Hachette

From its raw and revelatory prologue, Nigel Featherstone’s novel Bodies of Men offers a thoroughly humanising depiction of Australians during World War II. In telling the story of two soldiers, William – too young to be a corporal – and his childhood friend ...

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Closing Down is about survival and the rituals that allow it; those that keep the fraying edges of life and society together, that stop a relationship disintegrating, that stave off insanity. In her début novel – which won the inaugural Richell Prize for Emerging Writers – Susan Abbott asks: how do you survive when your world is breaking into pieces?

In this gripping first novel, Sarah Schmidt re-imagines the lives of Lizzie Borden, her family, and the brutal double murder of her father and stepmother, for which Lizzie became notorious. Set in and around the Borden’s house at Fall River, Massachusetts, the narrative has a dense, claustrophobic air that feeds the portrayal of this family as menacingly close.

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Peter Polites’s first novel is remarkable in its power to evoke growing up caught between conflicting cultural and sexual identities. It tells the story of Bux, a gay man haunted by his addiction to painkillers, his abusive relationship with his drug-dealing bodybuilder boyfriend, his violent alcoholic Greek father, and a childhood where his sexuality and his trad ...

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke & Carrying the World by Maxine Beneba Clarke

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October 2016, no. 385

Across two new titles, Maxine Beneba Clarke offers an unflinching portrayal of the impact of racism, and transcends form in turning a lens on Australian society ...

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In the world of Australian popular entertainment, few personalities are more prominent than Bert Newton. Since the 1950s he has been a presence on radio and television, as announcer, talk show host, compère, interviewer, and musical comedy star. Love him or loathe him, ‘Old Moonface’ has impressed as much for his ability to survive the ups and downs of showbiz politics as for his body of work. Whatever fate has thrown at him, he has risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes until the expiration of his Channel Nine contract earlier this year. Graeme Blundell’s biography attempts to reveal the man behind the flashing smile and famously quick wit. He draws on news reports, personal interviews with Newton’s colleagues and friends, as well as extracts from articles and television programs, to build a composite picture of a media celebrity.

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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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Certain catchwords – ‘quirky’, ‘heartwarming’, ‘uplifting’ – mark the media coverage surrounding the release of Western Australian Brooke Davis’s first novel, Lost & Found. Perhaps foreseeing this, Davis presents her twee characters in a slightly laboured, albeit fashionable, manner: the elderly Karl in colourful braces; the agoraphobic widow Agatha; and Millie Bird, a Disneyesque seven-year-old grieving for her lost parents while camping out in a closed department store. All three protagonists come together for an unlikely adventure across Davis’s palpable, yet homogenous, Australian outback.

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Favel Parrett’s second novel, When the Night Comes, opens with its teenage protagonist Isla lying awake in her bunk on a night ferry to Tasmania in the mid-1980s, ‘waiting for the rough seas’. Her younger brother sleeps beside her, and her distracted, emotionally distant mother – the kind of woman who is ‘always sitting places by herself in the night’ – is smoking on deck. Together, the three are weathering the roiling overnight passage in order to escape a violent past and make a new life in Hobart. The rough seas the novel goes on to navigate are, as one might expect, both literal and metaphorical.

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Silvia Kwon’s début novel explores the legacy of war on an Australian family, seen mainly through the eyes of the wife of a returned soldier. The prologue comprises a vivid and disturbing flashback to Burma in 1944, where Merna’s husband Frank spent time ‘on the line’.

Although narrated in the third person, this is Merna’s story, told from the point of view of a wife torn between the conflicting needs of husband and son. Back on the farm in the 1960s in the Wimmera, against a backdrop of endless drought, Frank struggles to keep afloat, while his son sets his sights on a distant land of opportunity, Japan. Merna takes on the role of peacemaker in a battle between the two men, whose opposing outlooks provide the novel’s source of conflict.

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