Exerpts from Reviews
for Last Day in the Dynamite Factory
The Sydney Morning Herald & Melbourne Age
Annah Faulkner's deliciously titled second novel begins with an explosion of a camphor laurel tree; the dynamite placed beneath it to decimate its root system, the fuse lit. Those familiar with camphor laurels – benign in appearance, yet invasive in growth rate – will see the metaphorical significance of this incident for the events that transpire in this compelling novel of secrets.
Given the number of family secrets Faulkner is juggling, the narrative sweep of this novel is remarkably entrancing. This is in part due to her studiously well-structured story. One of her techniques is to feed us anecdotes about her characters' pasts that provide key insights into their present psychology. The story of the poignant death of Liam, for example, and the way that Chris always felt implicated in it, adds nuance to our understanding of the adult. The histories of her characters are provided at satisfying intervals and in a way that feels uncontrived.
Faulkner's characters exhibit an impressive emotional vivacity. She slides easily beneath the surface of her characters' thoughts – not only the protagonist's but satellite characters' as well – offering us a privileged insight into what makes them tick. In fact, every key revelation here is articulated and made sense of for us; in a book about silence, that quality is curiously absent from the book itself.
The more Chris discovers, the more destructive that knowledge becomes; his life falls apart, only to be reassembled towards the end of the book in a more fulfilling way. Everyone keeps secrets, we learn in Last Day in the Dynamite Factory, but is every silence harmful, or is there some knowledge that should never be shared? When Chris keeps a significant secret to himself, we learn there is a difference between living honestly and divulging all.
Faulkner leaves us this tantalising ambiguity to contemplate in the lingering silence that endures beyond the novel's last pages.
The Saturday Paper
The tongue and groove of character and plot and thematic architecture is seamless. Faulkner’s depiction of Chris’s long life with wife Diane is a masterclass in low-level marital dissatisfaction.
She solves the equation of stability over passion with delicacy, tact and immense generosity – just as she has a hard eye for those moments when men get up on their hindquarters and start bellowing moral certitudes.
Last Day in the Dynamite Factory is elegantly crafted; its resolution deeply felt, poetic even.
Phil Cook, Dymocks, Carindale & Garden City, Qld
. . . (As I read, I got the sense that) . . . Faulkner was beginning to elaborate what I call the 30 watt marriage. This isn’t a term I invented – I read it in an article . . . where someone was writing about the quality of marriage beyond twenty years, and applying the metaphor of a dim, 30 watt globe. In fact, I was right. That is what the book does, and it does it extraordinarily well.
It does not take a rocket scientist to realise that Christopher Bright is unhappy. Mainly because he is one of the lucky ones who has experienced . . . that kind of bond between two people which demands and requires surrender . . . and it is that, in the end, which leads him to the decisions which make up the essence of what is truly a powerful and insightful book.
The book is cleverly written so that it will be easy for some (readers) to see the principal conflicts from an entirely different perspective . . .
I would not be surprised if Last Day in the Dynamite Factory is the most important book that Picador will publish this year. It is certainly compulsory reading, not just for my generation, but for the young. I adored it.
Country Style Magazine
Deadlines being what they are, I read Annah Faulkner's novel at a cracking pace, which is the moral equivalent of sculling one of our wine writer's rare reds. I intend to reread this slowly and savour every paragraph.
Nominated Last Day in the Dynamite Factory as one of itsTen Books You Must Read This Year.
Readings Book Store - Chris Gordon
... on why Annah Faulkner’s Last Day in the Dynamite Factory should win the 2015 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction.
"Last Day in the Dynamite Factory tells a story that is relevant to many of us ... about Australian domestic life. ... resonating as a portrayal of where we, as a society of comfortable people, are located, and of what we have become. Our problems are not about life and death, but instead about lost dreams and hopes. This is a story about repercussions. It shows how it is possible to change the course of your life, even after the midway point has been passed.
Last Day in the Dynamite Factory is a story about family, and what that means. ... Three generations of men search for meaning. It is vital for us to be able to regard and reflect on both past and future generation. Faulkner has created the perfect sounding board for this to occur, and her insight is neither overly emotional nor judgmental.
Although Faulkner has been writing for many years, she has only begun to receive critical literary acclaim late in life. Her writing is simple. To write a story without complicating the scenes with long obtuse passages takes a certain precision, a sleight of hand that has worked long and hard on creating a universal tale with a minimum of fuss. I look forward to her next work, to see where her imagination takes us next.
Last Day in the Dynamite Factory is a skilful interpretation of a man changing direction. It is a story about living well, letting go, and remaining conscious. It is a familiar story, but that familiarity makes its carefully crafted narrative all the more significant and impressive."
Chris Gordon is the Events Manager at Readings. She is one of the founding members of the Stella Prize, sits on the Readings Foundation Board and next year will be a judge for the Readings prize.
for The Beloved
2011 Emerging Queensland Author – Manuscript Award - Judges’ Comments
The Beloved is a witty and engaging family drama. It balances a subtle, charming portrait of the artist as a young woman against an acutely observed evocation of family relationships, in particular the complex dynamic between mother and daughter. The narrative moves with vigorous energy, effortlessly sustaining humour, pathos and drama. Through it all, the voice of the narrator, Roberta, sparkles with freshness and authenticity as she recounts her coming-of-age story with a winning charm. Blending the true-to-life power of a memoir, with the craft and entertainment of a novel, this is an accomplished piece of writing, reflective of great talent.
Review by Angela Meyer
The Beloved is a vivid bildungsroman with believable characters and intense dramatic events. Tension arises not only from the relationship between Bertie and her mother (and the reader’s empathy for both of them), but the relationship between Bertie’s parents, and some of the immediate dangers of the Papua New Guinea environment. Annah Faulkner, winner of the 2011 Queensland Premier’s Award for an Emerging Writer, handles her characters’ desires and secrets tenderly. The novel is about two strong identities coming up against one another, the way passion (and art) can overtake a person’s very being, and the damaging effects of ‘wanting the best’ for a child who already knows who they are and what they want.
Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney & Melbourne Age
Pick of the week
Review by Cameron Woodhead
… Faulkner traces the fierce loyalty and conflict in this relationship between mother and daughter with a sharp eye, at length revealing the long-buried secrets behind the former's controlling behaviour. The Beloved is vivid and stylish domestic drama, enlivened by a strong gift for metaphor and the wisdom to use it sparingly.
Australian Book Review June 2013
Gillian Dooley. Special Collections Librarian an
Honorary Research Fellow in English, Flinders University
… Faulkner has created a wonderful character with Bertie - a passionate individual, drawn to the unconventional, with a unique way of seeing, depicting, and describing the world. Stefi, according to Bertie, is alternately restless and chattering and 'as silent as a pillow'. Bertie's parents take her to a wedding, where 'a priest in a ruffled white collar sandwiched the hands' of the happy couple 'in holy matrimony'. When she first meets Chris, who has 'golden hair and eyes like the sea', she feels 'horribly and brilliantly visible'. Bertie's development as an artist has intrinsic interest, intensified by the context: she is gaining this knowledge in secret from the woman who loves her father, risking disastrous consequences if her mother finds out.
But the greatest triumph of this novel is the voice of a skeptical, passionate, bright, rebellious child who has an understanding beyond her years, and the bravery and intensity of her struggle to be herself.
West Australian, Perth
Review: Elaine Fry
… A beautifully crafted novel and a masterclass in drawing, painting and the art of living.
Weekend Australian, Australia
Review: Thuy On
‘Faith, hope and mortality line the path of a mother and daughter's arduous journey.’
Faulkner … evokes the tropical humidity of Port Moresby and its salty sweet flavours with relish. It "pressed against you with hot damp hands and filled your head with the musky smells of frangipani, copras, rotting plants and dead fish"
… This is a coming-of-age novel that also paints a portrait of the artist as a young woman and follows the fallout when parental will tries to stymie individual self-expression. Written in the voice of Bertie, The Beloved presents a strong and wilful narrator, a good match for her equally pugnacious mother.
Review by Kristina Olsson
… In Annah Faulkner’s debut novel, The Beloved, art provides the through-thread not just for Roberta’s passage from child to young woman, but for a page-turning story that takes us from 1950s Sydney and Melbourne to post-colonial Port Moresby and Canada. At its heart is a fraught mother-daughter relationship told from the point of view of young Roberta. From the outset we are in good hands: Roberta may be naïve and unworldly, but through her sixth sense _ she sees people’s hidden colours or auras - we come to understand her prescience, her uncanny intuition.
But it doesn’t help Roberta understand her mother. Lily May might have doggedly brought her daughter through polio and worked to ensure she would walk again, but she also works to sabotage Roberta’s real life - that of the artist - the very thing that makes survival worthwhile. Lily May’s deep suspicion of her daughter’s urge to paint and eventual confiscation of art from Roberta’s life form the central tension of the novel.
Nor does Roberta’s talent and prescience help her navigate the uneasy family relationships she lives within, the secrets that press sharper and more urgently as the family’s expatriate life in New Guinea unravels. We are given strong hints about the background to the fracture in the family, especially the troubled bond between mother and daughter, in skilled and compelling dialogue and, of course, through Roberta’s questing, if unreliable, body and mind.
One of the great strengths of the novel is the portrayal of this volatile mother-daughter relationship, the battle of wills that rages beneath the everyday and explodes as colourfully and predictably as any mother or daughter would expect. Despite, or because of, her disability, and her mother’s efforts to make her whole, Roberta is as tenacious and obdurate as Lily May. Some of the most memorable scenes show Roberta willful, rebellious, yet caught between the yearning to be like others and the call of her true self.
… Faulkner concentrates on the intimacies of expatriate life, and the lushness and abundance of the physical world. This world serves at once as inspiration for the artist’s palette and as metaphor for Roberta’s awareness of the intensity of human connection and potential.
In a vividly realised scene, Roberta and Lily May travel to a wedding in the jungle, by canoe and motorbike, accosted by crocodile and wild pig. On the perilous bike ride beneath a dim green-black canopy, clutching the back of a local tribesman as a sharp-tusked pig closes in on them, Roberta experiences a kind of awakening: ‘Something inside me had cracked open,’ she notes, ‘and freed feelings I had no names for, feelings that made me bigger and stronger than I could explain.’ She will need more than size and strength to take on the often pitiless world faced by women, artists, gay and lesbian people, anyone flouting convention in the early 1960s, as well as her mother’s blind determination to stop history repeating. To step into the shape of a life that waits, tantalising, beyond others’ expectations, beyond her mother’s blind and insistent love.
It speaks to Faulkner’s talent for character that, despite a mother-daughter friction many readers may find so familiar as to be almost cliché, both Roberta and Lily-May emerge fully fleshed, authentic. Both incite our sympathy. The more broadly sketched figure of Ed, Roberta’s father, brings a refreshing lightness and wit to the story, as does Tempe, the wry lesbian aunt.
Art itself figures large too, in Roberta’s unschooled hands and still-forming creative sensibility, and in the pen lines and brushstrokes of others older and more accomplished. Through their eyes, it amplifies every depiction of character and place and mood in this accomplished novel.
The Beloved is a deceptively easy and well-paced read, with passages of heart-stopping prose, but dense with notions around the battle between art and life and the fraught bonds of blood.
Judges of the Nita B Kibble Literary Award
for women's life writing, led by Dr Brigid Rooney, senior lecturer of Australian literature at the University of Sydney.
‘The Beloved's characters leap off the page with their warmth and vital intensity. Faulkner creates a portrait in words that vividly evoke the painterly vision its protagonist pursues.’