“I don’t know how other writers work, and I’m new to it, but definitely my responses to things that are going on in my life inform everything I do.”
– Dawn French on writing her new novel, Oh Dear Sylvia, The Sunday Times.


Dan French writes in response to what’s happening in her life. Photo via themirror.co.uk.


Top news this week is the subject of book banning. Krissy Kneen is an Australian writer of very erotic fiction, some would even say its pornographic.

That has always been enough to draw criticism and praise in equal measure for her bare all style, witness her own memoir, Affection.

Now her latest novel Triptych: An erotic adventure will ensure the name Krissy Kneen goes down in Australian literary history for being banned.

The Apple iBook store has banned the book for what it calls its “objectionable content.” It seems that pushing the boundaries of what constitutes sexually acceptable behaviour, even though it is fictionalised, even though Kneen drew her inspiration from erotic works of art, has its limits.

There does seem to be an inherent irony that Fifty Shades, regarded by many as poorly-written mummy porn sells like hot cakes, but the real McCoy is banned.

Ms Kneen is no island when it comes to having a book banned. The most frequently banned books in Australia are erotica, those involving explicit illegal drug use and those discussing end-of-life issues, especially if they condone assisted suicide. You can see a complete list of books banned in Australia here.

On the plus side, Krissy Kneen will no doubt enjoy a spike in the sales of Triptych thanks to the good people at Apple.


Oh Dear Sylvia by Dawn French

“This is Jo, Silvia’s elder sister. Her mouth has mistaken itself for a machine gun.

“It just bothers me darling, that when you do eventually wake up, I’m not even going to be able to tell you what happened because nobody seems to bloody know! You are probably the only one and will you even remember?

“God knows. Well obviously God knows, whichsoever God one chooses to align oneself with, of course. I can’t remember now if you even believe in God, do you? Oh God, that’s awful. No. I don’t think you do. I think you’re a hundred per cent not quite sure, aren’t you? I remember you once saying you thought Jesus wore a blindfold to decide who would get the poorly babies, and how that was terribly unfair, but you were eleven, so you may well have updated your thinking since then.””

Silvia Shute has fallen from the balcony of her apartment on a freezing cold night and is now in a coma. Her estranged family begins to trickle in to visit her as she lies there in a bed with tubes everywhere, a machine breathing for her and her roots already showing.

There is her ex husband Ed still bewildered as to why she ended their marriage so abruptly, selling the house out from under her children and disowning her sixteen-year-old daughter Cassie when she revealed she was pregnant.

There is her older sister Jo who lives in a world of crystals and alternative therapies, all designed to distract her from the realities that their mother dies when they were 9 and 6 and their father’s ensuing descent into depression and alcoholism left them to fend for themselves.

There is their daughter Cassie, now mother to four year old Willow, who tells herself she hates Sylvia as a way to bury the pain of her mother’s rejection. And her brother Jamie who ran away to the war in Afghanistan to bury his hurt and hatred. Lastly, there is Catherine, Cat, Sylvia’s best friend, who is beside herself with the loss of her friend to this dark world.

All of them project their hurt, anger and grief onto the somnolent Sylvia, dredging up the past and dumping it on her sleeping head, all of them watched over by the diligent Jamaican nurse Winnie. Slowly, as the days of watching over her go by, the pieces of Sylvia’s life are revealed. Why did she abandon her family, cutting off all contact and refusing to even meet her granddaughter?

Whilst everyone assumes it is just because Sylvia has always been selfish and headstrong, no one has ever paused to question whether there might be more factors at play.

Dawn French has written a novel that is darkly comic, disturbing and deeply compassionate at the same time. Perhaps it is because French was writing Oh Dear Sylvia as her mother succumbed to a long battle with motor neurone disease that she is able to bring such insights into the suffering of those that survive loss. Or it may just be that a life of writing and performing comedy and drama has honed her eye for the small moments that add up to life’s big experiences.

Either way, Oh Dear Sylvia is a terrific read, proving that French’s huge success with her first novel, A Tiny Bit Marvellous was no fluke. French is a serious, talented writer.


Horror Stories

For those of us who thrill at being scared or perhaps like being read to, BBC Radio 4 is running a four part series, The Gothic Imagination, which includes reinventions of two horror classics, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

You can listen to these interpretations, complete with scary sound effects to send a chill down your spine over here. How very appropriate with Halloween approaching.

The Cleaner of Chartres by Sally Vickers

“Agnès Morel was born neither Agnés nor Morel. So far as names go she was not born anything at all. She was found wrapped in a white tablecloth in a straw shopping basket on January 21st, St Agnès Day, with nothing to indicate her parentage except a single turquoise earring lying in the bottom of the basket, which might well have been dropped there by accident.”

After a troubled youth, much of which occurred under the care of the nuns who raised her, Agnès Morel finds her way to the pilgrimage town of Chartres, 80 kilometres southwest of Paris.

What draws her to the cathedral is not the famous stain glass windows and statues but the labyrinth inlaid into the floor.

Since shelter in the North Porch twenty years ago, Agnès has worked in the café, cleaned the cathedral, sat for the local painter who she occasionally allows to have his way with her and generally made herself useful. The townfolks variously take her for granted, feel friendly towards the quiet biddable woman or suspicious of this woman with “a touch of the tar brush about her.”

What none of them know is her secret, buried deep within her, until two of the nuns who raised Agnès make a pilgrimage to the cathedral and Mother Véronique takes it upon herself to share Agnès’ past with the one person who truly wishes Agnès ill.

Sally Vickers has written an enchanting tale, interweaving Agnès’ life before coming to Chartres and the quiet way she enters the lives of the townspeople. Agnès cleans for others as a way of finding some sort of redemption for her past sins but keeping constantly busy is also a way of avoiding thinking about the past. However, once events overtake her and the finger of blame is pointed at Agnès, she feels forced to confess what she had once been and done. It is only then that Agnès finds acceptance and love.

Vickers questions the meaning of faith but also shows that life has a way of offering second chances. This is a funny, insightful and thoroughly enjoyable novel.


Everybody has at least one novel in them

…Or so they say.

Last week we ran famous novelists’ 140 character Twitter novels (I wonder what to call them? If a short novel is a novella, is a Twitter novel a ‘no’ or a ‘tw’, or perhaps a ‘twino’? Mmm, tricky, that one.) Anyway, this week it’s your turn to tap into that rich vein of creative energy and write your own novel.

In November, Twitter is hosting a five-day fiction festival, which they describe as a ‘virtual storytelling celebration.’ Anyone and everyone can enter – just follow the hashtag #twitterfiction and let you imagination go!


On My Bedside Table Are…

Irish/Canadian writer, Emma Donoghue made the Orange Prize shortlist with her dark and deeply disturbing book about a mother and child held prisoner in a room 12 foot by 12 foot, Room.

I know people who could not finish it because it was so confronting, itself a kind of a testament to Donoghue’s skill in drawing a picture with words. With some trepidation, I picked up Astray. Where would Donoghue take the reader this time?

However, Astray is a completely different book; a collection of short tales linked by the common themes of departures, transit, arrivals and aftermaths. Donoghue has taken her inspiration from true events, often only a mere fragment, and crafted them into stories that span centuries, continents and the breadth of human experiences. They are jewels threaded together to make a coherent narrative rather than a collection of different ideas, from the rogue elephant and his keeper (sadly topical at the moment) to gold fever in Yukon and my favourite story about a widow and the gold digging lawyer.

This is a book to enjoy dipping in and out of.


A new Maggie Alderson book always makes for a happy day.

Her latest, Everything Changes But You centres around the lives of Hannah and Matt who live in London with their two kids.

Their happy relationship is tested when Hannah feels they should move to the country to be closer to her mother and Matt’s own mother needs their help back in Sydney. In all of this, there are secrets that have stayed hidden for so long that it might be best that they remain hidden.

Love, friendship and a place to call home are the essential ingredients of a novel that no doubt draws on Alderson’s own experiences living on two sides of the world and dealing with the pull of missed family and friends.


Barbara Kingsolver writes novels that are sharp and well observed.

From the very first page of Flight Behaviour I was drawn into the intricate, complex inner life of Dellarobia, named for a pine wreath by her mother who swore she found the name in the Bible.

Dellarobia is unhappily married to Cubby Turnbow, loathes her mother-in-law Hester (married to Bear Turnbow) and seeks solace in conducting an affair with the telephone repair man. Rushing to a tryst in the pine forest, she is overwhelmed by the site of millions of Monarch butterflies whose brilliant orange colouring makes the trees seem on fire. The sight changes Dellarobia’s life in everyway.

The butterflies have been driven north by pollution and a scientific research team arrives to save them from extinction, and joining their cause just so happens to offer Dellarobia salvation as well.

Fabulous writing.


Booktopia’s Bestsellers

Here’s what we bought in October:

  1. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling   BUY THE BOOK
  2. The House of Memories by Monica McInerney   BUY THE BOOK
  3. Private Oz by James Patterson   BUY THE BOOK
  4. The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes   BUY THE BOOK
  5. AWanted Man: Jack Reacher by Lee Child   BUY THE BOOK


That’s it for the week and the month. Congratulations to the winners of the 2012 Inky Awards, an international award for excellence in teen literature.

Winner of the Gold Inky for an Australian book is Em Bailey with Shift.

The winner of the Silver Inky for an international book is John Green for The Fault In Our Stars.

What about you? What have you been reading over the past week? Have you any bookish news to share, upcoming events or the like? We love to hear your news and views so please leave a comment in the thread below.

Until next week! Mx


*The Hoopla’s books editor Meredith Jaffe is a book reviewer and blogger. She lives in Sydney with her husband and four children. You can follow her on Twitter: @meredithjaffe.



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  • Reply October 26, 2012

    Laura Boon

    Hi Meredith, thank you for review The Cleaner of Chartres. Sally Vickers is one of my favourite authors and I didn’t know this book was available!

  • Reply October 26, 2012


    I loved ‘A Tiny bit Marvellous’ so I’ll definitely be picking up ‘Oh Dear Sylvia’

    I’ve just picked up ‘The Lake of Dreams’ by Kim Edwards… can’t wait to dive into it!

  • Reply October 26, 2012


    I adored Room. For anyone who couldn’t go past the initial horror of the 12 x 12 room, that’s a shame. The story was uplifting and heart warming. The absolute love of a mother in horrifying circumstances was beautiful. The mother transformed her young son’s life into a journey of fun, beauty and a fascination for the world, as they knew it. Yes, it was sad and awful but the talent of the author Emma Donoghue, transformed the tale into one of love, hope and inspiration, with quite a few laughs along the way.

  • Reply October 26, 2012


    Love Dawn French and shall look out for this one. What a wonderful thing for her to find a talent in writing after a fulfilling career in comedy.

  • Reply October 26, 2012


    love salley vickers and maggie alderson, good to know they each have a new book out!

  • Reply October 26, 2012


    I recently finished Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver and whilst I enjoyed the book, I didn’t love it. When I heard that her new book was to be about climate change, I thought ‘whacko’ I can’t wait but I don’t think she quite pulls it off. Her previous book The Laguna was amazing, it dealt with racism, homosexuality, art and power, it was, what you would call a ‘big book’. Flight Behaviour is a much smaller story which is fine but the characters aren’t that well drawn, you want to get to know them but can’t. So you end up caring less for them than you might otherwise. There are so many fascinating elements in the this book, the eastern states area of the USA, evangelicalism, the poor and mainly badly educated, the role of the media and the moths themselves. The territory Barbara covers is fascinating and inspiring, climate change will effect us all, at every level but this book doesn’t challenge me to know more than what I already read daily in newspapers or in wonderful blogs like The Hoopla. It may sound silly but her last book, The Laguna, inspired me to look into Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Trotsky and the McCarthy era. OK you may say, well that is all pretty dam interesting but the topic of climate change should be that big and enticing as well. I think Barbara has rushed this book because she probably feels so strongly about the issue but it is not written with her same investigative passion as in her previous works. I look forward to hearing comments.

    • Reply October 27, 2012


      Michele that is such an interesting insight into Flight Behaviour. I’ve haven’t read all of it yet but I am really enjoying the writing and the characters and the way Kingsolver plays with concept of flight behaviour, applying it through imagery, metaphor and, of course, literally.
      Did you read The Poisonwood Bible by any chance? I’m interested to see how that fits into your critique. I haven’t, but this might be an springboard for debate for other readers too as there seem to be a few Kingsolver fans out there? Mxx

  • Reply October 27, 2012


    Love, love, love Barbara Kingsolver! I wait impatiently for each new release. her short stories and non fiction are wonderful too.

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