BOOK CLUB

LABOUR OF LOVE/KING SLIMS DOWN/AN­OTHER RIP­PING YARN FROM PALIN/CEL­E­BRAT­ING CO­HEN’S LIT­ER­ARY LIFE

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THE CHIL­DREN’S HOUSE

Alice Nel­son

VIN­TAGE, RRP $33

What is a mother? That is the cen­tral theme of this ten­der new novel from Perth­based Alice Nel­son , set mostly in Har­lem, New York, in 1997. Is a mother some­one who gives birth to a child or some­one who can love a child un­con­di­tion­ally? Ma­rina spent part of her child­hood liv­ing in a kib­butz in Is­rael. While her par­ents also lived there, the chil­dren were raised com­mu­nally, Ma­rina and brother Dov liv­ing in dor­mi­to­ries with other young­sters. When her fa­ther died, Ma­rina’s fam­ily moved to New York. But their mother was dis­tant and cold. Ma­rina’s hus­band, Ja­cob, was also born in Is­rael, but his par­ents fled the kib­butz. Ja­cob’s mother’s house is one of warmth, love and fam­ily tra­di­tions, marred only by his ill-fated first mar­riage to Leni, who ran off, leav­ing Ja­cob and their son be­hind. And then there is Gabriel, a boy whose mother, Con­stance, fled war-rav­aged Rwanda. Gabriel is crav­ing af­fec­tion. When Ma­rina chances upon him and Con­stance in the street, their lives be­come in­ter­wo­ven. SHEL­LEY HADFIELD

VER­DICT: Po­etic

EL­E­VA­TION

Stephen King

HODDER & STOUGHTON, RRP $30

Stephen King has never been one to limit his word count. His nov­els are usu­ally the best op­tions for long plane rides. Not so El­e­va­tion, which is a long short-story or short novella. Scott is liv­ing a lonely life in a gated com­mu­nity. He’s di­vorced, there’s bad blood with his neigh­bours, mar­ried les­bians who let their dogs go to the toi­let on his lawn, and he doesn’t get out much. He’s also los­ing weight at a rate of knots. But his clothes aren’t get­ting looser and his stom­ach still hangs over his belt. And even when he steps on the scales hold­ing weights, it doesn’t reg­is­ter. His re­tired doc­tor friend has never seen any­thing like it. In a fun run, Scott shocks the town by burn­ing past al­most all other en­trants. The race is the im­pe­tus for an un­likely rap­proche­ment with his neigh­bours. As the weight con­tin­ues to drop, Scott and his friends wait to see what will hap­pen when he reg­is­ters zero. This is a nice canape be­fore, hope­fully, an­other King doorstop. CLAIRE SUTHER­LAND

VER­DICT: King, but bite-sized

ERE­BUS: THE STORY OF A SHIP

Michael Palin

PENGUIN RAN­DOM HOUSE, RRP $35

Have cam­era, will travel. That’s been ac­tor, co­me­dian, writer and TV pre­sen­ter Michael Palin’s un­of­fi­cial motto ever since he swapped the sur­real com­edy of Monty Python for the glo­be­trot­ting life of TV travel pre­sen­ter. Be­tween trips, there have been books as well and Ere­bus: The Story of a Ship is per­haps his finest achieve­ment. Oth­ers have gone be­fore him, of course, all seek­ing to ex­plain the mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of HMS Ere­bus in the Cana­dian Arc­tic in 1846. But Palin, who knows a thing or two about rip­ping yarns, has left no an­chor un­turned in his quest for clues. His mar­itime re­search is ex­ten­sive, his grip on naval life au­then­tic. Best of all is the way Palin sketches char­ac­ter, es­pe­cially Sir John Franklin, who steered Ere­bus into un­charted wa­ters … with cat­a­strophic re­sults. SI­MON PLANT

VER­DICT: In­spir­ing

THE FLAME Leonard Co­hen, with in­tro­duc­tion by Adam Co­hen

CANONGATE, RRP $40

The Flame is an ap­pro­pri­ate ti­tle for this col­lec­tion of po­ems and note­book frag­ments be­cause Leonard Co­hen’s lit­er­ary life has burned brightly since his first book of po­etry, Let Us Com­pare Mytholo­gies, was pub­lished in 1956. This vol­ume con­tains not only Co­hen’s fi­nal po­ems but frag­ments from his note­books, in­clud­ing self-por­traits from the years be­fore his death in 2016 at 82. Although Co­hen was re­garded as a pes­simistic pur­veyor of gloom, he was a ro­man­tic who never stopped cel­e­brat­ing his joy in the hu­man con­di­tion. And he could make it rhyme: “I pray for courage / At the end / To see death com­ing / As a friend.” Son Adam says in the fore­word his fa­ther’s only re­gret was that he should have “stayed stead­fast to the recog­ni­tion that writ­ing was … his truest pur­pose”. But then we wouldn’t have had all that mu­sic. BARRY REYNOLDS

VER­DICT: Lenny’s last laugh

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