sonya hartnett

You’ll catch your death…

Wow, I didn’t see this little book coming…

Full of urban myths, old-wives tales and heart-felt mother’s warnings, Of a Boy by Sonya Hartnett plays on the deep set fears of its characters and its readers.

It begins by recounting the disturbing disappearance of the Metford children and strays little from this parents-worst-nightmare until its conclusion. Made all the more affecting, the story is relayed via Adrain, a small and troubled boy who is almost as lost as the three missing children.

Adrain makes friends, looses friends, and struggles to find his place in his small, suburban world.  He fears quicksand, the dark and being abandoned, again.

This novel is quite strangely paced, and it wasn’t really until about half-way through the book that I felt a real pull from the tale. Until this point I was a little disengaged from the main character, and somewhat distracted by a bit of cultural cringe. I suspect that this might be mostly as a result of the fact that I’m not very used to reading Australian Literature. Harnett has worked very hard in her attempt to make the time and place recognisable for the reader.

Nonetheless, as I said, any irritation eased as I got further into the book and as I started to feel a real desperation for young Adrian.

Picture: Renee Nowytarger Source: The Australian

One thing which has really fascinated me about the author of this novel is the fact that the audience for Hartnett’s work is so diverse. Sonya writes often for children and teenagers, in addition to her adult novels.  This is a fairly rare undertaking and I’m interested in doing a bit of a comparison. I’ve picked up a copy of Thursday’s Child, published in 2000 for a young adult readership and I’m going to spend a little time with it. I’ll report back.

In the meantime, this novel is a quick read, but not an easy one.  It is a moving story, and in its own quiet way, a frightening one.  It is well worth your time.


Buy your own copy of Of a Boy at the TBYL Store!


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Tell me a story?

Last Friday I managed to get out of the house (no small task) and into the Melbourne Town Hall.  At this most impressive of venues, amongst many people (some very like me, others very not) I was told a few stories…

The Gala Night of Storytelling 2011: Voices from Elsewhere, began the Wheeler Centre’s 2011 program and also marked the centre’s first birthday.  I’ve got to say, I think that the Wheeler Centre and all who sail in her, should be given a little clap – it’s a noble endeavour and very warmly received, as evidenced by the impressive crowd in attendance.

The evening itself was a rich mix of themes, places, and people.

The program began very locally, with a generous welcome and a quiet reminder of Melbourne’s sometimes dubious history.

And then came Mem Fox.  Bright yellow jacket and a shock of red hair, a delight. In a tone typical of her picture-book storytelling she told a tale that had goosebumps up and down my arms, the hairs on the back of my neck standing straight up and cold chills running down my spine.  The contrast of tone and content was quite unsettling.  Her story, of a family, was short and powerful. When she finished, the audience was more than a little rattled.

Yannick Haenal was next, and was earnest.  He delivered in French, and I caught myself closing my eyes while he told his story and listening in much the same way as I’ve done in the past at concerts.  The French language is just a little bit musical.  I didn’t understand very much (it’s been a while since High School French), but I could sense that it was a serious story, and its translation proved this to be the case.

What, no smoke-bomb?

Next up was John Birmingham, more familiar in content and style.  The story that he told, with its martial arts theme was humorous, as you might expect, but was just as earnest in its own particular way.  I certainly found myself buying into the idea that his friend’s commitment to a discipline, and his ability to follow his own intuition was what allowed this story its happy-ending.

The next two writers, Abha Dawesar and Murong Xuecun told us stories which had lovely magical twists.  Murong’s ironic set-up was compelling, and it was great to watch him watching us as his story was translated.  He seemed to take great delight in the fact that we were laughing in the right places.

Sonya Harnett, like John, told a story that I could latch onto very quickly.  She chose a story about her Mother, and her Mother’s nursing textbooks.  My Mum was also a nurse, and I still have the little pocket-sized nursing guide that I was so fascinated with as a kid.  I knew exactly what Sonya meant when she described the fact that she couldn’t quite reconcile the grotesque of the texts with her care-giving Mum.

Dagma Leupold‘s recollection of a dream was quite lovely, and I thought her slight detachment from the room was quite fitting given the subject of the story.

Nam Le was both insightful and hilarious.  Much like Sonya’s story, he managed to capture what it is to expect one thing, and get quite another thing entirely.  A funny guy, he summed up nicely why it is so important not to act on assumptions, but also exactly why we are so inclined to do just that.

And then there was Archie Roach.  I could have listened to Archie for a whole extra hour, but alas, only one song.  It was a fabulous way to finish the evening.

I was really fascinated to see how this type of program came together, and I really was impressed by how well this format showcased the writers’ work, their influences and their backgrounds.

To finish, can I just say that if you have a chance to get to any of the Wheeler Centre events – please do.  A pure indulgence in some fine writing and new ideas. Their program for the first bit of 2011 can be found here…

You just don’t get it Mum!

Last day of school holidays, and Evan (my ten year old) is a little on the sad side. And who can blame him…late nights, Playstation, sleep-overs and plenty of time lounging around reading.  So, to ease the pain, we made a little stop at Kidna Books to buy a couple of new books for the last week of the break.

Now, these titles have most certainly not been written for my demographic – these are definitely pre-teen reading, and I think I can be forgiven for not quite getting what Captain Underpants is really all about.  So, I’ll let Evan describe them himself…

Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilet, by Dav Pilkey

“This is the second book in a series of stories about two boys who create a comic book about a hero called ‘Captain Underpants’ and accidentally hypnotise their Principal into thinking he is Captain Underpants.

In this book, George and Harold get detention for mucking up the entries in the the all important Inventions Contest. During detention they make a new Captain Underpants comic, put it in one of the new inventions (a new type of scanner-copier type thing) and from there the story takes off.

I think this book is very funny and creative.  It is a story like no other, as Captain Underpants is one of a kind!”

And from undies to zombies…

Zombieson’s Time Machine, by Knife and Packer

“This story is about a very freaky street, with four crazy families…the Humansons, the Wizardsons, the Aliensons, and of course the Zombiesons.

The Zombiesons are looking after King Tut’s treasured cat.  Trouble starts when the Zombiesons’ pet Zobbla (their three-headed dog) bites the sacred cats’ tale and gets zapped a thousand years into the past, to ancient Egypt.  The Zombiesons need to try and get their pet dog back from the evil Pharaoh Gruesomekamun.

I think this book is a great read and it’s very colourful and the pictures are really funny.”

It would seem that they’re a pretty quick read, but suitable for re-reading.  I tend to judge how good a book is based on how hard it is to get Evan’s attention while he’s got his head in it – these are both a ‘three repeat’ title (i.e. Evan, hey Evan, EVAN!)

Seems like a pretty good way to finish off the break.  Thanks for the reviews Ev.

Grown-up reading…

As well as continuing to read Murakami, I’ve set myself a little homework before next week’s Gala.  I’m hoping tonight to take a look at Sonya Hartnett’s Of A Boy before I hear her speak next week. I heard her talk about this book at the Popular Penguins Launch a couple of years ago and have been meaning to get to it ever since – I think now’s the time to at least have a quick look-see.

Has anyone read any of Sonya’s stuff?  Which titles would you recommend?