7 July 2023

The Canberra Bookshelf: love, resistance and the perfect book

| Barbie Robinson
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Resistance and Revenge book cover

Catherine McCullagh’s Resistance and Revenge is speculative historical fiction. Photo: Supplied.

Catherine McCullagh is known for her World War II fiction. Her new book Resistance and Revenge (Big Sky Publishing, Australia, 2023; cover design Think Productions) retains the period, but moves into the speculative scenario of an occupied Britain in 1941.

The setting is a small rural village where it is constantly wet, cold and muddy and life is a daily struggle for survival.

With a village full of support characters bouncing off the occupiers, this story follows Louisa Carmody, who married into the Branston Estate before the war and now contends with the multiple stresses of a husband with PTSD and an antagonistic father-in-law, both involved in the local resistance movement.

The daily issue of managing the household is exacerbated by regular visits from groups of resisters and occupying soldiers, all of whom need feeding.

The classic wartime issues of rationing, racketeering, resistance and trust dominate the book, along with a healthy dose of romance, as Louisa tries to find the solace, human touch and friendship so lacking in her married life.

Catherine McCullagh is a knowledgeable writer, and her thorough research shines through. She cleverly whips us along in this story, as frequent crises must be overcome.

It’s a ripping tale, and one that invites us to consider the definitions of collaboration and our own possible responses to such challenges.

Untethered book cover

Ayesha Inoon’s Untethered is an award winner. Photo: Supplied.

Matters of the heart and loneliness are also part of Ayesha Inoon’s Untethered (HQ Fiction an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises, a subsidiary of HarperCollinsPublishers, Australia, 2023; cover design Hazel Lam; cover artwork Henna Shironi: The Walking House).

This is a migration story centred around young Sri Lankan couple Zia and Rashid. It feels like a memoir, as the reflections are so intimate and personal. It’s particularly poignant for Canberrans, as much of the narrative is set there.

Zia comes from a comfortably well-off family and has put aside her dreams of university and travel to comply with traditional expectations of marriage and homemaking.

Arranged marriage is the norm and when the handsome and eligible Rashid is brought to meet her, she sees an alternative path to happiness and freedom.

Rashid is not entirely comfortable with the system, after living and studying in the US and getting a window into other ways of doing things. In Sri Lanka he enjoys status, wealth and professional satisfaction in his lucrative employment.

When anti-Muslim violence increases in Sri Lanka, the couple emigrates to Australia, which seems to offer a safer life. Sadly, there’s a disconnect between the image and the reality of Australian society. Rashid soon finds himself working in menial jobs to make ends meet, crushing his self-esteem and causing anger, resentment and marital stress.

Untethered is a study in cultural difference, written with fluidity and honesty. It’s thought-provoking and invites cultural self-examination.

The Perfect Book book cover

Is this the Perfect Book? Photo: Supplied.

Love of a different sort is the focus of The Perfect Book by Jacinta Froud and Gökçe Yavaş Önal (self-published, 2023; design by Ozan Tortop).

While this story quietly pokes fun at populist trends, it is a staunchly positive statement about friendship, bookstores and those who run them. What a good and stalwart friend main character Finn is in her dogged quest for perfect reading material for her friend Ginny!

Mr Persnickety exemplifies all that is good in a bookseller – he has a vast stock of interesting books for every taste and is attentive to the needs of the individual customer.

Gökçe Yavaş Önal’s comic strip-style illustrations are an excellent foil for the author’s rollicking text and humorous style. They are bright and jam-packed with details to amuse the young reader.

A book about books does seem like a perfect idea for everyone who loves to read. This one may also tickle the fancy of those who don’t like reading so much, and that’s a very good thing.

Barbie Robinson is co-founder and a content creator for Living Arts Canberra, a not-for-profit media outfit supporting arts and community in the Canberra region and books worldwide through its website, podcast interviews and a 24/7 internet radio station at livingartscanberra.com.au

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