New Australian Fiction 2020
Edited by Rebecca Starford, Kill Your Darlings, $ 24.95
So new is this anthology of the Australian short story that the pandemic is creeping in on the edges and, whether or not coronavirus is present, an aura of crisis clings to many of the stories it contains.
In Miranda Riwoe’s So Many Ways, a waitress who is afraid of an abortion suddenly loses her job when the Chinese restaurant she works at has to close. In KA Rees’ Among The Ruins, a game developer travels to a highly irradiated Chernobyl-style exclusion zone for inspiration.
And the strongest story, Laura Stortenbeker’s Low Light, unfolds from improbable material – its premise would not be out of place in a traffic safety ad – into a brilliantly observed friendship between two young men. There are disappointments. The writing is seldom as mature, well elaborated and emotionally intelligent as Stortenbeker’s, but at some point in Australian publishing, the band is certainly on the cutting edge.
Sue Miller, Bloomsbury, $ 29.99
This elegant novel introduces us deeply into a literary family. The exuberant bookstore owner Graham and his art photographer Annie have been happily married for decades, with a grown-up daughter Sarah and the son of the book editor Lucas from Graham’s previous marriage. When Graham dies, his family reflects the influence of this larger-than-life character – no more exploratory than Annie, whose introversion and artistic self-doubt always seemed strange to a man whose easy charm, confidence, and lust for the joys of life struck everyone he met . We have the impression of a loving marriage that was not without cost to Annie. She has the opportunity to discover herself that only loneliness can give her. Monogamy is a calm and decisive questioning of marriage, grief and art.
Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, Del Rey, $ 32.99
The Hollow Ones are full of action and creepy set pieces that are skeletal in terms of depth of character and style. It seems to be composed with a movie in mind, and if one of the writers is Oscar-winning Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water), that’s perfectly understandable. The novel combines supernatural horror and crime novels. FBI agent Odessa Hardwicke participates in a multiple homicide to shoot her partner after attempting to kill a young girl. She believes a demonic presence possessed her colleague, and after being suspended from duty, Odessa is advised by Earl Solomon – the first black detective in the office – on how to hunt down the demon in charge. Despite visually inventive horror scenes, it is often a cookie cutter with predictable relationship dynamics and mysterious plot points.
The book of the two ways
Jodi Picoult, Allen & Unwin, $ 32.99
Bestselling Jodi Picoult loses control of her material in The Book of Two Ways. Dawn, a PhD student in Egyptology, changed her life plan early when her mother dies and she has to look after her 13-year-old brother. Dawn becomes pregnant, marries a Harvard physicist, and gives up archeology to become a hospice worker. Her regrets surfaced years later when her own child is a teenager: an old flame and the spirit of her career beckoning. The novel deals with timeless questions of life, death and love, but both pace and credibility suffer from the author’s lack of reluctance. Picoult can’t resist Info throwing away every last point of their research. The result is dull and crowded, the narrative groaning under the weight of its subjects.
More than a woman
Caitlin Moran, Ebury Press, $ 32.99
This tour of the daily life of a mother of two in her mid-forties could be described as something like Bridget Jones’s middle-aged diary. But there is more to it than that. British newspaper columnist Caitlin Moran’s reflections on the crowded hours of her life are weird, frank, nervous and wistful – whether it’s examining her naked body in the bathroom mirror (and feeling good about it), planning sex with her husband, Parents, dealing with their parents’ imminent divorce, or pulling out a dead mouse from under the fridge. But the chatty style falls away when dealing with her daughter’s severe eating disorder. After the bestseller How to be a woman, it is about the diverse requirements of being a mother, a woman, a writer and simply being yourself. Along the way, she records a happy marriage and her husband’s contributions.
On our doorstep
Craig Collie, Allen & Unwin, $ 32.99
The lightning-fast advance of the Japanese on the Malay Peninsula, the fall of Singapore, and their arrival in New Guinea are a familiar story. But it’s still dramatic and told quite grippingly by Craig Collie, who can often be lopsided in his observations. The British and Australians constantly underestimated the Japanese, which was particularly noticeable in the clumsy leadership in Singapore – Australia’s General Gordon Bennett fled in a sampan.
It’s a story of Western hubris and arrogance, but when the Japanese bombed Darwin we overestimated it. Fear of invasion was widespread across the country when, as Admiral Tojo said after the war, a physical occupation of Australia was never planned. Collie weighs all the evidence and comes to the same conclusion.
Ben Pobjie, Affirm Press, $ 32.99
Somerset Maugham said when the final reckoning was made he would be the runner-up right up there in the front row. Ben Pobjie doesn’t mention Maugham in this comical dedication to runner-up, but he draws on a long line of followers from history – from the second fleet (a disaster signed by a slave trading company), followed by Buzz Aldrin in Neil Armstrong’s steps (Belka and Strelka, the second dogs in space) to our second Prime Minister Alfred Deakin.
Perhaps most fascinating is the story of the British scientist Rosalind Franklin, who was dead when James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering the DNA double helix. However, their pioneering work paved the way for them. This is entertaining in a terrible way.
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