The Sinkings by Amanda Curtin (Australian debut novel)

The Sinkings is Australian author Amanda Curtin's debut novel. If you are looking for a distinctive book which encompasses historical and contemporary Australian life and deals with challenging issues, then this is a book for you.

There are two central characters in Curtin's debut novel, The Sinkings. The first is Little Jock, a convict found brutally murdered in 1882. Then there is Willa, an out of work editor who is attempting to come to terms with the disintegration of her own family. She becomes obsessed with the story of Little Jock when she learns that his deceased body was at first identified by a medical expert as that of a woman. Little Jock is intersexed (a hermaphrodite), and by exploring his life, Willa attempts to come to terms with the guilt she feels about her own intersexed child.

The chapters in The Sinkings alternate between the story of Little Jock and Willa so that the reader has an insight into both their lives.

Through the character of Willa, Curtin explores the reality of dealing with the birth and raising an intersexed child. Willa has had to make some difficult decisions and is being suffocated by guilt and self-doubt as her family falls apart under the pressure of dealing with such a difficult situation. Researching Little Jock's life becomes a took through which Willa can begin to come to terms with the decisions she has had to make on behalf of her daughter, decisions that her daughter has ultimately come to resent.

It was the story of Little Jock, however, that really grabbed my attention and was the highlight of the book. I was fascinated with his journey, which began as a little girl in Ireland to his being adopted as young boy by an English family. Living in poverty leads him to life of crime which ultimately sees him transported to Australia as a convict. The story then follows his struggles as he tries to hide his true identity and make a life for himself.

Curtin does so many things really well in The Sinkings. Her depiction of convict life was honest and she created a very interesting character in Little Jock. Her exploration of the realities for people born intersexed and their families was fascinating, and it was clear that life for those that are intersexed is no less difficult now as it was in the past, albeit perhaps in different ways.

The Sinkings was a good mix of history and contemporary life, although I do have to admit that I would have enjoyed the book just as much, if not more, if it had been solely about the life and death of Little Jock.

This was a wonderful debut Australian novel and one that I would recommend if you have the time.

5.5 / 8
Enjoyable and well written. Worth reading if you have the opportunity.

Do you enjoy reading debut novels? What is it that you like or don't like about them?

The Messenger by Markus Zusak

The Messenger is another humourous, poignant and powerful story written by Markus Zusak with one of the better endings I have ever read in a novel.

The star of this story is Ed Kennedy, a young and aimless teenager making do in suburban Australia. He works part time as taxi driver and otherwise spends his days playing cards with his friends, spending time with his dog The Doorman and longing for his friend Audrey to love him the way that he loves her. When calamity strikes one day and Ed ends up putting an end to a bank robbery, his life changes forever. He begins to receive playing cards with addresses written on them; tasks that he must complete or face the wrath of whoever is sending them to him. But who is sending him these cards?

Ed never has any idea what he is doing. He is forced to make decisions and live a life with some purpose. Some of his tasks are easy and some are hard. He is faced with violence, poverty, love and redemption. He learns about himself and his friends. This isn't a nice story; the tasks that Ed has to complete are often difficult and dangerous and he suffers for it. But the tasks provide him with some drive and ambition and he is able to pass that drive and ambition onto his friends and family when they need it.

I can't be more specific in my critique of The Messenger because it such a clever, surprising and emotional story that I don't want to in any way spoil your own reading experience of this book.

Where Zusack excelled is in the ending. Not only does The Messenger provide us with a touchingly personal story about one person's journey of self-discovery, it is also a story about the writers relationship with their own characters.

7.5 / 8
Brilliant, couldn't put it down. Everyone should read it and I recommened that you buy it.
(PS. The only reason that this is 7.5/8 and not 8/8 is because I enjoyed The Book Thief just a touch more)

Who else thinks that Markus Zusak is one of the best contemporary writers they have read? It makes me proud to be Australian when I read the books that he writes (although I admit that I could just be getting a little carried away).