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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.

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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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West

Carys Davies     Recommended by Anne    

Fiction

When this slender little novel came in my colleagues all raised an eyebrow, knowing i’m partial to a Western. And Western this is, with all the bits I like best about the genre. Breathless, sometimes self-destructive pursuit of ideas, maps with blank spots, romantic landscapes and lives in peril.When he hears reports of enormous bones unearthed in Kentucky, Cyrus Bellman leaves his Pennsylvanian smallholding with a wave from his daughter and derision from his sister, and a brand-new stovepipe hat to cut a more imposing figure among the unknown Indian tribes of the interior. Without really knowing why, he wants to see if the giant creatures still roam the uncharted frontier. His daughter, Bess, waits with her short-tempered Aunt for news and tries to negotiate the unwelcome attentions of predatory men who can sense her unprotected adolescence.

Its a short book, being only 148 pages, and the pacing had me reading the whole thing in about 2 sittings  – breathlessly, toward the end, when the action ramps up and Bess finally discovers how her father’s journey played out. Carys Davies’ previous book is a collection called The Travellers and Other Stories, and she is very good at constructing a narrative with brevity and precision. It is sensitive, clean writing with a desolate Gothic tint, reminding me of Annie Proulx’s Barkskins and The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage.

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The Death of Noah Glass

Gail Jones     Recommended by Anne    

Fiction

Gail Jones’ latest novel deals with the themes of art, family and identity in a way which will be familiar to readers who have enjoyed her previous books like Five Bells and Sorry. Found floating in his swimming pool shortly after returning from Italy, art historian Noah Glass is implicated in the theft of a sculpture from Palermo. His adult children, Martin and Evie, try to make sense of who their father was and how he could be involved, while each grieving in their particular ways. Martin searches in Sicily, compiling material for a series of artworks, while Evie moves into her father’s apartment and re-establishes her ties to Sydney. The settings of the story are vivid, moving in sliding planes from the high noon of Sydney’s sparkle to Palermo’s shadowy melancholy, past and present. The three characters of Noah and his children are each alive and distinct, and one of my favourite aspects of this book is the tender relationship between brother and sister, and how Noah’s research into Piero della Francesca meant that art history fragments were sprinkled throughout. A good book for those who enjoyed The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith, or The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Romantic, unsettling, and hopeful.

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The Line Becomes a River

Francesco Cantú     Recommended by Anne    

Biography

I stayed up late reading Francisco Cantú’s book. Its one of these non-fiction titles which are beautiful books about horrible things, in the manner of The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein. Mr. Cantú was a border patrol agent between 2008 and 2012, policing the border between Mexico and the USA in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Its confronting reading. Although he does his best to retain a sense of empathy, Cantú describes destroying supply caches (to discourage crossers so they give up) booking small children, and finding dead bodies. A descendant of immigrants, he reflects on the toll that border enforcement policies enact on people all the way from the governmental decision makers to the people attempting a dangerous desert crossing in hope of a better life. There are descriptions of the natural landscapes Cantú loves, and historical insights into the nature of borders and boundaries. Its a flowing, disparate, subtle book.

The brutality of a system which will separate families and incarcerate undocumented immigrants compares uncomfortably closely with Australian policies on asylum seekers – its just an ocean they cross to reach us, instead of a desert. Vital, timely, lovely.

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The Trauma Cleaner

Sarah Krasnostein     Recommended by Anne    

Biography

This book was one of my top five reads for 2017, one I’ve often since recommended, gifted, loaned and praised. The life story of Sandra Pankhurst is one which could easily be sensationalized, but instead it is a sensitive, thoughtful and deeply engrossing book which touches on the legacies of difficult childhood, Melbourne’s queer history, and the sheer world-building will of a woman’s shifting identity.

Before she was the successful founder of Specialized Trauma Cleaning Service Pty Ltd, Sandra grew up in a violent home. Assigned male at birth, her sex-reassignment surgery was one of the first performed in Australia. The years that followed in the nightclubs and brothels and cabaret venues could have left her burned out and embittered, but instead deepened her convictions that we all deserve to be listened to.
The chapters delving into Sandra’s present day job, cleaning up after nightmare domestic situations like hoarding, crime scenes and catastrophic squalor, are fascinating without being ghoulish. A many-dimensioned, skillfully constructed, compassionate memoir and a book deserving all its accolades.

The Trauma Cleaner was published by Text Publishing in October 2017. It won the Victorian Premier’s Literary award for Non-fiction 2018 and the Victorian Prize for Literature 2018, and was longlisted for the Indie Book Award for Non-fiction 2018.

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Cigarette Girl

Masahiko Matsumoto     Recommended by Alan    

Manga

Welcome to the quiet, evocative urban dramas of Masahiko Matsumoto, one of the leading lights of the Japanese alternative-comics movement known as “gekiga.” Originally published in 1974, these eleven stories now form the first English-language collection of Matsumoto’s mature work. His shy, uncertain heroes face broken hearts, changing families, money troubles, sexual anxiety, and the pressures of tradition, but with a whimsy and lightness of touch that is Matsumoto’s trademark.
Beautifully published collection. No big eyes, big boobs, robots or action.

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