Our Favourite Books of Early 2018

Chloe

2018 has seen the release of some fantastic books--and we're only halfway through the year! Our staff look back on their favourite books published so far this year...

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KEV

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

I knew Trent Dalton was a good writer based on his years of long-form journalism for weekend magazines. From page one I was completely taken by Boy Swallows Universe and its young protagonist, Eli, who is exploring one of life's big questions; can you do bad things but still be a good person? This is a story about love, goodness, evil and the ability for people to manipulate time and presence. Understandably, Dalton is being compared to other great contemporary Australian authors but for 2018 I am putting him out there on his own. A brilliant debut novel.

Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig

Charmaine Craig has written a bold novel set against the vibrant backdrop of Burma from the 1940s to the 1960s that has many parallels to the current political and ethnic issues in Burma. Love, faith, persecution, betrayal all wrapped in a complex and wonderfully told story based on Craig's mother and grandparents' experience. Miss Burma entertains and informs.

Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

This is an epic Ugandan novel told through the cursed bloodline of the Kintu clan. Commencing in the 1750s, regional governor Kintu Kidda unleashes a curse that will plague his family for generations. We trace the impacts of the curse on different generations up to today when the family reunites to break it. Each generation's story gives us an insight into family structures, society, history and politics that makes modern Uganda. Fortunately, Makumbi provides a family tree that I needed to consult throughout my reading. This is a surprising story and one you would not have read before.

Prize Fighter by Future D. Fidel

I saw La Boite Theatre's production of the Prize Fighter when it debuted in 2016 and it was thrilling. Future D. Fidel's novelisation of the play adds depth and emotion to the story. Prize Fighter is inspired by Future's own story and those of people he has known as a Congolese boy solider and later refugee and migrant. Prize Fighter is a compelling novel that builds on the success of the stage play.

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

Helen Garner describes Bri Lee's Eggshell Skull as "Scorching, self-scouring." It is a raw and moving memoir of Bri's experience through the legal system, first as a Judge's associate and then as a plantiff. Bri is candid about the personal impacts of being assulted as a young girl and the biases against women in the court system. Bri Lee is a very good writer telling a complex story with raw restraint and cleared-eyed honesty. It is moving and timely story that unfortunately happens too often. I recommend everyone read Eggshell Skull and then discuss with those nearest and dearest to you.

French Exit by Patrick deWitt (due September)

I am a fan of Patrick deWitt having loved his gothic western The Sisters Brothers and his equally bizarre Undermajordomo Minor. With French Exit deWitt is more restrained but just as comic. French Exit is described as a 'tragedy of manners', a satire set between Manhattan's high society and moving by ocean liner to Paris. This is a witty and moving mother/son story with a cast of memorable characters. When I think of the filmaker Wes Anderson I think of the writer Patrick DeWitt.

Shell by Kristina Olsson (due October)

I'll write more about Shell closer to publication. Suffice to say now it is the most finely polished writing and beautiful story I have read this year. Shell reminds me of Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach.

Other books I have enjoyed are Flames by Robbie Arnott, The Love That I Have by James Moloney, and Dictator Literature: a History of Despots through their Writing by Daniel Kalder.

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SARAH

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

It's so intriguing and original, plus stunning writing. I think this one will turn up on a few best of 2018 lists.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Just a rollicking great adventure/mystery. Once you get into it, it's a real page turner, plus all the 80s Brisbane nostalgia makes it a no brainer.

Don't Skip Out On Me by Willy Vlautin

Restrained and quiet, but so captivating. The story of a young sheep rancher who dreams of becoming a boxing champion, but his biggest challenger is himself.

Testament by Kim Sherwood

A delicate and moving novel about grief, art and the holocaust. This one isn't published for another couple of weeks, so keep an eye out for it.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland

I read this one last year, but as it was published this year it gets to go on this list! A beautiful story of love, flowers and secrets, which has stayed with me all this time.

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CHLOË

Flames by Robbie Arnott

This book is unique and quite difficult to describe. It's part fable, part gothic horror tale, and part detective mystery. There is magic, legend, madness, grief, and love. My heart was broken and remade repeatedly. Each chapter is told from a very different perspective--sometimes from the main characters themselves, other times from peripheral characters including a chapter told from the perspective of a river rat. They are told in the form of direct narrative, diary entries, letters, and a yet to be published book. While this could seem overwhelming or confusing, it is so beautifully executed that I felt swept along the current that Arnott has so skillfully created. The threads of narrative weave together in the end and I was left completely satisfied and amazed. This is a wonderful book--the most outstanding I have read so far this year.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

My book club read this book and it was adored by (almost) everyone. These short stories weave together elements of gothic fiction, sci-fi, magical realism, horror, and fairy tales to comment on the expectations of women and, in particular, their bodies (as the title suggests). The stories are funny, disturbing, exciting and powerful.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

I loved Boy Swallows Universe and I think it is set to become the next big Australian classic. Set in Brisbane in the 80s, there is so much to love about this book. It's full of adventure, love, crime, and magic, and once you find out that much of the story is based on Dalton's own childhood you will be completely blown away.

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TRENT

Flames by Robbie Arnott

Robbie Arnott’s Flames was a true delight, a mixture of high and low humour, literary brilliance, and fantasy, with a wonderful and unexpected structure. If it sounds like a busy sort of novel, it isn’t. The book crashes along like a wave, and while it can be very funny, there were a couple of scenes that had me crying. It’s an Australian literary fabulist classic – well, it certainly deserves to be.

Its plot of sibling’s coming to terms with loss, and past secrets, is a familiar one, except you won’t have read anything quite like this.

Honestly, just dive right in, you’ll enjoy its unfussy madness.

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guinn

My other highlight has been a much older work. Ursula Le Guinn’s The Dispossessed, is a book that you can come back to again, and again, and it will reveal new and wonderful things, not because the work itself has changed, but you have changed in the interim. I love everything about Ursula Le Guinn’s writing, its rhythms, its intellectual and spiritual engagement with the world, the way she captures moments perfectly, and makes them true.

In The Dispossessed we see two worlds in orbit, one a capitalist paradise, the other an anarchic socialist utopia, both worlds are flawed, both have something to say about the other, and both speak to our time. Ursula’s narrative of a great scientist coming to terms with the limitations of both worlds as he struggles to share an important and galaxy-changing scientific breakthrough is as affecting today as it was when it was published in 1974 (winning the Nebula, Locus, and Hugo awards).

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KATHLEEN

A Free Flame by Ann-Marie Priest

This has been a stand-out for me. It's such a slight book, but it's bigger on the inside. The contrasting biographies of four Australian writers, and their nuanced views of vocation, read like little compelling novels of bohemian existence, and how to do it right — or wrong. I've recommended it to readers, writers, fans of Helene Hanff and Dorothy Sayers...

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

A prickly, enchanting, strange, distressing novella of memory, personhood, phosphorus, electricity and the weight of elephants on time.

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SPENCER

Calypso by David Sedaris

David Sedaris’ latest book, Calypso, is Sedaris at his best. Rich with the bizarre, it is full of Sedaris’ wry observations and reflections. From his obsession with his fitbit, to his claim to have a pet fox called Carol, and his rumination on what do with a tumour, this is classic Sedaris.

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

Paula McLain’s latest work of historical fiction, Love and Ruin, starts slow but comes into its own in the second half. It chronicles the relationship of Ernest Hemmingway and the seasoned and formidable war correspondent and novelist, Martha Gellhorn. Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War and narrated by Gellhorn it highlights her independent spirit, and her decision to leave Hemmingway. Gellhorn was determined not to be a footnote in history.

Accidental Icon by Iris Apfel

Iris Apfel’s Accidental Iconis part fashion, part wisdom. A culmination of a life in fashion and design it is full of pictures of her clothes, her fabrics and items collected on her travels. Her collection is unique, and so too her advice.

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KRISSY

Warlight by Ondaatje

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

False Papers by Andre Aciman