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.

Hamish Hamilton 2018 


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 


Women & Power: A Manifesto

Mary Beard     Recommended by Gideon    


An effective and incisive manifesto, Women & Power by Mary Beard once again underlines that clichéd notion that directs us to conclude, that in order to understand our present we must first understand the heralded acts of our past. Whilst Beard is known primarily as one of ‘Britain’s best known classicists’ and a promoter of our ancient forbears, she cedes most willingly that it is certainly time we reassessed the nature of the Greco-Roman societies; particularly the pedestal on which they currently stand as scholarly exemplars, and the role that women were forced to play within these historic frameworks.

Her piece draws upon – among many other examples – the gendered binaries of both Homer’s Odyssey, and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, and notes the passive statuette of Homer’s domesticated Penelope (the private woman), and the idiotic portrayal of Aristophanes’ public servant Lysistrata (the public’s spokeswoman). Beard demonstrates the almost unbridgeable gap between these spheres, differentiates how these complex anxieties are undoubtedly caught up in how one regards auditory power, and demonstrates the need to understand these evolving issues with historic clarity when analysing current political and social norms. Whilst perhaps not the most wholistic or dynamic narration of the subject, this 100 page discourse nonetheless offers an amicable first glimpse to the individual looking over the precipice toward feminist literature.  For all genders, Women & Power offers an insight into the historic calamity which has been the oppression of the powerless by the powerful. Yet perhaps all clichés do not have to prove true; firstly, as exemplified by Mary Beard – the so-called ‘losers’ can indeed write effective history. Secondly, for those uncomfortable with the prospect of shared power (e.g. my disagreeable brothers in arms), for one to cede power to another does not make oneself powerless.

Profile Books 2017


Here We Are

Graham Swift     Recommended by Anne    

Since this is the first book by Graham Swift I’ve read, I can’t compare it to the popular Mothering Sunday, a Downton Abbey-esque novella set during a pivotal holiday in a grand household. Here We Are is at first sitting, a very English story. A summer season in a theatre in Brighton Pier brings together Jack Robbins (stage name Jack Robinson), his friend Ronnie, an aspiring magician, and Evie White. Evie answers the advertisement for ‘Magician’s Assistant Wanted’ and quickly falls for Ronnie’s ‘brilliant eyes’. Charismatic Jack is always watching from the wings though, and the trio of friends begins to tilt into lopsided longing. The story shifts between that fateful summer of 1959 to closer to the present day, where Evie reflects on her long marriage and longer bereavements.

Swift returns to the theme of defining moments in Here We Are, with the scenes and conversations of the story unfolding in a tinted, reminiscent nostalgia much like memory. It’s gentle and genteel, with skillful steering and a sense of opportunities missed.

Simon and Schuster 2020


Napoleon’s Beekeeper

José Luis de Juan, translated by Elizabeth Bryer     Recommended by Gideon    


Jose Luis de Juan’s novella Napoleon’s Beekeeper instantly deports its reader beyond reach of the Tuscan coast, as our author re-imagines the whimsical last sundown of the Napoleonic epoch. The year is 1814 and Bonaparte finds himself with little more dirt to govern than that of the isolated, bee-infested island of Elba. However, rather than finding his newly subjected vassals to be unreachable, Elba’s occupants (and furthermore, their carefully tended Apidae) seem to resonate a synchronistic awareness to the moonlit reveries of the exiled conqueror. Meanwhile, on a distant farm, beekeeper and tactician Andrea Pasolini scribbles furiously in his dimly lit cellar. Imitating La Rochefoucauld, he studies and carefully translates the symposium that is the incessant droning hive. For surely it seems; Pasolini’s swarm has a message for Napoleon?

Translated by Australian writer Elizabeth Bryer, this text dismantles the stagnate confines of historical fiction, and de Juan succeeds in carefully weaving a tapestry that is part fact and part fable, as he contests the individuality of one’s own fate, the perception of an exterior life and the frequencies between which compound in the formation of every decisive Epic.

Giramondo Publishing 2020 


In the Dream House

Carmen Maria Machado     Recommended by Anne    


An account of a relationship from shimmering start to shattered end, In the Dream House is a uniquely brilliant book. In a series of short pieces, Machado reflects on how things went so very wrong in her love affair with allusion, musing and witticisms which range from villainy, memory palace and pop-culture to aching isolation and fear. It is an added complication to be queer and unhappily attached in the time of marriage equality and (grudging) acceptance and it certainly added to the toxic mix of disbelief and slippage when Machado’s partner started to display abusive behaviours. The book winds back and forth, offering glimpses of domestic abuse and terror among the yearning and happiness. Its an absolutely superb bit of writing and I was entranced the whole way through. Machado’s previous book, a collection of short stories called Her Body and Other Parties gained much acclaim since its publication, and I’m sure In the Dream House will as well.

Serpent’s Tail 2020


How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

Jenny Odell     Recommended by Anne    

self-development / technology

For a book about the creeping, unhindered involvement that social media has in our lives, this is an oddly soothing and optimistic read. Jenny Odell is an artist, writer and professor at Stanford, and advocates for a different style of engagement with our environment. How to Do Nothing discusses the disconnect with bioregion and the implications of distraction for our relationships, as well as our sense of self. She argues we are driven to involve ourselves constantly with apps, uploading content among a ceaseless roar of information – and that this destabilizes any attempt at activism as well as eroding our relationship to nature and ecosystem. I liked this book’s intersecting ideas, with art and data mining, disaster, mindfulness and birdwatching being mentioned. It is nearly impossible to choose a completely offline existence, but there are ways to withdraw and ground oneself in the neighbourhood, and the community, alongside otherwise networked lives. Opting out, or as Odell puts it, replacing #FOMO with #NOMO (the necessity of missing out) is a radical act, but an essential one.

BlackInc Books, 2019

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