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 

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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 

panslabyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun

Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke     Recommended by Max    

fiction 

Guillermo Del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth is one of my favourites.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 of the film, making it a bit more palatable for those who found the violence of the film a little overwhelming. Those familiar with the film will relish the vignettes detailing some of the concealed histories and myths which structure the film—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. 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 been 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 

nancys

The Nancys

R.W.R. McDonald     Recommended by Kristy    

fiction

The Nancy’s by RWR McDonald  is a heart-warming, thrilling murder mystery.  At once innocent and wicked, this is a truly delightful read.

Tippy Chan is eleven years old when her father dies leaving her and her mother to struggle on in small town New Zealand. When her Mum wins a cruise, Tippy’s Uncle Pike, comes to look after her bringing his new boyfriend Devon, an up and coming fashion designer.

Whilst Tippy is delighted to see her Uncle she is unsettled by a friend’s accident and a murder. Tippy and her uncle, inspired by their mutual love of Nancy Drew decide that they, along with a reluctant Devon,  will solve the crime before her mother’s return.  And they will look fabulous while they do it.

Allen & Unwin 2019

electrichotel

The Electric Hotel

Dominic Smith     Recommended by Anne    

fiction

A delicious, decadent, freewheeling historical novel which begins in the decades prior to World War 1, where young Claude Ballard glimpses a demonstration by the Lumière brothers. He becomes their agent,travelling worldwide and demonstrating their remarkable invention, silent film. Told as a series of reminiscences, Claude relates his life story to a young and eager film student who has tracked him down to the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel. Claude forages for mushrooms in the L.A. Hills and keeps company with the other faded residents as well as reel upon reel of decaying celluloid, fragments from his days as a director and filmmaker. He recounts his lifelong obsession with Sabine Montrose, the icon whose celebrity turned toxic, and the boom and bust of the first days of cinema. It captures moments from a grandiose time where extravagant budgets allowed for disposable tigers and stuntmen routinely died on set. I thought the tone was perfect, conjuring a wonderment partly mystic and partly mundane. Dominic Smith’s other novels similarly deal with a time and situation where something magnificent was invented, be it the Dutch Golden Age of painting or photography’s beginning in the daguerrotype. An escapist delight!

Allen & Unwin 2019

 

onehundred

One Hundred Years of Dirt

Rick Morton     Recommended by Anne    

memoir / autobiography 

A wide-ranging family story where trauma careens down the ancestral line, manifesting in pain and discord. The Morton men formed a rural dynasty that was at one time, land the size of Belgium. They also shared a destructive and brutal approach to family life with siblings goaded into competing with one another by terrifying patriarchs. By the time Rick’s older brother was badly burned in an accident, the scene was set for the family’s disintegration. Its an honest, painful and unsentimental story of the harm people can cause one another by intention and by accident. Rick’s mother raised the two boys alone and on a pittance, and one of the things explored in the book is the effect of grinding poverty and how oblivious a privileged person can be. Its not a bitter book in the slightest though, and what I really liked is the love and pride and high regard Rick has for his mum. It feels as though it is a healing book, and I learned a lot.

Melbourne University Press 2018

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