Tag Archives: Ainslie

About a Girl

Joanne Horniman. About a Girl. Allen and Unwin, 2010. ISBN: 9781742371443.

Much like Holly, Anna has left Canberra looking for a new life. Unlike Holly, Anna understands that she is who she is, and that a change of scenery won’t change her or her problems, although it may change how she learns to live in her own skin, in her own head.

Anna has known since she was six years old that she “liked” girls, but it has taken until she is nineteen for her to fall in love. And with Flynn she is truly, desperately and all-pervasively in love, as only young, first love can be. Thinking about Flynn occupies Anna’s every waking moment.

In coming to know Flynn, and in negotiating what form their relationship might take, Anna comes also to know what she wants for herself, and from herself. It is not about coming to terms with her sexuality. She did that at age fifteen when she thought “I am this way for ever and ever”. Simply, she is becoming an adult, a woman who knows herself, and mostly understands.

Music is a theme throughout the book. Flynn is a musician, and Anna first sees her at a gig where Flynn calls herself Every Little Thing. Horniman’s prose is musical as well. I found About A Girl a lovely book to read, its language is full of the intensity of Anna’s attraction to Flynn, and beautifully reveals the hurts and confusions that each young woman slowly exposes to the other, and to us.

Then she revealed the portrait she’d done of me. I looked rather odd and quite beautiful, not at all like myself, which was fitting, as that was the way I’d felt ever since running into her that afternoon. Because being with Flynn did make me feel odd and beautiful.

Back in her Canberra childhood, Anna is a gifted, and therefore different, child. Her only real friend is Michael, not only clever but also wise beyond his years. Soon after they meet, at a camp for gifted kids, he says to her “Anyway, everyone’s a bit different in their own little way.” It is a small piece of comfort that Anna keeps with her, along with her friendship with Michael. Anna is doubly different, being not only intelligent but also knowing that “the world was not this way, and I was not the way of the world.”

Canberra is home for Anna and Michael. They roam the streets of Ainslie “territorial as magpies or cats… walking down the middle of streets beneath canopies of red leaves”. They climb Mount Ainslie at night (I wonder if they ever saw Hannah and Alister there?) so they could

sit and watch the constellations of lights marking the roads, the moving patterns of cars, and the softer, intimate glow of houses. There were huge floodlit areas marking the Australian War Memorial and Parliament House and Anzac Parade, all precisely and frighteningly lined up so there was an unimpeded view between them.

Anna’s time north, in Lismore, is a time for her to evaluate herself away from all the comfort and familiarity of home. The question of home is, though, always there in the background. Early on, when Anna tells Flynn she comes from Canberra, she can’t decide if Canberra still feels like home. Later, when she is vulnerable and alone, she thinks of going home, the idea lodging in her mind. As she has come to learn, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there/ They have to take you in.”

Caphs Count:



Shortlisted 2011: Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, Young adult fiction

Shortlisted 2011: Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year – Older Readers



Filed under Contemporary Fiction, Women Writers, Young Adult

Smoke and Mirrors

Kel Robertson. Smoke and Mirrors. Pan Macmillan 2010. ISBN: 9780330426190.

This book was chosen in a popular vote as the book to represent the ACT in the National Year of Reading collection for 2012. The Year of Reading website explains:

we set out to identify a set of eight books, which together describe what it’s like to live in, be from, visit or in some other way connect with the eight different states and territories. We wanted to create a collection of books which, if read together, articulates the Australian experience – remote, regional, suburban and metropolitan.

I did initially wonder how on earth a book of crime fiction that I’d never heard of could possibly fit this bill for the ACT. Having read the book, I now think I understand. That is hard to explain without spoilers.

Detective Brad Chen is on the trail of the murderer of a former Whitlam government minister, rumoured to be, in his forthcoming memoir, about to spill the beans on the CIA’s influence on the 1975 dismissal. The killer is brutal, and also takes the life of the woman editing the memoir.

The intense and violent interest of thugs of various nationalities in locating a copy of the manuscript seems to confirm that there is an international political scandal here worth killing for. At the same time, much more personal disputes are happening at the Uriarra writers’ retreat where the murders took place. And like all good fictional cops, Brad Chen’s personal life is a disaster area. People seem to want to hurt him for a variety of reasons.

So which is the real story and which is just noise? The drama played out on the political stage, or the ones that are forming, dissolving and reforming communities and relationships all around us?

I love that Brad gets out into the burbs a bit. No one in The Marmalade Files travels more than 1 500 metres as the crow flies from the lake, unless they are trying to hide from someone. Brad Chen is all over the place. The Belconnen cop shop, the Coombs building at ANU, Dickson, Ainslie, even a bus ride through my neck of the woods around Weston. There are throw-away truisms about living in Canberra that give the book authenticity for me. Brad assumes that parliament can’t be sitting when he’s able to get a cab within five minutes . On his jaunt around the suburbs of Weston Creek he observes:

Canberra buses are often empty outside peak hours and they take long, meandering journeys on silent streets… It’s impossible to shadow a Canberra bus without blowing your cover.

Brad is pretty cool, which means that he lives in the Kingston/Manuka area. It’s compulsory. If I was doing a Manuka count instead of a Caphs count in this project we’d be at a 100 per cent strike rate, but as Brad shares a bottle of bubbles with a sequential couple of friends in Caphs, we are still at a respectable three from four. Telopea Park and Paperchain, both also in the cool zone, are other relevant measures.

Can I really believe that international intelligence agencies and criminal gangs would stage a violent robbery at on a grey morning outside the Melbourne Building? No. Because these things don’t happen in Canberra. What happens in Canberra is that brothels run model operations so clean that Brad is “astounded they’re not advertising ISO 9000 compliance.”

It is strange that the books I’ve enjoyed the most so far have both been examples of quirky, humorous crime fiction. I don’t have a history of reading in this genre, Phryne Fisher excepted. [And to digress completely, who will join me in lobbying Kerry Greenwood to bring Phryne to Canberra?] Both Smoke and Mirrors and The Apricot Colonel I found funny, endearing and intriguing. I’m not sure it’s necessarily the genre that agrees with me, though. Both books seem to have recognised the balance that is in Canberra—domestic lives lived out while the world rumbles along in the background. Politics is not the only game in town.


Joint Winner 2009: Ned Kelly Award Best Fiction

ACT Winner 2012: National Year of Reading Our Story collection

Caphs count



Filed under Contemporary Fiction, Crime & Suspense