Two very different books by two West Australian women writers have been on my reading pile this month: How to Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman and Finding Jasper by Lynne Leonhardt.
How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman
First to the book that quite literally had me skim reading the pages just so that I could get to the next page and find out what was happening. How to Be a Good Wife (no it’s not an instruction manual as my husband had hoped, it’s a novel) is not a good book to start unless you have a clear space of a couple of days. Becasue it is very, very hard to put down once you begin reading.
It tells the story of Marta, whose son has recently left home, and whose marriage to Hector seems a little shaky. Marta is a woman without much in her life; she has her visits to the market, her cleaning of the house, and her cabinet of dolls. But she also has sudden and sometimes shocking visions of a young girl who seems to be trapped, literally, in a dark place, visited only by a man who is decidedly sinister.
These visions come to a head in one of the best scenes in the book – a dinner party, to which Marta’s son brings his new girlfreind to meet the family. The dinner party is brilliantly written – it actually extends out over several chapers so that time is completely slowed down and every bizarre and astonishing action is played out in minute detail. Marta is so rude to her son’s girlfriend that the reader, who has until then been happy enough to side with Marta, begins to wonder if their allegiance has been misplaced. Then Marta pours an entire container of salt into the soup and gleefully serves it up to her guests. She sees her hands in the sink with fistfuls of hair wrapped around them. She has an encounter with Hector that makes him seem like a perfectly normal and concerned husband. We start to side with Hector. Until we see what he has pinned on the board in his study.
This book is so well structured – I see-sawed back and forth between Marta and Hector’s version of events until a point just after halfway through where I was firmly on Marta’s side. Then the compulsion was to find out if Hector had really done what it seemed as if he may have done. I can’t say a lot more at this point other than, read it, and make up your own mind about what you think happened to this couple.
Finding Jasper by Lynne Leonhardt
Finding Jasper, while it does have at least one shocking, gasp-out-loud scene, is a much gentler tale. This is the story of Gin, a baby born during the second world war to war bride Valerie. The titular Jasper is Gin’s father, whom she never meets. Valerie brings Gin out to Australia, to Jasper’s home, a farm in WA’s southwest, to wait out the end of the war in the hopes of Jasper returining. He never does. The novel is essentially about the repercussions that the absence of Jasper has on the lives of Valerie, Gin, and Jasper’s sister Attie.
I liked the strong female characters in this book, Attie in particular. I liked the way this book was written – you can tell it has taken the author time and care to craft each sentence. I did find the first part of the book a little slow but it certainly picks up the pace and carries you smoothly to the end by about halfway through. The novel’s evocation of place, in particular the farm in the south-west is just lovely.
I think many people would enjoy this book, especially those who enjoy historical fiction, where the recreation of a specific time and place is as intrinsic to the book as the story.
So that’s reviews six and seven for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. Only three more to go till I achieve my target!
Have you read either of these books? What did you think? Drop me a comment and let me know. And if you love books by Australian Women writers, check out this 12 book giveaway that I’m involved in, which includes Emma’s book, How to be a Good Wife.