Things To Look Forward To 

David Gaunt has owned Gleebooks with partner Roger Mackell since 1976.

Festival Time

 - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

'Looking forward to' is not the most apt phrase I might use each year to describe our engagement in the annual Sydney Writers' Festival. It's a wonderfully imaginative, vibrant, engaging talk-fest, involving hundreds of writers and more than 80,000 expected readers across a multitude of venues. We are on the inside looking out as Festival booksellers, but on the outside looking in when it comes to experiencing what everyone is there to do, listening and participating. So each year, I'm left to recommend writers who shouldn't be missed, and to whom we'll listen as the weeks and months roll by afterwards, either by downloading or streaming or via the invaluable ABC repeat broadcasts.
If I WAS listening instead of selling, I'd be queuing for Ian Buruma, whose last book about WW2's final year, Year Zero: A History of 1945, is yet another example (Murder in Amsterdam is another) of his clear-eyed, intelligent & compelling view of history. I wouldn't miss anything involving David Malouf, as we celebrate his 80th birthday year, and would like to see Iranian-American writer and scholar Reza Aslan as he, and others, discuss matters of faith. Lawrence Hill and A M Homes appeal, and I'd like nothing better than to sit in Katoomba's Carrington Hotel, and enjoy Richard Flanagan in conversation with Geordie Williamson about his beautiful Narrow Road to the Deep North. Never mind, you all enjoy, we'll get back to the trolleys.
I've just read two great new books: Wild Things by Australian debut novelist Brigid Delaney, who will be a guest at the Festival, and The Temporary Gentleman by a previous Festival guest-the much-praised  Irish writer Sebastian Barry.  
The action in former Fairfax journalist Brigid Delaney's debut novel, Wild Things takes place in and around a place of considerable privilege, St Anton's College, at an unnamed University (clearly not a long way from Glebe). It's a book of disturbing power, as it charts the consequences of a hideous prank gone wrong on the weekend away of the College cricket team. Initiation rites, the abuse of power and privilege, the perilous position of young women in this environment, arcane and archaic academic and social practices, are all explored in a well-worked, absorbing narrative. It's a dark, absorbing tale about a culture of privilege which demands reform, and I recommend it.
Sebastian Barry first captured my attention with his impossibly sad World War 1 novel, A Long, Long Way in 2005. The Temporary Gentleman is the third novel in what might be called his 'McNulty Project'. The protagonist is Jack, brother to Eneas, (The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty) and brother-in-law to Roseanne, the tragic mother of a 'surrendered' child in The Secret Scripture (which is one of the saddest novels I've ever read). He is a writer drawn to the complicated, often dark subjects of Irish religion and history and nationalism through the prism of family history across a few generations. There's a lovely tenderness and sensitivity in his approach to his characters which both saves and lifts often depressing subject matter from what could be maudlin or mundane. This new book is an exploration of guilt. It opens in 1957 in post-colonial Africa, where our ageing ex-soldier protagonist, Jack McNulty (the 'Temporary Gentleman' is a reference to those promoted in war to officer level beyond their station) is reviewing his life. It's a train wreck of failure in responsibility and commitment, with a shattered family history, (in which alcoholism plays a crucial part) and yet, as our narrator sifts through the decades of his culpable neglect (he wants to make peace with his past so he can return to Sligo), the reader can't help but care and care deeply. And that is Barry's very significant achievement as a very good writer.