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Combined Reviews: Piano Lessons by Anna Goldsworthy

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piano_lessons.jpg    Piano Lessons
Anna Goldsworthy
Black Inc Publishing

[This memoir has been shortlisted for the Best Writing Award of the 2012 Melbourne Prize for Literature.]

From the publisher's page:
In this remarkable memoir, Anna Goldsworthy recalls her first steps towards a life in music, from childhood piano lessons with a local jazz muso to international success as a concert pianist. As she discovers passion and ambition, and confronts doubt and disappointment, she learns about much more than tone and technique. This is a story of the getting of wisdom, tender and bittersweet.

With wit and affection, Goldsworthy captures the hopes and uncertainties of youth, the fear and exhilaration of performing, and the complex bonds between teacher and student. An unforgettable cast of characters joins her: her family; her friends and rivals; and her teacher, Mrs Sivan, who inspires and challenges her in equal measure, and who transforms what seems an impossible dream into something real and sustaining.


Zora Simic for "The Monthly": "At first glance, Anna Goldsworthy's memoir, Piano Lessons, appears rather modest: she revisits her childhood and adolescence in comfortably suburban Adelaide, with the passing years marked by her development as a classical pianist under the tutelage of her piano teacher, Mrs Eleanora Sivan, a Russian émigré and one of a formidable line of teachers dating back to the nineteenth-century Hungarian composer Franz Liszt...what Goldsworthy manages to pull off in Piano Lessons is far richer than a mere catalogue of achievements or self-congratulatory reminiscence. With eloquent flair and deft insight, she manages to convey the magical effects of fine teaching, an often-mysterious process that can easily turn attempts at translation into utter cliché. Here, however, the student matches the teacher: the memoir can be read as a product of their shared labours. Goldsworthy's writing, like Mrs Sivan's pedagogic style, is both disciplined and impassioned - and sometimes cleverly revealing - with just the right amount of self-mockery."

Lisa Hill on the "ANZ LitLovers LitBlog": "Gifted in every way, Goldsworthy set herself one target after another: academically, a scholarship to Pembroke, top marks and dux of school; musically, mastering a progression of composers, collecting A+ exam results, prizes in performance and a scholarship to the Texan Christian University. She tells this story with honesty and self-deprecating humour, sharing her earnest adolescent efforts to be like the other girls, her ineptitude behind the wheel of a car, and the compulsive thought processes that guide her through the terrors of rehearsal and performance."

"Publishers Weekly": "Australian pianist Goldsworthy was nine years old when she began instruction with the renowned Russian pianist Eleonora Sivan, now relocated to Adelaide. Their pupil-master relationship grew and deepened over the next decade, rendered here in serene, clear, elegant prose, as Goldsworthy, the child of two doctors and musicians, blossomed into a stunning stage force and a vessel of Sivan's deeply intuitive music instruction. Over her meticulous stages of instruction, Sivan took on each composer in turn--Bach was like God, she noted, offering 'peace, of course, and bells,' while Mozart was like Midas, 'every sound he touches turns into song'--and Goldsworthy tidily arranges her memoir according to their embarking on these composers' works, from Shostakovich to Liszt."


Andrea Goldsmith for "Readings".
Richard Fidler for ABC Radio "Local Conversations".
Helen Garner on "Slow TV".


The book launch on "YouTube":

Combined Reviews: How to Make Gravy by Paul Kelly

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how_to_make_gravy.jpg    How to Make Gravy
Paul Kelly
Penguin Books

[This memoir has been shortlisted for the Best Writing Award of the 2012 Melbourne Prize for Literature.]

From the publisher's page:
This extraordinary book had its genesis in a series of concerts first staged in 2004. Over four nights Paul Kelly performed, in alphabetical order, one hundred of his songs from the previous three decades. In between songs he told stories about them, and from those little tales grew How to Make Gravy, a memoir like no other. Each of its hundred chapters, also in alphabetical order by song title, consists of lyrics followed by a story, the nature of the latter taking its cue from the former. Some pieces are confessional, some tell Kelly's personal and family history, some take you on a road tour with the band, some form an idiosyncratic history of popular music, some are like small essays, some stand as a kind of how-to of the songwriter's art - from the point of inspiration to writing, honing, collaborating, performing, recording and reworking.

Paul Kelly is a born storyteller. Give him two verses with a chorus or 550 pages, but he won't waste a word. How to Make Gravy is a long volume that's as tight as a three-piece band. There isn't a topic this man can't turn his pen to - contemporary music and the people who play it, football, cricket, literature, opera, social issues, love, loss, poetry, the land and the history of Australia ... there are even quizzes. The writing is insightful, funny, honest, compassionate, intelligent, playful, erudite, warm, thought-provoking. Paul Kelly is a star with zero pretensions, an everyman who is also a renaissance man. He thinks and loves and travels and reads widely, and his musical memoir is destined to become a classic - it doesn't have a bum note on it.


Michael Dwyer in "The Age": "Any gravy worth its salt begins with the juice. In that regard, Paul Kelly's sprawling memoir has a flying start. For 30 years he has been simmering the meat and potatoes of life into potent reductions of words and music. We add water, a pinch or two of our own experience, and voila: the magic of song...The lyrics to about 110 of Kelly's songs are the essence of this readable, ramshackle tome of essays, memories, legends, journal entries, letters and lists. Alphabetically arranged from Adelaide to Zoe, they're printed in enigmatic blue ink, as if to suggest shimmering depths of thought and myriad possible meanings and inspirations lurking inside...Clearly, and to the lasting good of our forgetful nation, keen observation has been ground zero for Kelly's craft since he dropped out of university in Adelaide 'to choose and read books in [his] own time'. From etymology to Tuvan throat singing, his appetite for understanding is as eager as his instinct for human justice. With the Bible under one arm, Shakespeare's collected works under the other and volumes of Proust and poetry teetering among the countless cassettes and LPs counting the beats from Louis Armstrong to the Triffids, no wonder every passage of blue ink sends his mind swimming off in another direction."

Deborah Crabtree for "Bookseller + Publisher": "Part memoir, part tour diary, part song-writing manual, this sprawling book is filled with all manner of letters, lists, confessions, hymns and yarns. Kelly's 100-plus songs begin each chapter (alphabetically) followed by a story that loosely or closely relates to the song. That Kelly is a consummate storyteller is evident in his song-writing. Here he has space to explore his storytelling skills further, which he does admirably, weaving in and out of the past and present easily and with an intimacy that invites the reader into his world. This book is full of tales that will delight Paul Kelly fans, and will appeal to anyone with an interest in popular music."

Iain Shedden in "The Australian": "There are cobwebs in Paul Kelly's shed. Normally, spiders wouldn't get much of a chance to be so industrious in this environment because at every available opportunity the prolific Kelly would be in there doing what he does best: writing songs. But for more than two years the little work station out the back of Kelly's St Kilda home has lain dormant. He hasn't written one song in that time. The singer has had other things on his mind...Despite Kelly having had the longest lay-off in his songwriting career, songs are very much at the forefront of his latest project. What began six years ago as a new way to play some of his material in concert -- presenting it alphabetically from A to Z across four nights -- has evolved into something quite different: his memoirs...How to Make Gravy is an offshoot of the A-Z idea, with each of the 100 songs from his 300-plus catalogue inspiring or linking in some way to the essay, historical tract or musing on anything from cricket to bad coffee that accompanies it. It's not a typical memoir, not chronological and not always about the writer, although we do learn more about him than he has revealed before."


In conversation with Robert Forster.

Michael Green for "Readings".


You can read an excerpt from the novel on "The Music Network" website.

The song.

Combined Reviews: Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany

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mateship_with_birds.jpg    Mateship with Birds
Carrie Tiffany
Pan Macmillan

[This book has been shortlisted for the 2012 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Fiction.]

From the publisher's page:
On the outskirts of an Australian country town in the 1950s, a lonely farmer trains his binoculars on a family of kookaburras that roost in a tree near his house. Harry observes the kookaburras through a year of feast, famine, birth, death, war, romance and song. As Harry watches the birds, his next door neighbour has her own set of binoculars trained on him. Ardent, hard-working Betty has escaped to the country with her two fatherless children. Betty is pleased that her son, Michael, wants to spend time with the gentle farmer next door. But when Harry decides to teach Michael about the opposite sex, perilous boundaries are crossed.

Mateship with Birds is a novel about young lust and mature love. It is a hymn to the rhythm of country life - to vicious birds, virginal cows, adored dogs and ill-used sheep. On one small farm in a vast, ancient landscape, a collection of misfits question the nature of what a family can be.


Helen Elliott in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Always, always judge a book by its cover. Exuberant, droll, dashing, the cover of Mateship with Birds is a seduction. The text behind the picture is neither exuberant, droll nor dashing but it is equally seductive. And as to the odd title, it is not about mateship at all; it's about sex and it might just be the sweetest book about sex you will ever read...Carrie Tiffany's prize-winning debut novel, Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living (2003), was set in the Victorian countryside in 1933 and told of an unlikely relationship. Mateship with Birds has certain similarities...The book is almost under-written. It has, most unusually, a subterranean vitality that enables her to write of the natural world in a thrilling way. This natural world is her real subject and sex is a major part of that world."

David Sornig in "The Melbourne Review": "Given the genesis of the novel in places of intimacy and of carnal want, it should come as no surprise that its hook is to offer one (though I'm not saying which) of the classic romance trajectories. Its potential lovers might overcome the obstacles set before them, but just the same they might have been delivered the stuff of their potential out of order, in a knot that cannot be undone...Tiffany's writing tends toward the tangible; it reflects her own listening, her own observation. The country 'gets dark from the ground up' it has 'linen skies' and Harry eats 'a Sao dry just to put something in his mouth, just to hear the sound of it breaking rudely in his head - like kindling; like words.' "

Lisa Hill on the "ANZ LitLovers Liblog": "Mateship with Birds is a clever title for this book. While' bird' can mean both the winged variety and in slang, a sexually attractive woman, 'mateship' draws on dual meanings too: mating - finding a mate, courtship rituals and mating for life; and also the Australian notion of mateship - meaning a special kind of friendship: laconic, but loyal: an indivisible, enduring bond between equals. In an Australian bush town in the 1950s, the wooing of a woman is more complex than the instinctive courtship of birds, but if it succeeds, the down-to-earth relationship that emerges is solid and strong, a mateship for life. But how best can a lonely man achieve it? A slow, careful campaign that shows what a great father he'd be? Or give in to instinct and be a lover, as the birds do?"

Belinda McKeon in "The Guardian": "1953: an outpost in the Australian bush. We meet Harry, a middle-aged farmer to whom his cattle are like family and for whom his land is an extension of his own skin; and Betty, the life-worn single mother who lives across the way. You get the picture, or you think you do: dust and heat and isolation, all rolling out in a landscape of great natural beauty, alongside inner lives of loneliness and disappointment...But Carrie Tiffany's second novel is a smart and gutsy intervention in the bucolic set-up of its own making; her characters do very little of what we expect they might do, and plenty of what they feel like doing. 'Instinct, / from where I stand ... looks like love,' Harry remarks in his birdwatching notebook - yes, he is a farmer who keeps a birdwatching notebook, and not just any birdwatching notebook, but one which reads like an Elizabeth Bishop poem. Tiffany's novel is a frank and bewitching consideration of instinct, and of the ways in which it thrums through our every move."


Gregory Day for "Readings".

Michael Cathcart for "Radio National".

Angela Meyer on her "LiteraryMinded" weblog.

Combined Reviews: A History of Books by Gerald Murnane

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history_of_books.jpg    A History of Books
Gerald Murnane

[This book has been shortlisted for the 2012 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Fiction.]

From the publisher's page:
The major work of fiction in this collection, 'A History of Books', explores the relationship between reading and writing in twenty nine sections, each of which begins with the memory of a book that has left an image in the writer's mind. The memory of the books themselves might have faded, but the images remain in their clarity and import - scenes of discord and madness, a stern-faced man, a young woman on a swing, a glass of beer and rays of sunlight, mountain and woodland and horizon - images which together embody the anxieties and aspirations of a writing life, and its indebtedness to what has been written and read. 'A History of Books' is accompanied by three shorter works, 'As It Were a Letter', 'The Boy's Name was David' and 'Last Letter to a Niece', in which a writer searches for an ideal world, an ideal sentence, and an ideal reader.


Peter Craven in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Gerald Murnane is a novelist with an absolute distinctiveness and distinction, who has found a unique voice without compromising with the world of storytelling and narrative expectation, with realism and colour, and the paraphernalia of readability...He is forever writing sentences about the writer who is writing sentences. He has a pedantic, seemingly monotonous style in which the barest notations of an imaginary set-up (a stick writer who writes something called fiction in skeletal form but yields such reality as there is: a grassland here, a woman there, racing, the residuals of a Catholic country upbringing) are allowed to predominate. Yet what wonders Murnane derives from his old, familiar songs and their variations...This is a grey, sad book that glows with grandeur. It is full of a sense of the loneliness of children, the loveliness of girls; and it is mighty with the power of the suggestion (as much spectral as spiritual) that it is the flicker of light and the suggestion of feeling that create the greatest of the worlds we have...Murnane is a wonderful writer."

Don Anderson in "The Australian": "In 1982 a landmark event took place in Australian letters. Norstrilia Press, a small venture associated with science fiction publishing, produced The Plains by then 43-year-old Melburnian Gerald Murnane, whose two previous books, Tamarisk Row (1974) and A Lifetime on Clouds (1976), were more recognisable as conventional novels than this new work...The Plains, while extending some of the concerns of the books that came before it, might best be regarded as a meta-novel, a prose text that appears like a novel while offering a commentary on the nature and art of the novel. It is an abstract commentary on the nature and place of landscape in Australia. It is like rural Patrick White with the people removed. It is a tour de force...Barry Oakley has suggested the only writer Murnane can be compared with is Jorge Luis Borges. Perhaps he recalls rather some amalgam of Italo Calvino and Samuel Beckett. All of Murnane's six subsequent works of fiction would repeat and extend the project of The Plains. Australian literature would never be the same again. Murnane had initiated a paradigm shift."

Will Heyward for "Readings": "A History of Books (which is published with three shorter works) is Gerald Murnane's tenth book of fiction, and its concerns are writing, reading and memory. It is divided into nine sections, each of which explores in detail the images that have been left in an unnamed narrator's by certain books. The narrator moves imperceptibly from one memory to another, from one book to another, from image to image, never making pronouncements, always suggesting, giving the reader a glimpse at something beyond the bend. The final paragraph is sublime."

Jennifer Mills for "Overland", quoted on The Wheeler Centre site: "There's a theory that all writing is performance. A text is a performance which is generated by an author but takes place in the reader's imagination: the writer uses the tools of language to generate specific thoughts and feelings in the mind of a reader, where language leaps a gap of imprecision and is translated into images. Secondly, writing is apparently contingent on a credible performance of being a writer: attaching oneself to a particular identity and all of its activities, such as drinking, being socially awkward, and reading a lot of books (Margaret Atwood called success at this performance 'getting into the magic anthill')...If this return to first principles sounds like an archaeological way to review a book, then it is because Gerald Murnane's A History of Books is not a work of fiction in the ordinary sense of the word, but a sort of meta-fiction, a catalogue of books from the decayed library of memory."

Andrew Reimer for "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Throughout his career, Murnane has sought precision and clarity of expression. All redundancies - individual characteristics or picturesque descriptions, for instance - are shunned. Even names are absent from his later work. A History of Books carries this tendency to extremes. Practically the only name that flits across this text is Clarisse, a character in Robert Musil's The Man without Qualities - though neither Musil's name nor the title of his novel is mentioned...The section of A History of Books that alludes to Musil's novel begins with these words: 'After his thirty-seventh year, a certain man would sometimes catch sight of a certain few volumes on one of his bookshelves ...' Each of the 30 sections of A History of Books begins in this manner. A certain man of a certain age - young, middle-aged or elderly - confronts a certain book by a certain writer that conjures vivid images in that reader's mind, even though those images are not connected with the contents of the book. Indeed, those readers at different stages of their lives - and it is obvious that they are all the same reader - have often forgotten all but a detail or two of the books that had once made such an impression on them...All this constitutes, I think, a curious aesthetic (and even perhaps psychological) theory. The significance of fiction does not reside in a work's characters or views of the world, but in the unrelated images it conjures up in the reader's mind."

Combined Reviews: Pig Boy by J.C. Burke

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pig_boy.jpg    Pig Boy
J. C. Burke
Random House

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Ned Kelly Award.]

From the publisher's page:
On Damon Styles's eighteenth birthday, he is expelled from school. But it's what happens afterwards that changes everything.

Now Damon must come up with a plan. It's the only way he can think straight. First, get his firearms licence. Then, see if the Pigman will give him a job - pig hunting will teach Damon what he needs to know. And he'd better get a lock for his wardrobe so his mother won't find what he's hiding.

Damon's taking matters into his own hands - but so is the town of Strathven.

A confronting, powerful story for young adults in the vein of J.C. Burke's CBCA award-winner The Story of Tom Brennan.


Holly Harper for "Readings": "I haven't been this impressed with a main character in quite some time. Damon isn't a nice, polite boy. He isn't the sort of kid you'd expect to find helping little old ladies with their shopping. But he's not just all rage either. He's a complicated character, and you can't help but feel for Damon. Despite the angry outbursts, despite the shell he wears, you can see why he'd feel the way he does...But it's not just Damon who shines in Pig Boy - all of the characters are fascinating, and work together to build a claustrophobic world that produces a young man like Damon, from his misguided mother to the school principal who's had enough, and especially the Miro the Pigman who takes the struggling Damon under his wing. JC Burke has created an absolutely unforgettable cast of characters in Pig Boy, and I have no doubt that this confronting book will appeal to everyone who has ever felt like the world is against them."

JudiJ on the "Slightly addicted to fiction" weblog: "There were moments reading Pig Boy that I could barely breathe, such was the tension. There were moments when I was put in mind of Robert Cormier, as the reading journey grew darker. There was never a moment when I wanted to put down this taut story about small town perceptions and prejudices...JC Burke is at her best writing challenging, thought-provoking novels for older readers. She won the CBCA Book of the Year in 2006 for The Story of Tom Brennan, which remains the best Australian YA novel about the consequences of careless teen driving."

Kasia Hubbard on the "GoodReads" website: "Starting this novel, for me, was very hard to do. Don't get me wrong, I like dark and twisted thinking, but this book started out even darker and more twisted than my personal taste allows. Even though it was a rough start, I will tell you that it's not what you would expect...I do recommend this book, but with a strong warning that it is not for younger teens. Amazing turn of events and even more amazing is the way the novel turns from dark and destitute to one of unexpected kindness."


Andrew Stevenson in "The Sydney Morning Herald".
John Purcell on the "Booktopia Blog".


The author talks about the book on YouTube:

Combined Reviews: The Life by Malcolm Knox

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the_life.jpg    The Life
Malcolm Knox
Allen & Unwin

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Ned Kelly Award.]

From the publisher's page:
He looked into the Pacific and the Pacific looked back into him.

The Life tells the story of former-world-champion Australian surfer, Dennis Keith, from inside the very heart of the fame and madness that is 'The Life'.

Now bloated and paranoid, former Australian surfing legend Dennis Keith is holed up in his mother's retirement village, shuffling to the shop for a Pine-Lime Splice every day, barely existing behind his aviator sunnies and crazy OCD rules, and trying not to think about the waves he'd made his own and the breaks he once ruled like a god. Years before he'd been robbed of the world title that had his name on it - and then drugs, his brother, and the disappearance and murder of his girlfriend and had done the rest. Out of the blue, a young would-be biographer comes knocking and stirs up memories Dennis thought he'd buried. It takes Dennis a while to realise that she's not there to write his story at all.

Daring, ambitious, dazzling, The Life is also as real as it gets - a searing, beautiful novel about fame and ambition and the price that must sometimes be paid for reaching too high.


Stephen Romei for the "A Pair of Ragged Claws" weblog: " The Life is about something in which I have little interest - surfing - and yet I ripped through it in a couple of days, fast for me. That's the beauty of a good story isn't it? It can take to places you didn't think you wanted to go and pull you along with the power of its telling, and by the author's skillful exploitation of your need to know the answer to the old question: what happens next? And then?...The Life is an ambitious novel, in the sense that Knox makes the reader do some work. He switches between first person and third person narratives and this takes a little getting used to, but once you have it captures the terrible gulf between the great DK, king of the waves, and the fat slob (but not an uneducated man) hiding in his room at his old mum's. There's also a lot of repetition as DK goes through various routines, mental and physical, which is initially a little exasperating but the cumulative effect is a quietly powerful portrait of an OCD sufferer."

John Purcell on the "Booktopia Blog": "The Life, Knox's fourth novel, is a book like a wave. Telling the story of once world-champion surfer Dennis Keith, it gains momentum in the shallows of Coolangatta, crests at Hawaii during the first world title of the sport, then crashes down, leaving DK, as he is known, beached at a retirement village in his fifties, 18 stone and no longer able to stand up on a board, subsisting on a combination of pills, pine-lime Splices and hand-washing rituals. My eleven year old son took up surfing about a year ago. Or rather, it took him up... he has swiftly become entranced, obsessed, addicted to the sea, to the swell, to his board. At its core, The Life is about this addiction, about the ocean 'lit up with huge smashing sucking six-footers', about shutting your eyes and seeing 'easterly lines... (the) staircase outside the room was a six foot drop... grass bank in the lunch area was a fat shoulder ripe for a roundhouse cutback'; about how surfing reinvents you, 'like every wave was a new swipe with a big wet cloth on the blackboard.'"

Stu Nettle on the "Swellnet" weblog: "Admirably, Knox makes no concession to the non-surfer - the language is crude and entirely peculiar to surfers. The Life is written by someone who's sat behind the rocks at Snapper, understands the sand flow at Rainbow Bay, and has spent a lot of time around surfers. In stark contrast to Breath by Tim Winton, which contained florid descriptions of 'men dancing upon waves', The Life is written in the language of the line-up: 'I done this', 'yous done that'."

Geordie Williamson in "The Australian": "They mean the sport is beautiful to watch, but the analogy is more correct than they know...Waves are as regular and inexorable as a poetic line, and can vary as widely in form and intensity. Surfers are as much subject to their chosen wave as a poet is to a particular verse form. They may stamp physical rather than metrical feet in making their progress, yet they still inscribe hieroglyphs in the onrushing line, mundane or exquisite according to their skill and imagination...The point is worth labouring because Malcolm Knox's new novel is not entirely what it seems. Yes, it is an ardent evocation of Australian surf culture, from the 1950s to the present: an encyclopedic act of social and historical recall projected, like an old home-movie, on to the life of a Queensland surfer of singular talent...But in The Life, Knox has taken a milieu barricaded by private language and codes designed to repel outsiders and wannabes, and in which the insiders' Zen-like reverence for surfaces and the unarticulated act mock writerly eloquence, and made it the backdrop to a universal portrait of artistic obsession."


Fiona Capp for "Readings".
Stu Nettle on the "Swellnet" blog.
Nick Carroll for the "Financial Review".


Malcolm Knox discusses the issue of "Manhood" with Deborah Robertson at the 2012 Adelaide Writers' Week.

Combined Reviews: The Cook by Wayne Macauley

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the_cook.jpg    The Cook
Wayne Macauley
Text Publishing

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, and the 2011 Western Australian Premier's Book Awards.]

From the publisher's page:
Power through service, says Head Chef. It's one of the first lessons taught at Cook School, where troubled youths learn to be master chefs by bowing to decadence and whim, by offering up a part of themselves on every plate.

It's a motto Zac takes to heart. A teenage boy with a difficult past, he throws himself into the world and work of haute cuisine. He has dreams of a future, of escaping the dead-end, no-hope lot of his fellow cooks. He wants to be the greatest chef the world has seen. He thinks he's taken his first steps when he becomes House Cook for a wealthy family. Never mind that the family may seem less than appreciative. Or refined. Or deserving. Power through service.

But as the facade crumbles and his promised future looks unlikely to eventuate, Zac the Cook is forced to reassess everything. Sweet turns sour and ends in bitter revenge.

Blackly funny and deliciously satirical, The Cook feeds our hunger to know what goes on in the kitchen, while skewering our culture of food worship.


Owen Richardson in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "In the past few years, Wayne Macauley has published some of the most memorable fiction going in this country. His books and stories are satirical fables in which the properties are recognisably contemporary and Australian - Melburnian, indeed - but his use of them is carefully distanced from realism and he has a prose style of remarkable poise and control that can allow his narratives to take off into the bizarre without ever losing their cool. Beneath that cool is a steady anger at the depredations of late capitalism, at the attempts of laissez-faire to turn us all into Homo economicus or addicted consumers...After two short novels or novellas - Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe and Caravan Story - and a book of short fiction, Other Stories, this is Macauley's longest novel so far and marks a brilliant development in his dark vision of the way we live...Although the publicity tells us this is a book that will appeal to foodies, ''appeal'' may not quite be the right word: The Cook isn't really about food at all or, rather, it is about food as an index of money and class, ambition and conspicuous consumption."

Louise Swinn in "The Age": "Anyone who has seen even so much as an ad for MasterChef will be familiar with the concept of Cook School, an hour and a half from Melbourne, for which Zac is one of the 16 wayward teenagers chosen. With little in life to fall back on, Zac is smart enough to recognise this opportunity. He is a natural but he works hard, taking to heart the advice to keep suppliers close, rearing his own stock and putting in long hours perfecting each dish...Zac is brought to life so clearly and so rapidly that it is easy to forget he was ever anything but a master chef in the making and this is one of The Cook's many achievements. Perhaps what makes Zac so attractive is his sheer dedication. He is not the kid who wants to be a movie star without going to acting school; he is prepared to work hard at it. He learns about provenance - nothing appears at the table without its particular history - and he seems to comprehend the lesson that knowing and understanding, and being the master of, that history is the key to culinary success."

Fiona Mackrell on the "artsHub" website: "Macauley has opted for a challenging, seemingly naïve and untrustworthy first person voice that doesn't always work and isn't always consistent. Despite that, we can see both through Zac's eyes and interpret characters and events through our own, which provides the most powerful aspect of the writing and is crucial to driving the novel's tension...This is bleak and uncomfortable reading that ironically would have been far better if it hadn't shied away from being even more so. There's a whiff of Camus's The Stranger to The Cook but it doesn't have the same nihilist backbone or power. Though there are images that will play in the imagination for a long time after you put it down, it's ultimately less than satisfying."

James Ley in "The Australian": "Melbourne-based Macauley has been honing his comic skills as a novelist and short-story writer for the better part of two decades, and The Cook is often very funny indeed. An early scene in which the apprentices receive a lesson in whacking a subordinate on the head with a soup ladle almost veers into Three Stooges territory...But there is a real savagery underlying the novel's vision of a society whose idea of ambition has decayed into a crude desire for social status and material advancement. It suggests that there is something morally and psychologically corrupting about a system in which it seems the only way to escape being exploited is to become an exploiter."

Trish Bolton in "Overland": "Written by the much-lauded Australian writer Wayne Macauley, The Cook's themes of capitalism-gone-mad, excessive consumption, untrammelled growth and rampant exploitation of humans, animals and natural resources is timely...Macauley explores a number of issues recently highlighted by the Occupy Movement, animal welfare groups and the GFC through his main protagonist Zac, one of a number of young offenders sent to Cook School to learn a trade and become decent, upstanding and productive citizens...The story, told from Zac's point of view, pays no heed to commas or quotation marks so that sentences tumble and flow. It is an inspired choice that takes us along for a hypnotising ride and immerses us fully in Zac's macabre world, which, we learn along the way, is our world too. "


Ben Pobjie for "Readings".

Victoria Cosford for "Echo".


The author has a webpage dedicated to the book, and the various reactions to it.

Combined Reviews: Chelsea Mansions by Barry Maitland

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chelsea_mansions.jpg    Chelsea Mansions
Barry Maitland
Allen & Unwin

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Ned Kelly Award.]

From the publisher's page:
When Nancy Haynes, an elderly American tourist, is brutally murdered in a seemingly senseless attack after visiting the Chelsea Flower Show, DI Kathy Kolla suspects there is more to the case than first appears. When another occupant of the palatial Chelsea Mansions is murdered hot on the heels of the first - but this time a Russian oligarch - everybody wants to get involved.

Is it a Litvinenko-style KGB assassination? The spooks muscling in certainly think so. Are the murders linked? Or is Nancy's death just the result of mistaken identity? Kathy is determined to dig deeper, but comes up against walls of silence. If she persists, does she risk her career - and possibly more? DCI Brock, meanwhile, faces the fight of his life as his past comes back to haunt him.

A crime long buried, a deadly African virus, and some of the most resourceful criminals Brock and Kolla have ever faced, conspire to make this Maitland's best mystery yet.


Christine Cremen in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Back in the golden age of crime fiction, it was all location, location, location. From the 1920s to the 1950s, mysteries were published with floor plans of houses and even maps of whole villages to help readers work out who the murderer might be. Since the 1960s, writers haven't been quite as focused on where a crime takes place but when they are, their books can stand out from the rest. This is the case with former professor of architecture Barry Maitland's Brock and Kolla mysteries, an award-winning series of British police procedurals set in various well-realised locations. In these books, Maitland (who lives in Australia but has set all but one of his novels overseas) manages to accomplish what many other authors who make a feature of place can only aspire to - his setting becomes one of the characters."

"AustCrimeFiction" weblog: "One of the quirks of Maitland's books is the settings that he uses for the main component of the action in his books. In this case, this small square, with it's row of houses - part of which is the hotel, the rest of which has been progressively turned into a massive townhouse by our Russian victim Mikhail Moszynski. Not just a setting, this area because an intricate part of the plot itself as is often the way. As is also often the way Kolla's investigation is characterised by her dogged determination. Brock's part in the investigation is more thoughtful, cerebral, intuitive. Along the way there's some nice touches of the personal, and there's a bit of professional skullduggery just to make everyone's lives more complicated than they need to be."

"Fair Dinkum Crime" weblog: "There are a number of connecting threads between CHELSEA MANSIONS and SPIDER TRAP, but that shouldn't prevent you from reading this if it is your first book by Barry Maitland. I think this one will send you looking for earlier titles. And there are plenty of openings for a sequel to this one."

Roger Hainsworth in "The Adelaide Review": "If you read Chelsea Mansions you had better pay attention. It has more characters than Little Dorrit and if you lack total recall you might find it difficult to keep track of the dead, never mind the living. This is not a criticism. It is Barry Maitland at his best and that is very good indeed."

Caroline Curtis on the "Australian Women Online" weblog: "The beautiful construction of Chelsea Mansions might well owe something to Barry Maitland's architectural background. The story rises, like an interesting-looking building, with attractive, simple lines that reveal immensely intricate and complicated details only on closer examination. It immerses and entices the reader to follow every twist and turn...The foundations of the novel lie firmly in the reliable characters of D.I. Kathy Kolla and her boss D.C.I. Brock. Kathy Kolla is likeable - admirably holding her own in a male-dominated and chauvinistic environment; she is hard-working, dedicated and loyal. D.C.I. Brock exists to catch criminals. He is a creature of rare intelligence, his brilliant investigative mind able to pinpoint the right questions to ask. Neither accept appearances at face value. Both have courage and integrity in their pursuit of the truth, where others might have settled for easier, politically-correct compromises."


John Purcell asks the author "Ten Terrifying Questions" on the "Booktopia Blog".


The author writes about how the novel came about on the "Readings" blog.

Combined Reviews: My Hundred Lovers by Susan Johnson

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my_hundred_lovers.jpg    My Hundred Lovers
Susan Johnson
Allen & Unwin

From the publisher's page:

That afternoon in the small bedroom the light was blue. The curtains were cream and blew softly in the wind. There was a cry, far off, almost out of earshot. There was a man in my bed and I did not know how he got there.

A woman, on the eve of her fiftieth birthday, reflects on one hundred moments from a lifetime's sensual adventures. After the love, hatred and despair are done with, the great and trivial acts of her bodily life reveal an imperfect, yet whole self. By turns humorous, sharp, haunting and wise, this is an original and exhilarating novel from one of Australia's premier writers.

Lyrical and exquisite, My Hundred Lovers captures the sheer wonder of life, desire and love.


Emma Young in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Johnson's eighth novel is the chronicling of one woman's sensory memory. Deborah, the narrator, is a middle-aged woman reflecting on the touch and feel of years past. Her thoughts take the form of an unconventional memoir: 100 brief chapters catalogue her experiences of love. What she composes is a history of her body, her tiring flesh a map of what she has 'lived, loved and suffered'...The form developed by Johnson has as much impact as the substance it's shaped around. The short chapters, devoted to the evocation of sensual experiences and not the steady beat of chronology, construct a story that is meaningful, but also playful...In the literary tradition, men have largely shaped notions of desire and sexuality. Think Casanova, Henry Miller and Michel Houellebecq. Female writers such as Angela Carter, Erica Jong and Jeanette Winterson have negotiated the terrain, but with less frequency...My Hundred Lovers is an original imagining of one woman's waning flesh and the vibrant imprint of a life it still holds."

Felicity Plunkett in "The Canberra Times": "Since her debut novel, Messages from Chaos, Johnson's writing has explored the embodied heart and imagination. There, protagonist Anna defines and curtails her own happiness through her relationship with her married lover. Since then, Johnson's work has often taken in abjection and pining, perhaps most strikingly in the eroticism and loss of Hungry Ghosts, in which two women friends find themselves in a destructive triangular relationship...In her powerful non-fictional work A Better Woman, Johnson writes about birth and motherhood. While her craft is such that a fictional 'I' is often assumed to be autobiographical, in this case craft and crafting - and in very literal ways the making and remaking of women's bodies and lives - brings the necessary artifice of life-writing into focus. At the same time, it offers a raw expression of feelings of loss in motherhood...Johnson's melding of lyrical moments with anatomical detail and bawdy humour makes for a lively catalogue of 50 years of love, but wrapped around this is another layer that enriches the novel. Johnson returns to the observation that it is a rare kind of privilege that allows the sensual to be life's crucial focus...There's not much of the dull or leisurely in Johnson's novel, but her framing of the novel's pleasures with a similar philosophical stance is provocative."

Chris Flynn in "Meanjin": "My Hundred Lovers is a remarkable achievement, a genuine masterpiece of sensuality that took Johnson more than a decade to get her head around. The first thing to understand is Johnson's shrewd interpretation of the word 'lovers'. This is not the story of a woman looking back on her life bonking a hundred people--the lovers here take many forms, including sunshine, her fingers, a certain type of croissant, a cat, a bridge. There are people here too, of course, men and women, and sex is not always a prerequisite for them to be considered lovers...The French influence on Johnson is clear--parts of the story are set in a version of Paris that's as close as I've seen to the city being faithfully captured on the page for a long time. You won't find a better French book written by an Australian, and as far as erotic writing goes, forget the shades of grey and look a little closer to home. Australians have this genre well and truly licked."

Chris Gordon of "Readings": "This could be a corny novel, but no, in Johnson's hands reality and poetry mix to create a profound description of a woman's life. There is the rawness and the vulnerability that comes with such an expose, but there is also humour and humility."

Joanne Shiells on the "Fancy Goods" weblog: "Expected to attract a mostly female audience, this rich and meaningful novel deserves a broad readership. It is easily readable and poetic; Johnson's gift for language delights and some of her descriptions are to be savoured. With much of the novel set in France, it may also appeal to those with a penchant for the Gallic."


Helen Greenwood in "The Age".

The author answers "Ten Terrifying Questions" on the "Booktopia" weblog.


A little background from the author on how the novel came about.
You can read an extract from the novel on the publisher's website here.

Combined Reviews: Forecast: Turbulence by Janette Turner Hospital

forecast_turbulence.jpg    Forecast: Turbulence
Janette Turner Hospital

[This collection of short stories has been shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award.]

From the publisher's page:
Violent weather pervades this breathtaking collection, reflecting the cataclysmic emotions swirling through the lives of the protagonists. A loner becomes obsessed with the beautiful face of a neighbour, a child and his enigmatic grandmother sit out a hurricane, two fragile girls visit their stepfathers in prison and share a macabre ritual, a young woman is deeply ashamed of what her father has become ...

Janette Turner Hospital sensitively weaves stories of heartbreaking poignancy, shocking power and steadfast resolve, all honouring a universal question: how can we maintain equilibrium in a turbulent and uncertain world?

The turbulent river rushes on. ′Everything flows,′ wrote Heraclitus, ′and nothing stays fixed.′


Peter Craven in "The Sydney Morning Herald":"Janette Turner Hospital is one of the most formidable writers to hail from Australia and she is also one of nature's storytellers. Her work has a narrative momentum and an effortless dramatic vibrancy that make her a deeply traditional entertainer at the same time that she is unmistakably a writer of gravity and power...Both her prophetic novel, Due Preparations for the Plague, and Orpheus Lost, another dark-angled take on terrorism, with its own redemptive twists, were serious works of art...Now, in a slender book of short stories, which includes a memoir of Brisbane and the passing of the author's mother, she gives her own take on the Shakespearean phrase, infinite riches in a little room...These stories exhibit a masterly control of tempo and an ability to compel the reader to see the life they unfold. Each packs the punch and yields the poignancy that only a master of the art of fiction can deliver."

Tali Lavi in "The Melbourne Review": "Janette Turner Hospital is chameleonic. Within her storytelling, styles, voices and places metamorphose. When faced with a new literary offering, one approaches it with a sense of trepidation; her narratives are as likely to fell the reader with devastating blows as they are to enrapture...Forecast: Turbulence is populated by storms, both of the atmosphere and of human behaviour. Nature's furore is to be feared, but it has nothing on the cruelty of people. Not that Turner Hospital is misanthropic - a spirit of humanism permeates her writing - but there is an unwillingness to turn away from a reality that oftentimes contains evil. As is testified by a character who quotes Hamlet to his daughter, 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.' This might be the author's own tenet, for she has admitted to inspiration from the pages of the New York Times."

Lisa Hill on the "ANZLitLovers" litblog: "Hmm, maybe it's because the Queen's Birthday holiday and the recent jubilee non-event in Australia has focussed my attention on cultural nuances, but it didn't take long for this book to irritate me. I'd read Janette Turner Hospital's Orpheus Lost (2008) and Due Preparations for the Plague: A Novel (2004) and enjoyed them both so I was expecting to like this too. But no, I didn't, and I'm peeved that I put aside other books to read it...Most of the themes are universal, tied together by the motifs of extremes of weather and climate. Her characters are relevant in the modern world: damaged souls struggling for psychological balance in fractured families or isolated from ordinary life in some way. The stories are neatly constructed and there is some beautiful writing."

Paula Green in the "New Zealand Herald": "Her latest collection of short stories, Forecast: Turbulence, reflects the experience and attachment she feels to both Australia and the United States...The turbulence of the title keys us into the parts weather and water play, but that turbulence also works on a metaphorical level. These are stories where life gets flung against the unexpected spikes and storms of living. These are stories, that at times, set your own guts in turmoil and you wonder if you can keep reading."


Kate Evans on ABC's RadioNational "Books and Arts Daily" program.

Stephen Romei in "The Australian".

Jo Case of The Wheeler Centre.


You can read sample pages from this collection on the publisher's page.

Combined Reviews: The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey

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chemistry_of_tears.jpg    The Chemistry of Tears
Peter Carey
Penguin Books

From the publisher's page:
When her lover dies suddenly, all Catherine has left is her work.

The long affair had been kept secret from their colleagues at London's Swinburne Museum and now she must grieve in private. Or almost. In an act of compassion, the head of her department gives Catherine a very particular project, something to cling onto: a box of intricate clockwork parts that appear to be the remains of a nineteenth-century automaton, a beautiful mechanical bird.

Once she discovers that the box also contains the diary of the man who commissioned the machine, one obsession merges into another. Who was Henry Brandling? Who was the mysterious, visionary clockmaker he hired to make a gift for his ailing son? And what was the end result that now sits in pieces in Catherine's studio?

The Chemistry of Tears is a portrait of love and loss that is both wildly entertaining and profoundly moving, simultaneously delicate and anarchic.

At its heart is an image only the masterful Peter Carey could breathe such life into - an object made of equal parts magic, love, madness and science, a delight that contains the seeds of our age's downfall.


Andrew Miller in "The New York Times": "There is, of course, a certain base curiosity in seeing how persuasively a writer crosses the gender divide. How well does Carey, a 60-something author of Australian origin, long resident in New York, inhabit the skin of a prickly, 40-something, middle-class Englishwoman? It is, perhaps, in his depiction of Catherine as a technician, a professional piecer-together of old and elaborate things, that he presents her most effectively, most winningly. He has clearly done a vast amount of research into what conservators and curators do in modern museums. The Swinburne and its unlovely annex are always entirely convincing places, and there is much incidental pleasure in learning about the place -- the tools, the dust coats, the fume cupboard, the elaborate hierarchies...In an interview a few years ago, Carey spoke of admiring the quality of "risk" in works of fiction. This, I think, is exactly right, risk being an index of a book's and a writer's ambition. The Chemistry of Tears takes risks, is quietly ambitious and is, in its last pages, both touching and thought-provoking."

Ron Charles in "The Washington Post": "This is the third of Carey's cerebral short novels about the provenance of curious objects. In My Life as a Fake (2003), he scanned the slippery lines of a fraudulent poem; in Theft (2006), he swirled through the palette of art forgery. In The Chemistry of Tears, his heroine picks through hundreds of corroded springs, tarnished silver rings and glass rods gunked up with old glue...Amid the smoke of mysticism rising from these pages, how reassuring it is to come upon Catherine's complaint that 'the account was filled with violent and disconcerting "jump cuts". . . . In fact, you soon learned that what was initially confusing would never be clarified no matter how you started and swore at it. One learned to live with fuzziness and ambiguity in a way one never would in life.'...That warning should be printed on the spine of The Chemistry of Tears for anyone tempted to peer into this 'sea of ambiguity, delusion, wonder, possibility, amongst all the murk and confusion.' No other popular literary author is so wily -- so willful about letting us remain in the fog."

AS Byatt in "The Financial Times": "This is not an easy book to read. I was haunted throughout by the sense of a pattern of ideas that I couldn't grasp. At the other extreme, Carey creates Catherine's lonely and obsessive misery so brilliantly that it is both painful and claustrophobic for the reader. The first page is arresting and shocking and it goes on that way. We share her pain and we also share Henry's pain for his sick son - though it is interesting that Catherine doesn't. She remarks that it is hard to imagine how one could care as much about a child as about a lover. She is completely convincing and not altogether nice...Carey's world is always interesting and thought-provoking. His splendid Oscar and Lucinda (1988) also combined a wonderful artefact - a glass cathedral - with the mathematics of gambling, and religious riddles and puzzles. At the end of The Chemistry of Tears Amanda produces another vision of what may be concealed in the hull of the automaton. There is a mystery I haven't understood about a blue cube. The novel is baffling as well as exciting."

Andrew Motion in "The Guardian": "Carey has tackled some of these ideas before (the most obvious precursor to the construction of machines in this book is the transportation of the church in Oscar and Lucinda). But here everything has been designed, tooled, oiled and fitted together with greater economy and an equal panache. Does this mean the book ends too neatly? No. Even as it settles its main concerns, it floats new ideas (was golden boy Carl the young Karl Benz?), and emphasises latent themes (the greater love between parents and children; the endless human capacity for misunderstanding)."

Nina Caplan in "The Independent": "This novel lacks the wicked energy of Parrot and Olivier or Theft: A Love Story. But if Carey's best books are superlative, the next tier down is still better - meatier, more imaginative - than many writers ever manage. The Chemistry of Tears is awash with grief, some of it Carey's: for the breathless faith in our own perfectibility that has degenerated into environmental disaster. All those clever, delicate hands and brains - who knew they would wind up wreaking such havoc? We are truly a sulphurous species."

Troy Jollimore for "The San Francisco Chronicle": "In the real world - that is, ours - the Difference Engine was designed by Charles Babbage, on whom Cruickshank is partially based. Mixing fiction and historical fact is a favored strategy of Carey, who has dipped his pen into bygone eras several times before and twice won the Booker Prize for it (for Oscar and Lucinda in 1988 and for True History of the Kelly Gang in 2001). This ambitious, playful and engagingly strange novel does not, perhaps, burn quite so brightly or shimmer quite so beguilingly as Carey's best books. But it is still quite lovely, and rather like an automaton, it does seem to add up to more than the sum of its parts."

"The Complete Review" weblog: "Carey's two main characters do not act entirely rationally -- both having the excuse of the emotional stress they're under, justifying (or explaining) how they act. (Catherine also self-medicates to considerable excess, which also leads to more impulsive behavior.) There's a surprising amount of physical lashing out in the novel by the characters, a striking contrast to the very predictable and planned movements of, for example, the mechanical swan...The mechanical offers a predictable -- and lasting -- perfection that the human body can't match...Messy life, as Catherine and Henry (and everyone else) live it, of course, doesn't allow for such simple perfection...Carey cleverly works with these contrasts in his often beautifully written and artfully constructed novel."


Nina Caplan for the "New Statesman".
Jan Dalley for "The Financial Times".
Simon Mann for "The Age".


YouTube book trailer:

The author introduces his book:

Combined Reviews: Past the Shallows by Favell Parrett

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past_the_shallows.jpg    Past the Shallows
Favell Parrett

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
Hauntingly beautiful and told with an elegant simplicity, this is the story of two brothers growing up in a fractured family on the wild Tasmanian coast. The consequences of their parents' choices shape their lives and ultimately bring tragedy to them all.

Harry and Miles live with their father, an abalone fisherman, on the south-east coast of Tasmania. With their mum dead, they are left to look after themselves. When Miles isn't helping out on the boat they explore the coast and Miles and his older brother, Joe, love to surf. Harry is afraid of the water.

Everyday their dad battles the unpredictable ocean to make a living. He is a hard man, a bitter drinker who harbours a devastating secret that is destroying him. Unlike Joe, Harry and Miles are too young to leave home and so are forced to live under the dark cloud of their father's mood, trying to stay as invisible as possible whenever he is home. Harry, the youngest, is the most vulnerable and it seems he bears the brunt of his father's anger.


Juliette Hughes in "The Brisbane Times": "It's always a good sign when you are looking forward to getting home to read the next chapter in a novel. Past the Shallows, Favel Parrett's first novel, opens lyrically: 'Out past the shallows, past the sandy-bottomed bays, comes the dark water - black and cold and roaring.' As opening sentences go, it's a damn good one, plunging us straight into place. Then Parrett gets down to business, telling the story in a way that is sometimes linear, sometimes impressionistic, yet always clear...This is an impressive debut. Parrett's writing has a real voice, with power to evoke feeling, place and character. She is capable of refreshing narrative clarity, yet at other times surprises with an intense lyricism that is never self-indulgent. Everyone is put to the test - pushed to the edge physically and spiritually in a series of events and revelations that affect not only the characters but also the reader. This book is that rare thing, a finely crafted literary novel that is genuinely moving and full of heart."

Louise Swinn in "The Australian": "It is not hard to see why Favel Parrett was awarded a mentorship by the Australian Society of Authors while writing Past the Shallows, for this is an unequivocally strong debut novel...Past the Shallows is recognisable in many ways, from structure to character types and atmosphere. Set on the coast in an outdoor landscape that is familiar, where phones and computers aren't much part of life, it is in many ways a timeless place. It is a story existing almost as far from the contemporary world as it's possible to write, traditional as it is in plot and setting...And, interestingly, this novel by a woman about a family of men, pitching to a female-dominated fiction readership, is almost devoid of female characters...Parrett has the confidence and ability to leave out some of the story so that the tale's full heft is a gradual revelation. Her skill at weaving the plot combined with her understanding of the nuances of the internal workings of her characters means there is some grey where, in lesser hands, it might easily have just been black and white. That there can exist in the reader a shred of pity for the father at the conclusion of the novel is testament to Parrett's good judgment as a storyteller."

Rachel Edwards on ABC Radio National's "Book Show": "Tasmanian fiction has almost become a genre in its own right. It is considered synonymous with the gothic, it features both extreme weather and an extreme natural environment and utilises the physical isolation of the characters as a device for the author to intensify the story. Cate Kennedy' marvellous The World Beneath and most of Richard Flanagan's books tick these boxes and so does Past the Shallows. And it does so successfully...Past the Shallows has a distinct voice, is a carefully crafted story with well formed characters. I loved it to pieces and would counsel the reader not to finish it while in a public place."

Lisa Hill on the "ANZ LitLovers" weblog: "Favel Parrett is one of a new generation of Australian writers, and she has made an impressive debut with her first novel, Past the Shallows. It is raw, tough and uncompromising, and hard to put down: I read it in a single sitting...It is a melancholy novel, but as Robert Drewe says on the cover blurb, it seems real and true, and it 'sweeps you away in its tide'."

Estelle Tang on "3000 Books": "Thanks to Favel Parrett for making me actually start weeping uncontrollably on public transport."


Linda Morris in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

"Booktopia" weblog


The publisher's reading group notes.

The author introducing her novel on YouTube:

Combined Reviews: Spirit House by Mark Dapin

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   Spirit House
Mark Dapin
Pan Macmillan

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
David is thirteen and confused. His mum has gone off with her lover and sent David to his grandparents in Bondi to give her new relationship some "space". Sometimes it breaks your heart to understand.

David's grandfather, Jimmy, a Jewish war veteran and survivor of the Thai-Burma railway, is seventy. Haunted by the ghosts of long-dead comrades, the only person he can confide in is a thirteen-year-old from a different world. Sometimes it breaks your heart to be understood.

Spirit House is a story of Changi and the Thai-Burma railway, of old men living with the horrors of their past, and a boy making sense of the daunting business of growing up.

Funny, wise, disturbing and deeply moving, Spirit House is the brilliant new novel by the award-winning author of King of the Cross.


Stephen Romei for "The Australian": "Mark Dapin is best known as a columnist and feature writer for the Fairfax press, a role where making stuff up is called for only occasionally...On the strength of his second novel, Spirit House, he should make the leap to full-time fiction. If this book is not on next year's literary prize lists I will be surprised...Dapin's first novel, King of the Cross (2009) was a high-rent crime thriller: gritty, smart and funny but with a soggy patch towards the end. Some of its characters have supporting roles in Spirit House, but this is a much different and more ambitious book, one that cares about surprising things, such as love and beauty."

Rob Minshull for ABC Bisbane: "A modern Australian classic deserves the title because of the story it tells, the way it is told and the way in which reflects who we are. Authors like Murray Bail or David Malouf, Bryce Courtney or Colleen McCullough are great Australian writers and books like Voss by Patrick White or Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, The Drowner by Robert Drewe or The Secret River by Kate Grenville are classic Australian novels...Spirit House is also one of those novels and Mark Dapin is one of those writers. This is a book destined for classic status in every sense of the word. It is powerful, poignant, moving, tragic and intensely distressing. It is a feast of a story which will almost simultaneously move you to tears and bring a smile to your face."

Sue Turnbull for "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Fairfax columnist Mark Dapin is editor of The Penguin Book of Australian War Writing, which helps to explain the impulse behind this novel, which opens with an anonymous diary entry from 'Siam' in 1941. Written in the purple prose of a man pleased to parade his education, this passage introduces key themes that will play out in the present of 1990. The first is that of the Spirit House itself, an altar intended to placate whatever gods there might be to placate; and second, the savage beating of a soldier in Changi by Korean guards under orders from the Japanese. Spirituality and savagery are brutally juxtaposed, a strategy Dapin uses throughout the book, punctuated by moments of high comedy...Dapin's achievement is to bring the past to life through memorable moments and characters in whom one can believe. The use of comedy to juxtapose the brutality of war is well measured, leading to a resolution with the past and a kind of grace for those in the present. There are times, however, when the structure of the narrative seems a tad overwrought. Indeed, I wonder whether the intermittent use of the anonymous war diary (the author of which is revealed in the final pages) is necessary. Jimmy and David might be the only witnesses to war we need."

"Web Wombat" weblog: "Spirit House by Mark Dapin is about demons, demons that haunt and torment an elderly war veteran's thoughts and memories as he tries to come to terms with the loss, pain, and intense grief he suffered from events that occurred over 40 years ago when he was a WWII prisoner of war in the notorious Changi prison...For those who will, thankfully, never experience the horrors of war it is beneficial to be able to gain some small insight into what so many of our forefathers went through and then in many cases carried to their graves."

Chris Flynn on ABC Radio National's "Book Show": "Sometimes we have a tendency to forget the breadth of talented writers we have in Australia. Take Fairfax columnist Mark Dapin for example, who is one of the country's most recognisable and consistently funny journalists. Those who enjoy his column's stylistic footnote-heavy quirks will have flocked to his unconventional first novel King of the Cross which rightly won 2010's Ned Kelly First Fiction Award. In it, a cadet reporter from the Australian Jewish Times interviews Jake Mendoza, legendary Sydney crime lord. The resulting memoir is a sly wink to real world gangland figures...Mendoza pops up again as an enigmatic bit player in Dapin's second novel Spirit House which is frankly just wonderful. Why? It's funny, truthful, upsetting, moving and sheds a whole new light on an aspect of Australian war history that I thought had been amply covered a hundred times already, namely Changi prison in Singapore and the construction of the Thai Burmese railway by Allied prisoners."

Rebecca Butterworth for "artsHub": "Spirit House is probably the best example of what a fiction writer can do for fact - not only bring it alive, but drag it to its feet and boot-camp it into the best shape of its life - that I have ever experienced. And 'experienced' is a more accurate word to apply to Spirit House than 'read'...Spirit House is worth reading on so many levels; it's difficult to focus on just one. Dapin takes the novelist's goals of heart, humour, and significance and shows off with them. This book is about pain - significant, lifetime pain - and it is also incredibly funny. "


Melanie Sheridan for "The Australian Jewish News".
"Mellygoround" weblog.
John Purcell on the "Booktopia" weblog.


The author describes the story behind the book for "Readings".

Combined Reviews: Blood by Tony Birch

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blood.jpg    Blood
Tony Birch

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
The country we were driving through was flat as an iron and bone dry. The sky was big, blue and empty, except for a flaming ball of sun, low in the sky. It had tracked us all day liek a satellite and it looked about read to explode.

Jesse has sworn to protect his sister, Rachel, no matter what. It's a promise that cannot be broken. A promise made in blood. But, when it comes down to life or death, how can he find the courage to keep it?

Set on the back roads of Australia, Blood is a boy's odyssey through a broken-down adult world.


Conrad Walters in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Blood, Birch's first published novel, carries echoes of the semi-autobiographical stories that weave together in his first story collection, Shadowboxing: violent men, a first-person narrator, fleeting yet tangible moments of joy and a hand-to-mouth life on the fringes where money is visible but forever out of reach. The voice, too, confirms Birch's mastery of a young protagonist whose experience informs knowledge that exceeds his years but never cloys with precociousness. Through Birch's hand, Jesse's view of his world deftly balances the naivete of youth and insights forged through hardship...As with Birch's short stories, the writing here is unadorned, the language bordering on plain. But beneath this, the author explores Jesse's desperation to escape and his fear of what will happen to Rachel if he follows Gwen's selfish example."

Ed Wright in "The Australian": "This absorbing and endearing tale of children in adversity is the debut novel by Tony Birch, an accomplished short-story writer and longstanding teacher of creative writing at the University of Melbourne...There have been quite a few adult novels in recent years that focus on the children of the underclasses. Blood has some correspondence, for instance, to Mandy Sayer's The Night Has a Thousand Eyes. DBC Pierre's Booker prize-winning Vernon God Little is another. Of course, the featuring of underprivileged children in novels is nothing new. Charles Dickens made a career out of it and in the Australian canon there are wonderful stories such as Ruth Park's The Harp in the South and Doris Pilkington Garimara's Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence...This voice never slips. It never feels confected or overplayed. This draws you into the story and makes Blood feel like it is more than the sum of its parts. For a first innings in the long form, it's impressive stuff."

Jo Case for "Readings": "This is a fractured fairytale, a dark Australian road story, but also an affecting tale about the bond between a brother and sister, and how the most unexpected people can transform lives. Birch delivers edge-of-your-seat suspense and engrossing characterisation in equal measures."


Sarah L'Estrange on ABC radio National's "The Book Show".
Jo Case for "Readings".
Richard Aedy on ABC Radio National's "Life Matters".
Lisa Hill on the "ANZ LitLovers LitBlog" weblog.


The author, on the writing of his novel, for "Meanjin".

Combined Reviews: Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville

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SarahThornhill-aus-cover.jpg    Sarah Thornhill
Kate Grenville
Text Publishing

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
From the beginning Jack and I was friends. Somehow our way of looking at things fitted together.

He never called me Dolly, the way the others did, only my full and proper name.

Sarah Thornhill is the youngest child of William Thornhill, convict-turned-landowner on the Hawkesbury River. She grows up in the fine house her father is so proud of, a strong-willed young woman who's certain where her future lies.

She's known Jack Langland since she was a child, and always loved him.

But the past is waiting in ambush with its dark legacy. There's a secret in Sarah's family, a piece of the past kept hidden from the world and from her. A secret Jack can't live with. A secret that changes everything, for both of them.

Kate Grenville takes us back to the early Australia of The Secret River and the Thornhill family. This is Sarah's story. It's a story of tangled secrets, a story of loss and unlooked-for happiness, and a story about the silent spaces of the past.

This powerful novel will enthrall readers of Kate Grenville's bestselling The Secret River, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.


Stella Clarke in "The Australian": "The novel is simply and beautifully narrated. Sarah tells it as it might be thought or spoken, in bits of sentences. She is illiterate but highly observant, sensitive to the splendour of her surroundings on the Hawkesbury River. Staying within the limits of Sarah's immaturity and understanding, the historical lineaments of the time remain indeterminate, slowed to the pace of domestic life...Grenville's three novels have been deluged by commentary on her treatment of the Australian past, over and above discussion of their merits...She found herself on perilous ground following the success of The Secret River, when historian Mark McKenna pilloried her for historical hubris, along with critics like me for not being critical...In recent years, a forest of journalistic and academic work has rehearsed and extended the original spat. (Just last year, for example, Rodopi Press published Australian National University academic Kate Mitchell's Australia's "Other" History Wars: Trauma and the Work of Cultural Memory in Kate Grenville's The Secret River.) The novel, with associated commentary, turned up on educational curriculums. In the history v fiction debate, Grenville is totemic."

Belinda Mckeon in "The Guardian": "It is with often marvellous vividness and clarity that Grenville evokes Sarah's world, from childhood on the Hawkesbury, through an adolescence of idealistic love, to a marriage towards which she goes with a resigned heart but of which she ultimately makes a fine hand. Sarah is well inhabited by her creator, and through the eyes of this young woman, the physical and cultural strangenesses of a nation still clambering into existence spring richly to life. But the much-signposted secrets ride roughshod over this character rather than drawing her compellingly on; they take too much of the narrative's oxygen for Sarah ever to be able to negotiate towards them a convincing relationship. Their elements and repercussions come to seem stockpiled rather than layered. The attention given to their many constituent parts can seem hasty or rushed: there is a lost brother about whom the reader can barely care, and a secret child who is introduced and abandoned too quickly. Most problematically, there is a journey far afield that would seem almost epic in its importance to Sarah, and in its demands as a plot point, and yet which is over within a matter of pages, dispatched before it has even begun. Sarah Thornhill, a character of great spirit and determination, surely deserves more."

Delia Falconer in "The Monthly": "Each of the three books in Kate Grenville's loose trilogy - The Secret River (2005), The Lieutenant (2008) and now Sarah Thornhill - is an act of atonement. Each recognises the damage done to Indigenous Australians by Sydney's colonisation, and writes a sincere 'sorry' back into the past...Less bound to the historical record, Sarah Thornhill is an instantly warmer, less wistful book. Its narrator, Sarah, youngest child of The Secret River's William, possesses an independent-mindedness that anticipates the modern scepticism toward empire that would enter our history books in the 1980s...Grenville's great strength is her sensual fleshing-out of the past, the Hawkesbury's lovely 'surge and bubble'. Her vision of our colonial history is at once compelling and fable-like, as she writes contemporary white self-knowledge back into it."

Mark Sanderson in "The Telegraph": "Kate Grenville's novel covers much the same ground - physically and mentally - as her award-winning The Secret River. It is a tale of white versus black in the early days of New South Wales, a time of 'cruelties and crimes, miseries on every side'...Grenville's aim is to give a voice to her forebears and show how they and their country fought for an identity. 'They called us the Colony of New South Wales,' says Sarah. 'I never liked that. We wasn't new anything. We was ourselves.' Her wonderful account shows how hard it can be simply to be yourself."

Arifa Akbar in "The Independent": "Thornhill's crime, Sarah's guilt and her siblings' blindness, so Grenville's novel implies, is the nation's. There is one Thornhill sibling who rejects his family's wealth and lives among the wronged. This, like Sarah's final act, seems like the noble, and the most difficult, way to atone. If fault is to be found, then it is Sarah's unconflicted acceptance of her inherited guilt, though this is also what makes her heroic...The book is also about the confused identities of colonisers...It is both brilliant fiction and illuminating personal history."


Michael Cathcart on ABC Radio Natonal's "Books and Arts Daily" program.
Stephanie Cross in "The Independent".
Andrew Williams on the Metro website.
Eileen Battersby in "The Irish Times".


See this essay, "The Strangeness of the Dance: Kate Grenville, Rohan Wilson, Inga Clendinnen and Kim Scott" by Alison Ravenscroft on the "Meanjin" website.

Kate Grenville introduces Sarah Thornhil:

You can read what the author has to say about the book, including the background, excerpts and "Notes for Book Groups".

Combined Reviews: The Precipice by Virginia Duigan

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precipice.jpg    The Precipice
Virginia Duigan
Random House

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
Thea Farmer, a reclusive and difficult retired school principal, lives in isolation with her dog in the Blue Mountains. Her distinguished career ended under a cloud over a decade earlier, following a scandal involving a much younger male teacher. After losing her savings in the financial crash, she is forced to sell the dream house she had built for her old age and live on in her dilapidated cottage opposite. Initially resentful and hostile towards Frank and Ellice, the young couple who buy the new house, Thea develops a flirtatious friendship with Frank, and then a grudging affinity with his twelve-year-old niece, Kim, who lives with them. Although she has never much liked children, Thea discovers a gradual and wholly unexpected bond with the half-Vietnamese Kim, a solitary, bookish child from a troubled background. Her growing sympathy with Kim propels Thea into a psychological minefield. Finding Frank's behaviour increasingly irresponsible, she becomes convinced that all is not well in the house. Unsettling suspicions, which may or may not be irrational, begin to dominate her life, and build towards a catastrophic climax.


Felicity Plunkett for "The Australian": "The novel revolves around transgression. At school, Thea has been powerful and controlling, yet ultimately destroyed by a charismatic and manipulative young male teacher. Duigan examines the operations of power within schools and teachers' subsequent loss of that automatic authority in retirement, something exacerbated, in Thea's case, by the humiliation and guilt she experiences. This guilt, which relates to having let down her guard with the younger teacher, stays with Thea and shadows her interaction with her new neighbours. She is determined never to be vulnerable again and to avoid a similar mistake...The beauty of mistakes, though, lies in their infinite variety. Watching as Thea avoids one mistake and lurches into another is compelling. Duigan's gorgeously evoked Blue Mountains landscape made me think of the vertiginous Scenic Railway at Katoomba. Once you're locked in, its incline -- the steepest of any railway in the world -- lies ahead, impossible to avoid."

Karen on the "AustCrime" weblog: "This is most definitely not a book for readers who like events declared right up front, and investigations and resolutions with everything neat, tidy and answered at the end. It's not even a book that declares a "crime" or a problem blatantly, although I suppose it might be possible to take an educated guess at where we could be heading, if you have the time, or the inclination to want to try to double guess the author. But it's really not that sort of a book. THE PRECIPICE is very much a psychological thriller, moving seamlessly from the resentful mutterings of a grumpy old woman, through the development of a cessation of hostilities rather than friendship with the young girl, to a minefield of responsibility and dilemma. There's the odd stutter and stumble along the way - they could be plot vagaries, they could equally be the vagaries of a tricky narrator...The book is undoubtedly one of those slow burn, sleeper type thrillers. "


Brooke Hunter on the "" weblog
Fran Metcalfe for the "Courier-Mail".


You can read an extract from the novel.

Combined Reviews: Animal People by Charlotte Wood

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animal_people.jpg    Animal People
Charlotte Wood
Allen & Unwin

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
'He could not find one single more word to say. I just want to be free. He could not say those words. They had already withered in his mind, turned to dust. He did not even know, he marvelled now, what the hell those words had meant.'

Acclaimed novelist Charlotte Wood takes a character from her bestselling book The Children and turns her unflinching gaze on him and his world in her extraordinary novel, Animal People. Set in Sydney over a single day, Animal People traces a watershed day in the life of Stephen, aimless, unhappy, unfulfilled - and without a clue as to how to make his life better.

His dead-end job, his demanding family, his oppressive feelings for Fiona and the pitiless city itself ... the great weight of it all threatens to come crashing down on him. The day will bring untold surprises and disasters, but will also show him - perhaps too late - that only love can set him free.

Sharply observed, hilarious, tender and heartbreaking, Animal People is a portrait of urban life, a meditation on the conflicted nature of human-animal relationships, and a masterpiece of storytelling. Filled with shocks of recognition and revelation, it shows a writer of great depth and compassion at work.


Angela Meyer in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Stephen is a complex and challenging character (one of the siblings in Wood's previous, brilliant novel, The Children)...At times the reader may relate to Stephen when he feels upset, humiliated, confused, angry. But it is also suggested Stephen views life through a slightly blurred lens. One hint that Stephen is not seeing clearly is that whenever he thinks of his girlfriend Fiona, and her girls, it's with deep love and affection. From the beginning, then, it seems that breaking up with her may not be the best thing to do...Besides this main narrative drive - whether or not he will break up with Fiona - there are the ordinary moments in Stephen's day, such as talking to his mother on the telephone about the new TV she wants to buy. These moments are compelling because they are recognisable. But the novel's observations also compel because of a subtle tragicomedy. There are so many moments that feel simultaneously familiar and strange, humorous and sad: a security guard on a Segway, old people seeking seats on the bus, a paramedic dressed as a fairy. There's even a Kafkaesque sense of persecution: Stephen as one against the world...This is a compelling and ultimately moving novel that cements Wood's place as one of the most intelligent and compassionate novelists in Australia."

John Purcell on the "Booktopia" blog: "I read Charlotte Wood's novel Animal People twice. I think it's one of the best contemporary novels I have read. But I cannot review it. I tried a number of times and failed each time. I only recently realised why this is. I don't want to review Animal People. I want to recommend it...The trouble is, I can't recommend it to just anybody...Sure, some part of me wants to help encourage complacent book club readers the world over to read it. I would like to think it would do them good (and Charlotte Wood's bank balance good). But, if the truth be told, I don't want them to...If they read it they may want to discuss it, as few people these days can understand a book without first discussing it with their peers. They may take the central character of Animal People, Stephen, and compare him with people they know. They may debate whether he is a sympathetic character or not. They may ask what the significance of the dog might be, what the title means, what the ending means. I don't want them to do any of these things. I want them to wander away from the safety of the group. I want them to let their guard down. I want them to be smacked in the face by Animal People. If they're not willing to take a few hits, I don't think they deserve to read Animal People."

Heather Dyer in "Bookseller+Publisher": "Clever and compassionate, Animal People will appeal to anyone who likes a story about relationships. Charlotte Wood has described this novel as a companion to The Children (Stephen is one of 'the children'), but it also works as a standalone novel."

Jo Case for "Readings": "Charlotte Wood's The Children is among my favourite Australian novels: she's just so good at the dynamics of relationships and minute social observations that give worlds of information about the people and places she captures. Woods' writing reminds me of Helen Garner's, in that it's easy to read, but deceptively so: it's rich with ideas and absolutely distinctive in its voice...So, I was pretty excited to receive Animal People, which follows one (monumentally bad) day in the life of middle-aged man-child Stephen, as he prepares to break up with his girlfriend. Stephen was a character in The Children, and others moonlight here too, but you don't need to have read that novel to thoroughly enjoy this one...Thoroughly recommended; it made me laugh and cry."

Clare Strahan on the "Overland" blog: "Wood's mastery of detail opens up the novel's sense of the whole in a very real way. One day offers an insight not only into Stephen's whole life but into 'society', into the weaving of personal and social, the bubble of internal experience and its fragility - the way it bumps up against (or crashes into) the hard edges of others (or our perception of others) and, sometimes, finds sanctuary, protected by the embracing places that are compassion and love...Wood gives us a clear picture of the (irrational?) fears and petty incomprehensions, prejudices and anxieties that drive Stephen from moment to moment during the chaos of a truly shitty day, but Stephen's overarching pathology is not explained: his compulsion to destroy what is good in his life is mysterious, as is his lovely girlfriend Fiona's love of him. "


Jo Case for "Readings".
Heather Dyer in "Bookseller+Publisher".
ABC Radio National's "Book Show".
Sandra Hogan on the "Perilous Adevntures" weblog.

Combined Reviews: Spirit of Progress by Steven Carroll

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spirit_of_progress.jpg    Spirit of Progress
Steven Carroll

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
A sleek high-speed train glides silently through the French countryside, bearing Michael, an Australian writer, and his travelling world of memory and speculation. Melbourne, 1946, calls to him: the pressure cooker of the city during World War II has produced a small creative miracle, and at this pivotal moment the lives of his newly married parents, a group of restless artists, a proud old woman with a tent for a home, a journalist, a gallery owner, a farmer and a factory developer irrevocably intersect. And all the while the Spirit of Progress, the locomotive of the new age, roars through their lives like time′s arrow, pointing to the future and the post-war world only some of them will enter.


Geordie Williamson in "The Australian": "Steven Carroll's novel, a prequel to the fictional trilogy for which he is best known and justly admired, endorses the Nabokovian project in all sorts of ways. Spirit of Progress holds to a languid pace at odds with the famous Victorian express train of its title, slowing time 'til it thickens to a concentrate of thought and event...Likewise, the book's narrative voice is passed on from generation to generation, person to person, building a communal portrait from singular selves...hose who have read earlier titles in Carroll's Glenroy series will recognise his method. Tales of ordinary heartbreak, told in a gentle and melancholy register; lives viewed from past, present and future perspectives in a godlike 360-degree pan. All of it taking place in a world over which history, in the guise of progress and modernity, keeps breaking like a wave...Yet the author's inveterately poetic and philosophical prose sheds an ennobling light on this shifting Australian existence. It softens rough edges, untangles human confusions, lends eloquence to otherwise inarticulate women and men...Indeed, in so lovingly and obsessively chronicling one suburb in an emerging metropolis over four novels Carroll has done for Melbourne's post-war fringes what John Updike did for urban Pennsylvania in his Rabbit tetralogy: transmute the grey facts of daily life into light and luminous art."

Jo Case for "Readings": "Spirit of Progress is a wonderfully Melbourne book, with a rich cast of characters. It's a prequel to Steven Carroll's much-loved Glenroy trilogy, featuring engine driver Vic, wife Rita and son Michael, catching the family poised on the brink of entering the world of these books: Rita is pregnant with Michael, and the novel ends with them visiting the wooden frame that will become their family home, in a suburb in the process of being born...This novel, divided into short chapters and replete with crisp, evocative imagery, is an easy but deeply satisfying read. It cannily transports the reader to the streets, cafes, galleries and workers' cottages of 1960s Melbourne - and engrosses us in the fate of Carroll's beautifully drawn characters...Highly recommended."

Andrew Reimer in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Burnt Norton, the first of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, inspired and gave shape to Steven Carroll's The Lost Life, a lucid and elegant fable of unfulfilled love. Poetry still courses through Carroll's imagination. One of the characters in his new novel is a real estate developer called Webster. As Webster pores over the map of a subdivision of land near Melbourne, his still absorption is compared to Caesar's in front of his maps and to Michelangelo's in the Sistine Chapel - ''inert, inspiration having travelled to him from the stars''...These echoes of W.B. Yeats's Long-Legged Fly reveal significant aspects of Carroll's imagination and ambitions. He is a writer steeped in the traditions of European high culture and philosophical (or at least ethical) speculation. His methods are fundamentally analytical - he probes his characters' inner lives, projecting them against mundane, sometimes banal, reality. Poetry and a sense of history give shape and substance to such banalities. So the kitchen sink (the title of one of the chapters), where one of the characters stands, ''is the still point around which it all turns'' - recalling again the rarefied world of Burnt Norton...The focus of Spirit of Progress is not poetry, however, but a painting, Sidney Nolan's striking Woman and Tent, first exhibited in Melbourne in 1946. The main portion of Carroll's novel occupies three days in July of that year."

Clive Tilsley in "Bookseller+Publisher" magazine: "Reading Spirit of Progress was one of the most enjoyable things I have done for a long time. I picked it up immediately after finishing Graham Swift's new novel Wish You Were Here and it felt good to move from a grey, foot-and-mouth-diseased Britain to a bright, openedspaced Australia. It took me back to my primary-school days when we would watch films about the construction of a new and exciting Australia. The films were black and white and may have been made around the time that this book is set...I am sure everyone who has read the 'Glenroy' series will welcome this addition. If Graham Greene can have the phrase 'Greene-land' used to celebrate his fictional world, I hope Steven Carroll gets recognition for the Australia he records. Perhaps it should be called 'Carroll-land'."


Tim Elliott in "The Sydney Morning Herald".
ABC Radio National's "Book Show".
Jo Case for "Readings".
Blanche Clark in "The Herald-Sun".


The author gave a talk at Abbey's Bookshop in Sydney:

Combined Reviews: Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse

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cold_light.jpg    Cold Light
Frank Moorhouse
Random House

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
It is 1950, the League of Nations has collapsed and the newly formed United Nations has rejected all those who worked and fought for the League. Edith Campbell Berry, who joined the League in Geneva before the war, is out of a job, her vision shattered. With her sexually unconventional husband, Ambrose, she comes back to Australia to live in Canberra. Edith now has ambitions to become Australia's first female ambassador, but while she waits for a Call from On High, she finds herself caught up in the planning of the national capital and the dream that it should be 'a city like no other'. When her communist brother, Frederick, turns up out of the blue after many years of absence, she becomes concerned that he may jeopardise her chances of becoming a diplomat. It is not a safe time to be a communist in Australia or to be related to one, but she refuses to be cowed by the anti-communist sentiment sweeping the country. It is also not a safe time or place to be 'a wife with a lavender husband'. After pursuing the Bloomsbury life for many years, Edith finds herself fearful of being exposed. Unexpectedly, in mid-life she also realises that she yearns for children. When she meets a man who could offer not only security but a ready-made family, she consults the Book of Crossroads and the answer changes the course of her life. Intelligent, poignant and absorbing, Cold Light is a remarkable stand-alone novel, which can also be read as a companion to the earlier Edith novels Grand Days and Dark Palace.


David Marr in "The Monthly": "With Cold Light Frank Moorhouse brings home a mighty, 25-year project. Australians love a three-decker novel, but nothing on this scale has been tried in this country for a long, long time. Moorhouse has taken us on a strange voyage through the psyche of Australia. We've laughed. We've cried. We've had our differences. After all these years and pages we know ourselves and our place in the world better. It's no small thing...That Edith Campbell Berry has no entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography seems a curious oversight. She has worked with great men, observed great events at firsthand and subjected all she has experienced to habits of self-examination drummed into her during her rationalist childhood in Jaspers Brush, on the NSW south coast. True, she is a bit of a prig and rather earnest. She gets about in gloves. But she is brave, original and good...One of the most memorable scenes of Cold Light is Edith breaking with Sir John Latham over beef Wellington at the Melbourne Club. Her old mentor and fellow rationalist had ended up the only man on the High Court to back Menzies' Communist Party Dissolution Act. After having this out with him in the club's gloomy dining room, they never speak again. Such pluck. Years later a note in an intelligence file about this 'dressing down' would see her in good stead with a new regime in Canberra."

Jo Case on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show": "Frank Moorhouse's trilogy of novels about Edith Campbell Berry is surely one of Australian literature's finest achievements...Cold Light is a study in apparent contradictions. A character-driven novel that also features a city--Canberra--as one of its main characters. Storytelling on a grand scale that uses small details (like the significance of desk management) to speak volumes about its characters and setting. A novel that is joyful, devastating, deeply touching, wickedly funny--and smuggles in serious political messages with the entertainment."

Jonathan Shaw on his "Me Fail? I Fly!" weblog: " know, I can't say I enjoyed the book. It's the third volume of a trilogy and maybe I should have read the other two books first. As it was, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of recapping, an awful lot of 'As you know, Bob'. I expect that if I'd read the other books, these would have been less irritating, and I might have had greater tolerance for Edith's frequent ruminations because of a clearer sense of them perhaps as charting her mental journey. She ruminates on on her ideal capital city, on the nature of love, on the lessons to be learned from the League of Nations. I've got nothing against ruminations, but I couldn't find anything wise, witty or provocative in Edith's - I don't think I've ever been so bored in a book that I still wanted to keep reading."

Peter Pierce in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Few Australian novelists have dealt so subtly and extensively with politics as Moorhouse - few have dealt with it at all. He is not afraid to cut and paste from the historical record. He is alert to the 'seductions of the Great Cause', whether the league or the CPA, and to the shifting ground between allegiance and betrayal...There are fine set-pieces in a narrative that takes time but does not drag: Menzies's speech in parliament to introduce the act to ban the party; the shocked, disbelieving and all-too-soon-dissembling reaction of party members when they learn of Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin in the 'secret speech' to the Soviet Party Congress. These are enlivened by cameos: of a lordly Whitlam, of Holt - 'the man who had no smile, only a salesman's grin'...Cold Light is a distinguished example of what Peter Brooks called 'the novel of worldliness'. Some characters exert power but, in their milieu, diplomacy, secrecy, gossip and knowingness are the currency. Much as they seek to shape society, theirs is a hermetic enclave, sealed by old memories, debts and obligations of revenge. Thus one forgives Edith's confession 'god knows she had a lot of caviar in her day'."


Patrick Arlington for "Readings".

John Purcell on the "Booktopia" blog.

Andrea Hanke on the "Fancy Goods" weblog.


The author talks about his book for Random House Book Talk:

Combined Reviews: Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears

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foals_bread.jpg    Foal's Bread
Gillian Mears
Allen & Unwin

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
The long-awaited new novel from the award-winning author of The Grass Sister tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and the high-jumping horse circuit prior to the Second World War. A love story of impossible beauty and sadness, it is also a chronicle of dreams 'turned inside out', and miracles that never last, framed against a world both tender and unspeakably hard.


The sound of horses' hooves turns hollow on the farms west of Wirri. If a man can still ride, if he hasn't totally lost the use of his legs, if he hasn't died to the part of his heart that understands such things, then he should go for a gallop. At the very least he should stand at the road by the river imagining that he's pushing a horse up the steep hill that leads to the house on the farm once known as One Tree.

Set in hardscrabble farming country and around the country show high-jumping circuit that prevailed in rural New South Wales prior to the Second World War, Foal's Bread tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and their fortunes as dictated by the vicissitudes of the land.

It is a love story of impossible beauty and sadness, a chronicle of dreams 'turned inside out', and miracles that never last, framed against a world both tender and unspeakably hard. Written in luminous prose and with an aching affinity for the landscape the book describes, Foal's Bread is the work of a born writer at the height of her considerable powers. It is a stunning work of remarkable originality and power, one that confirms Gillian Mears' reputation as one of our most exciting and acclaimed writers.


Owen Richardson in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Gillian Mears was never merely promising: the short stories she published and the Vogel-award-winning The Mint Lawn, all written when she was still in her 20s, showed a talent already working at a high level. In all these books, there was the vitality of a young writer but it was managed by the intelligence and control of a fully mature artist. The Mint Lawn, in particular, is already a contemporary classic and its follow-up, The Grass Sister, kept the standard. It's been 16 years since that last novel. Time and energy have been given over to the battle with illness recounted in her matchless personal essays published in Heat. With Foal's Bread, it's good to see one of our best writers is back in the game...One of the things this book is full of is country myth and superstition - the knowledge of people living at some distance from modern life. Foal's Bread, we learn early on, is something like a little slice of bread a foal has in its mouth when it is born: 'His hands tried to describe the shape and size of the mystery. Fact is, no one knows what it is exactly. In a high-jump foal, it's a sure sign he'll go the heights; for a galloper, fast.' And as the book progresses, it turns out not only to be a mystery - one of the unknowable workings of the world - but a symbol of survival."

Helen Elliott in "The Age": "When a writer of the calibre of Gillian Mears publishes her first novel in 16 years, it's time to sit up straight and take note. Mears wins awards with everything she publishes: the Vogel, the regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Steele Rudd Australian Short Story Award are all notches on her belt. Foal's Bread is another...It is the story of how Noah and Roley, sustained by the high hopes and intense love of youth, set about married life in the cruellest decades of last century. It is the 20th century but life is not far removed from pioneering life. Geographically, the story is contained within a small country district of New South Wales, where annual shows with serious equestrian events are the highlight of the year...Foal's Bread is, gloriously, about horses and the people who are in thrall to them...Another notch, Gillian Mears."

Lisa Hill on the "ANZ LitLovers Blog": "Foal's Bread is not a book to 'enjoy', but I suspect that it will be one of the most talked-about novels of this publishing year. Mears is renowned for her cathartic style and for the way she has 'cannibalized' her own life in her fiction. How readers will interpret that remains to be seen, but it's a very powerful book. Press on through the early bits, it's worth it."

"Whispering Gums" weblog: "Reading this book reminded me a little of reading Tim Winton's Breath. Mears does for horse high-jumping what Winton did for surfing. She made me feel the joy and beauty of the jump, of pushing oneself to achieve just that little bit more in a risky sport, of having a dream that keeps you going, of doing "the impossible". Mears, like Winton, knows her subject inside out, and you feel it in her writing."

Carmen Callil in "The Monthy": "Gillian Mears's new novel tells the story of the Nancarrow family of One Tree Farm, subsistence farmers in rural New South Wales. Its heroine Noah ('Noey') is 14 when the novel begins in 1926; her daughter Lainey is a grandmother as it comes to a close in our century. There is a mother-in-law of monstrous proportions, aunts, children and neighbours, all placed in a horse-jumping and farming community as vividly Australian as anything celebrated in the poems of Les Murray. And uncles: after reading Foal's Bread uncles can never seem the same to any niece...Many moments jar but it's all worth it: this is a powerful, intricate novel of true originality. We must take such an individual voice as it comes, and be grateful for it."

Kim on the "Reading Matters" weblog: "It's a story about love, sex, joy, sadness, jealousy and ambition. It's about complicated families and the ways in which history often repeats itself within those families. It's about the hardship of living on the land in the years between the wars, of milking cows and breeding horses, despite floods, drought and raging bush fires. But above all it's about aspiring to better things -- and chasing dreams...This probably sounds like a soap opera, but Mears refrains from emotionally manipulating the reader. Indeed, the novel is completely free of sentiment, but somehow, in giving her narrative such a strong sense of time and place, you get so caught up in the mood of Foal's Bread that it's hard not to care for the people she writes about. "


ABC Radio National's "The Book Show".

Pip Newling from "Readings".

Book Guru on the "Booktopia" weblog.

"Fancy Goods weblog.

Susan Johnson in "The Advertiser".

Combined Reviews: The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

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street_sweeper.jpg    The Street Sweeper
Elliot Perlman
Random House

From the publisher's page:
How breathtakingly close we are to lives that at first seem so far away.

From the civil rights struggle in the United States to the Nazi crimes against humanity in Europe, there are more stories than people passing each other every day on the bustling streets of every crowded city. Only some survive to become history.

Recently released from prison, Lamont Williams, an African American probationary janitor in a Manhattan hospital and father of a little girl he can't locate, strikes up an unlikely friendship with an elderly patient, a Holocaust survivor who had been a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

A few kilometres uptown, Australian historian Adam Zignelik, an untenured Columbia professor, finds both his career and his long-term romantic relationship falling apart. Emerging out of the depths of his own personal history, Adam sees, in a promising research topic suggested by an American World War II veteran, the beginnings of something that might just save him professionally and perhaps even personally.

As these two men try to survive in early twenty-first-century New York, history comes to life in ways neither of them could have foreseen. Two very different paths - Lamont's and Adam's - lead to one greater story as The Street Sweeper, in dealing with memory, love, guilt, heroism, the extremes of racism and unexpected kindness, spans the twentieth century to the present, and spans the globe from New York to Melbourne, Chicago to Auschwitz.

Epic in scope, this is a remarkable feat of storytelling.


Kirsten Tranter in "The Monthly": "Perlman draws extensively on historical records and includes pages of suggestions for further reading. This is fiction, but fiction that deliberately blurs the boundaries between story and history. At the book's heart is an urgent imperative akin to Henryk's: the desire to reveal to anyone - to everyone, to the world - the truth about the Holocaust and the realities of the camps. 'Tell everyone what happened here,' is the last statement of one character, Rosa Rabinowitz, hanged at Auschwitz for her part in a failed uprising. This line re-surfaces and echoes throughout the novel."

Jay Parini in "The Guardian": "The Australian novelist Elliot Perlman does what all good novelists do: reports on the trials of being human in a world that wishes to frustrate every good deed and punishes with consummate cruelty every sin, however slight. The central character in his first novel, 1998's Three Dollars, was made homeless by a financial collapse far beyond his control. In Seven Types of Ambiguity - the title a nod at William Empson - we meet as many narrators whose already unstable lives are knocked off course by one man's abduction of his ex-girlfriend's young son. In his latest, The Street Sweeper, two disparate protagonists struggle to find a footing on desperately uneven ground...Epic is a word that one must use carefully. But this is an epic, in scope and moral seriousness. The story spans half a century, with scenes in New York, Melbourne, Chicago, Warsaw, and Auschwitz. It's mainly a book of memories, but as Perlman reminds us in the opening lines: 'Memory is a wilful dog. It won't be summoned or dismissed but it cannot survive without you.' He could be talking to himself here, as he embarks on a journey that invites us to learn something about how we mismanage our lives, and how when one door closes, another opens. In all of this, 'The trick is not to hate yourself. No matter what you remember.'"

Luke May for "Readings": "Listen. Listen carefully. Shlofmayn kind, shlofkeseyder - for Perlman's new book is not a Yiddish lullaby, but one of the most compelling Holocaust tales since Schindler's Ark. It's been eight years since Seven Types of Ambiguity - that grand epic rivaling The Corrections in its dealings with the fissures between morals and the ability to live - and now we have a new marathon of a book that is every bit as complicated and masterful."

Leyla Sanai in "The Independent": "Weighing in at 550 pages, Perlman's novel may look intimidating, but it's an accessible albeit harrowing read. Perlman has used real history as its basis, drawing on both the racist atrocities which galvanised the US civil rights movement, and on the inhumane crimes of Nazi Germany. Adam's father taught him about the horrific violence that preceded and followed the Brown vs Board of Education case in the US courts which led, eventually, to the end of segregated schools. Adam's boss's father is horrified by a 2007 decision by the Supreme Court to end affirmative action for disadvantaged black kids, and is disgusted by Columbia inviting bigots to speak under the aegis of 'freedom of speech'. Meanwhile, Adam teaches his students about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Nazi-era German Lutheran pastor who drew parallels between the treatment of blacks in the US and that of Jews in his country...Perlman's novel is no mere re-hashing of history, and although the Holocaust details are devastating, they are not gratuitous. The contemporary characters' concerns, meanwhile, are often those we share - Lamont aches for his child; Adam his girlfriend."

David Gates in "The New York Times": "It seems meanspirited to fault so morally and politically righteous a novel for merely literary sins. Its most explicit theme is the necessity of remembering and retelling the stories of the oppressed, the persecuted, the murdered: principally the Jews before and during the Holocaust and African-Americans before and during the civil rights movement. No decent person could argue against this necessity; on the other hand, no decent writer should have to repeat variants of the line 'Tell everyone what happened here' 12 times in two pages of a scene at Auschwitz; it takes on the robotic affect of the People's Microphone at an Occupy rally, and it loses force with each use."


Booktopia interviews Elliot Perlman:

Jane Sullivan in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

"Ten Terrifying Questions" from Booktopia.

Sophie Elmhirst in "The New Statesman".

"The Book Show" on ABC Radio National.


Random Book Talk featuring Elliot Perlman:

Combined Reviews: Five Bells by Gail Jones

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five_bells.jpg    Five Bells
Gail Jones
Random House

[This novel was shortlisted for the 2011 Victorian Premier's Literary Award and the 2012 Festival award for Literature (SA), and has been longlisted for the 2012 Australian Literary Society Gold medal.]

From the publisher's page:
On a radiant day in Sydney, four people converge on Circular Quay, site of the iconic Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Each of the four is haunted by memories of the past: Ellie is preoccupied by her experiences as a girl, James by a tragedy for which he feels responsible, Catherine by the loss of her beloved brother in Dublin and Pei Xing by her imprisonment during China's Cultural Revolution. Told over the course of a single Saturday, Five Bells describes vividly four lives which chime and resonate. By night-time, when Sydney is drenched in a rainstorm, each life has been transformed.


Stella Clarke in "The Australian": "This new novel establishes Gail Jones as one of Australia's finest authors. Beyond storytelling, her art consists in a remarkable ability to release life from numbing habit. Her prose is poetic and infinitely pleasurable, imbued with a rare capacity to awaken. She reconciles what is richly human with mundane and alienating aspects of our sophisticated world...Five Bells is a brilliant work, both explicitly Australian and insistently cosmopolitan. Though vivid images of harbour and opera house pervade the narrative, triggering exquisitely rendered perceptions, Jones's Sydney is a global hub and her literary allegiance exceeds national boundaries. Jones is unafraid of making bold statements with her writing. Five Bells pays beautiful homage to modernism and self-consciously translates its enduring gifts into a contemporary Australian context. As with James Joyce's Ulysses and Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, Five Bells takes the space of only one day. As it draws to a close, the elegiac tones of Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are soulfully transposed on to the darkening harbour scene. The book is most emphatically anchored, however, in the agonised, brooding lyricism of one of Australia's best-known poems."

Jack Nicholls in "Meanjin": "Jones' novel is inspired by the 1939 Kenneth Slessor poem of the same name, and shares its elegiac tone and Sydney Harbor setting. The story follows four diverse characters through a sunny day in the city. There is Ellie, the optimist; James, the depressive; Catherine, the practical Irish tourist, and Pei Xing, serene survivor of China's Cultural Revolution. The fifth 'bell', a child, makes a fleeting appearance at the end...Each of the protagonists is grappling with loss - dead children, dead parents, dead siblings. At its heart, Five Bells is about how different people respond to grief. Some people accept it and move on, some people flee it, and some people are frozen by it...A story like this stands and falls on its characterisation, and for me this was where Five Bells stumbled. Particularly so with James; who came across as more fantasy than real man. An emotionally sensitive intellectual, with the dishevelled charm of an 'aging rock star', his pronouncements on sex are romantic to say the least: 'women didn't realise this: that the noise a man made when he came was of gratitude, simply to have been admitted'."

Peter Pierce in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Jones does not shirk coincidence, any more than Dickens did, believing that our fates are inextricably if inexplicably entwined. This is how Jones eloquently states her view of the matter: "Strange how time seemed now and then to reverse, patterns to slip over and resume in another life." Gently reinforcing this notion are recurrent motifs of the novel, among them snow, James Joyce's story The Dead and the clepsydra. These are things apparently so different that Jones makes congruent...Five Bells is a taut, intricately organised short novel yet gives the impression of expansiveness. It moves with the confidence and mastery that mark Jones as one of the most distinguished of a vintage bunch of contemporary Australian novelists. She tells compelling stories that only at first, and superficially, seem strange or improbable. They are of the private and personal kind, the stuff of memory, regret and sometimes renewal."

Jem Poster in "The Guardian": "The novel's setting reflects Jones's recent move from the west coast of Australia to the east. Sydney's quayside and opera house provide the focal centre of a narrative that draws together four very different characters, charting their thoughts and movements through a single day in the city. ..This is an unapologetically literary novel, insistently highlighting its own rootedness in the modernist tradition: Pound and Joyce are invoked, along with Wallace Stevens, Faulkner, Nabokov and (in the novel's borrowed title) the Australian poet Kenneth Slessor. But the presiding spirit, never explicitly acknowledged but implicated at every turn, is Virginia Woolf. The deepest correspondences here are undoubtedly with Woolf's fiction and in particular - in the narrative's tracing of intersecting lives across a busy city during the course of a single day - with Mrs Dalloway."

Alice Nelson in "The West Australian": "Earlier this year, I received my advance copy of Jones' latest novel, Five Bells. I love Jones' work so much that it is impossible for me to adopt a reviewer's posture here...As soon as Five Bells arrived in the mail, I took the phone off the hook, made a pot of mint tea and opened to the first page with a delicious thrill. Those first lines, that knowledge that you are in safe hands. Those sentences filled with such resonant, profound depth that they seem to open the world up a little, to enlarge possibility...When I closed the book later that evening, I felt that in some strange way, in her story of four strangers whose lives fleetingly intersect, Jones had captured the unarticulated arc of my own life, of all of our lives."


Fiona McGregor for "Readings".

David Gaunt for "Bookseller+Publisher".

Magdelana Bell on "The Compulsive Reader".

Combined Review: Whispering Death by Garry Disher

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whispering_death.jpg    Whispering Death
Garry Disher
Text Publishing

From the publisher's page:
Hal Challis is in trouble at home and abroad: carpeted by the boss for speaking out about police budget cuts; missing his lover, Ellen Destry, who is overseas on a study tour.

But there's plenty to keep his mind off his problems. A rapist in a police uniform stalks Challis's Peninsula beat, there is a serial armed robber headed in his direction and a home invasion that's a little too close to home. Not to mention a very clever, very mysterious female cat burglar who may or may not be planning something on Challis's patch.

Meanwhile, at the Waterloo Police Station, Challis finds his offsiders have their own issues. Scobie Sutton, still struggling with his wife's depression, seems to be headed for a career crisis; and something very interesting is going on between Constable Pam Murphy and Jeanne Schiff, the feisty young sergeant on secondment from the Sex Crimes Unit.

In his sixth Peninsula murder mystery, Garry Disher keeps the tension and intrigue ramped up exquisitely on multiple fronts, while he takes his regular characters in compelling new directions. Disher is a grand master of the police procedural, operating at the peak of his craft.


Sue Turnbull in "The Age": "Disher is a fine writer about place and also people. Challis, in all his testiness and kindness, is a carefully crafted senior policeman in charge of a disparate group of juniors, each of whom has their moment in the spotlight as they go about the business of policing.

The business this time includes the spraying of derogatory comments on the ostentatious gateposts of the nouveau riche (''A cashed-up bogan lives here''), a bank hold-up and a devious female cat burglar who almost runs away with the show (shades of Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander?)."

Bernard Carpinter in "New Zealand Listener": "...double Ned Kelly Award-winner Garry Disher brings all this [story] to vivid life with great characterisation, dialogue and plot movement, and a fair amount of shrewd wit. Excellent."

Graeme Blundell in "The Australian": "Disher works like a biographer, calmly attempting to assemble order in his characters' chaotic lives. Disher cares about their interlinked worlds as much as he does about labyrinthine plots, fetishised violence and the showy brainwork of his coppers. As always this grand master propels us methodically yet elegiacally."

"Mysteries in Paradise" weblog: "WHISPERING DEATH affirms that Garry Disher is a master storyteller, a tight and consummate plotter, a writer who could sit on any international podium along with richer and more famous crime fiction writers."

Karen on the "CrimeSpace" weblog: "WHISPERING DEATH is written in that beautifully dry, laconic style that Disher has bought to these police procedurals. He also does such a great line in caustic social commentary - be it in Challis having a go about politicians or to the nature of the graffiti showing up on those enormous (perfectly ridiculous really) property entrances that seem to have become the scourge of the tree / sea change areas. Graffiti with a social conscience and a particularly fine sense of the humour."

Bernadette on the "Fair Dinkum Crime" weblog: "Sometimes in fiction long-running characters feel like they're in a kind of suspended animation so that each time we meet them they're having the same problems (such as an unresolved sexual tension between two characters). Disher allows his regular characters to move on in their professional and personal lives in a way that is very natural and more satisfying for the reader, though it probably means the author has to work harder to find new sources of suspense and tension in each story."

"Australian Crime Fiction Database" weblog: "Suffice it to say that it is a very solid police procedural novel that crime fans will enjoy immensely. I am a little biased because I have enjoyed the previous Peninsula mysteries and am a long-time Disher fan."


You can read the first chapter of the novel on the author's website.

Combined Reviews: The Digger's Rest Hotel by Geoffrey McGeachin

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diggers_rest_hotel.jpg    The Digger's Rest Hotel
Geoffrey McGeachin

[This novel won the Best Novel category at the 2011 Ned Kelly Awards.]

From the publisher's page:
In 1947, two years after witnessing the death of a young Jewish woman in Poland, Charlie Berlin has rejoined the police force a different man. Sent to investigate a spate of robberies in rural Victoria, he soon discovers that World War II has changed even the most ordinary of places and people.

An ex-bomber pilot and former POW, Berlin is struggling to fit back in: grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder, the ghosts of his dead crew and his futile attempts to numb the pain.

When Berlin travels to Albury-Wodonga to track down the gang behind the robberies, he suspects he's a problem cop being set up to fail. Taking a room at the Diggers Rest Hotel in Wodonga, he sets about solving a case that no one else can - with the help of feisty, ambitious journalist Rebecca Green and rookie constable Rob Roberts, the only cop in town he can trust.

Then the decapitated body of a young girl turns up in a back alley, and Berlin's investigations lead him ever further through layers of small-town fears, secrets and despair.

The first Charlie Berlin mystery takes us into a world of secret alliances and loyalties - and a society dealing with the effects of a war that changed men forever.


Angela Savage on her weblog: "The characters are brilliantly drawn, not only Berlin and Green, but a large ensemble cast, which includes the hotelier's family at the Diggers Rest, soldiers in the Bandiana barracks, a dodgy tent boxing troupe, Wodonga's alcoholic doctor, a resident Chinese family, the local constabulary, and others like Berlin, permanently damaged by a war whether they fought in it or not...If I have any criticism of the book it's that Berlin is too much of a good bloke -- his exchange with Neville Morgan, the Aboriginal war veteran, seemed a bit too enlightened for the era. Then again, it's Berlin's depth and decency that enables McGeachin to deliver such a heartbreaking finale to this wonderful book."

Christopher Bantick in "The Weekly Times": "Authentic is a word that comes to mind with this very dyed-in-the-wool novel...McGeachin has an ear for Aussie lingo and he blends it seamlessly into a bottler of a book...This is a book that is hard to fault."

Karen on the "AustCrime" weblog: "The information that came with this book highlights how the author has used the stories of his own father's wartime experiences as both an airman and a POW in Europe, as well as his childhood recollections of growing up in country-town Australia. It's a very realistic portrayal of country Australia - be it in the late 1940's or even more recently (well in this reader's memory anyway). Balance that small-town, closed environment, and the changes that are coming over a society traumatised and profoundly changed by the war and those who did and didn't return, against the individual story of one man who was so profoundly affected by events in Europe, and well, you end up with something that's entertaining, moving and affecting."

Bernadette on the "Fair Dinkum Crime" weblog, about reh audiobook version of the novel: "The historical aspects of the novel are extremely well done; feeling authentic through the use of interesting details but not overblown with evidence of the author's research. Everything from the rationing that the country was still experiencing to the kinds of foods that might have been served in a country pub at that time to the photographic equipment and techniques utilised by the adventurous female photo-journalist that Charlie encounters during his investigation are both accurate and woven into the story seamlessly. Some of the less pleasant aspects of life during the time are also well depicted including the fairly shabby treatment of anyone who wasn't white. It really did feel like I was transported back to the time, a factor helped I think by the excellent narration of the audio book in which the language and slang were pronounced to fit in with the period...With down-to-earth, very believable characters and a strong, enveloping sense of place and time The Digger's Rest Hotel is a top notch work of historical crime fiction."


Kieran Weir on 891 ABC Adelaide.

Joseph Thomsen on ABC Radio Victoria.


You can read an extract from the novel on the publisher's website.

Combined Reviews: All That I Am by Anna Funder

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all_that_i_am.jpg    All That I Am
Anna Funder

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
The gripping first novel by Anna Funder, the acclaimed author of Stasiland, based on a true story. All That I Am, is moving and beautifully written, equal parts a love story, thriller and testament to individual heroism. It evokes books like Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise, Bernard Schlink's The Reader and William Boyd's Restless - intelligent, powerful novels that appeal to a wide audience.

'When Hitler came to power I was in the bath. The wireless in the living room was turned up loud, but all that drifted down to me were waves of happy cheering, like a football match. It was Monday afternoon . . . '

Ruth Becker, defiant and cantankerous, is living out her days in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. She has made an uneasy peace with the ghosts of her past - and a part of history that has been all but forgotten.

Another lifetime away, it's 1939 and the world is going to war. Ernst Toller, self-doubting revolutionary and poet, sits in a New York hotel room settling up the account of his life.

When Toller's story arrives on Ruth's doorstep their shared past slips under her defences, and she's right back among them - those friends who predicted the brutality of the Nazis and gave everything they had to stop them. Those who were tested - and in some cases found wanting - in the face of hatred, of art, of love, and of history.

Based on real people and events, All That I Am is a masterful and exhilarating exploration of bravery and betrayal, of the risks and sacrifices some people make for their beliefs, and of heroism hidden in the most unexpected places. Anna Funder confirms her place as one of our finest writers with this gripping, compassionate, inspiring first novel.


Rachel Cusk in "The Guardian": "Anna Funder's first book, Stasiland, was a work of great originality and interest. An account of life in the former German Democratic Republic, it sought to delineate individual and national states of being in the wake of the trauma of totalitarianism, and particularly to inquire into the mental state of a society that has suffered an absolute loss of faith in personal morality...There will, of course, be many readers for whom a remarkable story told with clarity and precision, along with the moments of insight and literary grace that couldn't not occur in Funder's writing, will be a very welcome pleasure."

Joanna Kavenna in "The Observer": "Funder's prose is clear, easy to read, scrupulously lacking in stylistic idiosyncrasies...Clever, intriguing, incoherent, All That I Am is cinematographic pseudo-realism, a studiously researched fantasy about the past that stages an almost self-annihilating debate about reconstruction."

Rachel Hore in "The Independent": "The Australian writer Anna Funder follows her Samuel Johnson Prize-winning Stasiland with a novel challenging the frontiers between historical fact and the creative imagination...Funder became a friend of the real-life Ruth Wesemann in Ruth's later years in Sydney, and her notes on sources indicate how closely she's tried to base the novel on what is known. At the same time, the book is far more than "faction"; she has successfully transformed the material into a narrative of individual endeavour and survival, that examines universal human themes."

David Marr in "The Monthly": "Though set in an earlier time and in a different struggle, All That I Am takes us back to the territory of Stasiland (2003), Funder's brilliantly successful account of the turncoat regime of East Germany. In both books - one fact and one a kind of fiction - moral strength is her core concern: the strength it takes to refuse to fall in with an evil and apparently triumphant regime. She knows how little it takes to fail. Being wanted, being useful, can be temptation enough...Funder's prose has a clarity that's at times arresting. In language of admirable simplicity she explores the shadowy ambiguities lurking in her characters - ambiguities that have always fascinated her: the good that comes with bad and the bad with good."

David Sornig in "The Adelaide Review": "Between Stasiland and All That I Am Funder asks an important question about how we tell stories of other people's moral courage: how can an author properly navigate the line between invention and truth? The famously cool reception of Stasiland in Germany, particularly in East Germany, revealed some anxiety about Funder's own answer...In All That I Am, Funder achieves the right balance between truth and invention to pay tribute to those people who tried to get the message out about what shape the future would take under Hitler. That their warnings were ignored for so long was a tragedy, one that we ignore at our own peril. Funder reminds us of this truth with certainty and moral force."


Anna Funder in conversation on Slow TV.

Catherine Kennan in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

Jonathan Derbyshire in "New Statesman".

Ridhcard Fidler on ABC Radio [audio].


Anna Funder discusses the novel on Youtube.

Combined Reviews: Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

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calebs_crossing.jpg    Caleb's Crossing
Geraldine Brooks

From the publisher's page:
In 1665, a young man from Martha′s Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. From the few facts that survive of his extraordinary life, Geraldine Brooks creates a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.

When Bethia Mayfield, a spirited twelve-year-old living in the rigid confines of an English Puritan settlement - and the daughter of a Calvinist minister - meets Caleb, the young son of a Wampanoag chieftain, the two forge a secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other.

As Bethia′s father feels called to convert the Wampanoag to his own strict faith, he awakens the wrath of the medicine men. Caleb becomes a prize in a contest between old ways and new, eventually taking his place at Harvard, studying Latin and Greek alongside the sons of the colonial elite.

Fighting for a voice in a society that requires her silence, Bethia becomes entangled in Caleb′s struggle to navigate the intellectual and cultural shoals that divide their two cultures.

Once again, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Geraldine Brooks brings to vivid life a shard of little-known history, and through Bethia and Caleb explores the intimate spaces of the human heart.


Jane Smiley in "The New York Times": "Geraldine Brooks's new novel, Caleb's Crossing, her fourth in a decade, is a short and seemingly modest historical work -- no kings, no famous events -- told by an equally modest narrator who does not go on to become acquainted with, say, the infant Benjamin Franklin...In Caleb's Crossing, Brooks returns to the time period and some of the issues she explored in Year of Wonders, a novel that takes place in a 17th-century English town ravaged by the plague, told in the first person by a young servant girl. The setting of this new novel is, however, not an earthly hell but a version of paradise, fertile and beautiful...Caleb's Crossing could not be more enlightening and involving. Beautifully written from beginning to end, it reconfirms Geraldine Brooks's reputation as one of our most supple and insightful ­novelists."

Kirsten Tranter in "The Monthly": "Caleb's Crossing extends Geraldine Brooks's interest in the early history of the United States, first explored in her Pulitzer Prize-winning March, which is set during the Civil War. Here, she writes about the seventeenth-century Puritan settlements in colonial Cambridge and on the island of Martha's Vineyard, where she now lives...Brooks's chief desire seems to be to inform - to set before the reader a carefully researched historical picture. In these terms, Caleb's Crossing succeeds."

Sarah Johnson on the "Reading the Past" blog: "As always, Brooks treads the dividing line between literary and popular fiction with confidence. Her work is strongly plotted, full of twists and surprises: life-changing disappointments, sudden opportunities, unexpected crossroads. The language is as fresh and crisp as the salt-tinged air, and her characters are, for the most part, ripened to their fullest potential. The one exception is Caleb himself. We get to know his personality and mettle, but he is kept at a distance. There are times - fortunately rare - when he reads more as symbol than flesh and blood. "

Mark Rubbo of "Readings" bookshops: "Geraldine Brooks's great skill is taking small historical moments and writing them large, using them to create a bigger picture. In 1665, a young man became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Very little is known about this man and so Brooks has created a life and world for him: Caleb...Brooks tackles big issues in this book and gives them a universality that is not confined to the period it covers. Among them are the issues of women's rights, conflict between cultures, affirmative action and the nature of god and religion. Big stuff, but Brooks does it through the telling of a fascinating and rich story."

Alan Cheuse in "The Chicago Tribune": "A gift for creating a certain kind of novel can sometimes become as much a liability as a joy when that gift makes for great success in the writer's career. Fortunately for readers Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Geraldine Brooks seems to love writing historical fiction as much as her fans love to read it. She follows her splendidly engaging novel People of the Book with a new novel, this one set on Martha's Vineyard in the late Seventeenth-Century...I admired this novel a great deal, especially the way that Brooks turned her extensive research, of which she speaks in a five page Afterward, into an easefully conducted narrative."


Stephen Romei in "The Australian"

John Purcell on the "Booktopia Blog"

Ramona Kaval on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show".


YouTube book trailer:

Combined Reviews: Autumn Laing by Alex Miller

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autumn_laing.jpg    Autumn Laing
Alex Miller
Allen & Unwin

From the publisher's page:
Autumn Laing has long outlived the legendary circle of artists she cultivated in the 1930s. Now 'old and skeleton gaunt', she reflects on her tumultuous relationship with the abundantly talented Pat Donlon and the effect it had on her husband, on Pat's wife and the body of work which launched Pat's career. A brilliantly alive and insistently energetic story of love, loyalty and creativity.

Autumn Laing seduces Pat Donlon with her pearly thighs and her lust for life and art. In doing so she not only compromises the trusting love she has with her husband, Arthur, she also steals the future from Pat's young and beautiful wife, Edith, and their unborn child. Fifty-three years later, cantankerous, engaging, unrestrainable 85-year-old Autumn is shocked to find within herself a powerful need for redemption. As she begins to tell her story, she writes, 'They are all dead and I am old and skeleton-gaunt. This is where it began...'

Written with compassion and intelligence, this energetic, funny and wise novel peels back the layers of storytelling and asks what truth has to do with it. Autumn Laing is an unflinchingly intimate portrait of a woman and her time - she is unforgettable.


Michael McGirr in "The Age": "At one level, this is a book about visual art, a passion that has sustained a good deal of Miller's fiction. Works such as The Sitters and Prochownik's Dream deal front and centre with the experience of art and the cost of its making. Miller may be a prolific author but nothing in his work ever feels rushed: every moment of significance is given due weight and reverence...Autumn Laing is more than just beautifully crafted. It is inhabited by characters whose reality challenges our own."

Morag Fraser in "The Australian Book Review": "The glory of the novel is that the explorations are so fully embodied in characters who are not just credible, but also smartingly alive. You can see them, smell their breath, argue with their opinions, taste their blood, stare down a wild boar with them, mourn their passing. Autumn herself is cranky, cruel, often vile-tongued - and given scope to be so, because in her various modes she is the novel's dictating voice. But there is always, in her, a whip crack of self deprecation, a down-to-earth ribaldry and switchback intelligence that rescues her from afflatus...All of Alex Miller's wisdom and experience - of art, of women and what drives them, of writing, of men and their ambitions - and every mirage and undulation of the Australian landscape are here, transmuted into rare and radiant fiction. An indispensable novel."

Patricia Maunder on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show": "At about 450 pages, it's surprising how little actually happens in Autumn Laing, and yet how captivating it is. Of course there's drama; it's about an adulterous affair in the art world after all, but this novel very much dwells in the inner world of creativity, emotion and wisdom...Alex Miller shows extraordinary technical skill in deftly switching between Autumn's past, presented as quite formal third-person narration; and present, told in intense, immediate first-person monologue. It's a remarkably effective structure, as it gives real weight to the story. The actions and emotions surrounding the affair are not fleeting and inconsequential, but reverberate across the decades, weighing the ailing but still feisty Autumn down. Her complex, often contrary feelings of bitterness, ardour, guilt and mirth become almost tangible, hardened and polished by time."

Janine Burke in "The Monthly": "Miller has fun with his cast of characters and humour, while black, ripples through the narrative, leavening Autumn's more corrosive judgements and insights. Miller engages so fully with his female characters that divisions between the sexes seem to melt away and all stand culpable, vulnerable, human on equal ground. Miller is also adept at taking abstract concepts - about art or society - and securing them in the convincing form of his complex, unpredictable characters and their vivid interior monologues."

Mark Robbo from Readings bookshops: "One of the initial temptations in embarking on this novel is to fit Miller's characters to the real life characters of Sunday and John Reed's world but it is to Miller's credit that this desire fades and it his characters that truly matter. Autumn Laing is Miller's most accomplished and ambitious novel to date."


Mark Robbo from Readings bookshops.

Andrew Stephens in "The Age".

Fran Metcalf in "The Herald-Sun".

Neda Vanovac in "Meanjin".


Alex Miller has written a short piece about how he came to write this novel. It has been published on "The Bennett Blog".

And he also writes about the novel on his own weblog.

You can read an extract from the novel that was published in The Australian newspaper in May 2011.

On "YouTube" you can watch the author reading from his novel, and discussing the work at Shearer's Bookshop in Sydney.

Combined Reviews: Glissando by David Musgrave

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glissando.jpg    Glissando
David Musgrave
Sleepers Publishing

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2011 Prime Minister's Literary Award - Fiction category.]

From the publisher's page:
When looking back over his life, Archie Fliess has got some understanding to do. So begins his sprawling reflection, from the day the fortunes of two brothers change when they're taken to be the rightful owners of their granfather's property in country NSW. Along their journey they're introduced to an odd collection of family and caretakers, who don't always have the boys' best interests at heart. Archie becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding his grandfather's life, as their two stories of disappointment and failed ambition unravel.

Glissando travels along many threads with a playful, philosophical voice in a style reminiscent of Sterne's Tristram Shandy and White's Voss. It has a burlesque bravado similar to Steve Tolt's Fraction of the Whole. It's an Australia classic, a satirical romp of epic proportions.


Geordie Williamson in "The Australian": "Don't, whatever you do, mistake David Musgrave's first extended prose fiction for a novel...Recall instead the satires of Pope, Swift, Rabelais and Thomas Pynchon: parodists, whose intentions could not be more serious, storytellers whose characters are not facsimiles of the human so much as super-sized grotesques, scintillating minds on stilts...But Glissando is also something apart from these. Satire on the European model requires a shared moral framework, an unspoken agreement about what a culture's philosophical underpinnings may be. In these pages, an eccentric Viennese architect named Wilhelm Fliess arrives in rural NSW during the middle years of the 19th century, hopeful of building a house based on designs far from Europe's deadening norms. In keeping with his high-minded Mitteleuropean ideals, Wilhelm has legal documents drawn up to ensure that the traditional owners of the land he purchased will not be dispossessed...Like its great progenitors, Glissando is a work bursting with erudition on matters as various as architecture, music, gastronomy and psychoanalysis. It locates itself in a literary tradition two millenniums old. And yet, there are times when Musgrave leaves the reservation of morals and mores, abandons the blend of knockabout physical farce and pure intellectual play typical to such satire, and goes walkabout. He knows the alien nature of Australian experience has the potential to upset every Western assumption, however wittily stated or nobly deployed."

Genevieve Tucker on her "reeling and writhing" weblog: "Glissando is remarkably close to its name in its inception and execution: a ripple across strings previously played by others, to largely dramatic effect, with a melancholic afterglow...The strings have been noted by others - Murnane and White come to mind (think plains, hidden properties, maps, remarkable houses, Voss-like travels, a melancholy narrator.)...The problem with this book to me, if there is one at all (and I think I'm nitpicking when I say this), is that dipping into such a potent mix carries the hazard of producing a pastiche from the contents. I think Musgrave manages to avoid this, but it is a narrow escape...It is pretty much imperative that one has read Voss before reading this, and reading Gerald Murnane's The Plains wouldn't hurt either. Having read David Marr's biography of Patrick White just prior was, for this reader, one of those remarkable reading coincidences - is it accident that the Fliess grandfather is a great collector, as was one of White's uncles at the fabled Belltrees? I don't think so. That music has a dying fall indeed."

Lisa Hill on the "ANZ LitLovers" weblog: "There is no doubt about it: Australian writing has become much more interesting lately. For a while there our literary fiction was in danger of drowning in heavy-handed lyricism, with novels so weighed down by a sludge of symbols and metaphor that the hapless reader could hardly wade through it all. One after the other first-time novelists emerged from their respective creative writing schools in the same mould; it was not a good time to be a keen supporter of Australian literature!..But the recent crop of first time writers seem to be offering something new and playfully inventive. Glenda Guest entertains with magic realism in Siddon Rock, and now David Musgrave has come up with Glissando, a wonderfully comic pastiche deliberately drawing on literary traditions both familiar or obscure. "

Madeleine Smith for "Readings" bookshop: "As the title suggests, Glissando is a musical piece of writing, gliding effortlessly from one pitch to another. David Musgrave is a Sydney based poet-turned-novelist, and his talent for rhythm and imagery are apparent on every page. Told with wit and sharp humour, particularly when describing a series of fanciful and surreal theatre performances, Glissando is a story that shines with elegant prose, philosophical musings, and interesting snippets of early Australian colonial history."

Kimberley Chandler on "M/C Reviews" website: "The text is lyrical and descriptive, playful and beautifully structured. It is obvious that Musgrave's talent as a poet has been a strong driving force in the structure and development of this book."

Glissando was shortlisted for a 2011 New South Wales Premier's Award in the category of New Writing. The judges had this to say about the book: "This comic pastiche of a novel is a marvellous and witty tale of young Archie and his half-brother, Reggie, orphans who grow up fostered by the bizarre Madame Octave in an absurdist outback Australia peopled by exaggerated characters, hymned by wild music and ruled by ironic situations...While Musgrave plays shamelessly with literary allusions, Colonial history, food critics, obsessive architects, and our view of Australia as a tabula rasa to be built on, there is serious intent in his writing when he speaks of Australia's black history and the lack of restitution in a pre-Mabo world. This is a thoroughly contemporary novel, where the Theatre of the Absurd becomes real life, and where events point a wise finger at our national illusions."


Bookseller and Publisher
Jo Case for "Reading" bookshop.

Combined Reviews: That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott

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   That Deadman Dance
Kim Scott
Pan Macmillan

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2011 Miles Franklin Award and the 2011 Prime Minister's Literary Award. It previously won the Best Book category for the South-East Asia and Pacific Region of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.]

From the publisher's page:
Big-hearted, moving and richly rewarding, That Deadman Dance is set in the first decades of the 19th century in the area around what is now Albany, Western Australia. In playful, musical prose, the book explores the early contact between the Aboriginal Noongar people and the first European settlers.

The novel's hero is a young Noongar man named Bobby Wabalanginy. Clever, resourceful and eager to please, Bobby befriends the new arrivals, joining them hunting whales, tilling the land, exploring the hinterland and establishing the fledgling colony. He is even welcomed into a prosperous local white family where he falls for the daughter, Christine, a beautiful young woman who sees no harm in a liaison with a native.

But slowly - by design and by accident - things begin to change. Not everyone is happy with how the colony is developing. Stock mysteriously start to disappear; crops are destroyed; there are "accidents" and injuries on both sides. As the Europeans impose ever stricter rules and regulations in order to keep the peace, Bobby's Elders decide they must respond in kind. A friend to everyone, Bobby is forced to take sides: he must choose between the old world and the new, his ancestors and his new friends. Inexorably, he is drawn into a series of events that will forever change not just the colony but the future of Australia...


Morag Fraser in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "That Deadman Dance is a novel to read, recite, and reread, to linger over as Scott peels back layer after layer of meaning, as he slides unapologetically across time and between cultures and ways of being, seeing and understanding. Sometimes his shifts and turns are more boomerang than snake, rebounding, catching you unawares like a sharp key change - exhilarating, disorienting...Scott exploits his ancestry and historical records - songs, diaries, journals, letters - to ground this imagining of early contact. His characters, both Aboriginal and European, are deeply incised, like aunties, uncles, brothers and sisters as robustly individual and cranky as your own (some of them bear the names of Scott's forebears, Manit, Wunyeran and Binyan). Black and white, they stand on ceremony, break rules, break new ground, revert to tribal type, trust, conspire, despair, hope and betray. And there are so many of them that you may need to draw up a Russian novel-style list, with the equivalent of patronymics for the initially bewildering variety of names and languages, spoken and written...There are many strands to That Deadman Dance: epic coastal journeys, whaling sequences that will make you gasp in wonder, injustice, understanding and loss. But it is the characters - flawed, credible human beings, embodying their history but never mere ciphers - who stay with you.."

Martin Shaw for "Readings" bookshop: "Scott begins his tale in the early 1830s, focussing on a fledgling colonial outpost not far from present-day Albany. His narrative follows both black and white, and is divided into several parts, proceeding linearly over a little over a decade, but including as well a prequel of sorts back to the mid-1820s. It is a periscopic style that enables us to observe the shifting perspectives over time among all the participants, newcomer and traditional owner alike, as the 'progress' we know from our history books unfolds...It's hard to imagine we'll ever again have an account of this period, fiction or non-fiction, with such veracity as this, and I mean that particularly in terms of the psychological. For here we get absolutely convincing portraits of the attempts at understanding on both sides."

Patrick Allington in "Australian Book Review": "Scott is an asiduous researcher and a deep thinker. Benang is a feat of storytelling: Scott weaves the complexity and the politicisation of language and the consequences of assimilation policies directly into the prose. But in That Deadman Dance, it is the author's imagination and his graceful prose that shine brightest. Colonisation has prompted in Scott a different imaginative response from the assimilation policies and eugenicist belief systems of early twentieth-century Australia. Although That Deadman Dance does not have Benang's sense of being a landmark book, a sardonic, tottering monument, it is nonetheless the better -- as well as the more accessible -- of the two novels. Politically charged and historically astute, it possesses a furious poise and yet is generous of spirit. Scott avoids gratuitous description, which serves only to heighten the novel's potency."

David Whish-Wilson: "One of the other tangible results of the publication of the book is the fact that, as far as this reader is concerned, 'history' is the richer as the result. Based on solid research (Kim can trace his ancestors to this area, and these stories), and refracted through the mind of a distinctly original writer, 'That Deadman Dance' and particularly its central character Bobby Wabalanginy give voice to not only what was, and what is now, but also to what might have been - serving not only as a reminder that history is always a matter of individual people, and the choices they make, but also the hard truth that the very openness and generosity of the original inhabitants of the area, something that enabled at one point a genuine possibility for intercultural understanding, particularly as it relates to the nature of 'country', was lost (perhaps not irrevocably) precisely because to a large extent the learning and resulting cultural adaption only went one way."

Kim Scott on the "ANZ LitLovers" blog: "It is, as you read, as if all the preconceived ideas of this country's history of Black and White relations fall away and a new paradigm takes their place. What if, Scott asks, the benefits of White Settlement and indigenous expertise were mutual and equally valued? What if there were a genuine friendship of equals? What if the companionship of children grew into adult love across the colour bar? What if the Noongar landlord had been welcome in the houses that the White Man built across his land? And, is it too late now?..Effortlessly, these new ideas insinuate into consciousness. Bobby Wabalangay dances his way through this novel challenging the sourness of the History Wars. He offers a new way of looking at the past and at the future. Scott has the moral authority to play with these ideas because he is a descendant of the Noongar People who have always lived on the south coast of Western Australia where the early whaling settlements were. Like Bobby he speaks both languages and listens in both."


Ramona Koval on ABC Radio's "The Book Show".

"Booktopia" blog.


Kim Scott on Youtube:

Combined Reviews: When Colts Ran by Roger McDonald

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when_colts_ran.jpg    When Colts Ran
Roger McDonald
Random House

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2011 Miles Franklin Award, and for the 2011 Prime Minister's Literary Award.]
From the publisher's page:
In this sweeping epic of friendship, toil, hope and failed promise, multi-award-winning author Roger McDonald follows the story of Kingsley Colts as he chases the ghost of himself through the decades, and in and out of the lives and affections of the citizens of 'The Isabel', a slice of Australia scattered with prospectors, artists, no-hopers and visionaries. Against this spacious backdrop of sheep stations, timeless landscapes and the Five Alls pub, men play out their fates, conduct their rivalries and hope for the best.

Major Dunc Buckler, 'misplaced genius and authentic ratbag', scours the country for machinery in a World War that will never find him. Wayne Hovell, slave to 'moral duty', carries the physical and emotional scars of Colts's early rebellion, but also finds himself the keeper of his redemption. Normie Powell, son of a rugby-playing minister, finds his own mysticism as a naturalist, while warm-hearted stock dealer Alan Hooke longs for understanding in a house full of women. They are men shaped by the obligations and expectations of a previous generation, all striving to define themselves in their own language, on their own terms.

When Colts Ran, written in Roger McDonald's rich and piercingly observant style, in turns humorous and hard-bitten, charts the ebb and flow of human fortune, and our fraught desire to leave an indelible mark on society and those closest to us. It shows how loyalties shape us in the most unexpected ways. It is the story of how men 'strike at beauty' as they fall to the earth.


James Ley in "The Age": "Roger McDonald has long been interested in aspects of the national experience that have taken on iconic significance. His writing depicts an Australia defined by convicts and Anzacs, by its vast outback stations and shearing sheds...That these elements of the nation's cultural identity have been romanticised and mythologised to the point of cliche is not lost on him. The jokily derisive references in When Colts Ran to that virtuoso of the rural potboiler, Ion Idriess, are testament to that. But for McDonald the challenge in tackling subjects that evoke certain nationalistic stereotypes is to render them with the kind of complexity and literary sophistication they are often denied -- as if Idriess, instead of punching out a new book every nine months or so, had brought to his task a deeper sense of purpose and a poetic sensibility capable of sculpting sentences with Faulknerian precision...When Colts Ran offers a vision that is ultimately tragic, not in any strictly formal sense, but in its positioning of the travails of individual lives within a larger determining context whose shape and influence is only evident in retrospect."

Geordie Williamson in "The Australian": "There has always been something of the 18th century about the fiction of Roger McDonald, who won the Miles Franklin in 2006 for The Ballad of Desmond Kale. When Colts Ran shares with his earlier novels a vibrancy, expansiveness and love of the picaresque. It, too, is concerned with a largely homosocial world, country Australia in the postwar era being one of the few places where the Regency swagger of the Anglo past could be replicated without seeming absurd...McDonald's use of different-angled lens throughout makes for a complex and ambitious work. On one hand, the author seeks to join the Australian novel with a form inaugurated 2500 years ago in classical Greece and brought to a fresh perfection in our language by Shakespeare two millenniums later; on the other, he is attempting to conflate a national type with an individual."

Patricia Maunder on "The Book Show": "It's no surprise that Roger McDonald's latest novel began as a series of unrelated short stories about boys and men struggling to understand their purpose in life. A chapter or two of When Colts Ran is dedicated to one character, then he may disappear for a couple of hundred pages. Later, his mate or his son might take centre stage for a while. The links that hold them together -- friendships, affairs, blood relations, chance -- are complex. Sometimes they're disturbingly oblique, stretching to breaking point from one apparently minor episode, to something quite profound many pages and years later...Ultimately, When Colts Ran is a subtle debate between the material and the spiritual, the real and inner worlds of its menfolk. This is epitomised by what McDonald describes as the 'desperation landscape' that is so important to the story. It's both the source and inhibitor of income, and the means to either inspire or crush men's souls. The fact that all of them want to leave their mark on mighty and capricious Mother Nature -- to subdue, exploit or understand her -- hints at why their lives are so tragically wasted."

Lisa Hill on "ANZ LitLovers" Blog: "This is a fine book that has important things to say about gender identity in Australia, not just in the bush but in society in general. It debunks myth-making about rural life with a sobering picture of a sense of disarray. It reminds Australians that we need to re-evaluate and support rural life for it to thrive...It's also very good fun to read!"


"Booktopia" blog


Roger McDonald with notes on aspects of the novel.

Roger McDonald on YouTube discussing the novel:

Combined Reviews: Bereft by Chris Womersley

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bereft.jpg    Bereft
Chris Womersley
Scribe Publications

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2011 MIles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:

It is 1919. The Great War has ended, but the Spanish flu epidemic is raging across Australia. Schools are closed, state borders are guarded by armed men, and train travel is severely restricted. There are rumours it is the end of the world.

In the NSW town of Flint, Quinn Walker returns to the home he fled ten years earlier when he was accused of an unspeakable crime. Aware that his father and uncle would surely hang him, Quinn hides in the hills surrounding Flint. There, he meets the orphan Sadie Fox -- a mysterious young girl who seems to know more about the crime than she should.

A searing gothic novel of love, longing and justice, Bereft is about the suffering endured by those who go to war and those who are forever left behind.


Peter Pierce in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "After the critical acclaim for The Low Road (2007), his first novel about two desperates on the run, Chris Womersley was evidently undeterred by the hurdle of its successor. Bereft is a bleak and brilliant performance that confirms him as one of the unrepentantly daring and original talents in the landscape of Australian fiction. (And there is no clank of the creative-writing production line about him.)...Few recent novels, Australian or otherwise, have such eloquence, prompted by the despair of sufferers who do not shirk the task of seeking the right words...The last part of Bereft is frightening in a way that reminds one of why several reviewers of Womersley's first novel made comparisons with Cormac McCarthy. In the novel's bloody climax, the Angel of Death appears to torment one of the guilty. Other characters vanish into a fog of rumour. The most chilling words of Bereft are reserved until the last page. This is an outstanding work of Australian fiction. Read it next."

Jennifer Levasseur in "The Age": "The Low Road, winner of the Ned Kelly award for best first book, examines the anguish of lives gone hopelessly wrong, of men pushed beyond what they felt were the limits of their capabilities. Bereft, Womersley's new novel, is a strong, more compelling follow-up that explores some similar themes but urges them to new depths...Beautifully written and conceived, Bereft pushes at the borders of literary fiction and thriller, spinning a horrific incident in one man's life into a page-turning reflection on grief and guilt, on the nature of storytelling and its inevitable joys and shortcomings, on what we have to believe in order to survive."

Geordie Williamson in "the Australian": "It must have been some expression on Chris Womersley's face after the eureka moment when Bereft was born...First, excitement at the potential of setting an Australian gothic novel in the immediate aftermath of World War I, during the influenza epidemic that turned rural Australia into a patchwork of plague villages; then, anxiety that someone else might write it first. I would have hugged the manuscript to my person like Gollum's ring...Now he has relinquished the story, it's worth noting that Bereft represents an elaboration of those attitudes and concerns that made his 2008 debut, The Low Road, so gripping, such a cut above the usual genre fare. It is a whodunit that yields up its secret halfway through: a murder mystery from an era when death undid so many that the worst crime became a dreary norm. The novel's historical moment activates a nihilism that settles, like the mustard gas which has ruined its hero, over everything and everyone."

Lucy Clark in "The Courier-Mail": "Womersley combines really beautiful and eloquent writing with a compelling story, and Bereft has a literary sensibility flavoured with the drama of a mystery...His characters are gently but thoroughly drawn, with Quinn Walker reflecting on his defining experiences at war - these scenes are bloody and visceral - and in particular his experience at a seance where he may or may not have been contacted by the spirit of his beloved sister...Bereft is a haunting and beautiful novel that will surely deliver an excellent Australian writer to a much wider audience."

Thuy Lunh Nguyen in "Kill Your Darlings": "Bereft's imagery is also softer than its predecessor's. In The Low Road, Womersley evokes characters and settings by building upon our familiarity with the modern city...On the other hand, Bereft must work with weaker foundations - second-hand accounts of events beyond living memory; hence, Womersley's sketches leave only an impression of an era, a nation's mood - nothing concrete. Nevertheless, his early twentieth century New South Wales is a convincing one, thanks to his characters, who exhibit a healthy respect for both the scientific and the arcane: Quinn's father is enamoured by electricity and aeroplanes and yet swears he has seen a yowie. These individuals make up a society that knows how to build tanks but also has a real fear of dead men walking and Armageddon...The townsfolk's superstitions combined with supernatural happenings mark Bereft as a historical novel with gothic sensibilities."

Angela Meyer in "Bookseller+Publisher": "Chris Womersley's Bereft, his second novel after 2008's award-winning The Low Road, is a rich, gripping tale of love, loss, conflict and salvation....This book is thoroughly enjoyable, compelling, moving, warm and completely memorable. I had that very rare experience of wanting to read it again, almost immediately. This book crosses the lines of popular fiction, literary fiction and mystery."

Sam Cooney on "Readings Bookshop" website: "Like all great literary fiction, Bereft aspires to go beneath the surface, beyond flimsy payoffs and superficial triumphs. In doing so it confronts such pillars as loss, longing and revenge, and sears itself into memory."


Peter Mares on "The Book Show".
Booktopia blog
All the World's Our Page blog


The author himself has a webpage devoted to this book.

Book Trailer

Combined Reviews: Wyatt by Garry Disher

wyatt.jpg    Wyatt
Garry Disher
Text Publishing

[This novel won the 2010 Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction.]

From the publisher's page

Wyatt's been away. Now he's back.

Garry Disher's cool, enigmatic anti-hero has been, uncharacteristically, out of action for a while. Now there's a new Wyatt--and his legion of fans will not be disappointed.

The job's a jewel heist. The kind Wyatt likes. Nothing extravagant, nothing greedy. Stake out the international courier, one Alain Le Page, hold up the goods in transit and get away fast.

Wyatt prefers to work alone, but this is Eddie Oberin's job. Eddie's very smart ex-wife Lydia has the inside information. Add Wyatt's planning genius and meticulous preparation, and what could possibly go wrong?

Plenty. And when you wrong Wyatt, you don't get to just walk away.

Taut plots, brilliant writing and relentless pace; plus an unforgettable cast, including the ever-elusive Wyatt himself: these are the hallmarks of Garry Disher's Wyatt series.

Graeme Blundell in "The Australian": "In Wyatt, Disher revives the series' character loosely borrowed from Richard Stark's famous hard-nosed thrillers about an American career criminal known as Parker. Parker defines amoral: he murders, robs, and extorts as the need takes him. Just as Wyatt does. And like Stark, Disher never invites us to judge Wyatt; just to watch him work. Motivated only by self-interest, the professional thief was without conscience, the success of his life measured only in birthdays. Robbery, sometimes murder, always betrayal; too many grievances and shot nerves, too many bolt holes with low ceilings, wiry carpets the consistency of a kitchen scourer and Aborigines on black velvet in wooden frames on the walls.

"The last Wyatt book, The Fallout, appeared in 1997 and Wyatt was tired. For the first time, he was beginning to question his life. Disher left him to hide away while he developed his brilliant Detective Inspector Hal Challis in an ensemble procedural series set on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula.

"Disher's police fiction is a kind of barometer of prevailing social forces and tensions in the community, especially in the outlying badlands of Australia's coastal towns, where he sets acts of deep, dark, destructive psychology.

"With Wyatt, he's back in the big smoke. All we learn at the outset is that the thief has been away for some years. The rest is rumour, the kind that makes people apprehensive, and that's fine with Wyatt."

Sue Turnbull in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "The first sentence of Wyatt reads: 'Wyatt was waiting to rob a man of $75,000.' Waiting, as we have come to appreciate, is a condition of Wyatt's existence. Indeed, it is his capacity to wait, quietly and coolly, which is the secret of his success. Unlike the rest of the human race, Wyatt never acts hastily. His every move is calculated and efficient. One can't help but admire him for that economy of motion even if he is a crook.

"But there are mitigating factors to his thievery. Wyatt has a code. He only steals from the corrupt and foolish, which makes him almost as endearing as Robin Hood. The man he is waiting to steal from is a corrupt harbourmaster taking bribes. The big heist that constitutes the major plot line involves stealing from jewellers who are themselves fencing stolen jewellery.

"The complicating factors in this endeavour include another effective career criminal who is not impressed by Wyatt's intrusion. The dastardly Frenchman Alain Le Page differs from Wyatt in only one critical dimension: he has no code. Nor has the mesmerising Khandi Kane (not her real name), who erupts into the action like a creature from the black lagoon of a perverse masculine fantasy. Khandi, a former pole dancer, thrusts herself into the middle of a muddle, which begins with Le Page and stops with Wyatt, while completely stealing the show. Wyatt is wicked and wonderful. Welcome back, Wyatt."

Chris Flynn on "The Book Show": "Disher apparently wrote this latest tale due to constant requests from readers, which might indicate a previous knowledge is required. Given the story is set entirely in Melbourne, it's actually very accessible for anyone coming to his work for the first time. You don't need to have read any previous Wyatt novels. Melbourne is in fact a character all itself in this, with Disher providing vivid descriptions of the Southbank apartment block where Wyatt lives, the Vic market, Frankston, High Street Armadale and the Botanic Gardens. It's kind of exciting sitting back to watch a fast-paced crime thriller play out in such familiar surroundings...There's real technique on show here. Disher wastes no time and keeps his prose terse. The dialogue is sharp and most importantly, not so Aussie that it jars. That perhaps explains why his books are so popular overseas. And when it comes to action, it's so fast and hard-written that it becomes a blur, a flurry of activity that dazzles the senses. Next thing you know, someone's dead and you're left reeling. It's quite an art writing fiction of any kind that makes the reader want to devour the whole book in one sitting. In that respect, Disher succeeds where most writers fail. Wyatt is a thrill-laden pleasure. I can't wait to read the others."

Short notices

Karen on the "Crimespace" weblog: "It's been quite a wait for the latest WYATT novel - The Fallout was published in 1997. I for one was rather excited to hear the news that there was a book on the way last year and I've been somewhat impatiently waiting for it to appear since then. As with all these greatly anticipated books, there's always that nasty little voice at the back of your head wondering if the anticipation might be building an unreasonable expectation.

"But this is a Garry Disher novel, and it's a WYATT novel and it's almost impossible to contemplate the idea of disappointment. Partly because these books are so incredibly well written; partly because Wyatt is such a tremendous character; and partly because there is absolutely nothing like a change of style. The Wyatt novels are theft / heist based novels. Not to say that people don't die in these books, but Wyatt doesn't set out to murder - he's all about the perfect plan. Intensive and careful preparation; a level of planning that makes this ex-Project Manager's heart beat all that bit faster; extreme care in the conduct of the operation; extreme care in the execution of a get out of trouble fallback. Wyatt's a cool, hard, ruthless man who will take steps if backed into a corner. And he's very very very dangerous when crossed...Wyatt is what Wyatt does, and let's hope it's not too long before he does it all again."

"The Independent Weekly": "The thrills are solid and, even though the villains are almost caricatures because the reader is concentrating on Wyatt and willing to go with him all the way and see his adventure through to the bitter end, it doesn't matter. In this regard, the book does much more than most crime fiction because it genuinely holds the attention from the opening line to the last sentence...Yes, it's another story about theft, murder and double-cross, but in Disher's deft hands it's easy to believe that such things happen every day. For fans of the genre, this new novel is a joy."


Jo Case for "Readings":

Wyatt is 'an old-style hold-up man: cash, jewels, paintings'. He avoids the drug scene and is restricted in what he does by the fact that new technology has outstripped his expertise. Is there a certain appeal in writing an 'old-style' criminal like him? Does this add an extra challenge for you when deciding which situations he'll be embroiled in, and how he'll deal with them?

It's probably beyond my skills to create a loveable drug dealer. The face of crime has changed with drugs. There's a greater chance of viciousness and unpredictability when greed, addiction and huge profit potential are involved. Besides, it's more fun, and somehow more worthy, to show Wyatt holding up a payroll van rather than ripping off an addict or a dealer. The problem for me (and him) is finding ways to get the cash without having to hire a dozen guys with specialist technical know-how and gadgetry, not to mention showing the reader how it all works.

Your books - both the Wyatt and Challis and Destry series - are often very Melbourne in tone. Wyatt evokes a range of city locations, from Frankston's teenage mothers, to dodgy stallholders at the Queen Vic markets, architectural monstrosities in Mount Eliza and young yuppies in Southbank. How important is place to your writing?

Setting should be a vital element of all fiction and it's crucial in crime fiction. From a writing craft point of view, I can't see the characters until I see the ground they walk on, and vice versa. Setting is useful in all kinds of ways: adding to our sense of the characters, creating an appropriate mood (e.g., distress), appealing to our senses (we've all had a bus belch on us), and, more broadly, showing the social as well as the topographical diversity of a region.


You can read an extract from the novel on the author's website.

Combined Reviews: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

jasper_jones.jpg    Jasper Jones
Craig Silvey
Allen & Unwin

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2010 Miles Franklin Award and for the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction - NSW Premier's Literary Awards. It also won the Indie Book of the Year Award in 2009.]

From the publisher's page

Late on a hot summer night in the tail end of 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, is startled by an urgent knock on the window of his sleep-out. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the regional mining town of Corrigan. Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlie eagerly steals into the night by his side, terribly afraid but desperate to impress.

Jasper takes him through town and to his secret glade in the bush, and it's here that Charlie bears witness to Jasper's horrible discovery. With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion as he locks horns with his tempestuous mother; falls nervously in love and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend, Jeffrey Lu.

And in vainly attempting to restore the parts that have been shaken loose, Charlie learns to discern the truth from the myth, and why white lies creep like a curse. In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.

Michael Williams in "The Monthly": "The prose is at times a little forced, the plotting and characterisation occasionally clichéd; but none of that matters. If we see a more entertaining, more heartfelt piece of Australian literature in the next 12 months it will be a rare year indeed. Amid the glimpses of small-town bigotry and adult compromise, Jasper Jones offers tender moments of adolescent romance and irresistible vignettes of friendship and quiet triumph. The exultation contained in the description of a cricket game featuring Charlie's irrepressible best friend ("Jeffrey Lu on debut") is enough alone to earn this book sentimental-classic status."

Rebecca Starford in "The Age": "Craig Silvey showed great promise in 2004 with the publication of his debut novel, Rhubarb. At 22, he had a flair for linguistic experimentation: with tone, rhythms and dynamics. Rhubarb was replete with strange syntax, puns and invented words. Overall, the consensus was that Silvey had talent and, with maturity, he would produce better work...In some ways his new book lives up to these expectations. Far tamer in style, Jasper Jones has a similar comedic spirit and precociousness. This time, however, Silvey has written for young adults as well as adult readers. Perhaps the younger age of prospective readers weakened more critical reflection: Jasper Jones, like Rhubarb, is marred by tedious repetition and occasional childish wit...Jasper Jones is not without flaws. But when Silvey remembers to tone down the puerility, it is an engaging historical portrait of an ambitious, intelligent boy labouring often amusingly under the parochialism of an isolated town."

Short notices

"Boomerang Books" weblog: "The feel and smell of small-town Australia are evoked skillfully, and yet (many) literary references are to US classics, Mark Twain and especially To Kill a Mockingbird. Elements of the coming-of-age story are mixed with those of the detective novel, livened with scenes of laugh-aloud humour. The sparring dialogue between Charlie and his friend Jeffrey, and the references to aspiring novelists will seem -- to some readers -- true to character, to others, tiresome. Jasper Jones, the Aboriginal scapegoat for the town's misadventures, is elusive and independent to the end. Themes of courage and cowardice, and the vitality of the ever-observant Charlie, will ensure this book's appeal especially to readers who are young and/or male. "

"Readings": "It's a riveting tale, set in 1960s small-town Australia, about a young, bookish adolescent who is drawn into events surrounding the grim disappearance of a local girl when the solitary Jasper Jones, a rebellious mixed-race older boy (in the town's eyes, 'a Thief, a Liar, a Thug, a Truant') comes asking for his help...Deeply thoughtful, remarkably funny and playful, this is a gloriously Australian book about outsiders and secrets (both ordinary and extraordinary)."

"aussiereviews": "Jasper Jones is a brilliant novel which manages to blend terrible, tragic events with touches of romance, plenty of humour and characters who are easy to like. Set in a (fictional) small mining town in country WA, against a backdrop of true events of the 1960s including the Vietnam War, the hanging of the 'Nedlands Monster', the disappearance of the Beaumont children and Doug Walters test cricket debut, the author manages to create a believable setting for his tale, and to draw the reader in to the lives of Charlie and his friends...This is a story which draws the reader in and, when it is over, leaves them wanting more. These are hard characters to have to leave behind."

"Whispering Gums" weblog: "There are many thematic and stylistic things that can be talked about in this book, making it a good one for discussion but, in the end, it is a fairly traditional coming-of-age story in its style, tone and structure. That said, if you like such stories, as I do, there's a good chance you'll find this a compelling and entertaining even if not a particularly challenging read. And is there anything wrong with that?"


Erica Vowles on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show".


Silvey discusses the novel on YouTube.

Book trailer:

Combined Reviews: Truth by Peter Temple

truth.jpg    Truth
Peter Temple
Text Publishing

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2010 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

At the close of a long day, Inspector Stephen Villani stands in the bathroom of a luxury apartment high above the city. In the glass bath, a young woman lies dead, a panic button within reach.

So begins Truth, the sequel to Peter Temple's bestselling masterpiece, The Broken Shore, winner of the Duncan Lawrie Dagger for Best Crime Novel.

Villani's life is his work. It is his identity, his calling, his touchstone. But now, over a few sweltering summer days, as fires burn across the state and his superiors and colleagues scheme and jostle, he finds all the certainties of his life are crumbling.

Truth is a novel about a man, a family, a city. It is about violence, murder, love, corruption, honour and deceit. And it is about truth.


Stephen Romei in "The Australian": "The Broken Shore is an extraordinary novel, winner of many awards, including the Duncan Lawrie Dagger, one of the world's top prizes for crime fiction. On its release in 2005 several critics made the point that it was a great novel, full stop, and that Temple, who migrated from South Africa in 1980, deserved to be considered in the first rank of Australian writers. His new novel should only reinforce those judgments. ..Temple's characters inhabit a landscape as disturbing as any conjured by Cormac McCarthy and, unlike the futuristic dystopia of The Road, their apocalypse is now."

Edmund Gorman in "The Observer": "Truth might seem, at first, a more promising title for a treatise on epistemology than a hardboiled detective story, so grand is the project that it appears to map out. Yet by the end of Peter Temple's new novel the title feels almost elegiac. The book's major theme is corruption, personal and political. Temple puts old-fashioned abstract values into conflict with a bleak vision of modern reality, and the result is consistently arresting...Temple has long been regarded as one of Australia's most accomplished crime writers, but this is only the second of his nine novels (after the widely acclaimed bestseller The Broken Shore, which features Villani as a minor character) to be published in Britain. A far more literary writer than most of his peers, he eschews the staccato prose rhythms that typify the genre, opting instead for long sentences that do their work over several clauses, blooming and shrinking, and achieving strange, impressionistic effects. His dialogue is entirely distinctive, full of the mangled poetry and beautiful solecisms of ordinary speech. His images can catch in the mind like things glimpsed under lightning. A dead girl's flesh is the colour 'of earliest dawn'. Autumn leaves move through the air 'like broken water, yellow and brown and blood'."

Lucy Clarke in "The Courier-Mail": "Peter Temple's latest book, Truth, is one that sticks. Story, style, suspense, supremely good use of punctuation: all the facets of Temple's latest gem make an indelible impression...It is mesmerising reading, and the tension he builds is so intense that as you make it to the final chapters you almost have to take the book in doses. "

Barry Forshaw in "The Independent": "Interestingly, the jacket comparisons here opt not for the customary James Lee Burke and James Ellroy, but JM Coetzee and Tom Wolfe. If this seems a little vainglorious, Temple's writing is always terse and economical, demonstrating that these two non-crime novelists are indeed apt models."

Short Notices

Karen on the "CrimeSpace" weblog: "The central core of this book is the peeling back of artifice, of pretence, of deception and doubt and the revealing of truth. The truth behind a young girls body in a luxury bathroom; the truth behind the tortured men hanging in a backyard in Oakleigh; the truth about colleagues, mentors and political masters; the truth behind Villani's marriage, his runaway tearaway teenage daughter; his relationship with his brothers; and his fractious, terse, uncomfortable relationship with a father who he doesn't understand, and he thinks, doesn't understand him. Truth is a subject that the reader has to conclude is very very close to Temple's heart as well."

Kerrie on the "Mysteries in Paradise" weblog: "Although the focus of Truth is Villani, and he and those around him question why they do this job, the central story is on a much broader canvas: Victoria in the grip of bushfires, a government teetering on the brink of an election, men with money and dreams, Villani's own history and a forest that means almost more to him than anything else in the world...Peter Temple is the master of a clipped and terse literary style, where dialogue feels like real conversation. There are times when he uses a word rather than a sentence, in some ways the style reminds me of a former Australian great - Patrick White."

Glenn Harper on the "International Noir Fiction" weblog: "The only Truth in Peter Temple's new novel of the Melbourne homicide squad is not what you might think (I won't spoil the revelation). The novel is a complex story with an ambivalent moral sense, told in terse coded dialogue among the police and an almost stream of consciousness narrative in the third person but from the point of view of the new head of homicide, Stephen Villani...In fact, the novelist I was most often reminded of is Joseph Wambaugh: like Wambaugh, Temple derives most of the comic element in the story from the dry wit and interplay among the cops. And like Wambaugh, crimes or moral lapses among the police are a big part of the atmosphere (along with stories about things that have happened among the cops in the past). But although authenticity in the depiction of the police is achieved by both, Temple reaches beyond that toward the complexity of Villani's life as a whole (partly in the stream of consciousness narrative that I mentioned before, a narrative style not chosen by Wambaugh in any of his books that I've read), from childhood forward, and also provides a concrete sense of Melbourne and Australia quite different from Wambaugh's southern California."


Ramona Kaval on ABC Radio National's "Book Show".

Jason Steger in "The Age".

Combined Reviews: Sons of the Rumour by David Foster

| 1 Comment
sons_of_the_rumour.jpg    Sons of the Rumour
David Foster
Pan Macmillan

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2010 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

Sons of the Rumour is nothing short of a dazzling and genre-defying work of genius. Foster retells the tale of the legendary eighth-century King Shahrban of Persia who, furious at his wife's infidelity, has decided to marry and then behead a fresh virgin every day. But then the king meets Scheherazade, a beauty of such wiles and storytelling gifts she manages to entertain the him for 1001 nights, staving off death for both herself and her countrywomen. In the process, she also bears him three sons, wisely educates him in morality and kindness, and eventually convinces him to take her as his lawful wife.

Intersecting with the historical tale is the story of Al Morrisey - a middle-aged, Anglo-Irish, former jazz-drumming everyman, on the run from a failed marriage, and cursed with Freudian daydreams of his mother and peculiar nightmares of all things Persian - as he vainly attempts to reconcile the past with the present and reclaim some of his youthful vigour.

Ingeniously manipulating the frame tale of the Arabian Nights, and utilising all his narrative gifts of adventurous satire, David Foster has produced a work of fiction like no other. Sprawling, ambitious, explicit but frequently hilarious, Sons of the Rumour is a modern masterpiece, an utterly original novel by one of Australia's greatest living writers, a man who the Sydney Morning Herald critic Andrew Riemer has called Patrick White's worthy successor.


Susan Lever in "The Australian": "This is certainly fiction, but it is hardly what most readers consider a novel. It may recall Rushdie's Satanic Verses with its modern take on ancient texts, but Sons of the Rumour values stories as the means of understanding the mysteries. Foster adopts the premodern form of the literary anatomy to range over a mass of disparate stories, opinions, learning and vulgarity as he digs deep into the philosophical origins of sexual and religious behaviour...The book may be read as a form of spiritual exercise for author and reader, an inquiry into the possibilities for spirituality for unbelievers, when atheism has become a rallying point. It is also an entertaining tour de force by a writer in mature command of language. It is Foster at his very best, overwhelming the reader with his imagination, comic energy, wisdom and the richness of his material."

James Ley in "Australian Book Review": "Sons of the Rumour, Foster's fourteenth novel, is his most substantial and brilliant work since The Glade within the Grove (1996). A roiling, historical, pantheological satre, it is alos very much an extension of the themes that have driven his remarkable fiction for more than four decades. The novel is explicity concerned with the interaction between the 'Two Worlds' of spirit and flesh. It deploys Foster's formidable erudition to this end, quoting from a dizzying aray of religious texts from a host of different traditons. The many stories it contains anatomise, in a comical and sometimes brutal fashion, the ways in which sexual desire and religious belief inform and distort each other...Attempt to characterise Foster's writing and eventually one will run out of adjectives. There is simply no one remotely like him in contemporary Australian fiction. He is so far ahead of anyone else that t's not funny. Except that it is funny -- very, very funny."

Short notice

Anna Hedigan on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show": "Transformation is the point to which everything returns in Sons of the Rumour -- the great work of finding meaning in life and the inner purity required to achieve it. I wished for a bit less testosterone and a more discerning rigour in the philosophical inquiry, but Foster rarely disappoints with his ambitious and unique style."


Paul Sheehan in "The Age".


You can read an extract from the novel on the publisher's page [PDF file].

Combined Reviews: Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

parrot_olivier_aus.jpg    Parrot and Olivier in America
Peter Carey
Penguin Books

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers' Prize in the South East Asia and Pacific region, and longlisted for the 2010 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

Olivier is a young aristocrat, one of an endangered species born in France just after the Revolution. Parrot, the son of an itinerant English printer, wanted to be an artist but has ended up in middle age as a servant.

When Olivier sets sail for the New World - ostensibly to study its prisons, but in reality to avoid yet another revolution - Parrot is sent with him, as spy, protector, foe and foil. Through their adventures with women and money, incarceration and democracy, writing and painting, they make an unlikely pair. But where better for unlikely things to flourish than in the glorious, brand-new experiment, America?

A dazzlingly inventive reimagining of Alexis de Tocqueville's famous journey, Parrot and Olivier in America brilliantly evokes the Old World colliding with the New. Above all, it is a wildly funny, tender portrait of two men who come to form an almost impossible friendship, and a completely improbable work of art.


James Bradley in "The Australian" : "...Parrot and Olivier in America manages to marry the urgency of Theft to the precision of Carey's earlier fiction. The result is a book that in its best moments achieves a sort of rackety joyousness...Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to confuse the book's sprawl or occasional lack of focus with a lack of control...Because for all that it is a book that often seems most alive when at its wildest and most inventive, it is also a book keenly aware of the ironies and contradictions at its centre...Carey may be a republican, and a passionate believer in the possibilities of Australia and Australian culture, but the spirit of his fiction is too restless, too contrarian to have much truck with the sentimental pieties of Australian nationalism. Like Kate Kelly in True History of the Kelly Gang dismissing Ned's and Joe's stories about the brave fight against the English back in Ireland as sentimental nonsense about brutal murderers, Carey's fiction repeatedly evinces a profound ambivalence about the self-deceptions of colonial culture, about the dishonesty at its core, and its celebration of its mediocrities as virtues."

Andrew Reimer in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Parrot and Olivier in America sounds like the title of a children's book, and there is indeed something irresistibly youthful about the zing and bounce of this picaresque tale spanning three continents. This is Peter Carey at his best: playful, extravagant, even rambling at times, yet fully in control. It is sometimes hard to know where these adventures are heading, yet they all finish up going somewhere meaningful and satisfying...Parrot and Olivier in America is a tour de force, a wonderfully dizzying succession of adventures and vivid, at times caricatured, characters executed with great panache. Telling this intricate story is shared by Olivier and Parrot in alternate chapters, a clumsy device in some hands but highly successful in Carey's."

Ursula K. Le Guin in "The Guardian": "..exactly as its title promises, the book is about Parrot and Olivier in America; but it's not about America. Its picture of the coarse, young United States of Andrew Jackson - based largely on De Tocqueville, of course, and I think also on later observers such as Frances Trollope and Charles Dickens - is entertaining, if predictable...The narrative proceeds in leaps and bounds, sometimes with a hop backwards, omitting connections, giving an impression above all, perhaps, of confusion - confusion of event and motive, incomprehension, a vast drama without structure. The language is vivid, forceful and poetic (though I wish Olivier's aristocratic locution was free of grammatical blunders such as 'of she toward whom', 'of she who I affected to be unaware of', 'to he who I intended to make my father-in-law'). There are terrific set pieces, such as the burning of the forgers' house - moments Dickensian in their vividness. Themes of fire and burning run through the story. An early kind of bicycle appears, with much discussion and even an illustration, and later on an American bicycle enters the tale. Are there hidden significances? I don't know. It's a dazzling, entertaining novel. Should one ask for more?"

John Preston in "The Telegraph": "There are certain things you know you're going to get from a Peter Carey novel: scale of ambition, narrative boldness, apparently inexhaustible imagination and fizzingly exuberant imagery. Even by his standards Carey's 11th novel, Parrot and Olivier in America, has all these in abundance...Like Carey's 2001 Man Booker Prize-winner, True History of the Kelly Gang, Parrot and Olivier in America has an epic historical sweep to it. Yet for all the novel's virtues, the book can't muster the same emotional impact as its predecessor. In part, this is due to the nature of the story. However, there are other factors, too. The friendship between the two men comes to feel increasingly contrived. Sparring away with one another, Parrot and Olivier work wonderfully well, but once they've buried their differences, they tend to lose definition as well as edge."

Philip Hensher in "The Monthly": "Parrot and Olivier is in many ways beautifully done; it is written with all its author's celebrated mastery of style; it is organised very neatly around sets of ideas, including original and reproduction, master and servant; it has the surface appearance of great energy. But nothing human in it much engaged me, and I found myself reading on for the pleasure of the sentences only. It amounts to an exquisite divertissement but, as the book goes on, the suspicion grows that the author is diverting himself much more than the reader. After all, divertissements were written in Carey's chosen period with the full intention that the audience would carry on conversations simultaneously, relegating the artistic invention to the background of their attention."

Andrew Taylor in "The Independent": "Carey's novel builds a picture of America, his own adopted homeland, seen through a glass darkly from a fictional version of the 1830s. Its mainspring is the dialogue that develops between Parrot and Olivier. Parrot is pragmatic, a natural republican, and resourceful. Olivier, a faintly ridiculous child of the ancien regime, judges what he sees and whom he meets by aristocratic and European criteria; and yet is too intelligent, and in some ways too generous, not to ignore the virtues of both this brash, alien country and his irredeemably vulgar fellow traveller...This is one of the strongest points of the novel: the reader never quite loses sympathy with Parrot or Olivier. Another of its virtues is Carey's wonderfully witty and visual prose, which springs surprise after surprise on the reader. A third is that his version of 1830s America allows him to comment on its modern counterpart: he touches lightly on, among many other things, sub-prime mortgages, an inflated art market and demagogic politicians. "

Short Notices

Mark Rubbo of "Readings": "In this marvellous book, Carey will no doubt antagonise and provoke some critics: firstly for his departure from an Australian theme and secondly for his unabashed admiration for the principles of the American democratic tradition. In spite (or because) of this, it is a grand, magisterial story, full of great characters and stories. Above all, it is one of his most important books and a major development in his writing career."

Chris Flynn on the "Falcom vs. Monkey" weblog: "Parrot and Olivier in America is one of Peter Carey's finest achievements, elevating him far above the rest of literature's maddening crowd. There's even a nod to the Aussies in the form of a devilishly funny early map of the colony. The man deserves his head on a stamp."


Carey is interviewed by John Freedman of "Granta" magazine about the book.

Tom Leonard in "The Telegraph".

Brian Appleyard in "The Times".

Rosanna Greenstreet in "The Guardian".

Ramona Kaval on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show".

"The Thought Fox", the Faber publishing house weblog.


Carey discusses the novel on Penguin TV, via YouTube.

The UK and US covers of the novel are as follows:

UK coverUS cover

Combined Reviews: The People's Train by Tom Keneally

peoples_train.jpg    The People's Train
Tom Keneally
Random House

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers' Prize in the South East Asia and Pacific region.]

From the publisher's page

Artem Samsurov, a charismatic protege of Lenin and an ardent socialist, reaches sanctuary in Australia after escaping his Siberian labour camp and making a long, perilous journey via Japan. But Brisbane in 1911 turns out not to be quite the workers' paradise he was expecting, or the bickering local Russian emigres a model of brotherhood.

As Artem helps organise a strike and gets dangerously entangled in the death of another exile, he discovers that corruption, repression and injustice are almost as prevalent in Brisbane as at home. Yet he finds fellow spirits in a fiery old suffragette and a distractingly attractive married lawyer, who undermines his belief that a revolutionary cannot spare the time for relationships. When the revolution dawns and he returns to Russia, will his ideals hold true?

Based on a true story, THE PEOPLE'S TRAIN brings the past alive and makes it resonate in the present. With all the empathy and storytelling skills that he brought to bear in SCHINDLER'S ARK, Tom Keneally takes us to the heart of the Russian Revolution through the dramatic life of an unknown, inspiring figure. Like Schindler, Samsurov was no saint, but he was an individual who played a vital role in world-changing events.


Francesca Beddie in "The Australian": "The novel is able to capture the ordinary things that happen during war: flirting, love and, as Paddy observes, the continued workings of the lower end of government -- mail, lamp lighting, trams -- even while the tsar is being toppled. We are privy to conversations that range from the political to the petty. (What a shame these are not marked by punctuation, which would have made them easier to follow.)..Fortunately, it is in Paddy's stories that Keneally rescues his novel from becoming an idealised account of socialist aspirations. We experience episodes of the arbitrary violence that punctuates the history of Russian communism. These depictions are sharp, surprising and brutal."

Giles Foden in "The Guardian": "Thomas Keneally is one of the historical novel's most expert practitioners, and his new book sees him back on the form that produced Schindler's Ark, which won the Booker Prize in 1982. Although there are locomotives in The People's Train, the train of the title appears little...The historical reality is that there's a working-class radical tradition in Australia of which many non-Australians are not aware, and this once included a flourishing Russian community in pre-first world war Brisbane. The story of one of its actual members (Artem Sergeiev) is Keneally's template...[In the second half] we see Artem move away from us, as if diminishing in a lens of a telescope held at the wrong end. Our sense of the past is like that, too, but we are lucky in having authors such as Keneally who know how to dramatise the telescope's turning around from time to time, bringing 'there' and 'then' into the here and now."

Lesley Chamberlain in "The New Statesman": "The People's Train combines a fluency of narrative with woodenness of thought. It is that rare thing: a novel with too much action, and too little attention paid to language and style...It is possible that your reviewer is at bottom a churlish Cadet who would have opposed Lenin. So, if you're still a Bolshevik at heart and wish that history hadn't happened, do give this novel a chance. If you wish historians had not exposed the real, ruthlessly manipulative and murderous Lenin, you may even like The People's Train."

James Urquhart in "The Independent": "Thomas Keneally's 26th novel shares the military fascination of his recent works while reaching as far back as his 1982 Booker Prize-winning Schindler's Ark for comparable historical weight...Paddy's testimony, as that of a staunch disciple, is somewhat monochrome compared to the more complex ambiguities of Keneally's recent novels, which all more explicitly revile the waste of war... examined moral courage in battle, while The Office of Innocence tested spiritual leadership in wartime. The Tyrant's Novel recorded the slide from integrity to complicity with an oppressive regime, whereas Bettany's Book tackled ideas of democracy under siege. 'We can have a revolution,' Artem assures Paddy, 'but it will take time to overthrow the squalor of the human soul.'"

Edward McGown in "The Telegraph": "The People's Train is a formidable feat of literary ventriloquism. The first half of the novel reads exactly like the memoir of a devout Bolshevik in 1911 -- giddy on the chilly idealism of revolutionary thinking. Artem's wilfully stolid language perfectly captures his passionately earnest character. Yet at times the novel is throttled by its own verisimilitude. It is almost as if Keneally has so entered into the real Artem Sergeiv's mindset that he has half an eye on pleasing an imagined, Soviet censor. Terrible things happen to Artem, yet he often seems trapped in faintly unreal postures of stock, communist defiance -- giving the impression you are reading a Party primer on Marxist best practice...Keneally's most famous work, Schindler's Ark, made fresh the horror of the Holocaust by centring on the contained, moral crisis of one man. Here, the author consciously abstains from the pleasures of a taut narrative focus."

Robert Epstein in "The Independent": "The dark relationship between individual and society is a vexed, and vexing, subject in Russian history - and so, too, in The People's Train, Thomas Keneally's at-times brilliant retelling of the experiences of two men in the lead-up to, and during, the momentous October Revolution of 1917...Reading at times like a cross between Peter Carey and Tom Rob Smith's Child 44, Keneally has delivered a broad-ranging piece of historical fiction that approaches his best. Given that his best is the 1982 Booker-winning Schindler's Ark, that is high praise indeed."

Short Notices

Readings: "Based on a true story, THE PEOPLE'S TRAIN brings the past alive and makes it resonate in the present. With all the empathy and storytelling skills that he brought to bear in SCHINDLER'S ARK, Tom Keneally takes us to the heart of the Russian Revolution through the dramatic life of an unknown, inspiring figure."

Patrick Allington in "Australian Book Review": "...Keneally builds terrific momentum by drawing on extraordinary events: the Russian Revolution and the onset of World War I.  If the scaffolding of this novel is now and again exposed, that is something historical fiction can never fully overcome."

Francesca Beddie in "The Australian": "Fortunately, it is in Paddy's stories that Keneally rescues his novel from becoming an idealised account of socialist aspirations. We experience episodes of the arbitrary violence that punctuates the history of Russian communism. These depictions are sharp, surprising and brutal. They need to be there."

Mike Crowl in "The Otago Times": "The historical sequence approach of the novel means there's little real interplay between the characters; those who get involved with each other often slide out of view without a sense of loss to other people...And the large cast becomes a welter of names for the reader to contend with, even though a few are recognisable for their later part in history."

"" website: "In The People's Train, Tom Keneally is able to effortlessly weave historical fact with fictional imaginings. His ability to capture these moments in time leave an indelible mark on the reader's consciousness. Whether it be the small town feel of sleepy Brisbane in 1911 or the passion and energy of the Russian Revolution, Tom is a master of conveying time and place. His characters are fully realised with their virtues and foibles on display. Once again the Booker Prize winning novelist, Tom Keneally has shown that he's one of Australia's leading writers."

Phil Shannon on the "Green Left Review": "... if the [promised] sequel has the historical integrity and thoughtfulness as The People's Train, it will be worth waiting for."


UNSW TV with Sunil Badami.

Margaret Throsby on ABC Radio National's Classic FM.

Rosanna Greenstreet of "The Guardian".

Des Houghton of "The Courier-Mail".

Peter Mares on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show".


Tom Keneally discusses the novel on Random TV.

Combined Reviews: Lovesong by Alex Miller

lovesong.jpg    Lovesong
Alex Miller
Allen & Unwin

From the publisher's page

Strangers did not, as a rule, find their way to Chez Dom, a small, rundown Tunisian cafe on Paris' distant fringes. Run by the widow Houria and her young niece, Sabiha, the cafe offers a home away from home for the North African immigrant workers working at the great abattoirs of Vaugiraud, who, like them, had grown used to the smell of blood in the air. But when one day a lost Australian tourist, John Patterner, seeks shelter in the cafe from a sudden Parisian rainstorm, the quiet simplicities of their lives are changed forever.

John is like no-one Sabiha has met before - his calm grey eyes promise her a future she was not yet even aware she wanted. Theirs becomes a contented but unlikely marriage - a marriage of two cultures lived in a third - and yet because they are essentially foreigners to each other, their love story sets in train an irrevocable course of tragic events.

Years later, living a small, quiet life in suburban Melbourne, what happened at Vaugiraud seems like a distant, troubling dream to Sabiha and John, who confides the story behind their seemingly ordinary lives to Ken, an ageing, melancholy writer. It is a story about home and family, human frailties and passions, raising questions of morals and purpose - questions have no simple answer.

Lovesong is a simple enough story in many ways - the story of a marriage, of people coming undone by desire, of ordinary lives and death, love and struggle - but when told with Miller's distinctive voice, which is all intelligence, clarity and compassion, it has a real gravitas, it resonates and is deeply moving. Into the wonderfully evoked contemporary settings of Paris and Melbourne, memories of Tunisian family life, culture and its music are tenderly woven.


Geordie Williamson in "The Monthly": "The usual remark to be made about novels that rely on simplicity to generate their effects is that such clarity is deceptive. But with an author such as Miller - whose prose reads clear as running water, and whose insights into the ethics of storytelling, the sadness of ageing and the motions of the heart are laid out with such directness - perhaps simplicity really is the aim and the end. It is the intricate yet enduring mechanism of a successful marriage that is truly complex; Miller's fiction is the pellucid medium through which that complexity gleams."

Andrew Hamilton on "Eureka Street": "Lovesong is a novel that explores its own wellsprings. The situations of its characters and its locations refract Alex Miller's own experience. Ken, the narrator is an ageing, widowed writer who listens to the story of a man whom he meets at a local pastry shop. The story rekindles his own desire to write another novel...Such intense self-reference could produce a clever, hermetic novel. But Lovesong is simple and lucid, its complexities those that a humane eye will recognise in any human life."

Judith Armstrong in "Australian Book Review": "While there is great variety in Miller's novels, readers know that they can expect thoughtful treatment of significant but non-apocalyptic themes, among them attachment to land or country; displacement to new settings; deeply valued family life, often in conflict with other, equally honorable aspirations, such as the artistic vocation. Few people, of course, choose books for the sake of theme alone, what is most reliable is Miller's gift for inclusiveness. As readers, we feel instantly drawn into the lives of his characters, at home in their homes...For this reason, I am willing to bet that Miller is a favourite with book clubs -- far from a put-down. Where would literary fiction be without its constant readers? relieved they are when the choice falls on a work that is both sympathetic and stimulating, inclusive and interesting, thought-provoking yet able to be read in bed. The faithful will feel well rewarded by Lovesong."

Short Notices

Mark Rubbo for "Readings": "Lovesong is a beautiful novel, very different to Miller's last four books. In some ways it is reminiscent of Conditions of Faith, which also had French and Tunisian connections, but it is not only the absolutely gripping story of Sabiha and John that makes this book so interesting, but the experience of the ageing writer, who is sucked back into telling a story."

Boomert for "Boomerang Books": "Alex Miller returns to the realms of romance and desire, longing and solitariness, transience and creativity in his new deep, yet playful novel Lovesong; sure to appeal widely through its astute charm and emotional essence."

Adair Jones: "Lovesong is the kind of novel that will have you thinking--and feeling -- long after you finish it."

You can read a number of other reviews of the book here.


Ramona Kaval on ABC Radio National's "Book Show".


Angela Meyer for "Readings Monthly".


On "SlowTV" you can watch the speech given by Paul Beilharz at the launch of the novel in October 2009.

The author has built a number of webpages dedicated to the book which you can find here.

Combined Reviews: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

tender_morsels.jpg    Tender Morsels
Margo Lanagan
Allen & Unwin

[This novel won the 2009 Ditmar and 2009 World Fantasy Awards for Best Novel.]

From the publisher's page

Tender Morsels is a dark and vivid story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them. It is a gloriously told tale of journeys and transformations, penetrating the boundaries between male and female, reality and myth, conscious and unconscious, temporal and spiritual, human and beast.

Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, given to her by natural magic and in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters, gentle Branza and curious Urdda, grow up in this harmonious world, protected from the violence and village prejudice that once made their mother's life unendurable.

But the real world cannot be denied forever, and gradually the borders break down between Liga's refuge and the place from which she escaped. Having known heaven, how will Liga and her daughters survive back in the world where beauty cannot be separated from cruelty? How far can you take your fantasies before they grow dangerous? How fully can you protect your children, and how completely should you?

Building on a mythic scaffolding, Margo Lanagan asks timeless questions about what it is to be human. She unflinchingly explores the evil and sweetness in the world and reveals the essential magic of learning to live with both.

A long-awaited novel from an author acclaimed for the fearless range of her imagination, the emotional intensity of her stories, and the virtuosity of her writing.

A story of astonishing beauty, originality and power.


Garry K. Wolfe in Locus magazine: "Lanagan's Tender Morsels is perhaps best approached without any YA preconceptions, for reasons that become apparent before we're halfway through the prologue, which begins literally with a roll in the hay ("you have the kitment of a full man," explains the witch to the dwarf, "however short a stump you are the rest of you."). Long before we get to the graphic bear-fuck in Chapter 9 or the voodoo gang-rape sodomy later on, we've figured out that Lanagan shows little interest in pulling punches in the interest of perceived sensibility, and have begun to wonder if her notions of YA derive more from Thomas Hardy or D.H. Lawrence than Judy Blume. But we're also beginning to realize that the brutal intensity of the novel's more graphic bits is a necessary counterbalance to a tale that somehow manages to end on a note of almost astonishing sweetness, and that for a good part of its length takes place in a Wordsworthian bucolic idyll that is one character's notion of's a brilliant realization of a brilliant promise, and a profoundly moving tale."

Van Ikin in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Medieval times have done well in recent years, providing the magic-infused playpen into which most fantasy escapes. Only the better writers capture what Margo Lanagan calls the 'broad-hipped childbearing flavour' of the medieval and few successfully combine the glitter of magical special effects with the ordure and suffering of those times. This novel does....Proclaimed as Lanagan's first novel 'for adults', Tender Morsels is far more than that: it is a towering work of imagination in which a supremely talented writer opens rich new frontiers."

Meg Rossoff in "The Guardian": "I'd like to go out on a limb here, and say that nothing in the world of adult summer reading can compare with the revolutionary content of a novel you are likely to find in the young adult section of your local bookshop. Tender Morsels, by the Australian author Margo Lanagan, is funny, tragic, wise, tender and beautifully written. It also left me gasping with shock...Lanagan handles a variety of points of view and a large cast of humans and animals with great delicacy and restraint. Her characters grapple with the terrible damages inflicted by life and the inevitability of death, and although she offers them (and us) no easy consolation, the book celebrates human resilience and unexpected gifts: 'children touched with charm, clueless that it was within them; maids whose frivolous fortune-telling always held a grain of truth; mothers and wives whose soups were as good as medicines; men who attracted luck, or women who sped healing'...It is with a mixture of respect and delight that I greet any book capable of blasting an entire genre out of the water with its audacity and grace. Tender Morsels is such a book."

Short Notices

"Eva's Book Addiction" weblog shows the cover of the US edition, with the note that the book is aimed at grades 9 and up. I assume that means 14+: "From its truly horrifying and brutal beginning to its satisfying but bittersweet end, this novel is mesmerizing. Language (characters speak in a country dialect that sounds both fantastical and utterly authentic) and tone remain consistent, whether the story is being told from Liga's damaged but sweet perspective, from the perspective of one of the Bears who ends up in Liga's heaven, or from those of any number of other carefully drawn characters. No one is perfect -- all have flaws, some much more than others -- but we can understand, if not sympathize with, each person. Often wrenching, at heart this is a truly tender story of healing, growing, and redemption."

Sarah Miller, on her "Reading, Writing, Musing..." weblog: "Once upon a time, the skeleton of this story was called Snow-White and Rose-Red. Like all fairy tales, it left much unexplained. Too much. Well, Margo Lanagan took those bones and added muscle and guts, bracing the loose joints of the plot with her characters' emotions, motivations, and histories. That's the secret of successful retellings: fleshing out the gaps that relied almost entirely on the readers' willful ignorance or suspension of belief, yet still leaving room for the existence of magic. And Lanagan knows how to handle magic delicately enough to make it believable: Tender Morsels revolves around magical doings, but never degrades enchantment to the level of coincidence." Miller concludes that this was "quite possibly THE best reading experience" she had had all year (her caps).

Melanie Saward on the "M/C Reviews" website: "The only downside to reading a book with such a beautiful world, is that in loving the characters as though they were real and getting lost in the words, you'll almost certainly be left wanting more. This is a big book, but it could have easily been bigger. While the ending is lovely and satisfying, there are still questions and there's still room for the reader to consider what might have happened next in this world. But that's the magic of what Lanagan has done, creating a story that's so real that the characters could easily have gone on living beyond the pages of the book."

Carly Bennett on the "Chicklish" website: "When I picked up Tender Morsels the first thing that struck me was the cover art. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I know it's wrong but I really do judge a book by its cover and Tender Morsels has one of the most interesting covers I've seen in a long time. Like some twisted version of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, the cover really sets the tone of the book, which flicks from beauty to horror seamlessly."

Bridie Roman on the "SFFWorld" website: "The book is quite beautiful in places, with a lot of scenes that were especially well written and touching but there is a certain lack of pace that out-weighed the beautiful nature of the writing. Now, I am used to reading more action packed books so you may call me biased and stuck in my ways but I did come away with a feeling of; what has really happened? Sure, there were horrible sex acts but other than that... nothing! I didn't feel any urgency while reading even the most unusual scenes. In the end, what I found most impressive is that, despite all the obstacles, ultimately other emotions did shine through, such as despair, hope and love, and it is these I would say are the real backbone of the book."

"Fantasy Book Review" website: "Tender Morsels never once tries to show that life has a happily ever after ending. It shows that life is full of hardship; you will experience hurt, you will watch loved ones die and you will often be afraid. It also shows that live can be full of love, caring and kindness. It is better to experience something, be it good or bad, than to experience nothing at all."

"Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews" website: "I have to admit that sometimes looking over the difficulties of the world from Tender Morsels I wished for the main characters to remain in their corner of paradise. But here is the exclusive merit of the author, who not only captures many emotions in her story, but also made me feel most of them. I also liked that the characters have their unique and strong voice and I could feel them manifest it in each dialogue they have within the story. Still, I have to say that I couldn't attach myself too much of any character, but I believe that this is because I do not have a common ground with any of them."


Jeff Vandermeer in "ClarkesWorld" magazine.

Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert on the "Blog of a Bookslut" weblog.

David Larsen in the "New Zealand Herald".

Lynne Jamneck on "" website.

Kerrie Anne on "The View from Here" website.

Other covers

tender_morsels_uk.jpg    tender_morsels_us.jpg    tender_morsels_uk_ya.jpg    tender_morsels_aus_p.jpg
UK Hardcover    US Hardcover    UK YA Hardcover    Aust paperback
(Feb 2010)

Combined Reviews: Wonders of a Godless World by Andrew McGahan

| 1 Comment
wonders_godless_world.jpg    Wonders of a Godless World
Andrew McGahan
Allen & Unwin

From the publisher's page

The witch, the virgin, the archangel, the duke and an orphan meet in the extraordinary new novel from the award-winning Andrew McGahan -- an electrifying, tumultuous story of inner demons, desire and devastation, a powerful and apocalyptic tale that sweeps the reader from the beginning of time to the end of the earth.


On an unnamed island, in a Gothic hospital sitting in the shadow of a volcano, a wordless orphan girl works on the wards housing the insane and the incapable. When a silent, unmoving and unnerving new patient -- a foreigner -- arrives at the hospital, strange phenomena occur, bizarre murders take place, and the lives of the patients and the island's inhabitants are thrown into turmoil. What happens between them is an extraordinary exploration of consciousness, reality and madness.

Wonders of a Godless World, the new novel from Miles Franklin-winner Andrew McGahan, is a huge and dramatic beast of a book. It is a thought-provoking investigation into character and consciousness, a powerful cautionary tale, and a head-stretching fable about the earth, nature and the power of the mind. It is utterly unlike anything you've read before - it will take you by the shoulders and hold you in its grip to its nerve-tingling finale.


Kerryn Goldsworthy in "Australian Book Review": "...this book is not going to be to everyone's taste, but readerly preserverance is rewarded...It is not a difficult read in the way that Brian Castro's or David Foster's dizzying pyrotechnics can be difficult, but it is still a bit of a struggle to sort thorugh the levels of reality and realism, such as they are, and the reader is haunted by a sense that she has missed some vital clue...Whatever else it is, this novel is an impressively sustained feat of imagination."

Geordie Williamson in "The Australian": "Whether McGahan is writing about racial hatred or deviant sexuality, his primary rhetorical gambit is bluntness. His direct and resolutely pedestrian language can lend a discomforting intensity to taboo subjects, a feeling akin to having your gaze held firmly for a few seconds too long. But prose can suffer as much from excessive plainness as too much filigree...while Wonders of a Godless World is too sophisticated to be the kind of dull allegory in which symbols have obvious, time-worn meanings, its characters lack the necessary freedom to act and choose outside the strict dictates of the form."

Short Notices

Sanchia Hovey on the "" website: "This book is totally unexpected and you won't be able to put it down. It's a thriller, an environmental plea, a book about madness, mind control, nature, space travel and just what it means to live forever."

Tania McCartney on "Australian Women Online" website: "From the opening pages of Andrew McGahan's latest fictional offering, we are bombarded with the dichotomy -- and parallels -- between ugly and beauty, whether it be aesthetic, figurative, primal, tangible, archetypal, human or metaphysical -- it's there, peeping from every placid or tumultous corner...Happily, there are also plenty of moments where the reader is drawn anxiously to the page - or more accurately - unwilling to even close the page and so miss the possibilities poised to erupt. Like the thundering volcano that features heavily in the lives of its characters, Wonders of a Godless World is sure to awaken the senses of anyone who cares to dip into its explosive pages - and however much you enjoy the novel, it will certainly give you something to rumble about for a long time to come."


Jo Case on the "Readings" website.

Fran Metcalf in "The Courier-Mail".

Jane Sullivan in "The Age".

Peter Mares on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show".


YouTube book trailer:

Combined Reviews: Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett

butterfly.jpg    ButterFly
Sonya Hartnett
Penguin Books

From the publisher's page

Here is Plum Coyle, on the threshold of adolescence, striving to be new. Her fourteenth birthday is approaching: her old life and her old body will fall away, and she will become graceful, powerful, at ease. The strength in the objects she stores in a briefcase under her bed -- a crystal lamb, a yoyo, an antique watch, a penny -- will make sure of it.

Over the next couple of weeks, Plum's life will change. Her beautiful neighbour Maureen will begin to show her how she might fly. The older brothers she adores -- the charismatic Justin, the enigmatic Cydar -- will court catastrophe in worlds that she barely knows exist. And her friends -- her worst enemies -- will tease and test, smelling weakness. They will try to lead her on and take her down.

Who ever forgets what happens when you're fourteen?


Sophie Masson in "The Australian":

The first novel of Sonya Hartnett's that I read was the haunting Wilful Blue (1994). Hartnett's lush yet fresh prose, spiced with gothic, her novel's combination of intense observation, sensual detail, pervasive melancholy, sensational events and characters with unusual, fin-de-race names, had for me more the feel of, say, American southern literature, or the work of writers such as Wilkie Collins, than what we were accustomed to in Australian literature... ...Hartnett's interest is in the way families work -- especially unhappy ones, of course, following Tolstoy's dictum -- and most especially in sibling relationships, whether it's the twisted sibling relations of Sleeping Dogs or Princes, or the more positive ones of Butterfly. The way in which family relations, especially between siblings, can alleviate or worsen the loneliness of the individual is important in most of her books, but especially so in this one.
Owen Richardson in "The Age": "When Sonya Hartnett published Landscape with Animals under a pseudonym, it was for fear this novel might end up falling into the hands of her younger audience: it was definitely not a book for kids. This one isn't either but it's not R-rated, though illicit love is here, and teenage dread and cruelty, and the kinds of ghosts haunting the suburbs that perhaps can only be seen by adolescents, just as dogs can pick vampires...While Hartnett doesn't overcook the ordinary miseries of childhood, nor does she lacquer them and protect us with nostalgic humour, and even if you had nicer friends when you were 13, you'll squirm in recognition."

Anna Solding in "The Independent Weekly": "Hartnett has the kind of writing style that grows on you. At first I was wondering what all the fuss was about - she has been hailed as the 'finest writer of her generation' -- but then exquisite turns of phrase appear out of nowhere and begin to linger at the back of your mind."

Lavinia Greenlaw in "The Guardian": "Sonya Hartnett is an acclaimed author of young-adult fiction whose Thursday's Child won the 2002 Guardian children's fiction prize. Butterfly is billed as her first adult work, but could be just as happily read by someone of 13. While this breadth of tone is impressive, it leaves the book unsettled. Although full of insight and wit, it never quite takes shape."

Short Notices

Cultural Gal on the "MelbArts" weblog: "Hartnett's many skills are in full play in this beautifully crafted novel. There are secrets in this quiet suburban world, secrets the characters keep from each other for fear of losing everything they value most. These secrets fuel the momentum of the narrative that Hartnett so carefully builds, keeping the surprises coming."

Sarah on the "I loved it..." weblog: "How does Sonya Hartnett know me so well? I swear that she was watching me grow up and saw every excruciating moment of my adolescence. Admittedly it was the 80s and everything was cringeworthy! She manages to capture the universal aspects of growing up and all the self doubt and casual cruelty that is so much a part of life as a teenager. I think Hartnett is a revelation. I adore her writing in a way that defies description."

Karen on the Book Bath weblog: "In some ways this book is two or three stories within one - but you never feel as though too much has been taken on by the author. Hartnett balances the characters and the story lines beautifully. This book was not at all what I expected when I started reading it but once I accepted this I enjoyed the rather uneasy storyline."

Madeline Wheatley of The Book Bag weblog gave the novel 4.5 stars: "Award winning Australian author Sonya Hartnett writes powerful, disturbing tales. This is no exception. Some of the events in this novel are extreme, yet believable, largely because of the vividly realistic character of Plum."

I.E Sawmill on The Literateur website was put off by the cover at first: "The cover is actually quite an inoffensive combination of yellows and pinks with flowers trailed all around in an attractive pattern. I was still at this point fully in the bigoted stages of reviewing and could not help a Pavlovian response to such stimuli: Yellow + Pink + Floral Decoration = book aimed for a female audience. Dare one say, chick-lit. This seemed at odds with the jacket's alliterative promise of 'deceit', 'despair' and 'desperation'. Those three words, in conjunction with the title, implied a gritty account of 'coming of age'...The novel has moments of great comedy, insight and fine descriptive inventiveness. Overall, however, Butterfly is something of a moth to its own flame. The tone and pace do not quite justify the book's ricocheting from flippancy to po-faced truisms and, at times, it feels as if it has suffered for lack of editing. As it stands, Butterfly is not a great deal more than the sum of its parts. Those parts are enjoyable enough, but one suspects that Hartnett is capable of much, much better."


Christopher Bantick in the "Courier-Mail".
Jo Case on the "" website.
Sally Warhaft on "SlowTV".
Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM's "Life is Beautiful".

Combined Reviews: The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy

world_beneath.jpg    The World Beneath
Cate Kennedy
Scribe Publications

From the publisher's page

Once, Rich and Sandy were environmental activists, part of a world-famous blockade in Tasmania to save the wilderness. Now, twenty-five years later, they have both settled into the uncomfortable compromises of middle age -- although they've gone about it in very different ways. About the only thing they have in common these days is their fifteen-year-old daughter, Sophie.

When the perennially restless Rich decides to take Sophie, whom he hardly knows, on a trek into the Tasmanian wilderness, his overconfidence and her growing disillusion with him set off a chain of events that no one could have predicted. Instead of respect, Rich finds antagonism in his relationship with Sophie; and in the vast landscape he once felt an affinity with, he encounters nothing but disorientation and fear.

Ultimately, all three characters will learn that if they are to survive, each must traverse not only the secret territories that lie between them but also those within themselves.


Jo Case in "Australian Book Review": The World Beneath skewers the same contemporary sacred cows as the recent bestseller Stuff White People Like,a book that slyly reveals the irony at the heart of inner-urban middle-class culture: everyone desperately trying to express their individuality by embracing the same 'unique' trends...This is a thought-provoking journey into contemporary Australia; an impressive début novel."

Kerryn Goldsworthy on her "Australian Literature Diary" weblog: "In some ways Kennedy is working the same territory as Christos Tsiolkas's The Slap: contemporary domestic realism focusing on parenting and on conflicting cultural values. But there's less cultural diversity, fewer characters, less sex, more social history, and a better plot." Kerryn points to both Jo Case's review and the Susan Wyndham interview (see below). Jo Case responds in the comments section.

Lisa Hill on the "ANZLitLovers" weblog: "The World Beneath is uniquely Australian. The main action of the novel takes place in the Tasmanian Wilderness, and two of its central characters came of age in the defining political moment of 1983 -- the fight to save the Franklin River. What is so interesting is the intersection of the intense significance of this moment for Rich and Sandy, with their daughter's indifference to it. It's all too long ago for fifteen-year-old Sophie, and she's heard about it too many times...The World Beneath takes a while to lure the reader in, because these three characters are each in their own way so tiresome that you don't want them in your life, not even in the pages of a book! But then before you know it you are there in the Tassie wilderness with Sophie and Rich and it's so compelling you can't put it down." Lisa picks it early for the 2010 Miles Frankin Award.


Susan Wyndham interviewed the author for the "Articulate" weblog.
Peter Mares on ABC Radio National's "Book Show".
Fiona Purdon in the "Courier-Mail".

Combined Reviews: Reunion by Andrea Goldsmith

reunion.jpg    Reunion
Andrea Goldsmith

From the publisher's page

Old friendships are expected to maintain their shape despite distance, lovers, careers, new friends. But twenty years is a long time.

Ava is an internationally acclaimed novelist who carries with her a lifetime of secrets.

Helen, a brilliant and dedicated molecular biologist, is faced with unexpected moral dilemmas as she finds herself drawn into bioterrorism research.

Conrad is a philosopher with a popular media profile and a desire for a much younger woman.

And Jack, whose career has stalled in the light of his long unrequited love for Ava, is a scholar of the history and culture of Islam.

It is Ava's husband, Harry, a man for whom the others can barely conceal their disdain, who has drawn them back to Melbourne where they first met at university.

As they deal with the reality of their present lives and their memories of the past, none will be unchanged by the reunion. And not everyone will survive.

Andrea Goldsmith has created a story of love, power, friendship and betrayal that is as gripping as it is exquisitely insightful.


Kirsten Alexander on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show": "Like the best of Iris Murdoch's novels, Reunion creeps up on you after the fact. In this novel, we meet a man who sleeps with a neglected schoolgirl. We meet a woman who is without remorse for her repeated infidelities. And we meet a woman who puts her work before her friends, even when her best friend is dying...On paper, you'd agree that's a pretty reprehensible bunch and yet they are our main characters, and Goldsmith tells her story through them. More than that, she writes them as flawed but endearing, mostly likeable individuals. She doesn't moralise, she doesn't judge. Some of her characters come unstuck as the result of their behaviour but only temporarily, and never without the possibility of redemption...Reunion is an interesting, commendable novel with breadth and wisdom that is enormously attractive."

Jennifer Levasseur in "The Australian": "It's a mystery why Andrea Goldsmith is not a household name...Her latest offering should be welcomed with the excitement that greets the best Australian novelists working today. It is baffling that her previous five novels, which include Facing the Music and Under the Knife, are out of print. Aside from being a rigorous thinker, a deft juggler of the complexities of human experience, a wordsmith and a loving chronicler of place, she tells a damn good story...Reunion, like all good science and art, invigorates. Rather than trying to divorce the cerebral from the mundane, Goldsmith shows people living lives of the mind while getting on with buying pasta, remembering old flames, worrying over which tram to take, reciting poetry, having sex and drinking too much...As in life, Goldsmith's characters have all shades. They are honest and deceptive, disciplined and deluded, obtuse and charming, embarrassingly earnest and pragmatic."

Judith Armstrong in "Australian Book Review": "As the past catches up with and merges into the present, the writing comes into flower but retains its essential dependence on the minutiae that have drawn us into these personal but exposed lives. Not only does Goldsmith excel at the interior monologue, she makes us visualise architecture and interiors, feel the variations in the weather, taste the ripeness of a cheese. At the same time, she inserts the textural details into a larger background, be it historical, geographical, political or ideological. The world she builds up in painstaking yet light strokes is entirely convincing, both in novelistic terms and also in its realistic portrayal of Melbourne from the 1970s to the present."

Short Notices

Jo Case in "The Monthly: "Andrea Goldsmith's new novel is truly exciting. Like its brilliant protagonists, Reunion is passionate about ideas, dissecting them thoroughly and hungrily...[it] is dense with ideas that never overpower its characters and plot, but instead drive them with a seemingly instinctual logic."

"Boomerang Books" weblog: "Reunion is a story of friendship and love, power and betrayal, all played out against some of Melbourne's well-loved landmarks (Carlton bookshops, cafes, and Melbourne University, among others). This is no fast-paced page-turner though, as Andrea Goldsmith subtley and sensitively investigates what goes on beneath the action. It's the inner lives of the characters that she explores on these pages -- their doubts, fears, joys and obsessions."

"Australian Mothers Online" website: "Goldsmith's words are so thought-provoking that there are endless topics of discussion that arise from this story of 4 fairly ordinary friends. She explores love and relationships on many levels -- committed, enduring love; unrequited love; the effects of betrayal on love and love squandered."


Jo Case, of "Readings Monthly", talks to the author.

Magdalena Ball on "The Compulsive Reader" website.


"Slow TV" has video of Goldsmith in conversation with Drusilla Modjeska.

Lisa Hill saw the author being interviewed by Michael Williams at the 2009 Melbourne Writers Festival.

Combined Reviews: Things We Didn't See Coming by Steven Amsterdam

things_we_didnt_see_coming.jpg    Things We Didn't See Coming
Steven Amsterdam
Sleepers Publishing

[This novel won the 2009 "Age" Book of the Year Award for Fiction as well as being selected as the "Age" Book of the Year.]


Venero Armanno in "The Australian" finds comparisons with Cormac McCarthy's The Road: "With the tone and premise set, Amsterdam leads readers into a sort of other-world of what might have happened if everything really had gone belly-up at the door to the 21st century. The links between these individual short stories are the situation and narrator, who starts out as a boy being driven away from civilisation by his parents and is later a man trying to deal with every lousy turn the broken world throws up...Amsterdam's vision is sunnier than the one McCarthy presents in The Road and many readers will find his style more accessible. His prose and storytelling is minimalist without crossing into the territory of a Raymond Carver or Richard Ford, and each of his stories benefits from being so carefully crafted, the reader feels few words, images or characters could have been pared back more. This makes for a fascinating and extremely readable collection that presents a dismal view of our future coupled with an intrinsic belief there is good to be found in almost all abysmal situations." He concludes by calling it "a challenging and impressive debut".

Emmett Stintson in "The Monthly": "While the nine sections comprising the work can be read as discrete stories, they are enriched by points of convergence and a shared context. And context is everything in Amsterdam's book, since everything occurs in a world hovering on the brink of various ecological cataclysms, Malthusian catastrophes and full-blown apocalypses. In this sense, Things We Didn't See Coming is doubly hybrid, fusing literary and science fiction - a union that has also been explored by such writers as David Mitchell, Neal Stephenson and Alasdair Gray...The prose is also generally restrained, yet the language intensifies when characters reach an epiphany, creating some moments of actual beauty - a technique that invigorates these powerful experiences."

Martin Shaw for the "Readings" website: "When I was given the opportunity of reading Things We Didn't See Coming in manuscript form last year, it was one of the most breathtaking experiences of my reading life. Fittingly I think for the extraordinary journey that is this book, the publisher has chosen not to give anything away in its packaging. Amsterdam, we are informed, is 'a writer living in Melbourne'; there is no descriptive blurb on the back cover, nor is there a table of contents for anyone assuming that it is a short-story collection (a novel in linked stories sums it up better)...A quite simply astounding book, and surely destined to become a contemporary classic!"

Angela Meyer on "LiteraryMinded": "Things We Didn't See Coming is a series of vignettes, from different stages of the unnamed protagonist's life in a dystopian alterno-present/future. It is a post-apocalyptic story, but told in a hard-boiled, yet highly resonant literary style. The sentences are sharp, the character is hard and the environment is one of rapid change and ruin -- but throughout there is also deep resistance. The book acts to massage you at your core, and every secondary character met along the way (no matter how fleeting) leaves a poignant stain on character and reader...It's a completely refreshing literary work from an Australian writer who I predict huge things for."

Andrew Doyle on "The Enthusiast" weblog: "In its modern incarnation, the apocalypse has been more thrilling and varied. Gone is the single event; now we have a multiple choice question sheet's worth of ways to end our time on earth. Wild weather, falling towers and Central America returning the favour of biological warfare. Melbourne imprint Sleepers, best known for its Almanacs of local writers, has released one of its first books on this very topic. Things We Didn't See Coming looks at the world through the modern catastrophic lens and imagines a startling reality...Above all, Amsterdam creates real worlds and real people. None of the characters or scenarios seem too far-fetched, nor do they lack human emotion."


Sarah L'Estrange spoke to Amsterdam on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show".

Kevin Rabelais interviewed the author for the "Readings" weblog.


Stephanie Campisi was quite taken by the book's cover and noticed a similarity between it and books by Emily Arsenault and Italo Calvino. Not that she's implying any copying, just an amusing co-incidence.

The author provided "The Age" with an essay describing how writing the book allowed him to organise his thoughts and to exorcise some of his worries about the future.

The book has its own dedicated website.

Combined Reviews: The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper

tall_man.jpg Reviews of The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island
Chloe Hooper

[This book won the following non-fiction awards: NSW Premier's Literary Award, Australian Book Industry Award, Indie Award, Davitt Award, Ned Kelly Award, John Button Prize, Victorian Premier's Literary Award, and Queensland Premier's Literary Award.]

From the publisher's page

The Tall Man is the story of Palm Island, the tropical paradise where one morning Cameron Doomadgee swore at a policeman and forty minutes later lay dead in a watch-house cell. It is the story of that policeman, the tall, enigmatic Christopher Hurley who chose to work in some of the toughest and wildest places in Australia, and of the struggle to bring him to trial. Above all, it is a story in luminous detail of two worlds clashing - and a haunting moral puzzle that no reader will forget.

This book originally started as an essay published in the March 2006 edition of "The Monthly". This essay won a Walkley Award in 2006.


Jennifer Moran in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "The Tall Man explores many themes -- the uneasy relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, the legacy of our cruel history, the poverty and problems that beset many remote Aboriginal communities, the unequal application of justice -- but at its heart is a compelling human story in which hasty passion and terrible chance propelled one man to defend his character and his profession and the other to a painful, untimely death...Hooper has gathered material from many oral and written sources. An index would have been useful and her notes and attribution could have been less casual. Still, this carping should not detract from what she has accomplished -- a thoughtful, perceptive examination of an important Australian tragedy."

Alison McCullough in "The New York Times": "Hooper followed the case and its main characters for two and a half years, and she does their complexity a remarkable justice. She became involved a few months after Doomadgee's death, when a lawyer representing the island's Aboriginal community said he needed a writer. Hooper's first book, A Child's Book of True Crime, was a novel -- arguably a curious grounding for a work like this one. Or perhaps it set the stage perfectly, with its clever and penetrating account of a gruesome murder. Yet Hooper surely could not have foreseen the tempest into which she was stepping with the Doomadgee case."

Sophia Romano on ABC Online: "In taking up the task of capturing the death of Cameron Doomadgee and the events which followed Chloe Hooper gives dignity to all the victims, both Indigenous and police, without losing sight of the central issue. Pain leads to pain. Violence to violence. The rest remains to be seen...There are so many good elements to this book it must be read by all Australians, Black and White."

Short Notices

Susan Whelan on Suite101: "Chloe Hooper brings a voice of reason and reflection to this complex situation. Both her personal observations and detailed research are presented in a way that stirs a desire within the reader to follow her search for truth and justice through to its eventual conclusion."

Joe Case on the "Readings" weblog: "From the first pages, it's clear that you're in the hands of an extraordinary writer, one who spins out perfectly observed sentences and intricate observations, in a manner eerily reminiscent of Helen Garner (who calls this book 'enthralling')."

Fleur Taylor on the "Socialist Alternative" website: "Hooper has said that she didn't want to write a book about issues; she wanted it to be about people. But no person exists outside of the society that creates them. Hooper's investigation of how Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley killed Cameron Doomadgee in a police station in 2004 lays bare the workings of Australian racism in a way that will leave you breathless with rage and sorrow."


Chloe Hooper in conversation with Sally Warhaft on "The Monthly" website.
Benjamin Law in "The Courier-Mail".


The Prologue in "The New York Times".
An extract in "The Age".


The book has its own website.

Hooper published a follow-up essay, "In search of Palm Island's true victims", on the Crikey website in October 2008.

Combined Reviews: Summertime by J.M. Coetzee

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summertime.jpg Reviews of Summertime
J.M. Coetzee
Random House

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize.]

From the publisher's page

A young English biographer is working on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. He plans to focus on the years from 1972 - 1977 when Coetzee, in his thirties, is sharing a run-down cottage in the suburbs of Cape Town with his widowed father. This, the biographer senses, is the period when he was finding his feet as a writer.

Never having met Coetzee, he embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to him - a married woman with whom he had an affair, his favourite cousin Margot, a Brazilian dancer whose daughter had English lessons with him, former friends and colleagues. From their testimony emerges a portrait of the young Coetzee as an awkward, bookish individual with little talent for opening himself to others. Within the family he is regarded as an outsider, someone who tried to flee the tribe and has now returned, chastened. His insistence on doing manual work, his long hair and beard, rumours that he writes poetry evoke nothing but suspicion in the South Africa of the time.

Sometimes heartbreaking, often very funny, SUMMERTIME shows us a great writer as he limbers up for his task.


David Grylls in "The Sunday Times": "Ostensibly, Coetzee projects himself as a marginal, maladroit figure, a failure in love and literature. But is this really unsparing self-dissection or a sophisticated exercise in self-approval? In Summertime he has in effect drafted his own obituary. Perhaps his next book will come equipped with its own reviews -- all ghosted, in suitably downbeat mode, by JM Coetzee."

James Ley in "Australian Book Review": "The novel's use of multiple perspectives often makes John seem distant, almost a secondary figure in his own book, as the personalities of the various interviewees assert themselves, but it also functions as a way to voice -- indeed, to overtsate -- every imaginable self-doubt and criticism in a blunt and objective manner. Summertime uses this scourging negativity in the way that Thomas Bernhard's novels use anger: it becomes the book's driving force, the source of its intellectual and creative energy."

Michela Wrong in "The Spectator": "Two previous volumes -- Boyhood and Youth -- recounted the author's childhood in the Western Cape as the son of middle-class Afrikaners and his move to London, where he tried his hand as a computer programmer. Like Summertime, both of those books used the distancing third person, as though Coetzee simply could not bear the intimacy of a life conveyed first-hand. In this volume he goes one step further along the path of self-elimination, viewing his experience exclusively via the insights of outsiders, almost all of them women...One admires the art. The writer's ironic detachment, his playful tweaking of narrative conventions and readers' expectations, causes a wry curl of the lip. But at the end the reader is left hungering for some form of resolution, an end to this game of bluff and double-bluff."

Boyd Tonkin in "The Independent": "Summertime extends a chain of fictionalised memoirs that began with Coetzee's Boyhood (subtitled, as here, 'scenes from provincial life') and continued in Youth. Yet it also returns to the ironic, self-mocking -- and always deniable -- dramatisation of a parallel life that he recently undertook in Diary of a Bad Year...Of course, Summertime is fiction above all -- 'auto-fiction', if you prefer. All the same, it dwells on a time and place where manipulated versions of character and identity could dictate not merely the difference between success and failure, acceptance and rejection, but even life and death. It matters decisively who tells an individual's story -- and how they opt to tell it...The book will easily wrongfoot any naïve seeker of correspondences between art and life. That is part of its point -- but so too is the tender and incisive portrayal of thwarted feelings in a time of troubles, and the robustly drawn women who give this anaemic anti-hero lessons in a tougher kind of truth."

Geordie Williamson in "The Australian": "Summertime might well be read as a literal rendering of the author's dictum from his early critical work, White Writing: 'Our craft is all in reading the other: gaps, inverses, undersides; the veiled, the dark, the buried, feminine; alterities.'...Indeed alterity, the philosophical principle of exchanging one's perspective for that of another, is what drags Summertime out of the mire of subjectivity and self-loathing that sometimes bogged Boyhood and Youth...This rather dry, theoretical reading does not do Summertime full justice, however. The book is richer and more vivid than that. Like Philip Larkin, whose poem Posterity is written from the posthumous viewpoint of a creative artist imagining his biographer at work, and who takes the opportunity to mockingly construct his own epitaph, Coetzee's death frees him from the old constraints. Not only does Coetzee dose himself with self-ridicule, he also permits his self-construction some naked displays of emotion."

Peter Craven in "The Age": "It's a very odd, brilliantly executed book that might come across as doodlingly narcissistic if we did not know that it was the work of the notably retiring and austere writer, J. M. Coetzee. If we didn't know that, then the tenor of the book, the glow of puzzled expectation that we bring to it, would be different...The last part of the book is made up of extracts from his journal entries focused on his ageing and ailing father, who appears intermittently in the preceding pages as a frail and constricting figure. The account of the father has, in a way nothing else in this book does, an overwhelming poignancy...It is as if Coetzee has finally let himself go, the one moment in this book that has the unmistakable authority of the signature of the great novelist, J. M. Coetzee, is in this portrait of the frail figure who did and who didn't dominate his life and who allows him, by some untoward principle of impersonality, his self-defining moment."

Thomas Jones in "The Observer": "Summertime plays with the question, which Coetzee seems to find genuinely baffling as well as wryly amusing, of why people should be at all interested in him as a human being...A novel so flagrantly autobiographical as Summertime appears to test that assumption to its limits. But then again, considering that Coetzee has changed the most basic fact of his life -- whether he is alive or dead -- for the purposes of the novel, readers have no grounds for believing that anything else they are told about the character John Coetzee necessarily holds true for his eponymous creator."

James Urquhart in "The Independent on Sunday": "Billed as the third instalment of a trilogy of fictionalised memoir begun with Boyhood, these 'scenes from provincial life' are evocative rather than literal, the impressionistic testimonies forming a stylised work far removed from the conventional nuts and bolts of a curated life. JM Coetzee flourishes within this ambiguous literary distancing, which he used to great effect in his last novel, Diary of a Bad Year, whose subject was also a crotchety old writer and Coetzee cipher...How far the reader wants to map the somewhat wintry lament of Summertime back on to JM Coetzee's life depends on how far one is willing to extrapolate plausible fact from nuanced, many-layered fiction. What Summertime offers is a subtle, allusive meditation: an intriguing map of a weak character's constricted heart struggling against the undertow of suspicion within South Africa's claustrophobic, unpoetic, overtly macho society."


You can read an extract from the book published in "The New York Review of Books".

Combined Reviews: The Shallow End by Ashley Sievwright

shallow_end.jpg Reviews of The Shallow End
Ashley Sievwright
Clouds of Magellan

[This novel was shortlisted for the Best First Book award in the South East Asia and Pacific region of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.]

From the publisher's page:

It was one of the most perfect days, only just warm enough, an ever so slight breeze I could see in the hairs on my arm and in the flutter of the flags across each end of the pool but couldn't feel. It must have been the exact temperature of my blood.'

On a cloudless afternoon, a man dives into a crowded swimming pool and disappears. Is it murder, a staged disappearance or alien abduction?

The Shallow End -- a steady freestyle commentary on sex, celebrity and suntanning.


Lou Swinn on 3RRR: "Ashley Sievwright is a really entertaining writer and this book is super easy to read. It's an internal story as much as anything, about loss and blame and guilt, and how people can pass in and out of other people's lives. There is plenty of philosophising on the ways that people communicate, and on how we point the blame, and about the way society operates...Sievwright has a nice way of putting things, and he builds this drama quietly and subtly, towards an interesting conclusion."

Diane Stubbings in "The Canberra Times": "The Shallow End offers a sharply amusing, often acerbic commentary on contemporary Australia, particularly in terms of the debilitating relationship that has developed between society and the media, a lack of critical engagement on one side and the veneration of the lowest common denominator on the other, working to the detriment of both."

Richard Watts in "Canvas" magazine.
Scott Abrahams in "Southern Star".

Combined Reviews: This Is How by M. J. Hyland

this_is_how.JPG Review of This is How
M.J. Hyland
Text Publishing

From the Publisher's page

From the author of the Man Booker-shortlisted Carry Me Down comes a novel of remarkable power and resonance.

When his fiancée breaks off their engagement, Patrick Oxtoby leaves home and moves into a boarding house in a remote seaside town. But in spite of his hopes and determination to build a better life, nothing goes to plan and Patrick is soon driven to take a desperate and chilling course of action.

This Is How is a mesmerising and meticulously drawn portrait of a man whose unease in the world leads to his tragic undoing. With breathtaking wisdom and an astute insight into the human mind, award-winning M.J. Hyland's new book is a masterpiece that inspires horror and sympathy in equal measure.


Justine Jordan in "The Guardian": "As in previous novels, Hyland tells her story in a supercharged present tense, tremblingly aware of physical detail; the book is heavy with dialogue, yet we are never told about tone of voice, while actions are continually observed from the outside rather than experienced from within (the most striking example of disassociation being the times Patrick hears himself speaking aloud). The reader, as a result groping for emotional bearings, enters fully into the tension of Patrick's inner self, his claustrophobic sense of being subject to the physical world yet isolated from its meaning. He can apprehend events, but not how they are connected. In its most extreme form, this dislocation is to be his undoing...Bleak yet moving, mercilessly dispassionate yet shot through with kindness and wit, it is a profound achievement."

Julie Myerson in "The Financial Times": "I confess I read on hoping that this mystery might be solved for me. How and why did Oxtoby end up like this? Is it to do with his mother, his family, or even that much referred-to toolkit of his? Why did he drop out of university? I wondered whether all the ominous clues that Hyland had scattered might finally amount to something, and explain why an awkward but apparently benign social misfit became a murderer...But novels are strange beasts, and you can't always know how one is going to affect you. I finished This is How feeling slightly short-changed, disappointed that I'd somehow been denied a solution to the mystery that its author had set up...Three or four days later, however, Hyland's white-hot prose was still smouldering in my head and I found myself intensely, almost helplessly, moved by Oxtoby and his tragedy."

Lucy Atkins in "The Times": "There is no fanciness to Hyland's prose. Everything -- first person, present tense -- is controlled and precise. In the second half of the book, Patrick's claustrophobic world becomes unutterably grim, but it never feels less than completely real. If you are looking for light entertainment, this is definitely not it. But when it comes to social complexity and nuance, Hyland is compelling."

Jane Shilling in "The Telegraph": "Hyland mentions Albert Camus as one of her literary inspirations, and Oxtoby shares with Camus's Meursault - and with a rogue's gallery of literary anti-heroes, from Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov to Sebastian Faulks's Engleby -- a deformation of the personality that isolates him from the banal warmth of ordinary human discourse. But he lacks the existential hero's grandiose sense of glee at his separateness. Every word of Hyland's narrative ---observed with the bright, deranged precision of a Richard Dadd painting - resonates with Patrick's tragic awareness of what he lacks."

Rebecca Starford in "Australian Book Review": "Patrick Oxtoby is sure to resonate with audiences. But there is a sameness about his character that will disappoint some readers. Hyland has not ventured far from safe territory and once again navigates that bewildered interiority that has become her trademark. Familiar, too, is the grim, grey social milieu. It would have been good to read a more strenuous examination of this world, about which Hyland is clearly equivocal, and to learn how this contributes to Patrick's development; but this element remains ill defined, and as with How the Light Gets In leaves an impression of superciliousness which may be unintended."

Short Notices

Bruno Moro on "": "Written in the first-person, Hyland begins by describing the minutiae of daily life in small-town Ireland, only to then tackle the big themes -- justice, responsibility, morality, salvation -- the list is as long as you want it to be. More importantly for me, there is a delicate emotional line that runs through -- we somehow grow to care for this awkward, flawed protagonist, even when we perhaps should not."

Anita Sethi in "The Independent": "This is a compassionate, disturbing novel, tragically showing a human learning to appreciate life only when his own has been incarcerated."


The book has its own dedicated website.

The author discussed her novel with Ramona Koval on ABC Radio National's "Book Show".

Combined Reviews: Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga

between_assassinations.jpg Reviews of Between the Assassinations
Aravind Adiga

[This novel was shortlisted for the Best Book award in the South East Asia and the Pacific region of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.]

From the publisher's page:

The dazzling new book from the winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize: one of the summer's most eagerly anticipated works of fiction. In Between the Assassinations, Aravind Adiga brings to life a chorus of distinctive Indian voices, all inhabitants in the fictional town of Kittur... His new book sizzles with the same humour, anger, and humanity that characterized The White Tiger. On India's south-western coast, between Goa and Calicut, lies Kittur -- a small, nondescript every town. Aravind Adiga acts as our guide to the town, mapping overlapping lives of Kittur's residents. Here, an illiterate Muslim boy working at the train station finds himself tempted by an Islamic terrorist; a bookseller is arrested for selling a copy of The Satanic Verses; a rich, spoiled, half-caste student decides to explode a bomb in school; a sexologist has to find a cure for a young boy who may have AIDS. What emerges is the moral biography of an Indian town and a group portrait of ordinary Indians in a time of extraordinary transformation, over the seven-year period between the assassinations of Prime Minister Gandhi and her son Rajiv. Keenly observed and finely detailed, Between the Assassinations is a triumph of voice and

Nirpal Dhaliwal in "The London Evening Standard": "Having excoriated the pretensions and injustices of modern India, he's now written an historical piece situated between the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and her son, Rajiv, that ended the Nehru dynasty's 40year monopoly of Indian politics. Located in the fictional south Indian town of Kittur, it consists of a series of vignettes weaving together characters from a variety of castes, religions and backgrounds to give a textured and intimate sense of the exhausting complexity of Indian life and its stifling social attitudes -- very much like R K Narayan did with his Malgudi novels but with a dark and smutty sense of humour...Addressing India's strengths with the unsentimental candour that he applies to its weaknesses would be the mark of a pioneering novelist. Readable as his new book is, he missed an opportunity truly to become the trailblazer that many think he already is."
Susan H. Greenberg in "Newsweek": "Like an Asian sister city to Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, the fictitious town of Kittur, India, is full of anguished souls trying to find their place in the world. They fight, love and struggle their way through the overlapping stories in Between the Assassinations, the nimble new work from Aravind Adiga, the Indian writer who won Britain's Man Booker Prize last year for his savage first novel, The White Tiger. With his latest book, Adiga, 34, strengthens the brash voice that echoed through his debut...As literature, Between the Assassinations feels slighter than The White Tiger. But as a portrait of India, it's far richer and more nuanced, encompassing the perspectives of Muslims, Hindus and Christians; rich and poor; young and old; upper caste and lower."
Lee Thomas in "The San Francisco Chronicle": "Kittur is a microcosm of India as a whole: Deep divisions run along lines of caste, religion, class and politics; rapid modernization strains these traditional categories. In many ways, the vignettes in Between the Assassinations flesh out the question at the heart of The White Tiger: Where is the justice in one man ruling another simply though the accident of his birth? Welcome to most of human history...The stories provide an intimate setting for revelation. Like passing through a congested street on a rickshaw, the reader encounters all quarters of the city, all strata of the populace."
Peter Parker in "The Sunday Times": "Once again, Adiga concentrates on the inequalities between rich and poor, employers and employees, servants and those they serve, and many of the stories deal with the problems of caste. He has said he wants to portray the underclass that forms the vast bulk of India's population -- and when he turns his attentions to the well-off pupils at St Alfonso's Boys' High School or the denizens of a salubrious suburb at the edge of a forest, the stories are less engaging...Adiga is at his best when describing the everyday realities of village people who escape to a big city, or are sent there by their families, and end up living on the streets and doing the most menial jobs."

Short notices
Chandrahas Choudhury on the "Good Read" weblog: "On a map of India Kittur would only be a finger-joint away from R.K. Narayan's Malgudi, but the savagery of Adiga's material and his slashing style make for an atmosphere worlds away from the older writer's gentler ironies and greater tolerance for life's injustices. Adiga's great theme is power relations -- between rich and poor, master and servant, high caste and low caste, majority and minority -- and, as a consequence of these relations, moral perversion and subaltern rage."
The"Something about Everything" weblog: "The texture of Between the Assassinations is different from the The White Tiger but like it the lens is angled directly over India's social landscape.But the main theme, the one at which the author hacks away relentlessly, is that of power relations-rich-poor,high caste-low caste,majority-minority and last but not the least, between the English-speaking and those who can't, but are captivated by the aura of the language; as in case of Ziauddin, 'Whenever a word was said in English all work stopped, the boy would turn around and repeat the word at the top of his voice, "Sunday-Monday, Goodbye, Sexy!", and the entire shop shook with laughter.'"

Combined Reviews: Addition by Toni Jordan

addition.jpg Reviews of Addition
Toni Jordan
Text Publishing

[This novel was shortlisted for the 2009 Barbara Jefferis Award, and longlisted for the 2009 Miles Franklin award.]

From the publisher's page:

Grace Lisa Vandenburg counts. The letters in her name (19). The steps she takes every morning to the local café (920); the number of poppy seeds on her slice of orange cake, which dictates the number of bites she'll take to finish it. Grace counts everything, because numbers hold the world together. And she needs to keep an eye on how they're doing. Seamus Joseph O'Reilly (also a 19, with the sexiest hands Grace has ever seen) thinks she might be better off without the counting. If she could hold down a job, say. Or open her kitchen cupboards without conducting an inventory, or make a sandwich containing an unknown number of sprouts. Grace's problem is that Seamus doesn't count. Her other problem is...he does. Addition is a fabulous debut novel. Grace is witty, flirtatious and headstrong. She's not a bit sentimental but even so, she may be about to lose track of the number of ways she can fall in love.

Clare Scobie in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "The publishers were right in their glowing accolades for Addition. Toni Jordan has created such a real character in Grace that you are cheering her on, willing her to get to the top of the staircase, intact and unharmed. Jordan's voice is distinctive, refreshing and very Australian. Her debut novel is juicy and funny, just like its protagonist; even if I glazed over some of the numbers (there are just so many), this is a gem."
Carmen Klassen in "The StarPhoenix": "Addition is about a girl's obsession with counting, true, but it's also about falling in love and learning how to change without losing yourself in the process. It is a clever and original novel that is sure to make you laugh out loud."
Jo Case in "Australian Book Review": "Addition raises a lot of questions about our values and our society, couched in disarmingly easy-to-read prose. Why is a banker, not a baker, considered a good catch? How many of us watch more life on screen than we experience outside our homes? Why is there so much pressure to be like everyone else? What is 'normal'? Is our society over-medicalised?...The central relationships in the books are lovingly rendered, all the more so for Grace's lashings of spot-on satire about them all."

Short notices

Catherine Taylor in "The Guardian": "Brimming with sarcastic humour, Grace is an enjoyably eccentric narrator, and although the gift-wrapped denouement is pure saccharine, Jordan writes sympathetically about her neurosis."
Christina Koning in "The Times": "Bringing a quirky humour and a sympathetic view of diversity to her story, the author sustains the momentum to the end of this engaging romantic comedy."
You can read a number of small reviews on the Richard and Judy Book Club site.
Claire Looby in "The Irish Times": "Toni Jordan's debut is mature, witty and entertaining and earns her a place in the growing ranks of Australian popular fiction writers."
"The Book Chick" weblog: "This book was about being true to yourself no matter the circumstances and it was also about accepting your personal quirks as something to be valued, rather than feared."


Louise Swinn on the "Readings" weblog.
Fiona Gruba in "The Sydney Morning Herald".
"Life Matters" on ABC Radio with Richard Aedy.
Angela Meyer on the "LiteraryMinded" weblog.
Toni Jordan on YouTube talking about her book.


For "The Guardian" newspaper Jordan chose her "Top 10 Flawed Romantic Heroes".

Combined Reviews: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

people_of_book.jpg Reviews of People of the Book
Geraldine Brooks

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2009 Barbara Jefferis Award.]

From the publisher's page:

People of the Book crosses continents and centuries to bring stories of hope amidst darkness, compassion amidst cruelty, all bound together by the discoveries made by a young Australian woman restoring an ancient Hebrew book. When Hanna Heath gets a call in the middle of the night in her Sydney home about a precious medieval manuscript that has been recovered from the smouldering ruins of war-torn Sarajevo, she knows she is on the brink of the experience of a lifetime. A renowned book conservator, she must now make her way to Bosnia to start work on restoring the Sarajevo Haggadah -- a Jewish prayer book -- to discover its secrets and piece together the story of its miraculous survival. But the trip will also set in motion a series of events that threaten to rock Hanna's orderly life, including her encounter with Ozren Karamen, the young librarian who risked his life to save the book. As meticulously researched as all of Brooks' previous work, People of the Book is a gripping and moving novel about war, art, love and survival.
Clare McHugh in "The New York Sun": "In reality, People of the Book is of much more substance than Dan Brown's overwrought, silly, and ultimately distasteful thriller could ever hope to be -- yet Ms. Brooks's work is just as entertaining. She has accomplished something remarkable, fashioning a story that is compelling and eminently readable, even as she maintains high intentions and an earnest purpose."
Ursula Le Guin in "The Guardian" "Her performance will satisfy many readers. The tale is full of complex twists and turns, with even a bit of mystery plot towards the end; there's sex, a rather tenuous love story and the obligatory descriptions of acts of violence...The story sprawls, but it is all firmly planned and plotted -- possibly too firmly...Full of action but with no leavening of humour, no psychological revelations, no vivid language to focus description, the chapters grind on. Most unhappily for a historical novel, there is little sensitivity to the local colour of thought and emotion, that openness to human difference which brings the past alive."
"Publisher's Weekly" concludes: "Brooks is too good a novelist to belabor her political messages, but her depiction of the Haggadah bringing together Jews, Christians and Muslims could not be more timely. Her gift for storytelling, happily, is timeless."
Janet Maslin in "The New York Times": "the intense bibliographic appeal of People of the Book turns out to be a mixed blessing. It lands Ms. Brooks neck-deep in research. It overburdens her tale in ways that make it more admirable than gripping."
Ami Sands Brodoff in "The Globe and Mail": "'Haggadah' stems from the Hebrew root hgd, 'to tell,' and the rescue and preservation of the Sarajevo Haggadah dramatized in People of the Book brings home with fearsome clarity how inextricably linked are words and human life: the people who created the book, owned it and later rescued and preserved it endured pogroms, the Inquisition, exile, genocide and war."
Terri Schlichenmeyer in "The Eagle-Tribune": "People of the Book starts out slow; so slow, that I wasn't sure I could make it through almost 400 pages. There's a lot of setup to make the story work, and not much happens for the first couple segments. In the end, I was glad I stuck it out...With time-framing reminiscent of Pulp Fiction, some factual history, the existence of a real book and a fictional character who is increasingly easy to like, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Brooks takes you on a five-century trip from Bosnia to Venice, Vienna to Spain, and inside mosques, churches and torture chambers...If you like historical mysteries, antique-hunting or The DaVinci Code, pick up People of the Book. This book about a book is a double delight for anyone who craves the written word."
Susan Comninos in "The Philadelphia Inquirer": "the novel, in its proselytizing zeal for universality, sometimes puts anachronistic lingo in the mouths of its medieval characters. For instance, the refusal of a Moorish slave girl to humiliate a Christian woman -- by painting her naked likeness for their Muslim captor -- is explained by a self-help declaration: " 'No ... I can't do this. I know what it is to be raped. You can't ask me to assist your rapist.'"...People of the Book shouldn't have to rely on such heavy-handed prose or pointed making of points. A simple explication of the real-life story of the Sarajevo haggadah -- one of individual bravery in the face of a larger brutality -- would have sufficed."
Lisa Fugard in "The New York Times": "We are left wishing Brooks had found a less obtrusive way to gather up the many strands of her narrative. While peering through a microscope at a rime of salt crystals on the manuscript of the Haggadah, Hanna reflects that 'the gold beaters, the stone grinders, the scribes, the binders" are "the people I feel most comfortable with. Sometimes in the quiet these people speak to me.' Though the reader's sense of Hanna's relationship with the Haggadah rarely deepens to such a level, Geraldine Brooks's certainly has."
Felicity Plunkett in "The Age": "Hannah's Australianness felt, to me, slightly anachronistic, or confected, or perhaps made with an eye to the international audience the Australian-born, US-based Brooks no doubt commands...In other respects, Brooks' characterisation is remarkable. Her ability to evoke the conflicts that tear at an otherwise-devout Rabbi, or the altruism of resistance in, for example, a young Muslim wife in Sarajevo in the 1940s, is exceptional...Brooks' ability to take an initial inspiration and weave from fact a vibrant fiction situates it within the rich seams of 'faction', increasingly frequent in contemporary writing."
Michael Upchurch in "The Seattle Times": "Brooks may be spelling out her message a little too explicitly here, and the way her imagined histories interlock can be a tad too schematic. But she does a sterling job of reminding readers how art objects -- no matter how damaged or fragile -- link epoch to epoch and world to world, putting the conflicts and follies of our own time into context."
Nancy Wigston in "The Toronto Star": "Brooks's major challenge remains the existence of a book that ought not to exist but stubbornly does. She allows herself considerable leeway -- rooted in history and logic, it must be said -- when it comes to her account of its creation: extraordinary storytelling meets extraordinary reality...In our world, 'no one expects the Spanish Inquisition' evokes the famous Monty Python sketch. But Brooks shows that for considerable chunks of time in Europe, many did expect the torturers...Brooks opens windows onto forgotten worlds, matching her stories to historical truths. Throughout, the survival of the Sarajevo Haggadah speaks with its own thunderous eloquence."

Short notices
Lena on "The Reading Obsession" weblog: "I loved the book! The writer really caught the essence of the struggles of the Jewish people throughout history and really drew me into the story. It is not an 'on the edge of your seat' kind of book, but if the reader is looking for a wonderfully engaging story with a bit of a historical feel to it this book is a perfect fit for that type of reading."
Danielle Torres on the "Work in Progress" weblog: "The chapters alternate and with each chapter we discover what actually happened to the manuscript -- the hands it passed through to those who created it. It's all very creatively presented, and it seems that Brooks has certainly done her research well. Oftentimes in novels like these one period or plotline will dominate the other, but I was quite content with both the story set in the present and the individual pieces of the story in the past. I found it all interesting -- not ever wishing I could hurry on to a more exciting part of the story."
On the "Green Chair Press" weblog: "I am amazed by the amount of research that Brooks must have done to write her book. There's lots of information about bookbinding and conservation, as well as an incredible amount of historical detail. The adventures of the main, present-day narrator, Hanna, are awfully contrived, but the interspersed stories imagining the history of the Haggadah are much better. Certainly reading it was a fine way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon!"

You can listen to the author talking about her book on All Things Considered, from Minnesota Public Radio.
Bron Sibree in "The Courier-Mail":

Despite having written three historical novels, Brooks says she cannot fully explain her fascination with the past..."I liked history in school, but I was much more animated by politics, by the things that were really happening in society around me," she says...She likes too, to joke about her on-the-page attraction to men of the cloth -- "vicars, rabbis, imams, I don't know why" -- but insists she is not religious herself...She adopted the Jewish faith when she married fellow Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author Tony Horwitz -- more, she says, out of a sense of obligation to history than to faith..."I'm very interested in all those big life-and-death questions, but haven't found answers to them in any spirit in the sky."
Jessica Yadegaran talks to the author for "The Mercury News".
Brooks was interviewed by "The BookGuys" for their radio program, and the interview is available for download for audio streaming.
You can also listen to a radio interview with the author from station KCRW, and watch a video interview on Australia's Channel Nine.

You can read an essay by Brooks about the historical background to her novel published in "The New Yorker". It deals with the "Chronicles about Muslim librarian Dervis Korkut's heroism in Sarajevo during World War II."
If you're looking for more information about the author and her books you can find it on her website.

Combined Reviews: Wanting by Richard Flanagan

wanting.jpg Reviews of Wanting
Richard Flanagan
Random House

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2009 Miles Franklin Award.]
From the publisher's page:
It is 1839. A young Aboriginal girl, Mathinna, is running through the long wet grass of an island at the end of the world to get help for her dying father, an Aboriginal chieftain. Twenty years later, on an island at the centre of the world, the most famous novelist of the day, Charles Dickens, realises he is about to abandon his wife, risk his name and forever after be altered because of his inability any longer to control his intense passion.

Connecting the two events are the most celebrated explorer of the age, Sir John Franklin - then governor of Van Diemen's Land - and his wife, Lady Jane, who adopt Mathinna, seen as one of the last of a dying race, as an experiment. Lady Jane believes the distance between savagery and civilisation is the learned capacity to control wanting. The experiment fails, Sir John disappears into the blue ice of the Arctic seeking the Northwest Passage, and a decade later Lady Jane enlists Dickens' aid to put an end to the scandalous suggestions that Sir John's expedition ended in cannibalism.

Dickens becomes ever more entranced in the story of men entombed in ice, recognising in its terrible image his own frozen inner life. He produces and stars in a play inspired by Franklin's fate to give story to his central belief that discipline and will can conquer desire. And yet the play will bring him to the point where he is no longer able to control his own passion and the consequences it brings.

Inspired by historical events, WANTING is a novel about art, love, and the way in which life is finally determined never by reason, but only ever by wanting.

Don Anderson in "The Australian".
Without doubt a main subject of Wanting is what its author calls the "catastrophe of colonialism". Notions of the "savage", the "other", warp all sorts of notions and arguments. Thus, one-third into the novel, a propos allegations of Franklin's crew's cannibalism, Dickens asserts: "We all have appetites and desires. But only the savage agrees to sate them with all the attendant horrors that ensue." Almost at the novel's end, however, Dickens, his cheek pressed on stage against Ellen's "uncorsetted belly", notes that "he, a man who had spent a life believing that giving in to desire was the mark of a savage, realised that he could no longer deny wanting".
"Publisher's Weekly": "The interlaced stories focus on conquering the yearning that exists both in the Aboriginals and the noble English gentlemen, and though Flanagan has a tendency to hammer home his ideas, his prose is strong and precise, and the depiction of desire's effects is sublime."
[Note: the novel won't be released in the USA until May.]
Magdalena Ball on The Compulsive Reader website: "One of the key objections I had to Richard Flanagan's last novel, The Unknown Terrorist was that it put the ideology first: making a political point at the expense of the characters and the plot. This isn't at all the case in Wanting. Indeed, in Wanting, as in Gould's Book of Fish, the whole notion of historical fact becomes subservient to the greater truth -- that of human nature -- the most fundamental of emotional responses and how they underpin the making of history. Wanting is a novel that traces the trajectory of desire...Like good poetry, the novel is full of correspondences, connections, and vivid imagery."
You can read further reviews on the book's dedicated website.

Short notices
Boomerang Books: "Flanagan treads a fine line. He doesn't imply that the British were all cruel, or that the Aborigines were entirely victims or 'noble savages'. There is a spectrum of perspectives, from the brutal to the misguided-and even the supportive. It must be difficult to write a novel like this without judging, excusing or idealising."
Readings: "Wanting is a powerful piece of writing that affects in many ways. Above all, it's about unbridled desire and its tragic consequences."
Sandra Hogan on the "M/C Reviews" website: "Wanting is a sad, vivid book in which Flanagan expresses his very strong feelings about the painfulness and uncertainty of life through powerful, compact prose. This artfully constructed novel, with its variety of astonishing characters and stories, is introduced deftly in short, contrasting chapters, bringing the reader back in small climaxes to the central theme of conflict between reason and wanting. A good deal of craft has gone into this book with its clear, spare writing style and --ironically, given the theme -- deep, but controlled emotions."

Jason Steger interviews the author for "The Age".
Simon Bevilacqua interview in "The Mercury".
Sally Warhaft interviews the author on Slow TV.
Ramona Koval spoke to Flanagan on "The Book Show" on ABC Radio National in November.

Video clips relating to the novel
Book trailer
Interview: Part 1 - What led you to write WANTING?
Interview: Part 2 - Who are the main charcaters in WANTING?
Interview: Part 3 - What would you consider to be the themes of WANTING?
Interview: Part 4 - How are the lives of Charles Dickens and Mathinna connected?
Interview: Part 5 - There are fictional and historical characters in the story. How much licence did you take with the facts?
Interview: Part 6 - How different was it writing the script for Baz Luhrmann.

ABC television gardening legend Peter Cundall launched the novel in Launceston, Tasmania.

Combined Reviews: Breath by Tim Winton

breath.jpgReviews of Breath
Tim Winton
Hamish Hamilton
[This novel has been shortlisted for the Best Book award in the South East Asia and the Pacific region of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. It won the 2008 Age Book of the Year Award for Fiction.]

From the publisher's page:

More than once since then I've wondered whether the life-threatening high jinks that Loonie and I and Sando and Eva got up to in the years of my adolescence were anything more than a rebellion against the monotony of drawing breath.

Breath is a story about the wildness of youth - the lust for excitement and terror, the determination to be extraordinary, the wounds that heal and those that don't - and about learning to live with its passing.

In his first novel for seven years, Tim Winton has achieved a new level of mastery. Breath confirms him as one of the world's finest storytellers, a writer of novels that are at the same time simple and profound, relentlessly gripping and deeply moving.


James Bradley in "The Age": "For, in many ways, it is the idea of damage - personal, psychic, physical - that Winton returns to time and again and it is this undercurrent of pain that lends his often fractured narratives their urgency and brooding power. Whether it is a girl with a finger lost in an accident in a story such as 'Abbreviation' or the shattered Luther in Dirt Music, almost to a one, Winton's characters are caught in a struggle with the fact of their pasts and more particularly with their own need to blot out or escape those pasts whether through drugs or drink or simply a retreat from the world around them and themselves... It's unlikely Winton has ever written as well as he writes in Breath, a book that marries the lyricism of work such as Cloudstreet to the adamantine hardness of the stories in The Turning. Time and again his descriptions of the ocean and the littoral break free of the page, revealing this landscape with a clarity and an intimacy that lets us see it anew."
Andy Martin in "The Independent": "Unlike just about everyone else, I thought Winton's early work wildly over-written. Like a Dylan Thomas poem transported to Western Australia and doing hard labour: lots of great vocabulary, but nothing much happening. In Breath, he has finally found an objective correlative, surfing, to carry his tough, visceral lyricism. Winton on a wave is irresistible."
Stephen Abell in "The Telegraph": "Reading Winton's latest novel, Breath, one begins to recognise that his prose is a small-town songline: the dirty, droning music of life in working-class Western Australia; the hum within the lives of people stranded in that 'strange and tough' part of the world."
Kathryn Crim in the "Los Angeles Times": "Winton often locates a transcendent wisdom in nature, letting it guide his analogies to time, space, longing and the sort of existential entrapment that comes from being born into a
particular place and culture. This is the recipe for his soaring popularity in his native Australia and also the reason he has garnered an international audience. In his best moments of controlled, evocative storytelling, though, Winton's descriptions eschew metaphor altogether and instead masterfully balance visual imagery with colloquial language. In Breath, the waves underpin the episodic narrative, whose most vivid moments occur at sea. It achieves that essential quality of a short novel: Its poetry becomes its imperative, its motivating and most risky venture."
Rónán McDonald in the "Times Literary Supplement": "Like Hardy's Wessex or Faulkner's Mississippi, the Western Australian landscape has been consecrated by Tim Winton's fiction. He has been garlanded with literary awards and acclaim in his native Australia, and has been twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize. His work is preoccupied with wounded or troubled characters, often haunted by their past, who set out on actual or psychological journeys in search of purpose, meaning and redemption. Dirt Music (2002) depicts a vast, hostile outback in which the individual self is tiny and threatened. In Breath, the sea takes on a comparable role as an immense elemental force that simultaneously compels and controls the protagonists...While Breath deals with primal, mythic conflicts -- the clash of wilderness and civilization, self and society, youth and age -- it does not strain for epic effect."
Carolyn See in "The Washington Post": "Breath, Winton's latest novel, is stunning in the depth of its audacity. Because, when you think about it, breath is our relationship to the cosmos. We breathe in an iota of the universe, we breathe it out; without it, we die. But then why is there something in us that makes us want to hold our breath as kids until we pass out, or makes us just stop breathing while we're sleeping until our rattled partners shake us awake?"
John Repp in "The St Petersburg Times": "Despite its flaws, Breath should enhance Winton's American reputation. It's a fast read that digs deep, proving once again that in the hands of a skilled writer, the metamorphosis from child to adult can yield fresh iscoveries."
Stephanie Johnson in "The New Zealand Herald": "Breath's characters and story hang in the reader's mind for days after finishing. Strangely and beautifully, it resonates more as a lengthy poem rather than a novel, perhaps because the notion behind it is so metaphorical and profound: breath and the fear of losing it. This is despite the voice not being particularly poetic and the sometimes heavy-handed Australianisms."
Ian Mcgillis in "The Calgary Herald": "In a novel whose characters are compelled to test the limits of the flesh, much depends on Winton being able to convey some of that rush, and he does."
Darryl Whetter in "The Vancouver Sun": "For all its mid-sized accuracies, Breath doesn't fully transcend surfing or its protagonist to make a lasting, universal statement...One consequence is the mixed blessing of the novel's close, a slippery dénouement in which intelligent emotional confessions are made but too many years and crises slide by too quickly. In short, we see little connection between the adolescent surfer who risks his life in one spot but not another, who is loyal in some ways but not others, and the articulate but distant adult he becomes."
Robert Wiersema in "The Ottawa Citizen": "We book reviewers, as a rule, like to keep some professional distance in our writing. Sometimes, though, with certain books or authors, one wants to simply rave, the way one might in a
bar or a coffee-shop, sitting with fellow book-lovers. In that spirit, reader to reader, let me say this: you've gotta read Tim Winton...An Australian export, Winton is, without exaggeration, one of the most formidable voices in contemporary writing. Twice nominated for the Booker Prize, with a world-wide readership and almost universal critical acclaim, Winton has 20 books to his credit, every one of them unique and surprising...Winton writes with a stunning, simple clarity. Largely plain-spoken and emotionally direct, the novel shifts into an elevated prose during moments of risk and beauty, and particularly those times when the two combine. The characters are carefully drawn, and reveal themselves slowly over the course of the novel...Breath is powerful and enthralling. It will make many readers uncomfortable, but that, in some ways, is its greatest strength."
"The Free Lance-Star": "Winton's descriptions are almost always sure-handed, but his grasp and description of the surfing scenes in the book give a scary feel to catching waves or for waves catching the surfers...Breath is a slender little novel but a good introduction into Winton, though not nearly as nuanced or ambitious as his best-known Cloudstreet. Breath shows off what Winton does best -- he doesn't bore, he doesn't philosophize, he just digs deep enough to expose the people he has created, who bear a striking resemblance to the humanity around us."
"Blogcritics" magazine: "Long ago, Freud introduced the concept of thanatos, the so-called death instinct. Many have dismissed or even ridiculed this notion, so un-Darwinian in its nature. How can we have a death instinct, when all instinctual drives seem based on preserving and extending life? Yet Winton shows even more persuasively in story form what Freud tried to outline in theory. Winton's characters reveal a barely hidden passion for non-existence, and death lingers at the fringes of almost every scene in this penetrating novel."
"HeraldTribune": "The book's central metaphor of breathing, that most essential function for life, works its way through many aspects of the novel and the characters who people it. Although the beauty and danger of surfing stand at its center, Breath expands far beyond the sea to the base instincts and involuntary actions that keep us alive. What it means to go beyond the involuntary, to challenge one's very soul, is at the heart of the matter."
Bradley Winterton in the "Tapei Times": "Winton is clearly pushing the boundaries of the dangerous sports genre to include, despite the everywhere laconic style, some questioning thoughts. His conclusions are usually ambivalent, and indeed ambiguity characterizes his attitudes in other spheres as well...So -- pro or anti surfing in possibly lethal situations? Pro or anti teenage drug use? Pro or anti the outer reaches of sexual experimentation? Winton offers a sphinx-like stare, and his final position on all these issues remains a fascinating, but to the last undivulged, secret."

Short notices

"Otago Daily Times": "I read less Australian fiction than I should, but this 40-something chap once again had me spellbound, reading Breath over the breakfast table, on the bus, way too late at night, finishing it on the second day...Winton writes with a sense of passion and authenticity that even a non-surfer like me can appreciate, bringing to the page the redemptive beauty of the sport."
"The New Yorker" on Breath:"Winton's latest novel is both a hymn to the beauty of flying on water and a sober assessment of the costs of losing one's balance, in every sense of the word."
"Words and Flavours weblog: "Can breathing be more than a requirement for life and become an addiction? In Breath, Tim Winton plays on our attachment to that fundamental action to explore his characters' addictions to the extreme and the dangerous."
The novel made "Seth's Notable List" for 2008: "The more time that goes by since my reading this book -- back in July -- the more I realize that it's really staying with me."


Aida Edemariam in "The Guardian".
Lisa Wrenn in "PopMatters".
Jane Sullivan in "The Age".

Combined Reviews: The Good Parents by Joan London

good_parents.jpgReviews of The Good Parents
Joan London
Random House

[This novel has been shortlisted for the Best Book award in the South East Asia and the Pacific region of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.]

From the publisher's page:

Maya de Jong, an eighteen-year-old country girl from the West, comes to live in Melbourne and starts an affair with her boss, the enigmatic Maynard Flynn, whose wife is dying of cancer. When Maya's parents, Toni and Jacob, arrive to stay with her, they are told by her housemate that Maya has gone away and no one knows where she is.

As Toni and Jacob wait and search for Maya in Melbourne, everything in their lives is brought into question. They recall the yearning and dreams, the betrayals and choices of their pasts - choices with unexpected and irrevocable consequences.

With Maya's disappearance, the lives of all those close to her come into focus, to reveal the complexity of the ties that bind us to one another, to parents, children, siblings, friends and lovers.

Pacy and enthralling, The Good Parents is at once a vision of contemporary Australia and a story as old as fairytales: that of a runaway girl.


Cath Kenneally doesn't pull any punches in her review of the novel in "The Australian".

London's first novel, Gilgamesh, was published in 2001, short-listed for the Miles Franklin and won the 2002 The Age Book of the Year fiction prize. The Good Parents is better; it ought to win every prize going.

In many novels, one character stands out as being so well-realised you suspect that character is the author. With The Good Parents, you feel that about them all, male or female, young, middle-aged or elderly.

In "The Age", Michael McGirr sees a natural progression from the author's earlier work: "Joan London writes wonderfully about intimacy between strangers...Her new novel, The Good Parents, is full of characters who vanish but not without trace. In this regard, it shares something with her previous book, Gilgamesh, a story in which small town Western Australia is the hub of a world where characters struggle to find their place of belonging...The Good Parents is no less skilful in handling the many shades of loss, the eerie and sometimes petulant presence of the absent. Once again, small town Western Australia is the hub of a moving world...The Good Parents is underwritten by a wealth of human understanding. It knows stuff. It has compassion for people who make choices they don't have to; for families that never set."
Roxana Robinson in "The New York Times": "London, who's Australian, recalls celebrated British stylists -- Elizabeth Bowen, William Trevor -- and another Aussie native, Shirley Hazzard. Like theirs, London's language is so lovely, her tone so gentle, that the sadness of her truths is somehow shocking...London's dark and lovely work is both a novel of ideas and one of emotions. Here are dangerous currents that pulse beyond control, as well as the great intellectual movements that shape our lives."
David Pullar on "PopMatters": "London's style is mostly the issue. She is heavy on description -- even to the point of overload in the early chapters -- yet sparing with metaphor or poetry. As a result what might otherwise have been a languid, dreamy narrative, reminiscent of the pace of rural life, ends up as merely dull. There is simply not enough flair in the writing to make up for the sluggishness of the plot...Unfortunately, the undistinguished prose detracts from the interesting themes London touches on: the generation gap and the challenge of parenthood. The Boomer narrative has been told over and over, but The Good Parents sets out to explore its echoes in the next generation. Every generation has its distinctives and its repetitions of previous groups. By contrasting Maya's story with those of her parents, London draws out these similarities and differences."
Claire Cameron in "The Globe and Mail": "Though it sounds like the plot of a dark mystery or a cryptic crime novel, The Good Parents is a slower book about the restlessness of waiting. Answers start to unravel quietly and elegantly through the characters thoughts and memories...Author Joan London shows how moving to a new place turns a person into a stranger and an outsider. This strangeness can change many things, including the relationship with those you have left behind...London's prose is straightforward and purposeful, which allows space for her sharp observations. She is especially good on how the generations affect each other...Family history, in London's world, does not repeat itself. Instead, it creates a pattern. What you have been taught in childhood always comes back."


Romona Kaval on ABC Radio National's "Book Show".

Combined Reviews: The Spare Room by Helen Garner

spare_room.jpg Reviews of The Spare Room
Helen Garner
Text Publishing

[This novel has been shortlisted for the Best Book award in the South East Asia and the Pacific region of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. In 2008 it won the Victorian Premier's and the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards for Fiction.]

From the publisher's page:

Helen lovingly prepares her spare room for her friend Nicola. She is coming to visit for three weeks, to receive treatment she believes will cure her cancer. From the moment Nicola staggers off the plane, gaunt and hoarse but still somehow grand, Helen becomes her nurse, her guardian angel and her stony judge. The Spare Room tells a story of compassion, humour and rage. The two women -- one sceptical, one stubbornly serene -- negotiate an unmapped path through Nicola's bizarre therapy, stumbling towards the novel's terrible and transcendent finale.

Raffaella Barker in "The Independent": "It is difficult to get excited about this book. Helen Garner is a good writer. This is her first novel in 15 years and she has a gift for creating a scene and illustrating character that is airy and enduring and essentially Australian. No one who gets through this book would deny that Garner is skilful. Given that the central character is a woman writer in her sixties called Helen, it is probable that this is a cathartic exercise for her following a traumatic life experience of her own, but I am not convinced that it needs to be inflicted up on the reading public. It is just too depressing. It is the business of a novel to transform experience, not just for the sake of it but to illuminate our minds and to touch our hearts. If we want veritas we read non fiction, and there are numerous moving memoirs about cancer which may well provide comfort through the solidarity of shared experience and which could perhaps show us how to grieve."
Susie Boyt in "The Financial Times" : "Delivered in an almost conversational tone, this is an unsettling and skilled work that raises important questions about the process of dying and what caring well for the dying requires. Is the etiquette of death yet to be devised - and ought there to be one? We sometimes behave differently with those facing death - perhaps being economical with the truth orplacating at every turn. Maybe something in us alters or we lower our standards when it comes to caring for the terminally ill. Do we create new rules for ourselves - and is this kindness or cowardice? The Spare Room doesn't shirk from such awful enquiries."
Kate Bateman in "The Irish Times": "The book itself is a little beauty, nice to hold with beautiful end-papers and a silk marker to hold your place...A most appealing feature of this novel is the elegance and taut style of the narrative voice as she gives expression to large and small questions - friendship, death, tolerance, truthfulness, and the work of the day. The authentic, down-under voice sustains the work through thoughtful and dialogue sequences."
Neel Mukherjee in "The Times": "Only great fiction demands us to reset our moral compass and look at our value coordinates all over again. The Spare Room achieves this by relentlessly working out the dimensions behind the simple words: 'Death will not be denied. To try is grandiose. It drives madness into the soul. It leaches out virtue. It injects poison into friendship, and makes a mockery of love.'"
Olivia Laing in "The Observer": "How we die and how we stand to be with those who are dying are serious questions, but even at the most painful moments Garner maintains a characteristic lightness of touch, a combination of wit and lyricism that is immensely alluring." She concludes that this is an "extraordinary, exhilarating novel".
Stevie Davies in "The Independent": "In Australia, Helen Garner has a controversial reputation for writing fiction as if it were memoir. This compulsively readable, searing novel narrates the author's own nursing of a close friend through terminal cancer. Author and narrator are called Helen. So is this a fictionalised memoir? Not really. It's a fiction about truth; about witnessing to truth -- and, disturbingly, about enforcing it upon the dying. A hymn to friendship tested to its limits, the novel is also a manifesto and a confession."
In "The Monthly" Robert Dessaix has some problems with how to tackle the new work.
Libby Brooks, in "The Guardian", looks at the attention Helen Garner has received and the perceptions that her latest novel, The Spare Room, is based on her own life. She puts the whole idea into perfect context.

It's a beautiful work: the prose is clean and the probing of the duties of friendship subtle. But I also know that a version of Nicola existed in reality - Helen did have a sick friend who came to stay with her, and subsequently died. But Helen's fictional rendering of these sharp realities has now left her exposed, as interviewers and reviewers hint at something underhand, attempting to drag the story back to where they perceive its origins ought to be.

There is, of course, an obvious transformation that occurs when a book is written as fiction. It distinguishes this writer from Frey, and from Margaret Seltzer and Misha Defonseca, whose memoirs about growing up in gangland Los Angeles and the Warsaw ghetto, respectively, were exposed as fraudulent this month. Offering a story in novel form alerts the reader that they would be wrong to assume events happened that way, because the writer has taken all the liberties of compression and conflation and invention that fiction permits.

Short notices

David Pullar on PopMatters: "On first appearances, The Spare Room should be a difficult read. This is not for the words and sentences therein: it's a short book and written in clear, simple prose. It's more that the content appears heavy and rather bleak."
"Publisher's Weekly": "Garner (Monkey Grip) employs her signature realism in this stunted novel about the infuriating and eye-opening experience of caring for a terminally ill loved one."
Madeleine Keane, who is literary editor of "The Sunday Independent" chose the book as one of her books of the year: "The Spare Room by Helen Garner (Cangonate) was an exquisitely-crafted novel which dealt with death -- and the indignities and injustices of cancer -- delicately and unflinchingly with humour and humanity. An overlooked gem."
Natasha on "The Book Crowd" weblog: "I read this book in one night, do I need to say anymore?...I loved this book, the emotions and frustrations seemed quite real, it was a brilliant read that opened my mind to new ways of thinking, living, feeling and understanding."
Harriet Klausner on the "Genre Go Round" weblog: "Although Helen's eternal squabbling and lecturing become irritating as she either needs to support her friend's dying wishes, which centers on miracle treatments that probably will fail or toss her out, readers will relish this poignant character study as the reactions to how to behave when pending death seems shortly."
Keri on the "bloody_keri" weblog: "This is a beautiful, haunting novel that feels like a rare jewel in that way some books do. It's too brief, and that's the first compliment I give it, a rare one given the simple yet devastating subject matter: a woman caring for a friend who is dying in the last stages of cancer. Not something I would normally want to dig into for too long and generally, the more abbreviated the better. Death is easy; the process of dying is one of those unspeakable things; the enormous white elephant in the room. Many writers have touched it, some with more success than others, but I don't think any book I've read on the subject captures the jarring mix of comedy, love and grief this one does."
"The Resident Judge of Port Phillip" weblog: "I loved the embeddedness of this book within Melbourne suburbia, and her confidential and warm tone --like a good, satisfying talk with an old friend."
"Dovegreyreader" : "Susan Hill suggested I read this one and also told me to look carefully at the very clever ending, which I did and yes, how very clever it is. I won't divulge because then you can watch out for it too, it's more about style than plot but such a clever way for a writer to preserve for posterity a moment of utter guilt, trapped like the insect in the amber. Regardless of what may happen next, nothing will assuage Helen's agony over her decision, one that tests her innermost feelings about the bonds of friendship to the very limits and Helen Garner has captured it with utter precision."
The "Nice Lady Doctor" weblog: "In the few hours I was reading it, I learnt more about the psychological effects of a terminal diagnosis on the patient and on his or her carer, than I have in some years as a doctor. It's such a human piece of writing, and so full of affection and humour."
Claire Allfree in "MetroLife": "Garner tackles what could be a dangerously mawkish subject with a cool head and a piercing eye, cutting through the sentimental clutter to the bones of what matters: the selfishness of grief and suffering; the denial and courage that death inspires; and the power of love to keep on going."
Jane Shilling in "The Telegraph": "Garner writes with the cool authority of personal experience, and apprehends Helen and Nicola's loving and warring worlds in such fine and sensuous detail that pain itself is rendered beautiful."


Video of the author being interviewed by Richard Fidler, on "The Conversation Hour", ABC Radio, dated 8 December 2008.
Slow TV has a streaming video of Helen Garner's talk about her influences and inspirations from the 2008 Sydney Writers' Festival.
Deborah Bogle in "The Advertiser".
Susan Wyndham, of "The Sydney Morning Herald", interviewed Garner and found her rather wary.
On the "Readings" website, Michael Williams talks to the author and gathers some insight into her view of character.

Combined Reviews: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

white_tiger.jpg Reviews of The White Tiger
Aravind Adiga

[This novel won the 2008 Man Booker Prize, and has been shortlisted in the Best First Book category for the South East Asia and the Pacific region of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.]

From the publisher's page:

Meet Balram Halwai, the 'White Tiger': servant, philosopher, entrepreneur, murderer... Born in a village in the dark heart of India, the son of a rickshaw puller, Balram is taken out of school by his family and put to work in a teashop. As he crushes coal and wipes tables, he nurses a dream of escape.

His big chance comes when a rich village landlord hires him as a chauffeur for his son. Arriving in Delhi with his new master, Balram's re-education begins, as he learns of a new morality at the heart of a new India. As the other servants flick through the pages of Murder Weekly, Balram begins to see how the Tiger might escape his cage. For surely any successful man must spill a little blood on his way to the top?

The White Tiger is a tale of two Indias. Balram's journey from the darkness of village life to the light of entrepreneurial success is utterly amoral, brilliantly irreverent, deeply endearing and altogether unforgettable.

Adam Lively in "The Times": "At first, this novel seems like a straightforward pulled-up-by-your-bootstraps tale, albeit given a dazzling twist by the narrator's sharp and satirical eye for the realities of life for India's poor. ('In the old days there were 1,000 India. These days, there are just two castes: Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies.') But as the narrative draws the reader further in, and darkens, it becomes clear that Adiga is playing a bigger game. For The White Tiger stands at the opposite end of the spectrum of representations of poverty from those images of doe-eyed children that dominate our electronic media -- that sentimentalise poverty and even suggest that there may be something ennobling in it. Halwai's lesson in The White Tiger is that poverty creates monsters, and he himself is just such a monster."
David Mattin in "The Independent": "Adiga's plot is somewhat predictable -- the murder that is committed is the one that readers will expect throughout -- but The White Tiger suffers little for this fault. Caught up in Balram's world -- and his wonderful turn of phrase -- the pages turn themselves. Brimming with idiosyncrasy, sarcastic, cunning, and often hilarious, Balram is reminiscent of the endless talkers that populate the novels of the great Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal. Inventing such a character is no small feat for a first-time novelist."
Peter Robins in "The Telegraph": "The White Tiger is a furious and brutally effective counterblast to smug 'India is shining' rhetoric -- that particular slogan is never mentioned, but the election it lost is crucial to the plot -- which also directs hard, well-aimed kicks at hypocrisy and thuggery on the traditionalist Indian Left...It is certain of its mission, and pursues it with an undeviating determination you wouldn't expect in a first novel. It reads at a tremendous clip."
"The Complete Review" website gave the book a B-: "Yes, The White Tiger 'says a lot' about contemporary India, but it tries to do so far too hard. Adiga has some talent, but leaves it at loose ends here. What suspense he builds up early on surrounding Balram's crime dissipates far too fast, while he tries too hard with his Indian panorama. And Balram isn't a fully realised or convincing character, either, even though he's talking (or telling his story) all the time, as Adiga's attempt to make him both a peasant-everyman (representative of so many Indians) and a white tiger confuses things."
S. Prasannarajan in "India Today": "The White Tiger is a novel born in that infinitesimal moment of darkness. And as a debut, it marks the arrival of a storyteller who strikes a fine balance between the sociology of the wretched place he has chosen as home and the twisted humanism of the outcast...With detached, scatological precision, he surveys the grey remoteness of an India where the dispossessed and the privileged are not steeped in the stereotypes of struggle and domination. The ruthlessness of power and survival assumes a million moral ambiguities in this novel powered by an India where Bangalore is built on Bihar."

Short notices
Richard Marcus in "BlogCritics" magazine: "In the end, what makes the events in the book so believable is the character of Balram. He is the perfect servant. He worries whether his master is eating enough, takes pride in him when he behaves honourably, and is disappointed with him when he is weak. For all his protestations about the system, he is still as much a part of it as anybody else, and it takes an enormous amount of strength and luck for him to live up to his name of white tiger."
"The Economist": "In creating a character who is both witty and psychopathic, Mr Adiga has produced a hero almost as memorable as Pip, proving himself the Charles Dickens of the call-centre generation."


Arthur J Pais in "Rediff".
Stuart Jeffries in "The Guardian".
Man Booker page.
Rebecca Yolland on "Untitled Books".


The author's website contains a large number of links to other material about the author and his work.

Combined Reviews: Life in Seven Mistakes by Susan Johnson

life_seven_mistakes.jpg Reviews of Life in Seven Mistakes
Susan Johnson
Random House

From the publisher's page:
'You're pathetic,' her brother said. 'Still bleating about what mummy and daddy did to you when you're almost old enough to retire. Are you still going to be blaming your parents when you're seventy? Life's too short, Liz.'

After years of patient, passionate effort, Elizabeth Barton's career as a ceramicist is finally taking off. She's about to fly to New York for her first solo show at one of the world's most prestigious galleries. First, though, she has to survive Christmas with her family on the Gold Coast.

Why is it impossible to act our age in front of our parents? And how can we begin to care for ageing parents we've spent our lives trying to avoid?

Life in Seven Mistakes is a black family comedy with an unexpected, and deeply moving, climax. Beautifully written, and imbued with a rich sense of irony, it is acclaimed Australian novelist Susan Johnson's finest achievement to date.

Lousie Swinn in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Johnson has shown substantial breadth [over 20 years as a writer]. She has a knack for presenting what can be unbearable in reality, of rendering it on the page with tremendous heart, making it readable and going one step further: somehow managing to make it enjoyable...Life In Seven Mistakes is funny, ironic and brutal in the same way that life can be. It's the work of a novelist at the peak of her game, as confident as ever with voice but now with a more ambitious structure and with a wider variety of characters being drawn using colours from the fullest of spectrum."
Felicity Plunkett in "The Age": "Her memoir A Better Woman, and her recent novel, The Broken Book, both deal with questions of maternal love, and the ways in which the maternal might co-exist with an artist's life. Through her examination of the ways in which Elizabeth's mothering differs from Nancy's, Johnson again brings this theme into focus."
Stephen Davenport in "The Independent Weekly": "Her latest novel, Life in Seven Mistakes is something of a deviation from her earlier work in that it is a domestic black comedy about familial duty. But like all her work it is subtle, immensely readable, engrossing, touching and extraordinarily evocative."
Christina Hill in "Australian Book Review" (Sept 2008): "This novel suggests that family intergenerational conflict is inherent and that, in this sense, all unhappy families are alike...The central and universal question this novel poses is how so many elderly people atrophy into bitterness and inflexibility."
Kim Forrester on the "Reading Matters" weblog: "Life in Seven Mistakes has been described as a black comedy, but I'm not sure that's an apt description. While there are funny moments throughout the book, for the most part this is a richly layered family drama imbued with emotion. There's plenty of thought-provoking material here to mull over too: How do you ever reconcile your childhood with your adult life? How do parents cope with children who don't live up to expectation? At what point do you learn to accept responsibility for your own life and your own mistakes?"
Jo Case on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show": "Life in Seven Mistakes is a complex, suitably messy portrait of contemporary family life, with a distinctly Australian flavour. Though less epic in scale and ambition, it has distinct echoes of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. It similarly combines social observation, satire and family saga. And like all the best fiction, it raises more questions than it answers."
Jennifer Levasseur in "The Australian: "As is life, the novel is at times too much and at others not enough. Though its publicity material calls it a 'black family comedy', Life in Seven Mistakes reads like a family drama with moments of humour, a novel to while away a long winter's afternoon."

Short notices
Genevieve Tucker on the "reeling and writhing" weblog: "The descriptions of making art in this book are beautiful, yet like their creator, they are not allowed to dominate. What does dominate is the parents' story and the parents' life - the weight of this sweet, often funny novel is pitched against Elizabeth's late boomer generation quite deliberately, and one recognises over time that the novelist has made a choice to examine her controlling, self-involved parents as forensically as possible without excavating their hearts, wisely leaving us to fill in those gaps ourselves."
Damon on the "That Young Philosopher" weblog: "It is precisely what a novel should be: intimate, unflinching and illuminating. Sometimes the prose is overzealous, but it doesn't matter. Johnson's writing is crisp, vivid and unpretentiously poetic."

Interview by Matthew Condon in "The Courier-Mail".
Interview by Jane Sullivan in "The Age".
The author reprints an interview she gave with "The European English Messenger" journal.

Susan Johnson writes about her family, specifically her grandmother, for "The Guardian".

Combined Reviews: The Seance by John Harwood

seance.gif Reviews of The Seance
John Harwood
Random House

[This novel won the Best Horror Novel award at the 2008 Aurealis Awards.]

From the publisher's page:

The breakthrough novel from one of Australia's finest writers -- a gripping story of ghosts, betrayal and murder in Victorian England "Sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plough the earth with salt, if you will; but never live there." London, the 1880s. A young girl grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for the child she lost. Desperate to coax her mother back to health, Constance Langton takes her to a seance. Perhaps they will find comfort from beyond the grave. But that seance has tragic consequences. Constance is left alone, her only legacy a mysterious bequest will blight her life. So begins The Seance, John Harwood's brilliant second novel, a gripping, dark mystery set in late Victorian England. It is a world of apparitions, of disappearances and unnatural phenomena, of betrayal and blackmail and black-hearted villains -- and murder. For Constance's bequest comes in two parts: a house, and a mystery. Years before a family disappeared at Wraxford Hall, a terrifying stately home near the Suffolk coast. Now Constance must find the truth behind the mystery, even at the cost of her life. Because without the truth, she is lost.
Lucy Atkins in "The Times": "Harwood's well-received 2004 debut, The Ghost Writer, drew heavily on the 19th-century ghost story. Now, with The Seance, he plunges us headfirst into the genre. Wilkie Collins would be proud: this is a Victorian world of mesmerism and spirits, vapours and delirium, doomed inheritances, shivering maids and spooky visitations in the night...As befits the form, there are narratives within narratives -- a tricky structural task that requires a large suspension of disbelief."
Sinclair McKay in "The Telegraph": "Harwood, like the authors he pays such elaborate tribute to, is fond of tangled family trees and great sprawling dynasties. Given the relatively fast pace of the novel, this is occasionally disorientating. But half the pleasure of this sort of fiction comes from this complexity, and from the flavourful evocations of Victorian vicarages, solicitors' offices and filthy London streets...the whole thing boils down to the old questions of inheritance and property that underpinned practically the whole of Victorian fiction. And that's what really makes it such an entertaining read."
Andrew Taylor in "The Independent": "Harwood manipulates his characters' -- and readers' -- emotions. Even when he appears to provide a comfortably mundane explanation, he has a nasty habit of revealing the terrifying uncertainties that lurk in the shadows. Its publishers compare The Seance to the work of MR James and Sarah Waters; true, Harwood has an unerring feel for the mores and language of late-Victorian England. But there are closer parallels in the fiction of Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle, both of whom were fascinated by the disputed borderland between the claims of the paranormal and the techniques of Victorian science."
Judith Flanders in "The Telegraph": "Harwood builds up tension with a series of embedded narratives that slowly unravel...The interweaving of professional mediums, haunted mansions and sceptical ghost-hunters is so efficiently done that it is only intermittently that the reader pauses to wonder at the neatness of the documentary evidence."

Short notices
Georgia Gowing in "The Independent Weekly": "There aren't too many surprises in the story and it is fairly low on the fear factor, so it won't keep you awake at night. But Harwood has researched both the period and the world of mediums meticulously, making for an entertaining novel in the best gothic tradition."
"Tangled Web UK": "Perfect fire-side reading: finely written, historically fascinating and very spooky."
Brooke Brunckhorst on "M/C Reviews": "The Seance is a mildly spooky, pseudo-Victorian pastiche in which one can almost hear the sound of pedals turning as the author rides his penny-farthing wildly to keep the whole thing afloat (to mix metaphors, and possibly periods)."
"Matilda" review.

Video interview on the Barnes and Noble studio site.
Interview by Samela Harris in "The Advertiser".

Combined Reviews: Everything I Knew by Peter Goldsworthy

everything_i_knew.jpg    Reviews of Everything I Knew
Peter Goldsworthy
Hamish Hamilton

From the publisher's page
It's the year 1964, and fourteen-year-old know-it-all Robbie Burns is about to discover he still has a lot to learn.

The world is changing fast, although the news has yet to reach the small South Australian town of Penola. There Robbie leads and idyllic life of rabbiting, backyard science experiments, and hooligan scrapes with his friend Billy. Penola is oblivious even to its minor celebrity as the birthplace of the poet John Shaw Neilson, but poetry means the world to Robbie's new teacher from the city, the stylish Miss Peach, a sixties sophisticate with stirrup pants, Kool cigarettes and Vespa scooter.

Miss Peach's artistic yearnings and modern ways prove too much for the good people of Penola, but they fire Robbie's precocious imagination and burgeoning sexuality, until what begins as a schoolboy fantasy has terrible, real consequences.

Geordie Williamson in "The Australian": "In Maestro, Goldsworthy's first published novel, it was Darwin whose charms were hymned on the page...Written almost two decades later, Everything I Knew plays a similar song in a darker key. It, too, is concerned with a teenage solipsist greedy for pleasure and success: a study in arrogance shaped into regret by time...Fictional accounts of calf-love always teeter above twin abysses: the cringing embarrassment of failure and the destructive potential of success. The best, such as Raymond Radiguet's The Devil in the Flesh and Ivan Turgenev's First Love, rely on the essential amorality of sexuality to undercut mawkish displays of emotion, and Goldsworthy does something similar here. Too much would be given away by following the plot much further. It is enough to say that his pursuit of Pamela Peach ends in a way that will shape the rest of his life. In another nod to Maestro, the final chapters of the book shunt forward four decades to reveal what that shape that is."
Christina Hill in "Australian Book Review": "This is an overwrought, undisciplined novel; it indulges in hyperbole and implausible incidents, and often the dialogue between characters is embarrassingly stilted. Its strength, however, lies in its evocation of how an adolescent boy might think and behave."
Murray Bramwell in "The Adelaide Review": "The everything that the careless, sometimes cruel, Robbie Burns knows, may be a fateful insufficiency -- as, for any adolescent, it is bound to be. But the everything that Peter Goldsworthy brings -- its human vulnerability and foible, its sexual compulsion and foolishness -- is a Chaucerian plenty. It contains multitudes, and, as Terence said in the classics, nothing that is human is alien to it."
Ian McFarlane in "The Canberra Times": "Goldsworthy's nostalgic evocation of the time and place of early experience brings to mind David Malouf's Johnno, with its painful embarrassment and joyful affirmation, although the novel's coda, from a regretful Robbie in old age, introducing doubt concerning the way we see childhood from an adult perspective, seemed unnecessary to me, and weakened the overall impact." He still considered it "Highly recommended."
Peter Pierce in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Few of his Australian contemporares are so skilled at the narrative arts as Goldsworthy, let alone so fearless in seeking new, rather than familiar, fictional ground to work."
James Ley in "The Age": "What prevents Everything I Knew from succumbing to what are essentially dramatic cliches is its deftness of touch and its humour. Goldsworthy's writing is nimble enough to make the conventional aspects of his plot work for him, rather than the other way round. He is a writer whose work is often less straightforward than it appears, and though Everything I Knew does not quite have the concentrated power of the excellent Three Dog Night (2003), it is a characteristically well-realised novel."


"The Book Show" on ABC Radio National - interview by Ramona Koval, 27 October 2008
"The Age" - interview, 3 November 2008
"Brisbane News" - interview by Phil Brown
"East Torrens Messenger" - interview by Des Ryan

Combined Reviews: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

the_slap.jpg Reviews of The Slap
Christos Tsiolkas
Allen & Unwin

From the publisher's page
At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own.

This event has a shocking ricochet effect on a group of people, mostly friends, who are directly or indirectly influenced by the event. In this remarkable novel, Christos Tsiolkas turns his unflinching and all-seeing eye onto that which connects us all: the modern family and domestic life in the twenty-first century. The Slap is told from the points of view of eight people who were present at the barbecue. The slap and its consequences force them all to question their own families and the way they live, their expectations, beliefs and desires.

What unfolds is a powerful, haunting novel about love, sex and marriage, parenting and children, and the fury and intensity - all the passions and conflicting beliefs - that family can arouse. In its clear-eyed and forensic dissection of the ever-growing middle class and its aspirations and fears, The Slap is also a poignant, provocative novel about the nature of loyalty and happiness, compromise and

James Ley's review of the novel in "Australian Book Review" (not available on the web) is titled "A furious moralist" and Ley bases his review on his explanation of Tsiolkas's political stance: "Tsiolkas considers himself a man of the left, but is impatient with what he sees as the complacency, prim hypocrisy and ineffectual nature of his own side of politics. Much of the energy of his writing is generated by the friction between a frustrated idealism of the left, which sets itself against inequality and exploitation and prejudice, and a tough-minded realism that wants to insist upon the regressive impulses that perpetuate these social evils. More than any other contemporary Australian novelist, he has a powerful sense of humankind's capacity for hatred. His fiction acknowledges its primal allure, its negative validation; his characters often experience a surge of excitement when they allow themselves to think a vicious or bigoted thought...The Slap, a long novel, contains some ragged writing, but its multiple perspectives work together to illuminate the difficulties of the issues it raises, and its length is justified by the breathing space it permits its characters." Ley concludes that this is "an engaging and stimulating book".
Venero Armanno in "The Australian": "Tsiolkas's book will remind many readers of the different forms of violence they might have experienced in growing up: from too-rough discipline in the home, to the bloody battlefields that sports matches can turn into, to the corporal punishment that used to be a mainstay of school discipline...One of the greatest problems faced by a writer attempting such a bold multi-voiced narrative is that so many distinct points of view can, in the end, total a point of view that is nothing at all. The Slap manages to achieve the opposite. Tsiolkas's gallery of characters encompasses not only what Australia is in the early 21st century, but also explores the roots of this latest generation, found back in the 20th. His book is distinctly Australian: from the idiom to the blended families to the multi-multi-multicultural lives of its protagonists."
Gerard Windsor in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "In the first 37 pages of The Slap we're introduced to 31 active characters. In Tolstoy we'd have the chamberlain announcing 'Prince and Princess Oblonsky, Miss Natasha Rostov' and so on as they arrive at the ball. Christos Tsiolkas has his characters swarming through an open front door to a suburban Melbourne barbecue. This loading up is a bit of a scramble, a bit confusing, even a bit flat but once everyone's on board the novel's voyage is a great trip...Tsiolkas made his name as a wild man of Australian fiction but, for all its swearing and bad behaviour, The Slap is a strikingly tender book. No character, not even the brat, is written off. Rapprochement and forgiveness are the abiding subjects of the novel and you might say the author is an exemplar to all his characters. His psychological acumen and sympathy extend liberally across the range of his cast, over women as generously as men."
Genevieve Tucker on the "reeling and writhing" weblog: "The interesting thing about this book was its effortless blend of well-observed local detail ("I shot a man in Vermont, just to watch him die"), with the hyper-realism common to soap opera, but rarely well managed in novel form. Like the folks who wrote the end of Mullet, Tsiolkas knows this story has to be bigger than real life, soap without the bubbles: dirt, blood and a few broken teeth left in the bath when it's emptied. Yes, some silly things happen: but they do not have to be believable to make the book move and live and have its being, and his control of all threads is mesmerising - he never lets go. I don't think I've really explained what I mean there, but let it be."

Short notices
Scott Whitmont on the "Boomerang Books" weblog: "The language issue aside, The Slap works. It would not be inappropriate to describe it as a contemporary Australian masterpiece, reminiscent of Elliot Perlman's Seven Types of Ambiguity."
"A Novel Approach" weblog: "Tsiolkas truly is one of the best novelists this country has at the moment. His ability to be pitch-perfect on so many topics and ideas is astounding, and whether this is because he has such a unique background, or because he's just has an amazing imagination is not important. He manages to create characters that are real, believable, and above all, sympathetic. Each and every chapter, you totally understand what and why these people are thinking, and each truly believes they are totally justified in their actions. And while each reader will take their own side of the debate, this novel touches a part of Australian culture that is often skimmed over."
"Jennysreadingblog": "The title of this book is very apt. It hits you in the face with a sharp sting that seems to linger for days afterwards."

"The Book Show" on ABC Radio National.
"Readings" weblog with Belinda Monypenny and Jo Case.
"SlowTV" with Sophie Cunningham.

Combined Reviews: The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon

trout_opera.jpg Reviews of The Trout Opera
Matthew Condon
Random House

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It was also shortlisted for the 2008 NSW Premier's Literary Award, and the 2008 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards; and longlisted for the 2008 Australia-Asia Literary Award.]

From the publisher's page:

THE TROUT OPERA - more than ten years in the writing - is a stunning epic novel that encompasses twentieth-century Australia. Opening with a Christmas pageant on the banks of the Snowy River in 1906 and ending with the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, it is the story of simple rabbiter and farmhand Wilfred Lampe who, at the end of his long life, is unwittingly swept up into an international spectacle. On the way he discovers a great-niece, the wild and troubled young Aurora, whom he never knew existed, and together they take an unlikely road trip that changes their lives. Wilfred, who has only ever left Dalgety once in almost a hundred years, comes face to face with contemporary Australia, and Aurora, enmeshed in the complex social problems of a modern nation, is taught how to repair her damaged life.

This dazzling story - marvellously broad in its telling and superbly crafted - is about the changing nature of the Australian character, finding the source of human decency in a mad world, history, war, romance, murder, bushfires, drugs, the fragile and resilient nature of the environment and the art of fly fishing. It's the story of a man who has experienced the tumultuous reverberations of Australian history while never moving from his birthplace on the Snowy, and it asks, what constitutes a meaningful life?

John Birmingham in "The Brisbane Times": "But I'm afraid that this year the hovercraft and the Bunnies will just have to remain unbuffed. Because this year you'll be buying Matty Condon's epic tome, The Trout Opera. Buy it for yourself, buy it for your friends or buy it for your difficult auntie but get off your worthless butt and buy it because this sucker is The Great Australian Novel. Ten years in the writing, beautifully realised, every goddamned page is a smack upside the head to the rest of us loser writers who couldn't hope to string together a single phrase with the pure bred artistry that Condon lavishes over nigh on 600 pages."
Carmel Bird in "The Age": "This is a grand novel with the scope of opera. The structure is seductive, shifting confidently from character to character, from one age to another, back and forth as the stories reveal themselves, as the lives move in tandem, cross, head for focal points, rise and fall."
Louise Toma on the "M/C Reviews" website: "A hundred years is a short time in the general spectrum of the cosmos. Heck, 250-years have gone by and Australia is still considered one of the youngest countries around, and mocked relentlessly for its lack of history by the whole of Europe. If you're a person, however, one-hundred years is a very, very long time; longer than most people expect to live. A person that old would have had an amazing life, all the wonderful development they would have witnessed, all the grand adventures they would have had. Then again, what makes a life worth living and how much experience can you cram in hundred, twenty-six or fifty-two years? When is the time to finish your life? When is the time to start over? Matthew Condon takes on some of the big questions and a large slice of Australian history in his very own opus, The Trout Opera."
Murray Waldren in the "NZ Listener": "Matthew Condon has earned his literary chops the hard way via the slog of daily journalism. In the past 20 years, he has published seven novels, a children's book and an exposé of the golf tragic's obsessions...The Trout Opera is his triumphant retort to the mockers, cover-blurbed by his friend Peter Carey as being 'sensual, sweet, creepy ... a triumph'. It's easy to see why Carey was hooked: The Trout Opera inhabits a parallel universe to his own rambunctious Illywacker, both sprawling overviews written from passionate affection and with a wry eye but also in an impatience of frustration...This is a novel filled with loss, grief and the quest for redemption, yet it sheds a corollary light on how resilient the human heart is. From its hallucinatory opening passage, where two whisky-supping high court judges on a hotel veranda are mesmerised by a giant trout walking across a bridge (a young Lampe in homemade costume), to its slightly OTT plot-tying Olympian extravaganza, it is a saga of extravagant aspiration."

Short notices
"LiteraryMinded" weblog: "The novel honours simplicity, substance, and peace, and laments the loss of closeness in a moment of quiet. An insightful, brilliant Australian novel, destined to become a classic."
"ANZLitLovers LitBlog": "The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon - this is a brilliant book and I don't understand why it wasn't nominated for the MF shortlist. It has an engaging plot, memorable characters and a vivid Australian setting, bringing to life the Snowy River in a moving portrait of Australian country life."

In his own words
"On writing The Trout Opera" by Matthew Condon

Angela Meyer on the "LiteraryMinded" weblog.
"The Book Show" on ABC Radio National.
Rosemary Sorenson in "The Australian".

Combined Reviews: The Boat by Nam Le

the_boat.jpg Reviews of The Boat by Nam Le
Hamish Hamilton

From the publisher's page:
The Boat will take you everywhere. In 1979, Nam Le's family left Vietnam for Australia, an experience that inspires the first and last stories in The Boat. In between, however, Le's imagination lays claim to the world. The Boat takes us from a tourist in Tehran to a teenage hit man in Columbia; from an aging New York artist to a boy coming of age in a small Victorian fishing town; from the city of Hiroshima just before the bomb is dropped to the haunting waste of the South China Sea in the wake of another war. Each story uncovers a raw human truth. Each story is absorbing and fully realised as a novel. Together, they make up a collection of astonishing diversity and achievement.
Heidi Maier in "The Courier-Mail": "In this, his ambitious and compelling debut collection of short stories, Australian expatriate writer Nam Le blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction with an ease that might be disturbing were it not so beautifully executed...Occasionally, parts of Le's stories can feel more like student exercises in characterisation or plot than fully realised works of short fiction, but when he succeeds he does so with an astonishing deftness and originality."
James Ley in "The Age": "This is a remarkably accomplished collection, not merely on account of its uncommon breadth, but for its consistently high level of craftsmanship. Each of its seven stories is, in its own way, a substantial and well-developed piece of writing...Indeed, if there is a criticism to be made of this collection it is the relatively mild one that among the various modes and settings it attempts, there are some that are more successfully realised than others."
Michiko Kakutani in "The New York Times": "[The title story of this collection], like many in The Boat, catches people in moments of extremis, confronted by death or loss or terror (or all three) and forced to grapple at the most fundamental level with who they are and what they want or believe. Whether it's the prospect of dying at sea or being shot by a drug kingpin or losing family members in a war, Nam Le's people are individuals trapped in the crosshairs of fate, forced to choose whether they will react like deer caught in the headlights, or whether they will find a way to confront or disarm the situation."
Michael McGaha in "The San Francisco Chronicle": "You may never have heard of Nam Le, but with the publication of his first collection of short stories, The Boat, you can expect to hear much more about him in the future. Nam Le was born in Vietnam, grew up in Australia and worked as a corporate lawyer before coming to the United States to attend the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Not yet 30, he is already an extraordinarily accomplished and sophisticated writer."
Heller McAlpin in "The Christian Science Monitor": "The opening story in Nam Le's debut collection, The Boat, is as dazzling an introduction to a writer's work as I've read..."Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice" begins as a metastory about a blocked, Vietnamese-born student at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. His estranged father visits from Australia just when he's struggling with his last assignment of the semester. What first appears to be a story about not knowing what to write-- yawn -- becomes, through sophisticated literary legerdemain, a devastatingly powerful exploration of a fraught father-son relationship and the son's gradual understanding of how his father's brutal wartime experiences at the hands of Americans affected them both."
Peggy Hughes in "Scotland on Sunday": "Nam Le takes us around the world in 271 wince-making, heart-breaking pages of a debut collection disarming for its grace and notable for its incisive, memorable prose. Containing deft slices of portraiture which feel like they've been taken from larger canvases, his stories touch upon fragmented lives of hardship, with assurance, tenderness and an honest eye to the capriciousness of reality."

Short Notices
Readings: "There is something audacious about an author who, in their first collection of stories, moves between six continents, yet Vietnamese-Australian writer Nam Le navigates the globe confidently and convincingly...As a collection of stories Nam Le's The Boat is certainly impressive; for a debut collection, it is exceptional."
Web Wombat: "These are very well written poignant tales that would position many a reader outside their comfort zone. Don't read this if you are looking for happy endings. Be prepared for the dark side of life where emotions plummet the depths and all seems desperate."

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer in "Bookninja" magazine.
Michael Harry in "The Advertiser".
Angela Meyer on the "Literary Minded" weblog.
Michael Williams in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

Profiles of the author
"The Australian" [PDF file]
"The New York Times"

Le won the Dylan Thomas Prize for this collection of stories.
"Publisher's Weekly" named the book as one of their Best Fiction Books of 2008. named it as #29 in their Editor's Picks: Top 100 Books.

Combined Reviews: The Pages by Murray Bail

the_pages.jpg Reviews of The Pages by Murray Bail
Text Publishing

From the publisher's page:

It was a privilege to be allowed into the mind of another person, the life work of another. She was curious to see what he had thought, what he had found. Already she respected his effort. It would have been difficult to sustain across the pages, the many years, the isolation, the heat, perhaps the silence.

What are the pages?

On a family sheep station in western New South Wales, a brother and sister work the property while their reclusive brother, Wesley Antill, spends years toiling away in one of the sheds, writing his philosophy.

Now he has died. Erica, a philosopher, is sent from Sydney to appraise his life's work. Accompanying her is Sophie, who needs distracting from a string of failed relationships. Her field is psychoanalysis. The pages Wesley wrote lie untouched in the shed, just as he left them. What will they reveal? Was he a genius? These turn out to be only a couple of the questions in the air. How will the visit change the lives of Erica and Sophie?

The Pages is a beguiling meditation on friendship and love, on men and women, on landscape and the difficulties of thought itself, by one of Australia's greatest novelists, the author of the much-loved Eucalyptus.

Jonathan Gibbs in "The Independent": "Bail's prose is as full of space and glaring, almost painful light as the landscape...This wouldn't be a novel if its characters didn't hide secrets, though in this delicate construction they appear with all the melodramatic force of a cup of tea being placed on a kitchen table. Bail's rhythm forms into a pattern, and we find we are reading twin accounts of opposing journeys.."

Patrick Skene Catling in "The Telegraph": "The Pages is a nicely written, wonderfully entertaining novel with optional depths about the discoveries of an Australian who devotes his adult life to an introspective search for truth...Philosophy is a big, difficult subject -- there is none bigger -- that Bail depicts thoughtfully and with sympathetic humour."

Stephanie Johnson in "New Zealand Herald": "Ironically, there are so few emotions anywhere in this novel, apart from those of self-regard and self-consciousness. The Pages may well be a novel that polarises its readers."

Hermoine Lee in "The Guardian": "Murray Bail plays a laconic, self-concealing game, cunningly luring the reader in to his interlinked stories. The Pages is not an easy or open book, but it is an oddly compelling one."

Geordie Williamson on ABC Radio National's "Book Show": "Murray Bail's new novel The Pages is an imaginative recapitulation of this meeting of Europe and the antipodean interior. In fact, like [Patrick] White, Bail's larger contribution to Australian letters has lain in his application of the form, style and aesthetic currents of post-war German-language literature to local subjects. "As such, his voice can be pessimistic, high-minded and cantankerous. It can seem at once anti-modern and avant-garde, lapidary and essayistic. A prose engine fuelled by intellect and contrariness, Bail's work recalls that of the fiery Austrian playwright and author Thomas Bernhard and, in its more lugubrious and melancholy aspects, that of the sublime antiquarian miserabilist WG Sebald, a German academic and writer based for decades in England's north-east."

Short Notices

"A Novel Approach" weblog: "To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by The Pages. It is a short little thing that tries to talk about philosophy in an interesting and unusual way, but it is just too short and light to be very good at that. For me, a story like this needs to be either a short story, or a massive, sprawling novel. Instead, it kind of meanders around its characters, not really allowing them to be very much (the three women in particular), and kind of leaving you feeling a bit flat."

Anna Hood on "Boomerang Books" weblog: "My only concern is that readers who loved Eucalyptus may be disappointed in The Pages as it lacks the descriptive elegance and light humour of Bail's previous novel. Yet The Pages is an interesting and thought-provoking piece of modern literature."

"The Bookbag" weblog: "The hard truth is, this is one of those books that attempts to cover a lot of topics and ends up barely covering one or two. It has some really great ideas but lacks definition. The book parts add up (most of the time), but it does not read true or believable."

"The Economist" "The book subsides in the end into a pile of aphorisms, but this is not a displeasing finale. It has been worth the wait."


Susan Wyndham interviewed the author for "The Age".

Combined Reviews: Frantic by Katherine Howell

frantic.jpg Reviews of Frantic by Katherine Howell
Pan Macmillan

[Winner of the 2008 Davitt Award for Best Novel.]

From the publisher's page: "In one terrible moment, paramedic Sophie Phillips' life is ripped apart -- her police officer husband, Chris, is shot on their doorstep and their ten-month-old son, Lachlan, is abducted from his bed. Suspicion surrounds Chris as he is tainted with police corruption, but Sophie believes the attack is much more personal -- and the perpetrator far more dangerous... "While Chris is in hospital and the police, led by Detective Ella Marconi, mobilise to find their colleague's child, Sophie's desperation compels her to search for Lachlan herself. She enlists her husband's partner, Angus Arendson, in the hunt for her son, but will the history they share prove harmful to Sophie's ability to complete her mission? "And could one dangerous decision
cause Sophie to ultimately lose everything important in her life?"


"Crime Down Under": "One of the most popular genres in crime fiction is the police procedural as the reader is able to become immersed in all aspects of the crime-solving procedure. Also well represented in the literary landscape is the fire department with a few authors, notably Earl Emerson, doing a wonderful job of detailing arson and other suspicious fires. But a branch of the emergency services that has been almost completely ignored is the ambulance service. Katherine Howell has started to fill that hole and, judging by the pulse-quickening, breathless action she generates, should kick-start a whole new frenzy of excitement...Frantic is an outstanding thriller that I found immediately entertaining."
"Aust Crime Fiction": "The author of FRANTIC is a paramedic herself, and that perspective of a crime scene, an accident scene, an investigation is very unique - and it's written in a very accessible manner. It brings a refreshing perspective from the participants, at the same time that FRANTIC covers the reaction of a family or victim to the events that surround that crime. And there's definitely a distinct feeling of frenzy about FRANTIC. The pace of the book starts from page one and it doesn't let up until the end - mirroring the life of a paramedic firstly where they move case by case at breakneck speed, then the reaction of a frantic mother, desperate to find her son, unable to sit and wait."

Short Notices

"Boomerang Books": "Written by a former ambulance officer, this is a real page-turner and will certainly appeal to fans of medical-based crime thrillers. This good first novel, with some stylistic drawbacks, could easily be recommended to those seeking a fast-paced and involving read to fill in some entertainment hours."
"Reviewers' Choice Reviews": "FRANTIC is Katherine Howell's first published novel and one that shows great promise. The action starts on page one and maintains its momentum until the very last paragraph."


International Thriller Writers.

How do you approach your writing? I don't plan my novels too closely: I know where I'm starting and where I want to end up, and a few of the 'stepping stones' along the way. I've tried outlining, wanting to feel more secure about where I'm headed, but it just doesn't work for me. Invariably by the middle of a draft I'm floundering about, worrying that it's never going to work, but I was reassured at Harrogate recently to hear Tess Gerritsen describe her process in exactly the same way. I write straight onto computer, as I can type (even three-fingered) faster than I can hand-write. I find that the writing flows best in the afternoons, so the mornings I tend to fill with emails, research, sometimes writing notes, but generally no actual text. I have lots of documents and notebooks where I write down thoughts, ideas for scenes and characters, possible titles and endings and so on, but there is no real order to any of it. When I feel a bit stuck I read back through them and often find the solution was something I'd already thought of then forgotten.
"Articulate" - May 2007.
Genevieve Swart in "The Sydney Morning Herald" - July 2007.
"Crime Down Under" - March 2008.


You can read an excerpt from the novel on the author's website.


Howell put in a guest spot on Sarah Weinman's crime weblog "Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind" in August 2007.

Combined Reviews: The Low Road by Chris Womersley

low_road.jpg Reviews of The Low Road by Chris Womersley

[Winner of the 2008 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel.]

From the publisher's page: "A young petty criminal, Lee, wakes in a seedy motel to find a bullet in his side and a suitcase of stolen money next to him, with only the haziest memory of exactly how he got there. Soon he meets Wild, a morphine-addicted doctor who is escaping his own disastrous life. The two men form an unwilling, unlikely alliance and set out for the safety of a country estate owned by a former colleague of Wild's named Sherman.

"As they flee the city, they develop an uneasy intimacy, inevitably revisiting their pasts even as they desperately seek to evade them. Lee is haunted by a brief stint in jail, while Wild is on the run from the legacy of medical malpractice. But Lee and Wild are not alone: they are pursued through an increasingly alien and gothic landscape by the ageing gangster Josef, who must retrieve the stolen money and deal with Lee to ensure his own survival. By the time Josef finally catches up to them, all three men have been forced to confront the parts of themselves they sought to outrun.

"Part classic film-noir crime-thriller, part modern tale of despair and desperation, The Low Road seduces the reader into a story that unfolds and deepens hypnotically. This is a brilliant debut novel."


Louise Swinn in "The Age": "It is difficult to believe that The Low Road is a first novel. It has the controlled pacing of an experienced hand. With echoes of Peter Goldsworthy's Three Dog Night, Kenneth Cook's Wake in Fright and Cormac McCarthy's The Road, this is both modern tragedy and crime thriller. "Rife with images, it unfolds like a film. "As well as being a noir thriller, this is a violent, gritty and macabre study of the effects of crime on those who carry it out. There is little redemption, and escape appears elusive."
Graeme Blundell in "The Australian": "Chris Womersley begins The Low Road in a classic crime-thriller, almost film-noir style, its shadowy setting in what may be a dystopian Melbourne. It could also be Boston, Brisbane or Birmingham. Or what W.H. Auden called 'the Great Wrong Place'...Womersley writes with quirky sparkling detail. Fringe suburbs are places of failure, suspicion and negect. Car parks hum in their particular fluorescent silences, all angles and dark solids. Ribbons of highway unrave through wet suburbs. And bus shelters, with a scuffle of soft-drink-cans beneath wire seats, stink of domestic misfortune."
"Australian Crime Fiction Database": "The Low Road is a dark chronicle of a brief life on the run as two men try to escape the consequences of their own weaknesses with a misguided belief that salvation is their destiny. Chris Womersley has written a confronting debut novel that offers little hope for the two central characters, pacing them along their desolate road, merely observing their desperate journey. This is an Australian noir thriller in the tradition of Jim Thompson's The Getaway told in a rich, lavish voice."

Short Notices

Readings bookstore: "Part classic film-noir crime-thriller, part modern tale of despair and desperation, The Low Road seduces the reader into a story that unfolds and deepens hypnotically. This is a brilliant debut novel."
Debra Adelaide in "The Australian": "On the cover of this book are the usual claims re brilliant first novel, gripping, hypnotic, thrilling, and so on. This time you can believe every word. In some ways it's a merciless read, taking you by the throat and not letting go for a minute. For a better scene you could not go past chapter 10 which, in a few thousand words, offers an entire history of two older characters, their old uneasy alliances, the bitter as well as the quietly amusing shared memories, the mutual distrust despite all of that, then the truly shocking end."
"First Tuesday Book Club": "The story is dark and cold. The characters are all tortured and scared, have done terrible, unspeakable things yet you still want them to escape and be given a chance at happiness and redemption. But who will live and what horrible actions will they be forced to make to ensure this survival?..The Low Road is an engrossing, confronting and excellent novel from a talented young Australian writer."


"The Age":

As we chat, the evolution of The Low Road, and Womersley's approach to the writing process comes up a number of times. The antipathetic relationship between the planning and the organic growth of the narrative seems central to his writing experience.

"It's a faith thing I think," he says. "At one point I had the rather dispiriting experience of getting to 30,000 words and not knowing where to go.

"You move into the story and hope it reveals itself to you as you go. You hope for that moment where the book develops an appetite, where everything feeds into it, music or art, other books, films you're watching, where it develops its own momentum."
"I toyed with creating a fictional place but it never really rang true. The novel was almost always going to be in a non-time and non-place. In my own mind I'd initially conceived of characters moving through an underworld in a number of different ways, as if they were already dead and moving through an alternate reality, a strata where common rules don't really apply any more."

With that in mind I mention that I'd pictured the seedy motel at the book's beginning somewhere on the Hume Highway beyond Bell Street, and he laughs.

"Coburg was one of the places I had in mind. And the house that they escape to is loosely based on a house where I spent time in Castlemaine. But more than creating a sense of place, for their trip out of the city I wanted to have that sense of moving backwards in time."

Combined Reviews: Shatter by Michael Robotham

shatter.jpg Reviews of Shatter by Michael Robotham

[This novel won the 2008 Ned Kelly Award for Best Novel, and was shortlisted for the 2008 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award.]

Sue Turnbull in "The Age": "Shatter is Robotham's fourth psychological thriller in a series that is not quite a series, featuring as it does a cast of diverse characters who come in and out of focus. We've met O'Loughlin before in both Suspect and Lost (now reissued as The Drowning Man, probably to avoid confusion with that TV show)...Robotham knows how to engineer a plot in order to sustain a head of steam while giving the reader time to observe both fellow travellers and the scenery...Thematically complex, artfully tructured, beautifully written and observed, Shatter confirms Robotham's place in the front row of crime."
Damien Gay on the "Crime Down Under" weblog: "In just three books Michael Robotham has established himself as a master storyteller whose new releases are much anticipated both home and abroad. He consistently crafts impressive thrillers around intriguing scenarios...Combine the hard work gone into character development with Robotham's free-flowing writing style, evidence of a natural storyteller at work, and readers will have no trouble becoming fully involved in Shatter." Peter Millar in "The Times": "Shatter is a gripping journey into the weaknesses and strengths of the human psyche, a story of humanity and inhumanity -- and how one can become the other -- and how depravation and cruelty can be the flip side of love...It is the inevitability of the plot's development that builds the tension and will have you turning the pages compulsively, desperate to get to the end, but not daring to miss a word."

Short Notices

Susanna Yager in "The Telegraph": "Robotham's convincing portrayal of Joe, whose devotion to his work is endangering his marriage, is matched by that of the killer, whose own knowledge of psychology is being used for horrific revenge...It's a clever novel by a very talented storyteller."
Boomerang Books: from a "fairly standard opening, Michael Robotham constructs a psychological thriller of surprising depth and at times almost unbearable tension. This reviewer was forced to cover the lower portion of some pages with a hand, to keep from jumping ahead."
"It's a Crime" weblog: "For me, Michael Robotham's thrillers remain essential reading that demand some booking of 'time out' from normal life. And so it came to pass that his latest, his fourth novel in this series, Shatter did exactly that. I could have read this in one sitting, but one or two or more sittings had to suffice - due to some essential house moving - it all had to be done, including the reading of this novel."
"Mysteries in Paradise" weblog: "I have already listed Michael Robotham as one of my favourite authors and this book I think is probably his best."
"Memorable TV": "With a genuine air of creeping menace, Shatter is fast paced, sometimes scary and with an overall melancholic vibe that puts it a notch above similar fare."
"Chris High" weblog: "Michael Robotham's third outing for his Clinical Psychologist, Joe O'Loughlin, Shatter, is without doubt and from first to last, a book to cherish...Fast paced and rich descriptions make the reader feel as though they are in the same room as the characters which, to be fair, is both good and bad. Good that it is so real. Bad if you want to get to sleep without checking the wardrobe and locks just one last time."
"Reviewing the Evidence": "Shatter showcases some top-notch storytelling. It's always polished, assured and absolutely gripping."


Robotham's website has a lot more material about the book, as well as the first chapter of the novel available for download.
You can read a transcript of a discussion between Michael Robotham, Peter Temple and Jason Steger from the 2008 Crime and Justice Festival.

Combined Reviews: The Zookeeper's War by Steven Conte

zookeepers_war.jpg Reviews of The Zookeeper's War by Steven Conte
Fourth Estate

[This novel won the 2008 Prime Minister's Literary Award for Fiction, and was shortlisted for the 2008 Commonwealth Writer's Prize Year: Best First Novel - South East Asia & South Pacific region.]

John Bailey in "The Age": "It's a ripper premise -- British bombs laying waste to wartime Berlin, as the husband and wife in charge of the city's zoo fight to save their animal charges from decimation and starvation. This is the landscape of Australian Steven Conte's debut novel and it's one littered with literary craters. Luckily, it's built on foundations strong enough to survive its weaknesses...Conte's prose style is unhurried and unforced, rarely indulging in acrobatic feats and only occasionally hinting at the journeyman status sometimes evident in first novels."
Stella Clarke in "The Australian": "Conte has hit on the unusual, intriguing effect created by setting war fiction among caged beasts. This imbues it with an awful urgency, and a poignant, unexpected perspective. Wastelands strewn with the corpses of big cats, alien aquatic creatures blasted out of their fragile prisons, animals left above ground to take the full force of bombing raids while their owners drop into burrows of safety: all this tilts the story away from the usual anthropocentric narrative focus...Beyond its tangential setting in a menagerie, the appeal and success of this novel probably hinges on Conte's vigorous evocation of wartime Berlin. His emotional explorations are often superficial and erratic, but his hammer and nail construction of Berlin in 1944 and his plausible evocation of his characters' predicaments are lively."
Karen Lamb in "The Australian Literary Review", as part of a review of 4 first novels: "If Anatomy of Wings [by Karen Foxlee] suggests how lying of a certain kind can lead to death, then Steven Conte's The Zookeeper's War reminds us that history demonstrates that telling the truth can be even more treacherous. The novel is set in wartime Berlin, a time not kind to secrets or truth, when the Gestapo decided whether you were a lie or a life...Interestingly, the simple expositon of ruthlessness in a novel set in this period does not necessarily offer much to readers. In Conte's story, the intrigue lies at the human level of choices made and the exercise of individual will. The people who fascinate us are those who didn't, or wouldn't tell on others...While this provides an effective metaphorical framework for the inhumanity in the world of humans, the strength of The Zookeeper's War is Conte's meticulous and nuanced observation of character and conduct."

Further details about the novel can be found at the author's website.

Combined Reviews: A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

fraction_of_whole.jpg Reviews of A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

[This novel was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.]

Emily Maguire in "The Age": "Packed with plots, sub-plots, sub-sub-plots, tangents, flashbacks, diversions, philosophical wanderings and spectacular set pieces, this enormous debut novel from Australian Steve Toltz is in many ways a perfect example of what British critic James Wood calls "hysterical realism". Wood's term is supposed to be a criticism, but I use it here descriptively. A Fraction of the Whole is, as Wood would say, a 'perpetual motion machine', but it's one fuelled by brilliant ideas and driven by an original, bracing and very funny voice."
Lon Bram in "The Courier-Mail": "Steve Toltz's A Fraction of the Whole begins deceptively enough with a brilliantly funny monologue in which every sentence is a quotable aphorism clothed in light-hearted observations about human behaviour. Imperceptibly, the story leads into stressful descriptions and dramatic situations analysis and philosophy are easily assimilated through the formidably sustained use of humour -- black humour painted pink; sarcasm and cynicism made risible because it rests on a masked but inexhaustible well of compassion...And all of this in a suspenseful, captivating novel in which every page challenges our notions, ranging from love triangles to crime, politics and religion."
Adam Lively in "The Times" : "The Australian Steve Toltz's exuberantly entertaining debut novel is the kind that poses a conundrum for your humble hack. Reviewing comic novels is rather like playing tennis with a soap bubble -- if the thing's any good, you feel like just saying, "Hey, this is funny -- go away and read it", which is hardly FR Leavis. And if it isn't any good, then you come on heavy and sound like a curmudgeon. For what could be more blameless than trying to make people laugh?...Fortunately, there is plenty to laugh at in A Fraction of the Whole -- and also, goodness knows, there is plenty of plot, since the book has the dimensions of a family Bible (if this a fraction -- my God, what is the whole?) and the narrative pace of a puppy with attention-deficit disorder."
Tom Chiarella in "Esquire": "Here's my problem: Pretty much every time I get to the last 50 pages of a long novel, I wonder, What the hell did I read this for? All that time. All the lost hours. You can almost feel veins pulsing in the writer's temples. Yet for some reason, I take a look at the first page anyhow, because somewhere inside I am convinced that long books must still matter. Maybe this one will be worth it, I hope -- then I go in, falling to my knees, belly down under the pages...Well, A Fraction of the Whole (Spiegel & Grau, $25), by Australian Steve Toltz, is that rarest of long books -- utterly worth it -- which is why you'll have to bear with me on portents of this next line: This book is witty and intellectual, a physical comedy and literary rant all at once."
John Freeman in "The New York Times": "Someday in the future, when novels are considered quaint as daguerreotypes and Corvettes run on lemonade, literary historians will look at our age and see a generation of novelists in thrall to the first person. One can't open a first novel these days without being grabbed by the lapels and made to listen. Old men, young children, even the dead want to yak at us. Never has fiction been held aloft by so many filibusterers...Steve Toltz hails from Australia, where the badgering first person runs deep, so A Fraction of the Whole, his 530-page debut, grows in the shadow of great expectations. But can it do more than just talk our ears off?"
Frank Cottrell Boyce in "The Guardian": "It's a hard book to describe; whoever wrote 'rollicking' on the press release, for instance, should buy a dictionary. Dante's Paradiso is more rollicking than this. It's a fat book but very light on its feet, skipping from anecdote, to rant, to reflection, like a stone skimming across a pond...The same people keep popping up in the most unlikely places, like watching a lot of Road Runner cartoons one after the other: the more you admire the inventiveness and hope of Wile E Coyote, the more you can't bear to look as he plunges off the edge of the canyon. Fools ask why the Coyote is so fixated on Road Runner. Haven't they noticed that in all the wide desert there's nothing else moving? In all our lives, no matter how far we roam, how much we achieve, we were only ever after the attention and approval of a very small number of people -- our parents, our children, our lovers."
Jonathan Gibbs in "The Independent": "A 700-page debut novel will always generate a certain amount of attention. The special appeal of the Big Book is that it is going to achieve something greater than the sum of its many parts. To do all that with your first book shows ambition of potentially megalomaniac proportions. And megalomania is the defining characteristic of Steve Toltz's book, set largely in his native Australia ('our demented country')...There is no perspective, no sense of how seriously we are supposed to take it all. A Fraction of the Whole contains some awful dud patches, and some sparkling comic writing. It bounces with sarcastic aphorisms and invincible gags -- many of which reveal themselves, a moment or two after reading, to be arrant nonsense."
Peter Robins in "The Telegraph": "Toltz has the flair and most of the gifts required to write a really good comic novel: A Fraction of the Whole shows that to excess. Perhaps his next book will make up the remaining fraction."
Joel Yanofsnky in "The Montreal Gazette": "There was a time when it was automatic: You cut a first novel some slack. Reviewers, readers, too, were expected to take into account a rookie author's limitations. That often meant understanding when the story was, say, overly autobiographical, when it wasn't imaginative or ambitious enough...But times have changed. Now, first novels are like blockbuster movies and breakfast sandwiches: you go big or you go home...In his debut, A Fraction of the Whole, Australian writer Steve Toltz goes really big. It's not just that this picaresque saga of the criminal and crazy Dean family clocks in at 530 pages. Or that Toltz's mix of know-it-all philosophizing and comic shtick seems to set him up as a successor to literary whiz-kids like Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen."

Short Notices

"Blogcritics Magazine": "I will wait with some interest to see if Steve Toltz can capture lightning in a bottle twice. His first book could be his best, a feat never to be repeated. That would make it a masterwork. It could be just the first in a series of mammoth volumes, each peeling back layers of the society in which we live, showing us absurdity from the inside, skewering us from the viewpoints of a series of odd characters."
"Time Out London": "A Fraction of the Whole is marketed as a novel and a half -- and it's about half a novel too long. Toltz constantly tries to be linguistically innovative and the result is inconsistent. It is both tiresome and frustrating. He obviously has the talent to use language energetically, but the clunky passages, of which there are many, make one long for a ruthless editor."


Malcolm Knox interviewed the author for "The Sydney Morning Herald".
You can also get a fair amount of material at the novel's website.
And you can read an extract from the novel on the "Guardian"'s website.

Combined Reviews: The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser

lost_dog.jpg Reviews of The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser
Allen & Unwin

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. It won the Australian Literature Society's Gold Medal, and the NSW Premier's Literary Award for Fiction, as well as the Book of the Year Award.]

Ursula Le Guin in "The Telegraph": "There is no feminine for 'avuncular', but there ought to be. I want, in auntly fashion, to praise Michelle de Kretser for being good and beautiful, while scolding her for being afraid to show her goodness and beauty. What do you want to hide behind all that face-paint for, child? Do you think you have to be as skinny as a pencil and wear a ring in your navel just because other people do? The fashionable disfigurements and artificialities I complain of are, of course, literary, and they affect not her, but her novel, The Lost Dog...Kretser's native style is clear, vigorous, sensitive to mood and cadence, and strongly narrative - an excellent tool for a novelist with a story to tell."

Alison McCulloch in "The New York Times": "This book's insights
are at times so thickly layered as to leave character, story and reader gasping for light and air. Which isn't to say they're necessarily bad insights. More often than not, de Kretser nails some situation or foible in 20 words or less. Consider her observation on 9/11: 'Everything changes when Americans fall from the sky.'...As de Kretser showed with her second novel, The Hamilton Case, her forte is illuminating the lives of such 'leftovers of empire', and she provides more of those delights here. But this novel also continues a steady move away from the concrete world of places and events toward the human interior."

A.S. Byatt in "The Financial Times": "This is the best novel I have read for a long time. The writing is elegant and subtle, and Michelle de Kretser knows how to construct a gripping story...This writing is new and constantly surprising, without being showy or quirky. It is exact, like Penelope Fitzgerald; it is strange, like Patrick White."

Dara Horn in "The Washington Post": "While the plot is subtle, the book's musings on modernity are anything but. Nearly every page offers observations on how contemporary Western life attempts to efface the past: faddish dress, gentrified neighborhoods, the disposability of old technology."

Mary Philip in "The Courier-Mail": "In many ways this book is wonderfully mysterious. The whole concept of modernity juxtaposed with animality is a puzzle that kept this reader on edge for the entire reading. The Lost Dog is an intelligent and insightful book that will guarantee de Kretser a loyal following."

Jane Shilling in "The New Statesman": "Ranging between the present and events of the past, whose convergence has led her protagonist to his crisis, de Kretser pursues ideas of exile, loss, disappointment, mortality; the nature of happiness and also of evil; the relation between humanity and beastliness; the significance of objects, both present and remembered; the means by which we conjure and protect identity; the shared characteristics of words and shit; ideas of duty, responsibility and attachment -- and much more."

Stephen Abell in "The Telegraph": "The Lost Dog, we are told at its conclusion, 'draws directly and obliquely on works by Henry James'. This is a risky ploy, with two obvious pitfalls: the hubris involved in setting your prose in comparison with that of the Master; and the fact that, in the reams of James's thoughtful literary criticism, there are likely to be all sorts of strictures that can be used against you."

Carmen Callil in "The Observer": "This is my favourite kind of novel. It is full of incident and character, tells a gripping story, has many touches of brilliance and can make you laugh and wonder. But it is also mightily flawed...These lapses aside, the language is full of light, colour and precise observation and, better still, the author can handle ethical and political concerns with a light touch."

Short Notices

The "Tuesday in Silhouette" weblog: "It's one of those books that hums quietly along; even though extraodinary things may happen, it really does feel like an everyday kind of travel. It just pulls you along as the characters journey through life. That's what I loved about it. The writing. The writing was quite lovely."
Despite some reservations, Dan Dervin concludes that the novel "delivers on its intriguing premises".
Estelle at "3000 books" thinks this books has helped her re-evaluate her view of Australian literature: "Considering the lyricism with which De Kretser conveyed this multi-generational tale, it was with no regret that I renounced my
antipathy for Australian fiction. Even a sometimes awkward approach to dialogue enhanced her considered inquiry into personhood, revealing conversation for its brutal, dissembling self."
dovegreyreader: "Layers of significance build and build and I was constantly in awe of Michelle de Kretser's style and skill, the very right words
in exactly the right order. Even that point when you might expect a book to take a bit of a yawn as it rests and gathers itself to regroup for that push to the final page, well Michelle de Kretser just pulls out even more stops and stuns all over again, the book dazzled and sparkled for me from start to finish."

Robert Dessaix on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show" from November 2007.
Fiona Gruber interview in "The Sydney Morning Herald" from November 2007: "It is, in part, a commentary on the sanitised world in which we
live, where the old, the sick and the imperfect are made to feel useless, invisible. 'We have an obsession with bodies in the West but there is a denial of bodily-ness,' de Kretser argues, saying the obsession with fitness and control of appetites is unsensual. Our animality is something we have become disgusted by, she says. Perfect teeth, straight strong limbs and glowing skin form the template that separates the Western physical orthodoxy from a more diverse cast in less affluent countries."
Rosemary Neill interview in "The Australian" from March 2008: "De Kretser says the praise and prizes her novels have attracted 'increase un-confidence, if that is the word'. When her second novel was released, she was worried it wouldn't live up to the success of the first. Now she is uneasy that The Lost Dog -- to be published in Australia, the US, Britain and Italy -- won't match the achievements of The Hamilton Case. 'The only thing I know at the end of a novel is how to write that novel; that knowledge doesn't transfer across to the next one,' she says soberly."
In conversation with Gail Jones at the 2008 Sydney Writers' Festival in May 2008.


Ampersand Duck is a blogger living in Canberra who just happened to be the designer for the Australian edition of the novel. (Check out the bookcover at the top of this post, and then have a look at the pedestrian version that appears on the English edition as reproduced with Carmen Callil's review in "The Observer".) Fascinating stuff.

Combined Reviews: Saturn Returns by Sean Williams

saturn_returns.jpg Reviews of Saturn Returns by Sean Williams
July 2007

[This novel won the 2008 Ditmar Award for Best Novel.]

From the publisher's page

Dark experiments, dangerous ruins, fleeting ghosts and deadly conspiracies... On the edge of the galaxy in a distant and terrible future, Imre Bergamasc is reborn into a pieced-together body with the certain knowledge that he was the victim of an elaborate murder plot. But neither his mind nor the history of his former life are as easily reassembled, so he sets out to follow the fragments of his memories and discover the reason for his elimination. Through interstellar graveyards, decaying megacities and bizarre star systems, he pursues whispers connecting the death of the worlds he once knew to his own murder. Tracked by forces determined to thwart his efforts, Imre combs the wreckage of the future for the truth about himself -- no matter how unbearable it may be.


Matthew Tait on "Oz HorrorScope": "Saturn Returns, the first book of Astropolis, marks a pivotal time in the career of Adelaide author Sean Williams. Like the title metaphor, it seems the author himself is going through a personal homecoming of sorts. After the debacle of the Books of the Cataclysm, Sean has revisited the path where he started - and, dare I say it, where he belongs...With honesty and aplomb Sean shows us that, unfortunately, wars will never be won: it's the human condition and mirrors the current global situation. No matter how hard we travel and how hard we evolve, human beings, at their very basic, will always be warring machines..."

Taryn on "A Storm of Words": "Orbit describes it as a 'space opera balancing cosmic-level threats with a very human murder mystery'. I think its a fast paced guns-a-blazing-mystery dealing with questions of identity PLUS a central character with partial amnesia, what more could you want?...Sean Williams has created a fascinating gothic galaxy recovering from a galactic-wide disaster. Humans have spread far and wide across the galaxy, some remaining in one body, Primes, living and dying others, Singletons, opt for having many clones and absorbing and sharing memories and then there are the group minds."

Graeme on "Graeme's Fantasy Book Review": "With science fiction; it seems that the more space travel a character needs to undertake, the 'harder' the tone will be. This is certainly the case here with characters handily able to adjust their body tempo, in order to travel vast distances, and talk of the complexity of sending communications across the galaxy. I'm not a fan of 'hard sci-fi' and will admit that any talk of 'relativity' or 'the warping affects of a neutron star's gravitational field' send me into a little daydream until someone fires a laser gun and gets things going again. There is some of that here but luckily (for me anyway) the 'detective element' of the story was gripping enough to keep me going."

Jonathan McCalmont on "SF Diplomat": "As I was reading this book, I was struck by how much it resembled two other books, namely Iain M. Banks' 1993 Against a Dark Background and Roger Zelazny's 1970 Nine Princes in Amber...Much like Against a Dark Background, Saturn Returns is a work of action-packed SF that has a good deal of wry wit and a desire to innovate. At 280 pages, the book is short and to the point. While its mystery/self-discovery elements can lead to the pace slowing, it is generally not long before Bergamasc is called upon to lead his gang into battle or use his tactical nous to solve a problem. The action sequences are exciting to read and the book's pace accelerates towards the end leaving you eager to find out what happens next in this projected three book series."

JP on "SF Signal": "Saturn Returns is the first book in Sean Williams' new space opera series, Astropolis. It has all the things you'd expect from New Space Opera: postumans, galaxy spanning cultures, conspiracies and imminent threat to humanity. The setting has some of the feel of Alastair Reynolds' Inhibitor series, but with Williams' own additions to space opera...At times I felt like I was getting info dumped instead of story progress. And while the characters are interesting, they aren't really that sympathetic. Not yet anyway...So it's a good thing that the universe Williams has created is just so darn cool. He packs a lot of interesting and unique ideas into this story. I'm really interested in
seeing how the story unfolds and how the conspiracy plays out."


Williams was interviewed by Tim Lloyd for "The Advertiser", soon after the book was published in 2007.

Combined Reviews: Feather Man by Rhyll McMaster

feather_man.jpg Reviews of Feather Man by Rhyll McMaster
Brandl & Schlesinger

[This novel won the 2008 Barbara Jefferis Award.]

From the publisher's page

From parochial Brisbane of the 1950s, Sookie tries to escape her eccentric childhood where sinister sexuality is on the loose, and paint her way to better chances in the swinging London of the 1970s. Vastly intelligent, this dark comedy of the fictions of the heart is an edgy and dangerous work of portraiture.


Kerryn Goldsworthy in "The Australian": "McMaster is particularly good at conveying states of mind: the inferiority of a child who doesn't understand what is being done to her; the unrelenting negativity and meanness of spirit of a certain kind of Australian woman in a particular time and place; the dense tangle of feelings of a child sexually assaulted by someone that she and her family know and trust. One of this book's most valuable insights is expressed in its acknowledgement that the ambivalent feelings and betrayal of trust involved in sexual assault by someone known to the victim might do even more psychological damage than the assault itself."

Rachel Slater in "Australian Women's Book Review": "The story is reminiscent of Christina Stead's 1945 novel For Love Alone in its movement between Australia and London and its strong-willed protagonist who nevertheless traipses to the other side of the world for the 'love' of a contemptuous and narcissistic man who uses her devotion and naivety to achieve his own ends...Another reviewer has suggested that there seems to be an uncomfortable mixture of feminist tract meets Mills & Boon in this part of the novel (and here again are echoes of For Love Alone). There certainly is a sense of that, just as there are moments where the narrative wobbles on its usually well-laid track, but McMaster pulls it back from the brink and delivers an impressive first novel -- rich, darkly funny and disturbing; it works."

Andrew Reimer in "Brisbane Times": "It is generally true, I think, that poets have difficulty in making the transition from the compressed, highly allusive diction of their verse to the more discursive demands of prose fiction. With this fine first novel, the noted poet Rhyll McMaster proves that she is an exception. Admirers of her poetry will find, however, any number of phrases and clusters of images that bring the best of her verse to mind...Her eye for detail, for recognising the exceptional in the most mundane of things, illuminates these pages. The seedy ordinariness of life in London is superbly conveyed. The satiric strain that distinguishes some of the earlier sections -- the marvellous comedy of a Brisbane wedding for instance -- survives the journey to London. A nightmarish episode set in a grim, ill-lit hospital is particularly vivid. And, almost everywhere, the rich texture of allusions, imagery and remembrances of things past allows this portion of her novel to rise above the predictable."

On the "LiteraryMinded" weblog: "Rhyll McMaster has had six books of poetry published, many of them prize-winning, but this is her first novel. For a poet she shows restraint and delicacy in her prose while still embellishing it with apt imagery. This is a beautiful and worthy Australian novel with absorbing characterisation and layers of resonant themes."

Short notices

Christina Hill in "Australian Book Review": "This superb first novel is beautifully written but not for the faint-hearted. In the disturbing genre of Amy Wittings I For Isobel (1989) and Jessica Anderson's Tirra Lirra by the River (1978), it is nonetheless in a class of its own."

Combined Reviews: Secrets of the Sea by Nicholas Shakespeare

secrets_of_sea.jpg Reviews of Secrets of the Sea by Nicholas Shapespeare
August 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page
Following the death of his parents in a car crash, eleven-year-old Alex Dove is torn from his life on a remote farm in Tasmania and sent to school in England. Twelve years on, he must return to Australia to deal with his inheritance. But the timeless beauty of the land and his encounter with a young woman, whose own life has been marked by tragedy, persuade him to stay.They marry, and he finds himself drawn into the eccentric, often hilarious dynamics of island life. Longing for children, the couple open their home to a disquieting guest, a teenage castaway, whose presence on the farm begins to unravel their tenuously forged happiness, while at the same time offering the prospect of a much greater fulfilment. SECRETS OF THE SEA is Nicholas Shakespeare's finest novel to date.

Jennifer Byrne in "The Age": "It is a fine thing that English writer Nicholas Shakespeare has chosen to live in Tasmania, a place that has lured many wandering souls. And it is understandable he would wish to write about it while
his love is still new, that extreme, other-worldly beauty fresh to his eyes...The island's fractious, fascinating history is the subject of his recent prize-winning nonfiction, In Tasmania. Now, its east coast is both the setting and animating spirit for a novel set in the imagined town of Wellington Point (pop. 600), where old folk bask in the high daily average sunshine and the young can't wait to escape...Shakespeare is a polished writer and this is a novel of fine detail, of long walks on the seashore and moods that shift like the pink in the clouds and the dark, wheeling patterns of birds. We watch and wait as small-scale lives tangle and smooth against a bold, at times bruising landscape."

Alfred Hickling in "The Guardian": "Shakespeare takes great care not to replicate the contents of his travel book, though it's difficult to write about an island of less than 30,000 square miles without covering some of the same ground. And whereas the travelogue was a slightly chaotic work written in a burst of enthusiasm, the novel is far more crafted, considered and detached - not always to its advantage. It can be painfully slow-moving at times. And there is more than enough material on the reproductive cycle of molluscs to give you pause next time you enter an oyster bar...If Shakespeare's travel book captured the excitement of arrival, this novel is about coming to terms with the destination."

Margaret Elphinstone in "The Independent": "The opening seems to hold the sea at bay as it focuses on small-town rivalries in machismo and sexual relationships, before showing us unequivocally why we should care. The sea always comes in again and washes away the trivia, but sometimes it takes a little too long to make its appearance. Engagement with the sea, and its significance in the unplumbed depths of the human psyche, is the real, undoubted strength of this novel."

Kasia Boddy in "The Telegraph": "The story proceeds at a leisurely pace. Eighteen years are covered in five sections, but the time frame is complicated. Life is long but not all of it matters equally. Some sections cover years, some months; others - a few meaningful days in the characters' lives...To slow the tale down and emphasise significance, Shakespeare employs a variety of techniques. For every three normal-length paragraphs, for example, he breaks one into four pieces, giving each sentence room to resonate moodily...Literature looms large. After Lear's verse, the book most often mentioned is Joseph Conrad's The Shadow Line (1917), the story of a young sea captain whose ship seems haunted by his predecessor. Secrets of the Sea is proudly haunted by Conrad and develops his preoccupations with the shadow lines drawn between men who seem like doubles, between the natural and the supernatural, and, finally, between youth and maturity."

Short notices
Fuller Bookshop: "A curious and unsettling novel, you will confound yourself trying to will the non-existant East Coast town into existence."

Susan Wyndham interviews the author.

Combined Reviews: Landscape of Farewell by Alex Miller

landscape_farewell.jpg Reviews of Landscape of Farewell by Alex iMller
Allen and Unwin
November 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page
A hauntingly beautiful meditation on the land, the past, exile and friendship, Landscape of Farewell is the powerful new novel from acclaimed Australian author, Alex Miller. It is the story of Max Otto, an elderly German academic. After the death of his much-loved wife and his recognition that he will never write the great study of history that was to be his life's crowning work, Max believes his life is all but over. Everything changes, though, when his valedictory lecture is challenged by Professor Vita McLelland, a feisty young Australian Aboriginal academic visiting Germany. Their meeting and growing friendship sets Max on a journey that would have seemed unthinkable just a few short weeks earlier. When, at Vita's invitation, Max travels to ustralia, he forms a deep friendship with her uncle, Aboriginal elder Dougald Gnapun. It is a friendship that not only gives new meaning and purpose to Max, but which teaches him the profound importance of truth-telling in reconciliation with his own and his ountry's past. Following Alex Miller's Miles Franklin-winning Journey to the Stone Country, Landscape of Farewell is a wise and grave novel of power, beauty and truth.

Angela Bennie in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Miller's great strengths here are his often startling, sometimes mesmerising facility to twist the language into new patterns and images, his ability to carve idiosyncratic characters out of the crooked and gnarled off-cuts of humanity, rather fashion them from smoother timbers. Always, the novel appears to be driven by an urgent need to reveal how these kinds of beliefs -- which historically have caused us so much sorrow and, in many cases, so much bloody murder -- might instead become virtues...In these moments, Landscape Of Farewell becomes a rare experience."

Jack Hibberd in "The Australian": "On the evidence of Landscape of Farewell, Alex Miller is a sombre and sober author whose prose interlocks adroitly with his lugubrious thematic concerns. Not for him the sceptical fabrications and comic diversities of modernism or the antic relativities of postmodernism. Alex is no smart alec...Landscape of Farewell is laced and interlarded with flashbacks, dreams, prescient Jungian premonitions and binary selves, some of which knit past with present, place with place."

Hilary McPhee in "The Australian": "I suspect that, for Miller, the search for moral clarity is something like the terrible climb up the escarpment in the Expedition Ranges in his latest novel, Landscape of Farewell...Massacre is the blockage in the Australian imagination, in our sense of ourselves in this place, and the wounds are very deep. Miller is essential reading."

Lisa Gorton in "The Age": "The past haunts Miller's characters and his stories puzzle out the mystery of that haunting. They are strange, extreme novels. Yet, in the ghost story tradition, Miller creates narrators whose detached intelligence holds these fantastical elements in a close and precisely imagined world...[this book] gathers up some of the interests that have shaped some of Miller's novels: The Ancestor Game, Journey to the Stone Country and Prochownik's Dream. It teases out how the past makes itself present in the relationship between fathers and sons; it works to define what art takes from people's lives, and what it gives."

Shirley Walker in "Australian Book Review": "Landscape of Farewell has a rare level of wisdom and profundity. Few writers since Joseph Conrad have had so fine an appreciaton of the equivocations of the individual conscience and their relationships to the long processes of history. But perhaps I am over-intellectualising what is, after all, a very human story, passionately told."

Corrie Perkin's interview with the author for "The Australian".

Combined Reviews: The Memory Room by Christopher Koch

memory_room.jpg Reviews of The Memory Room by Christopher Koch
Random House
November 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

'What is a spy? Are they born, or are they made?'

With these words, Vincent Austin analyses his future occupation. Some spies are made, he says, but his kind is born. He is devoted to secrecy for its own sake. Vincent is orphaned early, and his boyhood in Tasmania is spent with an elderly aunt. His fascination with secrecy and espionage -- and much else besides -- is shared to an uncanny degree by Erika Lange, daughter of a post-World War German immigrant. She too has lost her mother, and she and Vincent see themselves as twin spirits, inhabiting a shared, platonic world of fantasy and ritual.

At University, Vincent aims to enter Foreign Affairs - an ambition shared by his easygoing friend Derek Bradley. However, in his final year, Vincent is recruited by ASIS -- Australia's overseas secret intelligence service -- and his adolescent dream becomes reality. Erika becomes a journalist, eventually entering the overseas service as a press officer. She is an attractive and magnetic woman, but her emotional life is chaotic.

She, Vincent and Bradley meet again in 1982, when they are in their thirties, and have all been posted to the Australian Embassy in Beijing. Here, Erika and Bradley begin an affair which is ultimately doomed to fail. At the same time, Vincent attempts an espionage coup which ends in disaster for himself and Bradley.

Both men are expelled from China, and are based in Canberra, where Vincent is confined to the ASIS Registry: the 'memory room' of the book's title. This is the year of Star Wars, and the final phase of the Cold War.

Erika, also returning to Australia, becomes a television journalist, and enjoys a period of national prominence. The fantasies of youth have become reality for Erika and Vincent, and lead to a tragic climax for them both. It is left to Bradley, who inherits Vincent's diaries, to contemplate their fate.

Although THE MEMORY ROOM deals with espionage, its aims go far beyond those of a thriller. A psychological study of a brilliant but eccentric secret intelligence operative, it is also an exploration of the mystical nature of secrecy itself, and of the consequences of a shared obsession.


Nikki Barrowclough in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "The mystique of secrecy has always fascinated Christopher Koch. It has glimmered in books he has written in the past, such as Highways to a War, and it lies at the heart of his mesmerising new novel, The Memory Room, set in the last days of the Cold War...Most writers are spies, in the sense they are always listening and watching, composing characters in their heads and working out their motives. And by living in their imaginations, writers, too, lead a sort of secret life. Koch's examination of what motivates the brilliant if eccentric Vincent Austin, an orphan who grows up in Tasmania with an elderly aunt and is recruited by ASIS, Australia's overseas secret intelligence service, is written partly as a memoir."

Michael Williams in "The Age": "Fans of Koch's earlier work won't be disappointed, but somehow The Memory Room never quite amounts to anything much. It just doesn't find the author hitting the high notes that he's previously shown himself capable of, contenting itself with a meditation on a group of characters
who never fully come alive...Too often we're told about the characters' individual qualities without ever being shown them...As a book about the banality of espionage, a glimpse of the somewhat futile bureaucracy of Australian foreign affairs and the loneliness of the spy's life, this is a solid and rewarding read."

Leonie Kramer in "The Australian": "Christopher Koch's latest novel, The Memory
, is a tour de force. It continues his exploration of the purpose he wrote about in an essay, The Novel as Narrative Poem: 'to reach into the hearts and secret lives of ordinary men and women'. The continuity of his search, and the quality of his writing in this novel, represents the deepest exploration of these secret lives in a fast-paced narrative set in the real world of spies, intrigues and secrets...This is no ordinary spy story, though at times it is tempting to turn over a few pages to see how a problem is solved or the tension relaxed. The inventive structure of the novel introduces changes in narrative voices, movements of the characters and unexpected shifts in chronology. These features, however, are an essential part of the meaning, as are some very precise dates. The difficulty for the reviewer is to avoid playing a guessing game with the narrative because this is a book that invites individual interpretations and doesn't have a whodunit ending...Koch's detail is never merely ornamental but essential to the meaning of the narrative and the unveiling of the characters."

Adrian Mitchell in "Australian Book Review": "Consider the plight of the established novelist. The readership (that's us) comes to recognise a particular style, a particular set of themes, and presumably that is one of the reasons to go on buying the writer's books. Should the next book always be in the same mould -- in which case we might become a tad bored -- or should there be something quite out of character, causing us to gasp with disbelief? After all, it is usually disastrous when a diva starts singing popular songs. Christopher Koch's new book sets up these kinds of tension. Something new about what is remembered?...The pattern of Koch's thinking has been shaped by the writers he reveres, Dostoevsky, Kipling, Greene and Fitzgerald among them. He has always been
ambitious to advance deep issues. They are certainly to be found across the pages of this novel; yet, because such action as there is happens at a remove, the impact of the leading ideas has to be assumed."


Jason Steger profile of Christopher Koch in "The Age".
Interview with the author from "The Metro", a UK newspaper.

Combined Reviews: The Widow and Her Hero by Tom Keneally

widow_her_hero.jpg Reviews of The Widow and Her Hero by Tom Keneally
Random House
May 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

'I knew in general terms I was marrying a hero. The burden lay lightly on Leo, and to be a hero's wife in times supposedly suited to the heroic caused a woman to swallow doubt . The Japanese had barely been turned away. It was heresy and unlucky to undermine young men at such a supreme hour.'

When Grace married the genial and handsome Captain Leo Waterhouse in Australia in 1943, they were young, in love -- and at war. Like many other young men and women, they were ready, willing and able to put the war effort first. They never seriously doubted that they would come through unscathed.

But Leo never returned from a commando mission masterminded by his own hero figure, an eccentric and charismatic man who inspired total loyalty from those under his command. The world moved on to new alliances, leaving Grace, like so many widows, to bear the pain of losing the love of her life and wonder what it had all been for. Sixty years on, Grace is still haunted by the tragedy of her doomed hero when the real story of his ill-fated secret mission is at last unearthed. As new fragments of her hero's story emerge, Grace is forced to keep revising her picture of what happened to Leo and his fellow commandoes -- until she learns about the final piece in the jigsaw, and the ultimate betrayal.


Andrew Reimer in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "The Widow and Her Hero reveals a writer who has lost none of the skill and talent he has been demonstrating for decades in a seemingly unending stream of books. In some of
his more recent novels, however, Keneally has shown a tendency to rely on mechanical plots and stock characters - An Angel in Australia is a case in point, I think. In this book he has avoided most of those pitfalls. Even the conceit of a group of prisoners, Leo and his friends, who are facing the prospect of execution, rehearsing a play - a throwback to Bring Larks and Heroes - proves to be apt and successfully integrated into the novel's structure."

Barry Oakley in "The Australian" : "It's a compelling story but because Keneally
has assembled rather than unfolded the narrative, most of it takes place at one remove. Perhaps that's his intention: to present a study rather than a story, an exploration of character and heroism and how one interacts with the other...The Widow and Her Hero is a patchwork of a novel, often penetrating, sometimes powerful but never gaining the momentum to carry the story along. Keneally, however, is such a cunning artificer that he's very readable even when not firing on all cylinders."

James Ley in "The Age": "Keneally's freely fictionalised version is an attempt to marry this dramatic tale of military adventure to sober reflections on the meaning of honour and heroism. In particular, he is interested in exploring the
hold these concepts have on the male psyche...[the novel] is thus an account of bravery and sacrifice that attempts, through the duality of its narrative structure, both to acknowledge the genuine heroism of its male protagonists and to resist any simple glorification of their exploits."

Adair Jones in "The Courier-Mail": "Keneally's skill as one of Australia's most
versatile and interesting literary figures rests in such ambiguities. The author questions our need for heroes and the price we all pay for needing them...For the generation of Australians who lived through the terrible war and survived, men and women like Grace who are now past 80, this novel acknowledges the awful price they paid and gives us a glimpse into the cold shadow of a war that has never quite disappeared."

Ed Lake in "The Telegraph": "Keneally can be a bit of a hack, and his work here bears marks of haste. Gobbledygook abounds -- the Memerang men "knew how to paddle... like angels on pinheads" -- and Grace's voice is strangulated and writerly...Even so, the novel comes off. It evokes something of the magnificence of heroism, and more of its awfulness. For that, it deserves a salute."

David Robson in "The Telegraph": "In terms of its overall effectiveness, The Widow and Her Hero is probably a notch or two below Keneally's very best work. The narrative is neatly constructed, but the scenes in the Far East lack a certain immediacy: you should be shocked by the beheadings, so redolent of modern Iraq, but they do not reverberate through the story as much as perhaps
they should. But any new work by this master of moral complexity is a matter for rejoicing. He looks into the heart of the human condition with a piercing intelligence that few can match."

James Bradley in "Times Literary Supplement": "An unflinching clarity and moral purpose has long given shape and purpose to Keneally's fiction; it is what lifts it above the narrow territory of the historical novel. Without it, the considerable number of his books which follow history closely would be little more than the faction Schindler's Ark has sometimes been accused of being."

Combined Reviews: Sorry by Gail Jones

sorry.jpg Reviews of Sorry by Gail Jones
May 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

In the remote outback of Western Australia during World War II, English anthropologist Nicholas Keene and his wife, Stella, raise a lonely child, Perdita. Her upbringing is far from ordinary: in a shack in the wilderness, with a distant father burying himself in books and an unstable mother whose knowledge of Shakespeare forms the backbone of the girl's limited education.

Emotionally adrift, Perdita becomes friends with a deaf and mute boy, Billy, and an Aboriginal girl, Mary. Perdita and Mary come to call one another sister and to share a very special bond. They are content with life in this remote corner of the globe, until a terrible event lays waste to their lives.

Through this exquisite story of Perdita's troubled childhood, Gail Jones explores the values of friendship, loyalty and sacrifice with a brilliance that has already earned her numerous accolades for her previous novels, DREAMS OF SPEAKING and SIXTY LIGHTS.


Kerryn Goldsworthy in "The Age": ""The great beauty and depth of Jones' writing, in this novel as elsewhere, has simultaneous appeal for lovers of intricate, elegant thought, and lovers of verbal style. There's also a great deal of her signature literary 'sampling', with quotations, allusions and echoes from fiction and poetry vying for space inside her own sentences: Emerson, Dickinson, George Eliot and of course Shakespeare, who haunts these pages like a colossal, enchanting ghost." But there is more to Jones's work than just fine writing, "it's also hard not to read this book as Jones' own personal, formal and explicit statement of apology: to see it as a kind of enactment in fiction of her ideas about Australian race relations and reconciliation, and as a suggestion that if the country's government cannot bring itself to offer an apology then perhaps its artists, at least, might step up to fill the gap."

James Ley in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "The word 'sorry' has become so contentious in recent times that Gail Jones's decision to adopt it as the title of her fourth novel must be interpreted as a political statement. The book is, however, much more than this. It can be read as having an allegorical dimension that comments on Australia's shameful treatment of its Aboriginal population, yet it is not a political novel in the didactic style of recent works by Andrew McGahan and Richard Flanagan. Jones is not that kind of writer...Sorry
sometimes labours under its thematic burden and Jones's writing has its flaws. Her tendency to talk over her characters is less evident than in some of her earlier novels but is still there. Her frequent use of dreams, though conceptually important, can come across as a creaky fictional device. And her prose, though beautifully wrought, operates at such a consistently high pitch that it strays occasionally into pretentiousness, perhaps due to a mild contamination from the clotted theoretical prose that Jones doubtless encounters on a regular basis in her day job as lecturer in cultural studies at the
University of Western Australia...She is, nevertheless, one of the most interesting and talented novelists at work in Australia today. Her writing has flaws, in part because she is daring enough to express a complex, original and passionate vision; she writes with a belief in the power of fiction to express meanings unavailable to other forms of art or inquiry."

Kathy Hunt in "The Australian": "Technically, the main problem with Jones's
writing is that there is just too much of it. She leaves no phrase unturned in her attempt to gild what is an ordinary tale...Title or apology, Sorry is a failure. Its form has been corrupted with skill and probably the best of intentions. Unfortunately, the result is what too many people think of as good writing: the book you buy but never read, the novel you can't see for the words."

Miranda France, in "The Telegraph": "Any novelist who takes risks with language deserves to be celebrated. Jones has the nerve to use constructions that feel both arcane and new. There is no doubting her descriptive powers. However, in
some passages, words grow so luxuriantly over the story that linguistic secateurs would have come in handy...This is Gail Jones's 'sorry' to her aboriginal compatriots. I admire her for it, but for all her sincerity, her afterword elucidating the word in the context of Australian politics strikes a pious note. Mary is a powerfully drawn character, sympathetic and convincing enough to speak for herself. There was no need for the author to step in."

Michelle Griffin in "Australian Book Review": "This is a novel of ambitious seriousness, and with serious ambitions, some of which are achieved. Regardless of her academic bent, as a novelist Jones excels at structure: everything happens in this book for a reason, and its four parts fit together beautifully, meshing ideas about history, speech reading, memory and family."

Short notices

Gillian Dooley on "Writer's Radio" [PDF file]: "Gail Jones' last novel, Dreams of Speaking, was interesting and intelligent. Sorry is on an altogether higher level. It is a brilliant evocation of childhood, loss, language, humanity and inhumanity. It is poetic without being precious, and totally engrossing without any sacrifice of intellectual profundity."

Combined Reviews: Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital

orpheus_lost.gif Reviews of Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital
May 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

Leela is a gifted mathematician who has escaped her small Southern town to study in Boston. From the first moment she hears Mishka, a young Australian musician, playing his violin in a subway, his music grips her, and they quickly become lovers.

Their souls, bodies, lives are fused, and love offers protection of sorts from the violence and anxiety around them, until Leela is taken off the street to an interrogation centre somewhere outside the city. There has been an 'incident', an explosion on the underground; terrorists are suspected, security is high. And her old childhood friend Cobb is conducting a very questionable investigation.

Now he reveals to her that Mishka may not be all he seems. That there may be more to his past than his story of growing up in the Daintree with an eccentric musical family. Leela has already discovered that Mishka is spending some evenings not at the Music Lab but at a cafe. A cafe, Cobb tells her, known to be a terrorist contact point.

Who can she believe?

In this compelling re-imagining of the Orpheus story, Leela travels to an underworld of kidnapping, torture and despair in search of the truth -- and the man she loves.


Judith Armstrong in "Australian Book Review": "With this, her eighth novel (several of the earlier ones having won distinguished prizes), Hospital shows her dazzling skill at thriller writing. This is not a generic put-down. The myriad twists and turns of the compellingly logical plot, the psychological scaffolding which convincingly underpins behavioural veracity, the darts from one country, one generation, one kind of wildly different mind to another -- all are handled with the ease of a master-planner who never falters for an instant. Nor do the pace and intensity let up. While the events might sometimes be described as hectic, and some of the later scenes as lurid, they are no more so than the contents of today's newspapers."

Andrew Reimer in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "On one level Orpheus Lost is a clever political thriller - with the usual contrivances, coincidences and occasional improbabilities of the genre - which will amuse and entertain many readers. They will also find within its pages several vivid passages describing the underhand tactics and dirty tricks employed by all sides in the war against terrorism...Unfortunately, Turner Hospital had greater ambitions than this. Her novel is weighed down with meditations on the redemptive nature of music, on the mysteries of the world of numbers and on how music and mathematics may come to be abused and perverted by religious fanaticism of several kinds."

Stella Clarke in "The Australian": "Hospital is hypnotic as she traces the relationship between music and mathematics, to an extent that borders on mysticism. Terror and torture amount to awful sacrilege in this universe. They attack and destroy the intricate, beautiful and sublime mechanics of life. She manages to communicate tragedy on a conceptual macro-scale as well as bring it home in the personal lives of her characters...This superbly gripping novel alerts us to the real cost of terrorism. Beyond immediate damage and death, we could allow an erosion of freedoms that we take for granted. The terror of terrorism, Hospital suggests, is causing tectonic shifts beneath our feet."

Peter Craven in "The Age": "Turner Hospital has a beautiful lightness of touch through the nightmare contortions of the plot she spins and twists like a rope of destiny...If the story is not quite as sure-footed as Grahame Greene in
comparable territory, if it swerves farther from the articulation of thriller-like enthralments, it is nonetheless almost as satisfying as it is involving...Part of what is so refreshing is the way the characterisation glows with such an easy, tacit humanity. Her characters are instantly alive, whatever hate or grief or lust it is that makes them pant through their masks and cavalcades...And the fact that the action is in part breakneck and full of dark intrigue makes this one of those serious books that should command the attention of people who read for pleasure."

Short notices

"Mostly Fiction: "Filled with rich action scenes related to contemporary issues, wonderful images, and themes dealing with illusion and reality, the ways our pasts govern our present, the importance of our parents in the shaping of our lives, and the prices we are willing to pay for love, the novel is exciting and tension-filled."
"Aust Crime Fiction": "Where ORPHEUS LOST becomes less of an interesting book is in a device that the author uses a lot -- where characters move rapidly from real life events into dreams / dream sequences / imaginings of events. There is certainly a lyrical flavour to these sequences but they also jar within the pace of the general book -- driving the reader out of the story."

Combined Reviews: Love Without Hope by Rodney Hall

love_hope.jpg Reviews of Love Without Hope by Rodney Hall
Pan Macmillan
February 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

The elderly Mrs Shoddy suffers acute depression as a result of a bushfire that kills her beloved horses. A capable countrywoman, she loses her grip and is living in squalor when the district nurse finds her and has her committed to an insane asylum. The time is 1982; the place, a country town in NSW. The NSW Department of Lunacy is still in operation, headed by an official
with the title The Master in Lunacy.

In this powerful novel, finding herself pitted against the power of the state, Mrs Shoddy calls on her memories of her missing husband, on the spirit of her horses and on the recovery of her self-respect and resilience to create a world in which she can remain sane, even against the institutional brutality she is subjected to. And the characters in her mind become as palpable as the real people she is surrounded by.

A hymn of praise to human tenderness, the power of memory and the power of music, Love Without Hope confirms Rodney Hall's status as one of Australia's finest storytellers.


Rosemary Sorenson in "Australian Book Review": "The theme of the pageant is love,which looms large as a subject for this writer's investigation, as he makes clear with titles such as this, and his previous novel, The Last Love Story (2004). It is not love and romance, but love as the ephemeral gathering of human desire; love as an excuse to avoid confrontation with what is too grand and terrifying for our understanding. We may come close to feeling our sympathy spill over into love for characters such as Lorna Shoddy and others (the doctor, for example, who is central to an astounding scene); but this is not writing -- or a writer -- that gives in to the siren song, and the reader must also be strapped to the mast. Lorna is a little creature whose predicament is pathetic, and we are on her side, but she is to be symbolically sacrificed on the pyre created for the funeral of hope... Hall's novels, like White's, are uncompromisingly unconsoling. The bleakness of love illuminates not just this new novel but much of the Yandilli books and Just Relations. Maybe, looking at it from a sharp angle, you could say Love without Hope leaves us imagining that there may be a little after all -- hope that is, if not love. But Hall paints a grim picture of a vicious society where the dream of love is a
weakness exploited by the cruel."

Andrew Reimer in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Where I have no doubt or reservation comes in a number of almost surrealistic episodes in which Hall's writing betrays a crisp, often sardonic intensity that also has parallels in some of White's work. One such passage - too long to quote here - describes an impromptu autopsy in the madhouse where poor Mrs Shoddy is shackled inside a hideous oubliette. There, as elsewhere in Love Without Hope, Hall's prose reveals poise, a dark wit and an accomplished writer's authority in impressively cadenced sentences."

James Bradley in "The Age": "..Love Without Hope -- and indeed much of Hall's writing -- resembles no one so much as Patrick White. More than any other Australian writer working today he shares White's sense of brooding mysticism and interest in the grotesqueries and folly of everyday life...Yet while the
intensity of White's vision can be overwhelming, there is an essential delicacy and humanity to it that Hall's novels often lack, for all the filigree of their imagining. In Love Without Hope this is particularly true -- Hall drives the proceedings so hard, so maniacally, that there is little space for the reader to take their breath, or indeed for the language to unfold itself."

Short notices

Perry Middlemiss in "Matilda": "A novel of our times dealing with the relationship between individual and state, the effects of mental illness, and the strengthening power of love."
: "What makes this book unique is the fact that the storyline is very original and ambitious. While it is not a feel-good read, it is a thought provoking and emotional read."
Michael Jordan in "The Epoch Times": "Those who believe that Australian writing is second-rate need only read Rodney Hall to be quickly persuaded otherwise. The two times winner of the Miles Franklin award has always been praised for the sheer beauty of his work, and his latest, Love Without Hope is no exception...Mr Hall's novel is at once universal and intrinsically Australian, reminiscent of other local writers such as Peter Carey and Sonya Hartnett. The complexity of themes and ideas which Mr Hall
explores will prevent Love Without Hope from being completely accessible and enjoyed by the majority, but this is a moving account of life and longing which keeps him at the forefront of Australian writing."

Combined Reviews: The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll

time_we_have_taken _small.jpg Reviews of The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll
Fourth Estate
February 2007

[This novel won the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Novel for the South-East Asia and South Pacific region. It was shortlisted in the Fiction category of the 2007 Age Book of the Year awards, shortlisted for the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction in the 2007 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, and has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

One summer morning in 1970, Peter van Rijn, proprietor of the television and wireless shop, pronounces his Melbourne suburb one hundred years old.

That same morning, Rita is awakened by a dream of her husband's snores, yet it is years since Vic moved north. Their son, Michael, has left for the city, and is entering the awkward terrain of first love.

As the suburb prepares to celebrate progress, Michael's friend Mulligan is commissioned to paint a mural of the area's history. But what vision of the past will his painting reveal?

Meanwhile, Rita's sometime friend Mrs Webster confronts the mystery of her husband's death. And Michael discovers that innocence can only be sustained for so long.

The Time We Have Taken is both a meditation on the rhythms of suburban life and a luminous exploration of public and private reckoning during a time of radical change.

[Note: this is the third volume in a trilogy by Steven Carroll, following The Art of the Engine Driver, and The Gift of Speed, each of which made the Miles Franklin Award shortlist.]


Michael McGirr in "The Age" compares Carroll's work to Elizabeth Jolley's in a favourable light: "It has the emotional stamina needed to draw life from the same characters over three independent novels...Carroll writes the kind of still
prose that invites the reader into a contemplative space. The irony is that his subject matter is restless...He details the life of a suburb nine miles north of Melbourne, from the late '50s to the early '70s. It is, as Carroll notes, an age enthralled by progress and, even more, by speed. But he insists on telling the story slowly...The result is a deeply satisfying encounter with the empty spaces that the suburb failed to fill both between people and inside them. The surface of Carroll's writing is deceptively calm." The problem with a lot of trilogies is that you need to be fully aware of the backstory before getting to the later works.

Katharine England in "The Advertiser" doesn't find that a problem here: "Each novel stands on its own, but they are more interesting considered together, making up as they do not only a history of that 20th century phenomenon, the suburb, but also a slow-moving, Proustian meditation on being and time...The repetitive accretion of detail, like the brush strokes of a pointillist, the echoes within the novel and from book to book, the use of tenses which base time in the present but refer constantly to past and future, contribute to the hypnotic effect of the whole."

In "Australian Book Review" Christina Hill finds reflections of other artistic orks in the novel: "While George Johnston's suburban Melbourne in My Brother Jack (1964) of the 1920s and 1930s is tacitly acknowledged as an influence on this novel, echoes of Gerald Murnane's work are also discernible in the subject matter and in the insistent specificities of the diction. This makes the prose mannered at times, but the suburb is represented with some of the inscrutable beauty of Howard Arkley's paintings of suburban houses."

Short Notices

Readings: "While Carroll's work is not overtly political, memory and the mythologising of the past are central themes, and he subtly but surely undermines the simplistic pre-lapsarian dream of the culture warriors while at the same time drawing his characters and their desires for escape or transcendence with humour, affection and empathy -- and without a hint of condescension."
Australian Online Bookshop: "The Time We Have Taken is a celebration of the rhythms and intricacies of suburban life, and a meditation on its limitations. Steven Carroll achieves a luminous intimacy with his characters as he explores both a society teetering on the edge of radical change, and the richness and complexity of that most common of Australian experiences -- the suburbs."


"The Advertiser" ran a profile of the author in March 2007, just after the book was published.

Combined Reviews: The Fern Tattoo by David Brooks

fern_tattoo.jpg Reviews of The Fern Tattoo by David Brooks
University of Queensland Press
Publication date: August 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

Evidently she knew who I was, or thought she did, since I had apparently needed no introduction and certainly hadn't received one... She told stories. One could almost say she rushed into them, on the merest of pretexts, as if the world was ending very shortly and they had to be got through before it happened.

A century of family secrets starts to unravel when Benedict Waters is summoned to an audience with an old friend of his mother. He is seduced by her storytelling and it takes time and an astonishing revelation before he realises that it is his own family he has been hearing about, his own life that is being undone.

From the Blue Mountains to the Hawkesbury and from Sydney to the south coast of New South Wales, The Fern Tattoo takes us on a kaleidoscopic journey through several generations of three families. We meet a range of extraordinary characters including a bigamist bishop, a librarian tattooed from neck to knee, a young girl who kills her best friend in a tragic shooting accident and a pair of lovers who live each other's lives for years after they have separated. As with all families, there are lost loves, tragic passions and unspoken - sometimes unspeakable - histories.

The Fern Tattoo is a beguiling novel about the certainty of fate and the randomness of love that announces David Brooks' return as one of Australia's most distinctive literary novelists.


Kevin Rabelais, in "The Australian", finds the novel difficult to get into at the start, but he warms to the style and concept as he goes: "One of the achievements of The Fern Tattoo, Brooks's second novel and fifth work of fiction, resides in its refusal to distinguish between truth and lies...The novel proceeds slowly, with meandering sentences -- at times needlessly long, for Brooks tends to reiterate -- and minimal dialogue. His prose demands patience and aspires to a lyrical quality that it often fails to achieve. While rhythmic, his sentences are laden with the kinds of inessentials, most notably a plethora of adverbs, that weaken the narrative's authority. Brooks is a stylist in the sense that he writes as much for his reader's ear as for their eye. His sentences can evoke several senses at once, as when he describes the 'continuous scream of summer heat'...With The Fern Tattoo, Brooks has given us an ambitious novel about how stories outlive and form us."

Judith Armstrong in "Australian Book Review" tends to concur: "This is a novel structured like a mosaic, each chip, big or little, complete in itself, but deriving its ultimate significance from a larger, as yet undisclosed, scenario. Not until most of the pieces are in place does the overall schema become even half clear, and then you must take a pencil and paper and do a lot of working out for yourself, in an effort to give to somthing resembling a jigsaw puzzle, disordered and fragmentary, the teleology and linearity associated with both history and narrative shape.' Which may sound like a lot of work for the reader, but Armstrong concludes that "..the writing is simply too masterly not to be, in itself, a spectacular reward."

Short Notice

Readings: "Meticulously plotted, The Fern Tattoo carefully unveils a story of the inescapable burden of ancestry and family heritage."

Which isn't a lot of reviews for a major novel such as this. And there's no way of telling if this is because none of the other major papers thought it worthy of a review or if the publisher didn't send out many review copies.

Combined Reviews: Careless by Deborah Robertson

careless.jpg Reviews of Careless by Deborah Robertson.

[This novel has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (South East Asia and South Pacific) Best Book category, and longlisted for the 2007 Miles Franklin Award.]

Description from the publisher's page:
"In the midst of her life with her small brother and unpredictable mother, Pearl is a child who strives to get things right. But the events of one summer's day are about to change her life, and nothing may ever be right again. In ways connected but unforeseen, this child's tragedy will also enter the lives of two strangers. Sonia lives in a cooler, greener part of the city, where she is learning to live alone after the death of her famous husband. And at the edge of the city, close to the beaches, in a run-down building, the young sculptor Adam Logan contemplates the celebrity that his artwork has brought to him.

"Through a seductively woven plot that reflects the interlacing nature of our lives, Careless explores the ties of caring and responsibility, for the living and the dead, that are formed, and broken, in our society."

Emily Ballou, in "Australian Book Review", published the most detailed review of the novel, though, maybe not the most understandable. "The first thing about Deborah Robertson's first novel, Careless, that strikes the reader is the way her prose style cuts like sand." Rubs, maybe, but cuts? I'm not so sure. Anyway, she gets to the point straight afterwards: "The story of three individuals united by the murder of six children is compelling, but what impresses is Robertson's love of language, the precision of her sentences, as well as her gentle philosophical imagination and the deeper questions her book seeks to answer." This might well be a first novel, but it appears to have been some time in the crafting, and is better for it. "Robertson's prose has been well honed, polished to shine. It has the capacity to shift suddenly, to for unexpected shapes from a thousand glittering grains." And yet, at the end, Ballou feels disappointed, calling the novel's ending "ultimately disappointing".

In "The Age", Juliette Hughes is impressed: "Careless, by Deborah Robertson, is, paradoxically enough written with great care. Each plot part is assiduously interwoven with another: themes of grief, loss, responsibility and betrayal recur as characters do the work that she has set them in slow-moving, hyper-observant present tense."

Similarly, Peter Pierce, in "The Bulletin" found much to commend in the novel: "With Proudflesh, a prize-winning volume of short stories behind her, Robertson is an experienced writer. Yet little could have prepared her previous readers for the ambition, intelligence and confidence of structural touch of Careless."

Unusually, for a first Australian novel, Careless was also published in the UK. Rachel Moore in "The Guardian" was quite moved by it. As Moore puts it, the author "is fascinated by ways we memorialise the dead...[but]...the author does not dwell on death itself, rather on the care and responsibility that people do or don't exercise towards one another in life. She is best as a miniaturist, in the style of Helen Dunmore, her observations as carefully chosen and charged with feeling as pebbles placed on a grave...Careless is an elegy for the lost and the grieving, but it also offers hope."

In "The Sydney Morning Herald", Angela Bennie interviewed the author in the middle of 2006.

Other novels on the 2007 Miles Franklin Award longlist:

Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey
Silent Parts by John Charalambous
The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan
Beyond The Break by Sandra Hall
Dreams Of Speaking by Gail Jones
The Unexpected Elements Of Love by Kate Legge
Careless by Deborah Robertson
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

Combined Reviews: Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

carpentaria.jpg Reviews of Carpentaria by Alexis Wright.

Description from the publisher's page:

"Alexis Wright is one of Australia's finest Aboriginal writers. Carpentaria is her second novel, an epic set in the Gulf country of north-western Queensland, from where her people come. The novel's portrait of life in the precariously settled coastal town of Desperance centres on the powerful Phantom family, leader of the Westend Pricklebush people, and its battles with old Joseph Midnight's renegade Eastend mob on the one hand, and the white officials of Uptown and the neighbouring Gurfurrit mine on the other.

"Wright's storytelling is operatic and surreal: a blend of myth and scripture, farce and politics. The novel teems with extraordinary characters - Elias Smith the outcast saviour, the religious zealot Mozzie Fishman, the murderous mayor Stan Bruiser, the moth-ridden Captain Nicoli Finn, the activist and prodigal son Will Phantom, and above all, the queen of the rubbish-dump Angel Day and her sea-faring husband Normal Phantom, the fish-embalming king of time - figures that stride like giants across this storm-swept world.

"Alexis Wright is a member of the Waanyi nation of the southern highlands of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Her books include Grog War, a study of alcohol abuse in the outback town of Tennant Creek, and the novel Plains of Promise, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize, the "Age" Book of the Year Award and the NSW Premier's Award for Fiction, and translated into French as Les Plaines de l'espoir."

In the "Australian Book Review" Kate McFayden is impressed by the way Wright is able to incorporate an ancient story-telling technique into her novel: "Wright recognises the strength of the oral tradition as a satirical and ironic tool. The combination of storytelling on a mythic scale with the guile of the knowing look generates the energy required to drive this genius epic." You might get carried along with the story but don't expect an easy ride. "Carpentaria is that rare kind of novel which opens up an entire world to the reader, a place that is both familiar and strange. Wright expects her readers to work, to keep up. If you stumble and lose your bearings, you just have to trust the narrator and let the eddies of digression flow around you until you can regain your toehold. The rewards are plenty. It is the most exhilarating book I have read in a long time."

Liam Davidson attempts to put the book into context in his review in the "Sydney Morning Herald": "Alexis Wright's second novel is a vast, sprawling affair that extends magically beyond its hefty 500 pages. It takes you outside the expected scope of narrative time to a place that is simultaneously familiar and astoundingly new. So comprehensive is Wright's vision that reading it is like looking at her world from the inside. It's an unashamedly big book - big in scope, ambition and physical size - and
well-suited to the Gulf country it sings. It is also an important book."

Carole Ferrier finds a lot of "burlesque" humour in the book in her review in the "Australian Women's Book Review". That, and "a dry ironic humour at many points, in almost throwaway lines." She also agrees that "The novel works at many levels, through from this humour and irony to a lyrical and poetic evocation of the age-old presence of the rainbow serpent. The shifts in register produce a heteroglossia that is beautifully unified through a narration that has great confidence and authority."

On Adelaide's Writer's Radio program, Gillian Dooley casts one of the few criticisms at the book, finding that it takes some time to draw the reader in. Dooley thinks this might be a mistaken technique that might well drive away some impatient readers. However, in the end, even she finds that it is "a moving and involving book and amply rewards the reader's persistence.

Jane Sullivan profiles the author in the "Sydney Morning Herald". As target=new>does Michael Fitzgerald in "Time".

Combined Reviews: The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald

desmond_kale.jpg Reviews of The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald.

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2006 Miles Franklin award.]

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2006 Miles Franklin award.]

Description from the publisher's page:
"In the early 1800s, out of the prison society of governors, redcoats, English gaolers, Irish convicts, and the few free settlers of Botany Bay, one had entured much farther inland than a few dozen miles from Sydney into the vast territory claimed, New South Wales. Or so it was believed until the escape of Desmond Kale and the vengeance of his rival, the wildly eccentric parson magistrate Matthew Stanton. THE BALLAD OF DESMOND KALE is Roger McDonald's broad-sweeping novel of the first days of British settlement in Australia. At the centre is Stanton's pursuit of Kale - an Irish political prisoner and a rebelliously brilliant breeder of sheep. The alchemy of wool fascinates, threatens, and transforms when it is discovered that fine wool thrives in New South Wales as nowhere else in in the world, producing veritable gold on sheep's backs. The laying to waste of Spain (Britain's chief supplier of fine wools) at the end of the Napoleonic wars, opens vast new opportunities of supply. THE BALLAD OF DESMOND KALE is both a love story of unusual interest and an epic novel of greed, ambition, conceit, and redemption. The novel is rich in its characterisations and the rawness of its settings, vigour of language, and vividness of personality. The action moves from the early Australian bush to the halls of Westminster, the mills of Yorkshire, the sierras of Spain, the wilds of the Southern Ocean, and returns at last into the far outback for its finale. Once the ballad is sung, ordinary experience is heightened, the world can never be the same again. A brilliant and inspired recreation of the early days of white Australian settlement by one of Australia's finest writers working at the height of his powers."

There don't seem to be any reviews of this novel which react badly to it. All reviewers seem to think it's a pretty impressive piece of work. Peter Pierce in "The Age", can
lead us off as well as anyone, and probably better than most: "McDonald's is a big, ambitious book, a winding tale that takes its due time. There are detours for intriguing subplots - a pregnancy, a feud between half-brothers, a shipwreck, the attempted theft of a map to the fabled inland of the colony, political intrigue over the governing of NSW. There is much detail about the breeding of sheep - the quality of their wool in consequence, the character of the men who are expert in this."

In "Australian Book Review", Michael Williams starts off a bit fixated on the sheep aspect: "How much do you care about sheep? I mean really care about sheep. Because The Ballad of Desmond Kale is up to its woolly neck in them." He does go on from there, which is a blessing: "It's an unusual and inspired variation on the classic Australian colonial novel of hunters for fortune, for identity and for redemption." But Williams does have a few words of caution to impart along with the praise. "This
is a big book that spends a little too long luxuriating in the fun of its grandeurs and at points fails to sustain its narrative drive. The big historical novels that it seems to be emulating have a much clearer sense of focus and of forward momentum. But McDonald does embrace adventure, and at its best, with betrayals and love, ship-wrecks and double-crosses, this is a rollicking good read."

Stella Clarke also considers at the novel in "The Weekend Australian" and is pretty impressed: "Roger McDonald is a riot. This story is balladry of distinction, laid out in prose. He combines a love of intrigue and high adventure with a defiant, lyrical, vigorous way of telling...Here are art and excitement, mixed to magnificent strength. Here are pain and passion, eased through the circumspect medium of a charismatic, old-fashioned style, then springing at you in a gutsy twist of phrase."

, at "The Brisbane News" probably sums it up for all of us: "This is one of the must-read Australian books of 2005." And it comes as no surprise, to me at least, that I'm still to read it and it's now mid-2006.

Combined Reviews: The Wing of Night by Brenda Walker

wing_of_night.jpg Reviews of The Wing of Night by Brenda Walker.

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2006 Miles Franklin award.]

Description from publisher's page: "All over the south-west, soldiers' wives were learning to sleep alone. Sleeping themselves back into the nights before their weddings . . . In 1915 a troopship of Light Horsemen sails from Fremantle for the Great War. Two women farewell their men: Elizabeth, with her background of careless
wealth, and Bonnie, who is marked by the anxieties of poverty. Neither can predict how the effects of the most brutal fighting at Gallipoli will devastate their lives in the long aftermath of the war.

"The Wing of Night is a novel about the strength and failure of faith and memory, about returned soldiers who become exiles in their own country, about how people may become the very opposite of what they imagined themselves to be. Brenda Walker writes with a terrible grandeur of the grime and drudge of the battlefield, and of how
neither men nor women can be consoled for the wreckage caused by a foreign war."

The literature of this country would be totally lost without the magazine Australian Book Review. Time and again the only substantial review I can find of a particular work appeared within its pages. Such is the case with Brenda Walker's fourth novel The Wing of Night. Aviva Tuffield is very impressed
with the novel, especially as it doesn't concentrate solely on the front line, but "directs as much attention to the home front and to the women left behind...Shifting between scenes from the military theatre and from the domestic sphere, The Wing of Night plays out the devastating impact of war on both those sent to fight and those abandoned to lonely, anxious lives. War is depicted as a great leveller, breaching class and gender boundaries that were once considered robust".

In order to do this properly, the author has to be conversant with both fronts, while still ensuring that the tale is told properly. This is a novel of men, and women, at war, based on accepted history. As such, the writer has to get the details right without flooding the reader and ruining the effect: "This historical novel has clearly emerged from extensive
research, yet it does not try to parade its knowledge or to bombard the reader with military details. It is not concerned with painting the big picture of the war but of sketching the specific experiences of a handful of characters."

Tuffield is of the view that the author here has brought it all together quite beautifully. "If one of the aims of literature is to enable us imaginatively to inhabit other lives, perhaps occurring in different times and places, The Wing of Night is a remarkable achievement. Walker has taken the facts of history and transformed them into a novel replete with its own set of truths. She has done what historians cannot: invented characters to tell us exactly how it felt to live in a particular historical moment, one that sheds light on our own times."

The reviewer from Abbey's Bookshop would seem to agree: "The Wing of Night is a novel about the strength and failure of faith and memory, about returned soldiers who become exiles in their own country, about how people may become the very opposite of what they imagined themselves to be. Brenda Walker writes with a terrible grandeur of the grime and drudge of the battlefield, and of how neither men nor women can be consoled for the wreckage caused by a foreign war."

The author was profiled by Jane Sullivan in "The Age", which gives some very interesting insights into where the book had its beginnings.

Combined Reviews: A Case of Knives by Peter Rose

case_knives.jpg Reviews of A Case of Knives by Peter Rose.

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2006 Miles Franklin award.]

Description from the publisher's page:

"The cast

Julia Collis: a brilliant but unconventional publisher, more than a little controlling of her ménage
Candy Collis: an opera singer with a bright future and a dark mother
Matthew Light: a young actor, taken under Julia's wing as a teenage boy, obsessively in love with Roman Anthem
Roman Anthem: the 21-year-old grandson of a legendary Australian prime minister, renowned for his good looks, despised by Julia

The scene

Valhalla: an incestuous household of steely alliances, lopsided infatuations, and dark impulses

The plot

Roman Anthem is missing and no one knows why.

Witty, satirical and full of intrigue, set against a backdrop of opera, publishing and politics, Peter Rose's first novel is unlike any other Australian fiction."

Michelle Griffen in "The Age" was very impressed with the novel. She notes that Rose has been associated with the Australian publishing scene for some years, currently as editor of Australian Book Review, and wonders if the novel might be read as a sort of roman a clef: "It is cheap entertainment to wonder, in passing, if Julia is based on any of the women who have run Australia's publishing houses, but I think - hope - it unlikely. This may be a novel about a missing man called Roman, but this is not a roman a clef. Rose has written an operatic libretto set in an Australia
askew. He has cut out the silhouettes of the figures that loom large in the cultural reference bank and filled in the spaces with his own more vivid characters...In the end, former publisher Rose has written the sort of book publishers always wish their authors would deliver - a clever, juicy thriller with lots of sex and intrigue and just enough 'guess-who-won't-sue' buzz to attract interest beyond the bookstore. It is so completely different from his previous book that it could have been written by his evil twin. It must have
been fun to write - it was fun to read."

Gillian Dooley in "The Adelaide Review" seems a little thrown by the very existence of this book, slightly surprised it's a crime novel rather than "a slim, poetic volume". In any event she finds something to like about it: "I'm not sure how seriously Peter Rose wants us to take this novel. Less care has been taken with the editing than one would normally expect from someone of his experience in publishing. Nevertheless, this background has provided a setting he satirises with obvious relish, along with
other institutions like politics, the media, the theatre world and the AFL. And despite a few technical faults, A Case of Knives is engrossing and entertaining with some sharply drawn characters. Though more finely written, it could take its place alongside popular melodramatic blockbusters in the airport newsagent."

Denise Pickles, in the Mary Martin Bookshop newsletter, was also a bit confused at the start, but for a different reason: "It is fortunate that the author was considerate enough to present a cast of characters at the beginning of the book. I must admit I had to resort to it continually, to begin with." But she moved on from that and discovered that "This is a witty, sometimes malicious, romp, well written (the author has previously won an award for his biography Rose Boys) and plotted, with excellent characterisation. The themes being what they are, it is possible readers may never again regard the worlds of politics, publishing, theatre and opera in quite the same light as hitherto."

Combined Reviews: Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by

everyman.jpg Reviews of Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany.

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2006 Miles Franklin award, longlisted for the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Best First Book Award for the South East Asia and South Pacific region of the 2006 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.]

Description: "It is 1934, the Great War is long over and the next is yet to come. It is a brief time of optimism and advancement.

"Billowing dust and information, the government 'Better Farming Train' slides through the wheat fields and small towns of Australia, bringing city experts and advice to those already living on the land. The train is on a crusade to persuade the country that science holds the answers and that productivity is patriotic.

"Amongst the swaying cars full of cows, pigs and wheat, an unlikely seduction occurs between Robert Pettergree, a man with an unusual taste for soil, and Jean Finnegan, a talented young seamstress with a hunger for knowledge. In an atmosphere of heady scientific idealism they settle in the impoverished Mallee with the ambition of proving that science can transform the land.

"With failing crops and the threat of a new World War looming, Robert and Jean are forced to confront each other, the community they have destroyed, and the impact of progress on an ancient and fragile landscape.

"Erotically charged, and shot through with humour and a quiet wisdom, this haunting first novel evokes the Australian landscape in all its stark beauty and vividly captures the hope and disappointment of an era."

In "The Age", Judith Armstrong initially thinks the book may have something to hide: "You can't see a title such as this without suspecting its author of playing games. What lies behind the joke? Carrie Tiffany, who regards her own name as 'ridiculously flaky', is a first-time novelist who has already received some excellent publicity." But she soon comes to realise that the book is far more than just a funny title, and that it is "a
highly accomplished, adroit and funny-serious novel, which, unlike a Mallee farm, works almost perfectly."

The general consenus of opinion amongst reviewers of this novel is that it is an impressive debut. At AussieReviews, Sally Murphy found that "Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living is a powerfully haunting novel. Set in the period between the two worlds, in a community struggling through the depression and drought, this is a gripping first novel from a new Australian talent."

A claim that was echoed by Publisher's Weekly in the US, which called it a "rich and knowing debut novel." And which then went on to state: "Acclaimed Australian story writer Tiffany writes in a deceptively simple style, notable for its craft and heartbreaking clarity; that as well as her unusual yet utterly believable period
characters make for a stunning debut."

Combined Reviews: The Patron Saint of Eels by Gregory Day

patron_saint_eels.jpg Reviews of The Patron Saint of Eels by Gregory Day.

Description: "A contemporary fable, this book shows that when life seems dull and cruel it is the power of the natural world, and our ability to imagine it, that can bring the wonder back into living.

"In the southern Italian village of Stellanuova, in the 1700s, a Franciscan monk, Fra Ionio, becomes known as the Patron Saint of Eels when he brings a distraught fisherman's yearly catch of eels back from the dead in the village market. When Stellanuova's inhabitants emigrate to Australia in the post World War II migrations of the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the immortal saint is left looking down on an abandoned town. To fulfil his calling, he decides in heaven to migrate with his countrymen and now looks down on the state of Victoria, where he intercedes in matters relating to eels.

"In the southern Victorian town of Mangowak, Noel Lea lives with the melancholy inheritance of a place undergoing the gentrifications of contemporary Australia. Along with his oldest friend, Nanette Burns, he longs for a time when life was less complex and unexpected magic seemed to permeate the ocean town and its people. When spring rains flood a nearby swamp and hundreds of eels get trapped in the grassy ditches around Noel's family home, he and Nanette encounter the vibrant Fra Ionio and get more magic than they bargained for."

In "Australian Book Review", Sarah Kanowski finds a lot to like with the novel but then determines that the author's approach may be a limiting factor: "Gregory Day depicts a country world of pub yarns, simple happiness and a deep, if unarticulated, connecton to the land. Its heroes are old bush characters still in possession of 'that vast and intimate family knowledge born out of the gifts of improvisation and bushcraft, of getting by.' The rendering of everyday speech is not easy, and Day handles its blunt cadences well. However, a perception of the world that is dominated by telling silences necessarily falters when called on to articulate the miraculous".

On the other hand, Lisa Gorton in "The Age" doesn't have the same problems: "Day is a musician as well as a writer and The Patron Saint of Eels is composed like music, with a pattern of recurring phrases and images that carry his theme in different keys. In this way, it is a highly deliberate work, with its depths all brought to the surface, as it were. If this extreme clarity is to some extent the novel's limitation, it is also part of its charm. For it is the self-consistency of Day's style and theme that allows him to bring together so many quirky and various things: comical accounts of local characters and pious reflections on the meaning of landscape; Mangowak history and the story of how a Franciscan monk in the southern Italian village of Stellanuova became the Patron Saint of Eels."

In the Australian, Liam Davison is quite impressed with the work: "In [this] wonderful first novel, the enigma of the eel becomes the central metaphor for the charming contemporary fable about migration and belonging, and mortality and belief." Which, on the face of it, seems to stretch the bonds of credibility somewhat. But Davison is a major novelist himself so he knows where a reader might be a little dubious: "In another writer's hands, this quasi-religious fable with its veiled social and environmental agenda might have tested the credulity and goodwill of its readers. Day, though, understands the power of the story and the way local mythology and folklore invests a place with its own magic."

Michelle Griffin profiles the author in "The Age".

Combined Reviews: The Book Thief by Markus Zusack

book_thief.jpg Reviews of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

This novel was shortlisted for the Best Book of the South East Asia and South Pacific Region award in the 2006 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

Description: "It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

"Liesel Meminger and her younger brother are being taken by their mother to live with a foster family outside Munich. Liesel's father was taken away on the breath of a single, unfamiliar word - Kommunist - and Liesel sees the fear of a similar fate in her mother's eyes. On the journey, Death visits the young boy, and notices Liesel. It will be the first of many near encounters. By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she
picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.

"So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.

"But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down."

One thing this description doesn't tell you is that the book is narrated by Death himself. Death has rescued Liesel's autobiographical journal which allows Zusak to explore, according to Lorien Kaye in Australian Book Review, "the other theme of the book, the nature and importance of books, words reading and writing."

As Kaye goes on to say: "His first four books were more literary than much writing for young adults, and the essence of Zusak's prose style has remained the same: at once muscular and poetic. Sentences are often short but are structurally plain or complex. Zusak enjoys inventive language use and delights in describing the world on a slightly
skewed angle.

"It is easy to wring emotion and narrative drive from this grander scope, the raw suffering of World War II and the Holocaust. It is harder to create something more substantial. Markus Zusak goes well beyond the superficial, at least partly due to his prose style, but there are depths that remain just beyond his reach."

Which I read as saying that Zusak has reached for the heights and just failed to reach them. Peter Pierce in "The Age", on the other hand, considers that "The Book Thief is a triumph of control, and for the most part of tact, although Death is at liberty to breach any decorum. Its oblique angle on the German homefront never exalts the courage of the young, but quietly tells of how days and months are managed.

"Zusak has written, in his 30th year, one of the most unusual and compelling of recent Australian novels. He gives its last words to Death, who confesses 'I am haunted by humans'. Those whom we encounter in The Book Thief have that power over the reader, too."

You can read an interview with Markus Zusak in "Publishers Weekly", conducted by Judith Ridge. The novel is due to be published in the USA in March 2006. Ridge, a Sydney based writer, also publishes a weblog and she has posted about the meeting she had with Zusak.

Combined Reviews: The Garden Book by Brian Castro

garden_book.jpg Reviews of The Garden Book by Brian Castro.

Brian Castro started his literary career with his first novel, Birds of Passage, winning the 1982 Australian/Vogel Award. The Garden Book is his eighth novel.

Description: "Brian Castro's new novel is set in the Dandenong Ranges in the years between the Depression and the Second World War. The story revolves around Swan Hay, born Shuang He, daughter of a country schoolteacher, her marriage to the passionate and brutal Darcy Damon, and her love affair with the aviator and architect Jasper Zenlin. Fifty years after her disappearance, Norman Shih, a rare book librarian, pieces together Swan's chaotic life from clues found in guest house libraries, antiquarian bookshops and her own elusive writings. But what exactly is his relationship to her?

"The Garden Book is about loneliness, addiction, exploitation; it is about the precarious nature of Australian lives, when gripped by fear and racial prejudice. Yet underlying the story, and commanding it, there is the assured beat of Castro's prose, evoking an ideal world beyond these fears, full of richness and power."

Peter Pierce, in "The Age", found that, even though the subject matter of the novel has been mined many times in the past, "as always in Castro's hands, a rich and strange narrative emerges". And "The Garden Book is another triumph of intelligence and imagination by one of the most exacting, yet rewarding of Australian novelists, and when the mood is on him, one of the most amusing as well."

Pierce backs up his previous review with another in "The Bulletin", in which he concludes: "For all its aesthetic preoccupations, The Garden Book is political, and underneath the aphorisms and martini-dry puns is a despair at a country that, in moments of crisis, becomes nationalistic to the point of provincialism, ungenerous to the point of cruelty, pragmatic to the point of philistinism. To defer to Norman Shih, the collector of fragments in The Garden Book itself, 'remarks are made that turn me away from any humanistic ideology, towards the margins of subversion. I smile back, I write, and I move on.' In that, a script for being."

In "Australian Book Review", Melinda Harvey uses her review of the novel to sink the slipper into current Australian literary works as a lead-in: "Novel-writing, in a word (and it's one that has been flung around with a degree of passion recently), has become 'gutless' storytelling." But she seems to be of the opinion that this novel is not so gastrically challenged: "Brian Castro's The Garden Book is that rare species: a new Australian novel with moxie...[It] is also bold because it manages to look our nation directly in the face without a single reference to the three 'Rs' - reconciliation, republicanism and refugees. As a consequence, the book is cool-eyed rather than nostalgic, even when the prose turns purple."

Brian Castro was profiled by Susan Wyndham in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

Combined Reviews: Sandstone by Stephen Lacey

sandstone.jpg Reviews of Sandstone by Stephen Lacey.

This book was shortlisted for the Best Book award in the South East Asia South Pacific region of the 2006 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

Description: "Sandstone is set in postwar Australia -- a time when people held hopes for the future, based largely around the dream of home ownership.

"Jack, Ruth and their family imagine that their lives will change the day they move into the new home they are building in the small coastal village of Point Henry. They hope the fibro cottage and shiny laminex will bring them happiness and a new start for their family. But as Jack and his sons labour over the foundations for their new life it becomes harder and harder to block out the dark events in their past.

"With a fine eye for detail and a terrific cast of Australian characters, Stephen Lacey reminds us that while we all dream for greater things, sometimes true contentment can be found at home."

At Boomerang Books, Annelise Balsamo is intrigued by the novel but finds that some readers may not be: "Sandstone reads as a family saga that begs for resolution. There is so much mystery, so many bad eggs, so much injustice that you continue to turn the pages in a kind of fever to learn the 'truth', to see 'justice' meted out. Ruth and Jack (and their many children) are haunted by a past, particularly by an event that the novel, in the first twist from the path of resolution, never quite explicates. They decide that they will begin again by building a new house, where no-one has ever died, where no-one will ever fight. This house is a long-running metaphor, we learn about the foundations of sandstone, the joists of warped timber, the walls of fibro-cement and so on. Life, however, is not quite so neatly layered, and the novel is much more interested in this ambiguity than an easy resolution. Indeed, the novel offers a counter position to the structure of the house and the temptations of resolution through Ruth's disaffection with God, and her belief that there is no plan, no central design. The reader is stranded between the impulse of 'what happened and who pays' and deeper possibilities on offer in nuance and intimation. I think this conflict makes the novel, but it may alienate readers who feel that the saga elements are never properly fulfilled."

If it's handled properly I don't have a major problem with that approach, so long as the author doesn't give the impression that he doesn't know how to finish. That's the "kiss of death" in my view.

In the September 2005 edition of "Australian Book Review", Allan Gardiner puts the novel into literary context: "Lacey...[makes] some effort to present [his] particular chunk of the past as a prelude to contemporary situations, and [to] try to present a vision of a community that does not build its solidarity on the scapegoating of outsiders." But he has some reservations about the success of this: "The bush legend still haunts [this novel], modified to include praise for those bush workers with a 'spiritual' feeling for nature. This reads like an attempt to sidestep rather than confront the role played by early settlers in displacing the Aborigines, who had a real claim to such feelings for the land."

Which reads like a criticism of what the book is not, rather than what it is. We have a novel here that is set during the time of the Second World War, rather than the 19th century.

"The Weekend Australian" considered that Lacey "uses brand names too often as proof of his research: the real period register in this fine novel resides in the emotional encasement of its characters". And "The Age" called it "...a well-researched historical drama that evokes an Australia that has long since passed away".

Combined Reviews: Snowleg by Nicholas Shakespeare

snowleg.jpg Reviews of Snowleg by Nicholas Shakespeare.

This book has been nominated for the 2006 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and was longlisted for the 2004 Man Booker Prize.

Description: "A young Englishman visits Cold War Leipzig with a group of students and, during his brief excursion behind the Iron Curtain, falls for an East German girl who is only just beginning to wake up to the way her society is governed. Her situation touches him, but he is too frightened to help. He spends decades convincing himself that he is not in love until one day, with Germany now reunited, he decides to go back and look for her. But who was she, how will his actions have affected her, and how will her find her? All he knows of her identity is the nickname he gave her - Snowleg."

David Robson's review in "The Telegraph": "Hard-bitten readers will probably find the novel impossibly schmaltzy and get exasperated by the love-sick hero. But Snowleg offers more than high romance: it is a portrait, and a good one, of the East Germany of the Stasi, with its bleakly beautiful landscapes, its casual betrayals, and its subtle capacity to dehumanise. In such a cold political climate, who can blame lovers for going slightly mad?"

Colin Greenland's review in "The Guardian": "Manic plot devices, literary tics and grammatical sprains not-withstanding, Snowleg is a considerable achievement: a dark, dense account of arrested development and mid-life crisis; a shrewd study of institutionalised paralysis and political psychosis; a humane perspective on the rusting away of the iron curtain. What's curious is that it's also a thoroughly conventional romance novel: a heart-warming tale of rich, enabling coincidence and conquering love; love without frontiers."

James Bradley's review in "The Age": "Shakespeare is a writer who is deeply concerned with the inner dimensions of our lives, of the moral choices that we make and the weight of those choices. For all the complexity of the book's plotting and its slightly dissociated prose, the questions Shakespeare wants to ask are profound ones about the precise ways in which repression deforms the spirit and about the extension of compassion to those so affected...Shakespeare has taken on a series of questions that resist easy or glib responses, questions that should make all of us uneasy, not just about the ease with which we condemn the actions of those who suffer under totalitarian regimes but about whether we ourselves might behave any better."

Wingate Packard's review in "The Seattle Times": "Snowleg is an admirably organic novel, well-seeded with richly idiosyncratic characterizations and finely evoked places (the dreary East German exteriors and interiors are wrenchingly pathetic). Snowleg is a delicious mystery, not only in genre but also in the ways that people separated by personal or public barriers carry on after life-altering schisms."

Combined Reviews: The Philosopher's Doll by Amanda Lohrey

philosophers_doll.jpg Reviews of The Philosopher's Doll by Amanda Lohrey.

This book has been nominated for the 2006 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

"The Age" describes it as a book that "focuses on a professional couple in their late 30s struggling with the issue of when to have children. Much of the book deals with an intense few weeks in which the wife, Kirsten, has actually become pregnant and is deciding when to tell her husband, Lindsay, while he, completely unaware of this
biological incident, is arranging to buy her a dog in order to temporarily satisfy her procreative yearnings."

As Rachel Slater puts it, the novel "novel poses some big questions. How much free choice do we really have? What does it mean to be human? What do we know about consciousness? These philosophical stalwarts are unravelled alongside the lives of two suburban professionals grappling with their own big questions - questions of potential parenthood, infidelity and desire." But it seems clear that it is not the novel's intention to tie up the loose ends and "the reader is not offered definitive answers to any of the questions raised in the novel, but in addressing the argument - so prevalent in Western culture - that choice equals freedom and therefore happiness, Lohrey provides more than a little food for thought." So it certainly sounds like the author is treating the reader with a great deal of respect, providing no easily digestible answers and allowing the reader to make up their own mind.

Tony Smith, reviewing the book in Australian Book Review is certainly enthusiastic about the result: "Lohrey is so perceptive that there is nothing superfluous in this superbly structured novel. Every event, every word is necessary and there are constant echoes that remind the reader of the complexity of the plot and the sophistication of the author's technique...Many novels display some of the characteristics that encourage readability: consistency of theme, soundness of structure, steadiness of pace, depth of characterisation and elegance of style. In The Philosopher's Doll, Lohrey demonstrates that she has consummate control of all these skills. Lohrey's beautifully balanced, expertly crafted novel is a treat for head and for heart."

Amanda Lohrey was interviewed by Ramona Koval on ABC Radio's Books and Writing program on May 16, 2004.

Combined Reviews: A Private Man by Malcolm Knox

private_man.jpg Reviews of A Private Man by Malcolm Knox.

This book has been nominated for the 2006 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It also won the award for Best First Novel at the 2005 Ned Kelly Awards.

Description: "It is two days since Dr John Brand's death and his eldest son, Davis, suspects a cover-up. 'Survived by two sons', the death notice said. 'Peacefully.' But someone has lied: there are three sons, and the circumstances of their father's death are murky. Still, the Sydney Test Match is on and Davis's famous brother Chris is batting to save his career while their mother Margaret watches the broadcast from her armchair. Hammett, the unacknowledged third brother, lurks on the edges, banished but not forgotten. Scattered over Sydney, the Brand's lives - and John Brand's funeral - are put on hold for the duration of the game: five days of suspense, silences, revelations, recriminations and redemption."

Most of the reviews of this novel concentrate on the sporting and porn aspects, and not from a salacious point-of-view. On the contrary, the reviewers go to some pains to praise Knox for his use of the two subject lines. In "Australian Book Review", José Borghino goes so far as to say: "Gabriel Garcia Márquez once said that all of us lead three different lives simultaneously: public, private and secret. In his second novel, A Private Man, Malcolm Knox explores two very secret recesses of the modern Australian male's perspective: porn and sport. That both these spheres also have a very public face merely allows for these secret experiences to be played out in front of a paying audience as either tragedy or farce, or sometimes both." Which pretty much covers it. Borghino goes further by stating: "There are echoes of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections in the structure and familial focus of the book -- and I mean that in the most complimentary way. Chapters weave back and forth in time and take the point of view of first one then another of the main characters. The result is that, with each new chapter, we see different sides of each player. Our sympathies grow and ebb, and each character's personality seems much more rounded and believable as a consequence."

Michael Jacobs, in the "Adelaide Review" concurs: "It is a fine piece of writing, well-structured, subtle and sensitive. When I had finished the first read, I rather wished the author had not tied up so many loose ends in a final rush. I still think it is a pity that so much is disposed of so neatly, but on reflection there is enough left unresolved for the reader to have things to wonder about. Outside Hollywood, that is the mark of a good piece of work."

Combined Reviews: The Broken Book by Susan Johnson

broken_book.jpg Reviews of The Broken Book by Susan Johnson.

This book has been nominated for the 2006 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Allen and Unwin, the novel's publisher, describes the book as follows: "Inspired by the fascinating life of one of Australia's most talented and intriguing literary figures, Charmian Clift, The Broken Book is wonderfully rich, complex and compelling. Susan Johnson has created an audacious and original novel with an awe-inspiring ability to explore emotional truths."

The "Good Reading Magazine" was enthusiatic in its praise for the book: "Mirroring truths of art and life, creativity and reality, The Broken Book is, at its heart, the story of a woman's struggle to become the artist she has passionately planned to be. Katherine Elgin grew up in a small coastal town in Australia, desperate to transcend her beginnings and make her mark. From her rebellious and contemplative childhood Katherine emerges as a stunningly beautiful young woman, with a voracious appetite for life's most interesting experiences and an overwhelming desire to write the best book she possibly can. But beauty is a double-edged sword and throughout her life - from Sydney, to London, to the islands of Greece - Katherine carries the burden of being both siren and artist.Inspired by the fascinating life of one of Australia's most talented and intriguing literary figures, Charmian Clift, The Broken Book is wonderfully rich, complex and compelling. Susan Johnson has created an audacious and original novel with an awe-inspiring ability to explore emotional truths."

Kerryn Goldsworthy, in "Australian Book Review", found another side of the novel: " writing this kind of extremely allusive and self-reflexive book, Johnson is implicitly addressing some of the big questions in literature, philosophy and psychology: questions of subjectivity and representation, of appropriation and ontology and the nature of fiction itself. And the novel just isn't intellectually interesting enough to sustain the weight of what it has taken on. Complicated, yes; complex, no." But her criticism isn't all bad as she goes on to say that "there is one chapter in which this book takes flight like a beautiful, dangerous firework. Katherine, desperate to get on with her writing, is having her whole attention insistently claimed by her two little girls and ends up in a deadly battle of wills with one of them. For a moment, it turns into a different book altogether, dazzling and disturbing." Was it Cyril Connelly who detailed this struggle in Enemies of Promise?

In "The Age", Delia Falconer finds the book to be "immensely readable", but still seems to be more in agreement with Goldsworthy's opinion: "Johnson presents us with a woman experiencing her own beauty from the inside, rather than through the distorting lens of the rather awful [George] Johnston, [husband of Clift, and author of My Brother Jack, etc]. Unfortunately, she does not quite get to grips with the older Elgin's intellectual complexity, or find the magic door that will liberate this novel from biographical facts. This is in part because Clift did not live long enough to find the insights into her life a first-person novel demands. One wonders what the feminist '70s - or even Johnston's dying first - might have brought to Clift's understanding of herself."

You can read an interview with the author from "The Age', and another from "The Sydney Morning Herald", and an excerpt from the novel.

Combined Reviews: Cape Grimm by Carmel Bird

cape_grimm.jpg Reviews of Cape Grimm by Carmel Bird.

This book was originally published in 2004 and has been nominated for the 2006 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Michelle Griffin in "The Age" profiles Carmel Bird rather than writing a review of the book. She does, however, provide a look behind the author's motivation for the book and sets the boosk in context: "Cape Grimm is the third book in a trilogy of novels Bird has written around the idea of charisma and evil. The first, The White Garden, was inspired by the experimental deep-sleep therapy practised at Chelmsford in the 1960s. The second, The Red Shoes, drew much of its framework from Anne Hamilton-Byrne's cult, The Family. Cape Grimm is set in a real landscape - a weather station in a remote corner of northwest Tasmania that measures the purest air currents in the world - but the story of an apocalyptic cult is only loosely inspired by historic events."

In the "Australian Book Review" James Ley describes the novel as "magic realism", along with stating that it doesn't fall victim to the florid excesses of that genre. "Its narrative explicity positions itself on the borderline between dream and reality, and there is a conflation of history and fantasy thoughout, as suggested by the title, which combines Tasmania's Cape Grim with the Brothers Grimm." There has certainly been a large amount of work undertaken by Bird to tackle some big ideas: "Cape Grimm explores ideas about the powers and responsibilities of the imagination. Culture, it suggests, has the ability to cross boundaries, influencing people's perceptions in unpredictable ways. Like a fable, the novel also has a cautionary aspect, suggesting that there are dangers in denying the creative impulses of the unconscious." In the end, though, it falls "into the magic realist trap of working both sides of the street at once:
admitting the unsupportable nature of many of its fantasies, but requiring they be accepted all the same".

In "The Bulletin" Anne Susskind is rather cautious in her conclusion: "Everywhere evident is Bird's fascination with the landscape of her native Tasmania, its lushness, its 4000 lakes and its isolation, particularly at Cape Grimm and the Baseline Air Pollution Station on the far north-western coast, where the air is as pure as anything in the world, sullied only by the fires her imagination dreams up. The tales of the Brothers Grimm, she writes in the persona of Van Loon, feed a 'need, a lust, a love in the world, a longing to be provided, fed, nourished with strange dark wild terrible images'. And so, successfully, does she. Although her story fizzes a bit towards the end, Bird shows here that she is a powerful and lyrical writer, and Cape Grimm makes compelling reading."

Combined Reviews: The Marsh Birds by Eva Sallis

marsh_birds.jpg Reviews of The Marsh Birds by Eva Sallis.

As usual, Australian book reviews of this novel on the web are few and far between. The best of the ones available is by Lisa Gorton in "The Age".

"If we didn't have detention centres in the desert where incarcerated children have gone on hunger strike, sewing their lips together, you might have said that Eva Sallis' story of a young Iraqi refugee was improbably bleak. If we didn't hear of bureaucratic bungles in our detention centres, day after day, you might have complained that her account of how the system failed him beggared belief...

"In Proust's study of memory, In Search of Lost Time, he asks: "How could a purely descriptive literature have any value at all, when reality lies hidden beneath the surface of little things of the sort it documents . . ? "He argues for a literature that records what you might call the interior life - what he calls the true life - of people. The Marsh Birds, on the other hand, is insistently and convincingly topical; committed to setting out how politics affects individual lives in inescapable ways. And surely, if it can help to dismantle Australia's practices of detention, it will have value."

In "The Weekend Australian", Elizabeth Meryment states that the novel "does exactly what good art should do: it questions, probes, illuminates and humanises a topical moral and social issue. This book is an important contribution to the national debate about our Government's treatment of asylum-seekers." Which is pretty much a ringing endorsement: "this is a tightly woven tale, beautifully narrated, genuine and believable."

You can also read what Sallis has to say about the motivations behind her writing on the Australian School Library Association site.

Combined Reviews: Affection by Ian Townsend

affection.jpg Reviews of Affection by Ian Townsend.

This novel has been shortlisted for the 2005 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction.

Brisbane's "Courier-Mail" ran a profile of the author around the time of the book's publication at the end of April this year, which is a pretty good way to start for any novelist.

"Townsend's debut novel about the north Queensland plague at the start of the 20th century, is an accomplished work from the experienced ABC radio journalist...For a historical novel about such a grim topic, Affection has a surprisingly light touch. It manages to educate and elicit emotional responses without brow-beating them with the horror and terror of living in a town overshadowed by the Black Death."

In "The Weekend Australian" Ross Fitzgerald was very definitely impressed with the novel, which he feels "is a must-read book for 2005. As a powerful mix of truth and invention, it is a literary tour de force." Which doesn't beat about the bush. In the novel "Ian Townsend has done something quite remarkable in his first novel: drawing on government reports, newspaper and magazine articles, photographs, telegrams, personal papers and oral and written histories, he has fleshed out into fiction a hitherto unknown and fascinating story of colonial Queensland on the cusp of a new century and of Australian nationhood."

Combined Reviews: The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

broken_shore.jpg Reviews of The Broken Shore by Peter Temple.

Sue Turnbull, in "The Age", states up-front her feelings on the book: "If you only read one crime novel this year, read The Broken Shore. It's not just a good yarn - there are plenty of those - what Peter Temple achieves here is much, much more, capturing a specifically Australian perspective in prose as spare as it is precise. This book is the best yet from a writer who has already won a well-deserved reputation as one of our finest crime writers." And concludes: "In the end, it's all about family: the one you're born with and the one you make. But most of all it's about the writing, and in that regard The Broken Shore might just be a great Australian novel, irrespective of genre. Read it for what Temple does with words." Which can only be read as a ringing endorsement.

Graeme Blundell also reviewed the book in "The Australian" but, as is typical for that paper, the review is not available on the web. A quote for the review: "Temple's work is spare, deeply ironic; his wit, like the local beer, as cold as a dental anaesthetic". Over-stretching a little there I think.

Tim Coronel, on the BoomerangBooks website continues the high praise: "A good crime novel can broach serious issues and tell readers as much about the society in which they live as a 'literary' novel or a work of nonfiction. The Broken Shore is such a book: serious, unflinching, relentless - and often hilarious."

And for the solitary non-Australian reference I can find, you need to visit Jenny Davidson's weblog Light Reading from New York: "I guess the thing that blows me away is what an all-rounder Temple is as a fiction writer (plus his writing's perfectly to my taste, I know some people like more extravagance but I prefer things that look deceptively plain at first glance): he's good at character and dialogue and description and sentence-writing and plot and setting and intellectual heft and politics and just EVERYTHING."

I've got this one slotted into the pile to take away on holidays next week. I'm looking forward to it.

Combined Reviews: Lost by Michael Robotham

lost.jpg Reviews of Lost by Michael Robotham.

"Australian Michael Robotham's first thriller, The Suspect, was a hit at the London Book Fair of 2002, generating foreign rights deals in 13 languages. His second novel, Lost, proves that he's no one-hit wonder. Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz wakes in hospital to find that a bullet has torn a hole in his leg and another in his memory. Shut out by his colleagues at the Met, he turns to an old friend, immensely likeable clinical psychologist Joe O'Loughlin, to help him recover from amnesia and pick up the threads of a rapidly cooling case. The more he discovers about his actions of the last few weeks, the more confused Ruiz becomes: it seems he was investigating a case he successfully closed three years ago, one that no-one wants him to reopen. From the very first sentence of this gripping thriller a reader can relax, feeling safe in the hands of a talented storyteller just as accomplished as Harlan Coben or Barry Maitland. With the velocity and wit of an American thriller and the emotional complexity and characterisation of a British mystery, the author has captured the best of the genre. If Michael Robotham isn't a star already, he will be."
--Australian Bookseller & Publisher

"An electrifying mystery from the author whose dazzling debut, Suspect, raised the bar for whodunits."
--Australian Women's Weekly

"Lost is a whip-cracking thriller, gritty, authentic and crisply written, and with a plot that has more twists in it than a strand of barbed wire."
--Adelaide Advertiser

"I very nearly didn't bother with this. Did I want to read a story about a cop suffering from amnesia? Fortunately I had an idle night (there's never anything on TV) so I gave it a try. First, this is a first-rate mystery thriller. Second, the author has researched 'transient global amnesia', the blanking out of a traumatic event, a condition clearly explained and valid in a man shot and left for dead in the River Thames. How did he get there? Why is there an abandoned boat with someone else's blood splashed across the deck? Where did the diamonds come from? He knows he was on a kidnap case - yet it was a kidnap he wrapped up three years before. The child is dead, her killer in jail, but the body was never found. Retracing steps, he finds a further ransom has been demanded, suggesting that the child is still alive. After three years? Surely not - yet her father agreed to pay, and her father is a much-feared Russian criminal. The jailed man has launched an appeal, and the detective's colleagues don't want the case reopened. This is only the first half of the book. Twists and complications abound as fragments of memory return. Shunned by colleagues, the detective must solve this on his own. It gets violent, dirty and dangerous. Great, satisfying stuff."
-- Russell James in "Shotsmag Reviews"

There is also a sneak preview of the book available.

[This novel won the 2005 Ned Kelly Award for Best Novel.]

Combined Reviews: I Have Kissed Your Lips by Gerard Windsor

ihavekissed.jpg Reviews of I Have Kissed Your Lips by Gerard Windsor.

[This novel has been shortlisted for "The Age" Book of the Year Award.]

There are times when I think I really should change the title of this category. Some of the books featured have not, exactly, gone unnoticed. On the contrary some of them have received quite a swag of notice. And then I come across a book like I Have Kissed Your Lips by Gerard Windsor, and I start to remember why I created this list in the first place.

The major piece on this book was published in the "Australian Book Review" in October 2004. In keeping with the ABR's policy not all reviews are available on the web and their review of this book is one that misses out. Pity. Browyn Rivers is obviously impressed with the book even though she has trouble with parts of it as it "contains one of the few
things still able to generate shock in our culture... This is a forceful novel in ways other than its inflammatory subject matter. Windsor unhesitatingly explores all the emotional darkness inevitable in events he depicts, a practice that can make for exhilarating, if exhausting, reading." A difficult novel whose "idiosyncracies will understandably drive away some readers, but those who perservere will be rewarded."

Peter Craven, in "The Age" certainly doesn't mess about with his judgements, getting his main opinion out in the open right from the off: "Gerard Windsor is a real writer in a country that will often be conned by fool's gold." And concludes that: "He is one of the few contemporary writers who doesn't toy with the idea of fiction as a substitute celluloid. This is a novel of scathing brilliance and the images it conjures up in the vicinity of a terrible mistake come from the precision of the novelist's language." If you've been following Craven's reviews of late you can probably guess who he's referring to as "fool's gold".

There's not much else around on this book but you can read an interview with Windsor from ABC Radio.

Combined Reviews: The Submerged Cathedral by Charlotte Wood

submerged_cathedral.jpg Reviews of The Submerged Cathedral by Charlotte Wood.

This book has been shortlisted for the 2005 Miles Franklin Award. Given that it was published in early 2004, a number of reviews have dropped off the web. There are still some out there, and I've been able to track down a few of the missing.

Thuy On, in "The Sunday Age" was impressed with the way the novel transcends possible genre labelling: "This is no saccharine boy-meets-girl soapie but an intensely evocative tale framed by the Australian landscape and suffused with religious pathos...Wood is adept at depicting both the minutiae of relationships and the external environment against which such conflicting loyalties are played out."

The title of the book is taken from a Debussy work ,"The Engulfed Cathedral", and Mark Tredinnick, writing in "The Bulletin", found that: "Wood's writing is made of the same stuff as Debussy's music: exquisite and sometimes dissonant chords; delicate, slow notes; a gentle, passionate witness of the patterns submerged within the real order of things; of longing and elegy."

And Ceridwen Spark in "The Sydney Morning Herald" continued the association: "It seems little accident that the book takes its title from a song, for the almost exquisite pain that Wood captures usually belongs to the realm of music."

Anna Goldsworthy ("Australian Book Review") considered it "an archetypal narrative, of love lost and regained", and Spark concluded that it was "assured, bold and elegant." A worthy inclusion on the Miles Franklin award shortlist then.

Murray Waldren kicked off the appeciations of the novel with his piece in "The Weekend Australian", and which he now makes available on his website. It is more a profile of the author than a review per se.

Combined Reviews: Salt Rain by Sarah Armstrong

salt_rain.jpg Reviews of Salt Rain by Sarah Armstrong.

For a novel that has now been included on the 2005 Miles Franklin Award shortlist, Salt Rain has received remarkably few mentions in the mainstream press. Rather, I should say, few reviews from the mainstream press are available on the web. Which is a bit poor.

The publishers, Allen & Unwin, describe the book as "An extraordinarily evocative novel of discovery, where fourteen-year-old Allie gradually realises that the picture of the past she is piecing together is different and much more complicated than she ever thought." After Allie's mother disappears she is sent north to her aunt's farm to live, and wait.

Robin Osborne in "The Northern Rivers Echo" describes it as a "story about 14-year-old Allie whose Bohemian mother would never reveal the identity of the girl's father...At the core of this confronting tale lies the inappropriate crossing of personal boundaries, mostly sexual ones, and it is not an easy book to review without revealing the genuinely 'dark secret' around which the plot revolves."

So it's a coming-of-age novel in which the main character must not only discover who she is, but also who her mother really is and was - "an extraordinarily evocative novel of discovery", as Boomerang Books sees it.

Judith Ridge, on her Misrule Blog was obviously taken by the emotional force of the book: "Salt Rain reads like an elegy for lost loves, lost family, lost innocence. It drips with atmosphere, and northern rivers rain. It's a visceral book about grief and anger and love and sex, about family. It's also a somewhat troubling story about the nature of childhood innocence and loss."

These reviews have been universal in their praise for the book, but let us not forget that it is a first novel and Lorien Kaye, in the "Australian Book Review" found that it was not flawless. "The climax and resolution, for instance are too close together, and rely on the too-convenient and overused narrative device of a feverish illness coinciding with emotional realisation...Nevertheless, this is a well-shaped and well-written book. Armstrong mostly measures the tempo, gradually revealling the truth, depicting her character's development without explicitly discussing it. She has a fine, readable style, one that doesn't clamour for attention."

Combined Reviews: Hill of Grace by Stephen Orr

hillofgrace.jpg Reviews of Hill of Grace by Stephen Orr.

The blurb attached to this novel, and reprinted on the publisher's website, states: "1951. Among the coppiced carob trees and arum lilies of the Barossa Valley, old-school Lutheran William Miller lives a quiet life with his wife, Bluma, and son Nathan, making wine and baking bread. But William has a secret. He's been studying the Bible and he's found what a thousand others couldn't: the date of the Apocalypse."

In the hands of a lot of novelists such a premise would be groan-worthy in the extreme. Peter Pierce, writing in "The Bulletin" finds that Orr moves beyond the obvious: "One of Orr's achievements is to re-imagine a region of the country with its distinctive food, climate, religious observances and memories of bitter schisms, history and prejudices. Yet it cannot dissociate itself from the mainstream of Australian life. In South Australia, this is the supposedly somnolent era of the Playford government and the building of the satellite town of Elizabeth, of a parochialism feeling the prickly hallenges of a larger, scarcely known world...Besides this, and harder still, Orr succeeds in enlisting our emotional, if hardly our intellectual sympathy for a narrow-minded, but kind and resolute man, a fanatic in salvation's cause. Hill of Grace tackles the obstacle of an author's second novel with aplomb. Orr's book contains a broad but
unobtrusive social history besides an intelligent, unhurried and incisive plumbing of kinds of intense, but very different yearning."

Similarly, James Ley in "The Age", puts foward a view that Orr will be someone to watch: "Hill of Grace has many strong points. Orr has an appealing and empathetic approach to his characters. It is also encouraging to see a writer vary his style in an attempt to find a third way between the two poles of standard no-frills prose and the florid, overheated variety that tends to dominate contemporary 'literary' fiction."

Cath Kenneally (producer of Writers' Radio; a nationally-distributed weekly books and writing program for the Community Broadcasting Network), considered the novel to be one of her books of the year: "His prose lovingly packed with particulars, Orr's characters assume poignant life as modernity and old-time religion go head to head in a wonderful period portrait."

Combined Reviews: Heavenly Pleasures by Kerry Greenwood

heavenly_p.jpg Reviews of Heavenly Pleasures by Kerry Greenwood.

Heavenly Pleasures is the second novel in Greenwood's detective series featuring Corinna Chapman, following Earthly Delights.

Andrea Thompson, from the Murder and Mayhem Bookclub, sets the tone of all these reviews right off the bat when she states: "[The books in the series] are unashamed cozies and an excellent example of this popular sub-genre that has evolved around the tastes of mystery readers who prefer it light, fun and not too demanding. All the best ingredients are here, food, gossip, cats and a little romance. A book to be dipped pleasurably in and out of, Heavenly Pleasures is a delicious read for more than just the usual reasons of entertaining characters and a lively plot. It comes with recipes!"

Katharine England, in "The Advertiser", concluded that this book " written with Greenwood's customary verve and wit, and is as warming as onion soup on a cold day and as titillating to the tastebuds as a champagne truffle."

Sue Gammon, in the book review section of the ABC website went a bit further than the others on the food line: "I defy anyone to read these books without instantly wanting to rush into the kitchen and become an instant bread maker. The author obviously has a lifelong passion for muffins of all types, and is a serious bread lover. The characters and plots are as light as Corinna's bread, and as enjoyable."

You can find out more about this book, and the series at the dedicated Earthly Delights website. The site gives further details about the books, the authors and a batch of recipes relating to the series. A fine example of what a little forethought can do to help a book's publicity.

Combined Reviews: The Gift of Speed by Steven Carroll


Reviews of The Gift of Speed by Steven Carroll

From the publisher's blurb: "Set during the glorious summer of 1960/61, The Gift of Speed chronicles the lives, fates and fortunes of a memorable group of characters in a fictitious outer-Melbourne suburb in the post-World War II era. The roads and footpaths may have been paved, the houses painted and the gardens grown - but the suburb still hovers between town and country.

"We catch up with Michael, 16 and obsessed with cricket; his parents, Rita and Vic, whose marriage is on the rocks; Vic's 70-year-old mother, who comes to stay; and the mysterious factory owner who hurtles around the suburb at night in his sports car ...

"For one unforgettable summer, the closed community of the suburb opens up to the outside world. And it is not - as in the past - a war that allows this, but rather a carnival of cricket, music and colour."

Steven Carroll writes the non-fiction column for "The Age" Review pages, and The Gift of Speed is a sequel to his earlier novel, The Art of the Engine Driver, which was shortlisted for the 2002 Miles Franklin Award.

Michael McGirr in "The Age" is impressed with Carroll's gifts as a writer: "Part of Carroll's skill is the ability to create a strong sense of the presence of characters who, emotionally at least, are some place else. There are times in this book where I paused to admire the subtle craft of what Carroll is doing. Every piece of this book is sanded and planed and perfectly joined. But there is no mistaking the knots in the raw material with which he is working...The Gift of Speed is a meditative book in which words such as Somme and Larwood 'are their own story. Complete miniatures'. Rarely has such an arid place as suburban Melbourne in the heat of 1961 evoked such graceful and tender prose."

Kabita Dhara, fiction buyer at Dymocks Melbourne, finds that: "If you enjoyed Steven Carroll's The Art of the Engine Driver this latest offering is a must-read. While readers will recognise some recurring characters, be assured that this is not just a sequel. Carroll's gift for evocative storytelling reaches new depths here and the result had me captivated."

Combined Reviews: The White Earth by Andrew McGahan


Reviews of The White Earth by Andrew McGahan

This book recently won the regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize for SE Asian and South Pacific. As good a reason as any to feature it. The novel is set in 1992, at the time of the Mabo decision: the result of a High Court of Australia case brought by Eddie Mabo refuting the concept that Australia was terra nullius (ie unoccupied) when the British First Fleet landed in 1788. It tells the story of William and his Uncle John, a member of White Australia, who William goes to live with after his father dies.

Sally Murphy, at the website, finds that this is a novel "with many shocks, gripping the reader with its sheer awfulness. Those who have read Dickens will draw parallels between Uncle John and Miss Havisham and be aware of the Dickensian feel to both the progression of the tale and the overall tone...That said, this is a very Australian novel, with a very Australian setting and cast...Shattering." I think she is using "awfulness" here in the sense of "disturbing" rather than "bad". At least I hope so.

"The Age" review by Aviva Tuffield calls for McGahan's inclusion on the Miles Franklin Award shortlist for 2005. She is impressed with the book:

The White Earth is an ambitious and multilayered novel that ranges across the 150-year history of white settlement on the Darling Downs. It touches on such recent political issues as the passage of native title legislation, the "history wars" and the growing alienation and resentment of rural white Australia - sentiments that, as we now know, provided a natural constituency for One Nation. But The White Earth also has all the trappings of a classic supernatural tale, and McGahan seamlessly blends the factual elements with the preternatural dimensions - the ghosts of black and white that haunt the landscape.
Lindy, of Abbey Books, is even more explicit: "Having read about 250 books this year, I'd have to say The White Earth is my absolute pick of them all. A gripping storyline, believable characters, skillful narrative and brilliant style - and every single person I've given this to read has been reluctant to put it down once they've started!"

As well as the Commonwealth Writers' Prize already mentioned, The White Earth won the 2004 "Courier-Mail" Book of the Year award, and the 2004 "Age" Book of the Year Fiction award. Maybe the last word can be given to a posting on the "Books I Have Read Lately" notice-board on the website: "I can recommend The White Earth by Andrew McGahan, author of Praise, 1988 and Last Drinks. Actually I would read this guy's shopping lists."

Combined Reviews: Taking Care of Business by Peter Corris


Reviews of Taking Care of Business by Peter Corris

This is a collection of short stories featuring Corris's Sydney-based PI Cliff Hardy. "The Age" included this book in its Summer Reading excerpt series but didn't, unfortunately, include this excerpt on its website. However they do state that "It's arguable that Peter Corris was responsible for the renaissance of Australian crime writing. After all, who was there to walk down the mean streets of Melbourne and Sydney before he introduced us to Cliff Hardy all those years ago?" More than arguable, in my opinion.

Robin Wallace-Crabbe finds (you'll need to scroll down a bit) that "With these Cliff Hardy pieces, produced over the past five years or so, the problem of confronting competing atmospheres and settings is overcome by the feel of what Frank Moorhouse alled 'discontinuous narrative' (or something)." Which is more than a little vague. But he reedeems himself (read: 'makes himself a bit more understandable') at the end: "Relish these over breakfast or while saving charred meat from summer flies." Which should not be read as a recipe merely an indication that short stories fit the disjointed Australian summer lifestyle. I think.

Mary Martin Books notes (and you have to scroll nearly to the bottom of this long document) that: "The collection is business-centred (two of the pieces appeared in THE AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW) but all are packed with thrills and intrigue, as befits any work involving that intrepid PI, Cliff Hardy." And they decide that: "Each of the stories is a little gem."

Combined Reviews: Fire Fire by Eva Sallis


Reviews of Fire Fire by Eva Sallis

Andrew Reimer, in "The Age" finds that "Fire Fire is an unusual and unsettling book. It is not always possible to work out exactly where its ethical and moral emphases fall - and I mean that as a compliment" and "the novel's construction is wayward, and that (once more) is to be welcomed in a cultural climate where idiosyncrasy does not seem to be highly valued." Which I take to mean that he's a bit ambivalent about the book - liking some parts and considering others "somewhat commonplace, even a tad too tidy".

In the "Adelaide Review", Gillian Dooley compares the novel to Ethel Turner's Classic Seven Little Australians; not directly comparing the two books all the way down the line but deciding "While we leave Ethel Turner's little world with a happy tear and a sigh, Eva Sallis's inspires confusion and disturbance." Which is not to be considered a bad thing, merely the way it is. Doley concludes that "Fire Fire is a haunting book - not hauntingly beautiful, but full of foetid, morbid and powerful images which will stay, perhaps uncomfortably, in the mind."

Sally Murphy on the AussieReviews website, states that: "This is a gripping and compelling tale, spun with layers of language and of meaning."

In addition to these reviews, you can read the transcript of a discussion between Eva Sallis and Romana Kaval from the "Books and Writing" program on ABC Radio National.

Combined Reviews: Sixty Lights by Gail Jones


Reviews of Sixty Lights by Gail Jones

This novel was included on the 2004 Booker Longlist, which doesn't quite qualify it as being unnoticed. It's more a matter of me not noticing it.

In "The Guardian", Susan Elderkin finds the book "A layered meditation on loss and grief and of finding joy in unexpected flashes, Sixty Lights is a passionate and somehow lonely book about the in-between parts of life - flawed, but then most novels worth reading are flawed." By "flaws" Elderkin states that, in the early part of the novel, "Jones seems dangerously at the beck and call of her words rather than of her characters." But she seems to thinks the novel all comes together at the end.

The novelist James Bradley reviewed the book in August 2004, and picked up on the book's photography theme - "The ghostly aspect of photography is never far away. The images it gives us, sliced out of time and carved in light, are possessed of a strange duality, capturing what is lost and preserving it even as they are suffused with the sadness of the moment's passing...Gail Jones' Sixty Lights is an extended meditation on photography that takes its haunting power and weaves it back into a story that reminds us of the ways in which those things that make us most human - love, story, forgiveness - are themselves inseparable from our mortality." Bradley also thinks there is evidence of some over-writing in the book but concludes that "there is an intelligence and honesty to her writing that brings the characters powerfully to life."

Rosemary Sayer, in "The Asian Review of Books - On the Web" considers that "Sixty Lghts is depressing rather than uplifting, especially as we know from the second page of the first chapter that Lucy will die of consumption at the age of 22, but it is without doubt a powerful insight into life for a young woman in Victorian times." Which hopefully doesn't give the game away. ((Just as a side note - you can't really say that this is a spoiler if the author herself reveals a major character development on page 2.))

Kasia Boddy, in "The Daily Telegraph", provides a note of caution in stating: "Ultimately, however, it seems that the main point of all this photographical apparatus is to flatter readers by demonstrating that what they've got in their hands is a literary novel with a carefully thought-out symbolic underpinning. Some may find the underpinning altogether too insistent." Which means what, exactly? That some will and some won't? I'd be happier if she said what she found rather than trying to anticipate what others will think.

Combined Reviews: Home by Larissa Behrendt


Reviews of Home by Larissa Behrendt: (This novel won the David Uniapon Award for Indigenous Writers.)

"This brilliant first novel should make David Marr a happy man. This is a perfect example of the political novel, engaged with the experiences and imaginings of contemporary everyday Australians." So says Jo Case in her review on the website. She finishes with a seal of approval: "Home skilfully demonstrates how this country has ended up in the mess it is in - not through wanton, comic-book cruelty, but through a cycle of prejudice, misunderstanding and abuse of power."

On the website, Sally Murphy agrees with Case's assessment: "Behrendt also uses the book to comment, directly and indirectly, on the political and legal plight of her people in a way which, again, humanises these issues and exposes them to readers who perhaps are in need of a fresh perspective...This is an outstanding first novel."

Anita Heiss, in "Australian Humanities Review", starts off her review by stating: "I haven't met one Indigenous Australian who hasn't been affected by the policies of protection that lead to what we commonly refer to as the Stolen Generations. Coupled with having read extensively and written a novel on the same subject myself, Larissa Behrendt's award winning novel Home was a disturbingly familiar read for me." Which is followed somewhat later by: "Revealing an obvious talent for the creative form, the rich writing in Behrendt's Home was only hindered by the slabs of lectures that appeared throughout the book, as the author fell into her 'other role' as academic." Heiss is impressed with the fiction but not with the need to introduce a catalog of Indigenous issues into the work. I tend to forgive such "faults" (if they are faults at all) in first-time novelists as they have to find their feet somehow. Second and third novels on the other hand, don't tend to get the same sort of consideration. And I don't have problems with "issues", just how they are integrated into the work.

Terri Janke, in a review on the ABC Book review website concludes: "This is more than a historical novel or a story about reclaiming lost family connections. Home is written from the heart. The author has drawn on her life, her passion, her family heritage to produce a fresh, innovative and well-written piece of fiction, full of juicy yarns that keep you reading. The author also weaves in the stories of her people, the Eualeyai people, as told to her by her father. In this sense the novel is truly a literary gem."

Other reviews: "The Age" - " describe it as a good first novel or a good indigenous novel is to undersell it; Home is, without qualification, simply a good novel."

Combined Reviews: Drown Them in the Sea by Nicholas Angel


Reviews of Drown Them in the Sea by Nicholas Angel

(This novel was co-winner of the 2003 Australian/Vogel Award.)

Sally Murphy, in states that: "Drown Them in the Sea is a very Australian story about life on the land and the ever-present struggle against adversary. It is about a man's love of his land and his family and also, very strongly, about mateship."

"GoodReading Magazines: "Given the recent drought of shorter novels, Drown Them in the Sea comes as a breath of ocean air itself."

Thuy On, in "The Age", finds that: "Drown Them in the Sea is a graceful fusion of brute realism and spare, evocative prose. It captures the essence of rural Australia with Akubra-wearing Millvan as the archetypical farmer: heroic, laconic and Angel's capable hands Drown Them in the Sea is a compelling narrative of admirable characters against an unforgiving backdrop. It has a maturity that belies the author's 25 years."

Combined Reviews: The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett


Reviews of The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett:

- Meg Sorensen, in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "An elegantly published little hardback for children, The Silver Donkey is both a tribute to Hartnett's growing international status and a nostalgic nod to a time when fun and mystery weren't pre-packaged, branded and gauche. Read it to your children for its wonderfully controlled prose and beautifully composed story but be sure to give them lots of tickles along the way."

- Peter Craven, in "The Age": "The Silver Donkey is a gorgeous jewel of a book that comes in the plainest wrapping. It is a deliberately old-fashioned story. It is not about family atrocity and dysfunction. It is about being casually brave in order to help a gentle stranger. It is also, in its shadows, about a man who has suffered in the teeth of terrible things and is willing to commit what society thinks is a crime in order to be with the brother he loves."

- "The Bulletin" states that "Hartnett's book is a triumph of tact and restraint."

The Silver Donkey is also reviewed in "The Australian Book Review" No. 267, but the review is not available on the website.

And Sonya Hartnett writes about what it means to be a writer of young adult fiction in Australia for "The Bulletin".

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