STAFF REVIEW OF THE TRAUMA CLEANER BY SARAH KRASNOSTEIN BY OWNER NATASHA (Text Publishing) Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner has been widely acclaimed and nominated / awarded. I missed getting around to it last year during the hype but was so glad when one of our bookclubs selected it as their June read. And it is definitely deserving of all the accolades! It is an excellent portrayal of an ordinary local person and her extraordinary life. I loved how it went beyond the simple trauma cleaning story which I had thought would just be the focus, and instead cleverly wove these stories in amongst the real story - the life of Sandra Pankhurst. As a Melbourne person, I loved the connection to local areas, but was horrified by the early family abuse and then marvelled at how many roads and careers Sandra took when she left home such as working at a funeral home, in a hardware store and even for a time as a prostitute. The honesty and candor and her helpfulness at all times was a real highlight.
All of these roads were during Sandra's own sexual identity and orientation awareness and leading her to embark on transgender surgery at a time when it was still quite new, and done at great risk to the individual and also by the doctors putting their careers on the line. It was amazing to read how Sandra was married both as a man and as a woman and the impact on those around her. The final section dealing with the issue of disconnection was important in explaining Sandra's inability to see the impact on her ex wife and kids. I definitely felt sad for her abandoned children and found it understandable that one of them had not wanted to reconnect.
Sarah's investigation into the many varied trauma cleaning jobs (hoarding, death, murder, etc) and Sandra's workers was fascinating and I liked how they were dispersed throughout without judgement by Sandra or Sarah. It makes you feel empathy for people in these situations, and a little heartbroken to think there are such neglected / pained people in our own community. And also how these kinds of situations don't discriminate and can affect learned or wealthy people, not just the poor or uneducated.
It was appreciated that Sarah admitted to the limitations of recording ALL the facts as reliant on Sandra's unreliable memory, and also how Sarah pursued interviewing other key people from Sandra's past to fill in some of these gaps. Her commitment to researching thoroughly this process indicates it become more than just a story but a deep interest in the life of Sandra and those around her. And in this way it reminded me at times of the writing of Helen Garner.
What really made this book stand out, was not only the interwoven structure and the subject matter but also the beautiful and evocative writing. And even though I loved it on audiobook which was excellently read by Rachael Tidd (complete with deep gravelly voice for Sandra just as you'd imagine it would be), I would have loved to have underlined so many beautiful phrases because they so accurately pinpointed so many wonderful moments, and vignettes from a remarkable life. Highly recommended 9/10 #SarahKrasnostein #TheTraumaCleaner #staffbookreview #staffpick #truestory #aussieauthor #aussielife #transgender #traumacleaning #books #bookreview
THE NINTH GRAVE BY STEFAN AHNHEM – $32.99
Yes Stefan Ahnhem’s The Ninth Grave is a hefty 550 pages but so worth it for those who love scandi crime novels. It’s actually a prequel to last year’s Victim Without a Face but I think starting with this one was perfect as we trace Swedish homicide detective Fabian Risk a year prior in Stockholm trying to save his marriage alongside solving the disappearances of an MP and a celebrity which seem at first unconnected but reveal a seedy underworld and a perpetrator hellbent on revenge. Working with his partner, the very pregnant Malin Rehnberg the case gets darker and the body count grows even crossing the border into Denmark where DI Dunge Hougaard is simultaneously working a murder/rape case of her own. Anhem’s screenwriting background influences the multitude of short sharp chapters, numerous viewpoints from police and victims, and visual action and dialogue. Combined with wintery settings, high tech tracers, grisly incidents, and disturbed minds this becomes an addictive, meaty, unpredictable and complex read perfect for fans of Nesbo and Larsson (more for its complex web story than its lynchpin Lisbeth Salander character). Highly recommended!
CRIMSON LAKE BY CANDICE FOX – $32.99
Shamefully, I haven’t read 2xNed Kelly award winner Candice Fox before so made it a mission to read her next one which is out this month called Crimson Lake. Two unlikely down and out accused people open a PI agency in Nth Qld to find missing people whilst trying to prove their innocence about their own cases. With multiple threads this is an intricate story with lots to follow and worth pursuing right to the climatic end. If you like non detective formulas or Robert Galbraith then put this on your list.
Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit – $29.99
At what length will you go to protect your family? How far will you go to keep your family together? These are ultimately the two questions Randolph wrestles with throughout the course of German novelist Dirk Kurbjuweit’s sixth (but first translated) novel, Fear. Published in Germany in 2013 under Agony, it is clear why Text has published Kurbjuweit’s novel today, effortlessly translated by Imogen Taylor. We may be protected by strict gun laws in Australia, however this novel is incredibly relevant to those living in fearful circumstances, particularly for fathers and mothers who wish to keep their children safe in a world where the Doomsday Clock is 30 seconds closer to midnight.
Fear is a psychologically taut novel, more gripping than thrilling. Dieter Tiberius, Randolph’s neighbour in the basement of his building, has accused Randolph and his wife of sexually abusing their two children. What ensues is an account by Randolph of the events leading up to the moment his father Hermann was found in the basement having shot Dieter Tiberius. It’s a book brimming with one father’s thoughts of caution and vigilance, of his needs and desires, spurred by the failings of a legal system; yet it is also about family and the sacrifices made to keep it together. Fear isn’t a dense read — far from it — but the issues Kurbjuweit presents, in addition to the few twists towards the end, make it an intriguing read.
A SHADOW’S BREATH BY NICOLE HAYES – $19.99
I thought I was ready for this book- going in I knew there was an accident and it was highly likely that it would be sad. I underestimated how tragic and heart wrenching this book could be. Following Tessa’s life as the book flicks from past to present is one tragedy after the other- first her dad’s unexplained death, her mothers alcoholism and the abusive boyfriend her mother likes to have around.
But things start to get better- which makes the accident even more tragic. And while you know that it is unlikely that everyone still survive- when the death hits you, it hits you hard- and the tears become overwhelming- definitely not a book to read in public.
As the pieces of Tessa’s life come into place- the string girl Infront of us takes her real form- she is a character you can really get behind with her independence, strong-will and her flaws. The boy she loves, school life getting back to normal, her mum on the mend- all these things add up. When tragedy hits- it’s devastating. I really enjoyed this book- the constant shifts from past to present was really interesting and well done- but those last few chapters absolutely destroyed me. A book that guarantees water-works.
CARVE THE MARK BY VERONICA ROTH – $24.99
Having read the Divergent series, I was very excited to hear Veronica Roth was releasing a new novel. Carve the Mark is a sci-fi/fantasy novel that follows Akos and Cyra, two characters from very different backgrounds. Akos is from Thuvhe, and Cyra is a part of the Shotet nation. In a galaxy where some are favoured by fate, everyone develops a current gift. These current gifts can be anything from making one feeling at ‘ease’ to making one feel pain. Both Cyra and Akos are prisoners to their gifts, left vulnerable as others try to control them. Cyra’s brother Ryzek is one of these people. He would definitely be one of the most hated characters in the novel, a violent and cowardly dictator of the Shotet people, who rules by installing fear in his nation. Despite their relation, Cyra proves she is just the opposite. Even with her current gift, she shows promising qualities, similar to that of someone from Thuvhe, the peaceful nation. When Cyra and Akos are brought together, after an unexpected kidnapping, we see that these characters are more alike than they first appear.
Roth creates new worlds in this novel, just as she has previously, inviting us to use our imagination. Despite being quite a long novel, Roth keeps the reader engaged, especially within the last 100 pages, where many secrets and surprises are revealed to the reader. Carve the Mark is great for fans of Star Wars, Divergent, Illuminae and a number of other sci-fi/fantasy series. Despite having some similarities to her previous writing, I believe Carve the Mark is a totally unique storyline, one that urges the reader to think harder and really involve themselves in this new world. I’m very much looking forward to the next novel in this series, especially after the big twist at the end!
THE GOLDEN CHILD BY WENDY JAMES – $32.99
ADULT AUSSIE FICTION
This book is about a mummy-blogger who discovers her child is a terrible, terrible bully. Being a twenty-year-old with no blog and no immediate plan to give birth, let alone to terrible, terrible bullies, this might seem like a strange choice for me. However, the psychology major in me was intrigued by the premise, and was certainly not disappointed.
From the outset, this makes for addictive reading. Beth, an Australian mother to two teenaged girls, is sure she has done everything possible to be a good parent. She has avoided overindulging her children while also giving them opportunities through extra-curricular activities and a private education. She has helped them maintain good self-esteem while keeping them humble. They have good grades, and go to bed at nine pm (nine pm!). In the first pages, however, we learn that Charlotte, the youngest, has done something so abominable that a classmate’s life is in danger. Of course, as readers we’re now desperate to know just what has gone wrong, and how Beth will handle it.
James’ prose is straight-forward and readable, and the characters (particularly the female characters) are fleshed-out and credible. As disaster after disaster stacks up against Beth, it’s hard not to feel a deep empathy for her – James really forces her protagonist to confront impossible questions, of whether parents should be held responsible for their children’s actions, and whether a parent’s love can be unconditional despite their child’s cruelty. The use of blog posts throughout the novel is genius, although we don’t realise how clever it is until the very end (trust me on this). It’s also very topical in that it addresses how technology has shaped adolescent interactions with their peers, and on an inter-generational level as well.
A minor criticism is that some of the “teenager-speak” from the younger characters seems a bit forced (and sometimes almost funny), such as the girls saying “lol” aloud. The small loss of authenticity this creates is minimal however, and definitely doesn’t take away from the realistic portrayal of Australia in 2017. If you have a Liane-Moriarty-shaped-hole in your bookshelf, this domestic thriller might just be the solution!