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A loving, faithful animal

Josephine Rowe     Recommended by Annie    

This short, intensely lyrical novel begins with Ru, the youngest and most watchful in the family. A violent act among many violent acts has shattered apart the household in A loving, faithful animal, and they must all take stock and decide how to go on. A few long days over Christmas and new years eve have them subject to toxic regret, judgment, psychological trauma and wavering between what is known to be Good and what will preserve them. Ru’s father returned from the Vietnam War irrevocably changed and his wife and daughters navigate his unpredictable moods in different ways – Evelyn bitterly nostalgic for their youthful love, Lani throwing herself out of his orbit, Ru carefully observing the damage and maimed Uncle Tetch trying gently to make amends. Unseen harm and anger simmer through this little book – it has jagged edges and haunted characters. I liked the thread of wildness running through all the people – they suffer but not pathetically, in circumstances too snarled and uncertain to escape.

The writing is tense and evocative, the atmosphere of their setting is skillful and its a compelling story about a group of damaged and wary people.

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The Poison Principle

Gail Bell     Recommended by Annie    

A compelling brew of memoir, true crime, botany and psychological investigation, The Poison Principle is a fascinating family history as well as a toxicology almanac. Gail Bell’s grandfather William Macbeth was said to have poisoned two of his sons with strychnine, and this horrible secret was family lore. A travelling patent-medicine salesman, the sharply dressed Macbeth toured small country towns posing as a man of medicine-cum-miracle worker, dazzling Bell’s grandmother into marriage on the way. But the family’ s fortunes soured, two little boys were lost and he died estranged from them all. What could have led a man to kill two of his children?

The author’s occupation as a chemist is an accidental connection with her grandfather, who she knew little about as a child. A few accoutrements with an alchemical whiff about them  – a wooden treasure chest full of cures and curses, a monogrammed handkerchief case, and a bitter tale of regret. Fascinated with poisons from a young age, her knowledge of arcane medicines and healing plants as well as murder cases and poisonings in literature like Madame Bovary, make this book a really interesting one. As well as case histories and true crime cuttings, Gail Bell’s reflections on the idea of poisoning within caregiving and the connection with the feminine are part of a considered, consuming and elegant memoir.

 

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Mothering Sunday

Graham Swift     Recommended by Alan Sheardown    

Graham Swift’s new novella, Mothering Sunday, is narrated by elderly writer Jane, looking back to an event that occurred on one day in 1924 when she was just 22 and working as a house servant. We know much of what happens in the end very early in the story, but the pleasure of this novel is in Swift’s brilliant telling.

Mothering Sunday is a holiday given for servants to visit their mothers. However Jane, an orphan, uses her day off to meet with upper class neighbour Paul with whom she is having an affair. The detail with which Jane recounts this day, which will ultimately change the direction of her life, seems to slowly stretch out time and imbues the short novel with poignancy. Drenched in warm tones and late summer stillness, Swift unfurls the story with a sensual languor.

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Bowie

Simon Critchley     Recommended by    

Simon Critchley’s collection of personal essays on what David Bowie meant to him, is, as reviewed by Rick Moody at Salon, “a magnificent and deceptively slim book, in which no essay takes longer to read than it would take to listen to a David Bowie song, but in which there is a cumulative sense of revelation as regards what makes Bowie special, and why it is that his work seems to yield more, the more time you spend there. The book is delightful, highly readable, with bits of Nietzsche, Ruskin, Roland Barthes and Deleuze rising up like wisps of cloud in its funny, moving and passionate field of inquiry.”

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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Arundhati Roy     Recommended by Annie    

“…it’s not sophisticated, what happens here. There’s too much blood for good literature.”

It seems a pity to compare Ministry of Utmost Happiness to anything; its been a 20 year wait for Arundhati Roy’s next novel and for those of us who enjoyed the Booker Prize winning The God of Small Things, its a huge event. So I won’t compare it. But I will say it made me feel certain things, like other books – like the tension of the narrative in Louis de Berniere’s Birds Without Wings, where a huge cast of characters moved in a setting of peril and violence. Familiar too, the slapstick absurdity of Catch 22 with its comedy of war, and the beauty and horror and violence of stirring human enterprise in grim times with Cormac McCarthy’s malevolent ciphers. It felt similar to The God of Small Things too, in that it had characters I liked and understood and characters who were cold, traumatized, unknowable devices. Its a novel in which the author aimed ‘to write a book in which the story was like the streets of a great city…I wanted  even the smallest character to have a story.’

I was so TAKEN by this book. You can surrender to the prose as though its a place with and textures and moods and a rich appalling history, and observe it all flow around you. Unmissable.

 

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Bad Boy Boogie

James Quinton     Recommended by    

We’ve got plenty of copies in stock of James Quinton’s book in stock. A novel about homegrown legend Bon Scott by a Fremantle author – books don’t get more local than this!

$19.99

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Idaho

Emily Ruskovich     Recommended by Annie    

A genuinely compelling novel like Idaho is a rare beast. There is good storytelling and interesting writing and keenly observed characters, but when they’re all strengths of a good work of fiction it’s so enthralling. Idaho moves back and forth in time and is (mostly) through the eyes of Ann, a music teacher in the small town who becomes almost obsessed with knowing the family and their tragedy, and in a way, adopting the event and maintaining it. It reminded me of Emma Cline’s 2016 novel The Girls. Both Idaho and The Girls feature a violent act and its repercussions, and both are fascinating insights into human character when it is subject to trauma. One of the most memorable novels I’ve read in months.

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