BOOK CLUB

THIS WEEK WE LOOK AT A FA­MOUS POET’S ILL-FATED RO­MANCE, BRIL­LIANT SHORT STO­RIES, A PARISIAN DARK FABLE AND A CATHAR­TIC AU­TO­BI­OG­RA­PHY

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - EYE READ -

A NEW ENG­LAND AF­FAIR Steven Car­roll HARPER­COLLINS, $28

In 1914, T.S. Eliot set­tled in Eng­land and never re­ally re­turned to his na­tive US, ex­cept for the oc­ca­sional visit. He mar­ried English­woman Vivien HaighWood the fol­low­ing year and re­mar­ried an­other English­woman, Valerie Fletcher, in 1956. But through­out his mar­riages and his burgeoning ca­reer as one of Modernism’s great po­ets, he kept in touch with Emily Hale, the woman he left be­hind in the US. While Eliot starts a new life, Hale con­tin­ues to hang on to the hope he will one day re­turn for her, marry her and con­tinue the won­der­ful con­ver­sa­tions they started in the sum­mer of 1913. Eliot is a man who can ex­press any num­ber of things through his po­ems but noth­ing when it comes to per­sonal re­la­tions. In the end, all Hale is left with are the ashes of the man she loved and the ashes of life un­lived. Car­roll, a Mel­bournebased writer, gives us the story of a woman made bit­ter by wait­ing, and a man who causes much dam­age when he turns his back on his ori­gins while mak­ing him­self into a faux English­man. BARRY REYNOLDS VER­DICT: Waste­land of emo­tion

COM­MON PEO­PLE Tony Birch UQP, $30

It is amaz­ing how many voices this win­ner of a 2016 Vic­to­rian Premier’s Lit­er­ary Award can pack into this col­lec­tion of short sto­ries. Birch takes on men, women, the young, the old, as well as in­dige­nous and non-in­dige­nous char­ac­ters. And they are all “com­mon peo­ple”, strug­gling not just with lit­tle or no money but with men­tal health is­sues, re­pressed mem­o­ries and lone­li­ness. He takes on city dwellers and those in re­mote ar­eas, con­vey­ing whole lives in a few pages. One of the sad­dest sto­ries is Pa­per Moon, about a girl visit­ing her fa­ther in a psy­chi­atric ward and help­ing him es­cape. In The White Girl we learn that much Chris­tian char­ity comes with strings at­tached, while Raven and Sons takes us into the world of the funeral par­lour. The sto­ries are var­ied, sus­tained and filled with beau­ti­ful writ­ing that shows a rare tal­ent for get­ting in­side the minds of a huge cast of char­ac­ters. There is not one word out of place. BARRY REYNOLDS VER­DICT: Un­com­mon tal­ent

CITY OF CROWS Chris Womer­s­ley PICADOR, $33

The “city of crows” is Paris in 1673, a chaotic city where sor­cer­esses and thieves rule along­side the king. In the plague-rid­den coun­try­side is Char­lotte, who has buried three chil­dren and lost her hus­band to plague. She takes her re­main­ing child out of her vil­lage in the hope she can keep him safe. But in the for­est she is at­tacked and nearly killed and her son taken by thieves with the dark­est in­tent. Near death, she en­coun­ters the For­est Queen, a witch who has lived there, in one form or an­other, for cen­turies. On her quest to get her son back, Char­lotte col­lects Lesage, re­cently re­leased from a gal­ley hell­hole with a mis­sion of his own and they head into the mael­strom of Paris. Womer­s­ley’s book is dark and some­times bru­tal, hov­er­ing be­tween the mag­i­cal and real worlds. The tale – born of real peo­ple and real events – is quite a change of pace for Mel­bourne-based Womer­s­ley, who has de­servedly won a swag of awards for his writ­ing. CORINNA HENTE VER­DICT: Be­witch­ing

A FÜHRER FOR A FA­THER Jim David­son NEWSOUTH, $30

Au­thor and his­to­rian Jim David­son has at­tempted to make sense of grow­ing up in post-war Mel­bourne as the ho­mo­sex­ual son of a dotty mother and a dom­i­neer­ing fa­ther. He spends the first half of the book wait­ing for his par­ents to di­vorce and the second half ex­am­in­ing his re­la­tion­ship with them once they did. David­son por­trays his fa­ther as ruth­less and cold, but David­son Sr ul­ti­mately comes across as an in­signif­i­cant and inse­cure man who only feels com­fort­able in sit­u­a­tions where he can lord it over peo­ple he con­sid­ers in­fe­rior. Hence his best times were in South Africa and Pa­pua New Guinea. Such a man was al­ways go­ing to strug­gle in 1950s Prahran. Be­hind the un­for­tu­nate choice of ti­tle is a well-writ­ten ac­count of a young artist try­ing to come to terms with his sex­u­al­ity, while dis­cov­er­ing his tal­ents for writ­ing, in Men­zies-era Aus­tralia. One wishes David­son had fo­cused more on that. JEFF MAYNARD VER­DICT: Cathar­sis

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