What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.


 - Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Judy: Lila by Marilynne Robinson follows the story of the young woman who married the preacher John Ames in Gilead. It is wonderful in the same way Gilead is wonderful. Lila's life is unfolded to us slowly, anecdotally so that she comes to the reader as the enigma each of us is to another. She stands beside John Ames, and what looked like such an uneven partnership is revealed as reciprocal and equal. Stories that can reveal the meaning of the word grace are rare indeed.
I am also very much enjoying The Bush by Don Watson. His voice is full of humour and intelligence. It is a pleasure to read such straightforward prose—not a weasel word in sight! Looking at Australia through this lens is obviously close to Don Watson's heart. He grew up on a farm and he has had time to think about what we mean when we talk about 'the bush'. He is not afraid to take on some deeply held beliefs and to reveal sentimental blind spots. There is nothing smug about his arguments, however, so they have authority. He does not engage with tired dichotomies. This is a stimulating read and I am quietly thrilled that Don Watson raises issues that, as someone who loves the bush and whose family still farms, have lurked at the corners of my own psyche for many years.

Andrew: I am ploughing my way through The Emperor Waltz by Philip Hensher. This chunky novel has received incredibly strong reviews (notably in the Age by that most particular of critics, Peter Craven), and all the pundits had it picked to be on the Booker shortlist. (Main problem being that it failed to make the longlist). Strauss's joyous piece of music The Emperor Waltz, acts as a leitmotif throughout a book that jumps between the Bauhaus art scene of the Weimar Republic, gay seventies London and a Roman city in 203AD. I knew Hensher's name, but wasn't aware of his reputation; I am a fan now—this novel is immediately entrancing.

John: Life or Death by Michael Robotham—Audie Palmer has been in prison for a decade. Abused by inmates and jailers alike, he is reaching the end of his term for his involvement in an armed robbery. Four people died and the $5 million proceeds of the robbery have never been recovered. It is widely accepted that Audie knows where the money has gone but he maintains his innocence. Strangely he becomes a fugitive—escaping a day before his release. So opens the latest crime thriller from Michael Robotham. In a change of his usual locations, Life and Death is set in Texas and doesn't feature either of the protagonists from his series of novels set in Britain—DI Ruiz or psychologist Joe O'Loughlin. The change, if anything, seem to have given Michael Robotham even more vigour. Life and Death is a great read, a real 'page turner'.

Viki: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters—Sarah Waters is a master of genre writing, and this time around she gives us a combination of 20s lesbian melodrama, combined with a twist on the paranoid, suffocating darkness in which Patricia Highsmith so excelled. It's a lengthy book and midway, just as my interest was beginning to flag, the book veered suddenly and surprisingly (although I really should have been expecting it) from a thwarted romance and the 'love that dare not speak its name' into 'accidental' murder—and the ensuing blundering cover-up and police investigation had me glued to the page.