ABORTION RIGHTS DRAMA / WORDSMITH’S DILEMMA / FALL OF A MARITIME HERO / WHAT MAKES CRICKET LEGEND TICK
A SPARK OF LIGHT Jodi Picoult
ALLEN & UNWIN, $33
Picoult steps into the minefield of the US abortion rights debate with an angry father opening fire in a reproductive health clinic. A hostage crisis ensnares a doctor, nurses and admin staff, along with a woman there to terminate a pregnancy, an older woman attending a check-up, an anti-abortion protester pretending to be pregnant and schoolgirl Wren seeking contraception. The scenario becomes more complex when Wren’s father is called in as the hostage negotiator. Picoult starts with the drama of the siege and works backwards to build insight into the characters locked in the clinic. Her attention to detail in providing medical facts of pregnancy and abortion, US laws, the pro-life viewpoint and the emotion of the unfolding events can’t help but spark debate on the rights of a pregnant woman versus those of an unborn child. And in typical Picoult fashion, there’s a twist at the end.
CARINA BRUCE VERDICT: Emotional
THE GIRL ON THE PAGE John Purcell
Ostensibly an inside look at the publishing industry, this novel is essentially a love letter to literature. And doesn’t Purcell know his stuff. Amy is a cracking book editor who is making a packet co-authoring airport thrillers with author Liam Smith. But the oversexed and hard-drinking word wiz is given her most challenging task — to help literary legend Helen Owen deliver a promised piece of commercial fiction. Helen’s been given a hefty fee for the book, but her old editor has left the publishing house, their copy of the manuscript has disappeared and the author is wavering. Helen thinks she’s sold out, having lived hand to mouth her whole life writing worthy fiction. Her husband, who’s been short-listed for the Booker Prize, is questioning her integrity. Amy, used to turning over bestsellers, faces a conundrum when she discovers Helen has written three versions of the book. One of them could be her greatest work ever.
VERDICT: A turn up for the books
DARK WATER Elizabeth Lowry
Ship’s doctor Hiram Carver is naive and inexperienced when he takes his first post aboard the USS Orbis in 1833. The presence of William Borden — a hero who saved his previous captain and shipmates after a mutiny — calms Carver’s nerves and he develops something of an obsession. So Carver is shocked when Borden loses his mind after a fellow sailor is flogged for insubordination. Some years later, Carver is starting work in a Boston asylum practising the then fledgling profession of psychiatry. The subject of his old obsession is delivered to the asylum by his desperate fiancee, as Borden had failed to recover his senses after his breakdown on the Orbis and it is hoped Dr Carver might be able to cure him. Trips to freezing Nantucket, the echoing halls of the foreboding asylum and descriptions of ship life are enough to make Dark Water’s ponderous early section forgivable. A hard edit could have improved this novel, but its conclusion packs a solid punch.
CLAIRE SUTHERLAND Gothic
BILL LAWRY: CHASING A CENTURY Various Contributors
HARDIE GRANT, $45
Bill Lawry’s cricket journey has been long, diverse and eventful — a teenage prodigy, successful Test opening batsman, occasionally controversial captain, legend at club and state level and hugely popular commentator. Now 81, with the TV rights changing hands, he has drawn stumps — so it’s time to reminisce. The great man himself hasn’t taken on this task, rather former teammates including Keith Stackpole, Neil Harvey, Ian Redpath and Greg Chappell along with other friends and observers discuss what made Lawry tick. It adds up to an unabashed hagiography — scarcely a negative note — and, to quibble, it is not improved by regular repetition, the lack of a stats section or the photographs with no direct connection to the subject. That said, a feel-good tribute is entirely appropriate and will be well received by those who remember him in action and those too young to appreciate how good Lawry was.