The Choke by Sofie Laguna: Review

The title of this book is apt. The choke is something I felt from the first moment. It’s also the main thing you worry about when you have small children.

While the book is not about strangulation, it is about children and adults who have not progressed much beyond the infantile. The vulnerability is palpable.

It starts with a frantic kids’ fight. Justine (Jussy) has teeth that are struggling through the gums. She is about six years old. It’s so vivid you can feel the power in her little legs.

We don’t know much about her yet, except that she is playing with big boys and one of them has access to a rifle.

The Choke in the River

The Choke is a part of the river that gets so narrow it might choke. But let me break this to you gently. This is a story of abuse and neglect.

Justine lives with her grandpa. Her father is a good-looking dead-beat-dad who happens to be on his way home when we meet them.

Grandpa, her carer, it becomes apparent has PTSD from the war. They lives on three acres in poverty (Pop’s Three). She eats eggs from their chickens and talks to them like siblings.

I would have said this was not the kind of thing I would want to read. Except that it’s so good.

You go straight into the world of Justine. And because she lives on the border of wild natural landscape, she inhabits nature. There’s oxygen in these parts. It is so beautifully written.

Starting with a monologue

Sofia Laguna told Jason Steger, Books Editor at The Age that her characters “break her heart completely.” Children are usually the central characters in her novels, which explore the impacts of trauma.

Her writing approach is to start with them giving her a monologue. The character explains their thoughts and feelings to her.

Much of this I read on a commuter train to Sydney each day. By the end, I was freely letting tears of joy and relief stream down my face. The catharsis was profound.

This is a superb piece of writing. Structurally well-crafted with prose that’s full of the vigour of youth, the nasty resourcefulness of degrading poverty. All loose ends are neatly tied.

I won’t give the ending away. But I’ll say it is nice to have a vulnerable protagonist finding hope and power at the end. To crush some heads, so to speak. With the searing, scorching power of a girl done wrong, she does her best to show kindness and restraint.

Highly recommended.

Buy a copy

Sofia Laguna’s new book is Infinite Splendour.

Her previous book, The Eye of the Sheep won the Miles Franklin.

The Choke was published by Allen & Unwin in 2017

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Read the Magda Szubanski Review of Reckoning

 

Lessons in Life for My Children

These, my children, are my deeply rooted philosophical convictions about life. They are breadcrumbs to help guide your way.

Lying

It’s going to happen that you won’t always tell the truth. Sometimes it is to be kind or protect someone. Use your good judgment about whether it is okay or not.

But always be honest with yourself. Essentially, there is only you. People will come and go. You might finish this chapter being rich, poor, old, young, sick, or well, it doesn’t matter. You don’t owe yourself anything except honesty. Continue reading

Walks with Margaret and Jonty

Twelve years ago I bought a little cottage in a village far away from everyone. Margaret was a near neighbor. She was the first person to knock on the door and welcome me.

Margaret walked her dog—Katie at the time, later Jonty—past the house every morning at eight and every afternoon at four.

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Military Blunders in the War Against Terror

Archival:

LANDMINES

I recently saw a Super 8 video filmed by an acquaintance at a Cambodian hospital. The subject was a young man who had to have three men hold him down so that gangrene could be scraped from the inside of his amputated thigh.

It is easy to be caught in a western fog that amputations, which result from landmines are clinical, that anaesthetic is administered and that recovery is sound. In reality, the victim’s limb may be hacked off in order to get out of the minefield. Victims commonly lose both, not just one of their legs, as well as their penis and testicles. Some victims ask to be murdered as they lay in blood and shock, unable to move. Later, artificial limbs are usually rudimentary and awkward. Continue reading

You probably know someone with MS who is keeping it secret

This World Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Day, you may spare a thought for those affected by this chronic, debilitating disease. You may not realise, however, that there are people you meet every day with MS who are keeping it secret from you.

Early this year, Jamie-Lynn Sigler – who played the daughter of Tony Soprano in the TV show The Sopranos – revealed that she has the disease. The announcement came 15 years after her diagnosis. Like me, she’s been in the closet with MS.

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The Fracture & Other Shorts

The Fracture and other short stories contains seven original works by Danielle Spinks including:

• Dystopian fantasy cult-classic, The Fracture

• A mindfulness meditation in Zen & The Art of Washing Dishes

• Irreverent Australian humour in The 45-Minute Chair and The Benley Acquisition

and other short pieces.

Amazon Kindle Store

 

ebook cover

Reckoning by Magda Szubanski

I love Magda Szubanski. I’ve loved her since I was a kid. She’s a true comic. Her humour is borne out of acerbic intelligence and astute observation. She can pull a fully formed character out of the collective unconscious and breathe them into being.

Reckoning is expansive and it covers all of her life from early childhood to today. Instead of being delivered through a ‘story of my success’ type framework, Magda is ensconced in her heritage and history. Continue reading

Panic Hour

 

It’s eight in the morning. An escalator pulls me down from the street into the intestinal darkness. Streaks of lightning blue rush past my left shoulder, Photoshop motion-blur. Same in orange on the opposite wall, like this is an immersive internet advertisement. This tunnel is the cable. We are the particles. A unitary quantum system with a single wave function. I adjust the weight of my satchel and start plodding into the dim crowd. Continue reading

The Man Who Loves Music

With a name as unpretentious as Les Hodge, it’s hard to imagine the impact he’s had on the music industry. From marketing huge acts like Kate Bush, The Rolling Stones and Queen, to coming up with the name Ticketek, Les has left fingerprints everywhere. Now he is responsible for bringing some of the world’s most beautiful classical music into Australia, and the Southern Highlands is its first port. Continue reading

The Benley Acquisition

I’m at the bar, chugging orange juice with my mates, and we’re laughing at each other’s pov jokes. Nuns Frightened by Change. That’s the name of Friday night’s band at the Landula Criterion. Our band, as it happens. It’s our first gig. ‘The Nuns’ are two mates in my year and me. I’m called the percussionist. That means I play drums and, occasionally, I whack a thong on a bongo. Continue reading

From the Village to the Brothel

After nearly 30 hours of flights, the city of Kathmandu was awash with blood and there were headless carcases of horse-sized beasts on every corner. In my shock, I sent a sarcastic email to family saying that the entrails lining the streets to herald my arrival was an absolutely lovely gesture.

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Mining Industry Propaganda

The recent Australian mining industry campaign (not shown above) certainly looks impressive. The soulful, worried faces of mums and dads, average looking, average people. It seems so believable and important.  Even if the statistics are the result of heavy-handed play with definitions as basic as “tax”. Continue reading

Bundanoon Says NO to Bottled Water

evian label as naive

July 9th, 2009

“Australians spend half a billion dollars every year on bottled water that we could get for free from a tap, but we complain when petrol goes up a few cents a litre,” said Jon Dee, Founder of Planet Ark and Do Something at a public meeting held in Bundanoon Memorial Hall on July 8th.

“We’ve been conned and they’re laughing all the way to the bank.”

Residents of the Southern Highlands village, known for its national park, pristine water and cycling paths, voted almost unanimously to back moves which will see Bundanoon as the first bottled water-free town in Australia.

The initiative, known as Bundy on Tap, would see businesses no longer selling bottled water and fresh, clean drinking water available in shops, on the street, at school and at events. A reusable bottle will be manufactured which can be refilled, as opposed to the single-use plastic bottles manufactured by most water companies.

Bundy on Tap is the brainchild of local businessman, Huw Kingston, organiser of mountain bike race Highland Fling and proprietor of Ye Old Bicycle Shoppe café.

Huw, Jon Dee and local business representative, Peter Stewart, spoke to attendees about the environmental damage, health impact and marketing lunacy of the still, single use bottled water industry.

While local business is behind the idea, measures are still being explored for ways to ensure their sustainability.

“We will lose money immediately, but we hope that it will bring a few more people and they’ll buy a few more newspaper,” said Peter.

With support from the community, a working group was formed and Jon Dee became an enthusiastic participant six weeks ago.

“The catalyst for the plan has been the ongoing battle against NORLEX, a company that has been trying unsuccessfully for more than 12 years, to bore Bundanoon’s aquifer for the bottled water industry,” said Huw.

“Although this campaign is not an attack on NORLEX, it has meant that Bundanoon is very aware of water issues.”

It takes 1,000 years to decompose a plastic bottle with 70 per cent currently ending up in landfill or oceans. Conservative estimates state that more than 15 million litres of oil is used each year in the manufacture and distribution of bottled water in Australia alone. Others believe this figure is much higher.

At the meeting, health impacts were also raised. The conspicuous absence of fluoride in the 1,000+ brands of bottled water sold is raising the concern of some dentists, especially for children.

Jon Dee says that the belief that bottled water is somehow cleaner or better for health is a fallacious perception.

“They’ve been taste tests all around the world and no-one can tell the difference. The spin that goes into it, we’ve bought it hook, line and sinker. The fact is there are huge amounts of money to be made selling water, more than soft drinks or sugary drinks.”

After a morning that started at 5am with ABC interviews, the team of three had conducted some 70 interviews with global reach, including CNN, NHK Japan, Sydney Morning Herald, BBC, and the Times of London. Appearances were also scheduled for Channel 7’s Sunrise and Nine’s Today Show this morning.

The morning’s media blitz was followed at lunch time with an announcement by Premier Nathan Rees that he would be banning all bottled water from government departments.

“If we had have paid for this PR, the bill would be in the millions,” said Jon. “We haven’t even sent a media release yet. The media is behind us.”

Culligan Water and Street Furniture Australia, who have already installed public water stations in Manly, have promised to donate three water stations to Bundanoon, one of which is earmarked for the primary school, if the town goes bottled water-free. The combined value of the water stations is $18,000.

The crowded, standing room only meeting included residents, businesses, councillors including Pru Goward, journalists and camera crews, needed little encouragement to vgote yes for the initiative.

Jon Dee who helped Coles Bay in Tasmania be the first of many towns in Australia to go plastic bag-free, said “fifty councils are now in touch with us to do the same. They all want someone to do it first. Bundanoon will provide a role model for everyone in Australia.

Letter to my Accountant

Thank you for your very kind letter.

My initial tax meeting with your very pleasant sub-contracting accountant concluded with a statement I was not expecting to hear. Not the mellifluous, “you’ll be getting a refund of a grand.” Rather, the strong and discordant, “you owe the tax office two thousand dollars.”

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