This is not a book review…but…
I am a reader. A book reader; a reader of memoirs and a reader of interesting – or different- novels. I have recently read two books that have both ‘blown me away’ (as the saying goes!)
The first one is Trent Dalton’s ‘Boy Swallows Universe’, an utterly amazing and beguiling novel. It sets you wondering about where on earth the author found inspiration for these wanderings into love, fear, mystery, magic, adventure, family dynamics and oh, so much more.
Talk about ‘boy swallows universe’, as I continued reading, it soon transformed me into ‘person swallows book’, or more accurately, I suppose. ‘book swallows person’ as I became enveloped by the prose and all that made its way into my mind’s eye.
Alannah Hill’s memoir, ‘Buttterfly on a Pin’ is likewise fascinating and intriguing with stories that boggle the mind. But this story is a memoir and therefore the tales told therein are true stories. Stories of Alannah’s childhood and young life that shock and amaze; that confuse and leave one breathless as to the thought that all she relates is/was true.
And then you think of the Alannah Hill you thought you knew. The Alannah Hill who was a tiny bit crazy in the way she designed and showed wonderful zany, yet exceedingly beautiful fashion that every young woman and girl – both here and overseas - admired and lusted after.
How can these two Alannahs be reconciled? The poor and badly treated and the famously successful and brilliant ? What a performance! A performance of resilience, courage, and enormous talent combined with bravery beyond comprehension.
Her book exhausts and inspires the reader and you are left almost gasping for relief.
A sentence, written of her thoughts as she prepares to make a speech, “I tumbled from the car like a frightened bird in an op shop handbag….” has to be one of my favourite sentences ever!
But, back to Trent Dalton and ‘Boy Swallows Universe’. His words are fascinating, riveting and, at times, difficult to comprehend but, unlike Allannah Hill’s, they are complete fiction. But are they?
When I was about halfway through reading ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ I happened upon an audio interview with the author, Trent Dalton, speaking with Richard Fidler from ABC Radio. (Conversations with Richard Fidler, see ABC listen app) and to my mix of delight and horror, I discovered that many of the book’s related incidents and characterisations were based in varied ways on the author’s real life experiences.
In the conversation Trent related memories from his childhood, and I suddenly understood!
It seems as if less than ideal childhood experiences (and that’s putting it mildly!) don’t always lead to future deprivation and criminality but can develop great minds and sublime story-telling. What a loss it would be to us, the readers, if both Trent and Alannah had experienced more normal, perhaps boring, childhoods.
So, two amazing tales; some parts totally true, others based on truths; two books so worth reading that they deserve re-reading – and again and again.
PS: the only Alannah Hill garment I ever owned was a black lace top I bought on eBay that was the star turn in my wardrobe for many years. After years of wear, I sold it on – also on eBay - and I hope it still enjoys being someone’s special item designed by someone very, very special.