author of Last Summer
and After the Fall
The 5 best novels I read this year are…
by David Vann
An Alaskan Revolutionary Road, Caribou Island from David Vann, bestselling and critically acclaimed author of Legend of a Suicide, is a devastating novel about a marriage, a couple blighted by past shadows and the weight of expectation, of themselves and of each other.
On a small island in a glacier-fed lake on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, a marriage is unravelling.
Gary, driven by thirty years of diverted plans, and Irene, haunted by a tragedy in her past, are trying to rebuild their life together. Following the outline of Gary’s old dream, they’re hauling logs out to Caribou Island in good weather and in terrible storms, in sickness and in health, to patch together the kind of cabin that drew them to Alaska in the first place.
Across the water on the mainland, Irene and Gary’s grown daughter, Rhoda is starting her own life. She fantasizes about the perfect wedding day, whilst her betrothed, Jim the dentist, wonders about the possibility of an altogether different future.
Brilliantly drawn and fiercely honest in its depiction of love and disappointment, David Vann’s first novel confirms him as one of America’s most dazzling writers of fiction.
by Malcolm Knox
Daring, dazzling, funny and heartbreaking, this is a story about fame and ambition, surfing and pine-lime Splices … a superbly written and ambitious novel by one of Australia’s rising stars. The Life will simply blow you away.
He looked into the Pacific and the Pacific looked back into him.
The Life tells the story of former-world-champion Australian surfer, Dennis Keith, from inside the very heart of the fame and madness that is ‘The Life’.
Now bloated and paranoid, former Australian surfing legend Dennis Keith is holed up in his mother’s retirement village, shuffling to the shop for a Pine-Lime Splice every day, barely existing behind his aviator sunnies and crazy OCD rules, and trying not to think about the waves he’d made his own and the breaks he once ruled like a god. Years before he’d been robbed of the world title that had his name on it – and then drugs, his brother, and the disappearance and murder of his girlfriend and had done the rest. Out of the blue, a young would-be biographer comes knocking and stirs up memories Dennis thought he’d buried. It takes Dennis a while to realise that she’s not there to write his story at all.
Daring, ambitious, dazzling, The Life is also as real as it gets – a searing, beautiful novel about fame and ambition and the price that must sometimes be paid for reaching too high.
by Eva Hornung
Abandoned in a big city at the onset of winter, a hungry four-year-old boy follows a stray dog to her lair. There in the rich smelly darkness, in the rub of hair, claws and teeth, he joins four puppies suckling at their mother’s teats. And so begins Romochka’s life as a dog.
Weak and hairless, with his useless nose and blunt little teeth, Romochka is ashamed of what a poor dog he makes. But learning how to be something else…that’s a skill a human can master. Fortunately–because one day Romochka will have to learn how to be a boy.
The story of the child raised by beasts is timeless. But in Dog Boy Eva Hornung has created such a vivid and original telling, so viscerally convincing, that it becomes not just new but definitive:
Yes, this is how it would be.
by Charlotte Wood
A sharply observed, 24-hour urban love story that follows Stephen Connolly – a character from the bestselling novel The Children – through one of the worst days of his life. The day he has decided to dump his girlfriend.
On a stiflingly hot December day, Stephen has decided it’s time to break up with his girlfriend Fiona. He’s 39, aimless and unfulfilled, he’s without a clue working out how to make his life better. All he has are his instincts – and unfortunately they might just be his downfall . . .
As he makes his way through the pitiless city and the hours of a single day, Stephen must fend off his demanding family, endure another shift of his dead-end job at the zoo (including an excruciating teambuilding event), face up to Fiona’s aggressive ex-husband and the hysteria of a children’s birthday party that goes terribly wrong. As an ordinary day develops into an existential crisis, Stephen begins to understand – perhaps too late – that love is not a trap, and only he can free himself.
Hilarious, tender and heartbreaking, Animal People is a portrait of urban life, a meditation on the conflicted nature of human-animal relationships, and a masterpiece of storytelling.
Animal People invites readers to question the way we think about animals – what makes an ‘animal person’? What value do we, as a society, place on the lives of creatures? Do we brutalise our pets even as we love them? What’s wrong with anthropomorphism anyway? Filled with challenging ideas and shocks of recognition and revelation, Animal People shows a writer of great depth and compassion at work.
Daughters In Law
by Joanna Trollope
Rachel has always loved being at the centre of her large family. She has fiercely devoted herself to her three sons all their lives,and continues to do so even now they are all grown up. They are, of course, devoted to her – she and Anthony, their father, hold the family together at their big, beautiful, ramshackle house near the wide, bird-haunted coast of Suffolk.
But when Luke, her youngest, gets married, Rachel finds that control is slipping away. Other people seem to be becoming more important to her children than she is, and she can no longer rely on her role as undisputed matriarch. A power struggle develops which can only end in unhappiness; her three daughters-in-law want to do things their own way, and so, to her grief, do her sons…
By the simple act of telling a story a good book can carry a light into the dark and unexamined corners of a reader’s life. The darkest of these unexamined corners is occupied by the single irrefutable truth of our existence, death. Left in the shadows this stark fact can take on all of the attributes of a nightmarish spectre. Left unexamined we may be left entirely unprepared when death intrudes upon our own lives. Something it will do, eventually.
Last Summer by Kylie Ladd, begins with the sudden death of Rory Buchanan, captain of the local cricket team, a man in the prime of his life. We immediately enter the lives of those Rory left behind – his wife, Colleen, his sister, Kelly, her husband, Joe, and Rory’s friends and team-mates, Nick, James and Pete, and their wives, Laine, Anita and Trinity as they, in their various ways, cope with Rory’s death and face up to the fact that life does, and will, go on without him.
Last Summer is told from the points of view of these nine characters with full chapters from one point of view only. This method of storytelling requires strong characterisation so that each individual point of view provides a unique perspective on the events. By choosing suburban Melbourne as her setting, and the cricket club as her focal point, Ladd has made things difficult for herself. There is much that is necessarily shared by all of these nine characters. They are all white, they are all moderately well off, they are all around the same age and they all have some connection to the game of cricket. This seeming difficulty turns out to be one of the novel’s strengths. Click here to read more…
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.