Mandala People

Mandala 1November, it seems to me, is something of a forgotten month.

Not that it means to be, of course. Here in the Great Southern Land, November kicks off in style and ceremony, with all the pageantry (and absurdity) associated with the Race That Stops the Nation.   But once the Melbourne Cup has been run, all the celebratory elements somehow disperse, disappearing into the seven week slog towards the summer holidays and Christmas.

November, however, is not a month to be underestimated.

I have learned this, the hard way, in years gone by — and that’s why it seemed apt to made Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for November the most challenging I’ve selected all year: INTEGRATE.

Because it’s time, people.

It’s time to put all the pieces together.

At the year’s outset I wished my nearest and dearest (and anyone who happened to stumble across this small patch of cyberspace I call my own) strength and ease. And as time went one, we explored a different theme together each month, focusing on a specific concept. I invited you to connect and reimagine. To set your intention and find momentum. To seek alignment and focus. To know and understand your habits. To appreciate the value of honesty and perseverance.

Now don’t panic…I’m not about to start spouting stuff about “journeys” or “spiritual awakening” or “discovering your destiny”.

And please — feel free to insert an eye roll or three here. Seriously.

Mandala 3If you’ve read any of my posts during the year, you’ll know that’s not really my style.  Life is far too full of unexpected twists and turns (of both the totally awesome and not-so-crash-hot variety) for me to seek refuge in fluff and bunkum.

That said, nothing’s going to stop me from having the temerity to add the Mandala as a Symbol of the Month for November.

The mandala, despite its recent and frequent appearance between the pages of apparently calming colouring books, is an ancient symbol with its roots in Buddhism.  For Buddhists, the mandala represents nothing less than the whole universe — and if you’ve ever seen Tibetan monks creating a sand mandala, you will know how well this symbol fits with the concept of integration. It is incredibly beautiful (not to mention meditative and downright humbling) to watch as the monks use grains of coloured sand to form intricate patterns and pictures, working harmoniously together and producing a single unified whole out of many intricate and interconnected pieces.

Mandala 5If you haven’t had the privilege to see a sand mandala being made, you can watch one being created here. For me, it’s almost like watching a life unfold, which is why I believe it to be such an appropriate symbol for integration: it’s what we do, all our lives.  We take the pieces we have within our reach and we arrange and rearrange them until they fit in a way that looks and feels right for us.

In Jungian psychology, dreaming of a mandala represents the dreamer’s search for completeness and unity — those important, intangible things we are all searching for. We are all familiar with the niggling sensation when the pieces aren’t quite fitting together properly, or that the colours are somehow clashing. But we also know the feeling — the utterly glorious feeling — when they do fit, perfectly, and the colours seem to sing.

We are Mandala People.

All of us.

Anyone who is running a business or raising a family or generally trying to succeed in life is a Mandala Person. We are all trying to bring together — to integrate — all the separate parts of our existence and striving. We are all working on our own internal mandalas, making the picture as whole and complete as we can.

mandala 4It’s worth remembering, at this point, that the word integration comes from the Latin word integrus, meaning renew or restore. Each day is an opportunity to renew our commitment to bring all the pieces together, to restore our faith in the knowledge that every last grain of sand we add to our own internal mandalas counts.

Each day is a new beginning until, of course, we reach the end of our days. And once again, the sand mandala provides us with an exquisite reminder of our own impermanence: in the Buddhist tradition, as soon as the final grains of sand are added to complete the mandala, a lama takes his dorje and runs it through the sand. The bright colours fade into grey, resembling ashes or dust, and the sand is swept into an urn. The sand is then poured into running water, so that the healing powers generated by the mandala’s creation flow on and are extended to the whole world, so that it may be re-energised and healed.

Each grain of sand ultimately becomes part of something much larger, just as we are all small — but important, and individual — parts of a much larger whole.

So this month, and every month, I invite you to embrace the spirit of integration. Know that you, like everyone else, are a work in progress. That the only person who knows how the pieces really fit together for you, is you. That it’s perfectly fine to take your time — indeed, to take a lifetime — with the process of putting it all together. That every day is an opportunity to restore and renew.

We are Mandala People.

Mandala 6

If you have enjoyed this post and would like musings from the Daydream Believer delivered straight to your inbox whenever they appear, simply click the follow button at the top right of this page.

Purple Nails

purple nails

Not my hands, but you get the general picture.

I found myself sitting in a nail bar in a suburban shopping mall the other day, snatching a few moments of time for myself following several screamingly busy weeks I had scheduled down to the last minute. The washing was on the line, drying beneath yet another blue-skied day in this bone dry, drought-stricken land. The kids had been deposited at school, one dressed for a regular day and the other for an excursion. The overseas guests who had stayed with us during a whirlwind visit had been dropped safely at the airport following a quick trip to Taronga Zoo ticking all the tourist boxes: kangaroo, koala, even a spotted quoll.

“Pick a colour,” said the nail technician, brandishing brandishing wheels of fake plastic nails painted an unimaginable variety of shades in my direction.

I attempt to comply, but I am tired. Weary. Nearly undone. Decision fatigue has set in, and instead of selecting a tried and tested shade of something sensible I find myself searching for my favourite colour — a rich, deep blue shot with pewtery grey. The colour of my bridesmaid’s dress at my wedding, a dozen years ago. The colour of the sea after a storm.  As you wish…

I find it, or something vaguely resembling it, and sit silently in my chair as my fingers soak, letting the sounds of the technicians’ murmured conversations wash over me. They are speaking a language I don’t understand, pausing every now and then to give me and the women around me simple instructions in English. Hand in the water. Out again. This I can do, in my depleted state. This is why I am here.

The technician begins applying paint to my nails.

“OK?” she asks.

I look down, and instead of a comforting shade of grey-blue twilight I see a slash of purple.

Vivid, vibrant purple.

I shrug, and find myself nodding. My simple act of self-care has gone slighty awry, but I’m too tired to care.

In the week that follows it dawns on me that I am not in possession of a single stitch of purple clothing. I also realise that the particular shade of purple my nails are now painted attracts attention. That my fingertips now convey the impression of an extroversion I can feign but do not feel.

purple boy

My new favourite book. Ever.

I retreat into myself, into the solitary pursuits that I savour — reading, writing, day dreaming and night thinking. Here I find the acts of self-care that actually restore me, and I notice one morning that my purple nails do match something after all: the cover of the book I’m reading, Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe.

I am captivated — catapulted into a world that consumes me, into writing that overwhelms me to the point that I am forced to acknowledge that I might just have a new favourite book of all time.

Boy Swallows Universe.

Girl swallows book.

Later in the evening, only hours after the nail technician has finished polishing my freshly painted purple nails to a bright sheen, I’m dropping my younger child at a birthday party. A small blonde-haired boy, about four years old, is beginning to wail: it’s his sister’s big day, and he’s feeling left out.

“Hey, matey,” I crouch conspiratorially in front of him, “I had my nails painted today, and they’re not a normal colour. They’re not red, or pink, or anything boring like that. Do you know what colour they are?”

He eyes me suspiciously for a moment, still sniffing, but the distraction is working.

“Bet you can’t guess!”

He stops crying and grasps my hands, turning them over to reveal my purple fingernails, gleaming in the dusk and the light of the bright sunshine of the smile that is now plastered across his tear-streaked face.

“You’re funny!”

Yeah, I reckon I probably am.

Funny as in ha ha sometimes, and funny as in a bit weird at others. But I’m OK with it, and I’m OK with my introversion, and my need to let the words pour out of me, and with knowing that my solace comes from solitude, and that I come from a long line of drama queens and control freaks, and despite all that — or perhaps because of it — I’m even OK with my purple nails.

“Saga Norén, Länskrim, Malmö”

saga henrik bridgeI can’t begin to tell you how much I’m going to miss that line.

Yes, I know it might sound a little weird to the uninitiated, but ever since the Series 1 of Swedish/Danish production of The Bridge (or, more accurately, Bron|Broen) was released in 2011, I have been hooked — and now that I’ve finished watching the final episode of Series 4, I’m feeling rather bereft.

Echoes start as a cross in you
Trembling noises that come too soon….

There will be no Series 5.

There will be no more trips across the Øresund Bridge linking Copenhagen and Malmö. No more hair-raising rides in the 1977 Hunter Green Porsche 911 S (the actual provenance of which has garnered much attention, though for my money the story of how its fictional owner came to possess it is far more interesting). No more dramatic overhead shots of the Københavns Politigård, the architecural marvel that houses the Copenhagen Police Headquarters (along with the equally sculptural earrings of Lillian Larsen, the Copenhagen Police Commissioner).

saga gunThere will be no more Martin Rohde or Henrik Sabroe.

But, most of all, there will be no more Saga.

Never said it was good, never said it was near
Shadow rises and you are here…

I have come to love the character of Saga Norén. She is deeply flawed, evidently damaged, detached to the point of being oblivious; she is also singlemindedly determined, forensically brilliant and utterly devoted.  Most of all, she is overwhelmingly human. Exceptionally well-acted by Sofia Helin, whose own facial scarring from a cycling accident in her early 20s only adds to her character’s singular, pared back look, Saga Norén is a Swedish detective with a difference.

In Series 1 and 2, Kim Bodnia’s portrayal of the extroverted, easy-going Martin Rohde offered such a contrast to Saga’s standoffishness and complete lack of even the most basic social skills that I couldn’t help but feel for her — and to rejoice when she developed an unlikely friendship with her Danish counterpart.

And then you cut
You cut it out…

But it wasn’t to last, that friendship. Because the rules got in the way, or — even more heartbreakingly — the rules got in Saga’s way.

saga henrikAnd so, in Series 3 and 4, I felt even more deeply for Saga as she navigated her relationship with Rohde’s replacement, Henrick Sabroe, who is (entirely unsurprisingly for a production as good as this one) brilliantly played by Thure Lindhardt.  Henrik is plagued by his own demons and quite literally haunted by the disappearance of his wife and two daughters years before. But it is Henrik’s acceptance of Saga — Saga, exactly as she is — that results in her increasingly apparent vulnerability and her ultimate recognition that she may be capable of loving, and of being loved.

There were moments in Series 4 when the sun actually breaks through the carefully controlled palette that colours the whole production, glimmers of hope in an otherwise grey-skied world that so frequently descends into shadows and darkness. And as Saga finally began to face her past and square off against her future, I wanted so badly for her to succeed — even though I didn’t want the journey to end.

I know it’s not real — that it’s just TV. That it’s could easily be written off as just another Nordic Noir show to binge on. But, in my opinion, The Bridge is one of the best television productions I have seen in a very long time, and it was as much a privilege as it was a pleasure to watch.

Saga Norén, I will miss you.

And everything
Goes back to the beginning…

 

saga driving

 

 

 

January Days

Janus

Janus, the God of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings. Because that’s enough for one deity’s To Do List.

I love January.

It’s a time of sultry mid-summer Sydney days, blue skies and sea breezes. A time of fresh starts and new beginnings, reflections and resolutions. It’s by far the best and longest of the school holidays. It’s the month I was born in.

Like Janus, the Roman God from whom the month takes its name, I feel strangely two-faced in January. One part of me kicks off the new year with plans and focused precision, tackling tasks I wouldn’t have time to otherwise and ticking boxes beside long overdue items on my To Do List. This part of me cleans, declutters, sorts, organises and schedules like nobody’s business, but then…

…then, the other part of me kicks back.  This part of me takes full advantage of the sun-drenched days and long golden evenings by soaking up the sunshine with a good book in one hand and a cool drink in the other, by wandering the well-trodden path the the beach to restore my soul as only saltwater can, or simply by curling up somewhere comfortable and daydreaming, pondering and wondering.

Warrior 2

One hand in the past, the other in the future, the self in the present…finding Sthira and Sukha within.

My recurrent January duality reminds me somehow of the yoga teaching that comes from the Sutra of Patanjali: that we should balance sthira (strength and steadiness) with sukha (ease — or, as it literally translates from Sansrkit, “good place”). On a yoga mat, you know without any doubt when you’re there, or even when you’re getting close to finding that good place.

And so, in my times of pondering and wondering recently, I have come to consider the possibility that the purpose of January Days is to remind us of that balance, of the need to find sthira and sukha in every part of life, of the opportunity to kick off and kick back throughout the year, of the chance to be peaceful warriors each day.

I’m going to find that good place, and to keep looking for it even when it seems as far away as a summer’s day does in midwinter.

This year, I wish you strength and ease.

 

 

 

2017 in Review: The Final Countdown

OK folks, here it is: the last of my Top Fives for 2017.

Today I’m shining a light on the five songs that made an impression on me this year, but unlike the Reading and Viewing lists, the songs that made the grade here HAD to have been released this year.

So without any further mucking around, and in totally random order, here’s the list — with some favourite lines thrown in for good measure:

BLUE JAI’S TOP FIVE SONGS FOR 2017

1.  Your Time by Nick Murphy.

2017 Your Time

Nick Murphy

You know that your time is something that I need to have…

This is one dark, edgy track from Murphy’s Missing Link EP — and it hooks you right from the opening line. If you’ve been living under a rock somewhere for the past few years and haven’t already encountered Nick Murphy in his former guise, Chet Faker, you’re in for a treat with this one. And if you’re not dancing (or obsessing over someone) by the end of this song, I’m not sure we can be friends. Really. Nothing personal, it’s just that kind of music.

2. Private by Vera Blue.

2017 Private

Vera Blue

Subjects in my mind, running wild, images of a parallel life…

Vera Blue’s Perennial was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2017 J Awards — and rightly so, in my opinion. She’s a powerful and interesting vocalist (I loved her work on Slumberjack’s track Fracture as well), and this song taps right into the fantastically frustrating vibe of wanting someone you can’t have, no matter how vividly you imagine it. Totally worth a listen.

 

3. Everything Now by Arcade Fire.

2017 Everything now

Arcade Fire

Every song that I’ve ever heard
Is playing at the same time, it’s absurd
And it reminds me, we’ve got everything now…

I’ll be honest — Arcade Fire are one of my favourite bands. Ever. And this song has been the soundtrack to many a morning walk along the beachfront near my home this year. The lyrics are, admittedly, bleak, but the overall sound of the piece is overwhelmingly joyful — particularly towards the end, when there’s a real festival vibe going on. In an era of information overload and fake news, I’m grateful Arcade Fire is there to critique it and turn it into something uplifting and beautiful.

4. Cloud 9 and Marryuna by Baker Boy.

2017 Baker Boy

Baker Boy

You want to be as good as me boy you better practice: step back in the power of my blackness…

So this one is a tie — I couldn’t bring myself to choose between these two Baker Boy tracks, because they’re both absolutely brilliant. These raps are a blend of English and Yolngu Matha language, and Baker Boy does Arnhem Land more than proud representing his people. He’s as good live as he is in the recording studio, and at just 20 years of age I’m looking forward to hearing a whole lot more from this supremely talented rising star.

5. The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows by Gang of Youths

2017 GOYouths

Gang of Youths

In a crowd unfamiliar, I just wanna touch a familiar face
And make friends at the parties I’ve feared the likes of an age
To be wanted with truth and make formidable love
See light in myself that I see inside everyone else I know…

How good is this band? It was no surprise to me that they absolutely cleaned up at the ARIAs this year. Go Farther in Lightness is an album packed with David Le’aupepe’s mindbendingly well-written lyrics accompanied by the driving rhythms and soaring melodies all Gang of Youths fans have come to know and love. This is my favourite track from a great album. Check it out.

2017 The Man

See? He really is The Man.

Honourable mentions go to The Killers for The Man — a song I half expect to turn up on a Peaky Blinders episode in the future because it seems (to me, anyway) to capture Tommy Shelby’s strut and sass, not to mention his complete self-assuredness. And that’s not just because I’m a huge fan of anything Cillian Murhpy does…it’s a great song. This year I also think Nick Mulvey’s Myela deserves a mention, not least because it highlights the plight of refugees in a world prone to forgetting some of the planet’s most desperate people, and — on a much lighter note — Lorde’s Homemade Dynamite is also top flight listening.

So there we have it: the last of my Top Five’s for the year. Given that I’m a veritable magpie when it comes to music and that I listen to a wide range of stuff from all over the world, I was somewhat surprised that the majority of the artists I’ve highlighted here are Australian — but that’s where I’m from, and I believe in supporting the local music scene, so perhaps it’s logical even if it does reflect a certain Antipodean bias.

Anyway, I’d love to hear what your Top Five songs were this year. Feel free to use the Comments to let me know, and I’ll be sure to give them a spin.

2017 in Review: And That’s a Wrap

It’s that time of year when I’m charting my personal Top Fives of 2017, with a few honourable mentions thrown in for good measure. Yesterday I looked at books, and today I’m switching to what I’ve seen on screens, big and small.

Much like its literary counterpart, I’ve decided that the Viewing category is open to any movie or television series made at any time, but which I watched 2017.  I managed to list the books chronologically, but this list — like my viewing habits generally — is far more haphazard. There are (hopefully) no spoilers here, and definitely no full reviews.  These are just five of my favourites for 2017…feel free to leave me your suggestions of what to watch next year, or your thoughts on what should have made the list.

BLUE JAI’S BEST MOVIES & TV OF 2017

1. Sound City (2013)

2017 Sound cityI’m kicking this list off with a feature-length documentary about the history of a recording studio in Van Nuys, Los Angeles — a description that sounds somewhat bland and boring until you realise that the recording studio in question is Sound City Studios, and the director of the film is Dave Grohl. It might sound even more banal if I described this movie as Grohl’s love letter to the Neve 8028 analog mixing console at Sound City but, again, once it becomes clear that this was the console he and a previously little-known band called Nirvana once used to record an album called Nevermind that went on to change the musical world as we know it, the whole thing begins to make a lot more sense.

2017 DGThe list of rock music luminaries who recorded at Sound City is astonishing, as is the sheer number of them who shared their memories of making music there: Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Barry Manilow, Trent Reznor, Butch Vig, Josh Homme and Paul McCartney are but a few of the artists associated with the studio who agreed to be part of the film. (Then again, given it was Dave Grohl asking them, perhaps it’s hardly surprising at all.)

Much like the Neve console itself, this movie captures a moment in time, a particular sound. It’s like a trip down memory lane in a leather jacket, and while the  film — much like its director — wears its heart on its sleeve, it manages to steer clear of sentimentality when discussing the closure of Sound City and, instead, celebrates old school technology being given a new lease of life as the Neve console is moved to Grohl’s own Studio 606, where it will no doubt be used well into the future.

If you’re a music fan, this one’s a must see.

2. GLOW, Season 1 (2017)

2017 GlowSo we’re still in the San Fernando Valley, but my second pick for 2017 is the televsion comedy series GLOW — which stands, of course, for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.  I never thought a comedy about the making of a 1980s syndicated women’s wrestling show (it is fiction, by the way) would interest me in the slightest, but the writing is as tight the ladies’ leotards, the costumes and soundtrack are so tacky they’re great, and some of the scenes — Sheila the Shewolf’s birthday bash at the roller rink springs to mind — are unexpectedly moving.

2017 Alison BrieI absolutely loved Alison Brie as the semi-desperate, struggling actress Ruth Wilder (particularly when she’s in Soviet mode), and Marc Maron’s portrayal of Sam Sylvia, the sleazy, disillusioned director who discovers he might actually care, is completely convincing. GLOW is laugh out loud funny, with some cutting edge social commentary to boot.

Bring on Season 2.

 

3. The Crown, Season 2 (2017)

2017 The CrownSpeaking of Season 2, I’ve just binged on another Netflix series — this time, the sumptuous historical drama that is The Crown. The second instalment is every bit as enjoyable as the first, and while political drama plays out on the wider world stage in the form of events such as the Suez Crisis and the Kennedy Assassination, for me the most interesting episodes are those depicting Queen Elizabeth II (played brilliantly by Claire Foy) navigating the complexities and challenges of her personal relationships — especially those with her husband and sister.

Vanessa Kirby very nearly steals the show as Princess Margaret, particularly in one powerful sequence that captures her volatility and unhappiness.  In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, Kirby described the scene:

She does this melancholy dance. You rarely saw her on her own, and I always imagined her alone in the house, grieving for her father — her sister preoccupied with a husband and kids and so busy being Queen. She would feel redundant, isolated; ostracised. I just imagined these dark nights of the soul, rattling around in Clarence House.

It’s compelling, if not a little voyeuristic, viewing.

4. Avis de Mistral/My Summer in Provence (2014)

2017 provenceThis French film is one that has been panned elsewhere, but I still wanted to see it.  I’m not entirely sure what it was that first drew me in, though I’ve always been a Jean Reno fan and I’m yet to meet anyone worth knowing who doesn’t harbour a soft spot for Provence.  Perhaps it’s also because, as the grandchild of divorced grandparents, I was intrigued by the the possibility that a cantakerous old man might eventually be won over by the three grandchildren he has never met — despite the best efforts of just about everyone involved to be difficult and objectionable.

The generational struggles are played out over the course of a long, hot summer, and despite the disputes between the characters being occasionally petty (two of the grandchildren are teenagers, after all), the ultimate benevolence and humanity of the characters and the strength of the bonds between them are never really in doubt — particularly in relation to the youngest grandchild, Theo, who is deaf (and is played, beautifully, but Lukas Pélissier, who is also deaf). One of the things I loved about this film is that whenever the action is seen from Theo’s perspective, there is no sound — which serves not only as a reminder of his condition, but also as a respite from the boisterous, dischordant world of his older siblings.

If I’m perfectly honest, this is a predictable, safe and sentimental film: the vast majority of the action is telegraphed well before it happens, including the inevitable happy ending. But sometimes, in life, we need movies like this — things that blow in like the mistral, and blow straight out again…and it’s made my Top Five because at the time I watched it I needed such a distraction, and My Summer in Provence served its purpose very well.

5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

2017 last jediYou knew there had to be a big-hitting, blockbuster of a franchise movie in here somewhere, didn’t you? Well, The Last Jedi is it — and a big part of the reason why this film makes the list is that I watched it at the cinema with my family.

It seems like only yesterday that I was writing about the possibility of introducing my girls to Star Wars, when in reality it was two and a half years ago.  During that time, they have become committed fans of the Star Wars universe, have watched all the films, every episode of Clone Wars and Rebels ever made, and have had hours of “Jedi Training” in the back yard with their father. They even insisted on making their own light sabers (purple — just like Mace Windu’s) at Disneyland.

I suspect half of what was written on the internet during the past month was devoted to The Last Jedi, so I’m not going to add to it any more here, save to say that I aboslutely loved this movie. And best of all, I got to see it with Marvel Girl, Miss Malaprop and The Bloke sitting right beside me.

Honourable mentions for other viewing in 2017 go to Thor: Ragnarok, not only because I can’t go past any Marvel movie in which Tom Hiddleston plays Loki, but also because I think Taika Waititi has brought a really fresh (not to mention funny) approach to the franchise; Anne with an E (and a PTSD?), which turned an old favourite on its head in a way I’ve decided I really liked; and Lucifer, Seasons 1 and 2 of which I believe to be the very best sort of trashy television, complete with clever lines and a one very handsome Devil.

Coming soon: Blue Jai’s Best Viewing and Listening of 2017…hit the follow button and don’t miss a thing!

2017 in Review: Closing the Book

As another year draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the things I’ve read, seen and heard this year that have affected me in some way — whether by inspiring me, giving me pause, prompting entirely unsolicited dance moves or in-shower solos, or making me think, laugh, cry or even cringe.

So with that in mind, I’ve come up with a bunch of personal Top Fives of 2017, with a few honourable mentions thrown in. Feel free to comment on them, or to share your own favourites — especially if you’d think I’d like them!

Today, I’m starting with books. I have decided that this category is open to any book written at any time, not just in 2017. I simply had to have read them during the past year. That said, I thought it was appropriate to include their year of publication, so I’ve arranged them chronologically. I’m not going to give away plot details or critique them fully — just know if they’ve made this list, I think they’re tops.

BLUE JAI’S BEST BOOKS OF 2017

  1. 2017 Crossing to SafetyCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (1987).  This book was loaned to me by The Professor, and I’m still not certain whether that simple fact made reading it a more poignant experience — not least because the plot centres on the interactions between two academics and their wives. The writing is beautiful, evocative, and reminiscent without becoming nostalgic, and Stegner’s control of the narrative is masterful.  This book stayed with me for a long time after I’d read it, and made me feel like I’d spent a summer or two in Vermont.
  2. 2017 American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001). What a rollicking good read! Normally I read housebrick sized books on my Kindle, but this one I lugged to and from Fiji and am so glad I did. The story of Shadow and Gaiman’s depiction of the battle between Old Gods and New in America is (literally) fantastic, eccentric and kept this Thrifty Fictionista happily engrossed in my holiday read. I even came back and downoaded Norse Mythology, because I wanted more Gaiman goodness.
  3. 2017 H is for HawkH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2014). I’m not sure I’ve read any other book quite like this one — and while the subject matter (the author’s way of dealing with her grief following the death of her father) is not easy, Macdonald’s brutally honest emotional journey aligns more perfectly that I ever expected with a wealth of arcane knowledge of falconry and the life of T H White. I never anticipated I would find such subjects remotely interesting, but this book proved me entirely wrong.
  4. 2017 Our soulsOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (2015). Oh…this story. Published posthumously, Haruf’s tale begins with an unusual proposition and ends up being an absolute joy to read. It’s bittersweet too, it’s true, but — in my view — ultimately uplifting. Like most purists, I suspect the book is better than the movie version, despite fact the film starred Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. Read the book first. Please. (You know it’s the right thing to do.)
  5. 2017 Life to ComeThe Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser (2017). Winning this year’s Miles Franklin award, I can’t honestly say I enjoyed this book: the characters are eminently recognisable, particularly to Sydneysiders, but I did not warm to any of them. That said, there wasn’t a single other book I read all year that had my head wriggling like a tin of worms for so many weeks after I’d put it down. Oh — and the writing is seriously, utterly brilliant.

Honourable mentions go also to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), which I agree remains as relevant today as it did when first published; Island Home, Tim Winton’s beautifully written (as always) love letter to the Australian landscape and his passionate call to arms to protect it; and finally, The Dry, by Jane Harper, which is one of the best and most atmospheric thrillers I have read in an age.

Coming soon: Blue Jai’s Best Viewing and Listening of 2017…