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.
This year I managed to read 147 books, which is 19 less than in 2018, which is a lot, but then, 2019 has been a much better year for me personally, so it’s hard to complain. I’ve already posted about my favourite books of the year, but as I’ve been doing since 2016, this year I tracked my reading by a variety of categories, the results of which are below.
This year I reached as close to gender parity as I ever have before, and I hope to continue closing the gap. In fact, I’d love an even split in 2020. I read far less crime than last year, but it’s still the genre I read most. And my reading continues to be dominated by American authors; I’d love to read more nationalities, and that’ll be another mission next year. Interestingly and unintentionally I listened to far fewer audio books. And despite the avalanche of proofs several publishers supply me, I actually buy most of the books I read.
Kokomo | Victoria Hannan | Hachette Australia | August 2020 | RRP $30.00 | 9780733643323
“Mina wondered what other secrets lay between these people, wondered if maybe every family was built on an intricate web of lies, or at least things people chose not to tell each other. She’d learned that not every truth deserves air: some truths were better smothered, extinguished before they could take hold and burn everything to the ground.”
Victoria Hannan’s seriously impressive debut Kokomo charts the complex, resilient relationship of a mother and daughter, and the toxicity of decades-long secrets finally surfacing. It’s a sharply-observed portrait of devastating loneliness and human fallibility, and what it means to belong.
When Mina’s agoraphobic mother leaves her house for the first time in more than a decade, she rushes from her life in London to be by Elaine’s side in Melbourne. On the one hand, it’s to commemorate her mother’s decision to unshackle herself from the house; on the other, it’s to untangle the mystery of why Elaine has chosen this moment to return to the world. But Elaine is reticent to explain, or delve into the agony of the past; and Mina’s homecoming engenders emotional fallout of her own with people she thought she’d left behind long ago.
Smart and sensitive, punctuated with moments of real humour, Hannan has crafted a novel in the mould of Anne Tyler’s finest work. Like Tyler, Hannan trades expertly in the themes of the struggle for identity, the lack of meaningful communication between loved ones, and individual isolation; and although it positively glows with poignancy, it’s somehow free of gross sentimentality. This is first rate fiction from a writer to watch.
Number Of Pages: 320
Available: 28th July 2020
Announcing the arrival of an exceptional new voice, Such A Fun Age is a wry, sharp novel that brilliantly intertwines ruminations on race, romance, motherhood and class, in a novel that’s equal parts heart-wrenching and heart-warming, and never anything less than mesmeric. With her unflinching portrayal of life as a young black woman in America today, Kiley Reid has crafted an important book that sparks empathy and outrage, illuminating both its characters and larger social issues.
Definitely one to watch for in 2020.
Number Of Pages: 240
Available: 7th January 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Lately Stephen King has seemed determined to thrill rather than chill, forsaking the spine-tingling spookiness of his seminal (and my favourite) books — hello, Pet Sematary; hi, It; good to see ya, Cujo! — in favour of telling exhilarating, completely absorbing, rollicking reads, replete with the kind of dazzling pyrotechnics and fantastic characters only he could conjure. The Institute is exactly that: a masterclass of entertainment, in which paranormally blessed kids are conscripted into a secret government lab in Maine (naturally) and forced to endure horrific tortures.
The book opens with Jack Reacher-like wanderer Tim Jamieson — ex-(decorated) cop — taking a job in the small South Carolina town of DuPray. King lays all his cards on the table: this guy is going to be a hero. We’re rooting for this guy. The question King dangles is, what force is he up against? We don’t get an immediate answer. Instead, smash-cut to Minneapolis, where the super-intelligent Luke Ellis is kidnapped from his own home while his parents are murdered, and transported to the facility known as ‘the Institute,’ run by the evil Mrs Sigsby. After the first hundred pages, readers know Luke and Ellis’s paths will cross: but when, and how? And what will the ramifications be?
Cancel all your plans and settle in for the ride. This is escapism at its purest and finest.
Format: Paperback / softback
Imprint: Hodder & Stoughton
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publish Date: 10-Sep-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom
Middling among the distinguished author’s score of mysteries, but even the most routine Peter Corris novel offers incidental pleasures, and as a historical document of early-nineties Sydney, it’s well worth tracking down a copy of.
This tale of an affluent family’s murderous dysfunction sees Cliff Hardy’s gun stole and wanted by police in relation to a shooting. Corris wires together every cliche of the private eye genre electrifyingly; he treads familiar ground, but with such relish, it’s impossible not to be swept away.
Solid, unspectacular, but utterly engrossing.
Number Of Pages: 200
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Country of Publication: AU
“The boys could have been many things had they not been ruined by that place.”
Based on the true life atrocities of the state-run Dozier School for Boys, Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys tells the harrowing tale of Elwood Curtis, a law-abiding, hardworking, studious teenager, emboldened by Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, who is sentenced to the Nickel Academy in the 1960s following a tragically innocent misadventure. What he experiences there — the sadistic punishments, the abuse wreaked by the faculty upon its students — belies belief, seems inhuman. But it happened. This is fiction based on fact.
From its brutal opening, depicting a secret grave site being discovered in the present day on the grounds of the juvenile reform school, The Nickel Boys is an unsparing, necessary portrait of America’s history of racism and violence and its eternal legacy. Horrifically, the Dozier School for Boys was only closed down in 2011; so this is not a book the sins of the past, it’s about realising the violations recounted within are the sins of the present.
It’s an extraordinary book, with an ending that lands like gut punch. You simply must read it.
Format: Paperback / softback
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 16-Jul-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom