It’s funny how the titles of novels can play with our perceptions. Hanya Yanagihara’s celebrated A Little Life is big in so many ways. It was shortlisted for last year’s Man Booker Prize and runs to more than 700 pages. Set in New York and centred on the lives of four young men, it’s the sort of novel that can take over a reader’s life, in a consuming but thrilling way. The new book I want to mention today, Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life (Picador, $18.99), runs to just 148 pages, yet it ran my life for a few hours, and lingers still. Seethaler is a Viennaborn, Berlin-based writer and actor (a recent film you can spot him in is Paolo Sorrentino’s Michael Caine-Harvey Keitel drama Youth). A Whole Life, translated by Charlotte Collins, is his fifth novel. It follows the life of Andreas Egger, a simple, strong, stoic, taciturn man (how I loved his avoidance of “unnecessary words”). He lives and labours in an Austrian alpine village, a place he arrives at in 1902, a four-year-old orphan. The writing about this desirous and destructive (and cold!) remote landscape is wonderful. The novel opens with Eggers meeting an injured goatherd in the snow. What happens next is mysterious and spellbinding. The goatherd is conjured late in the book, too, when the title words are mentioned: “Almost a whole life lay between Horned Hanns’ disappearance and his turning up again.” What Eggers does in that whole life is basic and moving. He is a man who lives with the memory of love. This is a beautiful, absorbing novel about the amazing quality of ordinary life. For line after line, you wonder what is going to happen next. It reminded me of John Williams’s 1965 novel Stoner, which I wrote about here not long ago. At one point Eggers’s boss at a cable car company also uses the title words: “You can buy a man’s hour off him, you can steal his days from him, or you can rob him of his whole life, but no one can take away from any man so much as a single moment. That’s the way it is.” There are two dogs in my household, Bella and Scout. Each has her — let’s use a kind word — idiosyncrasies. Bella, a 10-year-old black labrador with short sight, will run into traffic if she mistakes the white line on the road for a long slice of bread, or any sort of food in fact. Scout, a five-year-old we rescued as a puppy in outback Queensland, is of uncertain lineage, but there’s a fair bet she has dingo in her blood. She’s intelligent, indifferent to all other dogs except Bella and a bit mad. Her behaviour, particularly in a territorial sense, used to test my sanity. Still does, to be honest, but I’ve come to understand her a lot better since reading Stephen Daisley’s second novel, Coming Rain, in which one of the main characters is a female dingo. New Zealand-born Daisley, 60, had various jobs before turning to writing, including a stint in the NZ Army and a lot of work on the land in his adopted Western Australia. I don’t know if he saw dingos in action or just read up on them, but either way he is under their skins and inside their heads. Coming Rain has just won NZ’s richest book prize, the inaugural Acorn Foundation Literary Award, worth $NZ50,000 ($46,000). That makes it two from two for Daisley: his debut novel, Traitor, a brilliant story of Gallipoli and beyond, won the 2011 Prime Minister’s Literary Award. Coming Rain is longlisted for this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award, the shortlist for which will be announced on May 29. Quote of the week: “People are sometimes surprised that I have written a serious book.” Actor and comedian — and writer — Magda Szubanski when her memoir Reckoning won the nonfiction prize at this week’s NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. She was on stage, speaking to the crowd and, via her phone, to her 92-yearold mother. The serious job of holding the phone went to the bloke standing next to her, NSW Premier Mike Baird.