SOME OUTSTANDING LOCAL TALENT HITS THE BOOKSTORES THIS MONTH.
THE PUNISHMENT SHE DESERVES
Elizabeth George, Hodder & Stoughton, $29.99 Sprawled across 600 pages, George’s most recent Lynley/havers mystery sets up a situation in Ludlow, Shropshire. Breaking up the brooding evil are birdsong and buttercups; the English countryside at its most beguiling. A suicide thrusts Detective Sergeant Havers in the firing line of her enduring nemesis Detective Chief Superintendent Isabelle Ardery, who can see a way to remove Havers from the Met once and for all. As ever, Inspector (Lord) Lynley is patronising and elusive, the product of a screechingly privileged education, yet you can see why Havers yearns to be embroiled.
Taryn Brumfitt, Penguin Life, $34.99 As a matter of interest, I wonder how many readers strip off in front of their partners in broad daylight. The last time I was publicly naked was way back when encounter groups were all the rage. Many people don’t feel comfortable in their own skin and this book is all about loving your body in any shape or size. Brumfitt’s book is joyful. Even if prudence holds you back, chapters like Viva la Vulva shake loose a lot of ancient awkwardness. Diets are for when your doctor says, “Otherwise I give you six months.” Think Rubens and Rembrandt — do those nudes look as though they say no to a koeksister (deep-fried pastry soaked in syrup)?
Mallika Basu, Bloomsbury, $45 Basu grew up in Kolkata but now lives in London, where you can source absolutely every ingredient but there’s no space to cook. The food writer describes the kitchen in her apartment as ‘minimalist’. So she’s practical; she uses packets and gadgets, takes a few shortcuts, even uses supermarket meatballs for Pudina Kofta. There are 10 chapters extending from curries made from chuck, which seethe overnight, to Quick Fixes and Small Bites. The fish cakes are a real discovery and popsicles made from mango, cardamom and saffron are the perfect sneaky midnight snack.
Aoife Clifford, Simon & Schuster, $29.99
Eliza Carmody escaped from a small country town but now she’s back there as the litigant lawyer representing the large corporation, which may or may not have been to blame for a fire that crushed Kinsale psychologically as well as in cold, hard material terms. She skulks hoping not to be recognised. Her own sister is less than welcoming. Scenes from her teenage years flood back, paranoid, poignant. Then there’s the possibility that a murderer is at large. With nerves jangled, no-one’s looking entirely innocent. Clifford continues to scoop literary prizes for All These Perfect Strangers. Her new novel does not disappoint.
THE GIRL ON THE PAGE
John Purcell, 4th Estate, $32.99 There’s more to Amy than rampant nymphomania. Go deeper into Purcell’s scathing satire about publishing in the UK and you’ll find he’s pulled off quite a feat. At the centre of the novel Helen, a revered and elderly author, is in crisis — she can’t deliver on her contract, has spent the two million pounds advanced
to her and so must submit to an editor (Amy), who will help her ‘put together’ something commercially successful (i.e. with violence, sex and shopping in amongst Helen’s grander themes). The two bond delightfully despite their widely different lifestyles. However, Helen’s husband Malcolm freaks out. Yet Purcell has slyly incorporated those imposed elements, which Helen and Malcolm abhor, into what is truly a superbly orchestrated and important novel. There they are: sex (Amy), violence (self-harm) and shopping — Amy and Helen in New Bond Street looking for something for Amy to wear to the Booker Prize dinner. Amy spends more than 10,000 pounds on her outfit. How does she afford it? She can name her price because she’s the ghost behind several bestselling authors. Hmm. Purcell spent 10 years in a second-hand bookshop in Mosman and now is director of online bookseller Booktopia. He’s tuned in.
OUT OF THE FOREST
Gregory P. Smith with Craig Henderson, William Heinemann, $34.99 Dr Gregory Smith lectures in Social Sciences at Southern Cross University. The title of his thesis was Nobody’s Children: an exploration into a sense of belonging of adults who experienced institutional out-of-home care as children. He began this project shortly after confronting his tutor Dr Richard Hil, a lecturer from the UK who had written about Australia’s stolen generation. “I think you’ve got no idea what you’re talking about,” said Smith and handed him the Senate’s 2004 report, Forgotten Australians. It reviewed the lives of 500,000 adults who had experienced institutional care as children. Hil had failed to contextualise the problem in Smith’s opinion; it was far larger and more endemic than he had imagined. The details of his own childhood are so grim that I’d advise readers to start reading the memoir at Chapter 17 when he goes to live in the forest. He’s so traumatised that when a kindly professor leaves him a note inviting him to live more comfortably on his property Smith refuses. He’s afraid of everyone. After 10 years he experiences an epiphany and takes the Special Tertiary Admissions Test and gets into university. As he gains an understanding of his abused psyche and physical degradation, the kindness of others becomes gradually acceptable. A must-read.
THE TRUE COLOUR OF THE SEA
Robert Drewe, Hamish Hamilton, $29.99 Drewe does not waste words. “Your ancestor ate my ancestor,” says Dr Jennifer Horne Smith and George Bogenvanu replies, “Yes, you’re right. I want to talk to you about it.” Drewe cleverly leads us up the garden path in that particular short story. There are 11 of them. The others are no less elliptical. Saddest of all is A View of Mt Warning where a wholesome guy with a crush on his mate’s wife discovers that, despite being married to an unfaithful boor, she is reasonably contented with her lot.
Sheila O’flanagan, Headline, $29.99 As always O’flanagan delivers a fast read with substance. In her new novel Juno has been dumped by Sean ‘not ready to commit’ who then married A.n.other. After that setback her new love, Brad, was killed in an earthquake and turned out to have a wife and two children. Feeling grief and not a little shame Juno leaves her job as a radiographer in Dublin and goes to Spain where she rents a villa. Life becomes less selfie and more integrated. Two Spanish brothers raise her view of men in general. Brad’s brother has some heartening evidence. Lovely.
Chris Hammer, Allen And Unwin, $32.99 This novel is obviously going to make a blockbuster outback movie but nothing on screen will give you the intricate dance in the mind of Martin Scarsden. He’s a journalist sent to a hamlet south-west of Hay in the NSW Riverina. His editor wants him to cover the anniversary of a bizarre quintuple killing, four of the victims shot by the resident priest. Martin had a bad experience in Gaza and his kindly editor has handed him a thumbsuck. However, layer upon layer of deceit and collusion come to light in the drought-stricken community. Alongside indisputable evil there’s the need to survive, to see babies thrive and the minimal businesses recover. Just wonderful.
Rosie Walsh, Mantle, $29.99 Walsh misleads readers mercilessly. We trot along her plotlines making assumptions then being upended. It opens with a romance and the torture a smartphone can inflict, but swiftly Walsh moves on. There are surreal backwaters (clown doctors in Los Angeles versus Britain’s 70 years of National Health Service expertise), yet eventually a lurking menace emerges, Carole Wallace, the mother who doesn’t love her son, she owns him. Quite a feat to raise what starts as a ripple to such thunderous heights. Take this one slowly, if you can.