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Book review: The life to come by Michelle de Krester

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One of the characters I most enjoyed in Michelle de Krester's The life to come is Sydney's inner west.

I arrived in Newtown on a yellowy January morning in the early 1980s and lived above King St near the start of Erskinville Rd for six months before a succession of terrace houses across Newtown, Emmore and Macdonaldtown.

Coming from the country to study 'Communications' I could easily have been minor character fodder for the author, momentarily shuffling by in ill-fitting jeans alongside the ubiquitous Pippa and George (that is, they are the only characters appearing in all five sections of what is an artfully decentralised narrative).

I might not have done too well descriptively from de Krester's pen. She finds a way to poke holes in all of her characters, perhaps with the exception of expat Christabel who is the most downtrodden of characters, but not by the author, who otherwise sustains a mildly scornful, disapproving or comedic tone.

For example, George the E…

Book review: The Nowhere Child by Christian White

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Little Sammy Went is gone, and while The Nowhere Child tells us where fairly quickly - who, how, why and at what cost takes the rest of this fast-paced book to uncover.


I use the cliche 'fast-paced' on purpose because like most genre books, except for the exceptional few, the 'fast-pace' does rely on cliches to a fair degree.

Which is not to say The Nowhere Child is a poor novel. Rather it is a clever book, with more than enough periods of real tension and surprise to keep the reader turning pages (or flicking them as the case may be).

Clever because it embeds just enough themes that are deemed praiseworthy and admirable in the subjective group-think world that is publishing. (That is not a criticism of the book or publishing, just a reality in these days of thought-fear.)

Of course there is the obligatory references to reading and authors - we must worship at the the book altar of course. Being set in both Australia and the US may explain why at times Matthew Reilly c…

Book review: The Choke by Sophie Laguna

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The Choke tells the story of a young girl raised by her war-ravaged grandfather in a beat-up house near the fictional Victorian town of Nullabri on the banks of the Murray River.

Nullabri may well be located across the water from fictional Bellington and Riversend from Chris Hammer's Scrubland as we find ourselves in another rendition of dystopian rural Australia where the river (or lack of) is a silent presence.

Author Sophie Laguna has again given her child heroine Justine and the other young characters a warmth and vulnerability so easily observable in children and it is part of the growing tension of the book as to how this will be ripped apart by the mostly dysfunctional adults in their lives. Or by the eroding process of simply growing up in poverty and ignorance.

There is something dangerously criminal about Justine's father who is mostly absent yet longed for by Justine and her step-brothers. The depiction of his return, his dismantling of his sons' fragile confide…

Book review: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

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There's a rhythm to Chris Hammer's Scrublands that could easily have become monotonous in the same way driving to and from the small parched town of Riversend to the larger river town of Bellington again and again could be monotonous.

Except that both rhythms are edged with beauty and tragedy and cornered by the possibility of salvation or damnation which is why we are often addicted to the most monotonous things.

Post Gaza Strip foreign correspondent Martin Scarsden is sent to Riversend by his old-school editor Max Fuller who knows there's a half decent headline in revisiting the horrors of a churchyard massacre on its one-year anniversary.

At least equally as important to Max is the hope that it will provide a gently-therapeutic return to form for his star reporter. After all, having done a stint or two in the role, I've always believed editors of newspapers were print-pastors at heart - of their readers' weeping and rejoicing certainly, if not also of their lost…

Book review: The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton

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Fifteen-year-old Jaxie urgently flees his motherless home and what is left of his abusive father, taking his chances on foot in the vast and desolate West Australian desert, hoping for the solace of an unlikely reunion with the girl he loves.

With the undaunted, brutalised but majestic voice of a teenager on a desperate journey and the dust-in-your-eyes realism of Tim Winton's landscapes, there comes a god, not so much in the machine, but in an unlikely hut on the edge of seemingly endless salt plains.

Is the hut's occupant Fintan MacGillas saviour, or anti-saviour, we are not quite sure, and similarly unconvinced is Jaxie who reluctantly accepts sustenance but only after anger and threats and a degree of ongoing suspicion.

It turns out MacGillas is a banished priest and Jaxie perhaps not unfairly assumes incorrectly he must be a pedophile but with the relentless terrain a merciless (or merciful) leveller, a steady truce and growing companionship come to carry the story forwar…

Author Richard Flanagan's speech to the Garma Festival 2018: full transcript

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When my father died at the age of 98 he had largely divested himself of possessions. Among what little remained was an old desk in which he had collected various writings precious to him over the years: poems, sayings, quotes, a few pieces he had written, some correspondence. 

Among them my elder sister found a letter written by one of my father’s cousins many years before. In it she told my father that his mother, my grandmother, was of Aboriginal descent, and that in her family she had been brought up to never mention this fact outside of the home.

My father loved discussing interesting letters with his family. He never discussed this letter. Yet he kept it. The story of covering up Indigenous pasts was a common one in Tasmania, where such behaviour was for some a form of survival. There is no documentation to prove my father’s cousin’s story is true, but that doesn’t make it untrue. It leaves the story as an unanswerable question mark over my family.

The theme of this year’s Garma …

Book review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

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This is one of the saddest books I've read in a long time although most popular literary books I've read of late make a good effort at being reasonably depressing.

Which is not to say Everything I Never Told You is a poor read. On the whole it is eminently readable but I found myself constantly trying to peel back my own experience of family to see if secrets, silent shame and unspoken fear are as prevalent.

Perhaps I wouldn't know but I think not, hope not. But then I haven't experienced being in a multiracial family 40 years ago amidst the racial angst of the US.

With blue eyed Marilyn seeing her daughter Lydia through her missed opportunity for independence and career, and her black haired Chinese father James content with signs of her daughter's popular normality neither can see, or want to see, so much that is unspoken, or deliberately hidden abut Lydia, their middle child.

While we know the outcome from the start - the what - it is the gradual revealing of the…