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Author:
• Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Ali Land wanted to become a mental health nurse from an early age because, as a thirteen-year-old, she was intrigued by unusual children. She fulfilled her dream by obtaining a university degree in children’s mental health and worked for ten years as a qualified child and adolescent mental health nurse in hospitals and schools in the UK and Australia.

One of Ali Land’s duties was to look after a fifteen-year-old girl, who did not want to continue living, being afraid of turning into a bad person like her mother, who severely injured young children. This experience influenced Ali Land with her novel’s fifteen-year-old main character, Milly, in Good Me Bad Me.

Ali Land said she needed to write this book to release the heavy psychological burden weighing on her. She said in one of her interviews: “I had nowhere else to go. My mind was full to bursting of the things that worried me, of the young people I’d looked after, and this burning desire to provoke discussion around how to care for children who had been damaged by their pasts”.

“My biggest fear when writing Good Me Bad Me was that readers wouldn’t feel compassion for my main character, Milly, that they would write her off as a child that couldn’t be helped. Of course, that risk remains very real, but by making a conscious decision to place her in a foster family that was, in its own way, toxic, I hope that I’ve managed to buffer the thought that there’s no hope for Milly and instead prompt readers to ask questions such as: But what if she’d been placed in a more appropriate setting? Where should children like Milly go? How can we look after them?”

It took Ali Land thirty years to dedicate herself fully to writing. Nevertheless, she worked part-time as a personal assistant nanny during the time she was writing her book. She now lives in west London.

Good Me Bad Me was published in 2017 and has been translated into several languages. It is her first novel to receive high praise as well as being Heat’s Best Book Of The Year, The Telegraph’s Crime Book Of The Year and The Sunday Times Best Seller.

The narrator of the story is the fifteen-year-old protagonist, Annie Thompson, who is given a new identity and becomes Milly after her psychopath mother is jailed. Annie, wanting to stop her mother’s serial killing, denounces her to the police for torturing and murdering nine little boys.

Meanwhile Milly is sheltered by her psychologist, Mike Newmont, awaiting being a witness in her mother’s upcoming trial. Mike Newmont was treating Milly as well as writing a book about her. She lived in his dysfunctional house with his destabilised, drug addict wife, Saskia, and his bullying, jealous, troubled daughter, Phoebe.

Milly’s mother is single, working as a nurse in a home. Outwardly she appears kind and caring so that the mothers in her care trust their children to her to have them adopted in the USA. But instead of sending the little boys for adoption, Annie’s mother tortured and murdered them while making her daughter watch through the keyhole.

The author keeps the emotional strain until the end with an unexpected twist revealing that Milly is no angel either and when given a choice, chooses the violent solution, her mind having been damaged and corrupted by her mother since her childhood. Milly nevertheless convinces all those around her that she is a victim while being very secretive about her dark plans. Presumably, she has been more affected by her mother’s evil deeds than those around her envisaged.

Good Me Bad Me is a compelling, as well as a thought-provoking novel. It is slow going, disturbing, heavy and dark. It is a psychological character-based story of a teenage girl, unable to escape from her past. She is in constant conflict between good and evil and her persistent worries about the unknown area of the unexplored and unapparent effect of genetics on her.

The reader cannot help feeling the girl’s suffering and her unbearably tormented soul. Her wanting to break free from her overpowering serial killer mother, while at the same time still loving and yearning for her company to the extent of having a constant imaginary conversation with her.

Notwithstanding all the horrible things her mother committed, as well as what she did to her and put her through from an early age, including sexually assaulting her and the psychological, distressing damage she caused her by twisting and perverting her, Milly cannot help feeling guilty for betraying her mother who seems to continue holding a firm emotional, influential grasp on her.

Good Me Bad Me is well written with skillfully developed characters. It is compelling as well as a thought-provoking novel exploring the concealed twisted and complicated side of the human psyche. It is slow going, disturbing, heavy and dark with extremely gruesome parts. It is a psychological character-based story of a teenage girl who is not able to escape from her past. She is in constant conflict between good and evil and her persistent worries about the unknown field of the unexplored and unapparent effect of genetics on her.

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Author:
• Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Aravind Adiga was born in 1974 in Madras, now Chennai, India. He grew up in Mangalore where he went to Canara High School. In1990 he graduated from St. Aloysius High School in Andhra Pradesh. He emigrated in the 90s with his family to Sydney Australia and continued his studies in St. James Ruse Agricultural High School in Sydney, followed by English literature at Columbia College, Columbia University in New York City, graduating in 1997. He also studied at Magdalen College, Oxford. Starting his career he worked as a journalist for the Financial Times and Time Magazine.

Aravind Adiga lives in Mumbai, India and has written three novels to date:
Last Man In Tower, published in 2011.
Between The Assassinations (short stories/essays) published in 2009.
The White Tiger, his début novel, published in 2008, has sold many copies in several countries – won the 2008 Man Booker Prize for fiction and will be made into a film.

The story of The White Tiger is narrated during the course of seven nights as a series of letters addressed to the Chinese Prime minister, Wen Jiabao, who was visiting India at the time. The narrator is the novel’s main protagonist, the astute, determined, hard working, Balram Halwai. The Chinese premier wants “to meet some Indian entrepreneurs and hear the story of their success from their own lips.”

Balram writes the letter to Wen Jiabao from his 150-square-foot office, which is the only one in Bangalore“with its own chandelier”. The letter is about Indian entrepreneurship and explains that, despite the servitude, destitution and corruption prevailing socially and politically in present-day India, there is still some integrity to be found and some hope for mankind.

Balram Halwai writes about how, according to his school teacher, despite being gifted with an intelligence as rare as the white tiger, he couldn’t pursue his studies. He is born into an impoverished family and has to do menial work in the village tea shop. Nevertheless, he aspires to a better future than his father, the rickshaw puller, who died of tuberculosis in extreme poverty.

The highly ambitious Balram tries to improve his status by becoming a driver/servant to a rich landlord from his village as a first step to climbing the ladder to a better life. He wants to prove that he is indeed a rare feline species, an atypical Indian who refuses to perpetuate or be part of the “Rooster Coop” establishment, as he calls it metaphorically. His aim is to break the Indian ingrained class boundaries taken for granted by society from top to bottom and find a way out of this ambit to freedom.

Throughout the narrative the story changes rapidly, especially after Balram travels with his employer to New Delhi. The big capital becomes more of an eye-opener for the countryman that he is and makes him firmer in his beliefs, while kindling his desire for a brighter life. He becomes a “Thinking Man”, a sort of a philosopher, a thief and a murderer, before ending up as an amoral, successful entrepreneur in Bangalore.

He fulfils his ambition by becoming the proud owner of a taxi service through his auspicious Machiavellian plan of killing his master and stealing his money to finance his long coveted project – the White Tiger by now knows the law of the jungle. Balram watches his employers and proves to be a fast learner and a good observer, he becomes aware that in a corrupt society bribes are the only means to a successful business.

There are two phases in the novel, two different worlds: the rural dreary “Darkness”, the name given to a grim and rustic small village where Balram spent his young years in poverty before moving with Ashok, the young son of his employer, to the stimulating “Light” of the vibrant capital, New Delhi. In New Delhi he finds to his amazement the same constrained opportunities in the conventional, “Rooster Coop”. The wide breach he left behind, impersonated in the masters and chauffeurs/servants, is whirling around him. Even in this big city there is no escaping from class hierarchies and injustice.

The author is describing the current India and the considerable differences between the poor, backward rural areas and the advanced big cities. Through his writing the reader can detect his indignation, exasperation and concern about this important problem which might lead to an explosion one day if it is not addressed soon.

Aravind Adiga, tackles an array of subjects about Indian society. There is the caste system, the multiple religions and sects, the family ties and duties, democracy, corruption and advanced technology.

Balram Halwai, the main character, is interesting, witty and captivating, despite cool-bloodedly murdering his employer who treated him well. Nevertheless, in spite of his grim future in an unjust society maintained by the conservative mentality of people, is his act justified or even excusable? Couldn’t he find another way to attain his bid for autonomy without resorting to drastic measures? Knowing that reprisals will be swift on his family who will be killed because of his deed, as is customary in his village, are we to look upon him as a utopian, a rebel, a visionary or a common ruthless rogue, a social Machiavellian climber?

Through his main, cynical protagonist, the author is addressing the imperative future adjustments that have to be made in India, between the haves and the have nots. The well-being of citizens needs to be part of the economic prosperity of a country, as Balram says very succinctly to Wen Jiabao: “Never before in human history have so few owed so much to so many”.