Globally and personally 2018 was a difficult year, so I built a wall of books and retreated. Here are some of the books I read, and some that I abandoned. This year I managed to get the balance between Australian and international books right, I think.
Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend But The Mountains is lament and testimony, poetry and philosophy, reportage and heartbreak, sternly observed. The Australian government’s inhuman policy of incarcerating asylum seekers in Manus island and Nauru has resulted in this – such a tough read that I broke down several times and picked myself up and read some more. Simultaneously ashamed to be Australian and grateful for the gift of this book, I hope to be able to shake Behrouz’s hand one day when he is a free man.
Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip is brilliant. I loved the satirical, fast-talking, flawed and funny Kerry Salter (‘skinniest dark girl on a shiny new softail’) whose return to her hometown on a stolen Harley is bound to cause some strife. The cast of characters include talking crows and spooky lakes and people who endure, despite dispossession, abuse and colonisation.
Alice Nelson’s The Children’s House drew me into the power of language and story so quickly that I gave myself over to this tale of dispossession of another kind, completely. Never losing sight of white privilege, Alice Nelson tells the story of a Rwandan refugee’s mute struggles in New York, and a wealthy Jewish couple’s attempts to recover their own histories as they try to be everything to everyone.
Amanda Curtin’s beautifully reconstructed life of artist Kate O’Connor is that rare thing – the life of an artist rendered in language so visual and visceral, I was able to ‘see’ that life unfold as I read. Kathleen O’Connor of Paris introduced me to the famous daughter of an iconic West Australian (C.Y.O’Connor), about whom I knew very little. But more than that, it reminded me that intuition, chance, conversations, friendship and loss may choose the people and places we write about.
2018 was also the year where friends bought and recommended books to me which resulted in a different sort of reading. Han Kang’s The White Book is extraordinary and defies description and I loved it. Kanishk Tharoor’s book of short stories, Swimmer Among the Stars is lyrical, acutely observed and sumptuous. I have written reviews of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and The Blind Man’s Garden here.
And finally there were books I picked up because I had read other books by these writers, or read reviews and loved them. Sadly, none of these lived up to their earlier promise. I abandoned them after 50 pages.
And here are the books I will read in January, in preparation for the Perth Writers Festival 2019.
It was such a joy to read the debut novels of Michelle Johnston, Louise Allan and Susan Midalia, and Julie Watts’ award winning book of poetry, Legacy. The West Australian publishing industry is thriving and I’m so glad.