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BOOK LOVE: The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy

Once, Rich and Sandy were environmental activists, part of a world-famous blockade in Tasmania to save the wilderness. Now, twenty-five years later, they have both settled into the uncomfortable compromises of middle age — although they’ve gone about it in very different ways. The only thing they have in common these days is their fifteen-year-old daughter, Sophie.

When Rich decides to take Sophie, whom he hardly knows, on a trek into the Tasmanian wilderness, his overconfidence and her growing disillusion with him set off a chain of events that no one could have predicted. Instead of respect, Rich finds antagonism in his relationship with Sophie; and in the vast landscape he once felt an affinity with, he encounters nothing but disorientation and fear.

Ultimately, all three characters will learn that if they are to survive, each must traverse not only the secret territories that lie between them but also those within themselves.

I haven’t read any of Cate’s renowned short stories, but I will be looking for them now. This book is a masterpiece of character study combined with beautiful, lyrical writing. I don’t think I’ve read a better depiction of a teenager’s tumultuous relationship with her parents, and the internal struggles of middle age. While I love a page-turner, there is no rushing this read – Cate makes sure you immerse yourself in each sentence, and it’s no surprise it was shortlisted for numerous accolades, and won the People’s Choice Award in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards back in 2010.

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There’s nothing wrong with being popular!

I was very excited this morning to read Jessica Rudd’s blog on Mama Mia, speaking out in defence of chick lit and commercial fiction. Go Jessica! While my books don’t fall easily into the chick lit category (they are a bit too dark, although they usually have at least one female chick-lit-style character doing her utmost to lighten things up) they are certainly commercial. And I’m very proud of that. I want everyone, and I mean everyone, to read them!

The joy of reading is that it’s such a personal experience. We form relationships with the characters we read about, and we have our own reactions to the journeys they are on, which are interlinked to our own feelings and experiences. Stories are places of freedom, of escape, and of personal interpretation, so it’s a sad state of affairs when any kind of snobbery begins to try to dictate our reading passions. Besides, sweeping whole genres into generalised definitions is plain daft. I’ve read some brilliant chick-lit that has had me crying with laughter – Watermelon by Marian Keyes springs to mind. I’ve also read plenty of books in the same genre that I thought were a load of old rubbish (and will therefore remain nameless!). It’s the same with ‘lit fic’ – I’ve waded my way through a few prize-winning, critically acclaimed doorstoppers wondering why I felt compelled to waste my time; and yet other books have had me in awe – Swimmer by Bill Broady, and Beloved by Toni Morrison are two of my all-time favourites. But I should add that I did my dissertation on Beloved. It was by studying it that I got such a lot out of it. In fact, I think I gave all my friends copies of Beloved for Christmas that year, and, in hindsight, since most weren’t doing English degrees they would probably rather have had the latest Bridget Jones.

Wouldn’t it be great if all types of writing could simply co-exist and try not to squabble? But it’s unlikely, isn’t it. Life just isn’t like that, at least not yet. In the meantime, I have made a conscious choice to try to write the kind of books I love to read. And there is nothing I enjoy quite as much as a spine-tingling mystery with characters you can’t stop thinking about. If that makes my stories your guilty pleasure, then so be it. I promise you’ll get your money’s worth!