The Tassie Book Club- Aug 2023
by Hobart Magazine
The Woman Booker Prize Club is a local Hobart book club who have been chatting books together since 2015, reading books by women, non-binary and trans authors. This month, they’ve shared their thoughts on some Tasmanian authors, books set in Tasmania and about Tassie topics. Over to the club!
This month we review two novels by debut authors – one Canadian who lives in Tasmania, and one Tasmanian who lives in New York. Both deal with some uncomfortable subjects, but take very different approaches.
The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer (Viking/Penguin, May 2023)
Review by Megan Tighe
Clover has an unusual profession; she’s a death doula, helping people prepare for the end. Clover’s fascination with death stems from her early childhood, but few people are as comfortable with the topic as she is. As Clover sits with the dying, anxious they should not die alone, she records their last words in notebooks labelled Regrets, Confessions, and Advice. All too aware that most of the regrets and advice relate to finding, keeping and telling people you love them, Clover struggles with her own loneliness and the deep-seated fears of rejection and loss that hold her back. But with some help from her latest client, Clover begins to open up to new possibilities…
The Collected Regrets of Clover is an extremely readable and comfortable vehicle for some potentially discomforting conversations. It delivers interesting and compassionate reflections on ways we can prepare and respond to death and grief, while reminding readers to embrace opportunities in life and tell our important people how much they mean to us. Brammer is a capable writer, using short chapters to keep things moving along. Clover’s character is well-developed (if frustratingly thin-skinned) and comes across naturally in the first-person narrative. You’ll be cheering her along as she takes the first steps out of her comfort zone into new relationships. And, don’t be surprised if you find yourself shedding some tears along the way (for me, the first prickles behind the eyes started around page 5…).
Despite the New York setting, the novel features a cheeky shout-out for Tasmanian pinot noir and Brammer’s dedication is made out to her extended family in Branxholm, ‘the women of Clover Lee’.
When One of Us Hurts by Monica Vuu (Pan Macmillan, June 2023)
Review by Melanie Ross
Debut author and Canadian-turned- Tasmanian Monica Vuu’s When One of Us Hurts is “inspired by the remoteness of rural Tasmania,” but don’t assume that’s a compliment! If you’re a crime aficionado looking for a dark, twisty read with unreliable narrators and lots of psychological suspense, Vuu may have written the book for you.
Told from the dual perspectives of Livvy, a 14-year-old ‘insider’ in the fictional town of Port Brighton, and Marie, Livvy’s ‘outsider’ step-mum, the book explores the deaths of Frankie, a young baby, and Sebastian, a teenage boy. The seemingly related deaths were ruled an open-and-shut case by the local cop, but when a big-town reporter arrives asking questions, Livvy is desperate to get rid of him. The plot rockets along from the first pages, dropping in clues and red herrings the whole way through.
As the backstory of both narrators unfolds, we start to see Port Brighton for what it truly is. What sets this novel apart from other murder mysteries is the lack of an investigator: the reporter bent on uncovering secrets is an antagonist of this story, not the hero.
In fact, there are no heroes to be found at all in these pages. This book delves into some very dark places, well beyond the deaths at the centre of the narrative, and caution is advised for prospective readers. For Tasmanians, this could be a fascinating but uncomfortable glimpse of how ‘outsiders’ might see us.
Book Chatter: Crime writers and readers can look forward to the Terror Australis Festival 2023 ‘Tasmania Vice’, taking place in the Huon Valley this October, with guest speakers including Ann Cleeves (of Shetland and Vera fame), and the launch of an exciting new anthology by local crime writers.