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 

rodham

Rodham

Curtis Sittenfeld     Recommended by Anne & Kristy    

Fiction 

What would have happened if Hillary said no to marrying Bill Clinton, and instead pursued a career in politics? What an interesting idea for a book. Its a daring premise which, instead of ‘shipping‘ two characters, presents an anti-love story – what filled the space of what could have been.

Rodham revisits some of the themes of Curtis Sittenfeld’s earlier books like Prep and the beloved American Wife, particularly the viewpoint of a woman navigating her own compromises in a hostile environment. For fans of Hillary Clinton, its a kind of wish fulfillment narrative where Hillary’s political ambitions are pursued without hindrance. It borrows from real life, where their romance in law school began and also fragments of dialogue from other characters and life on the campaign trail. Its an uncanny simulacrum where Obama, Bush and Trump appear, true to life and clinically observed and parts of it made us so deeply uncomfortable that we shrieked, involuntarily (nude saxophone scene is all you need to know).

Perhaps because its not something seen much outside of fanfiction, the use of real living people in fiction was the challenging bit. Real living people are used as narrative pawns and sometimes represented in pretty villainous ways; Sittenfeld dwells on Bill’s infidelity and abusive behaviours, not to mention Hillary’s hapless interpersonal naivety, and its deeply weird to think about a public figure’s sex life. But I think its a reflection on Sittenfeld’s skill as a writer that such a book can be compelling and so many strands can be gathered together in a (sometimes lumpy) narrative arc. It will certainly provoke some gleeful discussion if nothing else!

Penguin Books May 2020

weather

Weather

Jenny Offill     Recommended by Anne    

Fiction 

Jenny Offill’s previous novel Dept. of Speculation was deservedly popular, and I believe Weather is just as good. They’re both deceptively short and breezy books which manage to very cleverly lay out their protagonist’s state of mind and place in the world in short paragraphs and asides which form a compelling and cohesive narrative.

Weather describes the day to day of Lizzie Benson, a librarian (who snuck into her job without a degree, much to her qualified colleagues’ chagrin) while she navigates life in New York with her family. Her bemused, slightly neurotic viewpoint is what makes the book so easy to read – almost in one sitting, in my case – but underneath the smooth hide, sinewy plotlines flex. Trump comes to power, and Lizzie begins to help an old friend who runs a popular climate science podcast by answering her fanmail and listener questions. She starts to become interested in Preppers and doomsday fanatics and gradually, real fearfulness starts to tint her days. She also copes with an unstable brother, parenthood as a competitive sport, and ambivalent feelings about love and desire.

I loved how skillful the writing is, and how you can tell its good by how effortless Offill makes her writing look. A mercurial, prescient and very enjoyable book.

Allen & Unwin 2020

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We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know: Dispatches from an Age of Impunity

Sophie McNeill     Recommended by Gideon    

International Affairs / Politics 

Whilst we sit cooped up on the couch unable to leave our dwellings, it seems that these scribbled-upon-pieces-of-bark we call books, have become the most important means to escape into some illusionary bliss. Meanwhile, around us chaos continues; the scurrying of rats, the imagined screeching of bats, sincerely accounted elbow coughs, indeed most prominently the ‘one at a time’ use water troughs. Bearing all this in mind, it was with some trepidation that I sat down one evening to browse through the first few pages of Sophie McNeill’s new book, We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know. My apprehension was of course ill-considered, I had fallen foul of the stereotype that sees the ‘Middle-Eastern situation’ defined and labeled by the abhorrent acts of a select few. The terrorist narrative is, of course, only a tiny piece of the puzzle.

McNeill’s account instead guides the reader through a collection of distinctive stories, proverbial anecdotes and personal triumphs, over seemingly insurmountable odds. Reporting on the ground on all issues and written with a gracious and personal delicacy are stories like those of  Khaled Naanaa, a nurse turned YouTube doctor who cared for the entire town of Madaya while they suffered a siege to the point of starvation from Assad’s forces, the distressing voyages of Nazieh and Ahmad, afloat atop the pitch black Mediterranean sea, and of the brave Ruhaf Mohammed, who fled her homeland under the gendered confines of the Saudi state to seek independence and autonomy as free woman. These stories, among others, recognize that despite the savagely unbridled rule of those such as the Assads, Netenyahus and Saudi Patriarchs, the fearless actions of the avowedly inconsequential mob act as the true emblems of hope and truth in a time where intergovernmental intervention is certainly failing.

It is time to turn our eyes from the spurious jaunts of the Hollywood elect, and instead focus on instigating change. At the very least recognizing the oppression of those 411 million who have for decades, been without even the most basic human rights.

If there is one book that everyone should read whilst in isolation, it is We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know. Indeed, we may just realize that sitting in the comfort of our homes is after all, not that bad. Perhaps then we might better be able to, like McNeill, give those who have been so persistently silenced a voice again.

HarperCollins 2020

book cover with old-fashioned typeset lettering reading This Is Happiness

This Is Happiness

Niall WIlliams     Recommended by    

fiction

In a far flung rural community, the residents of Faha wait for the endlessly postponed arrival of electricity, a change which will alter a way of life unaltered for centuries.

This is Happiness, like Williams’ previous novel, History of the Rain is writing of the highest quality.  It is deeply revealing of the Irish psyche, with the history of their relationship with England, their religious history and their constant battle with rainy weather, all playing a part.  Williams’ writing is sympathetic, good-natured and full of gentle humour.

Weaving together the stories of his characters, the author makes a luminous portrait of a place; earthy, magical, humourous, as small and as large as the stories of those that live there.

Bloomsbury Publishing 2019

 

book cover with She I Dare Not Name overlaying a marbled background

She I Dare Not Name : A Spinster’s Meditations on Life

Donna Ward     Recommended by Anne    

Memoir 

In a striking, insightful and very lovely series of essays, Donna Ward descibes the experience of being a single person in contemporary Australian society. She describes a full and fully-examined life in chapters and shorter pieces, from the expected disadvantages like deep loneliness and unsympathetic friends, to the more glaring societal problems such as the way everything from travel to home loans are set up with a family or a couple in mind.

Ward uses the word ‘spinster’ in full knowledge of its pejorative implications, discussing how the independent drive of first wave feminism cannot sit comfortably with those who may not have chosen their single state. The book also dwells on the beauty of an everyday routine which allows undisturbed contemplation, as well as what it means to cultivate a sense of place in the landscape and as a citizen of a country. It is illuminating, soothing and important reading.

Allen & Unwin 2020 

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