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Hurrah! 2021—although so far not a whole lot better than 2020 with continuing uncertainty surrounding the virus. But let’s not think about that for the moment because there’s an embarrassment of riches coming in the form of fiction, both Australian and international.

The Performance, the second novel by Australian Claire Thomas (Fugitive Blue) is a stunningly original story about three women at the theatre, watching a Beckett play. I must admit my reading of the book was rather spoiled by the fact I had it stuck in my mind the play was Waiting for Godot, but only later did I realise the play being described is actually Happy Days, a play I had forgotten. As the performance ensues, and while fire surrounds the city, the lives of Margot, an older professor, Ivy a philanthropist and Summer, a young usher are revealed. There’s something beautifully intimate about the way we are allowed into these character’s lives—how in the dark, at a play or concert, our minds wander off to our everyday lives, worries and relationships. This is a wonderfully nuanced novel about women we care about and admire. I suspect that if one were to study the novel in-depth with a reading of the Beckett play, all sorts of parallels and metaphors may be found. A lovely, rewarding book.

From America, a debut by Irish writer, Una Mannion, A Crooked Tree. This is a superbly written novel centred on the children of a single mother in Pennsylvania. I don’t particularly enjoy books about teenagers but the characters here—mainly the sisters Ellen and Libby as well as their friends—are so convincingly drawn, you can’t help but be immersed in their story. You see the adults through their teenage prism which can be frustrating (why don’t the kids tell the adults the danger they’re in?) but ultimately this is an impressively written, multi-layered debut about the mistakes we make and their unexpected ramifications.

A Net For Small Fishes by Lucy Jago is an historical novel based on a true story and has Netflix series written all over it—not that there’s anything wrong with that! Anne and Frankie, women in the 17th Century court of James 1, defy the hideous restrictions against women of the day and of course, pay the price. While the book reads a little like a costume melodrama, it is hugely enjoyable and if nothing else, makes one happy to be a woman living in this century.

Lastly, I was highly impressed with journalist Michael Brissenden’s second crime novel Dead Letters. A crime novel that has it all—a good, complicated plot (tick), a fabulous setting in our familiar inner-city Sydney (tick), and a sexy, but troubled protagonist (tick). Throw in politics, counter terrorism, media, a tenacious and attractive female journalist for the love interest and bingo! A thoroughly enjoyable local crime novel. Possibly even Ned Kelly Award material. Loved it.

If David Gaunt hasn’t already pipped me at the post, I look forward to reviewing journalist (and Dulwich local) Jacqueline Maley’s fabulous (April) debut The Truth About Her. Be prepared people—it will be thrust into your hands with no argument brooked.
See you on D’hill! Best, Morgan