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
If All the World Were The Same by Joseph Coelho – ALLEN AND UNWIN, Picture Book $24.99
Over the past month I have assisted 4 separate people with choosing an appropriate picture book about death of a loved one for younger readers. My go to has always been The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup whose gentle story about remembering those lost is perfectly pitched for such sad occasions. However, a new one to consider now is the gorgeous If All The World Were by poet and playwright Joseph Coelho and illustrations by Allison Colpoys. Inspired by his 2013 poem If All the World were Paper, this offshoot depicts an unnamed little girl remembering moments shared with her grandad’s – long walks, fixing things, and sharing stories. Halway through we realise her tales become silent when her grandad passes away. However, the power of writing and drawing in a notebook given to her by her grandad becomes an opportunity of healing and once again, wonderful recall. The vibrant painted style of illustration really match the energy of the writing and allow for the girl’s imagination of imagining her place in the world in a really vivid way. The lyrical melody of the writing serenely takes us through all the stages. I love that both characters are dark skinned but without being intentionally highlighted- allowing children of all races to see a variety of people reflected in picture books – not just ‘white faces and experiences’. And whilst the topic may seem depressing, the book certainly isn’t – rather it is a wonderful recollection of sentiment where putting the emphasis on beautiful moments to be treasured is the underlying message. You can see a short clip by Joseph about this picture book via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWnBn6sZzXE
Less by Andrew Sean Greer, Hachette, ADULT FICTION $19.99
I hadn’t known about Andrew Sean Greer’s novel Less until I made a conscious decision to purchase and read all of the novels shortlisted for the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction after seeing John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies on the list, which was my favourite novel from last year. All shortlisted novels were remarkably different; Greer’s novel was the standout – and then it went on to win the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. How’s that for finding a winner?
I’d put this in the basket of novels about middle-aged male authors who feel like they’re failing yet still waiting for their big break, alongside novels like Nathan Hill’s The Nix and Richard Flanagan’s First Person, which I personally both enjoyed. Unlike the characters in those two, our gay San Franciscan 49-year-old Arthur Less becomes shaken by a wedding invitation from his former long-term lover, Freddy. To “get to him”, Arthur plans a world tour – NYC, Mexico City, Italy, Germany and Japan and more, attending literary events, award ceremonies and conferences, teaching and working. This getaway makes Arthur disenchanted however, riddled with anxiety about his output and the decisions of his publisher, ruminating on age and self-pity, creativity and loneliness – but it does shake him, “toughen” him up, beard and lovers, changing him, unaware of the surprises waiting for him on his return home.
Arthur is an endearing character, sweet and naive, which makes his escapades all the more funnier, delivered and handled exceptionally well through subtle satirical episodes by the author. Less is essentially about a man who wants to see the world without the patience and commitment to get there but still finding the meaning of love in his life without realising. Less is a splendid mix of all the globe-trotting novels I’ve enjoyed the last few years, a blend of John Boyne and David Nicholls’s Us, with a completely satisfying ending. Like with Cyril in The Heart’s Invisible Furies, I was sad to say goodbye to a character I grew to adore through his trials and tribulations and ultimate triumph, a character who changed me.
Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney – Allen & Unwin, Adult Fiction, $19.99
I didn’t know what to expect when I first picked up Sally Rooney’s novel Conversations with Friends, but I was intrigued as I read on. The novel follows 21 year-old Frances and her best friend/ex-girlfriend Bobbi, and their interaction with Melissa and Nick, a married couple. Melissa, a journalist first comes into their life to interview the women about their work as writers. The four people soon become closely intertwined, spending time together at social events and on holidays. The girls enter a world of beautiful houses, fancy dinner parties and other extravagant gestures. My favourite character was definitely Bobbi, who possesses a more cool and collected persona. Frances, who claims to be a Marxist and refuses to get a job, is not totally repulsed by this world, and even becomes unexpectedly closer with Nick, an actor and Melissa’s husband. How vulnerable with Frances become?
Given the title of the novel, quotation marks were nowhere to be found. With conversation included throughout the novel, this matter bothered me just a little. Rooney writes carefully about human interaction and the relationships in the novel are sometimes awkward, yet engaging. She lightly touches on important issues, through characters like Frances and Bobbi, including sexism, politics, and other social issues. This book is best for readers who enjoy character centred writing, writing that isn’t necessarily dictated by big events that shake the world of the novel.
Trials of Apollo #3 – The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan – Penguin, Kids series, $22.99RRP
The god Apollo has been stripped of his godly powers (again) and shunned to the mortal world in order to complete a number of heroic tasks to redeem his godly status. Apollo, also known as teenage boy Lester, has come under the servitude of demi-god Meg (child of the goddess Demeter) and it is up to these two heroes (as well as old friends) to stop the three resurrected roman emperors from overtaking all the oracles and releasing Apollo’s arch nemesis, Python.
I absolutely love Rick Riordan, I remember reading his Percy Jackson series and waiting anxiously for the next book to come out. This impatient waiting has transferred to this new series, with me nervous and excited to see what happens next. Meg and Apollo are a dynamic duo, they are completely different in every way; they argue, fight, mock and torment each other. But they also support, guide and encourage each other in their own bizarre way. Meg is hilarious, she does what she wants, when she wants, but her bravery is also tested throughout the series with her past with “the Beast” being slowly revealed. In contrast, Apollo is an arrogant god, expecting heroes and mortals to do his dirty work, it’s refreshing to see him reflect and understand the importance of mortals and the heroes he relied so heavily on.
We get to see old favourites from the “Heroes of Olympus” Series and a wide array of new characters. I particularly enjoyed the introduction of the new dryad characters; giving succulents personalities that perfectly represent their plants. Similarly, Grover is back (from the Percy Jackson Series), linking this series to the original Percy series in a unique and subtle way.
This series follows along the classic Riordan path: adventure, action, monsters and heart-tearing twists that leave you starring at the page unable to comprehend what has just happened.
As always, an absolute must read; already hanging on for the next one.