Fremantle Press

The Sawdust House by David Whish-Wilson

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April 2022, no. 441

In David Whish-Wilson’s new historical novel, The Sawdust House, it’s 1856 San Francisco, where the citizen-led Committee of Vigilance has convened to purge foreign undesirables from a city populace swollen beyond control by the gold rush. Of course, armed nativists ‘enthralled by their own performance’ are a common feature of U.S. history, from the Virginian lynch mobs of the late 1700s to that guy in the fuzzy Viking hat parading around the Capitol Building just last year. In an intriguing twist, however, the pitchforks are aimed this time at those ‘vermin from some hellish southern continent’, aka Australians, particularly a criminal element who congregate in a lawless quarter nicknamed Sydney-town.

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Another book about a mother by a daughter, I thought when I saw this one, summoning to mind Biff Ward’s In My Mother’s Hands (2014), Kate Grenville’s One Life (2015), and Nadia Wheatley’s Her Mother’s Daughter (2018). But while each of those books presents an impressive woman cramped – sometimes tragically so – by her postwar circumstances, in this case we have a subject who was nothing short of a national treasure.

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The Gleaner Song by by Song Lin, translated by Dong Li & Vociferate | 詠 by Emily Sun

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September 2021, no. 435

The Chinese poet is so often a wanderer and an exile. The tradition goes back to Qu Yuan (c.340–278 BCE), author of ‘Encountering Sorrow’, the honest official who was banished from court and drowned himself in a river, and it continues to our time. During the Sino–Japanese war (1937–45) a group of patriotic early Chinese modernists were displaced from their Beijing universities to an improvised campus in the south-west, where they read avant-garde Western poetry.

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Writers seeking publication are often advised to have an ‘elevator pitch’ ready. These succinct book-hooks are designed to jag a trapped publisher in the wink between a lift door closing and reopening. Has this insane tactic ever actually worked? No idea. But it’s fun to imagine the CEO of Big Sales Books, on their way up to another corner-office day of tallying cricket memoir profits, blindsided by three of the looniest elevator pitches imaginable. A novel narrated by Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles! A faux political memoir about a prime minister and his shark vendetta! An academic satire cum historical mystery mashup told largely through the – wait, wait, wait! – footnotes of a PhD thesis! That CEO will probably take the stairs next time, but kudos to the independent publishers who saw the potential in these experimental works and their début authors. Whatever the path of weird Australian writing, long may it find its way to these pages.

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Determining connections between books sent as a review bundle is not mandatory, but there is an irresistible tendency to find some common theme. In the case of these three novels, the theme of women’s pain, and hidden pain at that, does not need to be teased out – it leaps out. Since it is unlikely that three different authors would have colluded, the prevalence of this is worth deeper reflection, especially considering recent titles such as Kylie Maslen’s essays on illness, Show Me Where It Hurts, or Kate Middleton’s extraordinary memoir essay ‘The Dolorimeter’, placed second in the 2020 Calibre Prize.

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Liz Byrski’s introduction to Women of a Certain Rage is, among other things, a homage to second-wave feminism and a lament that feminism, ‘originally a radical countercultural movement’, has been ‘distorted into a tool of neoliberalism’. While there is no doubt that strains of feminism have been co-opted by neoliberalism to debilitating effect, this narrative – that feminism has become ineffectual since the 1970s – is one that erases many contemporary feminisms, as well as broader feminism-informed political movements and the work that they have done and continue to do.

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True West by David Whish-Wilson

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March 2020, no. 419

True West is the latest historical crime thriller from David Whish-Wilson, author of The Summons (2006), Perth (2013), The Coves (2018), and the Frank Swann series. True West is set in Western Australia in 1988, the time when Jack van Tongeren’s Australian Nationalist Movement (ANM) was papering the city with hundreds of thousands of racist posters, and when John Howard and Ian Sinclair were calling for a reduction in Asian immigration. True West ’s protagonist, seventeen-year-old Lee Southern, is on the run from the Knights, a Geraldton-based bikie gang whose marijuana plantation he torched in retaliation for his father’s murder.

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A Stolen Life: The Bruce Trevorrow case by Antonio Buti & My Longest Round by Wally Carr and Gaele Sobott

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August 2019, no. 413

Philip Larkin famously suggested that ‘they fuck you up, your mum and dad’, but the alternative is usually worse. Twenty years before Larkin wrote ‘This Be the Verse’, his compatriot John Bowlby published Maternal Care and Mental Health (1951), which described profound mental health consequences when ...

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In Driving Into the Sun, Marcella Polain – winner of the Anne Elder Award, the Patricia Hackett Prize, and more – has done an excellent job of capturing the inner emotional landscape of a young girl growing up fatherless in Perth’s outer suburbia in the 1960s ...

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The plethora of crime stories is such that, in order to succeed, they must either follow a well-trodden narrative path and do so extremely well, or run with a high concept and hope for the best. Having the word ‘girl’ in the title doesn’t hurt. Readers are familiar with genre tropes ...

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