The Dry by Jane Harper

I have taken a lover. I have never met anyone like him. He is a breath of fresh air.

His name is Dyson. I think I’m in love.

I don’t know what specifically or technically defines a heat wave. If it is the suffocating and choking heat that has gripped Sydney for the last two months to the point of asphyxiation, then that’s sound enough a definition for me. There is nothing like the unrelenting pain of unstoppable heat; the type of excessive warmth that makes you sweat lying down and you never feel clean. It’s weary. It’s depressive. It ain’t for me. #teamAutumn

In this novel, heat and temperature are more than just backdrop. The very plot and narrative of The Dry could not exist without such an impenetrable protagonist. Set in rural Australia, the rising mercury coincides with rising madness to the point of folly and psychosis. The heat is brutal and unrelenting to the point, as reader, I never felt truly comfortable.

I am not generally a fan of crime fiction as can be evidenced here (pun intended). But The Dry is good. It’s very good.

But if, like me, a novel can completely overpower you, I suggest you wait until the temperature drops and the leaves begin to fall lest you are overpowered by its roasting gaze.

If you cannot wait, get a lover. Get a lover like Dyson.

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The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

There is a nickname given to me by a dear friend (thanks J). It is a secret and delicious pleasure. hCloud, my bequeathed moniker, is a play on Apple’s iCloud and my name. This soubriquet was bestowed upon me many years ago in deference to my perceived superior memory. The altruist in question was admittedly going through a divorce, studying a law degree and trying to raise two children under five. A small slip of any trivial detail would surely be forgiven. However, the epithet she imparted on me has stuck and frankly, I love it. Call it my superpower. And be warned. I use it. (*I can also store a bucket load of useless information but you get the idea).

So for me, the thought of losing memory is too frightening to comprehend. Forgetting to bring home a loaf of bread from the supermarket causes no end of self-deprecation. The notion that an invisible force could creep up on me and take away such a precious part of my being is unimaginable.

The Things We Keep is the story of a young woman, Anna, with early onset Alzheimer’s who enters a residential care facility as she begrudgingly accepts that she no longer has the capacity to care for herself. While her wit is still relatively sharp, day-to-day activities are now wrought with unusual complexities. A former Paramedic, the carer now becomes the cared. Coupled with the new and unfamiliar surrounds of her new-found imprisonment, her co-residents are mostly the elderly and infirm. There is only one other co-habitant within 30 years of her cohort, Luke, and he too has begun the crippling journey into dementia. Insightfully much of the novel is told from Anna’s perspective so the reader really gets to know Anna’s charismatic personality and have front row access to the betrayal of her own mind. She attempts to stave off her fate through her relationship with Luke: they become co-conspirators in love.

Not a horror story The Things We Keep is horrific in the mercilessness it conveys. The power of relationships is explored through some wonderful exchanges. The elderly residents are as beguiling as they are batty: an uplifting antidote to the malady of the weak. Secondary protagonist Eve counters the bleak reality of Anna’s inevitable demise and Eve’s daughter Clementine provides a support act of naïve kindness and affection.

As I travelled through this tale, I began to understand that memory loss is, at its core, a naked vulnerability. A person becomes dependent on those around them, strangers or otherwise. The act of disempowerment is one of life’s cruel twists that indiscriminately attacks its prey. Like an unseen tide capsizing an unsuspecting ship, all attempts to remain steady are swiftly humbled by the omnipresence of its grip.

The Women’s Pages by Debra Adelaide

Years ago I discovered that one of the [many] benefits to staying home sick from school was the opportunity to watch really bad day-time television. It was an education in itself really: everything I know I learned from Oprah. It also provided the opportunity to get exposed to some very adult themes in an incredibly diverse way. The Bold & The Beautiful was a particularly favourite remedy during any convalescence. It was mind-boggling what any one single face-lifted beauty could endure over the course of a soapie year: several marriages (Elizabeth Taylor had nothing on these crazy cats); engagements; incest and a pregnancy or failed attempted murder. All while running a successful fashion business or hospital (why are they always in hospital?). Oh, and the odd kidnapping by a mysterious and inexplicably familiar looking sultan with perfect teeth.

What. The Actual. F*ck?

These soapies were deliciously addictive in their ridiculousness and I am not above returning to them whenever a sniffle gets the better of me. Comfortingly all these years later, the characters are the same (older, with slightly fewer wrinkles) and it doesn’t take long to become re-immersed in the land of botoxed whimsy. While these vignettes are fun once in a while, I don’t think the same sort of entertainment can be garnered from a literary novel. The mediums are far too different and the written form requires an entirely different style of plot drivers to keep readers engaged.

Which brings me to this novel. Told from the perspective of a young married women (fictional) and the author who imagined her (the non-fictional fictional woman), The Women’s Papers traverses decades and some pretty significant milestones in the lives of women. While sadly there are no perfectly dentured sultans, there are enough polarising characters to overfill this cup. Because that is how the novel feels: too full. To me it seems as though Adelaide cannot commit to a particular plotline and so vacillates between all of them to force her novel forward. I think if you are going to embrace this style of plot journey, the author needs to own it. And by own it I mean shout-it-from-the-Beverly-Hills-rooftops-á-la-Jackie-Collins.

To be fair the novel is not badly written; I think it navigates the soapie/ literary borderland a little too uncomfortably. Going into the Summer hols however, it may be worth a squiz. If nothing else, Adelaide’s old mate intertextuality returns (Wuthering Heights is still on my to read list) and I’m always looking for an excuse to drink!