Hachette

Go to any suburban shopping centre and you will find a metropolis of consumption. ‘Buy, buy, buy’, it screeches, whether you are contemplating fast-fashion T-shirts, new-age solutions to age-old problems, or services and pampering you don’t really need, all in the harsh glare of white lights and a controlled climate, temperature just right. The shopping centre, uniform and tidy, is where you can get everything you’ve ever wanted while also getting nothing at all.

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There is a celebrated moment in Jonathan Glazer’s 2004 film Birth when Nicole Kidman enters a theatre late and sits down to watch a performance of Wagner’s Die Walküre. The camera remains on her perturbed features for two whole minutes. This image kept recurring as I read Claire Thomas’s new novel, The Performance. In it, three women sit and watch a production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days (1961), alone in their thoughts, their whirring minds only occasionally distracted by the actions on stage. If for nothing else, Thomas must be congratulated on the boldness of her conceit, on her ability to make dynamic a situation of complete stasis.

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The street entrance to the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court is a scoop-hungry gauntlet of journos who spend the day jostling for soundbites, ever ready to give chase. As a rookie reporter, Louise Milligan used to be part of the Sydney court scrum, but when she arrived to give evidence in Australia’s ‘Trial of the Decade’, she had become the story. In her investigative work for ABC’s Four Corners – which begat the Walkley Book Award-winning volume Cardinal: The rise and fall of George Pell (2017)Milligan had been the first person to hear one of the criminal accusations against the Vatican’s disgraced treasurer

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When you begin to read a book about a remote town heralded by the sign ‘Darnmoor, The Gateway to Happiness’, you know it’s not going to be a happy place. The opening chapter of Nardi Simpson’s first novel describes a neat, drab town of streets with names like Grace and Hope. Under a vast cerulean sky, a whitewashed war memorial lies at its ‘bleeding and dead centre’.

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Jack by Marilynne Robinson

by
December 2020, no. 427

To read a novel by Marilynne Robinson is to step into a god-haunted world. Hers is a universe both recognisable and brilliant with strangeness, where glory and mystery abound, where revelation is never finished and souls are argued over with the greatest of gravity. At once mythic in scale and deeply attentive to the textures of this world, Robinson’s novels are full of people for whom notions of grace, redemption, and salvation are not abstractions but aspirations – people who, as Robinson once wrote of herself, look to Galilee for meaning.

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The voice on the car radio was not immediately recognisable, nor was the song familiar to me. There was just a smoky laid-back piano and someone singing a song that sounded as though it was from the 1940s: ‘Young lovers, young lovers …’ I thought the voice, whomever it belonged to, had a real musicality in it, a precision of pitch and phrasing in tandem with a kind of liquid sweetness.

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In a long career talking to and about politicians, I have learned one thing. While many fantasise about being prime minister, the key driver is to get close to the centre. Christopher Pyne captures this immediately in The Insider, comparing the political world to the solar system in which the skill is to know one’s place relative to the sun (the prime minister), and the aim is to get as close to the sun as possible. To be an insider, to know how things work, with privileged information that few others share, is the allure.

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Kokomo by Victoria Hannan

by
August 2020, no. 423

Kokomo has a startling beginning. ‘Mina knew in that moment what love is’, goes the first sentence. She is looking at Jack’s penis, which is compared to a soldier, a ballerina, a lighthouse, and a cooee. It is also the nicest penis she has ever seen.

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You are looking at a book. On its cover is a painting of a person of colour. But you can only see a portion of the piece. The face is obscured. One dark eye takes up the middle third of the page, while one nostril fills the bottom right-hand corner. The painting is covered in a layer of fine cracks – presumably due to its age. These lines show that myriad individual pieces make up the image before you, but this is still only one part of the picture. Frustratingly, you cannot see the face as a whole.

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In this absorbing first novel – which won the 2017 Richell Prize for Emerging Writers – Sam Coley tells the story of Alex, a young Aucklander who returns home from abroad after the sudden death of his parents. Alex and his estranged twin sister, Amy, set off on a reluctant road trip through New Zealand to reconnect with each other and their home country.

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