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Review: In short, two fascinating perspectives on life

Two writers. Two excellent, contrasting, collections of short fiction both, in their way, exposing the simple truths and glorious complexities of everyday of life.

First Helen Garner, one of Australia’s most under-stated yet wise and clear-sighted writers has consistently held up an unwavering  mirror up to the country through more 13 books (including forensic studies of two highly publicised court cases), two plays and numerous magazine articles.  Stories ( Text Publishing) a collection of fiction, some of which dates back more than 20 years, has been released to coincide with her 75th birthday. It showcases her meticulous, pared back, observations on the magical and the mundane.  She has a glorious ear for the vernacular so mesmerising you can hear the conversations in your head as you read. Postcards from Surfers will resonate with anyone who has tried to bridge the gap between childhood holidays and the present. Stories is a partner to a volume of her non-fiction work.

Fiction dominates Stella Prize long list 2016 for great books written by female Australian author

StellaLonglist pix

Novels and collections of short stories including work by Elizabeth Harrower, Charlotte Wood and Amanda Lohrey dominate the long list $50,000 annual Stella Prize which celebrates great books, fiction and non-fiction, by female Australian authors. The only non-fiction book to make the list is Small Acts of Disappearance : Essays on Hunger by Fiona  Wright. The full long list is:

Joanna Rakoff gets a lesson in living from her year with Salinger

Salinger 2Joanna Rakoff wasn’t a Salinger nut when she snagged a job as assistant in the literary agency that represented the world famous author. In fact, in the early days when she was meticulously briefed on all things Jerry, as he was known, she thought their celebrity writer was Jerry Seinfeld. As My Salinger Year, her clever and frequently very funny memoir, reveals, she was desperate to be part of the seemingly glamorous world of publishing. Despite being a post grad she was so keen to get her toe in the door she took the first job offered, working for peanuts as a secretary. Much of her time was spent producing and amending novel-length contracts on an ancient manual typewriter and fending off fans.

A very long long list for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction


How many books is too many? I confess there’s more than a little self interest involved in the question.  The long list for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has just been announced and it’s a whopping 20 books long, albeit from 165 original applicants. The prize, which was previously known as the Orange, is for a full-length novel written in english by a woman of any nationality and published in the United Kingdom.

Of course a plus for having long lists longer than the customary 10 or 12 titles is that  many more authors are able to get their moment in the literary sunshine. This particularly applies to debut authors of which the long list has five including Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing, which won the Costa Prize, and Laline Paull’s dystopian The Bees. It also gives the judges the opportunity to broaden the range of work celebrated beyond what might be viewed as more “conventional” subject and style.

On the downside,  I know I am not alone in liking to read as many of the contenders for

The best books of 2014

Sturt292014 has been another wonderful year for literature, a classic case of so many books, so little time. I ended the year having read 80 books, predominantly fiction novels, but including one play (Mike Bartlett’s perceptive and witty King Charles 111, works of non-fiction and collections of short stories.

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine (Text)

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (W.W.Norton)

The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (Bloomsbury)

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki by Haruki Murakami (Alfred A Knopf)

Thank you For Your Service by David Finkle (Text)

Beyond the Beautiful Forever by Katherine Boo (Random House)

The Golden Age by Joan London (Random House Australia)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (Allen & Unwin)

A Winter’s Book by Tove Jansson (A Sort of Book)

His Own Man by Ribeiro Edgard (Text):

The gender division was 66-44 per cent to the blokes, the authors came from

Stella Rimington’s new book closes in on home-grown terror

One of the star attractions at last year’s Hay-on-Wye Festival of Literature and the ArtsStella Rimington in England was Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, Britain’s spy service. Diminutive but with a definite “presence”, she held the large audience rapt as she talked about what became her not-so-private life after the country’s top spook was “outed”, and about her second career as a writer of spy fiction.

Inevitably she faced questions about how much of her central character, Liz Carlyle, the head of M15’s Counter Terrorism section, was based on her own experiences and real life events. Unfortunately no real secrets were passed. Not in the business of giving too much away she described it as “memory lane-ish”.

Close Call is the eighth in Rimington’s Liz Carlyle series and finds her just back at her desk after a holiday with her lover Martin Seurat of the DGSE, the French Military Intelligence Service Her section has been given a “watching brief” of under-the-counter arms supplies to Arab Spring rebels. Perhaps coincidentally, a young American

Review: The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt

HotelFrancfortAuthor Claire Messud’s response was direct and to the point when an interviewer said that he thought Nora, the main character in Messud’s recent book, The Woman Upstairs, was someone he wouldn’t want as a friend.

“For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that?,” she retorted. “Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?” ‘’

The spat came to mind after finishing The Two Hotels Francforts by David Leavitt.


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