Man Out of Time by Stephanie Bishop

9780733636349As compulsively readable as it is thoughtful and moving, Stephanie Bishop’s third novel is a literary masterpiece.

Man Out of Time is the kind of novel that deserves to be described by someone with a vaster knowledge of superlatives.  It is a book that’s a step above ‘brilliant’ and ‘magnificent’ — it rockets past those classifications early on — and by the time you’ve turned its final page, it’s overturned ‘dazzling’ and ‘remarkable.’ It’s in a different stratosphere. It has left Earth. Left the galaxy. It has broken the space time continuum with its genius. Man Out of Time is, quite simply, an intoxicating, vivid, beguiling novel about the relationship between a father and his daughter, and the legacy of his struggle to exist.

It begins with the police knocking at Stella’s door in September 2001. Her father has gone missing — not for the first time — and they’re hoping she might be able to help track him down. From there, the novel separates into two equally compelling narrative threads: the first propelling us back to Stella’s childhood, and the fateful Summer day she witnessed her father cry over his failure to make amends for forgetting to buy the doll she had hoped for, and other mistakes; and the second thread details precisely what happened to her father, Leon.  Stella’s whole life has been affected by her father’s grapple with his place in the world, and his struggle to exist. She fears that she, too, will inherit this self-destructive trait; this curse that has blighted her father and forever tarnished their relationship; that his vision of the world, and his place in it, will become hers.

Man Out of Time is potent in its subtlety. Stephanie Bishop is an exquisitely precise writer, and her rendering of this tale requires conscious unravelling from the reader; its secrets are not all laid bare. It is a rich novel that demands your full attention, and rewards you for granting it such. Man Out of Time is absolutely a book for readers of literary fiction looking to be immersed in the power of language, but I loved it most for its two empathetic protagonists, and their engrossing, toxic relationship.

ISBN: 9780733636349
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publication date: August 2018

 

Review: A Shout in the Ruins by Kevin Powers

9781473667785.jpgA Shout in the Ruins is a sprawling, richly textured epic, covering more than 100 years, that explores the legacy and ongoing effects of the Civil War. And while Kevin Powers’ prose remains as sharp and assured as it was in The Yellow Birds — quite possibly my favourite novel about war — this book didn’t resonate quite as strongly with me, purely because of its subject matter, and the conflict that forms its nucleus. The American Civil War isn’t as transcendental — for me, at least, as a non-American with limited exposure to its history and brutalities — as the Iraq war, which was the focus of The Yellow Birds.

A Shout in the Ruins alternates between chapters set in the Civil War era and the mid-20th century. It opens with the mysterious disappearance, and rumoured death, of Emily Reid Levallois in the late 1860s, and then shifts back in time to recount the story of her life. It is a complicated novel, its narrative threads weaved together subtly, Powers’ poetry rendering a brutal portrayal of Civil War-era Virginia. Various characters flit in and out of the spotlight, but each person is essential to Powers’ tale, and the novel truly sings when a character is allowed an entire chapter to live and breathe on the page.

At its heart, A Shout in the Ruins is about the effects of the past on the present, and serves as a necessary reminder that some people still feel the ripples of a conflict more than 150 years old. Powers’ cumulative portraits of the poor souls impacted by the Civil War — during the conflict itself, and years after it ended — is a masterpiece.

ISBN: 9781473667785
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
Imprint: Sceptre
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 15-May-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr

9781784296537At the stage of his career when many other thriller writers struggle for new ideas or settle on conventional, repetitive plots, Philip Kerr continues to crank out electrifying, utterly addictive novels of suspense. 

The thirteenth book in Kerr’s long-running series, Greeks Bearing Gifts opens in Munich, 1957, with Bernie Gunther, the one-time Commissar of the Murder Commission, now working under the pseudonym “Christof Ganz” as a morgue attendant, desperately trying to leave his past behind, and live whatever remains of his future in relative peace. But the past is something that won’t let go, and it reappears in the form of a dirty cop, and a lethal trap, which Bernie escapes, though barely. Thrust into a new career as a claims adjuster for a prominent insurance company thanks to the influence of powerful attorney Max Merten, Bernie is dispatched to Athens to assess the sinking of a ship. But his simple mission turns into something far more dangerous when he discover’s the ship’s owner, former Wehrmacht Navy man Siegfried Witzel, shot dead through both eyes. Compelled by the Greek cops to investigate, Bernie’s once again drawn back into the dark history of WWII.

Inspired by real people and events, Greeks Bearing Gifts is emblematic of why Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther books are far more than a guilty pleasure. There’s the central mystery to unravel, of course, and plenty of nerve-shredding tension along the way; but there’s always another layer to Kerr’s work, in this case an exploration and analysis of Adenauer’s amnesty for Nazi war criminals, and Bernie’s struggle to fit into this new Germany and its willingness to move on from its checkered past.

Brilliantly composed and elegantly constructed, Greeks Bearing Gifts is a masterful historical crime novel, and leaves Bernie Gunther in a tantalising place for the future that will assure readers this is not the end of our journey with one of the finest anti-heroes in literature.

ISBN: 9781784296537
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 464
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 3-Apr-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Night Market by Jonathan Moore

9781409159780Harry Bosch meets Blade Runner in this brilliant thriller.

Jonathan Moore’s frightening near-future thriller The Night Market is a thought-provoking noirish crime novel set in a gorgeously realised subtly-futuristic, overwhelmingly dystopian version of San Francisco, where copper thieves run rampant, drones buzz above the heads of the city’s citizens, and ostentatious consumer consumption runs riot. Think of a Michael Connelly Harry Bosch novel set in a Blade Runner-esque world.

When a man is found dead — his corpse in a terrifying state of decay  — in one of the city’s luxury homes, SFPD Homicide detective Ross Carver and his partner are called to the scene to lead the investigation. But before they’re able to get beyond a cursory glance at the victim, six FBI agents — or are they? —burst in and forcibly remove them from the premises. The detectives are hastened into a disinfectant chamber, sprayed with a metallic-tasting liquid, then rendered unconscious. When Carver wakes two days later in his apartment, he has no memory of the events that occurred; but his mysterious neighbour, Mia, is strangely determined to help Carver remember.

The Night Market steadily ramps up its revelations, and it gradually becomes clear there are larger forces at play. Moore resists the temptation to have Carver follow breadcrumbs into the darkest corners of his incredibly-imagined world, keeping the narrative tight and focused. Moore’s latest novel — the first of his I’ve read, but surely not the last — is a tense, gritty thriller, and near-perfect in its overall execution, with an ending that lingers well past the final page. Seriously, this is a book that nails its finale; it’s pitch-perfect and haunting. It’s one of my favourite thrillers of the year so far.Stars

ISBN: 9781409159766
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Imprint: Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 11-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

 

Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

ImmortalistsNew York, 1969. The Gold children – Varya, thirteen; Daniel, eleven; Klara, nine; and Simon, seven – visit a psychic in a grimy tenement building on the Lower East Side. Rumour has it she can predict the future; actually proclaim the date you will die. Which is both a terrifying and alluring prospect for the siblings; ultimately one too tempting to ignore. So they divvy up their allowance and make the trip. Find their way to the psychic’s door. Knock. One by one, the Gold children enter the psychic’s den. One by one, they learn their fate. And then live with this knowledge, festering in the back of their minds, a countdown to their own personal doomsday.

Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists asks readers to consider how they would live with a clock ticking inside their head, counting down to a hypothetical irreversible endpoint. Would you live life to the fullest? Intentionally partake in hazardous activities, placated by the assurance your time hasn’t yet come? Or would you live a sheltered life? Protect yourself, cocoon yourself, saddled with this unwanted burden. Perhaps you’d reject the prophecy entirely; just live your life the way you want to, balanced between carefree and considered, as most of us do. The Gold children are fine projections of possible responses to such a scenario, with very different mindsets and responses to their fates.

Simon is at one end of the spectrum; who uses a hypothesised early demise as an excuse to flee his childhood home and the confines of the family business to live in San Francisco with his sister Klara, where he becomes a dancer at a gay club, and indulges numerous sexual partners. His fate is telegraphed – predictable, even – but still serves as the novel’s opening emotional gut-punch, the reverberations of which are felt through to the novel’s end. Klara, considered the outsider of the quartet, studies magic on the West Coast and eventually takes her act to Las Vegas alongside her husband and stage partner, with whom she shares a child. Meanwhile, Daniel becomes a doctor in the military, struggling with the nobility of signing soldiers medically fit, only to send them to war; and the inhibited Varya is a scientist, doing longevity experiments with primates.

The Immortalists is split into four sections, each focusing on a different sibling, but various secondary characters weave through these episodes, some in a more contrived fashion than others, in an attempt to accentuate the drama. Despite a couple of instances of events tying together a little too coincidentally, Benjamin’s novel is never anything short of compelling, and these minor flaws are completely overrun by the richness of its characters. The subtleties of their differing stances as they wrestle with the magnitude of knowing the date of their death is exceptional. Ultimately, while the ‘ticking clock’ element of the tale adds narrative impetus, readers’ emotional investment is garnered from their hope that the Gold’s fractured relationships can be healed before it’s too late.

The Immortalists is the kind of brilliant novel that swallows you whole, forces you to live in its world even when you’re not turning its pages. A meditation on predestination and guilt, this family saga might’ve landed in bookstores in January, but it’s one readers will be thinking about until the end of the year. I expect to see it on several ‘best of’ lists.

ISBN: 9781472244994
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 416
Imprint: Tinder Press
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group
Publish Date: 9-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Tin Man.jpgTin Man is a beautiful one-sitting tale about three friends and what unites them, and what comes between them, delivered with Sarah Winman’s inimitable grace and power.

This is a story of love and friendship, and how — usually for the better, sometimes for the worst — they are inextricably linked, like the strands of a double helix. When Ellis and Michael meet as young boys they quickly become inseparable, forming an unquantifiable relationship; a love that extends beyond pure romance, rooted in the deepest of connections. But when Annie enters their lives, the fabric of their relationship changes. Tin Man depicts these shifting sands from both Ellis’ and Michael’s perspectives, events switching back-and-forth through time. It’s a book that explores both love, and lost love; of paths taken, and the pain of paths abandoned; what was, and what could’ve been. That it does all this —  so evocatively, with such nuance and empathetic characters, in fewer than 200 pages — is a testament to Winman’s storytelling. She has crafted a novel that is both hauntingly sad, yet incredibly uplifting, reminding us of the potency and everlastingness of first love.

Told with extraordinary tenderness and feeling, sonorous prose lighting its pages, Tin Man is a closely observed, deeply sympathetic rendering of three relationships, and our helplessness against the power of love. Superbly written and desperately moving, it is one of those few novels I want to re-read again, languorously this time, to bask in the beauty of the prose, and savour my moments with these characters.

ISBN: 9780755390960
Format: Paperback (216mm x 171mm x 17mm)
Pages: 208
Imprint: Tinder Press
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group
Publish Date: 27-Jul-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Nevermoor – The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

9780734418074

Every so often a book comes at you from out of nowhere and just floors you. Knocks you for six. Bowls you over. Leaves you thunderstuck.

(Insert your own idiom here. I’ll wait).

Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is one of those books. Only it didn’t come out of nowhere. Not really. There’s been a lot of hype around its release. Not just from the fine folk at Hachette, Townsend’s publisher, but from my colleagues at Potts Point Bookshop, who I trust implicitly, obviously (how dare you suggest otherwise!); and other booksellers and bookish types, too. They were chanting in unison: Read this book! Read this book! Read this book! And then Nevermoor-themed umbrellas started popping up everywhere (even though rain has been scarce) and it all became too much. Nevermoor could be ignored no longer! So last Sunday I set aside some time in the morning (I had nothing planned anyway, so “setting aside some time” is a bit of a misnomer) and started in on the first book in the Nevermoor series, The Trials of Morrigan.

And so, now you can insert the idiom of your choice. Because however you want to phrase it, it’s really quite simple: Jessica Townsend’s debut is a stunning work of fiction. The hype — thank God the Hype Machine isn’t broken! — is justified. Heck, maybe even underplayed. Few books have swept me away on such an imaginative journey. Few books boast such wonderful characters, their journeys unfolding with such luminous prose. Honestly, I haven’t been this excited to sell a book in a long time. And I can’t wait to hear their feedback when they return.

The book has earned  comparisons to Harry Potter, which will be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to insisting on its greatness to customers. Everybody loves Harry Potter — I was never actually a big fan growing up, but then again, I was reading Tom Clancy in primary school when Harry arrived at Hogwarts, so I guess I’m the outlier — but there are many, many — so, so many — pretenders out there, all trying to lay claim to that throne, to be the new Harry Potter, when really, we don’t need a new Harry Potter, those books stand the test of time, we need something different, something fresh, not a retread of old ideas. Which is why Nevermoor is great: it’s influenced by Harry Potter, no question, and doesn’t shy away from that, nor should it; but it’s not a carbon copy, it’s not a rehash. It’s innovative. It’s distinct. It tips its hat to Harry, then goes along its merry way, cutting a different path.

Nevermoor is about a cursed child named Morrigan Crow, who was born on Eventide, the unluckiest day of the year, and therefore destined to die on her 11th birthday. She escapes her fate when an enigmatic figure named Jupiter North whisks her away to Nevermoor — think London, but far more colourful and exuberant, full of incredible creatures and personalities — who promises Morrigan she’ll be safe in this unfathomable netherworld . . . just so long as earns a place in the city’s most prestigious organisation, the Wondrous Society, by passing four perilous tests.

I can’t praise this book enough. It’s charming, magical, mysterious, fun and wildly inventive. And between all the fantastical moments, and the blockbuster action scenes, is  a sweet story about friendship and belonging. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is fiercely unique and one of the best children’s books I’ve ever read.

Now, what’re the chances I can get myself one of those cool Nevermoor umbrellas?

(Never mind. I’d probably just end up leaving it on the train…)

ISBN: 9780734418074
ISBN-10: 0734418078
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Lothian Children’s Books
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 10-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: Australia