The Tassie Book Club – Sep 2023
by Hobart Magazine
The Woman Booker Prize Club is a local Hobart book club. Here they share their thoughts on books by Tasmanian authors, set in Tasmania, or about Tassie topics. Over to the club!
This month we review two mainland- based debut authors who have set their novels in the north-west and west of Tasmania.
On a bright hillside in paradise by Annette Higgs (Penguin Random House, July 2023)
Review by Emily Schade
Through the eyes of five members of the Hatton family, Annette Higgs builds us a layered story of life on the back blocks of Tasmania in 1874. Taking place around the Kentish Plains in the north-west, the simple life of these convict descendants is forever changed with the arrival of Christian Brethren evangelists who grip the town with dramatic revival meetings held in local barns, and a promise of peace and reunion in the afterlife.
Higgs, a Tasmanian-born, Sydneyresiding writer, loosely based the fictitious Hatton family on her own family and dedicates the book to her mother Dorothy, for first telling her the stories. This connection to place is evident in Higgs’ writing, and makes for heartwarming reading.
Frontier-pioneer-type stories are not what I typically reach for; they’re often grim, full of hardship and woe. And this book is indeed that – it tells of lives full of adversity, hunger, necessary stoicism and death. But, it is also a story of life filled with family, love, hope and community – that, I really enjoyed.
On a Bright Hillside in Paradise won the 2022 Penguin Literary Prize, an award established to find, nurture and develop new Australian authors of literary fiction. Pick it up for a cleverly crafted perspective on white settlers in Tasmania, and a story about making and keeping a home and family together.
The Heart is a Star by Megan Rogers (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins,April 2023)
Review by Kathryn Montgomery
Layla is an anaesthetist, who has built herself a perfect life with her husband and two kids in a typical Queenslander home. But she is exhausted! Bubbling under the surface is a suicidal mother, secrets around her father’s disappearance, a crumbling marriage, an absent sister – and that isn’t all!
Layla heads back to the remote west coast of Tasmania (where else to deal with dark themes!) accompanied by her aunt Dawn. Dawn is a strong female character who provides stability and light relief for the reader, and Layla.
As the story unfolds, there’s so much more than the dark secrets and lies about Layla’s much-loved father. The family and community have buried many secrets, resulting in unintended consequences. If you like a story with plenty of backstory, you’ll find this an absorbing read.
A warning, this novel explores themes that readers may find difficult, including depression and suicide. Rogers has included so much rich detail, it can feel a little overwhelming at times. She notes that this book is not based on personal experience, so credit is due for the amount of research undertaken to craft these characters and stories.
Book Chatter: Libraries Tasmania’s inaugural Tasmania Reads week was in March, but with over 90 public events, plus a range of campaigns and partnerships, the week has extended well into the year. We loved the Tasmania Reads/ UTAS book club events in July giving us the chance to hear from other readers and local author Robbie Arnott about his latest Age Book of the Year, Limberlost. See you at Tasmania Reads 2024!