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From an international prize-winning book by a young Melbourne writer, to a foray into the mystical world of mediums, to Lauren Groff’s and the Nobel Prize laureate’s latest. Here’s what our Balmain bookshop staff have been reading these summer holidays.

Bron is reading…
One of the most anticipated books this year

As the hot, steamy summer days roll on Jessica Au’s brand new story, Cold Enough For Snow was a lovely retreat from the heat. It would have been easy to gulp this slim book down in one sitting, but I wanted to savour it instead, spreading it out over several reading sessions. It ticked many of my favourite reading boxes.

The Tokyo setting, the slightly off-kilter mother/daughter relationship, the childhood memories interspersed throughout their daily activities and the many discussions about life, it’s meaning and purpose all seemed perfectly designed to captivate me as a reader. Au’s writing meandered through time, encouraging the reader to linger over each section. I enjoyed strolling around Tokyo, playing tourist in art galleries, museums, churches and parks – remembering when we could do such things as well.

Cold Enough For Snow is a gentle, thoughtful and philosophical novella. In fact, it is probably one of the most perfect novellas I have ever read. Au is a Melbourne based writer and Cold Enough For Snow is the inaugural winner of The Novel Prize, a new biennial award established by Giramondo (Australia), Fitzcarraldo Editions (UK) and New Directions (USA). It’s due in store in February.

In store right now is Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens by Shankari Chandran. Cinnamon Gardens is a nursing home in western Sydney, run by the compassionate yet indomitable Maya. She and her husband, Zakhir transform a run-down aged care home into a beautiful oasis for elderly refugees. I have just started reading this new release from Ultimo Press and so far I’m utterly charmed by Chandran’s gorgeous story telling, although I suspect some darker threads will soon appear.

Stella is reading…
Much more than a beach read

On my (much too short) week down the coast, I brought with me Lauren Groff’s Matrix for a leisurely read on the sand. I ended up finishing it in only a few days, devouring this world so distant from the beaches I was lying on.

I’m such a sucker for lyrical prose and Groff’s lilting voice absolutely hooked me in from the first chapter. Matrix is a book that spans decades, slowly unravelling the life of Marie and the nuns she lives and works with in a 12th century English abbey. I loved the way it grew in scale throughout the novel, as the world of the abbey expands.

Groff writes such a beautiful tale of women’s power and relationships. She so deftly explores religion and spirituality and the experiences of women in this time period where there were so few spaces existing outside of the patriarchal structure. All of this is wrapped in a gorgeously grim old English countryside, tied together with Groff’s transportive and sensory style. Reading this felt reverential, much more than a beach read!

Tim is reading…
The latest book from the 2021 Nobel laureate

I’ve recently read Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah, the current Nobel laureate in literature. This novel immediately took me to a complex and real Africa where the centre of empire is at its margins and reminded me of the power of fiction where even though you know it’s a novel you kind of think maybe it’s not and the characters are now alive forever.  

I’m currently reading Rubicon by Tom Holland, which brings the history of Ancient Rome and the wider region to life in such a manner that the divide between past and present falls away. I’m also looking forward to reading the new novel by Hanya Yanagihara, To Paradise.

Kate is reading…
Jessica Au’s book too, plus a book on psychics

Was I just as mesmerised by Jessica Au’s new book as Bron? I was.

We are a growing rank. One which includes, no less, one of Australia’s most valued literary golden-stampers: Helen Garner. ‘So calm and clear and deep, I wished it would flow on forever,’ she says of Cold Enough for Snow. A slim book, the prose is exquisite and pellucid. Very soon into reading, you are certain that this is a writer who is doing something very unique with language. It is an extraordinary achievement for a young writer, and I can’t help but be proud too that – in a prize open to contributions from around the world – the winner happens to be ‘one of our own’, a Melburnian.

It’s very hard to resist anything one of my peers at Roaring Stories highly recommends. So, as well as Au’s forthcoming title (coming in Feb!) I circled back to a fiction that Sylvia recommended in early 2021, How Much of These Hills is Gold. You know that almost inconsolable relief you get when you remember why you love reading so much? This book returned me to that feeling. You can read Sylvia’s review here.

I had the dreaded omicron over Christmas (I was lucky and had a mild case), and so needed something light to see me through the fatigue and boredom of quarantine. The Psychic Tests delivered me this. Written by award-winning journalist Gary Nunn, it is a personal, funny, sensitive and even-handed investigation into the world of mystics and mediums. Nunn is, like me, quite sure that human beings can’t see beyond the veil or into the future, but this doesn’t mean the industry, economics, psychology and community isn’t worthy of serious reflection.

Rather than sneering at psychics and those who believe in or use them, Nunn withholds snap judgement and takes a considered, critical, empathic, and (most of all) curiosity-powered approach. Most enjoyable is getting to know a bit about Nunn in the process. He seems huge fun – up for anything. Some memorable moments: Margaret Thatcher’s ghost, as channelled by a Japanese ‘Happy Science’ guru, screaming that Obama should be killed; the heartbreaking stories of parents of missing children who have had their hopes falsely raised or destroyed by a psychic; and a similarly heartbreaking story of a good friend of Nunn’s whose life may have been saved by one.

The Psychic Tests came out last year. It’s encouraged me to become more open-minded and inquisitive, and you’d better believe I’m going to get a reading done when restrictions lift.