One of our dozen Top Aussie Reads of 2016
A collection of 5 novellas from Australian author Nick Earls, published by Inkerman & Blunt.
Gotham (The Wisdom Tree, Book 1) Synopsis :
Bloomingdales, Na$ti Boy, his mother’s purse, the drugs sex and rock and roll of fast, abrupt celebrity. Jeff Forster is on a mission in New York and he’s got to make this interview with the rapper Na$ti Boy pay. He’s ushered into a private shopping spree, spends the night driving round the city with rap celebrity and his keeper Smokey. Gotham delves into the tensions of making it and missing out, the tensions of fame and its cost to family life. This quietly told, intelligent story rubs into the soul and causes reflection on some of the moral issues of our time.
Venice (The Wisdom Tree, Book 2) Synopsis :
Venice is about love and the tensions that pull us apart: the love between Harrison and his uncle Ryan, who is in need of a person to belong to, Natalie, who is pulled between her art and her heart, and Phil’s awkward stilted love. Think, Nick Hornby’s About a Boy.
Vancouver (The Wisdom Tree, Book 3) Synopsis :
Vancouver is the story Paul tells in plague times. It’s about the giant that influenced his life, it’s about the day the world changed, it’s about what happens when our giants come tumbling down. Think, any one of Giovanni Boccaccio’s stories from Decameron.
Juneau (The Wisdom Tree, Book 4) Synopsis :
Juneau: an acutely observed moment in which we see the universe. Set in an Alaskan gold-rush town, it’s about lineage, sons and fathers and great uncles, and how we’re connected through time and across the planet.
NoHo (The Wisdom Tree, Book 5) Synopsis :
NoHo, is about living in the shadows of the famous. Meet Charlie and his would-be-star sister, Cassie, in Hollywood, discover the Wisdom Tree and family #5. NoHo reveals the devotion of mothers, and sons who overcome monsters.⠀
It is a mystery to me why prior to the publication of Nick Earls’ The Wisdom Tree I’d not got around to reading any of this local and prolific author’s earlier titles, and something I intend to rectify based on the strength of this collection.
Excited by the comparisons to the linked stories in my all-time favourite novel Cloud Atlas, and admittedly intrigued by Inkerman & Blunt’s ‘novel’ monthly publication schedule, I pre-ordered the 5 novellas upfront.
When the first title Gotham arrived I eagerly devoured it – thoroughly impressed by the clarity and precision of Earls’ prose, and the modesty of what is ultimately a very moving tale. A month later Venice arrived, another assured piece of writing, but for me the story didn’t quite have the emotional pull of the first. Or perhaps it was simply that this variant on the broader theme of imperfect parenting featured less redeeming characters.
Much has been said about novellas and serialised content being a better fit for ‘our busy lives’. It sounds practical and appealing in theory. But how many of us now choose to ‘binge watch’ TV series via our chosen subscription service? I was beginning to tire of the wait between novella publication, feeling like if I could read the titles in quicker succession I might better tap into the deeper linkages. So I decided to wait until all three remaining titles had been published before continuing The Wisdom Tree collection.
The third story Vancouver was my least favourite in the collection. It did however provide character setup which novellas 4 and 5, Juneau and NoHo capitalised on.
In Juneau Earls has captured something special, evoking the complexity of familial bonds and legacy in an arrestingly understated manner. While some characters and events in NoHo are less endearing, this cautionary tale is no less resonant. NoHo loosely ties the collection together and leaves one reflecting on independence of thought, when care morphs to harm, and the deceptiveness of appearances.
And did reading the last three novellas back to back help unlock the deeper linkages I was seeking? Yes and no. The character references that loosely linked the individual tales resulted in a collection with value greater than the sum of its parts, but their level of interconnectedness ultimately fell short of my expectations (that Cloud Atlas parallel a poisoned chalice).
Readers will connect with some stories in The Wisdom Tree collection more than others, but what is common to all is Nick Earls’ poised and nuanced prose. And, the references to Australian pop culture peppered throughout this collection were a real treat.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
Genre: Literature, Drama, Mystery
This review counts toward my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2016
Author Information: Nick Earls is the author of fourteen books, including bestselling novels Zigzag Street, Bachelor Kisses and Perfect Skin. His work has been published internationally in English and in translation. Zigzag Street won a Betty Trask Award in the UK in 1998, and Perfect Skin was the only novel nominated for an Australian Comedy Award in 2003. 48 Shades of Brown was awarded Book of the Year (older readers) by the Children’s Book Council of Australia in 2000, and in the US it was a Kirkus Reviews selection in its books of the year for 2004.
48 Shades of Brown and Perfect Skin have been adapted into feature films, with Solo un Padre, the film adapted from the Italian edition of Perfect Skin, a top-ten box office hit in Italy in 2008. After January, 48 Shades of Brown, Zigzag Street and Perfect Skin have all been successfully adapted for theatre, and the Zigzag Street play toured nationally in 2005. The True Story Of Butterfish was also performed as a play.