Hachette

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

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December 2014, no. 367

Lila is the third of Marilynne Robinson’s novels to take the small Iowan town of Gilead as its setting. It follows the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead (2004) and the Orange Prize-winning Home (2008). Robinson has attributed her earlier return to this fictional territory, and the lives of the Ames and Boughton families, to her unwillingness to bid them farewell at the conclusion of Gilead. We have this same sentiment, perhaps, to thank for Lila, which – while it ultimately leads us back to the world of Reverend John Ames – begins far from Gilead’s quiet streets.

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Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke

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June–July 2014, no. 362

Maxine Beneba Clarke is already a well-known Melbourne voice: a fiction writer and slam poet with an enthusiastic following. Now we have her first collection of short stories, Foreign Soil – the winner of the 2013 Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript – and it is a remarkable collection indeed. While its ten stories, ranging in length ...

Shadows, shallows, tides, secrets, aching hearts, and tragedy. ‘The love and the grief and the joy and the pain and all the emotion’ – oh the emotion – in Hannah Richell’s new novel, centred around a secluded lake, can leave one feeling thoroughly water-logged. Richell’s close follow-up to Secrets of the Tides (2012) uses similar techniques to depict another troubled family that must confront secrets from its past.

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O

ver fifty years have passed since I wrote my first tutorial essay in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE), or Modern Greats, as it was known in Oxford. The subject was the Great Reform Bill of 1832, which for the first time in over a century expanded the right to vote and redrew the electoral map of Great Britain ...

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In the opening pages of The Casual Vacancy, a man named Barry Fairbrother collapses and dies in the car park of the Pagford Golf Club. For the next seven chapters, news of his premature demise spreads through the small English town. Reactions vary

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Hannah Richell’s début novel, Secrets of the Tides, undoubtedly enjoyed a boost in sales when it was named the Australian Women’s Weekly ‘Great Read’ for the month of May. A family drama in the style of Jodi Picoult, Richell’s first foray into the women’s fiction market has proved its author’s marketing savvy. A former professional marketer for Pan Macmillan, Hachette, and Hodder & Stoughton, Richell certainly knows how to pitch a bestseller. Unfortunately, while Richell might know a great story when she sees one, her technique leaves a little to be desired.

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Promise is set on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, although it might as well be Siberia so far as any claims to historical or social verisimilitude are concerned. Just about every stereotype ever devised in the name of crime fiction has been assembled here, resulting in a story so over the top as to stretch credulity beyond breaking point.

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How complex a task it is to write the biography of a writer. For writers, whose daily business is making things up, the truest experience may be one they have imagined. All biographers need to be storytellers and private detectives, but the biographer of a writer must also be a literary critic, must account for how the work relates to the life and escapes the life; beyond this, how the experience of writing it might change how the author apprehends those other parts of experience, called facts.

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