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Australian Fiction

From an awesome listener, in response to Episode 74:

I just listened to the Bookrageous podcast on international literature (which was really fun! Thanks for that) and thought I would shoot through a few recommendations in case you want to expand the Australian section of your pie chart :) I feel like the easiest way into the literature of other countries and cultures is through genre, so that’s how I’ve structured it. All of the books below feel ‘Australian’ in different ways, either through setting or mindset (with one exception - but it was so good I had to include it!)”

Crime
Anything by Peter Temple. He really is magnificent - the plots are twisty and the settings fascinating, but the voice is what grabs you and won’t let go. Laconic, dryly funny but compassionate - it’s really Australian in a way I find a bit difficult to articulate. If you want a series, his Jack Irish books are sort of hardbitten PI stories set in Melbourne (they’ve been made into a great TV series with a deliciously scruffy Guy Pearce). I think his best book, though, is The Broken Shore, which is one of a loose duology about cops and corruption and the aftermath of crime and trauma. It’s set in a small town in coastal Victoria, and is just super. If you like Temple, you’ll also like a one-shot by Zane Lovitt called The Midnight Promise, which is a series of interconnected short crime stories set in the grimy underbelly of Melbourne, which seem to be separate but work to this amazing conclusion. Sooooo gooooood.
The Old School, PM Newton. This is another police procedural, but set in Sydney in the early 1990s with a great female protagonist who is Vietnamese-Australian in a time when there was still plenty of casual racism in Australian life. Newton spent many years as a Sydney detective before leaving to become a writer, so she brings this real-life experience to the book that I enjoyed. The Sydney in this book also feels really authentic to me - I spent my childhood in the western suburbs of Sydney at about that time, & it was just as multicultural, fraught and summer-sticky as Newton paints it. A good look at a Sydney beyond the harbour & beaches - the sequel is called Beams Falling and is set in Sydney’s Little Vietnam, Cabramatta.
Diamond Dove, Adrian Hyland. This book (and its follow-up, Gunshot Road) are set in the Australian desert with a spiky, spunky heroine, Emily Tempest, who is half Aboriginal, half white and has returned to her home town after years away in the city. There’s murder, and colourful characters, and some gorgeous stuff about Aboriginal culture - but it’s also this really incisive look at race relations in an unsentimentalised Outback setting. A really fast-paced read but I enjoyed it.
Phryne Fisher series, Kerry Greenwood. You may have heard of these, as I think the TV show may have penetrated Stateside - I’ve loved the novels for years as ‘pure pleasure’ reads. Set in 1920s Melbourne, the books are about The Hon Phryne Fisher, this extremely glamorous and witty private detective who is a total badass with a pistol and has no tolerance for social conventions. The plots are fun & the characterisation is great - they are absolute romps in the best sense of the word. One of the great things about the series is that Phryne has this completely open approach to sex - she’s constantly sizing up and seducing lovely young men, and the books treat this as completely normal. Refreshing, no? She does have one serious lover, but the books place a pretty much immovable barrier between them getting married, as he is the scion of a major Chinatown family who has been married off to secure the dynasty. The historical research that informs the books is IMPECCABLE, and they are so much fun. Also, the clothes are amaaaazing.
Literary fiction
Burial Rites, Hannah Kent. This won a lot of prizes last year - it is set in 19th century Iceland and tells the story of the last woman sentenced to death for murder. So it’s sort of a crime novel, but written in this amazing style which gives you such a sense of the isolation and daily life in rural Iceland. It reminded me a lot of Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, which I love to death - I read Burial Rites in steaming tropical heat in Fiji, and I swear I felt an Arctic chill. Really great (though I guess not even remotely about the Australian experience. So I cheated)
Grand Days, Frank Moorhouse. This is the first in a trilogy centred around Edith Campbell Berry, who is seriously a fabulous character and should totally be the heroine of a film. I’ll just give you the blurb, because it covers it off pretty well - ‘Grand Days tells of the moral and sexual awakening of an idealistic young Australian woman working in the diplomatic corps in Europe in the aftermath of World War I’. There’s all this great stuff about the early days of the League of Nations, and there’s tons of Weimarish sexual experimentation, not to mention really incisive treatment of the Australian expatriate experience. Super good.
Eucalyptus, Murray Bail. I loved this when I read it the first time years ago, because it is this absolutely exquisitely written fable that is about stories and storytelling - like a combination of a Grimm fairy tale with the Arabian Nights. The basic premise is that this gruff Australian farmer has a beautiful daughter, but he decrees that he will only permit her to get married to someone who can name every species of eucalyptus of the hundreds of trees on his enormous property. Rereading it as a slightly older person, the gender treatment took a tiny bit of the shine off - the main female character basically has no agency, though I appreciate that is a consequence of the framing device.
SF/Fantasy
(With the caveat that I realised last year that I do not read anywhere near enough spec fic by Australians. So a lot of my reading is either very new, very old or YA. I’ve also tried to stick to Aus-set stuff for consistency. You’ve already read Max Barry and Margo Lanagan, who I would’ve added to any list of Aus SF)
Peacemaker, Marianne de Pierres. Set in a future Sydney which reminds me a lot of Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City or Moxyland - lots of tech but a grimy milieu and plenty of social disparity. A whole swathe of city parkland has been turned into a protected national park that is the last major natural landscape in the world - the main character is the park ranger, and the plot kicks off with an impossible crime and the reappearance of imaginary animals that attach to people. It’s published by Angry Robot and is kind of urban fantasy crossed with crime crossed with romance - not perfect, but really interesting.
And All the Stars, Andrea K. Host. This was a YA novel that I really enjoyed, with a premise that was super-interesting and more SF than I’ve tended to see in YA (which seems to skew to fantasy for some reason?). Basically these Spires - enormous unexplained objects - pop up all over the world one day, including in Sydney. People start changing, as well - I don’t want to give too much away, but the main character is a teenage who cut school for the day and is stuck in the middle of it all. While it’s a debut novel, with all of the issues that sometimes characterise those (eg ending/wrap-up neatness), it reminded me a lot of Robert Charles Wilson in focusing on how individual people respond to these world-shattering events. PS the tagline is ‘Come for the apocalypse. Stay for cupcakes.’, which I kinda like :)
The Ghost’s Child, Sonya Hartnett. Hard to categorise- more like a dreamy fable than anything else. There is an old woman reflecting on her life, and a mysterious young man who drifts in an out of it - it is all so gorgeously written. I love Sonya Hartnett - she’s a bit like Margo Lanagan in that her books pack a massive punch in terms of the themes they deal with, but they are just so beautiful and well done. Thursday’s Child and The Silver Donkey are my two favourites of hers, but they are historical coming-of-age and YA World War One stories respectively, so not SF.
«Thanks, Keryn!, and please excuse us while we go buy ALL THESE BOOKS.»

Bookrageous Episode 74; International Literature

Preeti, Jenn, and Dustin get international.

What We’re Reading This Week - Jenn

Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff and The Copper Crown by Patricia Kenneally, because sometimes you need to turn back into that 11-year-old who was obsessed with King Arthur.

Sep 8
sagansense:

Before going into a book store and suggesting to yourself, "I’ll just take a look around. Maybe I’ll buy one book…"


Yup.

sagansense:

Before going into a book store and suggesting to yourself, "I’ll just take a look around. Maybe I’ll buy one book…"

Yup.

Sep 2

What We’re Reading This Week - Jenn

Ever since, oh, let’s say July, I’ve been trying really hard to read through all my Fall galleys in order of publication. And mostly I’ve been pretty faithful to the plan! But then Nina MacLaughlin’s (carpentrix to you, Tumblr) galley for HAMMER HEAD (out March 1 2015 I KNOW I AM SORRY OK) landed on my desk and all bets were off, as I’ve been eagerly awaiting this ever since I learned a book from her was a possibility. And it is great! MacLaughlin talks thoughtfully about having a life of the mind, having a life of the body, and the overlap (or lack theoref) between. She also writes the hell out of carpentry; you wouldn’t think that tiling a floor would make for that great a chapter. I will be rereading some of these passages just for the rhythms of them.

And then because she thanks Philip Connors in the acknowledgements (you guys, always read the acknowledgements, they can be so interesting) I remembered that I had a galley of ALL THE WRONG PLACES (February 1 2015, sorry again) (all praise to wwnorton) so I started that, and read it within a day. The topic — Connors’ brother committed suicide when they were in their 20s, and this is a memoir about the ways in which he struggled with his brother’s absence — is feeling very relevant, as there have been several suicides in my community as well as in the media in the past year. ALL THE WRONG PLACES is about depression, family, self-absorption, and healing, and Connors is a painstakingly honest narrator as well as a wordsmith. He also brought the humor — his portrayal of himself as a young socialist, copy-editing for the Wall Street Journal offers a welcome touch levity.

Ok but so then I decided I needed to read FIRE SEASON, which is Connors’ previous memoir about being a lookout in a fire-spotting station in New Mexico (which is where ALL THE WRONG PLACES ends, it’s a prequel as it were), which is out right now, it can be yours! And I recommend it if you like nature writing — Connors uses his powers of observation well, chronicling the scenery and his (few and far between) companions as well as what it’s like to be truly alone for days, weeks at a time. He intersperses it with the history of the Gila Wilderness itself, and now I probably need to go read SAND COUNTY ALMANAC.

When a famous author likes or reblogs one of your posts.

When a famous author likes or reblogs one of your posts.

What 10(ish) characters would sit at your lunch table?

Bookrageous Episode 73; Lit Lunch

Son of a baker! The new episode, in which jjchristie, runwithskizzers, and jennirl discuss what they’re reading as well as which characters would sit at their school lunch tables, is up.

What We’re Reading This Week — Jenn

Brian Francis Slattery is another of those authors I’ve read everything they’ve ever written (if you are new to him, start with Liberation, it will knock your socks off — dystopian heist centereda round economic injustice!) and this past weekend I had the pleasure of finishing his newest, The Family Hightower, which comes out on September 9 from sevenstoriespress. While it is also deeply concerned with economic issues, it’s a modern saga at a mafia-connected family (the eponymous Hightowers), plus a case of mistaken identity. It rambles all over the world, but its heart is split between Cleveland and Ukraine, and the timing of publication really strikes me. While it doesn’t address them directly (plus, it’s a novel, not meant to be a primer on international relations and economics), it certainly gives you a sideways look at the context of the current unrest in Ukraine, and the continued struggles of the American economy. If you are a Godfather fan, you should pick it up. If you’re a Slattery fan, you should pick it up. And if you are a Middlesex fan, you should pick it up.

I’m also rereading The Giver by Lois Lowry, because I probably will see the movie at some point and also it’s been 20 years since I first read it. I can’t believe how much of it I’d forgotten! Am I the only one that only just discovered the Citizen Kane reference??

When you read a review of a favorite book written by someone who didn’t like it: