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From Rachel Cusk’s latest novel, to a gorgeous picture book, to an anthology collection from Western Sydney writers. Here’s what our Balmain bookshop staff are reading this month.

Bronwyn is reading…
Rachel Cusk, narrative nonfiction and a delightful new picture book

I’ve just finished reading Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars by Francesca Wade. The premise of the book is how one street in Bloomsbury, London housed five influential and famous female writers during turning points in their careers and lives between the two world wars. It was a wonderful, engaging narrative non-fiction featuring the poet H.D., Jane Harrison, Dorothy L. Sayer, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf.

Recently I jumped into my first Rachel Cusk book, with her latest fiction release, Second Place. Cusk’s narrator, M, is a middle-aged woman, twice married and a chronic sufferer of doubt and personal examination. She takes things to heart, is overly sensitive and overthinks pretty much everything. She is very conscious of her place as a female in a male-dominated society. She worries about fate and destiny, image and privacy, being seen (and therefore heard and understood by another) and being invisible. Her life was complicated and messy at times, and made more so by the decisions and choices she made. It was a fascinating, angsty journey to say the least!

A quick, but poignant read was found inside the beautifully packaged novella Gratitude by Delphine de Vigan. A lovely story about memory, words and the importance of connection and caring…and gratitude.

On a much lighter note, please let me rave a little about one of my favourite picture books at the moment. Don’t Forget is a gorgeous, heartfelt book for our times written by the award-winning Jane Godwin and wistfully illustrated by the equally as award-winning Anna Walker. Godwin and Walker have created a story that reminds of us all the things we share that make us human – from kindness to tears, laughter to solitude, the need to be loved and to belong. 

This is a book for children and their adults. A book to share over and over again, to cherish and to delight. Philosophy, affirmation and a little self-help for kids wrapped in a beautiful package.

“Don’t forget that life is long, you’re not alone, that you are strong.”

Kate is reading…
Love Objects, One Hundred Days, and Second City

My dream book satchel is crammed full of Bronwyn’s leftover reads, and so I too picked up Rachel Cusk’s Second Place. Like Bron, I am a Cusk initiate, although I know (mainly from the recent Sydney Writers’ Festival hype) that the name carries some hefty literary weight. The slim volume, breathlessly and a little prudishly narrated by a woman addressing a wholly uncontextualised ‘Jeffers’, is actually Cusk’s flight of imaginative departure from an early 20th century memoir written by a woman who hosted a rather insufferable DH Lawrence while he visited their homestead in Mexico. A book full of ideas about art, sexuality, gender, motherhood, isolation, agency and free will, it is an astonishing read, unconventional in form, cooly incisive in its percipience, and with many passages that gave me pause. I would say I would read it again, but it’s all too likely I won’t. The bulging library of infinite volumes presses at the corridors of my short life, and the only books I feel I shall open again are those with the most special resonance within my soul. And even then…

Another novel I read which features among our May fiction highlights is One Hundred Days by Alice Pung. I requested a reading copy because I recalled a buzz around the author’s name, and no other reason besides. Had I read the blurb, I might not have been so keen to select it, as it’s about a young woman of high school age falling pregnant. The idea of cells conspiring and swelling into a living being inside my abdomen, to ultimately burst from my vagina is the most terrifying body horror I can fathom. (I’m 29, and still very immature like this.) Once I got over my squeamishness, I did enjoy the book, which is all about a young Asian-Australian woman struggling to assert her autonomy against a father who recognises none of his fatherly duties, and incredibly overbearing mother whose only available expression of love is one of absolutely anxious, tyrannical control.

Love Objects by Emily Maguire was another read plucked from Roaring’s shelf that beckoned me. It had been positively reviewed by Fiona Wright, widely regarded as of the best essayists in the country, and that enough was enough for me to plunge in. It’s a tough but tender story, which broaches issues of class and mental illness without pussy-footing or patronising.

Finally (it’s been a big month of reading for me since I finished binge-watching Superstore) I have begun reading Second City: Essays from Western Sydney, an anthology collection out with the excellent journal, the Sydney Review of Books, and one of Roaring Stories’ ‘hidden gems’ this month. The literary essays in these pages are as various in form as they are in subject matter and style – from a piece on the revolutionary act of knitting by Aleesha Paz, to the writing of Borges by Yumna Kassab, to an essay on the dangers of cultural compartmentalisation by the award-winning Felicity Castagna. Luke Carman is also a contributor, and his earlier novella An Elegant Young Man sent the most pleasurable of gas bubbles through my brain when I first encountered it a few years back. (If you’re interested, the Second City launches at WSU on May 26.)

As the months draw on, and my candles flicker to their stubs, I read on, good folk, and I hope your own bound journeys lead you to places both uncomfortable and comforting – because we need both things from books, if we’re to become any kind of person worthy of living with each other and the world.

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