What I’m reading and what was gathering dust on the bedside bookstack this summer.
I moved over Christmas and so it wasn’t a massive book stack this summer. Most of my to-be-reads were still boxed up and after all the unpacking it took me a while to get back into a reading habit. But here’s what was on the book stack.
The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall, Simon & Schuster, 2020
In an unspecified but uncomfortably familiar future, Australia is a surveillance state with the climactic woe of current predictions.
Mim is quietly panicked. Her husband has gone missing in an offshore mining project and the contact she’s getting from the’ Department’ and underground journalists flag that she’s not being told everything about it.
There is also geopolitical instability and this oppressive loss of control for both Mim and the average citizen permeates the narrative.
But amidst geopolitical and climatic extremes people are still people. Mim looks to what she can do by protecting her children and trying to find her husband. Motherhood still sits with its complexities, old lust dies hard (if it actually dies) and family loyalty is tested.
This was a real page turner.
Ordinary Matter by Laura Elvery, University of Queensland Press, 2020
This anthology of short stories by Australian writer Laura Elvery is inspired by the women who have won the Nobel Prize for scientific research. With only twenty female wins (two of them to Marie Curie) and what feels like not a lot of historical fanfare, it seems right to give them another nod.
The women and their discoveries are the starting point, so the stories take you across distance and time. Occasionally, a former winner is reimagined as a younger or older self (Marie Curie on tour with her daughters, Rosalyn Yalow on the eve of the Prize ceremony in Stockhom) but mostly it’s the discoveries and how they have changed lives in big and small ways – something we all participate in with scientific discovery whether we consider it or not.
Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakamo, Picador, 2020
This wasn’t an easy read, or perhaps I mean a ‘comfortable’ read. Set in modern Japan, it follows a mother, daughter and aunt. These women don’t have many options. The past actions of other people in their life, usually men, mean they are working hard to survive.
There’s a cataloguing of small details – meals eaten, actions done, that snagged the narrative for me but certainly added to the oppressive and repetitive sense of their days.
It’s offered as a novel but feels more like two novellas (the notes say it’s the extended version of a novella). The second part of the book offers more hope and liberation for the aunt that comes from financial freedom. Her struggle changes to a moral and philosophical one regarding donor sperm and IVF parenthood in Japan.
The Burning Island by Jock Serong, Text Publishing, 2020
This was a real page-turner for me. I’ve never read anything else by Jock Serong but will definitely track down his other titles. I also don’t read a lot of historical fiction crime thrillers – if that’s what this could be defined as.
This story is set in early colonial Australia on a sea voyage from Sydney down to the Furneaux Islands in Bass Strait.
A group of disparate characters are onboard; a naval lieutenant disgraced by his drunkenness, convict brothers bound by blood loyalty, the quiet Captain who navigates ever onwards, and the doctor scientist, whose charisma and curiosity pique the tedium for our narrator, Eliza.
A sense of doom pervades the narration from the isolation, the atrocities, and the landscape. It’s a great tale of revenge, grief, loyalty, lust and betrayal. But don’t fear all that heaviness because Jock Serong can turn the body of a drowned man to poetry as silver fish empty from the water in his mouth.
Our Shadows by Gail Jones, Text Publishing, 2020
In her characteristic poetic prose, Gail Jones writes the strata of time and families. There is the Irish immigrant who finds the gold nugget that Kalgoorlie is founded on, the grandfather miner who carries the damage and grief of a world war and a dead daughter, and the orphan granddaughters who split under the weight of their shared past.
The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, Harper Perennial, 2009
Surprised, and a little disappointed, that I didn’t get any new books for Christmas, I had to read what was in the garage sale pile at my brother’s house. We moved houses and cities over Christmas and my books were still boxed up well into January.
I think this book was pretty big when it came out. It was also early on in the complete-sentence-as-book-title trend. It’s satirical and clever in its summaries of history and politics which I wasn’t expecting but there was also a touch of the slapstick to it that was just a bit much for me – kind of a ‘caper’ journey where the old man meets a string of unlikely allies through a series of unlikely adventures.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, Head of Zeus, 2017
This tome was my only Christmas book (and it actually arrived in January). I haven’t started it yet. Anything over 500 pages seems to sink further down the book stack for sheer stability of the pile.
Billed as a generational family saga about Koreans in Japan, I missed the hype of this book when it came out but put it on my wish list after listening to this interview with Min Jin Lee on Conversations.
Sounds like once I get stuck in, I won’t be coming up for air for a while.
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