Hamish Hamilton

One of the few details we learn about the unnamed narrator of Ronnie Scott’s début novel, The Adversary, is that he is fond of Vegemite. Although only a crumb of information, this affinity for the popular breakfast tar reveals much about our hero. Just as Vegemite ‘has to be spread very thin or you realised it was salty and unreasonable’, his human interactions give him a soupçon of a social life, a mere taste that never threatens to overwhelm his senses.

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James Bradley’s Ghost Species arrives at a time when fiction seems outpaced by the speed with which we humans are changing the planet. Alarmingly, such writerly speculation has been realised during Australia’s tragic summer, when the future finally bore down on us. And there are few writers of climate fiction – or ‘cli-fi’, the term coined by activist blogger Dan Bloom and popularised in a tweet by Margaret Atwood – who so delicately straddle the conceptual divide between present and future as Bradley.

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Essays One is the first of two volumes of collected non-fiction drawn from all periods of Lydia Davis’s long career. While the second collection will, according to the author, ‘concentrate more single-mindedly on translation and the experience of reading foreign languages’, this volume has an alternating focus on writing and reading practices, translation, commentary, reviews, and personal essays. It is loosely structured, non-chronological, and doesn’t shy away from repetition or reiteration – particularly throughout the several pieces that share the subtitle ‘Forms and Influences’.

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Leah Purcell has described how her lifelong fascination with Henry Lawson’s iconic 1892 short story provided her with abundant creative ammunition. Her mother read her the story when she was five; it held a special place for them both. ‘I’d say the famous last line: “Ma, I won’t never go drovin ... she’d tear up”.’

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At seventy-six, Paul Theroux drove from his home in Cape Cod to Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state. On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican road trip is his account of this adventure, at times misinformed, on occasions tedious, with moments of entertaining, well-researched discussions about the scintillating complexity of Mexico.

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The assertion that ‘love is strong as death’ comes from the Song of Solomon, a swooning paean to sexual love that those unfamiliar with the Old Testament might be startled to find there. Songwriter and musician Paul Kelly has included it in this hefty, eclectic, and beautifully produced anthology of poetry, which has ‘meaningful gift’ written all over it. 

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Zadie Smith’s commanding collection Grand Union puts our contemporary lives and mores under the microscope. She sets her sights on the insanity (and inanity) of social media, the internet, and ‘call-out culture’, but leaves room to consider the tensions inherent in post-colonial nations, including race, gender, and sexuality.

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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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Underland is English nature writer Robert Macfarlane’s longest and, by his own admission, deepest and strangest book. It took almost a decade to write. From the remote mountain peaks of his first book,

Unlike an autobiography, which tends to be time-bound and inclusive, the memoir can wander at will in the writer’s past, searching out and shaping an idea of self. Although Geoffrey Blainey’s memoir, Before I Forget, is restricted to the first forty years of his life, its skilfully chosen episodes suggest much more ...

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