Not Waving, Drowning: Mental Illness and Vulnerability in Australia – Sarah Krasnostein

Quarterly Essay #85

Mental illness is so prevalent that it’s likely either you or someone you love will have lived experience. If it hasn’t impacted you personally, it probably means that it hasn’t yet, not that it won’t. 

Almost half of all Australian adults will experience mental ill-health during their lives, and almost one in five will meet the criteria in a given year. These numbers have likely risen during the pandemic. 

In this essay, Sarah Krasnostein traces the way mental illness has been managed (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, poorly managed) over time in Australia. They outline the trauma experienced by convicts and the “increasingly lethal, state-sanctioned attempt to eradicate Aboriginal people” (a minimum of 270 massacres over 140 years, beginning in 1794!!) before exploring our asylum days, beginning with Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum, Australia’s first purpose built psychiatric facility. 

Krasnostein evaluates our current system, where money buys you care if you’re cis, heterosexual and white, while pretty much everyone else has to fight for the scraps, if they can find any. 

What is known as “the mental health system,” for example, is really just billions of human interactions. And that is where the problems lie. 

We go down the rabbit hole of how people with mental illness are marginalised, looking at the failure of individuals, institutions and society at large. I grew weary hearing about the cascade of inquiries into the mental health system that consistently result in recommendation after recommendation that are not acted on.

We can memorise the stats and read the policies but what really stays with me are peoples’ lived experiences. You can intellectually know that people with mental illness disproportionately experience homelessness and that the ‘service gaps’ are really service chasms, but that doesn’t tell you the whole story. 

Being introduced to Rebecca, who despite being found not fit to stand trial and not guilty because of mental impairment, was imprisoned and kept in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day simply because there was nowhere else for her to go? Her story is going to stay with me. So is Daylia’s, a woman with a history of setting fires in order to try to gain control over her life.

The story of lived experience that stood above all others for me, though, was that of Eliza. A young woman who has survived extensive childhood trauma and is living with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, Eliza is now a peer worker, working to reform a system that in many ways has failed her. To say that I am impressed by her resilience and courage is an understatement. We need to be listening more to people like Eliza.

Quote I loved whose context I can’t remember but would be appropriate in so many situations

absence of evidence is not evidence of absence 

From the ‘I bet whoever approved this name didn’t give it a lot of thought’ files

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare have spreadsheets collating cause of death called General Record of Incidence of Mortality (GRIM). 

Because there is no systems change without relational change – and no relational change without personal change – perhaps our best hope lies in a critical mass of those who are privileged by the current economic and social model following the lead of those people with lived experience and making the radical choice to normalise their own vulnerabilities – not just by refusing to participate in the stigmatisation of mental illness, but by calling out Othering in all its pernicious forms. 

There were a couple of quotes from the Correspondence section about Jess Hill’s The Reckoning that I wanted to make note of: 

Adrienne Rich wrote that when a woman tells the truth, she creates “the possibility for more truth around her.” 

Hannah Ryan & Gina Rushton

Silence and withdrawal by the many is what enables crimes by the few. 

Malcolm Knox

Content warnings include alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, domestic abuse, drug addiction, eating disorders, homophobia, mental health, physical abuse, racism, self harm and sexual assault.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Mental illness is the great isolator – and the great unifier. Almost half of us will suffer from it at some point in our lives; it affects everybody in one way or another. Yet today Australia’s mental health system is under stress and not fit for purpose, and the pandemic is only making things worse. What is to be done?

In this brilliant mix of portraiture and analysis, Sarah Krasnostein tells the stories of three women and their treatment by the state while at their most unwell. What do their experiences tell us about the likelihood of institutional and cultural change? Krasnostein argues that we live in a society that often punishes vulnerability, but shows we have the resources to mend a broken system. But do we have the will to do so, or must the patterns of the past persist into the future?

“In our conception of government, and our willingness to fund it, we are closer to the Nordic countries than to America. However, we’re trending towards the latter with a new story of Australia. The moral of this new story is freedom over equality, and one freedom above all – the freedom to be unbothered by others’ needs. However, as we continue to saw ourselves off our perch, mental health might be the great unifier that climate change and the pandemic aren’t.” —Sarah Krasnostein, Not Waving, Drowning

The Greatest Thing – Sarah Winifred Searle

In this semi-autobiographical graphic novel, Sarah Winifred Searle introduces us to Win. Their two best friends have enrolled at a new school so Win is starting the tenth grade alone. Fortunately for Win, they have art and it’s through their independent study with Mrs Fransson that they meet April and Oscar.

I found the struggles of all three characters relatable. This could have been quite a dark story and it does touch on some difficult topics, specifically those relating to sexuality, identity and body image.

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There’s an exploration of mental health and the feelings of being alone and not fitting in. 

I mean, I don’t belong here. I feel like I work so hard to keep afloat but no one sees or hears me. 

The friendship between Win, April and Oscar makes all the difference.

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Their friendship isn’t always easy and things don’t always work out as planned but their connection gave this story the injection of hope that it needed. The zine they worked on together, which is included in its entirety, was heartbreaking and beautiful. 

While I connected with some of what Win and April were struggling with, it was Oscar who stole my heart. I absolutely adored him. 

I wish I could hear the song Win and Oscar listen to. I loved the illustrations and the colour palette. 

Teenage me would have read this graphic novel so much that it would have disintegrated in my hands. Adult me is definitely keen for a reread.

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To see myself through your eyes, as I look to someone who loves me … it has simply been the greatest thing. 

Content warnings include biphobia, eating disorders, fatphobia, mental health and self harm.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s the first day of Grade Ten, and Winifred is going to reinvent herself. Now that her two best (and only) friends have transferred to a private school, Win must navigate high school on her own.

Luckily, she isn’t alone for long. In art class, she meets Oscar and April. They don’t look or act like the typical teenagers in her town: they’re creative, a little rebellious and seem comfortable in their own skin in a way that Win can only dream of. 

But even though Winifred is breaking out of her shell, there’s one secret she can’t bear to admit to April and Oscar, or even to herself – and this lie threatens everything.

Win needs to face her own truths, but she doesn’t need to do it alone. Through the healing power of clandestine sleepovers, op-shopping and zine publishing, Win finds and accepts what it means to be herself.

Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic – Paul Conti

In this book, Dr Conti explores what trauma is and how it works, the sociology of trauma, and how trauma impacts people physically and mentally.

I found the stories of people impacted by trauma interesting. They helped to illustrate points the author was making, although I often wished they were longer.

There were times I came across a topic I wanted to learn more about (like inflammation, the limbic system and epigenetics) but, because this book provides more of an overview than a deep dive, there’d only be a few paragraphs dedicated to it.

There were too many analogies for my liking and by the end of the book I wished I had counted the amount of times I’d read “compassion, community and humanity”.

If you’re looking for a book that offers an introduction to trauma, this may be the book for you. However, if you’re already well versed in trauma and its impacts, you may have already encountered much of the information covered here.

Content warnings include alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide (including the method used), domestic abuse, drug addiction, mental health, racism, sexual assault and war.

Thank you to NetGalley and Vermilion, an imprint of Ebury Publishing, Penguin Random House, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Trauma is everywhere and so many of us are silently affected by it. Stressful, challenging and frightening events can happen to anyone, at any age, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, anxious and exhausted. Left unchecked, difficult experiences can have a lasting psychological effect on our wellbeing.

In Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic, leading psychiatrist Dr Paul Conti sets out a unique set of tools anyone can access to help recognise the signs of trauma, heal from past hurt and find the road to recovery.

Drawing on the most recent scientific research, Dr Conti breaks down the topic into clear sections, looking at why trauma happens, how it manifests in the body and what we can do to move past it. In the book, you’ll discover the three different types of trauma you might face, as well as practical exercises and solutions for getting to the root of the problem.

This is an important, life-affirming book, one that invites you to empower yourself against trauma, own your life experiences and learn to thrive, not just survive, in the wake of life’s difficulties.

Orphans of Bliss – Mark Matthews (editor)

This is the third (and final) anthology of addiction horror edited by Mark Matthews, but my first. I want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this read but that feels so inappropriate given the subject matter. Some stories were horrific; not the jump scare variety, but the type that gets under your skin. Many of the stories will be accompanying me for a while, whether I want them to or not.

You Wait For It, Like It Waits For You by Kealan Patrick Burke 

Reality isn’t easily distinguishable for Sean, as the days pass in the room with no door. 

“Do you know where you are?”
“Inside myself.” 

One Last Blast by S.A. Cosby

Sometimes not even death can stop you from needing a fix. 

“I … can … smell it.” 

What We Name Our Dead by Cassandra Khaw

Eleanor returns to her childhood home, a place of fear and pain. 

Hurt changes you. Hurt stays. Hurt gnaws a nest for itself in the heart and stays burrowed there until you die. 

Huddled Masses, Yearning to Breathe Free by John F.D. Taff 

Alan Denbrough is a collector. If you have trypophobia, you may want to skip this one. 

I don’t hoard so much as … collect. And yes, there’s a distinction.

Through the Looking Glass and Straight Into Hell by Christa Carmen

This rehab offers something different: virtual reality recovery simulation. 

“What do you wish it would show you?” 

Holding On by Gabino Iglesias

Guillermo needs to get Max and Alondra out of Section C before it’s too late. 

In Section C, nothing good ever happens at night.

Buyer’s Remorse by Samantha Kolesnik

Sometimes the punishment fits the crime. 

“Everything has a price” 

A Solid Black Lighthouse on a Pier in the Cryptic by Josh Malerman 

If you draw the attention of a witch in a bar, be prepared for the consequences. 

“Drink and you are drunk.” 

Singularity by Kathe Koja 

We’re in space, but I was fairly lost. I may need to reread this one. 

You know you’ve never been wanted the way the dark wants you now. 

My Soul’s Bliss by Mark Matthews 

We meet two addicts, whose lives had diverged, at a funeral. 

Because that’s what happens with certain moments. They imprint themselves on you and you can’t change them. They define you, become the hinge all your decisions swing upon. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began this anthology but out of ten stories, I came away with five favourites, those by Cassandra Khaw, John F.D. Taff, Christa Carmen, Josh Malerman and Mark Matthews. 

Now I’m keen to read Garden of Fiends and Lullabies for Suffering.

Content warnings include mention of ableism, addiction, death by suicide, homophobia, mental health, physical abuse, racism and suicidal ideation. Readers with emetophobia, beware.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Wicked Run Press for the opportunity to read this anthology. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“My soul’s bliss kills my body, but does not satisfy itself.” – Emily Bronte

Addiction is the perpetual epidemic, where swarms of human moths flutter to the flames of hell. Because that warm blanket of a heroin high, that joyful intoxication of a pint of vodka, that electric energy from a line of cocaine, over time leaves you with a cold loneliness and a bitter heart. Relationships destroyed, bodies deteriorate, loved ones lost, yet the craving continues for that which is killing us – living, as the title suggests, like an Orphan of Bliss.

Welcome to the third and final fix of addiction horror and the follow up to the Shirley Jackson Award Finalist, Lullabies for Suffering. A diverse table of contents brought together for an explosive grand finale – an unflinching look at the insidious nature of addiction, told with searing honesty but compassion for those who suffer.

Table of Contents includes: 

Kealan Patrick Burke
Cassandra Khaw
Josh Malerman 
S.A. Cosby
John FD Taff
Christa Carmen
Gabino Iglesias
Samantha Kolesnik
Mark Matthews
Kathe Koja

The three Addiction Horror anthologies, Garden of Fiends, Lullabies for Suffering, and Orphans of Bliss, do not have to be read in order and are not sequential.

Enough – Harriet Johnson

In her work as a barrister, Harriet Johnson has seen how the criminal justice system can work and also how it can fail women. In this book, Harriet outlines many of the ways violence is perpetrated against women, how the justice system responds to it and how it can be more adequately addressed as well as prevented.

An overview of the law, statistics and case studies are presented about various ways that women experience violence: homicide, sexual violence, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, stalking, street harassment and online harassment. 

The author clearly points out that even though a dark picture can already be painted using the statistics that are available, there are entire groups of women whose experience is not even captured in them.

If you’re not from the UK, you’ll find that the definitions of offences, the laws that relate to them and the maximum applicable if someone is convicted won’t line up with the laws of your country. The statistics are also UK specific, although most didn’t seem dissimilar to what I know of stats from other countries.

None of the suggested strategies for ending violence against women surprised me. They focus on prevention, as well as making improvements to the systems that are currently in place. It’s about having enough resources and training. It’s taking a long, hard look at the way police and the courts respond to violence. It’s including marginalised women in the statistics because if we don’t have a clear picture of what’s happening, then how can we ever expect things to change.

Favourite quote: “the culture you get is the behaviour you tolerate.”

Content warnings include mention of ableism, death by suicide, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, homophobia, mental health, misogyny, racism, self harm and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and William Collins, an imprint of HarperCollins, for the opportunity to read this book. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This is a book that calls time on the endless tide of violence against women and the failures of our criminal justice system to respond.

From barrister Harriet Johnson, Enough lays bare the appalling status quo of abuse against women in our society, offering an irrefutable case for why change is needed in policing and justice. Most vitally, it also gives a manifesto for how to get there.

With expertise, clear-sightedness and appropriate fury, this book helps us see where women are suffering – from homicide to domestic abuse to street harassment. It exposes the ways the criminal justice system lets women down – from officers failing to properly investigate to a lack of consequences when police behaviour is unacceptable, to backlogged courts and the realities of convincing a jury.

Addressing misogyny is to everyone’s benefit and the answers aren’t simple. Enough is the call to arms we can – and must – all get behind.

The Packing House – G. Donald Cribbs

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

I can’t ignore these dreams. They come from somewhere. Maybe they’re trying to tell me something, but what exactly? 

Joel’s nightmares have been getting worse recently. It doesn’t help that his mother is emotionally unavailable and his father has been MIA for over half of his life. When one of Joel’s nightmares is recorded and posted online, it makes it even harder for him to cope.

Childhood sexual assault is always going to be difficult to read about. While there are more books being published where characters have experienced this, not enough are written from the point of view of male survivors. That’s what drew me to this book.

It’s hard to be objective when sexual assault and its impacts are addressed so I’ll focus here on what did and didn’t work for me personally as I read this book.

One of the strengths of this book was that it dealt with trauma that the main character didn’t always have clear memories of. Trauma encodes itself in the brain differently than non-traumatic memories and sometimes this means the memories aren’t accessible until the survivor is safe. Joel’s memories begin to resurface in the themes of his nightmares and in flashbacks. His understanding of what he’s experiencing doesn’t come all at once.

Some aspects of the story didn’t ring true to me. Once Joel talked about what happened to him, his nightmares seemed to disappear. While I hope this is the case for some survivors, this didn’t seem very realistic.

I couldn’t imagine the police, when they showed up to interview Joel at his home, finding it necessary to use their lights and siren to announce themselves. Surely a simple knock on the door would have done the trick. 

I’d also hate to think of a survivor being confronted by the police about such a sensitive topic in front of random family members or having to go with them straight away to the station in a police car to give a statement.

And why do the police say the perpetrator is “charged with” when they haven’t actually charged them yet? They hadn’t even interviewed the victim or conducted an investigation into the allegations.

With such an extended lead up to Joel remembering what happened to him, the events afterwards felt like a whirlwind. I was left with some pretty big question marks and some of those are because the book finishes so abruptly. I don’t know if a sequel is planned or not but here’s the short list of what I need to know…

Was Joel’s perpetrator responsible for what happened to the other boy we learn about from Joel’s childhood? Is there a way around the statute of limitations problem in Joel’s case as he’s only just remembered what happened to him? Does Joel get anything approximating justice from the legal system? Did the perpetrator also offend against Joel’s brother? What is Joel’s brother’s response to what happened to Joel? What possessed Joel to immediately set up candles when he learned what they meant for Amber?

There’s no indication in the blurb that religion is discussed in relation to the events in this book. Given that some readers will want to read it and others will avoid it for that reason alone, heads up: Christianity, including Bible quotes, are a part of this book.

Books in a book: Reading is one of Joel’s escapes. Throughout the book, he reads Fahrenheit 451The OutsidersThe Chocolate War and Catcher in the Rye

Content warnings include addiction (drug and gambling), bullying, domestic abuse, homelessness, homophobia, mental health (PTSD), physical abuse and sexual assault. Please be aware that the scenes describing childhood sexual assault are reasonably graphic.

Thank you to NetGalley and Cherish Editions, an imprint of Trigger Publishing, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When 16-year-old Joel Scrivener has a raging nightmare in study hall and someone records it on their phone, he awakens to a living nightmare where everyone knows his secret, one that he’s suppressed for ten years. Reeling as the whole school finds out the truth, Joel takes to the woods, leaving the bullies and his broken home behind.

However, life as a runaway isn’t easy, as Joel’s hallucinations and nightmares follow him into the wilderness. To stop them once and for all, he pieces clues together with flashes of the images that play endlessly inside his head – will he figure out the identity of the person who caused his nightmare before it’s too late?

Are You Really OK? – Stacey Dooley

Are you really OK? I don’t think there’d be too many people who could answer that question with a resounding yes after living through what the 2020’s have given us so far. Now, more than ever, we need to do whatever we can to look after our mental health. 

An international team of researchers published a report in October 2021 showing that globally there were estimated to be an extra 76 million cases of anxiety in 2020 than would have been expected if the pandemic hadn’t happened, and 53 million more cases of major depressive disorder. 

In this book, Stacey talks about depression, eating disorders, postnatal depression, postnatal psychosis, obsessive compulsive disorder, gambling addiction and psychosis. She also speaks to people who have experienced domestic abuse, as well as those in the LGBTQ+ community who have been discriminated against or abused because of who they are. Finally, Stacey explores how racism and poverty impact on mental health.

While there are statistics (and some confronting ones at that) and information about potential advances in the future for treating specific mental illnesses, where this book shines is the human element. Stacey interviewed young people living with diagnosed mental illnesses and gave them the opportunity to tell their stories. While she never claims to be an expert herself, Stacey spoke with professionals who treat mental illnesses, some of whom have lived experience. 

The insights you are able to get when people feel safe enough to speak candidly about their lives are always going to resonate more than facts and statistics that remove individual people from the narrative. Although I know people with many of the diagnoses covered in this book and have lived experience of others, I learned a lot. I was invested in the stories of the people who shared their story and expect to continue to wonder how they’re doing, particularly Kyle, whose experience with depression was just heart wrenching. 

None of us get through life unscathed. Sean, a psychiatrist Stacey spoke to, is helping to destigmatise mental illness. No one is immune to mental health issues, Sean says. 

‘But if enough wrong things happen that exceed someone’s ability to cope, no matter how privileged they are, they will get ill’ 

While that knowledge is somewhat terrifying, it’s also comforting because it removes blame from the person with the illness.

But is there hope? Absolutely. 

‘For everyone, no matter how awful the situation you are in, no matter how bad the mental illness or the mental disorder is, it can improve.’ 

Because Stacey’s approach is so down to earth and she’s so relatable, her documentaries and both of her books have a warmth to them, almost as though you’re seeing friends catching up and talking about some of their most difficult experiences. I’ll definitely be rereading this book.

Content warnings include addiction (alcohol, drug, gambling), bullying, child abuse, domestic abuse, eating disorders, homophobia, mental health, miscarriage, racism, self harm, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and attempts (including the method used) and transphobia.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, BBC Books and Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

We are not OK… 

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many remarkable people over the last decade of making documentaries – sometimes in incredibly hostile environments, where they’ve been really up against it – and I’ve seen the devastating effect that poverty, trauma, violence, abuse, stigma, stress, prejudice and discrimination can have on people’s mental health. It has always been the common thread.

Every week, 1 in 10 young people in the UK experiences symptoms of a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, and 1 in 5 have considered taking their own life at some point. In this book, Stacey Dooley opens up the conversation about mental health in young people, to challenge the stigma and stereotypes around it.

Working in collaboration with mental health experts and charities, Stacey talks to young people across the UK directly affected by mental health issues, and helps tell their stories responsibly, in order to shine a light on life on the mental health frontline and give a voice to young people throughout the UK who are living with mental health conditions across the spectrum. 

As well as hearing about their experiences directly, Stacey speaks to medical experts, counsellors, campaigners and health practitioners who can give detailed insights into the conditions profiled and explore the environmental factors that play a part – including poverty, addiction, identity, pressures of social media and the impact of Covid-19.

Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty

‘In ten days, you will not be the person you are now.’ 

Ten days at a health and wellness retreat. Five of those days spent in silence. Bliss! But you can’t read or write during them. Hold on. What is this place?!

Masha, the director of Tranquillum House, is keen to implement her new protocol. 

Nine people were depending on her. Nine perfect strangers who would soon become like family. 

Stranger 1: Frances, formerly a bestselling romance novelist, has back pain, a bad cold and a paper cut. We hear about her paper cut a lot. 

I’m only temporarily tragic 

Stranger 2: Jessica is married to Ben and loves plastic surgery, maybe more than she loves Ben. 

She couldn’t shake the feeling that if she didn’t record this moment on her phone then it wasn’t really happening, it didn’t count, it wasn’t real life. 

Stranger 3: Ben is married to Jessica and loves his car, maybe more than he loves Jessica. 

He avoided looking at her. He was trying really hard to get over that. 

Stranger 4: Heather, a midwife, is at Tranquillum House with her husband, Napoleon, and daughter, Zoe. 

The rage hit her with the power and momentum of a contraction during active labour. There was no escaping it. 

Stranger 5: Napoleon, a schoolteacher in a disadvantaged area, loves to talk. He’s at Tranquillum House with his wife and daughter. 

But he wasn’t broken. 

Stranger 6: Zoe, who just broke up with her boyfriend, is at Tranquillum House with her parents. 

She tried so hard to be everything for them while they tried so hard to pretend that she wasn’t their only reason for living. 

Stranger 7: Tony runs a sports marketing consultancy and has brilliant tattoos. 😃😃 

Tony would never forget the shocking clarity of the moment that followed. 

Stranger 8: Carmel has four children and is at Tranquillum House to lose weight. 

‘I love everything about this place’ 

Stranger 9: Lars is a family lawyer. 

‘I’m a health-retreat junkie. I indulge and atone, indulge and atone. It works for me.’ 

With a gorgeous location and mandatory smoothies six times a day, our health retreat participants are hopeful that they will go home changed. For the better. All of them have their issues but I suspected from early on that the ethereal Masha might have more than her share.

Reading this book felt like I was bingeing an entire season of a soap opera at once. I don’t mean that as criticism; soap operas are fun to binge. There’s so much drama. The plot lines are delightfully over the top while just barely staying within the realms of possibility. 

I loved the drama of this book and I loved the personalities all bouncing off one another (after they were allowed to speak, that is). Although I laughed at the absurdity of some of the things that happened, nothing happened that I couldn’t imagine actually happening off the page. The entire read felt like a guilty pleasure.

New favourite word: toska. 

There was no adequate English word to describe the kind of anguished longing she felt for something she could not have and did not even want. 

Most of Liane’s books already live in my Kindle’s black hole of good intentions and I loved bingeing Big Little Lies. I’ve been planning to binge this series, too, but wanted to read the book first this time. Now that I’ve read it, I’m even more intrigued to watch Nicole Kidman as Masha and see how it all plays out outside of my imagination. 

This was not how it was supposed to go. 

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide (including the method used), domestic abuse and mental health.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever? Nine perfect strangers are about to find out…

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can?

It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.

The Reckoning: How #MeToo is Changing Australia – Jess Hill

Quarterly Essay #84

Jess Hill’s See What You Made Me Do is one of the best books I’ve ever read about domestic abuse. I was keen to see how she’d tackle #MeToo and have been impatiently waiting for my library’s copies to arrive so I could dive in. 

This essay traces #MeToo from its origins (before it became a hashtag), with a particular focus on how it has played out across Australia’s cultural landscape since 2017. There are examples from the media, education, politics and the legal system, all of which I’d followed in real time but which felt more overwhelming when they were explored one after the other. I don’t know that Australia’s celebrated mateship has ever felt so toxic to me.

There have been battles undertaken in courts, the media and public opinion. We’ve learned just how brutal Australia’s defamation laws are. There are powerful people abusing their power and systems supporting them in their endeavours.

Don’t get me wrong; there have been positives, like #LetHerSpeak. Conversations have taken place that were once considered taboo and there are more people visibly working towards implementing changes to legislation, processes and policies. There are survivors turned advocates who are transforming the way we think about consent and grooming, and their voices have led to others finding their own. Good things are happening.

So, why do I still feel so angry having read this essay? 

Maybe it’s about reporting a sexual assault to the police in 2017 and getting my hopes up about the positive impact #MeToo would have on the way my report was treated. Then being told that there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges and subsequently learning that the investigation consisted solely of the detective phoning my psychologist to ask if I had a mental illness that would cause me to fabricate the sexual assault.

Maybe it’s about something a detective said to me a few months ago when they were trying their darnedest to dissuade me from formally reporting a series of sexual assaults (different detective, different perpetrator). No one ever gets a good outcome, they told me. Even if there is a conviction, and that’s a big if, it’s never going to be enough and what you’d have to go through to get it wouldn’t be worth it.

They talked about the things I would have seen in media (like some of the cases I read about here) and noted that they are the minority, and that I shouldn’t align my expectations with those outcomes. Even when someone reports a rape the same day and there’s physical evidence and CCTV footage, it’s almost impossible to get a conviction.They said they were telling me all of this to help me.

This is the same man who helpfully told me that my having a mental illness would be used against me because it would speak to both my credibility and character. ‘You mean the PTSD I have as a result of the sexual assaults I’d be reporting?’ The very same. Huh.

As I read this essay I wondered if the detective was right, that there’s no point in reporting. But you know what? It’s attitudes like this that contribute to silence, the antithesis of #MeToo. 

[And besides, this is the same police force whose representatives roll their eyes and pull faces at women who are reporting AVO breaches, who say that behaviour that clearly constitute breaches (written in black and white on the AVO) are in fact not breaches at all. Who write down what you say and then neglect to put it in their system so there’s no record you ever made a report. Who you have to insist write it down in the first place and give you an event number because, even though they think you’re overreacting, they don’t understand what this person’s capable of or how they may escalate.]

I’m mad because I read something like this essay and I get hopeful, but then think about all of the peoples’ experiences it doesn’t encapsulate because only some voices are heard. I want change for all of us, not just the lucky few who, let’s face it, probably shouldn’t be called lucky at all. Because they experienced what they did in the first place. Because even if they did get an outcome that looks like a win, it came at a great cost. Because being an advocate continues to cost.

In lesser hands, this essay could have been an absolute mess, but it’s not. At all. It is well written and clearly involved extensive research but, to be honest, I’d expect nothing less from Jess’ work.

It was a compulsive read. I gained even more respect and admiration for the survivors who tell their story publicly. The powers that be, political and otherwise, lost what little faith I still had in them, not that there was much to lose. I want everyone to read this essay and I want to read it again to pick up on anything I missed when I rushed through it the first time.

So, where do I currently stand on #MeToo? Despite my own experiences, I’m stubbornly hopeful. The systems still fail survivors but more and more of us are demanding change, and we’re done being silenced.

Content warnings include death by suicide (including the method used), domestic abuse, mental health and sexual assault.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 2021, Australia saw rage and revelation, as #MeToo powered an insurgency against sexism and sexual violence. From once isolated survivors to political staffers, women everywhere were refusing to keep men’s secrets. 

In this electrifying essay, Jess Hill traces the conditions that gave birth to #MeToo and tells the stories of women who – often at great personal cost – found themselves at the centre of this movement. Hill exposes the networks of backlash against them – in government, media, schools, and in our national psyche. This is a powerful essay about shame, secrecy and, most of all, a revolutionary movement for accountability.

The Sisters Grimm #2: Night of Demons and Saints – Menna van Praag

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

You think you’re ordinary. You never suspect that you’re stronger than you seem, braver than you feel or greater than you imagine. 

It’s been three years since we last spent time with the Sisters Grimm. We catch up with them in the lead up to their 21st birthday. 

‘Tonight we’re stronger than we’ll ever be again.’ 

Goldie’s adorable younger brother, Teddy, isn’t quite as adorable anymore; he’s found some attitude since we last saw him. Goldie is still reeling from loss. Liyana is increasingly worried about her aunt, Nyasha. She’s also missing her girlfriend, Kumiko, who is away studying. Scarlet suspects Eli of keeping secrets. I can’t provide an update about Bea because that would involve spoilers.

We visit Everwhere, which remains magical and beautiful, but is not without its shadows.

This is a story of love, hope and hopelessness, of longing and loneliness, of losing others and yourself.

Goldie’s stories, co-written by Vicky van Praag, are scattered throughout the book, as they were in The Sisters Grimm. My favourite was The Good Girl

‘Not to worry, your voice has been long drowned out by the voices of others. But it’s never too late to listen to your own.’ 

I may have missed something but I found it confusing that Leo could “barely see five miles in any direction”, yet he can’t see Goldie when she’s right in front of him.

There are fewer Alastair Meikle’s illustrations in this book but they were still wonderful. 

I would definitely recommend reading this series in order. If you attempted this book without having already read The Sisters Grimm, you’d be in for some major spoilers and confusion. 

‘There’s a storm coming, child, and you’re the only one who can contain it.’ 

Content warnings include death by suicide, death of an animal, mental health, mention of abortion and miscarriage, sexual assault, suicide attempt and suicidal ideation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bantam Press, an imprint of Transworld Publishers, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

And then there were three …

Three years ago, the sisters confronted their demon father in that strange other-world called Everwhere. It was a battle that ended in a devastating loss, and the scars they carry seem to have slowly pushed the sisters apart

One sister, still raw with grief, is now a near recluse but determined to use her powers to resurrect what she has lost.

Another has made the journey to learn more of her family, her culture and her roots.

And another seems to have turned her back on what she is and opted to lead a more normal life.

But now the sisters are about to be brought together once more. Because when the clock strikes midnight, when October ticks into November, when autumn wilts into winter, when All Hallows’ Eve becomes All Saints’ Day, the sisters Grimm will turn twenty-one and reach the zenith of their powers.

And on this night, at this time, in this place called Everwhere, anything is possible …