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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: 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: 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…

Book review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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Theo Decker, a 'god of layers' perhaps, and that is what he is, surviving a bomb blast that kills his mother, comforting a dying antique trader and following his delirious urging to take hold of a treasure that takes hold of him in so many layered ways.

There are times this book infuriates when characters fail to do what 99 per cent of people would do - what you the reader are urging them to do - and so end up in several long chapters of chaos.

And then there are the thousands of sweeping words that carry you forward, heart racing. Or the long ragings at the world or detailed vivisections of meaning that cut so close to the doubts of your own heart.

As a title, The Goldfinch suggests a stuffy but polite story of manners and it is a story of manners but never stuffy or polite and not what you would think at all.

It tells of the world we all might nearly belong to if our deceptions were allowed to fester a little longer. A world just beyond ours, that world we wonder about when …

Book review in brief: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

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For an Australian author like Richard Flanagan, there is material enough for a great novel just telling of the lives and suffering of Australian prisoners of war during World War 2.  Even more so considering his father was just such a prisoner on the Burma railway, something Flanagan speaks of 'imbibing' while growing up.

Instead he settles for a broader and more difficult panorama. Alongside the adept before and after descriptions of Australian soldiers - of love affairs and guilty confusion - we are also taken into the minds of Japanese officers and Korean soldiers and dystopian post-nuclear Japan.

Somehow it all rings as true as his depictions of Melbourne society and Tasmanian poverty. The heat of Adelaide is pitched against the humidity of Siam and the unresolved heroics of an Australian surgeon against the inconclusive brutality of Japanese prison commander.

It is not a triumphant book or a cheery one, and it offers little hope except that sometimes people survive, des…

Questions of Travel wins Miles Franklin award

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Questions of Travelby Michelle de Krester has won Australia's richest literary prize, the Miles Franklin, from a field of all-female finalists.

Described as a 'dazzling, compassionate and deeply moving novel from one of world literature's rising stars' this mesmerising literary novel charts two very different lives.

Laura travels the world before returning to Sydney, where she works for a publisher of travel guides. Ravi dreams of being a tourist until he is driven from Sri Lanka by devastating events.

Around these two superbly drawn characters, a double narrative assembles an enthralling array of people, places and stories - from Theo, whose life plays out in the long shadow of the past, to Hana, an Ethiopian woman determined to reinvent herself in Australia.

Award-winning author Michelle de Kretser illuminates travel, work and modern dreams in this brilliant evocation of the way we live now. Wonderfully written, Questions of Travel is an extraordinary work of imagina…

Book review: The Childhood of Jesus by JM Coetzee

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The Childhood of Jesus is a beautifully written book as you would expect from an author who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature and two Booker Prizes.

But did even JM Coetzee reach his limit in his daring attempt to write a book with such a searching title? Maybe, but then we have the age-old philosophical question, can the created express without limit the qualities of the Limitless? But to the book...

Is this a retelling of the hidden years of Jesus' childhood? Is the title more metaphor, allegory or descriptive? Are we learning about childhood, family, refugee, society, community or the psychosocial complexity of the individual? Are we seeing the plainness of a world without the divine spark or the goodness of a simple life?

To be honest, it is all and none of these and I'm not entirely sure if there is a single motivation or intention from the author. And perhaps that's the beauty of a great writer, they do not need to tell, but keep that secret to themselves.

If …

Shallow pop-fiction such as Fifty Shades of Grey undermines women's dignity: author

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Impoverished pop-fiction with "flat characters"such as in Fifty Shade of Grey was cheating young women of a dignified view of themselves, according to the author of a new book, Unseduced and Unshaken: The Place of Dignity in a Young Woman's Choices.

Dr Rosalie de Rosset says the success of books like Fifty Shades and the Twilight series represents a frustrating trend among today’s women, but she is no less complimentary of Christian writing.

Of the vast array of Christian books targetting women, Dr de Rosset says much of it consists of "Jesus fixes everything” scenarios that do not reflect anything like the complexity and depth of real life.

“They are not well written and they are not theological.” she says. 

Dr de Rosset is a Professor of Literature, English and Homiletics with a 42-year connection with Moody Bible Institute and a PhD in Language, Literacy, and Rhetoric from The University of Illinois,  Chicago.

In an interview published on the Christian Today w…