I discovered Kate Morton a little over a year ago, when I read and reviewed her new book The Secret Keeper for Lip Magazine. I instantly fell in love with the author, and was determined to read her back list. For Christmas last year, I got given The Shifting Fog, and have been yet to read it. So it seems only fitting that I begin my 100 Homegrown Reads Challenge with the book.
I haven’t read much of the book yet, but already I’m captivated. A film maker is making a film about a mysterious suicide which occurred in an old English mansion in 1924. In 1999, 98 year-old Grace Bradley is the only person still living who can shed any light on what occurred that night at Riverton Manor. The film maker contacts Grace to ask if she would review the sets to make sure the details are correct, and Grace’s memory sends her back to 1924.
Morton begins the novel with a scene written as though it is part of the film maker’s movie script, and I must admit, it is quite off-putting to open the first page and be confronted by a movie script. I wanted to be immediately drawn into the story, and Morton’s beautiful prose, and starting with the script removed my interest immediately. But once I found the courage to actually start the novel, I didn’t want to put it down. I am especially eager to find out how the mystery of the suicide is resolved, given the brilliant twist Morton injected into the end of The Secret Keeper.
Morton is another Australian writer who chooses to write stories set in other countries, but her inclusion on the list of favourite home grown reads shows that it is not the locality of a novel which necessarily makes a novel Australian, but the nationality of the author who writes the story. And when the writer is as good as Kate Morton is, why would we claim her books are anything but Australian? Looking forward to all the twists and turns I’ll undoubtedly discover in The Shifting Fog!
I read this book over and over and over again when I was younger, before abandoning it for books more my age. Having not read the book for years, it was a set book on a children’s writing course I took at uni last year. I re-read the book and fell in love with it all over again. This time, however, it was a new experience: I found myself so close to tears at one point that I couldn’t stop one solitary escapee sliding down my cheek.
The book begins on Christmas Day, with 12-year old Colin feeling hard done by after his eight-year old brother Luke gets everything he wants for Christmas, while all Colin gets are daggy school shoes. But then, Luke faints. And soon after that he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer. Colin’s parents send Colin to relatives in England in an attempt to shelter him from the reality of what’s going on at home. But Colin has a plan: to find the best doctor in the world and bring him back to Australia so he can cure Luke’s cancer.
Gleitzman has an amazing gift of writing about the real world in a way which is accessible for kids, seamlessly combining the dark subject matter with humour. The joy of re-reading this book was discovering all the jokes which washed completely over my head as a kid, and realising just how talented a writer Gleitzman is. The heroes of his stories are always kids, who tackle challenges which some adults balk at with an unwavering optimism.
As a child reading the book, I loved the crazy plans Colin concocted to try to help his brother. I loved his sheltered, wrapped-in-cotton-wool cousin, Alistair, and the way Colin never got deterred when his plans fell apart. As an adult reading the book, I love the way Gleitzman captures Colin’s parents’ anguish, and that Colin, in his loveable naivety, is the one to comfort them. I love the sadness in the book I couldn’t quite detect when I was younger, but which now leaves me almost in tears. I love that Gleitzman isn’t afraid to tumble headfirst into these subjects, and nor should he be. He always produces a quality children’s book which adults could learn a thing or two from as well.
Blackie and Son Limited, 1989 (Great Britain)
Pan Macmillan, 1990 (Australia)