Wednesday, September 16, 2009

spotlight on my favourites: joanne horniman

secret scribbled notebooks

this is probably my favourite of her novels. mostly because i love kate, the main character. i want to be her. she's finishing up her final year at school, dreaming of escaping her hometown of lismore and hungry to experience life. there is a delightful cast of characters: sophie is kate's sister who lies long hours in bed reading and reading and breastfeeding her baby (first called anastacia, then hetty). lil, the red-lipped, raven haired old lady who brought them up after their father left them behind at the rambling bed and breakfast called samarkand (the house almost a character to itself). the "russian prince" from the second hand bookstore enchanted me as much as he did kate. jo's words are masterful, evoking the lusciousness of this almost tropical hinterland, as well as its oppressiveness.


matt and emmy were only teenagers when they discovered they were expecting a baby - mahalia, it turned out. but they decided they would love her and worry about the other problems later. but emmy can't seem to cope and before mahalia is six months old she leaves them and goes to stay with her godmother in sydney. matt is fiercely determined to take care of mahalia by himself and be beholden to no one.
this is a beautiful story and very realistic. again set in lismore (reading jo's novels you expect to see characters from every book just wandering about) and the landscape and the people flesh out the story, no less important than matt and mahalia and the main action. another set of characters that i want to be friends with; particularly matt's mate otis and his family, and the lion-like eliza.

a charm of powerful trouble

i have only read this book the once, and it was quite a few years ago when it first came out. i remember it being very sensual, lush and dream-like. it is the story of sisters and their mother and all the mess of relationships and people in their lives.
i remember vividly one of the characters' first kiss. in secret, hidden in some verdant and sequestered place (the landscape felt wild!) she kissed her friend and bit her, so her first kiss tasted of blood. such a powerful piece of writing, it has stuck with me since.
it makes me think of picnic at hanging rock. but set in the australian tropics. and much more poetic.

then there are the sequels, or companion novels...

little wing tells emmy's side of the story; her time away from mahalia, helping us to understand her motives for leaving. i think my loyalties lie too strongly in matt's camp and i did not fully warm to emmy. but her personal development and healing, as well as the people she meets on the way, make it a warm and moving novel. the cool blue chill of the nsw blue mountains (the setting for this book) is a contrast from the muggy scenes of lismore in the other books.

in my candlelight novel we are treated to the poetic and sexy story of sophie, the sister kate (from secret scribbled notebooks). just twenty-one, and a single mum to the delectable little hetty, sophie is starting university. filled with literary references and crammed with the blossoming ideas as sophie ruminates on motherhood and love. this is what young adult literature should be; smart, sumptuous and thought provoking. just divine.

all these books are published by the wonderful folk at allen and unwin. read them, savour them. (buy them)


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