Welcome back to The Booksellers' Book Club. Here you will find out what Avid staff members are currently reading, have just read, or plan to read next.
The Snakes by Sadie Jones
Bea and Dan are happily married, even if they can barely afford their flat in London and Bea refuses to accept money from her parents, which Dan admires and respects, even if he doesn't totally understand it. Desperate for a break from life, they decide to access the cushion - their tiny savings, to buy a used car and drive around Europe for a few months. In France they stop into a hotel run by Bea's brother for a visit, and after tragedy strikes, Bea and Dan get sucked back into Bea's family and everything she spent so long trying to run away from. The first 80% of The Snakes was fantastic, the characters were strong and every small moment was charged with a tension that pricked the skin. Even towards the end when it made a complete change, it seemed a little out of step but I happily went along with it, but I'm not sure how I felt about the sudden and shocking ending. Please read it and discuss with me!
Room for a Stranger by Melanie Cheng
A lovely, easy read that was a wonderful respite from some of the heavier books I've been reading. Meg is an elderly woman who lives alone in the outer suburbs of Melbourne with her African parrot, After a break in, she decides she needs a younger and more able body in the house, so she signs up for a student housing scheme. Andy is studying bio sciences and needs to save some money, with the money his father sends from Hong Kong barely covering his tuition. Struggling with the expectations of his studies, he moves in with Meg. Room for a Stranger is more than your standard odd couple setup, Cheng's insight into suburban life and the casual racism that permeates it gives the characters suburb depth and dimension, and the end of this bittersweet story took a pleasant turn from what I was expecting.
I also read 2 post apocalyptic books based around a young person and their dog, which made for an interesting comparison.
Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff
Zombies have wiped out humanity, or as much of it as Orpen can gather. She grew up on a small island off the coast of Ireland, where she lived with relative security, and learned to fight and survive the shrake thanks to her mother and Maeve. But now she travels with her starving dog, a few chickens and carrying Maeve in a wheelbarrow across Ireland to try and find the mythical Pheonix City. The writing was short and sharp, while the action sequences I found a little formulaic and lacking in something to make the book really memorable.
A Boy, His Dog and the End of the World by C A Fletcher
My pick of the two, in this post apocalyptic world was not wiped out by violence, but by slow decay after 99% of the population became infertile. It bypasses the Children of Men existential realizations, and medical horror of experiments on those that still can bare children, and jumps to 100 or so years later, a couple of generations on, when there are maybe 7000 people left on earth. Teenage Griz lives with his family and two dogs, Jess and Jip, on a small island off Scotland, living back to basics, trading with the neighbouring family, and pillaging the empty settlements nearby. The adventure starts when a strange traveler visits and in a boat with red sails, and steals Jess. Without a second through Griz jumps into his boat with Jip and begins chase to save Jess, learning quickly how dangerous the stranger could be. I was immediately sucked in to the story, and the suspense is held high, while still leaving room to get to know Griz and this empty world, where nothing matters as much as loyalty.
The Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
This is a story of listening and echoes. One sound documentarist, the woman; one sound documentarian, the man. Her daughter, the girl; his son, the boy. They are a new and young family living in New York until the woman and the man's mutual archiving project comes to a close. The man decides he must settle for some time in Apacheria, where he will record the echoes of Geronimo and his gang, and their fight against colonial and military oppression. The woman has dedicated herself to archiving the identities, experiences and stories of children who cross the American/Mexican border unaccompanied by adults.The family road trip across the continent to the man's new home, which is a journey filled with arguments, silences, stories, the radio, discussions, David Bowie and Laurie Anderson, none of which is lost on the boy and girl in the back seat.
Luiselli does a superb and eloquent job of illustrating the functions, dysfunctions, understandings and misunderstandings that are family dynamics. More so, Luiselli reminds us why childhood ought to be protected for every child.
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
A small but beautiful experiment of fiction. When a writing professor's dear friend commits suicide, leaving her devastated, she inherits the dog of the deceased. The great dane becomes a vehicle and metaphor for her own mourning and grief, blurring the line between narrator and character. Around the same time, the professor takes up journaling as a therapeutic coping mechanism, the product of which is this book. Jumping from past to present, Nunez bends memory into narrative and in so doing speaks directly about writing and form generally but also self-reflectively. An unexpected but delightful meta-narrative. It’s also a hoot!
Godspeed by Casey Legler
Legler gives a vivid recount of her experiences as a young athlete and Olympian, a demanding life for any teenager which was compounded by Legler’s substance addictions. Her prose is graphic, and reading it requires a fraction of the endurance Legler must have mustered throughout her life. A small but earnest memoir of tumult and lightning.
The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson
My heart be still, the Wormwood trilogy continues! It’s is now 2067 and Kaaro, the protagonist from book 1, has taken a backseat from the secret government agency S45, and from the storyline. Supporting characters old (Anthony and Aminat) and new (Jack Jacques, Eric and Alyssa) now frame our view as Rosewater seeks independence from Nigeria and the increased alien xenosphere to homian proportions start to spike. Thompson achieves an engrossing balance of backstory to plot evolution in this sequel.
American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer
I recently read Shane Bauer’ American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment. Bauer, and award-winning American journalist and reporter for Mother Jones, worked undercover as a prison guard at the Winn Correctional Centre in Louisiana. Bauer alternates between discussing his time at Winn, including his corrections officer training, struggles with inmates, and conversations with colleagues, whilst presenting a history of incarceration in America. Bauer concludes that America’s private prison system is nothing new – but something that can be traced back to early America. His account of prisons for profit in America is a disturbing and important reminder of a troubled America.
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
I have just finished Robert Massie’s biography of Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. In what is a comprehensive text, Massie presents an account of a how a minor German-born princess rose to serve as Empress of Russia. Massie assesses her cultural, political and social influence to present an image of a woman who was ruthless, enlightened and staunchly European in outlook. She wrote to Voltaire, conversed with Diderot and worshipped Montesquieu. A woman who in her thirty-six-year reign transformed Russia, increased territory and established many of Russia’s most significant cultural landmarks. Massie’s account of Catherine’s life reads like a political thriller in the best sense.
Witches: What Women Do Together by Sam George-Allen
This book is a joyful read that left me filled with love for the women in my life. Witches: What Women Do Together looks at different groups of women, such as musicians, athletes, dancers, and nuns (to name but a few) and how they work together. The writing is clear and thoughtful and I found myself punching the air in agreement and triumph very regularly. There is also, to my immense satisfaction, a discussion about witches and the perception of witchcraft through the ages - a subject I find fascinating. This book looks at the power, joy, and pure magic that occurs when women throw aside the oppressions laid on them by the patriarchy and work together.
Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
I'm a bit late to the game with Dark Emu, but I am so glad I have now read this book. It should be compulsory reading for all Australians. In Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe reexamines the texts of earlier settlers and reveals what has been hidden from history about Indigenous Australians. Far from being the nomadic hunter-gatherers that we were led to believe, Indigenous Australians cultivated the land, had sophisticated fishing systems, and had lived in dwellings. This book is fascinating and incredibly important.
Comemadre by Roque Larraquay (out in May)
This slim book, translated from Spanish, is split into two parts set 100 years apart. In the first, a group of doctors embark on a series of controversial experiments to investigate the line between life and death. In the second, a famous artist goes to extreme lengths to produce powerful art. Comemadre is one of the strangest books I've ever read but also incredibly enjoyable. It's funny, vulgar, excessive, and utterly bizarre. This is a book for readers who like short, punchy books with a touch of the macabre.