book cover with a crowd of peasants overlaid in green gothic text

Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming

Laszlo krasnahorkai     Recommended by Alan    

Fiction

Hailed as Hungarian author Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s masterwork, Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming is a freewheeling and shambolic account of an ailing aristocrat returning to the provincial town of his youth, where he hopes to reunite with his high school sweetheart. Moving between narrators and viewpoints, the novel is “a mesmerisingly strange experience: a slab of late modernist grindcore and a fiercely committed exercise in blacker-than-black absurdity,” with sentences that run for pages, disjunctive narrative breaks and unapologetic slapstick. It is sometimes hard to tell how much disruption is due to the translation, which I felt to be a little rushed. Krasznahorkai remains one of my favourite authors and I looked forward to this release, but I feel describing Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming as a masterwork diminishes some of his prior novels like Satantango and Seiobo There Below.

Allen & Unwin 2020 

book cover titled Truganini with a picture of a seaweed filled seashore

Truganini: Journey through the apocalypse

Cassandra Pybus     Recommended by Alan    

Australian History 

An outstanding non-fiction new release, Truganini details the life story of the Nuenonne woman who saw the almost complete extermination of her people over the seven decades of her life. Professor Cassandra Pybus would hear her ancestors recount the story of the lone Aboriginal woman who would cross over their part of Bruny island without realizing as a child what a pivotal part of history Truganini had played in. As a child. Truganini saw the first contact with white colonizers, and then an extreme cultural shift and the devastation of her people.

Using eyewitness accounts and testimony, Pybus creates a narrative history which is respectful, readable and very affecting.

womenandpower

Women & Power: A Manifesto

Mary Beard     Recommended by Gideon    

Philosophy 

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

 
hereweare

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

NapoleonsBeekeeperCoverforWeb-1

Napoleon’s Beekeeper

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

fiction

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 

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