai-Burma railway. We first meet Evans in his twilight years, an old man reflecting on his early life, including flashbacks to his harsh Tasmanian childhood, his time spent in Adelaide as a young medical officer and importantly, his experiences during World War Two. Slowly and ever so gently, Flannagan draws us into Dorrigo’s life by sharing pivotal moments and flashpoints – like the magical afternoon when he meets Amy, a married women he falls in love with,  a woman who becomes a symbol of life-long yearning. Another key point is when he attempts a risky amputation to save a man’s life – in the middle of a jungle with no medical equipment.

In the latter part of the novel, Flannagan introduces a number of other narrators into the story – Dorrigo’s digger mates, his wife Ella (in a limited fashion), the Japanese and Korean POW guards, and of course, the striking Amy. This range of perspectives allows Flannagan to present an intense and realistic version of events that surround Dorrigo during World War Two, and allow for different and contrasting perspectives on an event – the building of the Thai-Burma Railway – that could easily be written from one side only. Multiple perspectives over time also allows Flannagan to comment, ever so subtly, on issues of class, gender and culture.

Analysis and Comment

Through this novel, Flannagn is asking us to reconsider Australia’s mythology about war and about war heroes, but not in a way that disrespects Australian men and women that served in World War Two (e.g. Sir ‘Weary’ Dunlop, on which I suspect this book is loosely based).

I think Flannagan is striving to give the picture balance. The Narrow Road to the Deep North takes the lens filter off any romantic imaginings of war heroism. Dorrigo is a memorable and likeable leading man – a brave, intelligent soul that personifies mateship and selflessness with an understated disdain for authority. And yet his is a man riddled with insecurity, a philanderer, someone who is ill at ease with civilian life, yet continues to play the roles allocated to him. In Dorrigo, Richard Flannagan has created a character that we can’t really love, but who becomes someone we respect deeply.

Inexplicably to him, he had in recent years become war hero…He understood that he shared certain features, habits and history with the war hero, But he was not him. He’s just had more success at living than dying…

Of course, war and the experiences of the POWs on the Thai-Burma railway are key aspects of this novel. It is most harrowing and physically gut-wrenching to read, and is the element that can keep a reader up at night.

More even than the physical brutality, the most disturbing aspect of the treatment of the POWs, according to this fictional account, was the unwillingness of the Japanese guards to see their prisoners as anything remotely human; they were less than nothing. The POW’s lack of basic dignity is equally unsettling – the affects of cholera and what it does to a starving man, the fact the POWs were working with oozing ulcers, broken bodies and sleep-deprived minds.

Above all, this book is beautiful for its vivid, lyrical and intricate descriptions, interwoven with Basho‘s poetry. It is also rich in allegorical meanings with just enough mystical realism to add interest, but not alienate (such as Dorrigo’s strangely deep conversation with a Cascade Brewery delivery driver somewhere past Hobart, and his act of surreal heroism toward the end of the novel).

Maybe in the years to come,  my daughter will read this in high-school and be moved. Or irritated, or amused. I just hope she reads it one day, because it is a good ‘un.

And given it’s Remembrance Day in Australia tomorrow, I hope others in this country read this book and reflect on the great sadness that is caused by war.

Peace everyone and good night!

Book Details

epub ISBN: 97817 427 56394

Published by Random House, 2013.

Posted in Authors A-K, Contemporary Literature, Titles L-Z | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Discussion: The Reluctant Fundamentalist and key themes

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid

Lili Wilkinson and Irfan Yusuf (a lawyer and writer) discuss The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid during this recent Wheeler Centre’s Text in the City series. May be a good resource for VCE students or anyone else interested….;)

Video | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment