Review: The Girl on the Page by John Purcell

Girl on the PagePitch-perfect in every tone, note and detail, the (un)glamorous world of book publishing is an excellent lens for John Purcell’s examination of what it means to balance ambition and integrity. The Girl on the Page starts as a satire, but quickly subverts initial expectations, adding on layers of emotional depth and complexity to its characters with every page, creating evocative portraits of brilliant creative minds in crisis.

Amy Winston is a hot-shot young editor in London who made her name — and a fortune! — turning an average thriller writer into a Lee Child-esque mega-bestseller. But while her professional life is all roses, her personal life is a mess. Not to disparage her life of hard-drinking and bed-hopping, but it’s not exactly conducive to long-term happiness and continued success. Her new assignment — guiding literary great Helen Owen back to publication — isn’t an enviable one, but if anybody can fabricate a bestseller, or at least  something that’ll earn back a smidgen of Helen’s outrageous advance, it’s Amy Winston. But when she arrives at the doorstep of Helen Owen and her husband, Booker-shortlisted author Malcolm Taylor, Amy is confronted by more than just a questionable manuscript: the marriage between this literary power couple appears to have fractured as a result of Helen’s new book, which Malcolm as deemed unworthy of her true talent. Which puts this trio in a terrible position, where either decision — to publish, or to not publish — will result in ruin.

Purcell vividly realises his characters’ emotional journeys, and the reverberations of their fortunes and fates will be felt by readers long after they’ve closed the book. You could strip The Girl on the Page of all its publishing insider juiciness; what remains is a searing take on integrity, commerce, and the consequences of compromise. Purcell is a born storyteller, having spent a lifetime surrounded by books and learning from the masters of the craft. The Girl on the Page is moving, hilarious, and ultimately heart-wrenching. It’s a love-letter to literature, sure; to its creators, and its readers. But it’s so much more than that, too.

ISBN: 9781460756973
Imprint: 4th Estate – AU
On Sale: 24/09/2018
Pages: 352
List Price: 32.99 AUD

 

Review: Bed-Stuy is Burning by Brian Platzer

bed-stuy-is-burning-9781501146954_hrBrian Platzer’s Bed-Stuy is Burning is an ambitious debut novel that seeks to explore love, race, religion, ambition and gentrification in a mere 320 pages. Which is perhaps biting off  more than it can chew.  While Platzer’s grand aspirations are laudable — and certainly I’d rather a novelist shoot for the stars and miss rather than settle for something middling — the result is muddled; a book pockmarked with a few powerful moments and shades of great characters, which aren’t given the chance to truly shine and take on a life of their own.

Basically, this is a story about the relationship between Aaron, an ex-rabbi turned investment manager with a gambling addiction and a waned faith in God, and his girlfriend, Amelia, a freelance journalist determined to write more than celebrity fluff pieces and new mother, who loves the father of her child, just has serious reservations about marrying him. This alone has all the makings of a solid book; lots to play with here already. But wait, there’s more: Aaron and Amelia recently purchased a house in the historically black neighbourhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. They and their tenants, are the only white people on their block, which so far hasn’t been an issue; in fact, they’ve been welcomed into the area. Until, that is, the police shoot and kill a twelve-year-old black child, which inspires a rebellion. And Aaron, Amelia, their nanny, their tenant Daniel, a neighbour and a young black girl who’s just escaped a demonstration are caught smack-bang in the middle.

The narrative flits between each of their perspectives, unravelling the day in occasionally-disjointed chunks. It’s a little clunky at times, but it keeps momentum going, and there is one particular set-piece that’s executed with pulse-pounding brilliance; real white-knuckle stuff as the angry crowd advance on Aaron and Amelia’s home.

It’s not that Bed-Stuy is Burning is in any shape or form a bad book; it’s just brimming with so much potential and shades of greatness, I’m disappointed it doesn’t hit those heights. It’s under-cooked; underdeveloped. I wanted more. And as much as I love a novel with pace, it would’ve been nice to slow things down a little, dig a bit deeper. Having said that, it shows a lot of promise from an author whose next book I will certainly read.

ISBN: 9781501146961
Format: Paperback (213mm x 140mm x mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Emily Bestler Books
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: 1-Aug-2018
Country of Publication: United States

 

 

 

Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

DfUUEAqV4AADjEP.jpgSally Rooney’s ability to recognise and deftly chronicle the nuanced, critical moments of human relationships, is again brought to the fore in Normal People, her brilliant follow-up to last year’s Conversations With Friends.  It takes an unflinching look at the intricate nature of love and friendship, and the impact a person can have on another person’s life. More impressively, it demonstrates the difficulty of communicating with those you care for most, and ultimately how important it is. Normal People is, without question, one of the finest novels of 2018.

This is the story of Connell and Marianne, who grew  up in the same small town in the west of Ireland. Their resemblances end there; turns out you can come from the same place, but still live in very different worlds. But despite their conflicting status’, the two form a connection that grows, and changes, when they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin.

An addictive journey through all the territories of love — familial, romantic, sexual, the love between friends — Normal People charts the relationship of Connell and Marianne with humour, tragedy and deep insights that will make you both laugh and cry. I identified aspects of my own personality in both characters, and recognised some of their mistakes as my own as various relationships ignite, stutter, and ultimately fail. Sally Rooney has that rare gift of being able to write compulsive fiction about, well, normal people, and make their stories resonate long after the book is back on the shelf.

No sophomore slump here; Rooney’s second novel is suffused with the same elements that made Conversations With Friends such a success. I doubt I’ll read a better novel this year — certainly not one that affects me so deeply.

 

ISBN: 9780571347292
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publish Date: 6-Sep-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: American By Day by Derek B. Miller

9780857525376Derek B. Miller’s American By Day is that rare breed of crime novel that actually has something to say, and wants to make you think.  Amidst an enthralling murder mystery are musings on the differences between American and Scandinavian cultures, analysis on race relations within the American justice system, and an examination of police brutality.

Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård of the Oslo Police is cleared of any wrongdoing after gunning down a Kosovan immigrant during a confrontation. But she can’t help but deliberate and go over how events played out, and whether she could’ve done something differently; whether the man really had to die. And what better for some quiet introspection than on her family farm, where her father still resides. But upon her arrival, he quickly hands over a ticket to America. Sigrid’s brother Marcus has seemingly vanished in upstate New York, uncontactable for long enough to raise concern. Her father wants Sigrid to find Marcus and make sure he’s safe. She doesn’t have a lot to go on, just a place of residence, but Sigrid is a top-class investigator, and despite her reservations about the USA, she accepts her father’s mission. Turns out, Marcus disappeared following the death of the woman he loved, an African American professor named Lydia Jones, which is more than a little suspicious, thus making him a person of interest for local sheriff Irving Wylie.

American By Day is clever, devious and morally complex. While some of Sigird’s observations about the differences between American and Norwegian culture and policing are a little too on-the-nose, and characters are prone to occasional soliloquies, the novel is never anything short of compelling. Miller’s ability to craft thrillers with true emotional and thematic depth make a lot of his fellow authors look pallid and formulaic.

ISBN: 9780857525376
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x 25mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Doubleday
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 19-Apr-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

ScrublandsWith Scrublands, Chris Hammer has fashioned a meticulously written and propulsive crime novel, notable for  its palpable sense of place, a slate of fully-drawn characters, and a meaningful denouement.

The last crime novel that actually earned the Thriller of the Year / Book of the Year banner emblazoned on its advanced reading copy cover was Jane Harper’s The Dry. Booksellers are inherently cynical about such statements, because nowadays just about every book that comes our way says the same thing. And of course, thanks to the success of The Dry, now every Australian crime novel is written “in its vein.” But there were rumblings about Chris Hammer’s book before reading copies began circulating. Industry buzz was — well, buzzing — and intensified until, finally, the book arrived in my hands.

On a flight from Hobart to Sydney, I opened to its prologue and began reading. Those two hours in the sky disintegrated. I was annoyed when the seat belt sign flashed; one of those rare times I would’ve welcomed the pilot’s voice crackling over the intercom, apologising that we’d have to circle the airport for an hour or two. Alas, no; I alighted the plane, Scrublands grasped tightly in my hands, not in my bag. I snatched moments to read during the walk to baggage claim; lost myself in its relentless grip as I waited for the train; and once I was home, I didn’t put the book down until I’d witnessed how Hammer tied all his wonderfully woven threads together. Which he does, with aplomb, that belies his status as a debutant.

So, does Scrublands earn its Thriller of the Year tag? Absolutely. Is it my favourite book of the year so far? Well, it’s only June, but since you’re asking the question: at this very moment, yes it is.

Suspenseful from start to finish, with plenty of regional colour informing its narrative, Scrublands combines sophisticated layers of mystery with an intensely scarred hero, reporter Martin Scarsden, on a quest to uncover the truth behind the events that lead to a young country town priest calmly opening fire on his congregation, which will ultimately have a profound effect on the veteran newsman. Readers who despair after a hundred pages that all the plot lines Hammer has launched can’t possibly fit together needn’t worry; they do indeed fit, and the monstrous connections that emerges between the inhabitants of the small Riverina town of Riversend are truly devastating. As he vividly portrays the harshness and beauty of the Australian landscape, Hammer keeps the twists coming and provides column-inches of background expertise on the hard business of hard news, and the psychological impact of bearing witness to, and transcribing, innumerable tragedies.

Deliberately paced and wound tight, this book will keep you awake until you’ve finished the final page. And maybe even after that. It’s relentless, it’s compulsive, it’s a book you simply can’t put down. We’re in a Golden Age of Australian crime fiction, and with Scrublands, Chris Hammer has joined the elite, up there with Jane Harper, Candice Fox, Emma Viskic, Sarah Bailey, Mark Brandi, and the grand master himself, Peter Temple.

ISBN: 9781760632984
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 25-Jul-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

9781473676404A brilliant addition to Stephen King’s impressive body of work, The Outsider is meticulously plotted and impossibly compulsive.

Don’t pick up  The Outsider unless you have some time on your hands. Its first 200 pages are so high-octane and frenetic, you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down until you’ve unravelled the novel’s mystery and discerned who lives and who dies. Here more than ever before, King keeps his foot hard on the throttle from beginning to end.

When an eleven-year-old boy is found brutally murdered in a town park, eyewitnesses identify the culprit as Little League coach Terry Maitland. DNA evidence and fingerprints verify their accounts: as unlikely as it might initially seem to the lead investigator, Detective Ralph Anderson, there is no doubt that this well-loved family man committed this unforgivable atrocity. Enraged by what he considers a personal betrayal, Anderson makes a spectacle of Maitland’s arrest. It’s only afterwards he learns about Maitland’s watertight alibi. Impossible, because their evidence is irrefutable, too. Which means — what? A double? An evil twin? A clone?

Eventually The Outsider tapers into comfortable King territory; most of the answers the author provides aren’t especially innovative or shocking, but the journey to that endpoint  is intoxicating. You know, of the stay-up-all-night-and-forget-everything-else-in-your-life  variety. This is a book peopled by rich characters faced with unimaginable scenarios: they carry their scars — physical and moral — around with them. It is a story of real life, despite its blatant impossibilities; of human frailties, and violence and its effect. The Outsider is never better than when it explores its characters’ feelings of grief and loss.

Anybody who blew through the Bill Hodges trilogy — who’ll whoop with delight when a character from that series makes an appearance here — will devour this genre-blending freight train of a novel. The pace is frantic, the writing snappy, the characters unforgettable. Strap yourself in and prepare for one hell of a ride.

ISBN: 9781473676404
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Publication date: January 2016
Dimensions: 234mm X 153mm
Availability date: June 2018

Review: Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

DdwXHx2U8AItCzZA hugely satisfying evocation about the complexities of family life, Clock Dance is wise, humane and always insightful.

One of the things I love most about Anne Tyler’s fiction is that she never lets style triumph over substance; the understated simplicity of her writing is artistry of the highest order. Her prose is assured, warm and graceful; never ostentatious. You sink into an Anne Tyler novel; it envelopes you, and you don’t realise how deep you’ve dived into her world, how invested you are in her characters, until something snaps you back to cold, hard reality, and you realise from the placement of your bookmark  that you’re nearing the end of your time with this incredible storyteller. Clock Dance is a novel to savour; equally enjoyed in the moment, and upon reflection.

Willa Drake is inherently placatory. The defining moments of her life — when she was eleven and her mother disappeared; being proposed to at twenty-one; and the accident that made her a widow at forty-one — weren’t instigated by her, but by others. At 61, when Clock Dance launches into its core, we understand Willa has not necessarily lived an unhappy life, just a bittersweet one; a life tinged with occasional regrets. When she receives a phone call telling her that her son Sean’s ex-girlfriend has been shot and needs her help, Willa drops everything and flies across the country, despite her second husband Peter’s dismay. It’s this decision — made entirely herself, uncoloured by the opinions of outsiders — that forces Willa to scrutinise her life, and the people in it, and contemplate change.

Clock Dance is an intimate and tender tale of marriage, family and home. Achingly observant and endearing funny, Anne Tyler brilliantly explores a woman’s steps towards reshaping her own destiny and choosing her own path. The book brims with insights that sum up entire relationships. I haven’t been so moved and in love with a book and its characters for a very long time.

ISBN: 9781784742447
Number Of Pages: 304
Available: 16th July 2018
Publisher: Vintage Publishing