Tag Archives: Yvette Walker

Five star reads of 2014

I’ve probably read more this year than any other year since I finished uni. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing this blog, I find I’m able to keep track of what I’m reading and I’m more inclined to try new genres and authors. It’s been a spectacular year for Australian literature, and, thanks to the almighty power of the internets, I’m more knowledgeable about Western Australian authors who are doing great things. Here’s my five star reads of 2014, according to my Goodreads account, posted in no particular order.

Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

Obviously not written in 2014 but one I finally got around to reading this year and spent some time carrying around with me even after I’d finished it, so much did I enjoy it.

The Ark, Annabel Smith

Inventive, chilling and entirely believable, this is science fiction at its very best. I’m interested in seeing if other authors follow Smith’s lead by embracing online content as an addition to their work, rather than a duplication.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North

Every time I think of this novel I’m reminded of the Time Traveller’s Wife but without the romance (which generally makes me cringe). It helps that this one hasn’t been made into a disappointing film as well. I and saw the world a little differently after I’d read North’s novel, which is exactly the point of art, right?

Frog Music, Emma Donoghue

I’m interested in this rating because I only gave Donoghue’s wildly celebrated Room, which I also read this year, three stars. I’m not sure if I’m being harsh on Room or generous with Frog Music but I definitely enjoyed the latter more. It got off to a shaky start but the sense of place, use of language and portrayal of gender in this historical novel was so satisfying, all the more so because of its factual basis.

A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing, Eimear McBride

This is a hard read, both because of McBride’s original stream of consciousness style and because of her subject matter, which follows a young girl through a violent and sexual coming of age as she deals with her brother’s cancer. Disturbing, powerful and moving this is one I won’t forget for a long time.

A Wrong Turn At The Office of Unmade Lists, Jane Rawson

Rawson’s thoroughly enjoyable, heartbreaking, story of a climate changed world and the power of invention is probably one of my favourite reads ever. Combining a bleak vision of a Melbourne of the future with talented story telling and emotional depth, the novel recently won the Small Press Network’s Most Underrated Book Award and deservedly so.

Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill

Part verse novel, part memoir, this slender work punches well above its weight. Offill’s gift with words made the isolation, loneliness and breakdown of her character so, so real. I wanted to give her a hug.

Letters to the End of Love, Yvette Walker

Speaking of hugs, Walker’s first novel is an absolute stunner, heart breaking, honest and beautifully written. You will probably cry in public and that’s okay. If anyone bumps into Walker in Perth tell her thank you from me. Thank you for writing this.

Only after compiling this list do I realise that it’s almost exclusively comprised of women. There’s three Australian authors and two of them are from WA. I hope this means I’m holding up my end of my commitment to read more Australian women writers. But it also means I could have missed something awesome. So it’s your turn. What are your five star reads from this year? Tell me why I should give them a go.

How to get your heart broken: Letters to the End of Love by Yvette Walker

I don’t know what came first, love or sadness, they are perfect twin pearls to me.

letterscoverI am staring at a blank page, trying to figure out what to say about Yvette Walker’s novel about love and loss. I have no idea where to start. I want to say that it has smashed me to pieces but that might make you not want to read it, which would be terrible. For you, I mean.

This novel is beautiful. It’s complicated and simplistic. Frustrating, heartbreaking, sad and joyful in equal measure. It is about three relationships, in different eras, and is told via a series of letters between lovers. Caithleen and Dmitri are living in Cork in 1969. Grace and Louise live together, most of the time, in Perth in 2011. John is grieving the loss of David in 1948. Dmitri has been diagnosed with a heart disease that will kill him. He only hopes that he will live long enough to finish a mammoth white painting, the most challenging he has ever undertaken. Grace is still grieving the loss of her brother Patrick. She writes to her partner Louise, who is a world traveler for her work, to rekindle the closeness in their relationship. To acknowledge they have drifted apart. John is living in Bournemouth, still under wartime rations, and grieves for his partner David who was imprisoned, and died, at Flossenbürg concentration camp because he was gay. Theirs is a holocaust story, fictional but painfully real. Devastating.

This was new for me, this desire to be with someone like this. You asked me why and I asked what did you mean. You said why me. I’d finished my apple by then. I took what was left of the cigarette out of your hand and stubbed it. Then I kissed you, very softly, almost delicately. I said that the answer to that question was the reason I was here, and no doubt I would stay here even when I had the answer. And I kissed you again. On that first afternoon, our first afternoon together, we were only at the beginning, at the beginning of everything, when we hadn’t reached love but the ghost of it was there with us in the room, the third, uninvited guest.

Loosely tied together by threads of love, art and loss, the three stories are woven into a broader context of love that is permissible, love that is not allowed, romantic love, desire, platonic love, motherly love, sisterly love. And loss, so much loss. Is it possible to talk about love without loss? Do we really understand our love for another person before we confront its eventual end? Each of these relationships carry with their own risks. The brutal truth is that lives are lost over love. The novel is about all of these things but it also delves into its varied subject matter so delicately, so artfully, that you hardly realise the story you’re reading is so large. The personal, intimate, characteristics of a single relationship, repeated and echoed a thousand times over, in a wider world fraught with politics, fear and war.

A middle-aged lrs lesbian is supposed to be well adjusted but recently I am young again and uneasy. I was never a natural rebel. This sexuality suits the boundary riders and the misfits and I am neither of those things. When I came out, there I was with the wild crowd and all I wanted was a steady romance and a good strong cup of tea. So much opportunity to be bad and I squandered it. Perhaps it’s only when you have come to this stage of your queer life, the middle, that you realise how fundamental sexuality really is, that it lives beyond the surfaces, beyond the political rhetoric and the street theatre. When you find yourself deeply in love with another woman – well, within that love you find corridors of doubt and fear, a secret homophobia that’s strangely familiar.

My problem with reviewing this novel is that it’s beautiful and painful, and so very honest. Any critique just feels flat. How do you review this? I found the format frustrating after a time, though each of the stories carried their own voice and their own locality.  In 2011 Grace starts her letters with “Hey Lou”, a nod to internet colloquialisms that would have been unthinkable to John who begins with “Dearest David”. I was interested in more about each one, though, sometimes I didn’t want to leave one story to visit another. Phenomenally well researched, Walker doesn’t let the dates and facts overtake the tales she wanted to tell. This is a story in which the heart is centre stage, politics, distance, time, war and even death must wait their turn. But they don’t, do they? They never will, damn them.

If I had a thousand years I would need each of them to talk about you, one year for each of your personalities, but without that expanse of time it is too daunting to speak, you are too big, too complicated. Words don’t work. Your heart is trying to burst out of your body, it’s been trying for forty years. I’d like to say I have protected you, but you were never the kind of man who needed anyone’s protection. Your heart is folding into itself like a collapsing tent.

Immediately after I finished reading I gave this book five stars on Goodreads. Then I thought again and took half a star off and I can’t remember why. Possibly because I’m a fickle bitch. Forget the star rating and just read this book. And then keep an eye out for whatever Walker comes out with next.

Letters to the End of Love, Yvette Walker: Four and a half stars. Or maybe more.

Read it if: you need to smash your cynicism into pieces, you need to get your heart beating again, you’re willing to risk crying in public.

%d bloggers like this: