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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.

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 

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The Sheltering Sky

Paul Bowles     Recommended by Anne    

fiction

I’m hesitant to tick the ‘recommended’ box since this book is unusually, vividly bleak. it’s also considered a landmark piece of twentieth century literature. First published in 1949, it is set in a decimated postwar North Africa, through which Americans Port Moresby, his wife Kit and their friend Tunner move restlessly. Wealthy and aimless, they consider themselves travellers rather than tourists, with Port seeking some kind of defining philosophical experience in the remote Sahara. The precursor to the Beats, Bowles was apparently beset with hippies visiting his home in Tangiers in the hope of meeting a wise sage. He wrote the book in bed (a habit he adopted when freezing desert nights made it impossible to sit at a desk) dissolving writer’s block with liberal quantities of hashish.

I couldn’t find a single character with kindness or other redeeming qualities; the book is a relentlessly hostile description of the meaningless cruelties humans perpetrate on one another and our innate aloneness. Port and Kit are each punished for their wilfull ignorance and apathy. Some passages are a vertiginous deep dive into the horror of death. The writing shows its age by the startling racism and misogyny, branching off the deeper misanthropy.  Perhaps it is not the portrayal of people in the novel which is so upsetting but the creeping suspicion that Bowles might have seen through the artifice of polite society, and be right about us all.

Ecco Press / Harper Collins 2014 

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The Nancys

R.W.R. McDonald     Recommended by Kristy    

fiction

The Nancy’s by RWR McDonald  is a heart-warming, thrilling murder mystery.  At once innocent and wicked, this is a truly delightful read.

Tippy Chan is eleven years old when her father dies leaving her and her mother to struggle on in small town New Zealand. When her Mum wins a cruise, Tippy’s Uncle Pike, comes to look after her bringing his new boyfriend Devon, an up and coming fashion designer.

Whilst Tippy is delighted to see her Uncle she is unsettled by a friend’s accident and a murder. Tippy and her uncle, inspired by their mutual love of Nancy Drew decide that they, along with a reluctant Devon,  will solve the crime before her mother’s return.  And they will look fabulous while they do it.

Allen & Unwin 2019

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The Electric Hotel

Dominic Smith     Recommended by Anne    

fiction

A delicious, decadent, freewheeling historical novel which begins in the decades prior to World War 1, where young Claude Ballard glimpses a demonstration by the Lumière brothers. He becomes their agent,travelling worldwide and demonstrating their remarkable invention, silent film. Told as a series of reminiscences, Claude relates his life story to a young and eager film student who has tracked him down to the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel. Claude forages for mushrooms in the L.A. Hills and keeps company with the other faded residents as well as reel upon reel of decaying celluloid, fragments from his days as a director and filmmaker. He recounts his lifelong obsession with Sabine Montrose, the icon whose celebrity turned toxic, and the boom and bust of the first days of cinema. It captures moments from a grandiose time where extravagant budgets allowed for disposable tigers and stuntmen routinely died on set. I thought the tone was perfect, conjuring a wonderment partly mystic and partly mundane. Dominic Smith’s other novels similarly deal with a time and situation where something magnificent was invented, be it the Dutch Golden Age of painting or photography’s beginning in the daguerrotype. An escapist delight!

Allen & Unwin 2019

 

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One Hundred Years of Dirt

Rick Morton     Recommended by Anne    

memoir / autobiography 

A wide-ranging family story where trauma careens down the ancestral line, manifesting in pain and discord. The Morton men formed a rural dynasty that was at one time, land the size of Belgium. They also shared a destructive and brutal approach to family life with siblings goaded into competing with one another by terrifying patriarchs. By the time Rick’s older brother was badly burned in an accident, the scene was set for the family’s disintegration. Its an honest, painful and unsentimental story of the harm people can cause one another by intention and by accident. Rick’s mother raised the two boys alone and on a pittance, and one of the things explored in the book is the effect of grinding poverty and how oblivious a privileged person can be. Its not a bitter book in the slightest though, and what I really liked is the love and pride and high regard Rick has for his mum. It feels as though it is a healing book, and I learned a lot.

Melbourne University Press 2018

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Exploded View

Carrie Tiffany     Recommended by Anne    

fiction

There’s an underlying hum of tension in Exploded View which sometimes dazzles through into violence, like broken glass glimpsed on a headlong dash. And I did read this novel fast! Carrie Tiffany’s newest novel is set in an almost recognizable 1970’s semi-rural hinterland, narrated by an adolescent girl in precarious circumstances. Her family, designated as Father Man, Mother and Brother, go about their days observed by, and cataloged with, a child’s odd amoral certainties. Very early it is established that the girl’s stepfather is a sinister figure, with offhand mentions of controlling behaviour and abuse. She takes comfort in the pilfered workshop manual to Father Man’s Holden, where the clean mechanical illustrations seem to be the opposite of a human body’s tendency for damage and pain. She also sneaks into his workshop at night and depending on her mood, takes the cars for joyrides or sabotages his slipshod mechanical repairs. There’s a savage thrill in this, and in how she dispassionately recalls the intricacies of parts with a savant’s accuracy. Its not a comfortable story to read, with triggering asides to childhood trauma, but it is unforgettable writing from a uniquely Australian voice and the protagonist will stay with me for a long time.

Text Publishing 2018

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