Book Review–Bay of Fires–Poppy Gee

What I liked about this story was that the solving of the mystery, while central to the characters’ behaviour, ultimately plays second fiddle to the interactions between the characters themselves. This could be the reason why I’m not all that fond of plot driven mystery stories – there’s enough of that on T.V. for me to feel sated with murder and mayhem without reading about it, too.

There was a moment early in the book where I almost abandoned it – much like driving for hours to a campsite to arrive late in the afternoon in a place full of people you’re not too sure about. Well, metaphorically I parked the car, put up the tent and continued to read. I’m glad I persevered because I came to know these people (characters) and appreciate their perspectives, even if in the end I could not like them.

The language and style, like the landscape in which the story takes place, is deceptively simple, and this makes the story easy to read. On the surface the words and the story carried me from one plot point to the next, but underneath, like the undertows and currents of the ocean, I was caught in the depths of what can’t be seen, in what is not said – the hints and eddies of life itself. Fantastic.

Bay of Fires brought to a head a thought that I’ve been pondering for a while. Is there something about the literature of your own region or country that resonates more than does the literature from elsewhere?

Poppy Gee’s evocation of the rather remote landscape of the Bay of Fires region of Tasmania speaks to me profoundly, something that I’ve rarely experienced in stories from places I’ve never been. Richard Flanagan, Peter Carey, Nevil Shute and even Tansy Rayner Roberts’ fun paranormal take on Hobart also have this effect. Most of the books I’ve read have been either British or American and the only author I can think of (off the top of my head) who came close to this for me was Hemingway.

For the duration of Bay of Fires I was living there with all my senses – not just watching the story happen to other people – walking the beaches, smelling the surf and the tip, stomping through the thick grass wary of snakes, paddling the lagoon, smelling the bushfire and breathing in the heat. Was this simply because I’ve done all those things? Been to places like those? Because I’m Australian? Can Jane Austen be read with anything more than an intellectual appreciation by someone who’s never been to England? I don’t know.

Whatever the reason Bay of Fires has converted me. I find myself wanting to seek out more Australian literature, and not just to satisfy the goals of the various challenges I’ve set myself this year.

So, what do you think? Does regionalism have any effect on your appreciation of the books you read?

4 thoughts on “Book Review–Bay of Fires–Poppy Gee

  1. When I saw this review I wondered whether you were doing the AWW2013 challenge – and I see you are. Yay! Me too, although I haven’t reviewed anything yet…

    I love a powerful sense of place in books I read. I think it does help to be familiar with the landscape and setting in most novels — but that only makes the books that manage to evoke a setting one hasn’t visited all the more powerful. Since I read a lot of fantasy, this often makes or breaks the novel for me. And if it’s somewhere I CAN travel to, I very often find myself with a hankering to visit! I often joke I’ve been doing the “Mary Stewart” tour of the world. 🙂

    • I’m looking forward to reading some of your reviews.I know what you mean about the sense of place in fantasy novels, because that is my main focus, too. I think it is this aspect that has provoked me to adding reviews on the blog because it’s forcing me to be concrete about what I like in a novel (or not) and using that as a learning tool for my own writing. If I don’t commit to writing a review the ideas seem to get lost somewhere.

  2. I was thinking along very similar lines to you with respect to the sense of place. I have lived in Tasmania on another remote beach, and this story was somewhat evoking those feelings from my beach along with the story. I wasn’t sure if it was because she took the reader inside the landscape so well that it felt like I was there, or if my own memories helped me get into the scene. But yes I also felt like this with Richard Flanagan’s stories. Have you read any Tim Winton? I have spent time in some of the West Australian towns that are similar to the settings he has for his stories, and I always felt the same with his stories. Immersed in the landscape. I have always wondered if his stories grip people the same way if they had never been someplace similar. Or perhaps Australian writers are particularly good at creating that sense of place in the landscape?

    • Hi Mysty – it is really hard to know if it was the skill of the author or your own memories which are bringing images to life, isn’t it. I wonder if that is the real skill of the author – to suggest places just enough to provoke memories? Tim Winton – do Lockie Leonard and The Bugalugs Bum Thief count? – I did try to read Cloudstreet when my son was reading it for school, but I couldn’t finish it. I’m not prepared to say I don’t like his writing but at the time and under the circumstances it didn’t appeal – one of these days I will try something else, Dirt Music with the accompanying music always intrigued me.

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