Books

THIS MONTH I’VE GONE LOOK­ING FOR SOME­THING OUT OF THE OR­DI­NARY.

Country Style - - CONTENTS - RE­VIEWS ANNABEL LAW­SON NOVEM­BER 2017

THE MAN WHO CLIMBS TREES

James Al­dred, W.H. Allen, $29.99

Fab­u­lously dif­fer­ent from any­thing you’ve read be­fore, Al­dred’s mem­oir of climb­ing and in­hab­it­ing the world’s tallest and most un­yield­ing red­woods and eu­ca­lypts re­veals him not only as a bril­liant writer but a true men­sch. High winds, in­sects, snakes, crotch rot, mag­gots in the scro­tum — noth­ing will de­ter him. And the fact that no one told HM the Queen that the BBC was go­ing to film Al­dred climb­ing the plane tree tap­ping at her win­dow, thus ex­pos­ing him to a right royal scowl and not a wave — well he could grin and bear it.

WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?

Alyssa Mas­tromonaco, Lit­tle Brown, $29.99

“Go get me a diet Coke, would you?” said a ju­nior staffer to baby-faced, pint-sized Alyssa Mas­tromonaco, who just hap­pened to be deputy chief of staff to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. It’s her own fault. She buys cast-offs from the op shop and wore denim to Buck­ing­ham Palace. In her riv­et­ing mem­oir she spares the reader noth­ing — poo and vomit fea­ture in her story as the over­worked team gorge on junk food and dodgy drinks at all hours. Alyssa is top notch at her job. She man­ages to buy a sec­ond-hand plane for the pres­i­dent for a mere $3 mil­lion, in the mid­dle of nowhere and with­out a credit card. And there are some real scoops, for ex­am­ple, what hap­pened at the Copenhagen cli­mate talks with Obama burst­ing in on the meet­ing they tried to ex­clude him from. But there’s far too much about Alyssa’s IBS, which strikes at the worst mo­ments, plac­ing a pall over meet­ings with the Pope and other im­por­tant peo­ple. A tell-all view from the top of the moun­tain.

THE ZOO

Christo­pher Wil­son, Faber And Faber, $24.99

Stalin’s corpse lies in state but Yuri spots that it is not the tyrant but one of his stand-ins who has been killed for the oc­ca­sion. As a re­sult of a traf­fic ac­ci­dent, 12-year-old Yuri is an id­iot sa­vant and also chron­i­cally cheer­ful. His par­ents are dead on Stalin’s or­ders but he does not know it and grate­fully ac­cepted the job of Stalin’s food taster. There are laughs ga­lore in this noir novel. A must-read.

THE PARTY

Eliz­a­beth Day, 4th Es­tate, $29.99

Harder to bear — surely — than un­re­quited love, is love that is al­most but not quite un­re­quited. The three char­ac­ters whose POVS dom­i­nate this stylish tragi-com­edy are Mar­tin, whose love for his best friend far ex­ceeds what he feels for his wife, Lucy, who kids her­self that very lit­tle at­ten­tion is bet­ter than none, and Keith, her well-mean­ing psy­chother­a­pist. As in Shake­speare (the porter in Mac­beth, the gravedig­ger in Ham­let, and Cal­iban in The Tem­pest) the ten­sions of the main drama are re­lieved by bouts of buf­foon­ery. These take place in a fic­tional vil­lage po­lice sta­tion not far out from Lon­don.

HIN­TER­LAND

Steven Lang, UQP, $29.95

This could turn out to be the best novel I’ve read all year. In dairy coun­try in Queens­land, Peter Mayska, a min­ing meg­amogul, plans to build a dam. This di­vides the com­mu­nity. Mayska ex­pects lo­cal politi­cians to do his bid­ding. My favourite char­ac­ter dies un­ex­pect­edly but his re­place­ment — lo­cal doc­tor Nick — picks up the ba­ton and helps Eu­ge­nie, the leader of the anti-dam cam­paign. Wry glimpses of ac­cursed youth tug at the heart. We — or at least those who ed­u­cate and guide — have erred some­where along the line. Very mov­ing.

IT’S ALIVE!

Toby Walsh, La Trobe, $34.99

The 2016 US elec­tions re­vealed the po­ten­tial for ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) to out­flank democ­racy. Whether it’s bots driv­ing Twit­ter and Face­book or cy­ber pro­grams hack­ing top-se­cret files, we need to be aware. Walsh, a pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity of NSW, guides us through the his­tory, the present and the fu­ture of AI. When the last Coun­try Style flesh and blood artist or jour­nal­ist trots off to re­tire­ment, gor­geous im­ages and lively in­ter­views, some­times in holo­graphic form, will still reach sub­scribers. Se­ri­ously.

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