Wednesday, July 28, 2010

new australian writer honey brown looks into the dark of the human psyche

Australian author Honey Brown burst onto that country's literary scene with the tightly written and terrifyingly plotted Red Queen in 2009.
The book won an Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel, was short-listed for the Australian Shadows Award and won a Highly Commended from the FAW Awards.
Now Brown has released The Good Daughter, a novel that doesn't fit into her first genre, but is as well-written and beautifully constructed as the first.
Interestingly it was a freak accident on a farm – she broke her back – that set Brown on her literary path, and despite being confined mostly to a wheelchair and caring for two young children and a farm, she has already finished a third book, with a fourth on the way.
Prolific, yes, but Brown's writing is also very good.
In Red Queen two ordinary men, brothers, find themselves isolated on a hidden property – loosely based on Brown’s own land in rural Victoria – after a deadly virus has broken out across the globe.
The tensions of a sibling relationship are heightened when an unknown woman enters their lives; the elder brother, Rohan, is cut from the typical cloth of a working class Australian man. He is taciturn, separated from his feelings and overly protective of Shannon, the younger brother.
Shannon is a dreamer, he still yearns for his dead parents and the carefree university life he had before the "Red Queen" virus arrived. Rohan, on the other hand, quite likes the hardship of proving himself a man in their daily struggle to survive.
The interloper upsets the brothers' uneasy balance; naturally adding sex to the mix – the boys have been in the bush for a long time, after all.
Brown cleverly mixes these three characters, giving away only small pieces of information so the reader is left waiting to know more, totally unconcerned that there are only three characters in the story.
The plot twist in the denouement is surprising, although a little too altruistic. But Red Queen is the sort of book one can happily describe as literary fiction, while at the same time recommend to your friends who only read thrillers.
The Good Daughter, Brown's second book, is similar in its tight plot, limited character pool and outback Australian setting, but entirely different in its perspective.
Rebecca is the daughter of the title, a teenager from the wrong end of town with a slightly unhealthy interest in the richest boy in the district, Zach.
She also has her mother's reputation to live up to – should she choose her dead mum's rather loose ways or the same woman's heroic acceptance of death from cancer?
Zach has his own problems; his family may be rich but his mother is crazy according to his gruff, aggressive farmer father. And Zach's beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, insanity runs in the family.
Added to the mix is a bastard – Zack's father's by-blow. Suave for the small country town, Aden is a charming rogue who's out to get what he can.
Then Zack's mother disappears, and the last person to see her is Rebecca.
The Good Daughter is a portrait of modern, country Australia: The isolation, the small-town nosiness and censure, the lack of work, the drugs and the depression.
But it also shows some of what can be good about the same place and people – acceptance, warmth and family.
Still, for first time readers of Australian fiction, The Good Daughter doesn't paint a particularly rosy picture.
Brown is obviously a writer to watch. She is part of the Australian tradition of strong female authors who centre their work in their daily lives, but manage to turn the ordinary into the sublime with just the placement of a few words and an ability to look into the dark of the human psyche.

Red Queen and The Good Daughter by Honey Brown are published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books Australia, and are available from good book stores and online.


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