Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Australian Women Writers: Laraine Dillon's The Pitts in Paradise

This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

In her sequel to The Easement, Laraine Dillon’s writing career has blossomed with The Pitts in Paradise. It is the second in her ‘Travelling North’ series.

Maggie and Max Stewart have resumed their northward quest to Port Douglas and beyond. This time they get as far as a beach near Proserpine, just near the famous Airlie Beach resort.

In contrast to the somewhat slow start to The Easement, the opening hot dream is followed by some not-so-steamy sex. A less than promising response to Maggie’s advances finally gets some poetry: “there was movement at the station”. But sex is something left to your imagination. For heavens sake, this is a family story. Even the roughest characters are only allowed to yell, “Oh, f..k!”. “Bugger!”, on the other hand, is quite acceptable.

Like its predecessor it’s a frantic comedy, packed with the kind of characters you would only meet in the top end. The undercover police are the exception. ‘Hollywood’ is not your typical copper from tropical Oz.

Mind you they haven’t even reached FNQ (Far North Queensland) yet. It’s just the Whitsundays. Anyway, it is still the home of cyclones, Ross River fever, the deadly stinger irikanji jellyfish, sleazy males and women with attitude. True to Laraine’s style, we meet a cast of hundreds. Very few of them are people you’d want to spend your dream holiday or sea change with.

The timeframe is a little mixed up. Narrator Maggie writes a diary entry for 1997 yet Paul Keating still seems to Prime Minister. Nevertheless, the banana republic reference is very apt. It’s a world of dodgy operators, especially their first contact, sleaze bag Toby Tyson, who has more than one proposition for the Maxwells.

We encounter lots of new Pitts, relatives of their former neighbours at Reflection Bay, and some old ones as well. They have charming names such as Moth who ironically is not a fly-by-nighter. All seem to have been brought up on kickboxing rules.

Reg (Pitty), the manager of the Paradise Cove Resort, welcomes them to the “Redneck Riviera”. He’s the kind of bloke who says “blimey” without a hint of self-mockery. Strewth!

The extended Stewart family and their allies create the usual pandemonium but they are much closer to the normal end of the spectrum than the fun loving, sun loving and sometimes gun loving locals. Maggie even gets to learn what a real nature lover is.

Laraine is a visual writer, of the action madcap genre. Her plot and characters emerge from a comic Australian cinema tradition: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Muriel’s Wedding, The Castle and Crocodile Dundee, to name but a few. In both of the novels, real estate plays an important role but so do weddings and funerals, plus lots of food and drink. Maggie says she prefers funerals. Coincidentally, so does Casper, an elderly local who quenches his thirst by attending every wake in the area.

Maggie is very politically correct. Must be her indigenous heritage. However, she is a true member of her baby boomer generation, being more PC in her attitudes than her language. The male gossips are allocated to the "knitting circle". Her idea of “dark forces” is an unusual one to say the least, a term borrowed from her bigoted mother. Maggie has known for some time that she has “a touch of the tar”.

With shades of Priscilla, it is inevitable that we meet Frankie again, the gay staff member from Maxwell’s restaurant. He’s one character who doesn’t get accused of being “homo faux”. If you’re new to this terminology, you’ll just have to read the book or google if you must. There is also a new chapter in the LGBT story, with a lesbian couple joining the Stewart circle.

Maggie is a hoot. Or is it really Laraine, who shares much with her protagonist. In fact they seem to be morphing, as Maggie embraces the essentials of Write Your Own Story and becomes a diarist. Her autobiographical title is Once Upon a Dreamtime.

Maggie is also a bit of a dag, with echoes of Lucy aka Lucille Ball. She doesn’t hurry - she boot scoots. You never know when she might slip into slapstick or get tied up in some harebrained scheme. However, she’s not beyond a bit of self-analysis and wonders about her “changing demeanour” – what Max calls “mingling in something that does not concern” her. Fortunately, she is able to put her “new” attitude down to menopause.

Plot and character connections come together in Laraine’s signature frenzied finale, with a king tide of revelations and reunions. It’s a big, mostly happy, family that would fill several resorts.

Let’s hope that when the Maxwells finally get to Port Douglas, they are not too disappointed that it has more in common with the crowded Sunshine Coast than the tranquil world of Leo McKern in the movie Travelling North.

The Pitts in Paradise is just the paperback to slip into the backpack when you’re heading up north.

Thanks to the Queensland publishers CopyRight Publishing for the complimentary copy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Australian Women Writers: Laraine Dillon's The Easement

This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

Queenslander Laraine Dillon's first novel, The Easement, was obviously bubbling in the back of her mind for many years. Published in 2008, it is a passionate and irreverent tale of moving to the seaside in the late 1980s.

After a slowish start dealing with shifty real estate agents and lawyers, first person narrator Maggie Stewart takes us on a whirlwind adventure. It is shared with laconic husband Max, complete with his silver hammer, daughter Amber and a family that extends exponentially as the story progresses.

It is the world of the 'white shoe brigade' who were known to sell land below the high-tide mark in the Sunshine state. Probably still do. This is not a tale of the Aussie battler. The magnificent seascapes of Reflection Bay are viewed from their swimming pools. But nor is about the silver-tails. Our heroes are the aspirants making good.

Their eccentric neighbours, the Pitts, are the vehicle for much of the dramatic tension and a considerable amount of farfetched farce. The Stewarts get lots of help in creating mayhem from their friends, especially Irish lawyer Markus and his wife Madonna, and a group of Harley bikers known as the Ulysses Club.

What 21st Century novel would be without some cuisine flavour. The staff of their new restaurant 'Maxwell's' also come to the party, lead by the stereotypical gay Frankie.

The pace gets more frenetic and the plot farcical, as the climax explodes at a wedding and an auction. To quote Maggie from earlier in the story, things are "all over the place like a fart in an colander".

Laraine certainly enjoyed writing The Easement, so I'm looking forward to her latest The Pitts in Paradise. Just hope she can spare us the camel scene this time.

A major theme involves connections with the indigenous world, with Duncan Ryan as a very modern aborigine. Identity and land rights are important aspects. Laraine dedicates the book to her family and her ancestors but "sadly" she has no indigenous ones that she can find.

Thanks to the Queensland publishers CopyRight Publishing for the complimentary copy.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Australian Women Writers: Kylie Ladd's After the Fall

This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

After the Fall is a romance about couples. There are two married couples at the centre of the story. Plus two people from these couples make a third, of the extra-marital kind.

If you're into the contemporary romance genre, then Kylie Ladd's first novel may be for you. The existence of a hot, tangled affair that threatens both marriages is made clear from the start. The main characters are straight from comfortable, educated middle-class Australia: a pediatrician, an advertising exec, an anthropologist and a geneticist.

We experience the unfolding events in detail from first person narrations by the four principals plus some of their friends. Chapters vary from a paragraph in length to several pages. These different points of view create a sense of multiple realities. Fortunately, with one major exception, the plot does not rely on misunderstandings based on misinterpretation of what is actually happening.

Kylie's background in neuropsychology plays little part in helping the reader to understand why apparently rational people make seemingly irrational decisions based on being in love, the quality of the sex or what used to called pure animal magnetism.

There are a lot of sexual encounters in the novel but by and large we are spared much of the intimate detail. The first kiss is probably the hottest moment of the story.

We get close up to a range of human attributes from altruism to egoism, from passion to stoicism, from bubbling self-confidence to personal insecurity.

There is plenty here to keep your interest but the insights don't add a lot to understanding what makes modern relationships succeed or fail. Or what drives seemingly self-destructive behaviour in those relationships.