Tag Archives: growing-up

Blacklands, by Belinda Bauer

I first came across Blacklands by Belinda Bauer when I read a review of the novel on my friend Nikki-Ann’s blog (you can find her review here). She raved about it, so I felt I had to read it. Blacklands is also one of the crime novels on the list of the Great Transworld Crime Caper.

Blacklands tells the story of Steven Lamb, a twelve-year-old boy whose uncle Billy Peters was murdered by a pervert when he was only eleven. The murder has had a strong impact on the family, which has become somewhat dysfunctional since the event. Steven’s grandmother (Billy’s mother) never got over losing her son and pays little attention to Steven. To get a little bit of his grandmother’s love that he is yearning for, Steven decides to find his uncle’s body. To do this he starts writing to his uncle’s murderer, who sits in a jail nearby. Starts a dangerous game of cat and mouse between Steven and Billy’s murderer, which turns deadly when the pervert escapes from prison and looks for Steven with more than just a chat in mind.

Bauer mentions that when she started writing her book, she didn’t have a crime novel in mind. Instead, what she wanted to write about was the story of a boy and his grandmother. Well, she certainly succeeded in that regard. The relationship between Steven and his grandma is fantastically portrayed and you find yourself suffering in silence in Steven’s shoes. In fact, the relationship triangles in the whole family are wonderfully described, with Steven’s younger brother Davey, his mother Lettie, and Lettie’s boyfriend Uncle Jude all playing a big role. However, with the murderer’s entrance, the story takes on a more sinister turn. Bauer has made smart use of the novel’s environment. The eerie atmosphere of the Moors plays such a large role in the book that the landscape almost becomes a character with its own set of rules and even feelings. This is a great, psychological story. I find it hard to put it into a specific genre, and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned: it is as much as a coming-of-age story than a crime novel or a story about grieving. I read it in two days and I am looking forward to Bauer’s next book, Darkside.


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Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Murakami‘s writing is beautiful. It is extremely evocative, subtle, yet powerful. Each scene draws you into a life of its own; you can smell it, feel it, hear it and see it, a feast for all senses. Yet Murakami’s writing never draws attention to itself, and that’s what I like about it. With Norwegian Wood he has created a story which will stay in the reader’s mind for a long time. This novel is a coming of age story interwoven with a stunning love story, but it’s also about grieving, life in Japan and a lot more. Toru Watanabe is learning to deal with the suicide of his best friend, aged seventeen, while falling in love with his ex-girlfriend, Naoko. Unfortunately Naoko is dealing with her own demons and has a nervous breakdown, from which she will never recover. But Toru’s love is not diminished by this, if not strengthened. During his search for identity, meaning of life, love, pleasure, and sex, Toru encounters a variety of fascinating characters, from Storm-Trooper, his quirky room-mate, to Reiko, Naoko’s patient friend in the asylum, and Midori, another student, the only one with a real anchor in the world. Murakami is a magician: the characters he creates are more real than normal novel protagonists, they are all quirky in their own way, all searching for something, all passionate, and all in desperate need of love. This novel moved me. I read it in one sitting. Very few writers are capable of creating atmospheres the way Murakami creates them. In fact, he is an artist, and I feel his writing is like Japanese sumie (black and white ink painting): with just a few simple strokes, a stunning picture appears in front of your eyes. Not too much, not too little, with enough room for imagination, this is what Murakami’s writing is like. I did get annoyed at times with Toru’s character, too passive for my liking, but this has to do more with my own character than with the book. After reading this novel, you will feel different, I can almost guarantee it. And this is what good writing should be all about, shouldn’t it? Ten stars.

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Breath, by Australian writer Tim Winton, won the 2009 Miles Franklin Award, and as usual, I found myself reading it a little later than most. It’s as if I was saving it for later, like a last piece of chocolate. That’s how I feel with Winton’s writing, beautiful, evocative, alive, never overdone. Breath tells the story of two thrill-seeking boys, Bruce and Loonie, in the early 1970s, whose attraction to water leads them astray. They meet a mysterious man named Sando, who will teach them to surf and search for extremes.  Soon the two boys become more and more reckless in their endeavours, even if Bruce (the narrator) feels something is not quite right and wonders where this is leading. Loonie and Bruce drift apart in the process. Sando’s presence becomes somewhat sinister, and when he and Loonie abandon Bruce to go surfing in Indonesia, the narrator starts a tortured relationship with Sando’s American wife, Eva. Eva carries ghosts from her past and drags Bruce into a dangerous downward spiral, from which, in a way, he will never recover.

I enjoyed the book. Winton’s writing is as exact and subtle as always, and the story, although sinister and scary, is just another tale of growing-up in a small country town and of looking for one’s purpose in life. In fact, Breath is a story about what it means to live in extremes, in short, to be alive. Beware though, the novel can be very dark and unsettling at times.

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