Episode 14 – Author’s choice
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Joining me for this episode’s online chat is one of my favourite Australian authors, Toni Jordan.
Toni has worked as a molecular biologist, quality control chemist, TAB operator and door-to-door aluminium siding salesperson. She holds a bachelor of science in physiology and a PhD in creative arts and is the author of five novels.
Her debut, the international best-seller Addition, and the first of hers I read, was longlisted for the Miles Franklin award and won the Indie Award for best first book. This was followed by Fall Girl, Nine Days, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts and most recently The Fragments.
I asked Toni numerous questions about The Fragments, a sumptuous literary mystery (which I wanted so badly to be non fiction) and we discussed her cocktail game, which is strong my friends, very strong!
In the late 1970s, in the forgotten outer suburbs, a girl has her hands in the engine of a Holden. A sinister new man has joined the family. He works as a mechanic and operates an unlicensed repair shop at the back of their block.
The family is under threat. The girl reads the Holden workshop manual for guidance. She resists the man with silence, then with sabotage. She fights him at the place where she believes his heart lives – in the engine of the car.
Toni paired a favourite classic cocktail, the Negroni, which she makes in batches and uses the good vermouth but the less good gin (!) with this sparse, bitter and intense story.
Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the ‘Scriptorium’, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word ‘bondmaid’ flutters to the floor. Esme rescues the slip and stashes it in an old wooden case that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world.
Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. While she dedicates her life to the Oxford English Dictionary, secretly, she begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.
Toni chose to pair this beautiful, feminist re-telling of history with another classic cocktail, an Old Fashioned. Although she loves good whiskey she doesn’t use the good whiskey here, any old whiskey will do!
This could be described as a collection of essays, it really is a blend of personal essay, polemic, prose poetry, true-crime journalism and confession that reflects on what it means to be a woman, a body, an artist. It is both a memoir and an interrogation of memoir. It is incredibly candid and original, difficult and fierce and there were so many pages when I felt like it was my story being told. This is a distinctive and unsettling read, the kind of book I want to make notes in the margins of because there is so much within these pages.
Justine suggested a grazing plate, with any number of goodies on it would pair well with this book … cheese and meats and nuts … as long as there were blueberries of course. Or perhaps some Blueberry Wine from Badgers Creek … but she finally settles on a twist on a classic, a drink which you can make your own with only the smallest of changes – a White Negroni made with gin, Suze (an aperitif) and Lillet Blanc with a twist of lemon or grapefruit for that tart, clean, spare taste that you can sip slowly and enjoy as you dip in and out of this stunning book.
This episode of Literary Elixirs was recorded via Zoom, please forgive any minor technical glitches!
Into/Outro music is Mosquito Mojito by Rachel K. Collier. Sourced from Free Music Archive under a Creative Commons Licence.