Thanks to Avid Reader for inviting me to share my recent book recommendations and favourite reads. Difficult to choose (so many books! so many talented authors! not enough chances to legitimately insert reading as an imperative daily task!) but here goes (all books I’ve discovered in the last six months):
Fiction novels by Australian authors:
THE HOPE FAULT (Fremantle Press 2017) by Tracy Farr is a still and quiet novel of stunning imagery and emotion. Driven by characters rather than plot, the story reveals the minutiae of a family over the course of one weekend as they ‘unmake’ their home. With vivid description, and a clever literary device in the middle third, this is the perfect book for a rainy weekend.
HOLD (Harper Collins 2016), by Kirsten Tranter, held me in a kind of spell as I was immersed in the life of Shelley, still grieving after the death of her lover Conrad in a surfing accident three years’ earlier. When Shelley and her partner move into a new house, she discovers a secret room with a ghostly presence. This story is unsettling, ominous and enchanting, with a delicious creeping sense of menace.
JEAN HARLEY WAS HERE (UQP 2017) is a novel by a poet – Heather Taylor Johnson – and as you would expect, it is filled with lilting language and a pulsing beat. When Jean Harley – friend, mother, wife – is hit by a car, her loss is felt in rippling circles of grief by those close to her, or touched by her death. In each chapter, we are given the perspective of another of her loved ones and we are able to paint a portrait of what she meant to them. A book about friendship, and the maternal bond, peppered with humour.
Fiction novels by overseas authors:
EILEEN (Vintage Penguin Random House 2016) by Ottessa Moshfegh is darkly funny, brilliantly observed, discomforting and compelling. In this literary psychological thriller, a woman relates the mysterious and tragic events of one Christmas 50 years earlier, when she meets an enigmatic stranger, and is drawn from the drudgery of her life with an alcoholic father and her work in a boys’ prison. Eileen is immensely dislikeable, with almost no redeeming features, but despite her disturbing and disordered thinking, I found myself cheering her on. I enjoyed this as much as Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.
THE FISHERMEN, a beautiful, breathtaking debut novel by Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma (Scribe 2015), is a tale of courage and skill. The deceptively simple story, about four brothers who hear a frightening prophesy while fishing in a local river, develops into a complex and compelling narrative of familial love, sacrifice, loyalty and betrayal. A magical, mystical tale with an ending that is shocking and yet somehow inevitable and fitting.
Short story collection:
BARKING DOGS by Rebekah Clarkson (Affirm Press 2017) is a compilation of stories about the interconnectedness of families and community, as we peer into the backyards of the residents of Mount Barker. Minor characters in one story become the focus in another, and the frustrations of neighbourhood life are reflected in the loneliness, guilt and resentment of a town rife with secrets.
THE ROAD TO WINTER (Text 2016) by Mark Smith is a tense, taut action-packed story set in the apocalyptic future in the aftermath of a virus that has wiped out most of Australia’s population. 15-year-old Finn must use his wits to survive, and to outsmart The Wilders. A book about friendship and identity, with a strong message about asylum seekers and those who are different. A book for adults, too!
THE END OF SEEING is a poetic meditation on grief and loss by Christy Collins (Seizure 2015). As Ana DuChamps sets off on a journey to search for her husband, Nick, a photojournalist who has disappeared off the coast of Italy and was last seen with a boatload of refugees, she is guided by his photos and diary. Intriguing and heartbreaking, the story’s emotional resilience is perfectly complemented by the ambiguous white space of unanswered questions.
Non-fiction by Australian authors:
THEY CANNOT TAKE THE SKY is a Behind the Wire production, by various editors: a compilation of fascinating and devastating first-person accounts of life in detention. Men, women and children tell of the hopeless situations from which they have fled in their countries of origin; their frightening journeys; and the incomprehensible, unethical and punitive imprisonment which they face when they arrive on our shores. This book provides a voice for those who have been silenced, and their stories are remarkably generous, funny and compassionate. A tale of freedom, refuge and hope.
LINE OF FIRE (Harper Collins 2017) was a delightful surprise to me, due in part to the skill of author Ian Townsend and in part to the fascinating true details he has unearthed in his research. Set in Rabaul, the book follows the story of an 11-year-old Australian boy and his family who were shot as spies during World War Two. The family history is portrayed against the backdrop of wider world events, and woven deftly with scientific information on the volcanic activity of the area, and the result is a compulsively page-turning account. Meticulous research combined with intrigue and suspense.