From a novel about serial killer on the prowl in Sydney, to quintessential Anne Tyler, to a work translated from the French about a strange event that takes place on a flight from Paris to New York: here’s what our Roaring Stories staff are reading this month.
Tim is reading…
A thriller set in Sydney, a rock drummer’s memoir, and Putin’s People
I love how words work. The page upon which the text rests becomes a gallery of sensory innovation. When we read, we take that page, and it becomes something unique as the author’s mind meets our own. In local author Matthew Spencer’s excellent thriller Black River, the page becomes storm clouds of dark menace hovering over the water’s edge of a sweltering Sydney. A series of murders leads police and journalist Adam Bowman into the claustrophobic urgency of a homicide investigation. After reading this book, Balmain and the wider peninsula feel alive with story and more closely connected to our ever-expanding city.
I’m also currently reading Catherine Belton’s Putin’s People. In the beginning, a kind of rogues’ gallery composed of the faces and actions of those operatives who restored the KGB to power took centre stage on the page. This changes. Now, the faces of those involved in brave protests in the present are becoming more powerful images in my mind’s eye. I often think of the murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya as I’m reading Putin’s People, as the narrative process of what Timothy Snyder refers to as ‘unfreedom’ is mapped and made vulnerable to freedom’s restorative demands.
I’ve also read New Order drummer Stephen Morris’s memoir Fast Forward: Confessions of a Post-Punk Percussionist: Volume II. Morris writes of his excitement at tinkering and working with the emerging sound synthesising technology of the early 1980s. Recognising that he and other musicians were creating new fields of music even as another error box popped up on his computer screen felt a priceless insight into human creativity.
Bron is reading…
The perfect novella, Anne Tyler and The Coast
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan has been popping up all over the place lately, and now I can see why. This novella packs a quiet, but powerful punch.
It celebrates a gentle, reluctant saviour in the form of Bill Furlong, a man who decides that the secret in plain view that nobody wants to talk about (Ireland’s Magdalene laundries) is actually worth making a fuss about, even if it means trouble for him and his family and his business. Rocking the boat does not come easily to him, but when such an obvious wrong is put in front of him, he finds he cannot ignore it any longer. I loved it. The perfect novella.
French Braid by Anne Tyler is quintessential Anne Tyler. It features a Baltimore family, where one childhood family holiday holds the key to the dysfunction and disquiet that follows them for the rest of their lives. A gentle, interior story for those who love stories about families who communicate poorly and bump along never really understanding each other.
I love historical fiction and have been fascinated by the leper colony at Little Bay in Sydney for years, so The Coast by Eleanor Limprecht was the perfect long weekend read for me.
The parallel stories of Alice and her mum, Clea, and Jack, a young Aboriginal boy, were engrossing and absorbing from page one. I found myself thinking about the book at odd times during the day and night, trying to imagine their lives inside the lazaret (quarantine station) at the Coast Hospital (now part of Prince Henry Hospital). The story switched between life inside the lazaret for our three sufferers (plus their doctor) to flashback chapters of their earlier lives. Jack’s story was complicated by being part of the Stolen Generation and an amputee from WWI, while Will’s story was complicated by his secret homosexuality. There is a lot of jumping between characters and time periods, which some readers may find disconcerting, but it all comes together beautifully by the second half of the book. Highly recommended.
Kate is reading…
A prize-winning, existential airplane thriller
I first heard about Hervé Le Tellier’s The Anomaly in a New York Times‘ book review, published late last year. The synopsis was strange and compelling: a plane flies into an electrical storm and comes out the other side, its passengers shaken but fine. Several months later, the same plane appears out of the cloud, carrying the same human freight. Is there an ‘original’ plane, and the other merely a copy? How do the people on the aircraft share a life with themselves? What has happened in those hundred or so days in between the two events, and how does this divergence alter the destiny of individual human lives? As Times critic Sarah Lyall wrote: ‘Its plot might have been borrowed from The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror, but it movingly explores urgent questions about reality, fate and free will.’
I had to wait about six months until it came out in the Australia, and I waited peevishly. Luckily, it was worth it. The Anomaly is a gripping sci fi and philosophical thriller, with chapters hopping back and forth between different times (before the anomaly, and after) and between different characters. It won the 2021 Prix Goncourt, a French literature prize given to the author of ‘the best and most imaginative prose work of the year’, and has been expertly translated into English by Adriana Hunter (whose name really should be credit on the book cover). I set myself a goal this year to read more science fiction and fantasy books, and I’m seeing nothing but good returns on that pledge so far.
What else I’m reading: Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (translated by Michael Hoffman), a book set in Nazi Germany on loan from my boyfriend; Harvest Lingo, the new collection of poetry by Lionel Fogarty; and Here Goes Nothing by Steve Toltz, another wildly imaginative existential thought experiment which was Roaring Stories’ book of the month in May.