Pages Menu
Abbey's Bookshop
Plain engish Foundation
Categories Menu

Posted on 20 Dec 2018 in Fiction, Non-Fiction |

Must-reads of 2018

Tags: / / / / / / / / /

From fiction to crime to history, essays, memoir and literary letters, the NRB editors choose ten of the reviews we published in 2018 of books we think deserve to go on your TBR pile. 

Jean’s picks:

Ali Smith Winter 

The first of Ali Smith’s planned suite of novels based on the seasons, Autumn, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2017. Winter, the second in the series, is a stunning and effervescing mix of philosophical ideas, beauty, wit, wordplay, indignation, topical social events and ridiculous situations. It is framed by a short but startling introduction where a Google search is used to comment on the number of things that are dead: ‘God was dead to begin with. And romance was dead and chivalry was dead.’

No soothing narrative here, but instead plenty of fun, wordplay and space with which to form one’s own response. Read the full review by Folly Gleeson.

Henry Reynolds This Whispering in Our Hearts Revisited 

Here we get the story of those white humanitarians who stood up against what they witnessed during European settlement of Australia. Using reports, letters, sermons and speeches, Reynolds charts the despair and anger of those whose work or inclination brought them into close contact with Indigenous people. Faced with ostracism, hostility and vilification from their fellow colonists, only the most obsessive kept going. It’s a story of great struggle and unintended consequences, small gains and large sacrifices. Along the way there are useful insights into how history acts on the present. This new edition brings us up to date with the sorry tale of the past two decades. Read the full review by Kathy Gollan.

Candice Fox Redemption Point 

Following on from Crimson Lake, Redemption Point is dark, dry, funny, cleverly plotted and populated by wonderfully real, often eccentric characters. If you haven’t caught up with this series yet, Ted Conkaffey is an ex-cop accused of the violent abduction and assault of a young girl, yet never charged, never tried. His life and his marriage have fallen apart, and he’s run to the far north of Queensland to hide out and try to get his life, and his head, back together. This novel is a combination of clever, off-the-wall characterisations, good and complex plotting, and a great sense of place. There’s always an ‘other world’ aspect to Fox’s settings – here it’s the tropical north that sets off the hot actions and dampened lives of those within it. Read the full review by Karen Chisholm.

Don Watson There It Is Again: Collected writings 

While Australia is the prime focus, the first of these 47 essays, ‘Rabbit Syndrome’ is devoted to American politics, and the United States is the subject of a further four. Tom Keneally has employed a pithy phrase – ‘dazzlingly elegant and perceptive’ – to describe Watson’s writing and that is a deserved testimonial. I have read virtually all of Watson’s books and many of these articles when they originally appeared in the Monthly. Even so, it is an enormous pleasure to have these pieces gathered together between two covers. Don Watson is a wonderful recorder and prophet of our times. Long may he be so. Read the full review by Bernard Whimpress.

Sylvia Plath The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume II: 1956–1963, edited by Peter Steinberg and Karen V Kukil 

This second volume of Sylvia Plath’s letters takes up her correspondence from where Volume I left off and completes what must be one of, if not the, most comprehensive collections of letters of any major 20th-century literary figure. It has been meticulously edited, footnoted and indexed, and will be of immense value to Plath scholars and to general readers who wish to know more about her life. It contains 1400 letters to more than 140 correspondents. The most interesting letters for many readers of this latest volume will be those that Plath wrote to her psychiatrist, Ruth Beuscher, during her marital breakup, published here for the first time. Read the full review by Ann Skea.


Linda’s picks:

Tracy Sorensen The Lucky Galah

In Port Badminton, a tiny coastal town in Western Australia that’s watched over by a towering satellite dish, Evan Johnson, a radar technician in horn-rimmed glasses, is about to plunge from a cliff to his death. Meanwhile, his young wife is being fitted for a shimmering silver dress for the town’s upcoming Moon Ball, while she broods over a secret she’s been keeping for far too long. And everyone – not just in Port Badminton, but all over the world – is holding their breath as men in spacesuits prepare to walk on the moon.

It’s more than just a giant leap for mankind. For an intelligent young galah who has spent most of her unfortunate life locked in a cage, this sequence of events represents a significant turning point. The Lucky Galah is, in effect, the story of her life. It’s also the story of a town and the people who live there … and without being grandiose, it’s a story about Australia, too. Read the full review by Michelle McLaren.

Trent Dalton Boy Swallows Universe

Mark Twain famously said that truth is stranger than fiction, and the parts of Boy Swallows Universe that draw on Trent Dalton’s actual boyhood are as intriguing as the fictional plot involving drug czars, prison break-ins and prescient siblings. The novel is seen through the 13-year-old eyes of Dalton’s alter ego, Eli Bell, as he navigates his way through Brisbane’s squalid 1980s housing commission suburbs, peopled by hardened criminals, junkies, Vietnamese gangs, and drug lords masquerading as bastions of society.

The earth-bound, kitchen-sink wretchedness, tinged with hope and love, is a solid, confident foundation for the novel. This is overlayed by a more extravagant plotline that adds thrills and mystery, from daring escapes and street-gang battles to the surreal messages heard on the red telephone buried under Eli’s house. Read the full review by Chris Maher.

Bri Lee Eggshell Skull: A memoir about standing up, speaking out and fighting back

The first pre-trial hearing Bri Lee worked on as a judge’s associate in the Queensland District Court involved a teenage girl who’d been raped by her mother’s boyfriend while tied to a Hills Hoist. Reading the pre-trial documents, Lee pictured her grandparents’ backyard …

Over her year as judge’s associate, many of the trials she worked on involved sexual violence against women and children. Empathising with each victim, each story, she came to see Brisbane and the regional towns where she often worked as a ‘constellation of crime scenes’. In her debut memoir, Eggshell Skull, Lee returns repeatedly to this image of the Hills Hoist not merely as banal, suburban Australiana, but also as an instrument of torture and brutality. Read the full review by Ashley Kalagian Blunt.

Ada Langton The Art of Preserving Love

From the opening chapter title of this delightful debut, it’s clear this is historical fiction told with warmth and a hint of mischief:

Early in the morning of Sunday, 5 November 1905, in Ballarat, when the sun has just woken, wiping sleep from its eyes …

What follows is a carefully controlled, rambling rose bush of a tale spanning 19 years, and several lives and love stories, from 1905 to 1924. Despite its somewhat chocolate-boxy cover, though, The Art of Preserving Love is no typical romance. More concerned with waiting and learning the lessons of patience than it is with passion, this novel is a maze of intriguing teasers strung out with the mad sort of logic abiding desire brings. Read the full review by Kim Kelly.

Geoffrey Robertson Rather His Own Man: Reliable memoirs

The title of Geoffrey Robertson’s memoir was inspired by the comment of a senior British public servant when a Blair-government minister intended to appoint him to a European judicial position: ‘What a brilliant idea, Minister … But … he is … rather his own man, isn’t he?’

I’ve been an admirer or Geoffrey Robertson’s writing ever since his book about the aftermath of the 17th-century English revolution, The Tyrannicide Brief (2005). Robertson brought all the actors — monarchists, Roundheads, lawyers — to life in an engrossing account of the ferocious revenge taken after the Restoration for the execution of one of the stupidest men to occupy the English throne — Charles I.

Here Robertson is, at times, in lighter mode recounting his journey from suburban Sydney and Epping High School to London’s Inns of Court and the Old Bailey.  Read the full review by Peter Corris.