Passages of Writing: Animal people, Charlotte Wood.

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Book: Animal People by Charlotte Wood.  Allen & Unwin 2011. This edition: e-book, Allen & Unwin, 2011.

Why: Charlotte Wood’s writing is always grounded and insightful but never pretentious. The characters are so real I want to cringe as a human to be seeing how we know people speak right there on the page:

‘So who organised the lesbian? ‘…Belinda snickered into her mineral water… (p233)

And,

‘It’s sort of boho, ‘Fiona said…’ which doesn’t really suit her.’ When he asked why not, Cathy said drily, ‘because she’s more ho than bo,’and Fiona snorted into her glass. (P202)

Writers are always taking the time to slow the reader down to think about things in a way that is normally missed. It’s one of the things I love about writing. And it’s a little bit disarming to think that someone may be listening to the way you eat an apple from another room.

He heard her set a knife down in the chopping board before going to answer the door.

He had never before known the cadences of a person’s movements like this, except in his own family, as a child. It was not just her tread; footsteps were easy, especially here in Fiona’s house when there were just the two of them and the girls, whose hard little heels struck the floorboards like mallets. But even elsewhere, in other houses, in shops, he could tell Fiona’s presence by the sound and rhythm of her movements: keys in a handbag, the taking of a breath. Surely humans could only breathe in so many ways – inhalation, exhalation could not possibly be so individual – but still, he always knew her. He knew the sounds of her swallow, her bite of an apple from another room.

p.190 Animal people by Charlotte Wood

Passages of Writing: The Children, Charlotte Wood.

Book: The Children by Charlotte Wood. Allen & Unwin, 2007. This edition: 2008, E-book, Allen & Unwin.

Why: These few words take me whooshing back to my childhood summers. I can see my own mother waving like this, with her whole arm, I can smell the geraniums, the hot concrete and the rubber of bike tyres on quiet roads. Were every child’s summers like this? I really don’t know but Charlotte Wood has mined pinned. It’s the magic of great writing that can do this.

Mandy looks up at the kitchen window, sees her mother waving with her whole arm, and then disappearing from view. Mandy stands on the driveway in the still, hot air, a confusion of childhood smells and sensations swelling up at her — the green acidity of broken geranium stalks, the metallic taste of concrete. The silty red dirt, the quiet of the streets, the rubber of bicycle tyres. All the long hours  of all the flat, empty afternoons.

P. 45 The Children by Charlotte Wood.

Book Review – The Children by Charlotte Wood (2007)

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The Children, by Charlotte Wood

 

We all come to a time in our lives where we are forced to revisit our childhood, for some of us it may be cause for sentimentality, and for others, anxiety. Charlotte wood has taken us there whether we like it or not, thankfully with an honest nurturing hand.

 

In The Children, three adult siblings and a spouse have been brought together, called to their country Australian home by their anxious Mother to an injured Father who has fallen, placing him in a coma.

 

What unfolds for this family is a revisiting to their childhood sibling dynamics. We feel we are entering their antagonistic teenage-hood just as it was left years ago, with the added strain of an ailing father and a stranded mother. For one sibling, Mandy, it is a kind of coming of age story for adults. We suffer with Mandy as she works her way from a selfish view of the world to an adult responsibility, made all the more complex by her experiences as a war correspondent, and her difficulty adapting to the sudden change of being back in safe country Australia, which for Mandy is a country of people with their heads in the sand.

 

A key note in Ms Wood’s work is the slowing down to closely observed detail where every word counts. Wood reminds me of a modern day Elizabeth Jolley without the British point of view that Jolley always carried with her.

 

Mandy stands on the driveway in the still, hot air, a confusion of childhood smells and sensations swelling up at her–the green acidity of broken geranium stalks, the metallic taste of concrete. The silty red dirt, the quiet of the streets, the rubber bicycle tyres. All the long hours of all the flat, empty afternoons.

 

Perhaps these cultural references don’t hit home for everyone, but as an Australian female this attention to hot country Australia ‘…acidity of broken geranium stalks, the metallic taste of concrete…’ drags me backwards through time by the scruff of my neck. These beautifully painted observations were and are a joy to take in. While reading we have the sense that Wood is taking care to handle our attention as readers with respect by guiding us gently through the trauma of these characters lives as though it were our own.

 

The Children is an absolutely joyous read, and I’ll be dipping into another Charlotte Wood novel very soon.

                                                                                   (C) Julie Proudfoot

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