What We're Reading 

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

July 2019

Gleebooks Bookshop - Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Andrew: The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith—Dominic Smith has produced a wonderful follow-up to his bestseller, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, with an international adventure seen through the eyes of a brilliant silent film auteur.  Smith has that wonderful juggler’s skill of keeping all the balls in the air with his fiction. He effortlessly uses social and historical research across a range of locales (this one opens in a seedy dive of a hotel in fifties Hollywood, but then zig zags from 1890s Paris, to a vaudeville addicted New Jersey to battlelines of the First World War), and he conjures up engaging characters in a matter of sentences. Throw in a knack for moving plot along at a cracking pace, and a consummate knowledge of his subject, and you’ve got a singularly good fiction writer of the William Boyd ilk. I was delighted by the cameo appearance of a late nineteenth century Tamarama too—if you don’t know why Wonderland Avenue is named as such, I implore you to Google it! 

Stef: The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades—This is the sequel to The Woolgrower’s Companion, but can be read as a stand-alone. I’ve been glued to my armchair finishing it this morning—it’s not normally my genre, but I really wanted to see if Rhoades could follow up with a good sequel to Woolgrower’s, and she has. It’s 1948 and Kate Dowd is running Amiens, a sizeable sheep station in NSW. The cards are stacked against her—estranged husband Jack wants an outlandish amount of money to walk away from their marriage and keep her honour intact; the neighbouring farmer who has neglected his property and put both properties at risk is sowing seeds of doubt about Kate’s farming and fire protection management; a disgruntled former property manager is out to seek revenge; not to mention the local policeman, bank manager and store owner, come volunteer fire Captain—who all disapprove of Kate as a landholder; plus the Aborigines Welfare Board, who are threatening to dismantle Kate’s household by removing either Daisy, Kate’s domestic, or Pearl—Daisy’s daughter and Kate’s half-sister. What a thrilling read! Drama, plenty of tension and a touch of romance—just enough to keep hope alive. Due for release in August.

Jonathon: Clear Bright Future by Paul Mason—A call to arms, for a new radical humanism, inspired by Aristotle, The Enlightenment and Marxism. Mason has a similar diagnosis of our present to alt-right figures like Jordan Peterson: postmodernism and the chaos and disorientation, he argues, it has lead to. The coming age of AI and machines that may well control us—that some already call for our surrender to—is the fire behind Mason’s plea for a return to an ethics based on global, human-oriented goals. Some great analysis of the present moment here; and some interesting takes on Marx’s legacy—and the legacy of humanism.

David M: Careful He Might Hear You by Sumner Locke Elliott—
I am ashamed to reveal that I have only just caught up with this Australian classic. With superb control of narrative voice and flow, and a wonderful ear for language, thought and feeling, a compelling story that is guided to its satisfying conclusion. Careful, don’t miss it.

Jack: The Porpoise by Mark Haddon—Oh dear, one of those compulsive novels that turn the stomach, break the heart and create an urgent need to witness violent retribution. Is that a recommendation? Nervously, yes...

Judy: Milkman by Anna Burns—Swept into a divided neighbourhood in 1970s Northern Ireland on a tide of rich English Irish prose—think Eimear McBride meets Anne Enright—that is the experience of reading Milkman. Years of violence and local warfare drives people crazy. But precisely what sort of crazy? Well this is the novel that will take you to scenarios to rival Samuel Beckett. How walking-while-reading puts a person beyond-the-pale. How attracting the ownership intentions (otherwise called ‘romantic hostilities’) of a Renouncer Official—Milkman—can mark you out for death from Renouncers and The State alike. How working assiduously on your skills of not being present, being non-responsive, eats away and hollows you out in bizarre ways. How looking at, and seeing, a sunset is probably subversive. The book is frightening, so disquieting, and outrageously funny. Our narrator is known to us only as ‘maybe–girlfriend’, sister-in-law, daughter, older sister to ‘wee sisters’, and yet I was so drawn to her. She is a deeply compassionate survivor along with her community of ‘people of the rumour’.

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