Vintage

The Coconut Children is an assured début from nineteen-year-old novelist Vivian Pham, who has drawn upon the richness of Sydney’s south-western suburbs to construct a deeply affecting coming-of-age story revolving around teenager Sonny. Pham’s language is melodramatic at times. With bold flourishes she expertly captures the internal monologue of a teenage girl navigating the everyday travails of being a young woman – schoolyard crushes and the ‘violent ammunition of her love thoughts’, an ever-changing body, and a burgeoning sexual awakening – alongside the darker undercurrents present within Sonny’s family and her wider community: sexual abuse, domestic violence, intergenerational trauma, addiction, and poverty.

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‘When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.’ That gunshot of a quotation comes from the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz. I suspect he means writers are traitors to biology – they have higher allegiances than blood ties. Art is their true spouse; their works are the favoured first-born.

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In a 2013 interview with British literary magazine Structo, Anglo-Australian author Evie Wyld recalls lamenting to a writing tutor that she wanted to write a big action thriller, ‘something with Arnold Schwarzenegger and machine guns and blood and explosions’ but was always writing ‘really quiet little paragraphs about Dads’. These paragraphs evolved into her haunting début novel, After the Fire, A Still Small Voice (2009). Wyld’s Miles Franklin Award-winning second novel, All the Birds, Singing (2013), was followed by a graphic memoir produced in collaboration with Joe Sumner, Everything Is Teeth (2015), detailing childhood summers spent on Wyld’s grandparents’ sugar cane farm and her shark fixation. The Bass Rock, her new novel, may not be a big action thriller either, but it is far from quiet and there is plenty of blood.

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Elliot Perlman’s fourth novel is tentatively billed as a corporate satire and has a striking opening line: ‘I am absolutely terrified of losing a job I absolutely hate.’ The man in this all-too-familiar predicament is Stephen Maserov, a former English teacher turned lawyer. Maserov is a lowly second year in the Terry Gilliam-esque law firm Freely Savage Carter Blanche, which, apart from sounding like a character in a Tennessee Williams play, is home to loathsome dinosaurs in pinstripe suits and an HR department referred to as ‘The Stasi’.

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Leah Kaminsky’s novel The Hollow Bones focuses on Ernst Schäfer, a German who was sent to Tibet by Himmler in the late 1930s, outwardly to collect plant and animal specimens; secretly to ‘search for the origins of the Aryan race’. Himmler’s abhorrent obsessions are not focused on ...

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To complement our 2017 ‘Books of the Year’, we invited several senior publishers to nominate their favourite books – all published by other companies.

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Between the wars, the dominant mode of Australian fiction was the saga: tales of land-taking and nation-building, melodramas within families across generations, characters shaped by loneliness and obsession ...

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While explorations of Australia at war have never been short on ‘male stories’, the prevalence of the masculine frame may yet increase in coming years as part of the ongoing examination of competing forms of manhood in this country, as evidenced by the upcoming symposium ‘Embattled Men: Masculinity and War’ at the Australian National University. The publicit ...

According to the author’s note at the end of The Grand Hotel, this will probably be the last of his stories to be set in fictional Mangowak, a coastal town in south-western Victoria. The first, The Patron Saint of Eels (2005), won the 2006 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal. The second, Ron McCoy’s Sea of Diamonds (2007), was shortlisted for the 2008 New South Wales Premier’s Prize for Fiction.

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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?

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