England, 31st August 1939: the world is on the brink of war. As Hitler prepares to invade Poland, thousands of children are evacuated from London to escape the impending Blitz. Torn from her mother, eight-year-old Anna Sands is relocated with other children to a large Yorkshire estate which has been opened up to evacuees by Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, an enigmatic childless couple.
Soon Anna gets drawn into their unravelling relationship, seeing things that are not meant for her eyes – and finding herself part-witness and part-accomplice to a love affair, with unforeseen consequences. A story of longing, loss and complicated loyalties, combining a sweeping narrative with subtle psychological observation, The Very Thought of You is not just a love story but a story about love.
‘You had better write all this in your notebook, she said, the story of what happened to us in Mexico. So when nothing is left of us but bones, someone will know where we went.’
The Lacuna is a gripping story of identity, connection with our past, and the power of words to create or devastate. Crossing two decades, from the vibrant revolutionary murals of Mexico City to the halls of a Congress bent on eradicating the colour red, The Lacuna is as deep and rich as the New World itself.
“This is a stunning crime noir read from début author, and it has been getting a lot of attention overseas. Black Water Rising is laid out so clearly you can feel the sweat of the Bayou heat trickling down between your shoulder blades, you can see the marshes oozing, you can feel the pulse in the temple of its hero, journeyman Afro American lawyer Jay Porter.
Attica Locke weaves a tangled web of murder and intrigue, court room drama, set-up and counter set-up, unholy alliance of politics and business. Most of all, she tells a story of a man held ransom by his past. And Porter’s past plunges straight right back to the birth, and some might say abrupt strangling, of the civil rights movement in America.
Attica Locke has been getting a lot of attention for her début novel, and a lot of excellent reviews. With an action-oriented plot she has made a tight, tense thriller out of it, a story where the big picture is just as menacing as the personal drama. Talk about the sins of the father being visited on the son. I couldn’t put this one down.” Toni Whitmont, Booktopia BUZZ Editor-in Chief.
Go backstage during the most dramatic period in English history: the reign of Henry VIII.
England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor.
From one of our finest living writers, WOLF HALL is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion, suffering and courage.
With America quietly gearing up for war in the Middle East, twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin, a ‘half-Jewish’ farmer’s daughter from the plains of the Midwest, has come to university – escaping her provincial home to encounter the complex world of culture and politics. When she takes a job as a part-time nanny to a couple who seem at once mysterious and glamorous, Tassie is drawn into the life of their newly-adopted child and increasingly complicated household. As her past becomes increasingly alien to her – her parents seem older when she visits; her disillusioned brother ever more fixed on joining the military – Tassie finds herself becoming a stranger to herself.
As the year unfolds, love leads her to new and formative experiences – but it is then that the past and the future burst forth in dramatic and shocking ways. Refracted through the eyes of this memorable narrator, A Gate at the Stairs is a lyrical, beguiling and wise novel of our times.
When George and Sabine Harwood arrive in Trinidad from England as young newlyweds, they have with them just a couple of suitcases and Sabine’s prized green bicycle. Their intention is to stay for not more than three years, but George falls in love with the island. Sabine, however, is ill at ease with the racial segregation and unrest in her new home, and takes solace in the freedom of her green bicycle.
George and Sabine become more entangled in their life on the island – in all its passion and betrayals – and Sabine’s bicycle takes her places she wouldn’t otherwise go. One day George makes a discovery that forces him to realise the extent of the secrets between them, and is seized by an urgent, desperate need to prove his love for her – with tragic consequences.
PAST WINNERS OF THE ORANGE PRIZE:
Hundreds of thousands of readers were enthralled and delighted by the luminous, tender voice of John Ames in Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Now comes HOME, a deeply affecting novel that takes place in the same period and same Iowa town of Gilead. This is Jack’s story.
Jack – prodigal son of the Boughton family, godson and namesake of John Ames, gone twenty years – has come home looking for refuge and to try to make peace with a past littered with trouble and pain. A bad boy from childhood, an alcoholic who cannot hold down a job, Jack is perpetually at odds with his surroundings and with his traditionalist father, though he remains Boughton’s most beloved child. His sister Glory has also returned to Gilead, fleeing her own mistakes, to care for their dying father.
Brilliant, loveable, wayward, Jack forges an intense new bond with Glory and engages painfully with his father and his father’s old friend John Ames.
‘On the coach, Lev chose a seat near the back and he sat huddled against the window, staring out at the land he was leaving …’
Lev is on his way to Britain to seek work, so that he can send money back to Eastern Europe to support his mother and little daughter. Readers will become totally involved with his story, as he struggles with the mysterious rituals of ‘Englishness’, and the fashions and fads of the London scene.
We see the road Lev travels through Lev’s eyes, and we share his dilemmas: the intimacy of his friendships, old and new; his joys and sufferings; his aspirations and his hopes of finding his way home, wherever home may be.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Half of a Yellow Sun is a heartbreaking, exquisitely written literary masterpiece. Set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of a vicious civil war in which a million people died and thousands were massacred in cold blood. The three main characters in the novel are swept up in the violence during these turbulent years.
One is a young boy from a poor village who is employed at a university lecturer’s house. The other is a young middle-class woman, Olanna, who has to confront the reality of the massacre of her relatives. And the third is a white man, a writer who lives in Nigeria for no clear reason, and who falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister, a remote and enigmatic character.
As these people’s lives intersect, they have to question their own responses to the unfolding political events. This extraordinary novel is about Africa in a wider sense: about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race; and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.
Howard Belsey, a Rembrandt scholar who doesn’t like Rembrandt, is an Englishman abroad and a long-suffering Professor at Wellington College. He has been married for thirty years to Kiki, an American woman who no longer resembles the sexy activist she once was. Their three children passionately pursue their own paths, and faced with the oppressive enthusiasms of his children, Howard feels that the first two acts of his life are over and he has no clear plans for the finale.
Then Jerome, Howard’s oldest son, falls for Victoria, the stunning daughter of the right-wing icon Monty Kipps. Increasingly, the two families find themselves thrown together in a beautiful corner of America, enacting a cultural and personal war against the background of real wars that they barely register . . .
Two years ago, Eva Khatchadourian’s son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow highschool students, a cafeteria worker and a popular algebra teacher. Now, in a series of letters to her absent husband, Eva recounts the story of how Kevin came to be Kevin. Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about both motherhood in general and Kevin in particular. How much is her fault? When did it all start to go so wrong—or was it, in fact, ever ‘right’ at all?
Lionel Shriver tells a compelling, absorbing, and resonant story while framing the horrifying tableau of teenage carnage as a metaphor for the larger tragedy—the tragedy of a country where everything works, nobody starves and anything can be bought but a sense of purpose.
It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh’s neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do?
Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently. It’s desperation that makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door. Gilbert’s wife Hortense, too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England.
But when she joins him she is shocked to find London shabby, decrepit, and far from the golden city of her dreams. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was.
Manon Gaudet is unhappily married to the owner of a Louisiana sugar plantation. She misses her family and longs for the vibrant lifestyle of her native New Orleans, but most of all, she longs to be free of the suffocating domestic situation. The tension revolves around Sarah, a slave girl who may have been given to Manon as a wedding present from her aunt, whose young son Walter is living proof of where Manon’s husband’s inclinations lie.
This private drama is being played out against a brooding atmosphere of slave unrest and bloody uprisings. And if the attacks reach Manon’s house, no one can be sure which way Sarah will turn …Beautifully written, Property is an intricately told tale of both individual stories and of a country in a time of change, where ownership is at once everything and nothing, and where belonging, by contrast, is all.
Latin terrorists storm an international gathering hosted by an underprivileged country to promote foreign interest and trade, only to find that their intended target, the President, has stayed home to watch his favourite soap opera on TV. Among the hostages are a world class opera singer and her biggest fan, a Japanese tycoon who has been persuaded to attend the party on the understanding that she will perform half a dozen arias after dinner.
The tycoon’s engaging and sympathetic translator plays a vital role in the subsequent relationships between so many different nationalities closeted together, interpreting not only the terrorists’ negotiations but also the language of love between lovers who cannot understand what the other is saying. Ultimately, it is the terrorist strike that does more to promote foreign relations than anyone could have hoped to achieve with the party.
Douglas Cheesman is 55 years old, and the kind of man you would definitely not look at twice. But he can tell you more than you’ll ever want to know about bridges. Harley Savage, big and plain, is a thrice-married woman who freely admits that she bores easily. And Yuribee, a little rural town in NSW that used to think it had a big future, is a place desperately in need of Cultural Heritage.
To attract much-needed tourist dollars, Yuribee must find some worthy pieces for its Heritage Museum – items just a little more inspired than crocheted toilet roll holders. The townspeople seem to think that rickety old Bent Bridge is part of this Cultural Heritage. But Douglas Cheesman is in Yuribee to tear it down, and it seems things are about to get complicated.
Evelyn Sert is standing on the deck of a ship bound for Palestine. It’s April 1946 and armies of men and women are on the move across Europe, intent on coming home – if they have homes left to go to. A young hairdresser from Soho, Evelyn is soon to arrive in teh glittering white Hauhaus city of Tel Aviv, where Jewish refugees and idealists from all over Europe are gathering to forge not only the new Jew but a modern consciousness on the edge of the Middle East.
As the old imperial British identity collapses in slow motion around her, the cafes are teeming with intellectuals, politicians, artists, Zionist gunmen and gangsters, intent on plotting the future and devouring pastries in a city where a babble of cultures and languages are meeting each other for the first time in 2000 years.
For Evelyn, adept at disguises, it is a time when anything seems possible – the new self, new Jew, new woman are all feasible. Together with her lover Johnny, she is drawn into the heart of the struggle. But like the fate of the modernist architecture of the city, all those dreams will turn out to be not quite what the pioneers and refugees had imagined.
In the long hot summer of 1972, three events shattered the serenity of 10-year-old Marsha’s life: her father ran away with her mother’s sister Ada; Boyd Ellison, a young boy was molested and murdered and Watergate made the headlines.
Living in a world no longer safe or familiar, Marsha turns increasingly to “the book of evidence” in which she records the doings of the neighbours, especially of shy Mr Green next door. But as Marsha’s confusion and the murder hunt both accelerate, their “facts” spread the damage cruelly and catastrophically through the neighbourhood.
Larry and his naive young wife, Dorrie, spend their honeymoon in England. In the ordered riotousness of Hampton Court’s maze, Larry discovers the passion of his life. Perhaps his ever-growing obsession with mazes may help him find a way through the bewilderment deepening about him as through twenty years and two failed marriages – he endeavours to understand his own needs. And those of parents, friends, lovers, a growing son.
A writer of miraculous grace, and an unrivalled observer of ‘ordinary’ men and women in all their extraordinary variety and vulnerability, Carol Shields has produced some of the most remarkable fiction of our times.
In Larry’s Party Carol Shields presents an ironic odyssey through the life of modern man, from the late seventies to 1997. The mundane is made magnificent by a perception which finds the drama in life’s detail – poignant, peculiar or simply absurd.
A young boy, Jakob Beer, is rescued from the muddy ruins of a buried Polish village in Nazi-occupied Poland, during the Second World War. Of his family, he is the only one who has survived. He is smuggled out to an island in Greece by an unlikely saviour, the scientist and humanist Athos Roussos. There, in the seclusion and tenderness of Athos’s house, they spend the last years of the Occupation in a precarious refuge made lavish with poetry and cartography, botany and art.
In the novel’s second part, Ben, a young professor and an expert in the drama of weather and biography, meets the now sixty-year-old Jacob and his ardent and glorious Michaela at the home of a mutual friend. The quiet elation Ben senses in the older man, and Ben’s own connection to the wounding legacies of the war, kindle a fascination with Jakob and his writing, disturbing the safety of his carefully ordered world.
A novel of astounding beauty and wisdom, Fugitive Pieces is a profound meditation on the resilience of the human spirit and love’s ability to resurrect even the most damaged of hearts.
Catherine and her brother, Rob, don’t know why they have been abandoned by their parents. Incarcerated in the enormous country house of their grandfather – ‘the man from nowhere’ – they create a refuge against their family’s dark secrets – and the outside world as it moves towards the First World War.
As time passes their sibling love deepens and crosses into forbidden territory – but they are not as alone in the house as they believe
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.