The Hobart

The Tassie Book Club – Dec 2023

by Hobart Magazine
The Tassie Book Club – Dec 2023

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.

Richard Flanagan’s latest book Question 7 is being hailed as one of his best! Em from our club went along to hear the Richards – Flanagan and Fidler – record­ing an ABC Conversations episode at the Theatre Royal last month, but none of us had time to read it ahead of our deadline! However, in very Tasmanian fashion, we have got Martin Flanagan’s recently released memoir for this issue – along with a peculiar novel from Emily Spur.


The Empty Honour Board by Martin Flanagan (Viking, July 2023)

Review by Megan Tighe

The ‘old school’, overlooking Bass Strait, was Martin Flanagan’s home for six formative years. In this memoir, Flanagan explores and comes to terms with the impact of his boarding school experiences on his older self. Flanagan casts out lines from key incidents at the school to his later life; reeling back again to re-interro­gate his memories – comparing his recol­lections with other boys’ experiences, and touching on other (literary) representa­tions of boarding school – in a kind of reckoning with the environment he grew up in. The old school was notable for the lack of women and parental figures, and sadly, notorious for the behaviour of the Catholic priests in charge.

Questioning how sexual abuses were allowed to happen, and his own lack of awareness that this was happening in his own school years, Flanagan also reflects on the prevalent cruelty and bullying that was allowed to occur. He handles this sensitively, with a great deal of nuance. He also finds himself and many contem­poraries wanting for how they responded to the conditions (the titular empty honour board). Through this book, Flanagan makes some peace with his past, writing his own inscriptions for those boys who stood up for others and deserve a place on his honour board.

For audiobook fans, I can confirm Martin Flanagan has a nice, gentle reading voice. But, I would recommend reading this one ‘in print’ to better appreciate the structure of the text, and control your own pace while considering difficult themes. Though not exactly ‘summer beach reading’, this book could make a good Christmas gift for those interested in current affairs and personal psychology, or the general reader interested in social histories and Tasmaniana.


Beatrix & Fred by Emily Spurr (Test Publishing August 2023)

Review by Melanie Ross

Whatever you think this book is going to be, check your expectations at the door! Middle-aged titular Beatrix is barely hanging on, working a dead-end job and spending her nights drinking wine alone. When a poorly thought out plan to die by suicide is thwarted by an old lady, Beatrix begins to see her everywhere, becoming more and more distressed by the presence of her new ‘stalker’.

Born and raised in Tasmania and now living in Melbourne, Spurr infuses the book with the landscape of Melbourne across one stifling summer. There are crows, a ringtail possum, and a cherished taxidermied canary amongst the small but vivid cast of characters. After a twist at the end of the first act, the book becomes compulsively readable and I couldn’t put it down. While it’s hard to describe the plot without spoilers, we follow both Beatrix and Fred – the stalker – as they each reveal much more about who they are. With sometimes confronting focus on Beatrix and her many poor choices, we can’t help but root for her as she starts to advocate for herself. The friendship that eventually blooms between Beatrix and Fred is literally life-changing for both of them, but don’t hold out hope for a tradi­tional ‘happy ending’. Best to read with an open mind and no expectations!

Book Chatter: Spotify has recently joined Amazon’s Audible and other big businesses in the audiobook market – but we recommend Libro.fm if you want to make sure a Tasmanian bookshop benefits. Joining Libraries Tasmania is the best way to access audiobooks for free – you can be sure the authors, illustrators and editors are receiving payments for every audiobook you borrow.

Keen to chat books with us? Find us on Instagram @thewomanbookerprizeclub or email thewbpc@gmail.com.

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.

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