I have been a huge fan of the travel writer Bill Bryson since an unusually young age, first devouring ‘A Walk in the Woods’ (an account of his journey along the Appalachian Trail) at the age of fourteen. His dry wit, uncanny observations, and unique ability to make the most mundane morsels of information immensely fascinating, is something I continue to enjoy to this day.
In his almost 30-year-long career, Bryson has embarked on countless travels throughout his native America, across Europe, and around Great Britain, dissecting each country and its characteristics with spirit and humour. However, one of my favourite of his books continues to be his journey to Australia, where he explores its people, cities, coastlines, and the infamous Outback with all the intense curiosity expected of a foreigner relatively unacquainted with the country. Bryson proves positively intrigued by everything from the deadliness of Australia’s wildlife, to the mind-bogglingly remote location of Outback towns, to the seemingly bizarre decision to make Canberra its capital city. Thus, the reader is offered a rich and laugh-out-loud education in the Australian way of life, in the form of a page-turning outsider’s insight into the world’s sixth largest country.
‘Down Under’ by Bill Bryson (source: images.gr-assets.com)
No summer is complete if you haven’t spent a large portion of it ploughing through a page-turning thriller. This year I chose The Dry by Jane Harper – a gripping murder mystery set in small-town Australia. After a farmer turns a gun on his family and then himself, a journey to uncover the truth behind the deaths commences. Named ‘Crime Book of the Month’ by the Sunday Times, and branded a ‘breathless page-turner’ by the New York Times, I was expecting a riveting read, and I didn’t find myself disappointed.
Harper wastes no time in setting the scene with a quintessential representation of the Australian Outback. We are met with a blistering drought, clusters of scrawny livestock, and the tiny town of Kiewarra shimmering beneath a scorching sky. Not only is it deadly hot, and eerily remote, but in an isolated farmhouse just out of town lies the bloodied remains of the Hadler family, attracting clouds of blowflies.
Enter our protagonist. Born and bred in Kiewarra, policeman Aaron Falk finds himself returning to the backwoods town after what seems like a lifetime, having been forced to relocate to Melbourne following the suspicious death of his friend Ellie two decades ago. Thinking he’d put history firmly behind him, Falk is about to find himself revisiting some of his most stifled memories.
‘The Dry’ by Jane Harper (source: janeharper.com.au)
I remember feeling rather confused when an English teacher recommended that I read Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. At the time, it seemed like such a random book to choose, and it was. But, ever since I’ve read it, it has stayed with me.
What I found most astonishing about it was that it was written by a man, an American man no less, and delved deep into the conscious of a young Japanese girl. The book was published in 1997, which makes its setting within the era of before and after WW2 all the more impressive. The novel charts the story of Chiyo Sakamoto, a young girl who is sold to a geisha boarding house. We are informed that the proper name for this is an Okiya and it is located in Gion, the most notorious geisha district in Kyoto, Japan.
Because of the controversy surrounding the actual definition of what a Geisha is, Gion is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a red-light district.