Friday, November 27, 2009

Great Holiday Reads!

The best books I've read in recent weeks are pictured above. If you're looking for a quality read or two for the upcoming holiday period you could do yourself a favor and read one or more or even all of these.

Peter Temple is an Australian crime novelist who is simply a must read. Five years ago he released The Broken Shore, a truly exhilarating novel which deservedly won a host of local and international awards. He writes literature, which distinguishes him from the great majority of hacks in the crime genre. He also has a incredibly fine ear for the richness and comedy of Australian dialogue. Everybody loved Shore and we were all desperate for another dose.

Along comes Truth. It's not a sequel, so Joe Cashin, the original lead character, a country cop, is barely there. But Villani, a jaded Melbourne senior detective, is an extraordinary and marvellous creation. I never thought I'd say this, but Truth is even better than Shore. The characters are so grounded and interesting, the dialogue is pure pleasure, and the Melbourne-based, multi-layered story, is rich and textured and extremely satisfying.

Much to my shame, I'd never read any Alex Miller before his new one, Lovesong. Miller has won the Miles Franklin twice, with Journey to the Stone Country and The Ancestor Game. Lovesong is simply one of the best books I've read this year (and I'm up to 73 so far!). It's a subtle, deceptively simple, but profound and disturbing story of a marriage and other close relationships. It stayed with me for weeks afterwards. I'm certainly intending to read more Miller and really looking forward to it.

Madeleine St John wrote The Women in Black way back in 1993 and it's just been re-released in Australia by Text. The women of the title all work in ladies wear in a Sydney department store in the repressive late 50's. It's a hugely enjoyable, insightful and comic exploration of their lives and loves, and well worth reading. It's become a bit of a classic and I can see why. Read this and you'll well and truly understand why the 60's was such a necessary revolution.

I picked up David Nicholl's One Day, not really knowing what to expect. (Why do we chose the books we do? I get so conflicted in bookshops when I'm browsing, looking for something that will absorb, satisfy and enlighten. If you pick one you don't pick another. These things take time to read, and making the wrong choice is really annoying, not to say expensive). Anyway, I got lucky with One Day. It's fantastic. It follows two students in London from their graduation to 20 years later, visiting them at the same time each year. They are simply wonderfully drawn characters, very different, whose lives go in totally different directions, but they are inexplicably drawn to each other. Our whole recent history - fashion, music, food, politics, society, etc - is the backdrop to these ordinary yet extraordinary lives. You'll get utterly absorbed in this book, I promise you.

I approached Nick Hornby's Juliet Naked with a fair bit of trepidation as I had a really bad experience a few years ago when I valiantly struggled to get beyond the first 50 pages of How To Be Good but ended up throwing it in the closest rubbish bin! It was dreadful. Juliet Naked however, his latest, is really quite excellent. A nice and sympathetic portrait of a woman who finally realises the man she's been living with for fifteen years or so is a total and ridiculous dick! Hugely enjoyable.

Emily Maguire is a young Australian writer who seems to be everywhere. I picked up her latest, Smoke in the Room, not really knowing what to expect other than a bit of inner city grunge which was fashionable fifteen years ago (what ever happened to Justine Ettler, who wrote the marvellous The River Ophelia?). Smoke in the River's starkly original central character is a 23 year old young woman who is a highly articulate, intelligent but depressed loser. She's a wonderful creation, and it would be marvellous if we could see more of her in Maguire's future works.