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Book Club, Hotel

March Book Club: Women & Children

Our March Book Club novel is an intelligent and powerful story about women, children and justice, by one of Australia’s most loved and clear-eyed storytellers, Tony Birch.

Birch’s fourth novel showcases the range of this award-winning master craftsman in a beautiful and forthright work that sensitively explores the effect of trauma and violence on women through the eyes of a boy and reveals the power of a family united in the face of adversity.

Birch creates characters with tenderness and simplicity, Women & Children gives a glimpse of inner-city life in a tough neighbourhood, familial relationships, vulnerability and the loss of childhood.

With an eleven-year-old boy the central protagonist, the story unfolds with an intuitive childlike perspective – cleverly narrow due to the limited life experience, but equally sensitive, curious and questioning in nature.  Scenes of violence and suffering when viewed through innocent and näive eyes, are handled with a compelling simplicity that makes them all the more powerful.

Women & Children draws a blurred line between fiction and reality. The cover artwork features Birch’s sister on her First Communion Day, along with his godmother. Birch addresses this, “Women & Children is a work of fiction. It is not the story of my own family, but a story motivated by our family’s refusal to accept silence as an option in our lives,” he writes. “It is a story that witnesses both the trauma of violence and the freedom that comes with summary justice, even when satisfaction is a momentary experience.”

Birch addresses important issues about generational violence, religion, complicity and Australia’s dark history – and although this is a work of fiction, he has drawn inspiration from real experience to build a powerful and tender treatise on trauma and the power of love and family.

Synopsis: Women & Children

It’s 1965 and Joe Cluny is living in a working-class suburb with his mum, Marion, and sister, Ruby, spending his days trying to avoid trouble with the nuns at the local Catholic primary school. One evening his Aunty Oona appears on the doorstep, distressed and needing somewhere to stay. As his mum and aunty work out what to do, Joe comes to understand the secrets that the women in his family carry, including on their bodies. Yet their pleas for assistance are met with silence and complicity from all sides. Who will help Joe’s family at their time of need? Women & Children is a novel about the love and courage between two sisters, and a sudden loss of childhood innocence.

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