Penguin Random House

It seems hard to imagine that we need more books on World War I after the tsunami of publications released during the recent centenary. Yet, here we have a blockbuster, a 926-page tome, Staring at God, by Simon Heffer, a British journalist turned historian in the tradition of Alistair Horne and Max Hastings.

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Katharine England reviews 'Firehead' by Venero Armanno

Katharine England
Friday, 13 December 2019

Publicists obviously rack their brains for innovative ways to promote their books: new novels have come equipped with bookmarks, balloons, and boxes of matches (Rosie Scott’s Lives on Fire), and six pages of variegated hype is not uncommon for a book targeted as a future best-seller. Random House, however, have recently come up with a format that is genuinely useful to reviewers: a neat, double-sided fold that incorporates – instead of the insistent ‘marketing points’ and the publicist’s puff picking out all the best quotes and rendering them instantly second-hand – a summary of the plot, a couple of style-bytes, and an interview in which the author discusses the genesis of the novel.

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Andrew Johnson’s first day in the White House was less than promising. Whether, as his supporters claimed, he was suffering from illness and had attempted to self-medicate or had simply been celebrating his new position as vice president, Johnson was devastatingly drunk. It was 3 March 1865, the Civil War was rapidly drawing to a close, and the recently re-elected President Lincoln was to deliver his second inaugural address. In prose that would eventually be inscribed across the walls of his marble memorial, Lincoln reflected on God, war, and the emerging challenge of how to rehabilitate a divided Union. The vice president’s words that day were barely decipherable and after prostrating himself before a Bible and subjecting it to a long wet kiss, he was quickly ushered away.

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In his latest novel, Everything I Knew, Peter Goldsworthy uses this famous quotation. Indeed, it is so apposite that it might well have provided the epigraph. Everything I Knew is, in part, a self-conscious reworking of Hartley’s The Go-Between (1953). The first-person narrator, Robert Burns, is a naïve fourteen-year-old boy in desperate thrall to a young woman. But where the emotional life of Hartley’s boy protagonist is destroyed by the precipitate arrival of sexual knowledge, Everything I Knew subverts this notion.

The year is 1964 and the setting is Penola, a country town in South Australia. Robbie is a Year Seven schoolboy, precociously intelligent, restlessly pubescent. His father is the town policeman and his mother a well-meaning but stolid housewife. The community is narrow; everyone knows everyone else. At the beginning of the novel, Robbie is beginning to outgrow Billy, his best friend from primary school, an Indigenous boy with a reputation for getting into trouble that Robbie, to a lesser extent (being white), shares.

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This amazing novel comes in two parts, a 431-page prose Saga, and a 123 page verse Ballad. The whole is held together by a Narrator, who tells the Saga as a gloss on the Ballad, which he found in an old bike shed in an abandoned mailbag. The ballad was written by Orion the Poet, a young man called Timothy Papadirnitriou ...

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2018 Publisher Picks

Nathan Hollier et al.
Tuesday, 18 December 2018

To complement our ‘Books of the Year’ feature, which appeared in the December 2018 issue, we invited some senior publishers to nominate their favourite books of 2018 – all published by other companies.

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In September 2018, NewSouth published a new edition of A Certain Style.

On a chilly evening in 1980, a stylish woman in her early seventies, wheezing slightly from a lifetime’s cigarettes, climbed a staircase just beneath the Harbour Bridge, entered a room full of book editors – young women mostly, university-educated, making their way ...