Stella Prize long-listed author Sonya Voumard’s Skin in the Game is original, incisive and hugely entertaining.
Skin in the Game Synopsis:
The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories
The daughter of a European refugee mother and a journalist father, Voumard recounts with aplomb her passionate but questioning relationship with journalism and the nature of the interview. The daughter of a European refugee mother and a journalist father, Voumard recounts with aplomb her passionate but questioning relationship with journalism and the nature of the interview. There’s a disastrous 1980 university encounter with Helen Garner which forms the seed for her fascination with the dynamics of the interview and culminates in her connecting again with Garner more than three decades later to work out what went so wrong. There are the insights of a career played out against the changing nature of journalism including the author’s time as a Canberra correspondent. And there are revealing and tender portraits of Kings Cross, of growing up in suburban Melbourne, her father’s love of journalism, and a family journey to the Bonegilla Migrant Reception Centre where her mother’s Australian life began.
Throughout it all Voumard is a sharpshooter, never afraid to hold a mirror up to her own life and practices as a journalist, to dig deep into the ethics of journalism and the use of power, and to sensitively explore the intertwined nature of life and work and personal relationships. The writing is at turns sharp, funny, direct, strong and affectionate.
‘I’ve immense admiration for how Sonya Voumard so deftly wields a writer’s scalpel, both on her subjects and herself. Together, these dispatches provide a fascinating insider’s account of Australian journalism and a forensic look into the myriad pitfalls involved in telling people’s stories.’ Benjamin Law, author of The Family Law and Gaysia
(Transit Lounge – March 2018)
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This is the first book by Sonya Voumard that I have read, and for me it felt like a book in two parts. I found the first half, which largely focussed on journalistic integrity, absolutely fascinating.
Voumard has turned her highly experienced investigative lens onto her own writing career, interrogating her successes, failings and changing motivations. Her use of example and anecdote to highlight the power imbalance between interviewer and subject was highly effective. But what I found most thought-provoking was the way she has shared her very earnest and detailed discussions with fellow journalists about writers’ ethical responsibilities. I found myself continually highlighting passages, far too many to call out in this review. I was enthralled. More on this topic in this editorial style essay.
But the latter half which focussed on her childhood, life outside work and her family history, although still very interesting, for me just lacked that same spark, that same intensity. I have not read a lot of memoirs, so do not have many examples to compare it to structurally. Each chapter was well crafted, but as a collection they felt a little disjointed.
In telling the stories behind the headlines, along with vignettes in the lives of her family and friends, she has served up for readers a time capsule of Australia’s recent history — a great reminder of how far we have come as a society in a relatively short time, but also just how much we still have to learn…
Overall, I found Sonya Voumard’s Skin in the Game a quick, accessible and thought-provoking read — particularly suited to those with writing aspirations.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 3.5 / 5 — Overall 3.75
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Genre: Memoir, Non-fiction, Historical
About the Author, Sonya Voumard
Sonya Voumard is a Sydney-based journalist and author whose work has been widely published in major Australian newspapers, magazines and literary journals. She has lectured part-time in creative non-fiction and journalism at UTS. Her first novel, Political Animals (2008) was inspired by her time as a political correspondent for the Age in Canberra. Her critically acclaimed book The Media and the Massacre: Port Arthur 1996-2016 (2016 ) was longlisted for the prestigious Stella Prize in 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.
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* My receiving a copy of Skin in the Game, The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.