Tony Birch is one of those novelists that the critics and literary insiders gush over. He writes intense and vivid literary fiction, the kind of stuff that is unlikely to rocket to the top of the best-seller list but will definitely win awards. His latest novel is Women & Children, and the team at UQP Books were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Women & Children is an inter-generational story of inherited trauma and violence, set in working-class suburbia circa 1965. Joe Cluny is surrounded by strong women: his single working mother, his strong-minded sister, and the terrifying nuns at his Catholic school. His Aunty Oona shows up on the family’s doorstep one night, completely distressed and in desperate need of help. Joe Cluny is about to see what happens when women work together to protect one of their own.

This is a quiet novel about big problems: rage, justice, powerlessness, and complicity. It has a strange and meandering point of view, sometimes zeroing in on Joe’s perspective, sometimes focusing on others (like his grandfather, who cares for Joe in the school holidays).

It’s hard to shake the suspicion that Women & Children is based on Birch’s own lived experience – it just has that Vibe. In his Author’s Note, he emphasises that the story is a work of fiction, simply inspired by Birch’s father’s “refusal to accept silence”, but I can’t help feeling there’s more to it than that.

Women & Children is a surprisingly readable but terribly confronting novel, one that cements Birch as a strong voice in Australian fiction.

Buy Women & Children on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Read the Women & Children audiobook on Libro.fm here. (affiliate link)