Imagine a cross between Tim Winton’s The Turning and Kenneth Cook’s Wake in Fright, and you might very well imagine John Kinsella’s latest collection of fiction, Tide. Kinsella, a Western Australian like Winton, writes of the coast and of the desert, of small-town life and small-town people. However, Kinsella highlights the corruption of those landscapes and people in a way that aligns his vision more with Cook’s (which should come as no surprise, given Kinsella’s anti-pastoral poetry). There are ships pumping ‘alkaline hell’ into the waters where children swim, meatworks leaking blood to the sharks, factories, mines, old batteries, and trenches. Men are ‘brutal and brutalising’. Even boys torment and humiliate one another, often with the approval or complicity of their guardians. If someone outside Australia wanted to understand a country that hounded its first female prime minister out of office and voted in Tony Abbott on a platform against boat people and the carbon tax, this is the book I would recommend.
The Swan Song of Doctor Malloy, a novel about addiction, compulsion, and recovery, is set within a fast-moving thriller. Traversing the worlds of health research, drug cartels, world politics, and corporations, it is a conspiracy novel that manages to stay just within the realms of credibility due to the specialist knowledge the author brings to the tale.
With her fifth novel, Maurilia Meehan has carved out a subversive niche of chick-lit mystery. Touted as the first of a trilogy, Madame Bovary’s Haberdashery is an amusing romp for the thinking woman, with references to Flaubert, Milan Kundera, and Agatha Christie. The decidedly feminist viewpoint is tempered by a mordant use of irony and satire.
he Darkest Little Room, Patrick Holland’s latest novel, looks at sexual slavery and obsession in South-East Asia. The protagonist is Joseph, an Australian reporter travelling in Vietnam. Intent on finding a beautiful woman glimpsed briefly, he receives word that she may be working in a brothel known as ‘the darkest little room’. In pursuing this lead, Joseph meets and falls in love with a prostitute named Thuy. Attracted to her because she is ‘weak’ and ‘beautiful’, he wants to save her from her sordid way of life. Then Joseph starts purchasing heroin for Thuy. His morals are challenged and his life endangered.
Hugh Drysdale, thirtyish, appears to have it made. An ambitious account manager with a Sydney advertising agency, he seems poised for a dazzling career. Confident of future success, he has installed his wife and son in a palatial house by the sea – with a palatial mortgage to show for it.
Patrick Holland makes his plans clear in the first sentence of Riding the Trains in Japan (his fourth book and first work of non-fiction): ‘I arrived in Kyoto in the middle of the national holiday called O-Bon, the Japanese All Souls, when Buddhists believe departed spirits may return to earth and when ancestors and the elderly are honoured.’ His subjects and themes have been identified: himself, the people and places of Asia, Eastern spirituality and tradition, and the transient nature of life and all of its cultural accessories. The opening also reveals Holland’s technical approach: a willingness to conflate personal anecdote with documentary observation, the minutiae of daily life with the grandness of tradition, and the material world with a spiritual one. Clearly, he wants to test the conventional form of travel writing.
The Well in the Shadow, whose title is drawn from Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Coonardoo (1929), is an unconventional book, shaped entirely by Chester Eagle’s idiosyncratic responses to certain writers and their work. Eagle’s engagement with, and enthusiasm for, the texts he considers are undeniable. So too is his close knowledge of the books and writers discussed. The range of subjects is broad and reasonably inclusive, but I did wonder, given the book’s subtitle, about the absence of well-known writers such as Peter Carey, Tim Winton, David Malouf, and Christina Stead. Nonetheless, the choice is diverse.
Keeping Faith, Roger Averill’s first novel after his non-fiction début, Boy He Cry: An island odyssey (2009), is a quiet and resonant piece of work. Befitting a novel set partly in a labour ward and beginning with a description of a stillborn baby, it proceeds with the knowledge that finding the right words can be difficult. It speaks carefully and tactfully, in a spare language of great focus.
Keeping Faith, Roger Averill’s first novel after his non-fiction debut, Boy He Cry: An island Odyssey (2009), is a quiet and resonant piece of work. Befitting a novel set partly in a labour ward and beginning with a description of a stillborn baby, it proceeds with the knowledge that finding the right words can be difficult. It speaks carefully and tactfully, in a spare language of great focus.
Travellers’ tales have long starred curious misfits eager to sample different ways of life in faraway places. In On the Road (1957), Jack Kerouac writes of fleeing his cultured, sedentary New York milieu for the company of the insatiable ‘Dean Moriaty’, who, rather than analysing the world from the sidelines, ‘just ra ...