Brave books about love

October 20, 2016 at 7:01 pm | Posted in Australian memoir, Australian novels, Democracy, English journalism, Father/son memoirs, Writing | Leave a comment
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unexpectedelementsI’m back after an orgy of reading. I was still putting piles of library books in the basket of my Trek bicycle and racing home to devour them when I suddenly got another writing job. Before that, one of the many authors I read was the person everyone’s talking about: Liane Moriaty and her recent Truly, Madly, Guilty.

I was a bit annoyed at that title, derived as it is from a favourite Anthony Minghella film, Truly Madly, Deeply (1991; you can watch it on You Tube though of course you’ll get more out of it on a big screen). It’s a film I loved and which could be categorised as Blithe Spirit meets Night of the Living Dead, in other words, a bereavement film told in a truly original voice.

The suspense factor

That cavil about the title aside, Moriaty has nailed the suspense factor. The plot races along in classic page-turner fashion with cliff-hangers in all the right places. No one would call the language original but the accessibility makes it feel as if a friendly neighbour is sitting at your kitchen table telling you all about the shenanigans of the other neighbours. Irrisistible.

The tone reminded me of early Fay Weldon novels. Those were set in London amidst 1970s and 1980s feminist forces changing relationships between couples, while Moriaty’s upper middle class contemporary couples are living on Sydney’s North Shore – with all the changes – the benefits and upheavals – that feminism has wrought. Feminist changes are not the point here; the point is the one that goes straight to our hearts: love.

The execution of Moriaty’s plot is like a small piece of embroidery, perfect in every detail and depicting a domestic world familiar to us all. This in no way diminishes the power of Truly, Madly, Guilty because the author achieves that paradoxical thing: in her specifics lie universal truths: verities about relationships and guilt, the difficulties of communication and of raising small children, and the redemptive power of love.

(The only irritating thing, once I’d accepted the title – and it is apt – is the misspelling of barbecue – on every page and sometimes every paragraph, since something awful happens at a barbecue and every character is thinking and talking about it. The abbreviation of barbecue is BBQ and people mix the two up, putting a ‘q’ instead of the ‘c’ in the non-abbreviated word. That’s wrong. Moriaty’s editor should have spotted that.)

Overflowing with knowledge

I also read two novels by the American best-seller, Jodi Picoult: Lone Wolf (2010) and Second Glance (2003). Picoult is no embroiderer – her canvas is enormous, her narratives covering areas such as anthropology, zoology, law, disease, medical history, ethics, the supernatural and more, but she wears all this research lightly, weaving the facts through her gripping plots in fresh language with original metaphors so that we are fascinated, not burdened, by everything new we are learning.

Jodi Picoult is the opposite of the man referred to by Sydney Smith (1771-1845) when he said: ‘He not only overflowed with knowledge; he stood in the slops.’

Picoult’s broad canvases are brought to life by the profoundly human feelings and humane values that lie at the heart of her novels. You can listen to Churchill Fellow, Richard Fidler, do a fascinating interview with Jodi Picoult (on 23 July 2012) at

 Humane values

Humane values lie at the heart of George Monbiot’s writing. I love his regular pieces in The Guardian Weekly. The Guardian and Guardian Weekly publish brave, talented journalists like George Monbiot and Nick Davies (see and ), who keep us informed about what is going on in the world at a time when most newspapers are disappearing or have been turned into Murdoch vehicles for celebrity gossip and malicious lies. Anyone interested in democracy should be reading The Guardian. I’ve been subscribing to it forever, even though my opinion of democracy is that it is marginally better than the physically strongest person of your tribe being appointed to make the important decisions. See

 Unexpected elements

Another book that made an impression on me over the past few weeks is Bernadine Bishop’s Unexpected Elements of Love, a wise, witty and generous exploration of life’s vicissitudes – from youthful, momentous decisions to surviving cancer later in life. Blogs are supposed to be reasonably short and I haven’t the space to expand on details of plots but I can’t conclude this overview without mentioning David Leser’s brilliant memoir, To Begin To Know: Walking in the shadows of my father (Allen & Unwin, 2014).

I’ve loved Leser’s writing since being blown away by The Whites of Their Eyes (1999) and I leap on anything he writes – and happily there’s a lot of it. See for more information about his books and journalism.

In attempting to write the story of his father’s life in To Begin To Know, the son inevitably must explore his own life as well. The latter factor is almost uncomfortably honest. This aspect reminded me of another favourite memoir: Jonathan Self’s Self Abuse: Love, loss and fatherhood (John Murray, 2001).

If both these fine writers focus a magnifying glass uncompromisingly on those around them, they focus even more emphatically on their own faults and foibles. That’s a difficult and rare thing. When you read these two brave memoirs you not only receive the gift of beautiful, honest writing and learn about their respective families – but you learn about your own, since they are the catalyst for reflecting on your own past and the specifics of their very different father/son stories resonate with a universal wisdom.





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