shepherdhut

The Shepherd’s Hut

Tim Winton     Recommended by Alan    

Fiction

Loved it. Brutal and lyrical. Read it in two sittings and am about to go again.

In The Shepherd’s Hut, Winton crafts the story of Jaxie Clackton, a brutalized rural youth who flees from the scene of his father’s violent death and strikes out north through the wheatbelt. All he carries with him is a rifle and a waterbottle. All he wants is peace and freedom. But surviving in the harsh saltlands alone is a savage business. And once he discovers he’s not alone out there, all Jaxie’s plans go awry. He meets a fellow exile, the ruined priest Fintan MacGillis, a man he’s never certain he can trust, but on whom his life will soon depend. The Shepherd’s Hut is a thrilling tale of unlikely friendship and yearning, at once brutal and lyrical, from one of our finest storytellers.

Hamish Hamilton 2018 

motherssonsml

Every Mother’s Son is Guilty : Policing the Kimberley Frontier of Western Australia 1882-1905

Chris Owen     Recommended by Alan    

Australian History

Anyone skeptical of the level of violence used in the clearing of Aboriginal people from their land, and the involvement of state in promoting this policy, will be disabused by Chris Owen’s massive contribution to West Australian colonial history.

A compelling account of policing in the Kimberley district from 1882, when police were established in the district, until 1905 when a controversial Royal Commission into the treatment of Aboriginal people was released. In this period the policing of Aboriginal people changed from one of protection under law to one of punishment and control. The subsequent violence of colonial settlement and the associated policing and criminal justice system that developed into a ‘brutal and outrageous state of affairs’. Every Mother’s Son is Guilty is a significant contribution to Australian and colonial criminal justice history.

UWA Press 2016 

howtodonothing

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

Jenny Odell     Recommended by Anne    

self-development / technology

For a book about the creeping, unhindered involvement that social media has in our lives, this is an oddly soothing and optimistic read. Jenny Odell is an artist, writer and professor at Stanford, and advocates for a different style of engagement with our environment. How to Do Nothing discusses the disconnect with bioregion and the implications of distraction for our relationships, as well as our sense of self. She argues we are driven to involve ourselves constantly with apps, uploading content among a ceaseless roar of information – and that this destabilizes any attempt at activism as well as eroding our relationship to nature and ecosystem. I liked this book’s intersecting ideas, with art and data mining, disaster, mindfulness and birdwatching being mentioned. It is nearly impossible to choose a completely offline existence, but there are ways to withdraw and ground oneself in the neighbourhood, and the community, alongside otherwise networked lives. Opting out, or as Odell puts it, replacing #FOMO with #NOMO (the necessity of missing out) is a radical act, but an essential one.

BlackInc Books, 2019

secretcommonwealth

The Secret Commonwealth – The Book of Dust Volume 2

Philip Pullman     Recommended by Anne    

The latest book in Philip Pullman’s epic series which began with the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Secret Commonwealth is set in the same parallel world where we first met Lyra and her dæmon, Pantalaimon. I re-read last year’s La Belle Sauvage, then the new book, and then the original books all over again, just to stay in this fictional universe a little longer. Its a world with many overlaps to our own and some differences, notably that a part of your consciousness is external to you in the form of an animal. It is immensely painful to be separated from your dæmon, and those who have been are viewed with fear and pity. It is one of the ways Pullman explores the idea of character and identity, an an irresistible concept if you’ve ever wondered what your spirit guide, anima or animus might be.  Dæmons are viewed as a possible manifestation of Dust, the mysterious substance flowing through the worlds in Lyra’s story. Although it began as a series for young people, this latest installment is years ahead and a lot more grown up, in much the same way the characters in the Harry Potter books grew with their readers. The Secret Commonwealth is almost bleak in parts, and the themes are dark and complicated. I felt that Lyra went through grueling punishment, especially the second part of the book where I winced through chapters of estrangement, sexual violence and a broken hand. I’ll be eager for volume three though, if only to see anything like a happy ending, or resolution to the story’s multitude of threads.

David Fickling Books / Penguin 2019

bloom

Bloom

Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau     Recommended by Anne    

 

young adult / graphic novel 

A sweetly satisfying love story set in a small beach-side bakery, Bloom follows Ari, a young man keen to leave his family’s struggling business and make it big in the city with his band. When easygoing Hector joins the staff and brings his love of baking to the job, Ari begins to see it might not be so bad to spend his summer selling the Kyrkos Family Bakery’s Famous Sourdough Rolls. The illustration style is soft and dynamic, with a lot of details like playlists and room layouts included, so you can really settle into the story. There’s some trouble and misunderstanding, but just enough to be tied up neatly by the end, and I really liked the pacing of Ari and Hector’s slowly unfolding love, along with the ebb and flow of teenage friendships and rivalries. If you’ve finished up Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper and crave a similar book, this is just right.

First Second 2019

panslabyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun

Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke     Recommended by Max    

fiction 

Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a personal favourite of mine.The strange parallels and thematic tessellations which accumulate throughout the film elegantly express the way that folktales haunt the worlds from which they spring. But how to make this rich texture yield to the page? Cornelia Funke, author of the Inkheart series, was apprehensive for this very reason when Del Toro approached her to author the novelisation. While the bulk of the narrative remains unchanged, Funke’s retelling captures both the childlike wonder and wartime terror which the film so skillfully blends. Funke’s writing softens some of the more frightening and gruesome moments, making it a bit more palatable for those who found the violence of the film a little overwhelming. Those familiar with the story will relish the vignettes detailing some of the concealed histories and myths which structure the original—from the opening paragraphs on Falangist Spain to the provenance of the Pale Man.

 

***

 

In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, Ofélia and her pregnant mother, Carmen, travel to the countryside where the ruthless Captain Vidal—Ofelia’s new stepfather—is engaged in a guerilla war with Republican rebels. Ofélia is drawn to a labyrinth which lies at the edge of the forest, and which is home to a mischievous faun. There she learns that she is the long-lost Princess Moanna, daughter of the king of the underworld, and that in order to reclaim her birthright (and her memories) she must complete a series of tasks to prove that she has not become changed by her time in the human world. As the conflict intensifies and the tasks become increasingly difficult, the worlds of the fairytale and the war blend together, giving the reader pause to reflect on how the stories we tell about nations, the unknown, the other, and ourselves can have disturbing, beautiful, and bittersweet consequences.

Bloomsbury 2019

shelteringsky

The Sheltering Sky

Paul Bowles     Recommended by Anne    

fiction

I’m hesitant to tick the ‘recommended’ box since this book is unusually, vividly bleak. it’s also considered a landmark piece of twentieth century literature. First published in 1949, it is set in a decimated postwar North Africa, through which Americans Port Moresby, his wife Kit and their friend Tunner move restlessly. Wealthy and aimless, they consider themselves travellers rather than tourists, with Port seeking some kind of defining philosophical experience in the remote Sahara. The precursor to the Beats, Bowles was apparently beset with hippies visiting his home in Tangiers in the hope of meeting a wise sage. He wrote the book in bed (a habit he adopted when freezing desert nights made it impossible to sit at a desk) dissolving writer’s block with liberal quantities of hashish.

I couldn’t find a single character with kindness or other redeeming qualities; the book is a relentlessly hostile description of the meaningless cruelties humans perpetrate on one another and our innate aloneness. Port and Kit are each punished for their wilfull ignorance and apathy. Some passages are a vertiginous deep dive into the horror of death. The writing shows its age by the startling racism and misogyny, branching off the deeper misanthropy.  Perhaps it is not the portrayal of people in the novel which is so upsetting but the creeping suspicion that Bowles might have seen through the artifice of polite society, and be right about us all.

Ecco Press / Harper Collins 2014 

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