Hannah Kent was a legacy at our university. She took the same creative writing degree as I undertook a few years after her, and our lecturers were always talking about her, and how she moved to Melbourne and started her very own lit journal, Kill Your Darlings. Now, the uni has even more reason to be proud of their PhD candidate, as Kent’s debut novel Burial Rites won the Australian Unpublished Manuscript Award in 2011 and subsequently a bidding war began over the publication rights to her manuscript. The hype leading up to the release of the book, particularly in South Australia, was enormous. And it hardly seems fair that a debut should have such high expectations before the public has even read a page.
I couldn’t wait to read this story about the last woman, Agnus Magnusdottoir, to be executed in Iceland. Burial Rites is Kent’s fictional account of the circumstances surrounding her protagonist’s execution, and the last months of the woman’s life before the execution. I enjoyed reading the book, but for me it wasn’t more than simply interesting. That is not to criticise the writing itself; which is sharp, considered and paints a beautiful picture of the Icelandic countryside. But for me, knowing from the outset the fate of Agnus Magnusdottoir robbed the novel of the intrigue and suspense which otherwise would have made the book one which I couldn’t put down.
Before I read the book, I read an article Kent wrote for Kill Your Darlings, about the process of researching, writing and getting Burial Rites published. It is one of the most honest, passionate and frank articles I have ever read about writing and getting published, and captures the stress, self-doubt and persistence which is required to not only actually complete a novel, but to find a publisher and re-edit a manuscript for publication.
While Burial Rites is not one of my favourite books, it is a book which definitely deserves the hype surrounding it, and is well worth reading. After all, to not know that Agnus Magnusdottoir was a real person or her fate before reading is an injustice to her legacy. Kent skilfully explores another side of the story, suggesting that nothing is ever as black and white as it seems.
Published Picador, 2013
Due to my travels until the end of September, the next book club book won’t be posted until October, and my posts will be more infrequent than usual while I’m away. I am, however, reading, and will have lots to post about when I return if I don’t manage in the meantime!
There are books I re-read which I loved as a child, and I love to re-read them because of the nostalgia attached. I get to relive my memories of the book. I also sometimes read books by authors I loved as a child, books which I didn’t read as a child, seeking to rekindle my love for that author in a new book. But more often than not, I find the book not nearly as exciting as I would have found it as a child. It takes a special author who is able to capture the imagination of children and adults alike, and Morris Gleitzman is an author who achieves this feat seamlessly.
Boy Overboard is the story of eleven-year old Jamal and his nine-year old sister, Bibi. They both love soccer and want to be famous soccer players to make their country, Afghanistan, proud. But they are forced to flee when the government discovers the secret school their mother has been running. Together with their parents, Jamal and Bibi escape the country and end up on a boat to Australia.
Gleitzman has the most amazing knack for seeing the world through the eyes of a child, and showing the reader the world through his young protagonists’ eyes. A child reading this book will perceive and trust and accept Jamal’s opinions about the world; an adult reading the book will recognise the gaps and misunderstandings in this boy’s perceptions. On the one hand, an adult reading Jamal’s story will be touched and heartbroken at his extravagant plan that becoming a soccer superstar will make everything okay again, and on the other will find solace in the fact that, for the moment at least, he is sheltered from some of the realities of his situation. That this young child is able to see past hopelessness and hold onto some sort of hope.
Boy Overboard is a moving story about the sacrifice and hardships asylum seekers who attempt to make it to Australia by boat go through, told through the eyes of a child. But at its core, the book is about so much more than that. This is a story of two kids with big dreams and big hearts who, apart from living in and having to escape from a war torn country, are no different to kids anywhere else in the world.
Morris Gleitzman was one of my favourite authors as a child, but I love his writing more and more the older I get.
Puffin Books, Penguin Australia, 2001
June’s book club book is Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Really looking forward to this one! Happy reading!