onlystory

The Only Story

Julian Barnes     Recommended by Alan    

fiction

The Only Story is a piercing account of helpless devotion, and of how memory can confound us and fail us and surprise us (sometimes all at once), of how “first love fixes a life forever.”

One summer in the sixties, in a staid suburb south of London, Paul comes home from university, aged nineteen, and is urged by his mother to join the tennis club. In the mixed-doubles tournament he’s partnered with Susan Macleod, a fine player who’s forty-eight, confident, ironic, and married, with two nearly adult daughters. She is also a warm companion, their bond immediate. And they soon, inevitably, are lovers. Clinging to each other as though their lives depend on it, they then set up house in London to escape his parents and the abusive Mr. Mcleod.

Decades later, with Susan now dead, Paul looks back at how they fell in love, how he freed her from a sterile marriage, and how – gradually, relentlessly – everything fell apart, as she succumbed to depression and worse while he struggled to understand the intricacy and depth of the human heart.

‘Most of us have only one story to tell. I don’t mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives: there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories. But there’s only one that matters, only one finally worth telling. This is mine.’

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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.

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The Shepherd’s Hut

Tim Winton     Recommended by Alan    

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.

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The Gastronomical Me

M.F.K. Fisher     Recommended by Anne    

food writing / memoir

A classic of food writing, Daunt Books have reissued a neglected gem in M.F.K. Fisher’s gastronomic memoir. For a writer who despised the format of a personal essay, these reminiscences are close to the bone. Written when she was freshly widowed, pregnant to an undisclosed partner, raw with grief, this book carries the slightly vague, but intense feeling of daydreaming backwards to kinder times. At the time of its publication in 1943 food writing was considered light entertainment so The Gastronomical Me defied the expectations of girlish fluff, with luminaries like W.H. Auden saying “I do not know of anyone in the States who writes better prose.”

Starting in early childhood with the taste of the skimmed fuzz from the strawberry jam as her grandmother toiled at canning, Fisher’s anecdotes seem to be touchstones, times when the sensations were keenest. Her passages about shipboard eating “…by myself, slowly, voluptuously, and with an independence that heartened me against the coldness of my cabin and my thoughts” made me wish for a pinch of her bravado.
Its a strange book which sits between autobiography and Gourmet Traveler, and the prose is a piquant treat.

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The Immortalists

Chloe Benjamin     Recommended by Anne    

fiction

One restless New York summer in the sixties, the four Gold siblings decide to pool their pocket money and see a psychic. A travelling wise woman sublets a cramped apartment on the lower east side, and for a price will tell your fortune – the exact date of your death.
Studious Varya, curious Daniel, sweet Simon and dreamy Klara all take their prediction in different ways, either dismissive, or pleased, or completely crushed, and its almost as though their foretaste of mortality ends their childhood early. Simon will break his mother’s heart by running away to San Francisco, Klara focuses her ambition on becoming a magician, and the older siblings chafe under the sudden responsibility of their dependent parents.
Its a sprawling, fascinating story, with asides into the characters and their motivations which make you wonder what you would do, if you learned your fate. Each character is deftly written, and as their dates approach they react in ways which are believable and tragic. The book’s 50 year span and settings from New York to Vegas to San Francisco take the reader through a long and enjoyable story which seems too big to fit into one novel. It reminded me of Salinger’s Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, a tender-hearted family saga with all people’s flaws and triumphs. A good book to start the year with!

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