The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Some­thing for the Pain Times Lit­er­ary Sup­ple­ment’s Nat­u­ral Way of Things. The John Aubrey: My Own Life, The


I read the first in­stal­ment of Elena Fer­rante’s Neapoli­tan quar­tet, My Bril­liant Friend, in 2013. I fell hard and fast, and this year de­voured the re­main­ing three nov­els, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of a New Name and The Story of the Lost Child. I’ve now started on her early works and have been com­pelled to re­vive my ado­les­cent vice of de­fac­ing the books by mark­ing up pas­sages. As a cor­rec­tive mea­sure I’ve spent a lot of time gar­den­ing and cook­ing and have fairly ru­ined my lo­cal li­brary’s copy of Nigel Slater’s Ten­der Vol­ume 1. I had a friend who swore that cook­books were the best bed­time read­ing but I com­pletely dis­missed this un­til I dis­cov­ered Slater’s writ­ing — there’s some­thing calm­ing and restora­tive in his ap­praisal of what it means to grow and make things, some­thing pleas­ing about the fine de­scrip­tion of a mun­dane item of­ten over­looked: a let­tuce or a parsnip, say. Sev­eral other gems have stayed with me long af­ter the read­ing was done: Rachel Cusk’s dis­qui­et­ing novel Out­line, the weird and won­der­ful Dept. of Spec­u­la­tion by Jenny Of­fill, Re­becca Sol­nit’s es­say col­lec­tion The Far­away Nearby, Miles Allinson’s mag­i­cal de­but The Fever of An­i­mals and Drusilla Mod­jeska’s fab­u­lous mem­oir Sec­ond Half First.

EMILY BITTO, au­thor

Early this year I read an in­ter­view in The New Yorker with English writer Ed­ward St Aubyn, and was im­me­di­ately com­pelled to read his nov­els. St Aubyn grew up among very wealthy, very bored and very de­struc­tive mem­bers of the English aris­toc­racy. His fa­ther was a sadist and St Aubyn spent most of his 20s cul­ti­vat­ing a se- Wel­come to our an­nual Books of the Year wrap-up, where writ­ers and crit­ics nom­i­nate the books that stood out for them over the past 12 months. As al­ways, the only rule was that the book had to be one that was read this year, not nec­es­sar­ily pub­lished this year.

I like to pe­ruse such lists to see which books re­ceive mul­ti­ple men­tions, and to learn of ri­ous drug habit and blow­ing an enor­mous in­her­i­tance. His suite of semi-autobiographical nov­els, col­lec­tively known as the Pa­trick Mel­rose se­ries, has been the high­light of my read­ing year. They are an in­dict­ment of up­per-class English so­ci­ety, but also much more than that. St Aubyn’s gift is his abil­ity to shift be­tween mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives. Each char­ac­ter he in­hab­its, whether for a sen­tence or a whole novel, has their own unique voice and ex­ists as a whole, com­plex per­son; even the sadist fa­ther is in­hab­ited in this man­ner, as is, in Mother’s Milk, a prelin­guis­tic new­born. Other high­lights of this year have in­cluded Young Skins, the won­der­ful, dark but ebul­lient de­but col­lec­tion of short sto­ries by Ir­ish writer Colin Bar­rett, and in Aus­tralia Miles Allinson’s Fever of An­i­mals and Lisa Gor­ton’s The Life of Houses, both in­tel­li­gent, per­cep­tive and beau­ti­fully writ­ten nov­els.

JAMES BRADLEY, au­thor and critic

At first blush my two favourite books of the past year might seem to have al­most noth­ing to do with each other. Sarah Hall’s The Wolf Border is an in­tense, vis­cer­ally po­etic de­pic­tion of a sci­en­tist work­ing on a quixotic earl’s project to rein­tro­duce wolves to the north of Eng­land, while Kim Stan­ley Robin­son’s daz­zling Aurora is an in­tel­lec­tu­ally om­niv­o­rous fu­ture history set half a mil­len­nium from now and fo­cused on a failed books that I’d missed. It’s also just fun to see who is read­ing whom.

I’m pleased to see Ger­ald Mur­nane’s mem­oir re­ceive so many men­tions here and else­where — it is the only Aus­tralian work to get a guernsey in

Books of the Year. It is my non­fic­tion book of the year, while my novel of the year is Char­lotte Wood’s

As for the one I’d not heard of, the book that keeps pop­ping up in the Bri­tish lists is Ruth Scurr’s a bi­og­ra­phy of the 17th-cen­tury an­ti­quar­ian in his own words. Ran­dom House is due to pub­lish it here in March, so it may be one to keep in mind.

And now here is what ev­ery­one else thinks. mis­sion to colonise a nearby so­lar sys­tem. Yet dig a lit­tle deeper and th­ese two very dif­fer­ent books re­veal more than a few affini­ties. Both are deeply and of­ten pro­foundly con­cerned with at­tempt­ing to map the eth­i­cal and imag­i­na­tive di­men­sions of a world in which the planet’s sys­tems are be­ing ir­re­vo­ca­bly al­tered by hu­man ac­tiv­ity. Both are un­der­pinned by an un­der­stand­ing of the way our tech­no­cratic fan­tasies con­trib­ute to our predica­ment. And both seek to re­claim the idea of the fu­ture as some­thing we can af­fect in mean­ing­ful ways, chal­leng­ing us to look be­yond ex­tant po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic struc­tures and imag­ine new pos­si­bil­i­ties, a qual­ity that makes both seem not just im­por­tant but nec­es­sary in the present cli­mate.

MIRIAM COSIC, au­thor and critic

My favourite non­fic­tion book was An­drea Wulf’s The In­ven­tion of Na­ture: Alexan­der von Hum­bolt’s New World, which re­counts vividly the life and sci­en­tific times of a hugely in­flu­en­tial ex­plorer-nat­u­ral­ist who is in­ex­pli­ca­bly lit­tle known in the an­glo­phone world. Klaus Neu-

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