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The Sydney Morning Herald

Fiction

Author: Reviews by Kerryn Goldsworthy
Date: 24/04/2010
Words: 802
Source: SMH
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Spectrum
Page: 34
In short

THE DEBUTANTE

Kathleen Tessaro HarperCollins, 388pp, $24.99 Deveraux and Diplock are valuers and auctioneers of quality, a small London business that specialises in discreetly clearing the old country houses being put up for sale by broke aristocratic English families.

Proprietor Rachel sends her moody but handsome employee Jack to a house in the reluctant company of her niece Cate but their predictable love story is less interesting than the parallel tale of Diana Blythe, 1920s debutante, beauty and Bright Young Thing, whose secrets are uncovered as Cate and Jack clear her home.

The title and the cover suggest that it belongs in that genre of popular fiction that romanticises and celebrates the lives of the rich and famous but theway the novel has been packaged is quite misleading.

Theres a certain amount of romance-fiction cliche but the evocation of the 1920s, the quest for the truth about Diana and the two interwoven narrative strands all make for an engaging read.

FEAR FACTOR

Edited by Meenakshi Bharat and Sharon Rundle Picador, 276pp, $24.99 Editors Bharat and Rundle are both writers and academics  Bharat in Delhi and Rundle in Sydney  and they have collaborated on this collection of stories and novel extracts as a kind of two-nation project that seems timely in the face of an apparent rise in violence against Indian nationals living in Australia. But the writers and stories here are not confined to these two nations: the point of the collection is to address the nature of global terrorism, the fears it induces, its drivers and causes, aswell as the role and responsibility of creative artists.

Some of the biggest names  Salman Rushdie, Thomas Keneally, Kiran Nagarkar  are represented by extracts fromrecent novels, with Nagarkars brilliant tale of a man out to murder Rushdie being immediately followed, to devastating effect, by Rushdies contribution.

Other standout pieces are by David Malouf, Rosie Scott, Denise Leith and Neerum Salan Gour.

THE SOLDIERS SONG

Alan Monaghan Macmillan, 300pp, $32.99 There seems to have been a revival of World War I as a subject for fiction and many of these novels are terrible, relying on their subject matter to find them a publisher and a readership.

But this one is much better, not only because Monaghan is a skilled fiction writer but also because the novel tackles a country that is, in the context of thatwar, particularly interesting and complex: Ireland.

The hero Stephen Ryan (and he is indeed a hero: an intelligent and courageous soldier and the winner of a well-deserved Military Cross) is an Irish mathematician who joins the Seventh Dublin Fusiliers and spends the next three years in the mud of France and Belgium, bar a few months at home recovering from illness, his leave coinciding with the Easter Rising of 1916. Monaghan sketches the basics of Irish politics of the era without getting too bogged in details and deftly covers class conflict and trauma-induced psychological damage

Pick of the week

DIAMOND STAR HALO

Tiffany Murray Portobello, 380pp, $29.99 Tiffany Murray is Welsh by birth and upbringing and the style of this irresistible book recalls the lush landscapes and word scapes of Dylan Thomas in spite of its very different subject matter. Murray is writing straight out of her own childhood, which was spent at the legendary Rockfield Studios in Wales. For decades it was a favoured retreat and workplace of musicians and the place where Freddie Mercury sat at a keyboard in a converted barn working out the harmonies for Bohemian Rhapsody while the six-year-old Murray looked on.

Her heroine in this novel goes by the glorious hippie name of Diamond Star Halo Llewellyn, Halo for short, and lives with her family at Rockfarm in rural Wales, where musicians come to retreat, record and commune with the pigs and chickens. One day a group arrives from the US south: Tequila has eight band members, seven of them near-identical brothers dressed in suits embroidered with stars and the eighth their lead singer, the heavily pregnant teenage bride of one of the brothers. When Tequila leave the farm they are one member short and they have left the newborn Fred Connor, part seal pup, part bloody Heathcliff, behind on a bed, wrapped in his mothers red cloak. Even as a baby, Fred is charismatic and precocious; given his parentage, his personality and the music-saturated environment in which the loving and generous Llewellyn family brings him up, his own future as a rock star is predictable.

This novel is a delight to read: clever, funny, lush and full of magnificent characters. Theres Halos Nana Lew, devoted fan of Johnny Cash and Elvis; Halos pugnacious sister, Molly; her cross-dressing brother, Vincent; and her beautiful mother, Dolly. And theres Freds mother, Jenny Connor, who haunts him and the book

 
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