Book reviewers Cameron Woodhead and Fiona Capp take a look at the latest fiction and non-fiction releases.
Fiction selection of the week
Everything that is not said
Tracey Link, HQ, $32.99
A young man is murdered in a Vietnamese restaurant in Cabramatta on the eve of his high school graduation. Her sister Ky Tran, an aspiring Melbourne journalist, returns to Sydney to grieve, and faced with a cone of silence that seems to have descended on the community, she attempts to uncover the truth behind her “bad death”.
The restaurant wasn’t empty that night – raising the possibility of numerous witnesses to the crime – and Ky is determined to interview them all, leaving no stone unturned in her quest to solve the case.
Tracey Lien found an inspired fusion of the Liane Moriarty-style murder mystery and a keen account of the experience of immigrants (many of them refugees) in Australia in the mid-1990s, amid the rise of Pauline’s One Nation Hanson and an increasingly draconian policy of asylum seekers. Literary crime with a gripping insight into one of Sydney’s largest Vietnamese communities, Everything that is not said sacrifices none of the suspense that the mystery genre should offer.
Richard McHugh, Penguin, $32.99
Class is a dirty word in Australia – such an affront to our egalitarian pretensions that we like to pretend it doesn’t exist here. The cup cuts through the shit in a dark satire on class privilege that comes across as a sort of antipode Bonfire of the Vanities.
Iron mining heir Lance Alcocke has a problem. His pet project, Madeleine’s Monster mine in the Pilbara, is hemorrhaging money. Korean creditors are going in circles. Young engineer Will Fulbright was among thousands of workers laid off when the mine closed. He finds himself destitute, addicted to drugs and (the ultimate humiliation) he is forced to live with his future mother whistleblower in middle age. No wonder his left-handed girlfriend Justine left him.
For her part, Justine convinced a major donor to fund the refugee organization she leads, although it’s never wise to stare a gift horse in the mouth. Events return to Will’s old boss as this harrowing social thriller turns into comic grotesque.
Cautionary Tales for Horny Girls
Anne Casey-Hardy, Scribner, $29.99
Featuring girls and women (not to mention the characters caught in the uncertain boundaries that separate them), Cautionary Tales for Horny Girls contains a moody mix of innocence and experience. The collection is a mix of fictional shorts that vary widely in tone and quality.
One story sees a woman in love waking up in a Van Gogh painting, another follows the machinations of a baby thief, a third imagines a woman fantasizing about pregnancy and being scolded by her ruthless teenage daughter. There’s everything from girls in a school camp defending their territory against male invasion to office workers conspiring to steal leftover food from corporate events.
Anne Casey-Hardy’s best writing captures the ordeal of adolescence with dark comic liveliness and psychological complexity, though some of these stories lack the weight of fable necessary to justify and enrich repetitive themes.
All the broken places
John Boyne, Doubleday, $32.99
John Boyne made a name for himself as the author of the best-selling children’s novel The boy in the striped pajamas. This novel depicted life in a Nazi concentration camp through the eyes of a child, though it frustrated some Holocaust educators, who viewed its oversimplifications as unnecessary to the cause.
All the broken places is a questionable sequel – a novel for adults examining the guilt and complicity of children caught up in war crimes. Old Gretel Fernsby lives comfortably in London. When she meets and befriends the young son of her new neighbors, a traumatic and terrible secret from her own childhood resurfaces, and Gretel is faced with another choice that echoes the decision she made. several decades ago.
I am not sure The boy in the striped pajamas needed a sequel at all, but it certainly didn’t deserve this laborious, hastily sketched, and often wildly implausible sequel.
Non-fiction pick of the week
Alisa Bryce, Text, $34.99
This is a good EFFing book: Educational, Fascinating and Fun. Excuse the “dirty” language, but we are talking about soil. And not in the usual, specialized way.
In addition to digging into the great subjects of life and death, Alisa Bryce shows that the ground is at the bottom of almost everything. It’s popular to say we’re made of stardust, but Bryce is more down to earth. “Your eyes contain atoms that were once, perhaps, a dinosaur’s fingernail.”
Part of the plot of Based is the way he takes us below the surface of the ordinary, whether it’s to find out why playgrounds are built on a foundation of sand, what grains of dirt on a suspicious shovel reveal about fleece, the properties antibacterials of clay, the science behind the ancient practice of “geophagy” (eating soil), how the soil of a battlefield can affect the outcome of a war, or, for the child in everyone from us, how to escape quicksand!
Against the disappearance
Ed., Leah Jing McIntosh and Adolfo Aranjuez, Pantera Press, $32.99
The tension between speech and silence, between saying too much and not saying enough, runs through this collection of bold essays on memory by First Nations writers and writers of color.
For Mykaela Saunders writing about her Uncle Kev, it’s all about how to tell the story of their relationship without encroaching on other people’s stories and secrets. Lur Alghurabi’s reluctance comes from a similar place. She is haunted by her mother’s silence about the pain of her Iraqi upbringing and the loss of her brother. At the same time, she refuses to play the role she feels assigned to the refugee of “heroic victim” whose “resilience” grants them a happy ending.
In her beautiful piece on the art of calligraphy, Hannah Wu recalls her surprise when her father, a man of few words, told her, “If you hold things back, they will reappear in a different place.”
Geoffrey Gibson and Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Hardie Grant, $35
Part of me enjoyed this idiosyncratic guide to clear thinking and composition. As you’d expect from a book written by two old friends who happen to be a lawyer and a poet, it’s friendly, demanding and informative. And despite all his concern for logic and precision, he wisely recognizes that language, even well used, has its limits.
At the same time, another part of me couldn’t help but notice that this book is imbued with a certain clubbishness – middle-aged guys whose frame of reference is subconsciously exclusive lamenting the decline of english speaking and footy speaking. While quotes from prominent men follow one after the other, no woman notices a mention – especially in the part written primarily by Gibson.
Interestingly, “Generation X” is on the alphabetical list of terms to avoid but “baby boomer” is not. I put down my file. (With a smiling emoji.)
Michael and Frankie Lipman, Allen and Unwin, $32.99
“Too many blows to the head” was the joking way ex-rugby player Michael Lipman poked fun at the odd things he found himself saying or doing. Neither he nor others realized the truth of it – that he suffered from traumatic brain injury from more than 30 concussions and early onset dementia.
Michael bursts into this story as he bursts into the world of Frankie: a larger-than-life, freewheeling force of nature. The signs of her condition were there when they first met, but Frankie took her quirks to simply be quirks of her character. It took a few years of marriage before a diagnosis gave meaning to his increasingly erratic behavior, memory loss and apparent recklessness.
Concussion is a direct duet in which Michael and Frankie capture the day-to-day reality of this condition and how Michael found purpose by breaking the silence surrounding his injury and devoting himself to its prevention.
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