Wolf Hall | Hilary Mantel | 4th Estate | 2009 | RRP $22.99 | 9780008381691 | 672 pages
Armed with a cursory knowledge of Tudor history, but determined to finally read Hilary Mantel’s lauded trilogy opener in preparation for the publication of The Mirror and the Light, I read Wolf Hall in patches over the course of two weeks, and found myself simultaneously impressed by the scope of the work and its fascinating historical detail, and bewildered by the sheer number of characters and machinations.
Mantel luxuriates in this retelling of Henry VIII’s notorious marriage to Anne Boleyn and the rise of Thomas Cromwell. Rich historic details are presented at a stately pace as Mantel deftly balances the grand scale of her story with the interpersonal stories of its jam-packed cast. It’s impossible not to be impressed by Wolf Hall, it’s an audacious project saturated in sumptuous prose; but I always felt like a fly on the wall, and kept at arms length from its characters, rather than invested in their thoughts and feelings. It felt like I was reading a wonderfully spun historical account rather than actually partaking in it. Honestly, I was left a little cold; perhaps if I was better educated on the history I’d have enjoyed it more.
Deep State | Chris Hauty | Simon & Schuster |
14 January 2020 | RRP $33.00 | 9781471191992
“No one voluntarily leaves Washington. You’re either voted out, fired, or you die.”
In screenwriter Chris Hauty’s debut thriller, army veteran Hayley Chill — an implausible blend of every action hero ever put to page — interns for the White House chief of staff and finds herself mired in a conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States. Is the dastardly Deep State finally making a move? Or is this something else entirely?
Artless narration, frustrating omniscient present tense narration and threadbare characters renders a decent plot mechanical and lifeless. Deep State might make for a decent summer blockbuster (of the Olympus Has Fallen variety), but as a novel, it’s completely void of any suspense or excitement. The final twist might work on screen, but rendered in prose, it’s more puzzling than shocking, and had me skimming back pages to check for any foreshadowing. Nope. I love a killer twist; but the author’s got to earn it. It’s fine to misdirect the reader, but it’s cheating not to have a single signpost for your denouement.
There’s promise in Hauty’s plotting, but for a thriller about the lurking malice and secrets of the deep state, there’s a distinct lack of menace, and despite her kick-ass attributes, there is nothing about Chill that catapults her above the crowded heroes of thriller-lit. This is one of those rare times I’m going to say you’re better off waiting for the movie.
Fifty-Fifty | Steve Cavanagh | Hachette Australia | 25 February 2020 | RRP $33.00 | 9781409185857
Fifty-Fifty is vintage Steve Cavanagh: the setup is scintillating, his trademark twists are generously piled on, and the payoff is suitably pulse-pounding.
On the night of their father’s brutal death, two sisters — Sofia and Alexandra Avellino — dial 911 and blame each other for the murder. The women are trialled at the same time, in front of one jury. One of them has been framed; the other is a murderer. Unless they were both involved? Lawyers Eddie Flynn (The Defence, The Plea, etc) and Kate Brooks steadfastly believe their clients are innocent. As they clash in the courtroom, it begins to dawn on them; one, or both of them, are being played by a killer.
Cavanagh expertly manipulates the reader through his labyrinth plot, daring us, and his protagonists, to assume the innocence and guilt of both sisters at various stages, before unveiling a piece of evidence or witness that undermines any presupposed theory. Cavanagh writes blockbuster Grisham-esque thrillers: his plots are sensational, the pacing is pure Hollywood, but they’re grounded by embattled characters readers can’t help but root for. Fifty-Fifty is spectacular entertainment, easily read as a standalone, but also an important milestone in the Eddie Flynn canon.
Death in the East | Abir Mukherjee | Harvill Secker | 19 November 2019 | RRP $33.00 | 9781787300583
“…if the universe gave you a chance for redemption, you’d bloody well better take it, because second chances were rare and third chances were non-existent.”
Abir Mukherjee adds to his impressive slate of historical crime novels with Death in the East, the fourth mystery starring Calcutta police detective Captain Sam Wyndham and his Indian Sergeant, Surrender-not Banerjee. The mastery of his craft is on full show here, as Mukherjee expertly entwines two murders 17 years apart and on different continents: one in 1905, London, when Wyndham was a young, inexperienced constable; the other in 1922 Assam, the ‘present day’ in the series continuity, where Wyndham has sought the aid of a sainted monk to help conquer his opium addiction.
Mukherjee’s interrogations have the rare quality of gradually illuminating and thickening characters, plot, and setting. Alongside an ingenious murder method, Death in the East is abrim with racial tension, methodical detective work, and the hero’s appealing struggle to balance a thirst for revenge with his desire for justice. This might just be Wyndham and Banjeree’s finest hour. Mukherjee should be celebrated for his sterling consistency. There is no better author of crime fiction writing today — this series is excellent.
The Gypsy Goddess | Meena Kandasamy | Atlantic Books | April 2015 | RRP $23.00 | 9781782391807
“Because I have taken pleasure in the aggressive act of clobbering you with metafiction devices, I can hear some of you go: what happened to the rules of a novel?
They are hanging on my clothesline over there.”
This novel about the 1968 massacre of 44 Dalit agricultural labourers in Kilvenmani village, in the Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu, South India, and the struggle of an author to tell the story, is mesmerising and frustrating in equal measure. It features some of the most exquisite, lurid passages I’ve read in years, but its fractured format negated its overall impact. I was left more frustrated than charmed; annoyed by the constant shifts in perspectives and voices — from breathless single-sentences, to second-person narrations, to communist pamphlets — that never quite gelled cohesively. Meena Kandasamy deserves credit for playing with the form, and I’m keen to read more of her work, because some of the prose truly sings, but ultimately, I would’ve preferred a straightforward retelling of these horrific events. Or maybe I’m just a simpleton.
Bernardine Evaristo’s extraordinary eighth novel, and deserved winner of last year’s Booker prize, provides bold, contemporary perspectives on feminism and race through 12 interconnected stories that unravel through radiantly lyrical, iconoclastically stylistic prose.
Any fear I had of the mental taxation it might require to enjoy Girl, Woman, Other — with its scarce punctuation, unexpected line breaks, and paucity of capitalisation — was completely misplaced; this is a blazingly readable firecracker of a novel. The experiences of the 12 black, British characters, who exist in different decades and touch each other’s lives both plainly and subtly, coexist in an exquisite harmony that I won’t soon forget.
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 2-May-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom
Amnesty | Aravind Adiga | Pan Macmillan AU | February 2020 | RRP $30.00 | 9781509879045
“There is a buzz, a reflexive retinal buzz, whenever a man or woman born in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh sees another from his or her part of the world in Sydney — a tribal pinprick, an instinct always reciprocal, like the instantaneous recognition of homosexuals in a repressed society. Because even if both of you believe that one brown man holds no special significance for another in Sydney — a city and civilisation built on the principle of the exclusion of men and women who were not white, and which fully outgrew that principle only a generation ago — which is to say, even if you want to stay icebox or indifferent in the presence of the other brown man, you are helpless.”
Booker Prize-winning author Aravind Adiga returns with the story of a day in the life of Dhananjaya ‘Danny’ Rajaratnam, an illegal Sri Lankan immigrant, who unwittingly becomes embroiled in a murder, and must decide whether coming forward with information that would aid the police investigation is worth the risk of deportation. As he evaluates the morality and consequences of either decision, we learn of Danny’s past, and his daily struggles to survive as a cleaner in Sydney; living in a grocery storeroom under the thumb of its tyrannical owner; wracked by the fear of the authorities who want him expelled; and the desperate measures he must go to in order to assimilate into Australian society.
What makes Amnesty propulsive, powerful and unsettling in equal measure is Adiga’s ability to render this tale apolitically. The novel neither berates nor bolsters Australia’s immigration policy, merely spotlights a singular human story that so often gets lost amidst the debate, framed around a young man’s quest to negotiate the blurred line between justice and responsibility. It’s a story of dreams; those already shattered, those for the future, and the cost of making them a reality.
This timely novel depicts the struggles faced by immigrants — legal and illegal — with heartbreaking specificity; the constant fear of being discovered by immigration officers alongside the desire to acclimate to a society that doesn’t want you. It’s one of best, and most bittersweet novels I’ve read in some time; as a reader, you are burdened by the knowledge that whatever Danny chooses to do, the ramifications will be ruinous. Sober and erudite, Amnesty is another tour-de-force from a brilliant writer whose literary powers show no signs of abating.