The annotations below are for texts presented by Helen Sykes to three sessions at the Whitlam Library, on the 19th, 20th and 25th November 2014.
Those who attended the sessions were given the following handout, which highlighted the types of text presented.
Note: In the handout that was given to teachers on the 19th and to students on the 20th, T. S. Eliot's poem 'The Journey of the Magi' was included in the list of related texts. While this is certainly an interesting exploration of the concept of discovery, it cannot be used as a related text as it is a prescribed text for HSC English.
Choosing related texts
- Choose quality texts - texts of substance that ensure that you have something to write about
- Choose texts that give you an opportunity to discuss language features and conventions
- Choose a variety of types of texts
- Choose related texts that are of a different text type to your prescribed text
- Choose texts with similar ideas to those in your prescribed text
- Choose texts with contrasting ideas to those in your prescribed text.
Note:you cannot use as a related text any text that is prescribed for the HSC, even if it is prescribed for a course different from the one you are doing.
An Overview of the Texts
This overview lists the texts under types. Below you will find, in alphabetical order, annotations on each of the texts.
Some picture books
Dragonquest by Allan Baillie and Wayne Harris. Walker Books, 2012 (1996).
It's a Book by Lane Smith. Walker Books, 2010.
Luke's Way of Looking by Nadia Wheatley and Matt Ottley. Walker Books, 2012 (1999).
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan. Lothian Books, 2013.
Sounds Spooky by Christopher Cheng and wSarah Davis. Random House Australia, 2011.
The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg. Andersen Press, 1993.
This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. Candlewick Press, 2012.
The Watertower by Gary Crew and Steven Woolman. Era Publications, 1997 (1994).
Some graphic novels
Coraline: The graphic novel based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig
Stormbreaker: The graphic novel based on the novel by Anthony Horowitz, adapted by Antony
Some young adult novels
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. Red Fox, 2006.
The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina. Walker Books. 2012
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Penguin Books, 2012.
Girls Don’t Fly by Kristen Chandler. Penguin Books, 2011.
Liar by Justine Larbalestier. Allen & Unwin, 2011 (2009).
Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta. Puffin, 1992.
The Vanishing Moment by Margaret Wild. Allen & Unwin, 2013.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Allen & Unwin, 2014.
Some adult novels
Past the Shallows by Favel Parett. Hachette, 2013 (2011).
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. Penguin Books, 2008 (2007).
Some classic novels
Emma by Jane Austen.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
Silas Marner by George Eliot.
Some non-fiction texts
Book by John Agard, illustrated by Neil Packer. Walker Books, 2014.
The Explorers by Tim Flanagan. Text Classics, 2013 (1998).
The Fiftieth Gate by Mark Raphael Baker. HarperCollins, 1997.
My Place by Sally Morgan. Fremantle Press, 1988.
Paula by Isabel Allende. HarperCollins, 2005.
Scurvy by Stephen R. Bown. Penguin, 2004 (2003).
Some short stories
'Alien' by Nadia Wheatley. Available in Ten Out of Ten, Phoenix Education.
'Mrs. Sen's'. Available in Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.
'Vici' by Naomi Novik. Available in The Dragon Book edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois.
'Beach Burial' by Kenneth Slessor
'Five Visions of Captain Cook' by Kenneth Slessor.
'My Last Duchess' by Robert Browning
Forget Me Not by Tom Holloway. Currency Plays, 2013.
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. A play in three acts.
A television documentary
First Contact presented by Ray Martin and produced by Blackfella Films. 2014. Rated M.
Emma directed by Jim O'Hanlon. 2009. Rated G.
The Invention of Lying directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson. 2009. Rated M.
Longitude directed by Charles Sturridge. 2000. Rated M.
The Truman Show directed by Peter Weir. 1998. Rated PG.
The texts in more detail
by Nadia Wheatley. Available in Ten Out of Ten, Phoenix Education, ISBN 9781876580483.
This is an appealing story about a teenager whose family have recently undergone a sea change, moving from the city to a small seaside town. The story is told in the teenager's voice and the title, 'Alien', expresses the sense of being an outsider that most teenagers who have had to change towns and schools will recognise. The story gives a vivid description of the town as a warm, welcoming place, which makes the sense of alienation even more acute. In contrast to that sense of alienation, the narrator's parents have immersed themselves happily in every aspect of community life.
The reading of this story involves a different kind of discovery from the other texts suggested here. It's a discovery on the part of the reader - and it only happens when you've finished reading the story and begin talking about it with others. Some readers will begin confidently talking about what 'she' felt and did; others will tentatively question how they've come to the conclusion that the narrator is female. Arguments begin, including the stereotype that 'She must be female. Look at the fuss she makes about her appearance'. For most readers it is an interesting discovery that they have made assumptions based on such stereotypes. Closer reading shows that there is absolutely no way of knowing the narrator's gender; Wheatley has cleverly structured her story so that it is never revealed.
There is another discovery, on the part of the narrator. His or her parents are both deaf. We've been told that school friends have often thought that strange, but it has always been part of the family life and has come to seem quite normal:
No, I don't mind that Mum and Dad are deaf. That doesn't get in the way at all. But sometimes I do mind that they worry so much about me minding that they throw themselves into every possible school activity and community activity in order to show that I am just a normal kid with normal parents who can do normal things. (And of course they can do everything just like 'normal' people - whatever that word means. But do they have to? Why can't they just be selfish couch potatoes, like most parents?)
So yes: I do mind the way they seem to connect onto everything, and into everything. The problem with my parents is - I am not like them. Sometimes I feel as if I've come from outer space.
In the final moments of the story, the narrator for the first time experiences that sense of community that comes naturally to his or her parents. On the stage at the town's music festival, with guitar in hand and the decision made to sing an original composition, he or she feels 'as if we're all somehow connected into the one body. I mean, everyone. Everywhere.'
by Kenneth Slessor. This can be found online at www.poetryfoundation.org. It can also be found in many anthologies of poetry, including collections of Slessor's work.
This is one of Slessor's best-known poems. In 1940 Slessor became Australia's official war poet. In 1942 an important battle was fought at El Alamein in northern Africa. Many Australian soldiers and sailors died. In this poem Slessor writes about the sailors from all navies who were drowned in battle and whose bodies were washed up on the beach.
This is an exploration of the concept of discovery as exposure. Slessor was always fascinated by the sound qualities of words, and his use of sound in this poem enhances the sense of exposure. He begins by describing very quietly the scene:
Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come
There is a jarring note with the word 'dead' in the second line. The word 'convoys' has always been used about ships full of live sailors. But the third line is also soft and reassuring:
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under
That line is longer than the preceding ones, and it has an almost hypnotic rhythm, enhanced by the half-rhyme of 'wander' and 'far under'. The sailors seem peaceful. So the last line of the stanza is a shock:
But morning rolls them in the foam.
This is exposure - harsh and cruel. They are no longer being rocked gently by the waves. They are now thrown on to the beach, exposed to the light of day. Notice how effective 'but' is, with its abrupt sound. If you substitute 'and' for 'but', the impact is different. When you read the stanza aloud, the difference in sound between the first three lines and the fourth is stark. Notice that apart from 'morning' all the words in the last line are monosyllabic, so that we read them quickly, with that hard cold sound of 'rolls' and 'foam'.
The poem then goes on to describe the hurried and anonymous burial on the beach, with a series of harsh-sounding words, again mostly monosyllabic: 'pluck', 'bury', 'tread'. The sound of the gunfire is represented by words that reflect the feelings of that small burial party, rather than an accurate representation of the shots themselves: 'the sob and clubbing of the gunfire'. The colour of the writing on the temporary wooden crosses is described as being 'As blue as drowned men’s lips', reminding us again of the exposure of the bodies on the shore.
This is obviously a very different exploration of the idea of discovery than in texts about personal self-discovery or about geographical or scientific discoveries. But it is a valid exploration of the concept. The persona - the voice that the poet uses - is discovering the horror of war, and the cruel way that the bodies are exposed on the beach encapsulates that horror. The last stanza tries to offer some kind of comfort, with the idea that all the dead are honoured together, regardless of which side they were on:
... the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the other front.
Some readers find this ending rather flat and disappointing. It is the exposure we remember, not the perhaps rather glib conclusion.
by John Agard, illustrated by Neil Packer. Walker Books, 2014. ISBN 9780744544787. 141 pp.
This little non-fiction text is a history of written communication, from the Sumerians five thousand years ago to the e-books of today. What makes it especially appealing is that it comes to us as autobiography: 'My name is Book and I'll tell you the story of my life ...' The text is concise, just enough information to enable us to understand each major stage in the development of Book, and it is ably supported by the quirky illustrations and the use of various quotations and extracts. My favourite is from Ibrahim Muteferrika (c. 1674-1745), an Hungarian-born scholar and diplomat of the Ottoman Empire, who wrote about the invention of the printing press:
The famine of books will be at an end. All nations will be able to acquire books at low cost. What glory for our Empire, and what prayers for its perpetuity will be made, when they see so many good books which communicate knowledge to them, of which till then they had been destitute. This motive alone should suffice for our invincible Emperor to protect and permit the establishment of printing.
This is a great text for Discovery. Like many non-fiction texts, its subject-matter is the process of discovery. It traces the many inventions, experimentations and findings through the centuries that gave humanity better means of written communication. In the account, many discoverers are celebrated, such as the Chinese scholar Ts'ai Lun two thousand years ago, who experimented until he invented paper, to the German Friedrich Koenig in 1814, who invented a new press powered by steam. Most of these discoveries are of the kind described by the Board of Studies' rubric as emerging 'from a process of deliberate and careful planning'. It would be hard to think of anything more powerfully 'far-reaching and transformative for the individual and for broader society' than access to the written word.
This text is also a process of discovery for the reader, enlightening us to the possibilities of presenting a non-fiction text in an unconventional way. This is a delightfully charming and imaginative approach to the subject-matter, which could have been long, dull and tedious. From the decision to tell the story in the voice of Book, to the quirky illustrations and accessible page layout, to the inclusion of Agard's own poem about libraries, this is a joy - as we encounter and explore each new idea.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
by John Boyne. Definitions, 2014 (2006). ISBN 9781909531192. 272 pp.
This was first published in hardcover with a dust jacket. The blurb on the dust jacket provided less information than I had ever seen before, for any book:
Usually we give some clues about the book on the jacket, but in this case we think that would spoil the reading of the book. We think it is important that you start to read without knowing what it is about.
Adults will immediately get some clues to the subject-matter from the title and the design of the book jacket, although young readers may not immediately pick up these clues. Other clues unroll gradually: the nine-year-old narrator thinks that his parents' important visitor is called ‘the Fury’ and that his father has been sent to supervise a place called 'Out-With'. Readers who know the history of Germany in World War II and of the Holocaust will pick up on clues more quickly, but even the most innocent of readers will share Gretel's discomfort looking at the people behind the huge wire fence topped by barbed wire tangled in spirals. The reading of this text is a process of discovery - a gradual, piece-by-piece connecting of small clues to reveal the whole. For each reader, depending on their prior knowledge, the process will vary, as the Board's rubric suggests.
The other discovery is the terrible shock of the ending, as readers realise what Bruno's decision to slip under the wire will lead to. It is important to remember that Boyne called his novel 'a fable' - something designed to teach a lesson. There has been a huge amount of Holocaust literature, most of it autobiographical accounts. Sadly, many readers have reached a position of fatigue: we know about the horror but we have been so exposed that it no longer shocks us. Boyne found a way of breaking through our resistance and shocking us profoundly, forcing us to confront anew the human tragedy. His novel is, in the words of the Board's rubric, 'confronting and provocative', offering 'new understandings and renewed perceptions'.
The film rather than the novel could of course be used as a text for Discovery.
Coraline: The graphic novel
based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell. Bloomsbury, 2008. ISBN 9780747594062. 192 pp.
This is based on Gaiman's scary novel for children. There is also an animated film.
Coraline and her parents have moved to a new house. It is a very large house and Coraline's parents only own a part of it, with other people living in other parts of the building. It is the school holidays, Coraline is bored, and she sets out to explore. It is a great place for discoveries, as both the house and the garden are huge and there are forbidden and dangerous places, such as the disused well.
Coraline discovers a door that leads her to an apartment that is the mirror image of the one that her parents own. There she discovers a couple who look rather like her parents, apart from their button eyes. They offer Coraline a much more interesting world - better food, new toys, but she is suspicious, especially when they want to give her button eyes like theirs: 'Coraline knew that when grown-ups told you something wouldn't hurt it almost always did.' But when she returns to her apartment, her real parents have vanished. Gradually, Coraline realises that her fake mother has imprisoned them.
This horror/fantasy is in many ways a celebration of a child's impulse to explore, to discover, to embark on adventures. Coraline discovers in herself a courage she did not know that she possessed as she works out how she can free her parents and the other lost souls in her fake mother's control.
by Allan Baillie and Wayne Harris. Walker Books, 2012 (1996). ISBN 9781921977848. 40 pp.
We all know about quests and how they work. They are undertaken by heroes, warriors, knights. They involve:
deeds so daring that songs
will be sung for a thousand years.
The knight is accompanied by a page whose job is to 'carry my lance, my shield, my stewpot'. The reader empathises with the page, as we set out to find and slay the last dragon. There are of course all kinds of fearsome ordeals to be overcome along the way, including the 'howling of doomed Dragon Fighters' who have been captured by witchcraft in the forest. But, after surviving everything, at the moment when the Dragon Fighter is preparing for a mighty battle, the page reveals that he doesn't want to kill the last dragon.
This is an example of the pictures in a picture book revealing a story that is not told by the words. On the top of Glass Mountain the Dragon Fighter searches in vain for the last dragon and decides at last that there is 'No dragon left anywhere'. The reader shares the page's delighted discovery of the truth.
This is a picture book to be enjoyed by young readers. It is a great and daring adventure, with a surprise to be discovered at the end. It is also an interesting exploration of a boy's journey towards manhood. In the traditional quest, manhood is proven by killing the dragon. In Baillie's version, there is a recognition that it is more heroic not to kill. The reader makes that discovery as we share the boy's triumphant grin.
by Jane Austen. Penguin Classics, 2003 (1815). ISBN 97801439587. 512 pp.
This novel is out of copyright and there are ebook versions that can be downloaded free.
This classic British novel, first published in 1815, is thought by many Jane Austen readers to be her best book. It is of course a substantial read, but you may find that it repays you for the time and effort expended. This is a novel of self-discovery. Self-discovery is presented as a series of painful realisations.
The novel opens like this:
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
That sounds great: we would all like to be handsome, clever and rich, and we would all like to have lives that are virtually untroubled. But with Austen, every word counts, and the important word in that sentence is 'seemed'. Emma is surrounded by people who are not only less clever than she is, but who are in many cases really not very bright at all, so she has come to over-estimate her own ability to judge situations. In particular, she flatters herself that, not only can she predict, but that she is even able to influence, romantic pairings in her small circle. She arrogantly dismisses warnings, especially from her long-time friend and neighbour, Mr Knightley, that she is misreading people's behaviour. The result is a series of embarrassing and hurtful discoveries, culminating in the sudden recognition that she may have engineered the very worst of relationships:
‘Have you any idea of Mr Knightley’s returning your affection?’
‘Yes,’ replied Harriet modestly, but not fearfully – ‘I must say that I have.’
Emma’s eyes were instantly withdrawn; and she sat silently meditating, in a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress. She touched – she admitted – she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with Mr Knightley, than with Frank Churchill? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet’s having some hope of a return? It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr Knightley must marry no one but herself!
Emma is a comedy, so everything turns out well in the end. But it is also a perceptive exploration of character. The world Emma lives in may be very different from ours, but we have probably all known people like her: confident, intelligent people who are blind to their own failings. The novel is a process of self-discovery.
For those who really enjoy Austen's writing style, there are other discoveries in Emma. As you know, one of the most important tasks for a storywriter is exposition: providing us with the details of who? and when? and what? is happening. One device that Austen uses to do this is through an apparently minor character, Miss Bates. Miss Bates is probably the least bright of the people who move in Emma's circle: a well-intentioned, kind-hearted, but undeniably silly old spinster who never stops talking. One crucial scene in the novel is the ball. Austen uses an extraordinarily skilful monologue by Miss Bates to provide the exposition. Notice the way in which Miss Bates' distracted thoughts are represented by the broken sentences and the string of exclamations:
As the door opened she was heard,
'So very obliging of you! - No rain at all. Nothing to signify. I do not care for myself. Quite thick shoes. And Jane declares - Well! - (as soon as she was within the door) Well! This is brilliant indeed! - This is admirable! - Excellently contrived, upon my word. Nothing wanting. Could not have imagined it. - So well lighted up! - Jane, Jane, look! - did you ever see any thing? Oh! Mr Weston,you really have had Aladdin's lamp.
This continues for some time. It all seems like trivia, typical of Miss Bates' incessant chatter, but it tells us quite a lot, not just that the old hall has been transformed into a splendid well-lit ballroom, filling up as she speaks with a large number of people whom she names as she sees them. She lets us know that there is 'a noble fire' in the fireplace and that refreshments are being served, but her monologue also reveals that Mr Knightley has gone out of his way to be kind to Miss Bates' niece, Jane, as has Mr Frank Churchill - the romantic lead at this point. Emma has refused to believe that either man is at all interested in Jane. Miss Bates' apparently rambling monologue is used to provide the reader with clues - with discoveries - that Emma should also pick up on but can't see because of her arrogance.
directed by Jim O'Hanlon. 2009. Rated G.
This lively film presents Austen's classic to a new generation. This is much more a love story than a costume drama, with viewers able to get to know Mr Knightley much more thoroughly than Austen allows in the novel. Three of the four episodes end with a confrontation for Emma. At the end of scene 1, Mr Knightley is angry with her for playing with the lives of Harriet and Mr Elton as if they are dolls. At the end of scene 2, Emma desperately rejects her former governess's suggestion that Mr Knightley might be in love with Jane Fairfax. At the end of scene 3 Emma scornfully rejects Mr Knightley's view that there is some kind of relationship between Jane and Frank. There is a recurrent image of Mr Knightley berating Emma for her blindness: the camera switches between a tearful Emma and Mr Knightley's retreating back. There is a further recurrent image of Emma looking at herself in the mirror, with the dawning horror of discovering how mistaken she has been.
Like the novel, this is a comedy. Emma's progress towards self-discovery is painful, but the pain is short-lived and there are no serious consequences. The unfortunate Harriet, who was so deeply in love with Mr Elton and then with Mr Knightley - all because of Emma's interference - discovers that she was really in love with Mr Martin all along. Jane Fairfax, so wounded by Emma's flirting with Frank, gets her deserved reward. And Emma finally gets her man.
by Tim Flanagan. Text Classics, 2013 (1998). ISBN 9781921922435. 400 pp.
This is an anthology of extracts from the journals of navigators and explorers who 'discovered' Australia, beginning in 1606 with the Dutch navigator, Willem Jansz, who reported that 'vast regions were for the greater part uncultivated, and certain parts inhabited by savage, cruel, black barbarians who slew some of our sailors'. In his introduction to the collection, Flanagan reflects on the nature of this discovery, noting that it is often thought of as conquest. Cook captured Australia for the king. The explorers who went out to discover what lay beyond the original small settlements were also conquerors, opening up the land for further invasion. Flanagan argues that:
It is one of the great ironies of the classic age of exploration that, by its end, the sum of human knowledge about Australia had been diminished. In 1817 it was still possible to find somebody, somewhere, who could tell in detail about their society, the animals, plants and history of their particular part of Australia.
However, as the explorers spread out making their 'discoveries', pushing out the original inhabitants, that knowledge was lost. This was despite the fact that many of them recognised that it was only with Indigenous help that they could manage. David Carnegie, for example, at the end of the nineteenth century can only survive the Gibson Desert by capturing a native woman and forcing her to show him where the waterholes are. He justifies his harsh treatment as necessary because, without her help:
... we could not by any possibility have succeeded in crossing the desert, and should not only have lost our own lives, but possibly those of others who would have made search for us after.
Our journeys of discovery led to ignorance and incomprehension. Flanagan has concerns about the process of discovering a land that was so well-known to its inhabitants and the refusal of those discoverers to listen to or learn from people they considered inferior. Flanagan believes that we are only now beginning to explore this continent, to discover what it is really like.
Whether we agree with Flanagan in his introduction or not, his collection of stories of discovery is fascinating, and the motives and outcomes of the many eyewitness accounts he presents are hugely diverse. There are many different kinds of 'discovery', from Banks' first sighting of a kangaroo - 'an animal as large as a greyhound, of a mouse colour and very swift', to John Oxley's unearthing of a ceremonial grave, to Leichhardt's appreciation of the wells dug by the Indigenous people to capture the precarious supply of water. Some discoveries were sudden and unexpected; others were the result of careful planning. Some were motivated by curiosity, others by necessity and some by wonder. But in many cases the cultural and historical values of the discoverers prevented them from achieving new understandings.
The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green. Penguin Books, 2012. ISBN 9780143567592. 313 pp.
Narrated by sixteen-year-old Hazel, who has been living with incurable cancer for more than three years, this is a compulsive read. The narrative voice is hugely appealing: this is a very bright and very funny girl who knows the inevitability of her fate and is determined not to be maudlin. Her greatest concern is for her parents: she describes herself as a 'grenade' that will some day explode, destroying their lives.
There have been a number of excellent young adult books in recent years about teenagers facing death, but this is in a class of its own. It is unrelentingly realistic about the nature of illness - and the sometimes worse nature of treatment. Hazel's thyroid cancer has spread to her lungs and, although a wonder drug has stopped the tumours growing for a while, she needs an oxygen tank to breathe - something that accompanies her everywhere. Not surprisingly, she has very little energy and her appearance has been affected by her treatment, particularly the bloated cheeks caused by steroids. Hazel describes herself as 'a normally proportioned person with a balloon for a head'. She's hardly the usual heroine of an achingly tender love story.
The title, of course, comes from Cassius's words to Brutus in Julius Caesar: 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves...' The Romans believed they could overcome their fate, but the lives of Hazel and Augustus are more like another Shakespeare quotation - 'As boys to wanton flies/ Are we to the gods/ They kill us for their sport.' They are doomed to be 'star-crossed lovers', like Romeo and Juliet. Courageous fighting makes no difference. What happens seems cruelly arbitrary.
In an interesting sub-plot, Hazel is determined to find out more about her favourite book, An Imperial Affliction, by American-Dutch author Peter van Houten. Her journey to Amsterdam, with Augustus, to discover van Houten is a reminder that not all discoveries are welcome. Green explores the interesting idea that readers refuse to accept that fiction is not real. The Amsterdam sequence allows the introduction of another young person whose fault was in her stars: Anne Frank.
Like many good narratives, this is a journey of discovery for the reader. From the opening pages, we know that Hazel is terminally ill. We make predictions as we read and we assume that we know where the story is going. What happens is a terrible shock.
Students could also use the film based on this novel as a text to explore Discovery.
The Fiftieth Gate
by Mark Raphael Baker. HarperCollins, 1997. ISBN 9780732258047. 339 pp.
The sub-title of Baker's book is 'A Journey through Memory'. This is part-biography, part-autobiography and part-memoir. It is also very explicitly about the process of historical discovery. Baker, an historian specialising in modern Jewish history, sets out to discover his parents' stories. They, as Holocaust survivors, set out reluctantly to rediscover their own pasts.
In the first chapters Baker and his brother have taken their parents back to Poland, to the villages they lived in sixty years earlier. In Chapter 1 their father is at first bewildered that he can recognise nothing until a wooden gate triggers memories. In Chapter 2 their mother dances over the fields that her father had once owned. In Chapter 3 Baker alone visits Treblinka, the concentration camp where his father's mother perished. In Chapter 4 he begins the process of recording on tape many, many hours of interviews with his parents. This gradual uncovering of the past is extremely effective: the reader participates in the journey of discovery, which has many of the elements of a detective story. Baker's decision to tell the story as a process of discovery makes it at times a little confusing, as he moves so suddenly in time and space, but there are some intensely moving revelations that reward the effort.
hosted by Ray Martin and produced by Blackfella Films. 2014. Rated M.
First televised in November 2014, this three-part documentary is reality TV modelled on the successful Go Back to Where You Came From, which is one of the prescribed texts for Area of Study: Discovery. Of course, if you are studying Go Back to Where You Came From, you will not choose First Contact as a related text, as it is best to have related texts that are of a different text type from your prescribed text, but other students will find this a good choice.
The documentary is presented by well-known journalist Ray Martin. Six Australians were selected who had little knowledge of Indigenous Australia. Initial interviews with the six participants revealed not only ignorance but prejudice and racism in some cases. The documentary is 'a journey of conflict and discovery': the purpose is to immerse the six participants in Indigenous life and to observe how the experiences change their attitudes and beliefs. The three episodes take the participants to very different communities across Australia. The third episode was followed by Insight, the SBS current affairs program, where five of the six participants were questioned about what they had discovered.
The subject-matter of the documentary is clearly discovery: each participant is exposed to 'new worlds' and 'new ideas', in the words of the Board's rubric. The discoveries are unquestionably 'confronting and provocative'. The exposure leads in most cases to 'new understandings'. This is, however, an artificial voyage of discovery in some ways, manipulated by the producers of the documentary. It is reality TV and the parameters of the process of discovering are strictly controlled. It is the producers who determine which experiences the participants will have. The discovery is 'carefully planned', but not like a scientific experiment where the purpose of the planning is to ensure an objective result: the purpose here is to create good television. The sequence, for example, showing the reaction to the killing of the turtle for food made good television footage, with the outrage and disgust of the non-indigenous spectators. It did very little to address any real questions about the relationship between Indigenous people and the land that provides them with their food.
'Five Visions of Captain Cook'
by Kenneth Slessor. This can be found online at www.poetryfoundation.org. It can also be found in many anthologies of poetry, including collections of Slessor's work.
Kenneth Slessor is one of Australia's best-known and most accessible poets, and 'Five Visions of Captain Cook' is one of his greatest achievements. It is actually made up of five very different poems – five points of view on Captain Cook and his achievements. Each of the five poems has a different format as well as a different viewpoint.
Part I, the longest and, in my opinion, the best of the poems shows Cook through the eyes of his sailors. To them Cook is a king, wielding magical powers - 'more like warlocks than a humble man', 'Daemons in periwigs'. The poem is dense with words and images that have connotations to do with magic and sorcery. Cook lived in an age where there was little scientific support for navigators going into uncharted waters, so to his men Cook becomes a figure larger than life. Cook's greatness as a discoverer is emphasised towards the end of this first poem when Cook has to make a choice - a choice that adventurers before him, including Tasman and Bougainville, had not made - to choose 'a passage into the dark' by sailing westwards into the unknown.
Part II continues the image of Cook as a magician in the sailors' eyes, as he steers them with confidence through the beauty and the danger of the Great Barrier Reef.
Part III is the shortest of the five poems, with a distinctive regular rhythm and a simple aa-bb rhyme scheme. This is a picture of Cook as a scientific pioneer. In his cabin are two experimental chronometers - one invented by a man called Arnold and the other by a man called Kendal. Despite the sailors' view that his discoveries were the result of magical powers, Cook knew how important scientific discoveries could be to opening up the world.
Part IV offers a very different image of Cook, this time seen as an ordinary human being through the eyes of one of his young midshipmen. Midshipmen at the time were usually quite young boys, 'hungry schoolboys', but they were trainee officers and were allowed glimpses of Cook the man, whereas the humble sailors only saw Cook as a godlike figure, above ordinary men. That man is still the discoverer, mapping the coast from the jollyboat.
Part V is very different. Cook is now dead and he is seen through the eyes of one of his sailors, now old, blind and disregarded.
If you want to choose just one of the five poems to examine the way Slessor explores the concept of discovery, Parts I and III are probably the best choices.
Forget Me Not
by Tom Holloway. Currency Plays, 2013. ISBN 9780868199696. 80 pp.
The language of this recent Australian play is a bit confronting but appropriate to the context. The play tells the terrible story of a child taken from Liverpool in the United Kingdom when he was aged three and sent with many other children to a new life in Australia. It is based on detailed research about the more than 3 000 children who were shipped to Australia as orphans between the end of World War II and 1970. Gerry, now around 60, has always believed he was an orphan. He was brought up in a brutal Australian institution and was severely damaged by the experience. His life has been unhappy and often violent. It is his daughter, Sally, who insists that he contacts the authorities and tries to find out who he is.
The play is non-realistic in style and is not arranged chronologically. The most gripping scenes are those between an inarticulate Gerry and the frail old woman, Mary. It is a while before we discover that Mary is, in fact, Gerry's mother, mourning for the child she gave up because she was persuaded by the authorities that he would go to a better life. It takes even longer to realise that the scenes between Gerry and Mary are imagined. By the time Gerry and Sally get to Liverpool, Mary is dead.
I try as often as possible not to disclose endings, so I apologise for that. However, I don't think it will spoil your appreciation of the play.
This is about Gerry's painful discovery of his past. It is a discovery of the whole history of the forgotten children. But, because it is not chronological and because it is not always realistic narrative, it is also a gradual process of discovery for audience members as we try to piece together fragments of evidence about Gerry's past and about Mary. It is in some ways discovery as detection.
Girls Don’t Fly
by Kristen Chandler. Penguin Books, 2011. ISBN 9780143566588. 300 pp.
This American young adult novel looks like a conventional teenage romance: nice girl gets dumped by glamorous and apparently perfect boyfriend and slowly comes to realise he was a sleaze and that Mr Right is someone who doesn’t fit any of the stereotypes. And it is that – and more satisfying than most. But it is so much more. To begin with, the characters are richly drawn and engaging and the first-person narrative voice is funny and intelligent. The representation of Myra’s large and chaotic family is a joy: Myra comes to acknowledge that she is a doormat and that she is mercilessly exploited by her family, but there is a lot of love there as well. But most interesting is Myra’s growing awareness of her physical environment and her growing fascination with the Galapagos Islands, especially their birdlife.
The setting is ‘the pit of Utah’, the dreariness of suburbia at its worst. Myra can only see the boredom, the small-mindedness and the ugliness. But slowly a science project and a young researcher, Pete, begin to open her eyes to the miracle of the Great Salt Lake only ten miles away, a stopover for millions of migrating birds.
The novel is a celebration of the fact that girls don’t need to settle for second best. Myra had been intending to train as a dental nurse, to complement her perfect boyfriend’s career intention to become a dentist. It is only after he cruelly dumps her that she recognises the possibility of competing with him on equal terms, when the opportunity presents itself of attempting to win a scientific scholarship that involves two months’ pre-college research in the Galapagos. The novel also celebrates the joy of scientific discovery. The chapter titles are all taken from the world of bird study: ‘Habitat’, ‘Mounted specimen’, ‘Cavity nests’ and so on.
This is a satisfying coming-of-age novel - a novel of self-discovery for the protagonist - as well as being a novel about the joy of scientific discovery.
by Charles Dickens. Penguin Classics, 2004 (1861). ISBN 9780141439563. 544 pp.
This novel is out of copyright and there are ebook versions that can be downloaded free.
This is a very big book and, for readers used to twenty-first century literature, it can take a while to get used to. Paragraphs and sentences are much longer than in modern writing, and there are some unfamiliar words. But if you can take the time to become accustomed to it, Dickens' writing can be an utter joy. He was hugely popular in his time. His novels - most of which were published in serial form - made him a celebrity. He had the kind of audience appeal that a film director like Steven Spielberg has had in modern times.
Great Expectations is a coming-of-age story. We first meet Pip as a young child, an orphan, living with his unsympathetic and much older sister, Mrs Joe, and her husband, Joe Gargery, the blacksmith. It is Joe who gives Pip the only love and affection in his life. It is taken for granted that Pip will become Joe's apprentice once he is old enough and that he will lead the same kind of hard working-class life.
But, unexpectedly, a benefactor comes along, who will turn Pip into a 'gentleman'. Pip will be educated and will be provided with an allowance that will ensure that he won't need to work for his living. This, of course, means leaving Joe and Mrs Joe and going to London, where Pip soon learns to despise his humble origins. Pip is very confident that he knows who his secret benefactor is and looks forward happily to the day when all will be disclosed.
But the disclosure - the discovery - is terrible:
I could not have spoken one word, though it had been to save my life. I stood, with a hand on the chair-back and a hand on my breast, where I seemed to be suffocating, - I stood so, looking wildly at him, until I grasped at the chair, when the room began to surge and turn. He caught me, drew me to the sofa, put me up against the cushions, and bent on one knee before me, bringing the face that I now well remembered, and that I shuddered at, very near to mine.
The discovery brings not the expected joy, but revulsion. The pain and shock will eventually lead Pip on a journey of self-discovery, as in all good coming-of-age novels.
The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde. Penguin, 2012 (1895). ISBN 9780451531896. A play in three acts.
This play is out of copyright and there are ebook versions that can be downloaded free.
Like most genres, the nature of farce varies enormously - from some very vulgar examples dependent mainly on physical jokes to the superbly sophisticated, verbally adroit wit of Wilde's best-loved play. Common to all farce on stage and film is, however, the concept of discovery: usually the sudden - often embarrassing - reveal, whether it's someone concealed behind the sofa or the awkwardness of Jack in full mourning suit confronting (supposedly) the brother whom he has just pronounced dead. The best part of discovery in farce is that the audience is usually in the know. Dramatic irony provides the frisson.
One of the favourite techniques of the farce is to exploit mistaken identity, and it is this that Wilde sustains throughout the play with such poise. The play is always about how important it is to be named 'Ernest'. For the reader or audience member, the delight consists in the absurdly comic situations that arise as mistaken identity is revealed.
What Wilde adds to what might otherwise be a fairly stereotyped treatment of rogues deliberately disguising their identities and being uncovered is his wonderful cynicism, exemplified at the end of the play when Jack - now, at last, Ernest - apologises to Gwendolen:
Jack: Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?
Gwendolen: I can. For I feel that you are sure to change.
Farces depend on the absurd and the wildly exaggerated, and this is as true for plot as for any other aspect of a play. The final revelation that it was the unlikely Miss Prism who deposited the black handbag in the cloak-room at Victoria Station, Brighton line, is deliciously right, especially when Jack assumes that she must be his long-lost mother.
The most recent film version of The Importance of Being Earnest was made in 2002, directed by Oliver Parker. It had a star cast – Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O’Connor and Reece Witherspoon playing the roles of the two pairs of lovers, with Dame Judi Dench perfect in the role of Lady Bracknell. It had moderate box-office success. Watch the official trailer to see if this is a film that may appeal to you. If you do watch it, you won't have difficulty discovering how important discoveries are to the comedy.
Other farces could be used to explore Discovery. Any episode of the famous television comedy series Fawlty Towers would be a good place to start.
The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf
by Ambelin Kwaymullina. Walker Books. 2012.
ISBN 9781921720086. 395 pp.
This is Book 1 of The Tribe. Book 2, The Disappearance of Ember Crow (9781921720093), was published in 2014.
This is absorbing post-apocalyptic fiction. Set many centuries into the future, after humanity was almost wiped out in an environmental catastrophe, this - like many other titles in the genre - is set in an authoritarian society where those that do not conform are eliminated. In this case, the misfits are teenagers who begin to develop 'abilities'. These abilities are powerful and diverse, covering such things as the ability to create storms, earthquakes or fire, to fly, to communicate telepathically or - in the case of the main character, Ashala Wolf - to sleepwalk. Some teenagers manage to escape. Ashala has become leader of The Tribe, a group of teenagers living in the Firstwood. The Tribe want to end the tyranny that threatens them.
The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is breathtakingly exciting, as Ashala is captured by the enforcers and interrogated by the Machine. There are several totally unexpected and audacious plot twists: nothing is what it seems. The action is confined almost entirely to one location - Detention Centre 3 - and takes place over just a few days. The effect is intense and almost claustrophobic.
The author comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region. What sets The Tribe aside from the many other recent young adult post-apocalyptic novels is the author's decision to draw on her heritage. An adaptation of the Dreamtime legend of the rainbow serpent is an important part of the narrative. Ashala seeks advice from her ancestral spirit, the giant Serpent. The Aboriginal understanding of country also underpins the story. Ashala values and feels herself to be part of the Firstwood and its giant tuart trees.
This is a story about discovery - Ashala discovers that things are very different from what she had believed. Her discoveries are sudden and confronting. But reading The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is also a journey of discovery for the reader. The author deliberately misleads us, so that the plot reversals come as a series of shocks.
The Invention of Lying
directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robertson. 2009. Rated M.
This little British comedy was no huge box office success, but it is great fun and absolutely perfect to explore the Area of Study: Discovery. It stars Ricky Gervais as a fat loser with no assets or talents, except for the fact that he is a really nice, caring human being - something that doesn't rate highly in his world. It is a world that is much like ours, except that human beings have never learnt to lie. The concept of a lie is completely unknown. Not only are there no big lies, but all those little white lies that are so essential to ordinary human civility are also impossible. A woman says to the mother of a newborn: 'Your baby is so ugly; it's just like a little rat.' The television ad for Coco-Cola is delivered by an employee of the company who can think of no greater inducement than to beg his audience to keep buying Coke so that he can keep his job. He's already admitted that Coke contributes to obesity in both adults and children and, when he takes a sip at the end of the ad, he shudders and admits that it's too sugary. The ad for Pepsi on the side of the bus spruiks: 'Pepsi - when they don't have Coke.' And the nursing home where the protagonist visits his elderly mother is signposted: 'A very sad place for hopeless old people.'
Ricky Gervais plays Mark Bellison, an unsuccessful scriptwriter for a leading film company. Mark is fired by his boss and is about to be evicted by his landlord. He knows there are insufficient funds in his bank account to pay his rent. When the bank teller asks him how much he wishes to withdraw, he has an epiphany - a eureka! moment - represented in an over-the-top fashion with sudden extreme camera zoom in to his forehead and then to his brain. He lies - and his world is changed forever. This is the 'sudden and unexpected' discovery of the Board of Studies' rubric leading to 'new worlds and values'.
The world of the film up until that moment of discovery has no deceit, no flattery and also no fiction. The company Mark worked for was called Lecture Films, producing totally factual and mind-numbingly boring accounts of moments in history. The invention of lying allows Mark to tell fictional stories. He tells his former boss that he has woken in the desert to discover - 'one of the best discoveries man has ever discovered' - a half-buried chest containing an ancient manuscript. The story, set at the beginning of the year 1400, contains giant flying spaceships, robot dinosaurs and nude alien Amazonian women. Gervais is having fun with the idea that the ability to lie is at the heart of all fiction.
Lying, however, also brings trouble. Mark is at the bedside of his dying mother. She is terrified that she is facing 'an eternity of nothingness'. So he lies, telling her that she will go to a beautiful place where she will be surrounded by everyone she has ever loved and where she will have her own mansion - for eternity. The doctor and the nurses in the room are blown away by this revelation. Within hours, the whole world is clamouring to know what Mark knows about death. He becomes a modern-day Moses delivering ten important facts, on tablets made from pizza boxes - truths that have been handed down to him by The Man in the Sky. This is a terrific spoof on the concept of discovery as prophetic revelation. Some viewers may find it offensive.
The film uses exaggeration to achieve its humour. Mark's former colleagues gathered in the boss' s office to listen to the story he 'discovered' are gobsmacked, as are the people in the crowd outside his house as he delivers the message from The Man in the Sky. The musical score is used to good effect, soaring from time to time as if to suggest that something momentous has happened, contrasting starkly with the sheer absurdity of the situation. But the most commonly used technique is the use of an extreme close-up on Gervais's face, as he expresses dawning comprehension, astonishment, delight and apprehension.
The second half of the film, which develops the love story and the role of Mark as everyman hero, is fine but much less interesting than the beginning for the exploration of the concept of discovery.
This is a great choice as a related text for Discovery as it explores the concept of discovery in several ways: discovery as a sudden, unexpected eureka! moment; that moment leading to the invention of a new way of living; the mythical unearthing of a treasure from the past; and the discovery delivered by way of prophetic revelation. It's almost as if the film had been created especially for the NSW Area of Study.
It's a Book
by Lane Smith. Walker Books, 2010. ISBN 97819217220147. 32 pp. Hardcover.
This is a children’s picture book for all ages. It can be read with quite young children, who will enjoy the joke that Jackass, with his tablet under his arm, does not understand Monkey's book that doesn’t text, tweet, wi-fi or make noises. The story shows, however, that Monkey's book is impossible to put down; we see Jackass absorbed, refusing to give it back as the clock ticks on. And no wonder: in a wonderful double-page spread we discover that Monkey's book is an illustrated version of Treasure Island, one of the best children's books of all time. Stevenson's ability to use words to evoke the reader's imagination is what makes his book so compelling, despite the 'limitations' of the medium.
Young children will enjoy Jackass's discovery. Older readers read It's a Book as a celebration of the enduring appeal of an old-fashioned medium that relies so heavily on the power of human language. The words of a great writer allow us to discover a world that is, in the words of the Board's rubric, 'transformative'.
by Justine Larbalestier. Allen & Unwin, 2011 (2009). ISBN 9781742375380. 349 pp.
Young adult literature in recent times has been flooded with vampires, werewolves, zombies, mermaids and sirens, pixies, elves and a host of other paranormal creatures, usually against a setting of an American high school and involving a good deal of sexual tension. So the presence of such a creature in this novel is perhaps no surprise – although I have no intention of disclosing which kind of creature as I don’t want to spoil the shock that the reader experiences.
This doesn’t, however, follow the formula. And it’s narrated by a self-confessed total liar. So can the paranormal presence even be believed?
No one who has read this will ever be in doubt about what the term ‘unreliable narrator’ means. The narrator tells us on the first page that she is – or has been - a liar, but promises that from now on she will tell the truth:
I was born with a light covering of fur.
After three days it had all fallen off, but the damage was done. My mother stopped trusting my father because it was a family condition he had not told her about. One of many omissions and lies.
My father is a liar and so am I.
But I'm going to stop. I have to stop.
I will tell you my story and I will tell it straight.
No lies, no omissions.
That's my promise.
This time I truly mean it.
The book is divided into three sections: Part One: Telling the Truth; Part Two: Telling the True Truth; Part Three: The Actual Real Truth. Worse, halfway through the book we come across a chapter heading: 'Lie Number One'. Following chapter headings include: 'Lie Number Nine', and then later:
I think maybe lying to you about Jordan was one lie too many. (Ten lies too many? A thousand?)
But there was a reason for it.
Forearmed is forewarned, supposedly: there is no way we are going to believe the stories of a self-confessed liar, is there?
This fast-moving tale is both fascinating and frustrating. The author is a master of manipulation. OK, any reader might be tricked once – but to fall into the same trap a second time? And can I possibly accept ‘the actual real truth’ in the end – although it seems so ‘true’?
This is a very clever, beautifully crafted plot.
This is a great text for Discovery. Many kinds of narrative are about the process of discovery for the reader. In this case, it is a kind of detection, a slow reveal, as we assemble the facts and try to evaluate them in an endeavour to determine the truth. The problem is that our only source of information - the only way we can discover anything - is through the narrator, who has admitted on the first page that she is notoriously unreliable. Both the narrator and the author are playing a game with us, the readers; we struggle to discover the truth.
directed by Charles Sturridge. 2000. Rated M.
This is a two-part television movie, starring Michael Gambon and Jeremy Irons as two discoverers two hundred years apart. Gambon plays the role of the real historical figure John Harrison, an eighteenth-century carpenter with a keen interest in mathematics who believes he can solve the problem of how longitude can be determined at sea - a crucial discovery in navigation. Over a period of more than fifty years, he struggles against the prejudices of academics and the conservatism of the Navy to have his invention tested and recognised - and to receive the huge prize that had been promised during the reign of Queen Anne. In a parallel story, Jeremy Irons plays another real person, Rupert Gould, who served in the British Navy in World War I. He was fascinated by horology and set out to restore Harrison's original machines.
The film is long - two hours - and will not appeal to all student audiences, but for those interested in the processes of scientific knowledge it has a lot to offer. It is also informative about the cruel, confined and unhealthy life of sailors in the Age of Sail. The film begins dramatically with the hanging, in 1707, of a common sailor who had dared to question the Admiral's view of where the ships were positioned. In a telling scene, as the body twists in the wind outside the Great Cabin, all the Admiral's officers wisely agree with him. The result is 2 000 sailors drowned off the Scilly Islands, and Queen Anne's offer of a reward.
The parallel stories detail the long, slow, painful process of discovery. Harrison not only devotes his entire life to his quest for a device that will allow navigators to accurately calculate their position, but he enlists to the search as well his son William, who as a young child manages to get a hearing for his father that had previously been denied. Interspersed with the Harrisons' story is that of Gould, emotionally damaged from his wartime experience and obsessed with John Harrison's machines - at great cost to his personal life. Both Harrison and Gould endure constant prejudice and ignorance.
The Board's rubric refers to discoveries that 'emerge from a process of deliberate and careful planning', but that only partly covers the process of discovering on John Harrison's part. Sometimes progress is a matter of luck; at one stage he makes what is described as 'a daring and lateral leap' in the process. What the film emphasises is that the process can be very long and very difficult, a matter of overcoming one obstacle after the other. The result is the production of 'ideas that can change our lives'.
It would be interesting for students to consider why the director, Charles Sturridge, chose to tell the history of the invention of a chronometer through the parallel stories. It is Gould who often explains to the viewer how Harrison's machines worked or what problems he confronted - issues that would have been more difficult to deal with if the parallel story had not been included.
Looking for Alibrandi
by Melina Marchetta. Puffin, 1992. ISBN 9780140360462. 292 pp.
This coming-of-age novel has become an Australian young adult classic. Many Australian young people empathise with Josie's struggle to discover to what extent she is Italian, despite the fact that both she and her mother were born in Australia. She resents in many ways the restrictions placed on her by her Italian grandmother and the wider Italian community, who can be relied upon to report back to her grandmother anything she does. At the end of the novel Josie is able to say:
If someone comes up and asks me what nationality I am, I'll look at them and say that I'm an Australian with Italian blood flowing rapidly through my veins. I'll say that with pride, because it's pride that I feel.
Looking for Alibrandi is also about Josie's discovery of the father, Michael Andretti, she has never known. When she asks her mother what he looks like, she replies: 'He looks like a male Josephine Alibrandi.' Josie feels sick at the idea of meeting him, but at the same time desperately wants to. When she does meet him, they are hostile to each other and declare that they want to have nothing to do with each other. But an incident at school that threatens her with expulsion leads to Josie impulsively contacting him for help. The scene is very satisfying: Josie and Michael defeat the bully who called her a wog and the bully's bullying father. The end of the scene - the end of Chapter 8 - is a discovery for Josie:
I walked past my class-mates with Michael Andretti beside me and for a few minutes I knew how it felt walking alongside one's father.
It was a great feeling.
At the end of this novel of self-discovery Josie realises that all of life is about discovery: 'I want to keep on learning truths till the day I die.'
Luke's Way of Looking
by Nadia Wheatley and Matt Ottley. Walker Books, 2012 (1999). 40 pp.
'All the boys in Mr Barraclough's class saw things the same way ... except for Luke, who looked at things differently.'
Mr Barraclough's Friday afternoon art classes are a nightmare for Luke. When he chooses to draw a blue apple, when everyone else in the class paints either a red or a green apple, Mr Barraclough yells at him and the other boys think he is weird. Matt Ottley shows a dejected Luke in front of his easel, with the shadow of a gesticulating and yelling Mr Barraclough on the wall - a monster. One Friday afternoon, unable to bear the thought of another art lesson, Luke skips school. He gets off the bus in front of 'a building that looked like an ancient palace'. There, in a gallery of modern art, Luke for the first time discovers people who see the world they way he does. Ottley pictures Luke wandering delightedly through the displays until, bursting with happiness, he seems to be flying into a large, joyous, Jackson-Pollock-type painting.
This is the story of Luke's triumphant self-discovery. The reading of the picture book is also a journey of discovery as the reader explores Luke's view of the world.
by Jhumpa Lahiri. From Interpreter of Maladies, Flamingo, 2000. ISBN 9780006551799.
Although this short story is told in the third-person, our view of the world is from the point of view of eleven-year-old Eliot, who has had a series of short-term after-school babysitters. His newest babysitter, Mrs Sens, is the wife of an Indian professor at an American university. Because she does not drive, he goes to her place each afternoon and watches her prepare the evening meal. Mrs Sens is recently married. It has been an arranged marriage and she barely knows her husband. She is mourning the extended family with whom she used to share household tasks and is being challenged by new demands, such as the need to learn to drive when she has always been used to a household chauffeur.
This story is really about what makes a home. Eliot realises when Mrs Sens speaks of home 'she meant India, not the apartment where she sat chopping vegetables' - a place where she used to chop vegetables with a wide circle of happily gossiping women. She wonders if, in this new place, if she suddenly screamed at the top of her lungs, whether anyone would hear. Eliot, wise beyond his years, suspects not: 'But they might complain that you were making too much noise.'
This is an intensely moving story about loneliness and the absence of love, but its power depends on never directly expressing the feelings of the two characters. It is through the little mundane details of their daily lives that we discover how they feel. Eliot, musing on the meaning of 'home', thinks about the last time he and his mother spent a day at home together. It was Labor Day and the neighbours were having a noisy party, to which Eliot and his mother were not invited. '... they didn't go anywhere. She did the laundry, and balanced the checkbook, and, with Eliot's help, vacuumed the inside of the car.' It is depressingly dreary.
For the reader, this story is a wonderful journey of discovery of character, as the tiny details of their lives are revealed. In just 24 pages we come to know Eliot and Mrs Sens intimately and to share their sadness.
'My Last Duchess'
by Robert Browning. This can be found online at www.poetryfoundation.org. It has also been included in many poetry anthologies, including anthologies for schools and anthologies that offer an historical overview of English poetry.
Browning's poem is one of the most famous examples of the use of the dramatic monologue form in poetry. Like the novelist Mohsin Hamid in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Browning in 'My Last Duchess' has created for us a voice who speaks to us directly, creating for us the sense of time and place as he does so, as well as a growing revelation of events that have occurred in the past and that are occurring as he speaks.
The dramatic monologue form is a great choice for a writer who wants readers to discover the situation gradually, piece by piece. At the beginning of the poem, we are told that it takes place in Ferrara in Italy. And then we hear the Duke's voice, speaking as if he is in the middle of a conversation with us:
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive.
We are there in the room with him, as he shows us the painting. He invites us to sit down so that we can view the painting at our leisure:
Will’t please you sit and look at her?
We discover that the painting is usually covered with a curtain, but he has drawn that aside so that we can appreciate the painting - and the beauty of his dead wife. As he talks about the way his young wife interacted with the painter, and the way she interacted with others, we discover the Duke's bitter jealousy, until we come to the terrible lines:
... I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.
A little later, we realise that he is about to negotiate with another nobleman whose young daughter will become his next wife. As he invites us to descend to meet him, he casually points to another treasure in his expensive art gallery.
It is the use of the dramatic monologue that allows the reader to so successfully discover this chilling story of a man whose sense of entitlement includes the power of life and death over his wife.
by Sally Morgan. Fremantle Press, 1988. ISBN 9780949206312. 384 pp.
This Australian autobiography was a ground-breaking work, one of the first that allowed the world to hear the voices of Indigenous Australians telling their own stories - stories that had been hidden or ignored. It was significant, too, because the stories are told so well. This is often more like reading a novel than an autobiography: the people come to life like well-drawn characters and the story is intriguing, constantly changing and often very funny.
The author grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in a working-class suburb of Perth believing that she was of Indian heritage, although her mother and grandmother would never tell her or her siblings anything about their past lives or about their supposed Indian heritage. It is younger sister Jill, more attuned to people around her than Sally the dreamer, who first realises that they are almost certainly of Aboriginal heritage. She has been called that ugly word 'boong' at school. Jill thinks that it is probably best not to know the truth, as discrimination and prejudice against Australia's indigenous people were so strong at the time, but Sally eventually is determined to discover the stories of her mother and her grandmother and, at the same time, her own heritage.
The voyage of discovery is long and hard. Mother and grandmother are reluctant to talk because they are deeply suspicious of the authorities and are terrified that their children might be taken from them. Sally's mother begs her to leave the past buried because 'it won't hurt anyone then.' Sally's grandmother in particular is obsessive about keeping out of the way of bureaucrats. Sally argues that secrets have already hurt all of them and that discovery - uncovering the past - is essential for healing.
One of the interesting features of the book is Sally's discovery - followed by her sister Jill - of her own Aboriginality. This is at times difficult and painful. Authorities, for example, accuse her of having wrongfully applied for an Indigenous scholarship. She is warned (correctly) that publishing her book will lead to personal attacks. This is discovery as self-discovery - the recognition by Sally and Jill of their identity. Eventually their mother shares that self-discovery:
To think I nearly missed all this. All my life, I’ve only been half a person. I don’t think I really realized how much of me was missing until I came North.
My Place is in many ways also discovery as detective story. Sally has to piece together her family's stories. It was the story of her grandmother's brother, Arthur, that she uncovers first. Knowing that he has not long to live, Arthur spends long hours with Sally recording his memories, which she eventually transcribes. They are published as a separate section within the book. Eventually, she is able to record as well her mother's story and then, more briefly, her grandmother's: her grandmother is insistent that she will take some secrets to the grave.
Past the Shallows
by Favel Parett. Hachette, 2013 (2011). ISBN 978073363049. 320 pp.
This is a compulsive read. It is the story of three brothers, Joe, Miles and Harry, and their difficult relationship with an angry and brutal father. It is set on the remote south coast of Tasmania, where the boys' father makes a precarious living as an abalone fisherman. Perhaps the major character is the sea: a wild, dangerous and threatening sea that is both an exhilarating challenge for the older boys when they are surfing and an indomitable power that takes the lives of fishermen.
The narration is third-person limited. We move between the viewpoint of the enchanting nine-year-old Harry, an innocent narrator, and that of his fourteen-year-old brother Miles, who tries to protect Harry from his father's wrath. At the beginning of the story Miles is reluctantly helping his father on the boat during school holidays but an accident to a crewman means that Miles will have to work full-time in the job he hates so much, alongside his irrational father. While other abalone fishermen make very good livings, Dad is a failure who, in desperation, fishes illegal grounds.
Older brother Joe has had to leave home after Dad broke his arm. Harry is left on his own for many hours a day while Miles and Dad are away at sea. He builds a relationship with a mysterious recluse, whose gentleness and care contrast sharply with his father's neglect and violence.
At the heart of the story is a dreadful secret from the past. The sudden discovery of the secret from the past is pivotal - to the plot, to the characters' understanding of themselves and each other and to the reader's appreciation.
by Isabel Allende. HarperCollins, 2005. ISBN 9780007205257. 384 pp.
By the time Isabel Allende came to write Paula, she was a famous novelist, published in many languages worldwide. Paula, her daughter, was twenty-eight when she became gravely ill and fell into a coma, from which she never awakened. Sitting beside her daughter's bedside, first in a hospital in Madrid and then later at home in California, Allende writes a long letter to Paula in which she thinks back over their lives and the lives of their extended families. She begins the letter intending to tell Paula a story, 'so that when you wake up you won't feel so lost'. The letter becomes a memoir, a journey of self-discovery, in which Allende explores her own feelings about her past. Like all of us, she has played many roles. Faced with the greatest grief she has ever known, she no longer knows who she is.
The memoir works so well because Allende is a superb storyteller, and because she has a fascinating story to tell. Her family history is anything but typical, growing up in the home of a wealthy and eccentric grandfather in Chile after the collapse of her parents' marriage. As the niece of President Salvador Allende, who died after a military coup to depose him, she is eventually forced into exile. The stories she tells of her own life and of the lives of her family members are warm, funny, heartbreaking. They culminate in the extraordinary epilogue when she realises that she must let her daughter go. As she holds her dying daughter in her arms, she makes a great spiritual discovery:
I am the void, I am everything that exists, I am in every leaf of the forest, in every drop of the dew, in every particle of ash carried by the stream, I am Paula and I am also Isabel, I am nothing and all other things in this life and other lives, immortal.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
by Mohsin Hamid. Penguin Books, 2008 (2007). ISBN 9780141029542. 209 pp.
This adult novel is quite short and a fairly easy read, but the ideas explored are, in the words of the Board's rubric 'confronting' and 'provocative'. The whole novel is a dramatic monologue. That means it is entirely in the voice of one person who is speaking to the reader directly, like an actor on a stage directly addressing the audience. In a dramatic monologue we not only hear the voice of the speaker - and only of the speaker - but that voice creates for us a scene, like a play on a stage, where we observe things happening. In The Reluctant Fundamentalist the speaker is a young Pakistani, Changez, who has spent a lot of time in the United States where he had great success, first as a student and then as a businessman. But 9/11 changed everything for him. Here he is in a cafe in Lahore, talking to a stranger. Over the course of the afternoon and evening we learn his story, as he tells it to the stranger. We never hear the stranger directly, although we can guess at some of what he says and what he does from the narrator’s comments. The stranger is probably an American, possibly a military type, and he becomes an increasingly sinister figure as the afternoon progresses. Is it a wallet or perhaps a gun that he reaches for from time to time in his inside coat pocket? What is his purpose there in Lahore? The tension mounts, climaxing in a violent but ambiguous ending.
The dramatic monologue is one of the most effective choices for a writer who wants the reader to make a gradual discovery. As we hear the speaker's voice, we learn more and more about the situation - although, in this case, we never discover exactly what happens at the end. Different readers come to different conclusions, as the rubric suggests, according to our contexts and values. But The Reluctant Fundamentalist is also about a self-discovery on the part of the speaker: a sudden, shocking self-discovery. Changez had enthusiastically embraced the West and had had great success there. At the time of 9/11 he is working in a prestigious job for an American business. He is on business in Manila when he turns on his television:
I stared as one – and then the other – of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center collapsed. And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound, my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased.
When Changez reveals this reaction in the cafe in Lahore, he notices the American clench his fist. He tries to explain. He is not a psychopath who glories in the deaths of innocent people:
But at that moment, my thoughts were not with the victims of the attack … no, I was caught up in the symbolism of it all, the fact that someone had so visibly brought America to its knees.
That is a huge moment of self-discovery for Changez. It is a shock, too, for the reader, who has been impressed with Changez's civility and sophistication. Again, readers react differently to this discovery, depending on their contexts and values. While some find Changez's discovery offensive, the novel forces the reader to go beyond easy black-and-white judgments about international tensions and some of their underlying causes. For many readers, the process of discovery will include 'new understandings', a re-evaluation of their own views.
Rules of Summer
by Shaun Tan. Lothian, 2013. ISBN 9780734410672. 48 pp. Hardcover. Also available as an app.
This is an intriguing picture book for all ages from Australia's most-awarded creator of picture books. Like all of Tan's work, it repays constant re-reading: each time you pick up the book you go on a journey of rediscovery. It is summer time and two little boys are free to roam and have adventures. The voice we hear in the minimal text is that of the younger brother who is discovering 'the rules', as laid down by the older brother - rules that are often arbitrary and bizarre: 'Never leave a red sock on the clothesline', 'Never step on a snail', 'Never forget the password'. All the rules begin with 'never' until almost the end of the book, where there are some that begin with 'always', including the best advice of all: 'Always know the way home'. The brothers' world is full of bizarre creatures and scary monsters. Older brother finds younger brother annoying and does a deal with one of the ever-present black crows that leads to him being imprisoned in an odd bunker, but the older boy relents fairly soon and comes to the little brother's rescue, which leads to another rule: 'Always bring bolt cutters'.
Most readers report that they find the book puzzling but it also resonates emotionally with them and they want to read and re-read, discover and re-discover. Tan is exploring the relationship between siblings - the shared experiences, the tensions, the intensity of emotions, and ultimately the strength of the bond; most of us can relate to that. He sets his story in a landscape that has both the familiarity of suburbia and the strangeness of nightmare. As the little brother discovers 'the rules' and the older brother discovers a sense of protectiveness, the reader explores a range of meanings.
Tan has published his book as an app which allows even more discoveries for the reader. With the app it is possible to zoom in and out of Tan's extraordinary paintings, to discover detail that simply can't be detected in the printed book form. The soundtrack on the app also enhances the reader's experience.
Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail
by Stephen R. Bown. Penguin, 2004 (2003). ISBN 9780143002642. 288 pp.
This non-fiction text is ultimately about the discovery of scientific method: in the words of the Board of Studies' rubric, 'a process of deliberate and careful planning evoked by curiosity, necessity or wonder' and a process built on the progressive discoveries of those who have gone before. But it is also set in one of the greatest ages of discovery - the time of the epic voyages that opened up the world and that were 'far-reaching and transformative'.
This great age of discovery was the Age of Sail, covering the time period from Columbus's voyages across the Atlantic at the end of the fifteenth century to the adaptation of steam power to ship engines in the mid-nineteenth century. Many of the great voyages of discovery of the time were hampered or even ruined by a disease that was particularly common in sailors on long voyages: scurvy. At a time when sea voyages were fraught with dangers of all kinds, more sailors - perhaps as many as two million - died of scurvy than from all other causes combined, such as shipwreck, storms, battle and piracy. Bown has set out to tell the story of the discovery of a cure for the deadly disease.
Bown singles out three figures as significant in the eventual discovery of a way of dealing with scurvy: a surgeon James Lind, the mariner and sea captain James Cook, and a gentleman physician Sir Gilbert Blane. What these three very different people had in common was an interest in scientific method. The discovery of a cure for scurvy was continually blocked by so-called scientists and medical men who saw the world through theoretical frameworks that caused them to overlook empirical evidence:
In the quest for a universal theory of disease, much common sense was thrown aside and replaced with learned posturing. People, then as now, are inclined to dismiss trifling inconsistencies in their pet theories when they faithfully believe them to be correct - and perhaps more dangerous and malignant, when they believe a reputation is at stake or money is to be made. Folk wisdom has it that what we wish to be true, we readily believe. Whether this is universally applicable is debatable, but it must have played a role in the centuries-long saga to define and cure scurvy.
That paragraph can't help but make the modern reader think of the current controversy about climate change.
Bown has written an accessible and interesting account of the search for an understanding of scurvy. But, as indicated above, this is not just a history of the discovery of a cure for scurvy; it is the story of the discovery of scientific method. This history is often the story of how discovery can be blocked by competing interests, by prejudices and by preconceived theories. Lind, for example, failed to correctly read the results of his own experiments because he felt that his medical peers would only respect his findings if they fitted into a theory that provided a foundation for an understanding of all human illnesses. Cook's remarkable success in keeping his sailors free of scurvy was overlooked by an Admiralty preoccupied with war. It took Blane to discover what he called: 'the practical benefits of progressive knowledge', based on the analyses of those who have gone before.
Like all good discoverers, Bown provides his evidence: an appendix listing the most common foods of the time and their vitamin C content; a timeline; chapter-by-chapter notes on his sources and further reading; and a bibliography.
by George Eliot. Penguin Classics, 2004 (1861). ISBN 9780141439754. 272 pp.
This novel is out of copyright and there are ebook versions that can be downloaded free.
If you would like to consider a classic nineteenth century novel as a related text, Silas Marner might be a good choice. It is much shorter than most novels of the period, and it is a heart-warming story of a life transformed - by a sudden, unexpected discovery. It is set in a small rural community in England. Silas Marner is an outsider, although he has lived just outside the village for fifteen years and has supplied local families with the linen he weaves. Marner is not only an outsider; he is a bitter man, having been betrayed unjustly by his best friend in the tightly-knit church group to which he had formerly belonged. In his fifteen years in the village, Silas has worked hard at his weaving but has made no friendships. His only joy is the gold coins that he accumulates from his work: he has become a miser to whom it is the gold itself, not what he might buy with it, that has become precious. His one comfort is to take out his gold at night and to count it. But one dreadful night he comes home from delivering some linen to find that he has been robbed - all his gold has gone.
George Eliot builds a picture of a man who is as cut off from humanity as is possible while still living alongside others. Silas is a shrunken, miserable figure. Then another night changes everything. He sees something gleaming in front of his fireplace. He is very short-sighted from the long hours of close work on the loom and can't see clearly what is there, but his heart has leapt, because he thinks his gold has been returned as miraculously as it disappeared:
He leaned forward at last, and stretched forth his hand; but instead of the hard coin with the familiar resisting outline, his fingers encountered soft warm curls. In utter amazement, Silas fell on his knees and bent his head low to examine the marvel: it was a sleeping child – a round, fair thing, with soft yellow rings all over its head.
The child's mother is found dead in the snow; no one has any idea of who the father might be or where the child has come from. Silas makes the extraordinary decision to keep and raise the child as his own. The discovery of the child is utterly transformative:
... as her life unfolded, his soul, long stupefied in a cold narrow prison, was unfolding too, and trembling gradually into full consciousness.
There are of course more discoveries to come. Little girls with golden hair, even if they appear mysteriously on the hearth of a lonely, sad, almost broken man, come from somewhere: they have histories and connections, and those histories and connections are slowly uncovered - discovered - in the course of the story.
Reading nineteenth-century novels is fairly hard work at first, but many readers find Silas Marner very rewarding.
by Christopher Cheng, illustrated by Sarah Davis. Random House Australia, 2011. ISBN 9781864718805. 32 pp.
This is an excellent example of a picture book in which the pictures tell a story that the words do not reveal. A little girl is listening to the spooky sounds of the night, constantly reassuring herself that she is not scared: 'What's that noise that I can hear? I'm not scared.' The book is full of noises, expressed with lovely, scary onomatopeoic words. We assume from the words that the little girl has found herself in a haunted house full of spooky noises. The pictures confirm that this is in fact a haunted house, but they also allow us to discover that nothing else is as we had assumed. It is the scared little girl who is the ghost, a ghost from the distant past when an influenza epidemic swept the world after World War I. The scary noises are being made by three (live) children from the present who have broken into the house and are timidly exploring it.
Because this is a picture book for quite young readers, it may not have quite enough substance to be a good related text, but it is certainly an example of the joy of discovery for readers of picture books when the words and the pictures contradict each other.
Stormbreaker: The graphic novel
based on the novel by Anthony Horowitz, adapted by Antony Johnston, illustrated by Kanako Damerum and Yuzuru Takasaki. Walker Books, 2006. ISBN 9781844281114. 144 pp.
Stormbreaker was the first volume in Anthony Horowitz's very successful Alex Rider series, about a teenager who is reluctantly conscripted by MI6 to be a spy. It exists as both a children's novel and as a film, but this graphic novel version is an interesting text to look at for the way in which readers make discoveries. An important part of the exposition at the beginning of Alex's story is the backstory about his uncle, with whom Alex has lived since his parents died. Alex has always believed that his uncle was an international banker leading a respectable and rather dull life. In reality, his uncle has been a spy, undertaking extremely dangerous missions. In the graphic novel, the reader makes the discovery of this background in a prelude. The setting is Alex's school, where he is asked to make a speech to the class about his family. Alex begins to explain that he lives with his uncle who is away a lot on business. The next frame has a speech balloon saying: 'He's got a really boring job', but the graphic has the huge 'Boom!' of an explosion and a figure on a motorbike racing away, with two bikes in pursuit. The next frame has Alex explaining that his uncle is a bank supervisor, over a graphic of the motorbike rider kicking in the stomach a fearsome figure with a very large gun. The following three frames are back to Alex in the classroom, and then we see more of the violence that is actually happening in Alex's uncle's life in a sequence in which we no longer have Alex's speech balloons but only pictures of action and violence. Towards the end of the prelude the story switches between Alex on his way home from school and his uncle in a car, as the uncle rings Alex and promises to be home soon. The pictures tell us that that won't be possible, with the last two pages in shocking black and red.
Antony Johnston, who adapted Horowitz's novel to the graphic novel format, has skilfully used the discrepancy between the story told by the speech balloons and the story told by the graphics to uncover the background story for the reader. At the end of the prelude, the pictures alone reveal that Alex's uncle has been violently killed.
The Sweetest Fig
by Chris Van Allsburg. Andersen Press, 1993. ISBN 9780862644987. 32 pp.
This picture book by the famous American illustrator, Chris Van Allsburg, is a modern fairy tale with a shock discovery at the end. Monsieur Bibot, the dentist, is cold and selfish. He mistreats his dog, Marcel, and is cruel to his patients. When an old lady comes to him with toothache, he rips out the tooth without anaesthetic but promises her painkillers. She confesses that she can't pay him in money, but she has two special figs that can makes his dreams come true. But he is angry and refuses to give her the painkillers. He does, however, eat one of the figs. Next morning, walking the dog, he finds himself in the street without his clothes on - and realises, with shock, that that was what he had dreamed the previous night. Convinced now that the remaining fig will make a dream come true, he spends night after night trying to dream about money, and mansions, and yachts - determined to dream about wealth so that he will become the wealthiest man on earth. At last he is ready to eat the fig. But as he turns away from the table 'he heard the crash of breaking china. He turned to see Marcel standing on a chair with his front paws on the table, chewing the last of the fig.'
As in all good fairy tales, the ending is sweet - and a shock discovery. The final picture offers no clues: we see (apparently) Monsieur Bibot being mean as usual to Marcel. The reader needs to read the text carefully to discover that dreams do indeed come true.
This is Not My Hat
by Jon Klassen. Candlewick Press, 2012. ISBN 9780763655990. 40 pp. Hardcover.
This is a picture book that delights quite young children. There is minimal text and the story is told mainly by the images. A cheeky little fish speaks directly to the reader. He boasts that he has stolen the cute little hat that he is wearing from a much larger fish who was asleep at the time and knows nothing of the theft. The little fish is heading for the thick sea grasses so that he can hide.
The discovery that the reader makes - and that causes a frisson of delight and a little fear in children - is that the little fish’s narrative is contradicted by the pictures. The tiniest details, such as the shape of the big fish’s eye, tell us all that we need to know. We discover - as the little fish does not - that right at the beginning the big fish was not asleep, as the little fish thought. We discover, as the little fish has not, that not only is the big fish awake but that he is in pursuit of the thief. We discover from the pictures that the crab who promised not to tell where the little fish is going to hide has encountered the big fish. As the little fish disappears cheerfully to hide among the plants that are 'big and tall and close together', the reader discovers from the pictures that the big fish is very close behind. In the last two openings (double-page spreads) the reader discovers all we need to know.
Because this is written for such young readers, it may not be the best choice as a related text, but it is certainly an excellent example of a picture book where the printed words and the illustrations contradict each other. It is a wonderfully successful process of discovery for its intended audience.
The Truman Show
directed by Peter Weir. 1998. Rated PG.
It's amazing watching this film to realise that it predated reality TV as we know it, when it is such a marvellous satire on - among other things - the audience that watches such shows. Jim Carrey is perfect in the role of an unwitting insurance salesman in a near-perfect world that is not at all what it seems. I never watched this as an innocent viewer - I knew when I first saw it the premise behind the show - and it would be interesting to know when an uninitiated viewer would first suspect that it is a false world. Surely the fact that it is all so beautifully clean and bright would suggest something unusual. Presumably the original viewers were like the protagonist, gradually discovering discrepancies that lead them to question.
Truman Burbank is, in fact, the first human being to have been adopted by a corporation. The picturesque town of Seahaven, where he lives, is a giant movie set enclosed in a geodesic dome. His parents, his wife, his friends, his fellow employees and his neighbours are all actors playing roles. Even when Truman first suspects that something is wrong, he assumes that for some reason he is under surveillance. It is a long time before he discovers the huge extent of the deception.
While the film is often treated as a light-hearted comedy, the undertones are quite dark. Christof, the director of The Truman Show, calls himself the Creator and claims to have invented for Truman a better world than the real one, but the motive is entirely profit-driven. When Truman threatens to escape, Christof does not hesitate to try to kill him.
This is a journey of discovery for the protagonist but also for the viewer, as we are progressively provided with quite shocking views of Truman's life: through the lens of cameramen or on the television screens of devoted viewers.
The Vanishing Moment
by Margaret Wild. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781743315903. 183 pp.
Set in contemporary Australia, The Vanishing Moment focuses on the lives of two young women whose fates are transformed by a single significant moment. We follow the stories of these women in separate chapters. For about a third of the novel, it is not clear how their lives are connected. There is a third perspective - a man called Bob who is remembering unhappy childhood experiences. His connection to the two young women, Arrow and Marika, is even less clear. There is a slow reveal, as gradually pieces of the puzzle come together. Wild has constructed an intriguing plot that keeps the reader turning the pages until the heart-wrenching, sudden and unexpected resolution.
Bob's story is about the past, leading to homelessness and gaol. Arrow's story is about the present, although her present is influenced strongly by a terrible trauma in her past. Marika's story is completely in the present. Her happy and successful life has been shattered by one single shocking moment.
Arrow and Marika are engaging characters with whom readers identify. Arrow, who has recently finished school, is just a little younger than Marika, who has been immersed in a tertiary-level art course for a couple of years. Both are bright, personable and attractive, but they become paralysed by sudden misfortune: in both their lives an unexpected and unforeseeable moment has changed everything. Both girls have loving and supportive families but the trauma each experiences causes great strain on family relationships. The coincidence of their meeting leads to a friendship that promises to bring healing to them both, until the shock of the climax of the novel.
The novel explores the way in which a moment in time can change lives. Margaret Wild also raises the possibility that there may be multiple universes and that it may be possible to choose, at a significant moment, to live an alternate life. The difficulty, as the novel reveals, is that there is no way of knowing whether that alternate life would be better.
This young adult Australian novel is all about discovery: both the gradual uncovering of the past and the sudden, unexpected shock of realising how different strands tie together.
by Naomi Novik. Available in The Dragon Book edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. ISBN 9781742753607. Also available online at http://www.fantasy-magazine.com/new/new-fiction/vici.
Naomi Novik is the author of the highly successful fantasy series, Temeraire, an alternative history of the Napoleonic Wars where dragons are used as very effective weapons, carrying teams of sharp-shooters into battle. While this idea may seem fantastic, it is very convincing in the Temeraire series. Novik's dragons are extraordinary characters, as are the dedicated warriors who both care for them and who ride them into war.
In this story, commissioned for this anthology of dragon stories, Novik is in many ways writing an outrageous spoof of her own work. Her setting is Ancient Rome and her protagonist is, according to the magistrate before whom he is appearing, 'a licentious and disreputable young man'. Antony tries wisecracking his way through the court hearing but it does him no good. The magistrate can't sentence him to fight to his death in the arena, as he is the son of a Roman Senator, but instead his punishment is to go out and kill a dragon that is terrorising a village in the north. This, of course, is meant to be a death sentence: it takes at least twelve men to kill a dragon.
For the reader 'Vici' is a series of discoveries, all absurd but wonderful fun. Antony not only accidentally kills his dragon and captures its treasure but he finds the dragon egg. When eventually the egg hatches, the baby dragon (as is the nature of dragons in Novik's world) immediately bonds with the first thing it sees: Antony. Antony now has a rapidly growing, ravenously hungry and totally devoted dragon. He calls it 'Vici'. But keeping a dragon in central Rome becomes a bit of a problem and the same magistrate sends Antony and Vici off to Gaul, where a war is being fought.
The resolution of the story, where a delighted Caesar realises Vici's potential on the battlefield, is a further absurd discovery. It was Caesar after all who famously declared: 'Veni. Vidi. Vici' - 'I came. I saw. I conquered.'
This story has particular resonance for readers who are familiar with the Temeraire series.
by Gary Crew and Steven Woolman. Era Publications, 1997 (1994). ISBN 9781863743204. 32 pp.
This was one of the first highly successful Australian picture book for young adults. It is sci-fi/fantasy. In a strange country town, Spike and Bubba climb the hill on a very hot day to cool off in the watertower. The watertower itself is eerie - dark and deep, but it is the town itself and its inhabitants that are most unsettling. Everywhere there is a logo that seems to relate to the watertower. The inhabitants seem to be watching, perhaps spying on the boys; reflected in the black sunglasses is the image of the watertower. Text and illustrations work beautifully together as the tension builds and the story becomes darker. In fact, most of the clues are in the illustrations, clues that we piece together as we read and re-read in a gradual process of discovery, as we try to work out what happens to Bubba in the watertower, and what is different about his eyes at the end of the story.
Some readers are frustrated that the ending of The Watertower is unclear but most thoroughly enjoy the creepy mysteriousness of this picture book and the process of unravelling the details: does a town like that need a satellite dish quite so big? is that curved series of squares reminiscent of the viewing window of some kind of spacecraft, especially when we look through it at the image of the man with the pitchfork? why would a farmer be carrying a pitchfork in the main street anyway?
We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781760111069. 225 pp.
This is very contemporary, very compelling and rather uncomfortable reading. The setting is a private island just off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, summer playground of America's wealthy aristocracy. The Sinclair family who have owned the island for generations are the epitome of the beautiful people: 'The Sinclairs are athletic, tall, and handsome. We are old-money Democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins square, and our tennis serves aggressive.'
And under no circumstances must anything threaten that beautiful image.
The family have built four substantial homes on the island - one for parents, Harris and Tipper, and one for each of their married (and divorced) daughters and their offspring. All family members spend every summer on the island. There are increasing tensions among the daughters, as it seems that their trust funds may be inadequate to maintain them in the manner to which they have become accustomed, but life on the island is paradise for the children: a group of littlies and the four older children - Cadence, Johnny, Mirren and the outsider, Gat. To the family, the four older children are known as the Liars.
Gat, the outsider, first came to the island when the Liars were all eight. He is the nephew of Ed, boyfriend of the divorced Carrie, and of Indian heritage - a striking contrast to 'our white, white family'. Of course they are all too well-bred to be racist, but Gat's otherness becomes a threat the summer they all turn fifteen, when it is obvious that Cadence - the eldest of the generation and presumably the heir - is falling in love with Gat. It is Gat who tells Cadence that to her grandfather, the patriarch, he is Heathcliff: 'There's nothing that Heathcliff can ever do to make these Earnshaws think he's good enough.'
Cadence is the narrator. Her narration opens a little before the year in which she will turn seventeen, and we learn everything in flashback. However, it is confusing flashback, as Cadence has had a terrible accident that has left her with selective amnesia. She has no memory of the accident and only flashes of memory of that fifteenth summer.
The novel is very tautly written. The reader is as eager as Cadence is to find out what it is she cannot remember. The truth, when it hits us, is deeply, distressingly shocking. This is a novel whose ending must never be revealed to anyone who has not yet read it.
As well as a structure that so cleverly conceals the truth - despite the fact that all the clues are there, if we hadn't been too blind to see them, there is much to admire about the writing. The first-person narration in Cadence's voice gives us an incisive look at the life of privilege and the thin veil of normality that must always be kept in place. Cadence describes emotional situations in extreme terms. She watches her father get into the Mercedes and drive away, out of her life and her mother's life, and she explains the pain like this:
Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed automatically from my open wound,
then from my eyes,
It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch. My heart spasmed among the peonies like a trout.
Mummy snapped. She said to get hold of myself.
Be normal, now, she said. Right now, she said.
Because you are. Because you can be.
Don't cause a scene, she told me. Breathe and sit up.
It's a technique that Lockhart uses frequently through the novel, especially when Cadence is describing the terrible migraines she suffers as she tries to remember.
The other narrative technique that Lockhart uses with great effect is the insertion throughout the narrative of versions of a fairy story about a rich and powerful king with three beautiful daughters.
This is a great text for Discovery. Discovery is occurring on two levels: you have the process of Candace trying to remember, to overcome her selective amnesia. That is a process of the slow reveal, as piece by piece glimpses of that fifteenth summer on the island come back to her. But there is another process of discovery - that of the reader. We share in Candace's gradual revelation, but then there is the sudden, terrible shock of the truth.