'You bring your children up to escape sorrow. You spend your best years trying to stop them witnessing it - on television, in you, in your neighbours' faces. Then you realise, slowly, that there is no escape, that they must steer their own way through life's cruelties.'
In The Children Charlotte Wood, one of Australian fiction's rising stars, delivers a short, sharp shock of a novel that takes us into the heart of a family as normal, and as broken, as any other.
When their father is critically injured, foreign correspondent Mandy and her siblings return home, bringing with them the remnants and patterns of childhood. Mandy has lived away from the country for many years. Her head is filled with images of terror and war, and her homecoming to the quiet country town - not to mention her family and marriage - only heightens her disconnection from ordinary life. Cathy, her younger sister, has stayed in regular contact with her parents, trying also to keep tabs on their brother Stephen who, for reasons nobody understands, has held himself apart from the family for years. In the intensive care unit the children sit, trapped between their bewildered mother and one another; between old wounds and forgiveness, struggling to connect with their emotions, their past and each other. But as they wait and watch over their father, there's someone else watching too: a young wardsman, Tony, who's been waiting for Mandy to come home. As he insinuates himself into the family, the pressure, and the threat, intensify - building to a climax of devastating force.
This acutely observed novel exposes the tenacious grip of childhood, the way siblings seem to grow apart but never do, and explores the price paid for bearing witness to the suffering of others - whether far away or uncomfortably close to home. The Children marks Wood as one of our finest writers.
The Children was shortlisted in the Australian Book Industry Awards 2008 in the category Literary Fiction Book of the Year.
Click here to download reading group notes for The Children from Allen & Unwin.
The Weekend Australian, October 20-21 2007 - Stella Clarke
"... approached with the sensitivity and acuity that is Wood's strength ... remarkable in her forensic abilities. she starts as she goes on, gently. ... Wood puts an unusually compassionate, hopeful spin on the media's sensationalist practices. The Children confirms her as a captivating, questing writer whose work is well worth watching."
Adelaide Advertiser, October 13 2007 - Katharine England
"One rereads the novel not for its shock value but for its nuances, its deep questions and its lovely supple prose. For this is a vibrant, intelligent, utterly compelling work, achingly real and seductively woven with a restrained consonance of connected images that build through the novel to a final symbolic release. Mandy’s conclusion - that, ‘‘when there is nothing to be done, all we can do is pay attention, keep watch’’ - is a function of love, but also seems to me to sum up one of the roles of the novel, any novel: to pay attention - to the small things, the ‘‘ordinary decencies’’ as well as the large - to record, to witness, to ensure that nothing is lost."
Read the full review here.
Sydney Morning Herald, October 13 2007 - Dorothy Johnston
"...The Children is beautifully and tightly shaped around Geoff Connolly lying insensate, tied to a breathing machine. His family waits, attacking one another but also finding and creating surprising moments of tenderness ... Wood, whose previous novel, The Submerged Cathedral, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, has the ability to evoke matters of life and death without straining for effect. Her prose is convincing and her images precise..."
Read the full review here (caution: detailed plot revelations... )
Australian Book Review, October 2007 - Stephanie Bishop
"...The Children is Wood's best work yet. Despite Mandy's contempt for the ordinary, Wood makes the most ordinary moments glow: her sensitivity to visual detail cuts to the quick. Little escapes her, and the result is a graceful and empathetic portrayal of one family seeking to understand itself."
The Age, October 6 2007 - Kerryn Goldsworthy
"Charlotte Wood's first novel, Pieces of a Girl, was widely read and warmly reviewed and her second, The Submerged Cathedral, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. The Children, her third, is written with the skill and confidence of someone who knows that if she has already done it twice then she can most certainly do it a third time ... The bringing-together of an atomised family for an occasion or crisis is a time-honoured narrative strategy in fiction and film, and Wood makes the most of its possibilities both for drama and for social commentary ... The reunion of three childless adult siblings plus their mother and brother-in-law makes for some very astute observation of how that family dynamic plays out, and also for some rather grim comedy as the demons of childhood rivalry and dislike
re-emerge as ferocious and illogical as they were the first time around."
Read the full review here.
Good Reading, October 2007 - Anabel Pandiella
**** Highly recommended
Mandy is a foreign correspondent who has seen it all: the slaughter of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the death of civilians, including women and children, in the streets of Baghdad. But when she receives a call from her mother and learns that her father has been critically injured in an accident, Mandy returns home carrying a war of her own within her. From her rapidly deteriorating marriage to her strained relationships with her sister Cathy and brother Stephen, Mandy is thrust into the middle of a battle she can't keep at arm's length or view through the eyes of a reporter. Burdened with grief, disappointment, and anger towrds the small-town ignorance that drove her to her destiny and the damaged person she's become, the only way Mandy can find peace is through tragedy. Charlotte Wood's writing is haunting, building tension so subtly the action hits like an unexpected blow. Her characters are wounded and human, their dialogue profound without meaning to be. Simple and real, this is a beautifully heavy and affecting story that will linger in your mind long after you've read the last page.
Bookseller & Publisher magazine, August 2007 - Lucy Meredith
**** An excellent book
"Wood’s first book was superbly polished, her second was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin, so it is no surprise that her third novel, The Children, captivates from the first dramatic paragraph. This novel centres on the complex and compelling relationship of three siblings, who return home to the small country town of their youth after their father suffers horrific injuries from a fall. The three are forced to confront one another and themselves, due to their father’s comatose state. Wounds, worries and woes from their childhood and recent times are thus awakened, and they struggle to maintain sanity as a stranger, with an ominous obsession, watches on. This stranger brings to the tale a shadowy tone, reminiscent of McEwan’s Enduring Love, and introduces themes of fixation and self-appointed attachments. Wood’s detailed observations of the connections (however severed) of family ties are honest without being overdone or demanding. The characters acting among this haunting prose are the real strength of Wood’s work. And watching this family’s suffering, their different ways of coping and grieving is even more transfixing as a sinister element weaves throughout this story. An Australian Jodi Picoult? Definitely comparable to Picoult’s themes, but more aware of, and attuned and appealing to Australian readers of the literary family drama, laced with social commentary and mystery."