Strumpet City by James Plunkett
Book review by Nancy
Covering seven years of Dublin workers' history, this epic novel really is no fiction. It introduces us to the plight of the working class before the Great War and sweeps us through a bloody depiction of their own battle for fair pay and conditions.
James Plunkett himself came from a working-class background and this book, written in 1969, is his masterpiece.
That Plunkett knew his subject is clear in the array of characters he draws from the lowest to the highest. Rashers, the old, destitute scarecrow in the basement who just wants to work! Fitz, the young husband and factory worker, with a new family. Bradshaw, the slum landlord whose tenements house multitudes and who props his decrepit buildings up with poles. Larkin, the revolutionary union organiser who inspires the workers to protest their rights to fair conditions and pay. O'Connor, the proud priest who cannot love his parishioners and their poverty for the smell and the grime. Murphy, the great Dublin capitalist who bands other employers together against the workers' demands.
The battle reaches its awful peak with the Lock-out by the grouped employers which lasts from 26 August 1913 to 18 January 1914. Suffering, illness, starvation of the workers go hand in hand with bravery and pawning every stick of furniture to survive the ordeal.
When at last the employers re-open the gates, they insist all workers sign a paper swearing not to unionise.
Reading books like this teaches us about present conditions - why employers loathe workers grouping together (our numbers are legion), why it betters employers to pay low wages and keep things "casual" (increased competition for jobs without security), how dehumanising the poor lets the rich sleep at night.
It IS a masterpiece and some images in it will take a long time to fade from your imagination.
Great teen reads… for the young and young-at-heart
Dedicated Book revs NSW Youth Week
(extra short book reviews)
The Graces (The Graces #1) - Laure Eve
Like everyone else in town, River is obsessed with the Graces, attracted by their glamour and ability to weave magic. But are they really what they seem? This beautifully-written thriller will grip you from its very first page.
The bone witch (Bone witch #1) by Rin Chupeco
In the start to a new, darkly lyrical fantasy series, Tea can raise the dead, but resurrection comes at a price. When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different to other witches in her family.
And then we ran by Katy Cannon
A road-trip story about following your dreams and embracing the unexpected.
Elliott and Megan embark on a road trip to escape their hometown. But life is a journey and not even Megan can control where theirs will lead.
The expressionist by Dean Mobbs
This tale centres on a young Australian boy, Albert Dennis Braun - living in rural NSW - and his coming of age into a realm of creativity. The story involves loss and sadness, as well as physical, spiritual and artistic growth.
The lies about truth by Courtney Stevens
After surviving an accident that killed her friend Trent and left her scarred, Sadie can’t move forward. When the truth about the accident and comes to light, Sadie has to decide if she can embrace the future or always be trapped in the past.
Control by Lydia Kang
Set in 2150 in a very different world, Zel knows she needs to protect her sister, Dyl. But Dyl is taken by strangers using bizarre sensory weapons, and Zel finds herself in a safe house for teens who aren’t like any she’s ever seen before.
Fairy tail by Hiro Mashima
This is a Japanese manga series that follows the adventures of Natsu Dragneel, a teenage wizard who is a member of the popular wizards' guild Fairy Tail, as he searches for the dragon, Igneel
Dangerous to know by Katy Moran
Alex and Bethany are just two teenagers in love. There’s only one problem: Alex's family has a dark past, and whilst he and Bethany are desperate to be together, Bethany's family is desperate to keep them apart.
Look into my eyes (Ruby Redfort #1) by Lauren Child
Ruby Redfort is a code-cracker, daring detective and special agent who happens to be a 13-year-old girl. She and her side-kick butler, Hitch, foil crimes and get into scrapes with evil villains, but they're always ice-cool in a crisis.
Sister Heart by Sally Morgan
A young Aboriginal girl is taken from the north of Australia and sent to an institution in the distant south. There, she slowly makes a new life for herself and, in the face of tragedy, finds strength in new friendships.
13 reasons why by Jay Asher
Reviewed by Jacqueline Smith.
I may be the only person in Australia who has not watched this on Netflix (and I plan to keep it that way, as I believe the film version departs significantly from the book).
Certainly, it’s a sad tale, but I found it very gripping. At the beginning, you meet teenager, Clay Jensen, who receives by post a box full of cassette tapes, marked 1-13 in blue nail polish. Curiously, he begins to listen to the first tape and is shocked to hear the voice of Hannah Baker, a classmate and crush who has recently committed suicide.
Hannah’s story sets out the thirteen reasons she decided to end her life and the people who contributed to that resolve. The parcel of tapes is to be sent to each of the thirteen and Clay realizes with pain and dismay that he is one of them. Horrified, he wracks his brain to discover his part in Hannah’s death.
Through the space of a night, Clay listens to each of the tapes as he follows the map provided, each significant place in the story marked by a red star. “There are only two rules,” says Hannah’s voice, “Rule number one: you listen. Rule number two: you pass it on. Hopefully, neither of these will be easy for you.”
The book alternates between the condemning voice of Hannah and the thoughts and feelings of Clay. I think it makes two important points: that our actions can have unexpected consequences and the devastating effect suicide can have on a community.
I know that Asher’s book has been criticised by some reviewers as either unrealistic, or distasteful because it glorifies suicide, but I disagree. Without spoiling the plot, Hannah does not come across as entirely the sweet little victim. At times she appears as thoughtless or downright vindictive, but for me this adds to the depth of her character. At no time did I feel that Asher presented suicide as an appealing option.
Suicide is an uncomfortable issue, but unfortunately it is a real life circumstance for many people. On the whole, I liked Asher’s treatment of the subject and the novel way in which the story is presented. The book finishes with places to get help if you are dealing with mental health issues, bullying or abuse, although as the copy I read was printed in the U.K., it references services there.
I won’t say it was an enjoyable book. It was confronting, but compelling. I became very involved in Clay’s journey and am glad to have read it. It is not an easy read, but I do recommend it
Cardinal : the rise and fall of George Pell by Louise Milligan
Reviewed by Jacqueline Smith.
This is a very topical book, while the community waits to see whether George Pell is committed for trial on historical child sex abuse offences.
Whether Pell is guilty remains to be seen, but in her book, Milligan puts forward a compelling case. Painstaking it its research, the book sprang from a 7:30 report the author, an investigative journalist, put together in 2017, suggesting that numerous complainants had made allegations relating to Pell’s sexual misconduct.
Last year, many of us will have seen Cardinal Pell’s appearance in front of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse. The allegation of the Royal Commission was that Pell had dismissed reports made to him (in his various positions as he ascended in rank through the Australian Catholic church) of acts of sexual abuse and indeed had been complicit in covering up such behaviour by moving the guilty priests around when the whiff of wrongdoing surfaced.
Pell did not inspire confidence through his testimony, appearing arrogant and crafty: trying to convince listeners that he had been duped and misled by others who had acted without his knowledge in concealing the crimes of these priests who were later convicted and punished. His plea of ignorance was hard to accept. This is an intelligent and ambitious man. Was he really so easily fooled?
Tellingly, Pell said of one complaint that he admitted hearing, it was, “a sad story and not of much interest to me.” Really?
Regardless, the Royal Commission’s focus was on Pell’s culpability as one who should have reported the transgressions of others. Milligan’s book goes much further, detailing claims by a large number of people relating to the abusive behaviour of Pell himself.
The complainants are diverse and from various locations, although a number of grievances relate to Ballarat, where Pell resided for many years. Some alleged victims are named, some anonymous. Some have sought or are currently seeking compensation, where others just want acknowledgement. Many have had a history of substance abuse and in some cases, criminal offences. Many are now dead – tragically, often by their own hand.
Milligan details each claim, many of which are heartbreaking. She has made an effort to substantiate the allegations as far as possible with corroborating information from family, schoolmates and other sources.
Although it is worthwhile remembering that these stories are yet to be proved in court, Milligan’s book makes for gripping reading and I highly recommend it.