I agree with Arthur that Charlotte Wood’s ‘The Natural Way of Things’ is enduring. Here are three other books I’ve read recently which have stayed with me.
The Good People, Hannah Kent
In mid-nineteenth century rural Ireland, Nora Leahy’s husband has died and she is left looking after their disabled grandson. He was ‘normal’ as one point, so what has happened in the meantime? Is this after all, not her grandson, but a ‘changeling’, while her son is captive to the fairies? These are real questions in Nora’s mind and her community, and with the priest and the doctor offering no hope, she turns to the Nance, the ‘handy woman’ who has knowledge of the ‘Good People’. Hannah Kent writes with great empathy for these women; we see their actions as entirely reasonable, and their conclusions about their world as coherent.
Under the Udala Trees, Chinelo Okparanta
In the midst of the Biafran war in Nigeria, Ijeoma’s father dies and she is sent by her mother to live with a family friend who is a wealthy schoolteacher, and his wife. She is little more than a servant to them and finds joy only in her relationship with a local girl, Amina. Is there relationship merely girlhood friendship, or is it something more? Ijeoma’s mother is horrified by the demonic possession of lesbian romance and seeks to exorcise it from her daughter, but Ijeoma finds her reasoning incoherent, and struggles to see how something that has come so naturally could be wrong. This novel took me outside of my own experiences because it’s a coming of age story about a Nigerian lesbian woman. It’s well worth reading as an exercise in compassion, especially as LGBT+ rights in Africa are endangered.
Jasper Jones, Craig Silvey
The novel is Romeo and Juliet meets To Kill a Mockingbird meets Lochie Leonard. Charlie Bucktin is a good kid in 1960s small town Corrigan; bullied for his academic flair, his only friend is Jeffrey Lu, the son of Vietnamese immigrants. The banter between the two boys is a delight, managing to tackle some of the deeper themes of the novel through comedy. One night Corrigan’s local delinquent, an Aboriginal kid called Jasper Jones, knocks on Charlie’s bedroom window and asks for help. A girl from their school is dead and everyone will think Jasper murdered her, but he is intent on finding her actual killer and turns to the smartest kid he knows. This novel addresses prejudice at multiple levels, and examines the effects, both good and bad, of secret keeping in friendships, families and communities. I actually predicted all the plot twists, but that did not diminish my enjoyment of this Australian novel. It’s been made into a feature length film now too.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.