Review: A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan

C2AD032C-4C02-4826-B2C6-0BCF66F3B779In this debut novel by neurodivergent author Madeleine Ryan, we spend a night in the mind of a young woman on the autism spectrum as she prepares for, and attends, a lavish Christmas Eve party in Melbourne.

Exposed to her acerbic, self-aware, painfully deadpan inner monologue, readers who loved the quirky characters in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Convenience Store Woman (and maybe even George Simsion’s Rosie trilogy) will find Ryan’s narrator just as empathetic and beguiling. But whereas those protagonists starred in narrative-driven novels laden with heightened melodrama, the lead in A Room Called Earth isn’t fated to have an eventful night; the strength of the book is that its foundation lies in the every day. Nothing extraordinary occurs at the party. What’s extraordinary is the ordinariness of her thoughts and observations; her refusal to adhere to entrenched societal expectations clashing with a desire to belong, and to make a deep, long lasting human connection. Relatable, much? However different neurodiverse people view the world, our wants and desires boil down to the same fundamentals.

Throughout her night, and into the next morning, our narrator deliberates over feminism, Indigenous Australians, love, toxic masculinity, mysticism; a whole smorgasbord of subjects float to the surface of her stream of consciousnesses, and it all meshes cohesively, and beautifully. A Room Called Earth is a fresh and exceptionally strong portrait of a young woman, void of the sentimentality and theatrics that could easily have turned the proceedings into a soap opera. It’s a smashing debut.

Publication: 1 September 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781925849776
Pages: 304

Review: The Boy From the Woods by Harlan Coben

9781787462977Although it’s comprised of incongruent components — the unconventional, enigmatic, titular boy (now man) from the woods, seems oddly shoehorned into this ripped-from-the-head-lines plot — there’s no denying Harlan Coben is the master of the wickedly seductive , twist-filled, stay-up-all-night thriller.

The Boy From the Woods introduces former soldier and private investigator, Wilde. That’s not his real name; you see, decades ago, when he was a mere boy, Wilde was discovered in the New Jersey backwoods, living a feral existence, with no memory of his past. And despite attempts by friends and his adoptive parents to indoctrinate him into the “real world,” Wilde prefers living alone, off the grid, unshackled by societal constraints. So, Jack Reacher in the woods, essentially.

Wilde is plucked from his solitude by his troubled godson, Matthew Crimstein. Matthew’s worried about his bullied classmate, Naomi Pine, who has gone missing, and he’s turned to his grandmother, powerful attorney Hester Crimstein, for help; who has come to Wilde for help, since this plot needs a protagonist. Wilde learns Naomi’s classmate, Crash Maynard, is responsible for the majority of her bullying; and that his father, Dash Maynard, is best pals with reality TV star–turned–presidential hopeful Rusty Eggers; and who may or may not have some incriminating video recordings that could destroy his  friend’s candidacy; which may or may not be connected to Naomi’s disappearance (and a subsequent kidnap, of another child; no spoilers!).

Subplots and red herrings abound; The Boy From the Woods has Coben’s trademark twists and turns, but this time his hero lacks the heart and genuineness of, say, Myron Bolitar.  Wilde’s an offbeat character, whose origin sounds fascinating on the blurb of a book, but it’s not really fleshed out enough here, and he feels tacked on to a tale that doesn’t really need him. Hester Crimstein could’ve been the protagonist of this story. She’d kick less ass, presumably — Hester’s a sixty-something lawyer, after all — but I think she’d be a superior anchor. All that said, Coben’s the master at annihilating hours in your day, and this one makes for perfect airplane reading.

ISBN: 9781529123838
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 17-Mar-2020
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


Review: Night Theatre by Vikram Paralkar

t2u2yfjss2tof85oppkww3ujvdfa_zszk-pesqhpmh4dda6060“The day the dead visited the surgeon, the air in his clinic was laced with formaldehyde.”

With Night Theatre, Vikram Paralkar has crafted two thirds a masterpiece, its charm  only slightly diminished by the abruptness of one element of its denouement, but which is overall germane to its central themes: the mysteries of death, and the wonders of life.

Paralkar’s novel reminded me of Murakami’s ability to blend the commonplace with the surreal and nightmarish. It’s got a beguiling simple setup. A former surgeon — now relegated to derisory general practitioner duties for reasons explained in the text — is closing up his ramshackle clinic in rural India for the night, when he is visited by an egregiously wounded family. In fact, he quickly realises, the injuries sustained by the teacher, his heavily pregnant wife, and their young son during a brutal assault are unsurvivable. Somehow — impossibly — the dead have come to the surgeon for help. They’ve made a deal with an angel in the afterlife, and they need the surgeon to mend their mortal wounds before sunrise so that they may return to life. But conditions apply to their arrangement.

As this compelling story unfolds throughout the course of a single night, the surgeon’s medical skills and faith are tested like never before; the very foundations of his belief system turned inside out. Night Theatre is beguiling, unnerving and haunting; I loved it, despite my reservations about its resolution.

ISBN: 9781788161329
Format: Hardback
Pages: 224
Imprint: Profile Books Ltd
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Publish Date: 21-Feb-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Gathering Dark by Candice Fox

9780143789178Candice Fox brilliantly transmutes her distinct brand of crime fiction — action-driven mysteries anchored by dynamic, unorthodox characters, sprinkled with black humour — to Los Angeles in Gathering Dark, in what readers can only hope is the beginning of a brand new series.

The imperilled runaway daughter of her former cellmate reunites ex-con Blair Harbour with Sneak Lawlor. Harbour’s not looking for trouble — the convicted murderer, out on probation, is determined to win back custody of her son — but she owes Sneak for being her only friend on the inside, never mind the overriding guilt she would feel if something happened to Dayly. That their partnership quickly allies them with one of LA’s most feared underworld figures is only the beginning of Harbour’s problems.

Meanwhile, Detective Jessica Sanchez, is facing her own crisis. She’s just inherited a $7 million mansion as a reward for solving a cold case, making her public enemy number one within the LAPD. The last thing she needs is Blair Harbour  — the woman she put behind bars ten years ago — knocking on her door, begging for help.

Fox adroitly shuffles this tangled cast towards an action-packed ending that is considerably tighter and more satisfying than your average whodunit. And while I miss her evocation of the Australian landscape, her Los Angeles feels authentic. With Gathering Dark, Fox has enlivened the standard police procedural with her customary supercharged offbeat characters, and whipcracking pace. More, please.

Published: 31 March 2020
ISBN: 9780143789178
Imprint: Bantam Australia
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 432
RRP: $32.99

Review: Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

9781784743482“The thing about old girlfriends, Micah reflected, is that each one subtracts something from you. You say goodbye to your first great romance and move on to the next, but you find you have less to give the next. A little chip of you has gone missing; you’re not quite so wholly there in the new relationship. And less there in the one after that, and even less in the one after that one.”

This is comfortably familiar fiction by Anne Tyler; remorselessly poignant, rendered with a unique blend of melancholy and warmheartedness that is distinctly her own style. Redhead by the Side of the Road is another beautifully written gem; and although I do wish Tyler would demonstrate slightly more ambition in the latter part of her stellar career, I’m inevitably enchanted by the subtlety and delicate touch of her writing.

Micah Mortimer’s life is strictly governed by a self-imposed, extremely regimented routine. Think you’re organised? Think again; you ain’t got nothin’ on Micah. He wakes, every morning, at 7:15am for his run, then starts his work as a freelance tech consultant for his small business ‘Tech Hermit,’ and then in the afternoon manages tasks in the apartment building where he’s s the live-in super. Micah’s life is ordered; carefully coordinated for maximum efficiency. To the extent that, from our omniscient perspective, he appears straitjacketed by his habits; emotionally blanched. Until two events destabilise Micah’s system: his “woman friend” reveals she is facing eviction from her apartment; and a teenager shows up at his door claiming to be his son.

As Tyler strips Micah of his delusions, she conveys the texture of human emotion with graceful precision. As ever, she plays to her strengths, and as always, she has created a wonderfully complicated character who lingers in your imagination long after the final page.

Published: 15 April 2020
ISBN: 9781784743482
Imprint: Chatto & Windus
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 192
RRP: $29.99

Review: Weather by Jenny Offill

9781783784769In this new novel by Dept. of Speculation author Jenny Offill, librarian Lizzie Benson weathers the tumultuous storm of our present day in a series of sharp, lyrical, sometimes poignant, more often amusing, vignettes.

Lizzie’s concerns oscillate between the minute and the mundane, and the apocalyptic. The book’s humour stems from their universality, and our brain’s ability to compartmentalise various doomsday scenarios alongside the trials and tribulations of every day, and find both subsets equally catastrophic depending on our mood and mindset.

Offill’s style is deceptively simple, but almost impossible to replicate. Her deadpan observations uncannily expose the hurts and joys of living. She is one of the great contemporary chroniclers of the human condition.

ISBN: 9781783784769
Format: Hardback
Pages: 224
Imprint: Granta Books
Publisher: Granta Books
Publish Date: 13-Feb-2020
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

9781509882816“There is exquisite lightness in waking each morning with the knowledge that the worst has already happened.”

Emily St. John Mandel’s highly-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, spanning more than thirty years, and involving a disparate cast of characters impacted by the catastrophic collapse of a financier’s Ponzi scheme.

It opens in December 2018, with Vincent Smith falling overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, into the annihilating cold of the water below. The narrative then unsnarls backwards, disclosing how the book’s key players are linked by the Hotel Caiette, a five-star architectural triumph on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island — owned by Jonathan Alkaitis, whose fraudulent investment scheme will derail so many lives — and the night a menacing message was scrawled on its primary window: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” 

Exploring ghosts, guilt, heartache and corruption, The Glass Hotel is a virtuoso display of overlapping storylines, that bounce backwards and forwards in time, and into a surreal “counterlife,” interweaved via character, theme, and plot. This is genius storytelling by one of my favourite writers.

ISBN: 9781509882816
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: 31/03/2020
Imprint: Picador
Pages: 256
Price: $29.99