A Pale View of Hills 

Dulwich Hill branch manager, radio personality, and book selling superstar, Morgan Smith tells us how it is; and our Blackheath branch sends a mountain missive.

August 2017

 - Wednesday, August 16, 2017
I’ve spent quite some time at (my freezing) home this winter so managed to fit in a lot of reading between long sleeps (not as good as it sounds). As a bookseller, my job is to sell books, not criticise them, so a few big duds from Australian authors shall remain nameless. After all this time, I think Dulwich Hill customers can pretty much read my expression when they ask me about a book I don’t like. Here are a few I did like.
A happy surprise is a debut novel by well-known academic and journo/columnist Dennis Glover, called The Last Man in Europe. Glover succeeds admirably in reimagining the life of George Orwell, in particular the events and ideas that led him to write Nineteen Eighty-Four (his preferred way of writing the title). This isn’t merely a recounting of the political ideas Orwell formulated, fascinating though they are, but also a fully realised novel about a flawed genius, his life and loves, his crippling illness and his determination to reveal the true meaning of totalitarianism—‘the crushing flat of whatever joy life promised, under the guise of efficiency, productivity and rationality’—a bit like modern capitalism or the proposed changes to the Bankstown line perhaps.
Also set in the mid-twentieth century is the spy thriller Defectors by Joseph Kanon. Simon is a publisher who travels to Russia to edit the autobiography of his famous defector brother, Frank. But Frank has hatched a plan to defect back to the States and recruits Simon to help. But all is not as it seems in this classic cold-war thriller. Gripping right to the surprising end. Very readable.
And now….drum roll….sneak preview! I have been waiting impatiently to get my paws on an advanced reading copy of Michelle de Kretser’s (winner of the Miles Franklin for Questions Of Travel) forthcoming novel The Life to Come—due in October. Given that I am a friend of Michelle it can be quite nerve-wracking to begin such a book—what if I don’t like it? How could I ever tell her, especially after the hundreds of  copies we sold of Questions? Not a very good tease as you have already guessed I love, love, love The Life to Come.
Like everything Michelle writes, this novel is not easily pigeon-holed and I’m still working on my sales pitch but this is a first draft of how it’s going to go: The Life to Come isn’t really about anything, in the way TV sitcom Seinfeld wasn’t about anything. Eschewing conventional narrative structure, de Kretser is more concerned with the connections between people, the choices they make or don’t make, the things said and left unsaid. In this beautifully elliptic novel, de Kretser takes us forward and backwards in (contemporary) time and the links between characters often seems tenuous—like so much else in this very clever story, to be teased out by the reader. These marvellously rich, mostly female, characters yearn for a life that might be, that could be, but is just out of reach, only to discover that the life to come is the one they’re living now. Stunningly written, this is a joyous, witty, intelligent and ultimately hopeful novel, an exhilarating panacea for our uncertain times. See you on D’hill, Morgan