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9780143788911
Paperback / softback
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The Hollow Bones

 

Reviewed by Robert at Angus & Robertson:

Magical realism dances with dire Nazi evil to cast a vital new perspective on well-known history in this masterful new novel from Leah Kaminsky, our fiction pick for March.

As children, Ernst and Herta shared their love of birds and nature, with the whole world before them. Years later, they reunite as a young and handsome couple in mid-30’s Berlin, but much has changed. Ernst is now an ambitious zoologist, keen to curry Nazi favour to ensure funding for an expedition to Tibet, while the beautiful and spirited Herta will support him in any way she can. Both will soon come to learn that the Third Reich requires more than simple compromise, threatening the joy and humanity of their lives and country.

Based on the very real 1938 Schafer Expedition, a Himmler-funded quest to find the roots of Germany’s Aryan race in the Himalayas, this book is superbly researched and brilliantly done. Kaminsky uses the rise of Nazism as a pervasive backdrop for the story of Ernst and Herta, two lives that reflect a culture lost in fear and greed and headed for inevitable turmoil. This book is about how people become distorted, losing their connection to nature and love as their energies are given over to mad science and cold, brutal ideology. This might sound oppressive, but be assured that the book is immensely enjoyable. The writing is immediately captivating, its themes layered deftly by Kaminsky, and the story flows beautifully as a result. You will come to love the music-loving and slightly rebellious Herta, who is the poetic heart of the book. Her wry humour in the face of Nazi doctrine is the perfect foil to Ernst’s stuffiness.

The story is also populated with many birds and animals, most notably a panda that unexpectedly appears to provide wise narration from a museum in 2019. This may sound improbable but it works splendidly, allowing Kaminsky’s characters to reveal their true natures in their interactions with the animals. In doing so, this book is astonishingly clever in the way it delivers its case to the reader. There is so much meaning present in the details, and yet it is restrained and softly placed. Kaminsky pleads for us to put all creatures into perspective, and to be wary of mad pursuits that punish the meek. That she does so with such poetic and moving storytelling is impressively powerful.

Leah Kaminsky has achieved a wonderful thing with The Hollow Bones, and I recommend this book to readers and book clubs everywhere. It’s a thought-provoking and entertaining read that leaves you reflecting on life, love, nature, and the limits of ambition.

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New Australian Writing

Winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize

 
9780571338740
Paperback / softback
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Milkman

 

This beautiful and painful novel by Orange Prize shortlisted Anna Burns blends shades of early Edna O'Brien with Eimear McBride's exquisite ability to capture voice.

Set in an un-named city but with an astonishing, breath-shorteningly palpable sense of time and place Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. The story of inaction with enormous consequences and decisions that are never made, but for which people are judged and punished.

Middle sister is our protagonist. She is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her nearly-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with milkman (which she herself for the life of her cannot work out how it came about). But when first brother-in-law, who of course had sniffed it out, told his wife, her first sister, to tell her mother to come and have a talk with her, middle sister becomes 'interesting'. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous.

Milkman is a searingly honest novel told in prose that is as precise and unsentimental as it is devastating and brutal. A novel that is at once unlocated and profoundly tethered to place is surely a novel for our times.

More from the 2018 Longlist

The 2018 Miles Franklin Literary Award Winner

 
9781760296568
Paperback / softback
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The Life to Come

 

Reviewed by Robert at Angus & Robertson:
This book is a glorious piece of virtuosity that is unlike anything I have ever read. It is provocative, tragicomic, and full of the most wonderfully descriptive writing you'll see this year. More valuably though, this book may actually change you.

The Life to Come is a series of mini-narratives entwined to produce a rich and colourful tapestry. Like in her 2012 MIles Franklin Award-winning novel Questions of Travel, there is no dominant narrative arc here - it is the details that make up the whole. Those expecting a grand plot may be confounded at first, but if you let yourself go with the novel's small episodes, a more valuable picture emerges. This novel delves into the stories we tell both others and ourselves. It explores how we make excuses for our bad behaviour and highlight our aspirations, always with our best times and deeds just before us, in the life to come. Ultimately, De Kretser highlights how we are the heroes of our own stories.

It is mostly set in Inner West Sydney, in a world of politically aware creatives who are forever bumping against each other. Each of her characters is a kind of vignette, carrying defined ideas of who they are and where they are going. Some have cast themselves as grand writers, charitable neighbours, or great liberal supporters of refugees and the marginalised. These ideals are soon revealed as the hypocritical constructs they are, with De Kretser deftly pinning each one to the board with glorious wit - her character observations are so acute that you are often left breathless. Read More

2018 Miles Franklin Shortlist

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