Showing all posts tagged: fiction
27 May 2022
Detail from Imaginary Prisons, by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Warning, spoilers follow. Return to this article once you’ve finished reading the book.
Imagine you live in a sprawling multi-storied house. The lower levels are flooded by an ocean, while the upper floors are shrouded in mist and clouds. The seemingly endless labyrinth like hallways are adorned with classical style marble statues, and for whatever reason, sea birds have taken to nesting among some of these figures. But it’s not really a house you’re in, it’s more like a complex with the dimensions of a city, and one none too small at that.
This is the world, Piranesi, the titular character in the second novel of British author Susanna Clarke (published by Bloomsbury Publishing, August 2021), finds himself in. Piranesi knows little about how the house came to be, or when he arrived there, although he has vague recollections of living elsewhere before. Come to that, Piranesi knows hardly anything about himself. He’s perhaps aged in his mid-thirties, and if pressed, couldn’t even be sure his name was Piranesi.
Despite these peculiar circumstances, Piranesi otherwise seems content, and goes about his day to day life as if nothing were amiss. But how would you feel were it you in Piranesi’s place? Wouldn’t you wonder how you ended up in this predicament, and whether there was a way leave, and return to the real world? Wouldn’t you miss family and friends, and wonder if they felt the same way? Wouldn’t you crave the company of others at least some of the time?
But Piranesi doesn’t appear to be the least bit perturbed. Why though? Does he have some sort of problem? Does he loathe all people, and is thankful for the sanctuary the house offers, a place devoid of humans? Or is he perhaps an introvert, who’s found his happy place? Yet Piranesi isn’t completely alone in the house. Once or twice a week, he goes to a certain area of the complex, where he briefly meets a middle-aged man, whom Piranesi refers to as The Other.
If Piranesi knows little about himself, he knows even less about The Other. He has no idea who this gentleman really is — although he believes him to be some sort of academic — nor does he know where The Other resides in the house. The Other meanwhile frequently questions Piranesi, and even sets him tasks, some relatively arduous. One such request required Piranesi to walk to a distant point in the house, on a journey lasting two days return.
To make a comparison, and better understand the scale of the house, I looked up the walking time and distance from Sydney’s CBD to the western suburb of Penrith on Google, and was advised the trek is approximately fifty-six kilometres in length, and the non-stop walk would take almost twelve hours.
Of course the question of exactly what sort of place Piranesi finds himself in came up repeatedly as I read the novel, particularly as he never encountered anyone else — at least not at first — in the sprawling complex. While plenty of Clarke’s readers (myself included) have ideas as to the nature of the house, and what it really is, I found myself wondering how Piranesi could remain oblivious to his acute isolation, and not miss the company of other people.
After all, surely not even the most extreme of introverts would continuously crave the deep solitude of the apparently empty house. But there were indications Piranesi was lonely. He regarded the sea birds nesting in the statues in some of the hallways as friends, and would often have conversations — albeit one-sided — with them. But when it becomes obvious another person is lurking, out of sight, in the house, Piranesi is keen to find out who they are.
In trying to understand Piranesi’s apparently people averse personality, I would describe him as an introvert. But no ordinary — if there is such a thing — introvert. To live alone for years in a vast complex, spending perhaps an hour at most, once a week, with one other person could not be anyone’s ideal. While it can argued something else is going on, that he is unaware of, Piranesi’s outright acceptance of his plight remains compelling. Piranesi is certainly an introvert, but he’s more, he’s an introvert on steroids.
THINGS TO DO
3 May 2022
Sometimes a book is just too good to put down, leaving you no choice but to… marry one of its (fictional) characters. Unofficially at least.
And no, this is no joke. The practice is said to have thousands of adherents in Japan, including Akihiko Kondo, a thirty-something salaryman, who is “married” to Hatsune Miku, a singing voice synthesizer, who features in video games, and even opened a concert for Lady Gaga once*.
In Miku, Mr. Kondo has found love, inspiration and solace, he says. He and his assortment of Miku dolls eat, sleep and watch movies together. Sometimes, they sneak off on romantic getaways, posting photos on Instagram.
*… though can someone who opened a show for Lady Gaga be unreal?
THINGS TO DO
28 February 2022
Readers of Irish author Marian Keyes‘ Walsh Family Series of novels first made the acquaintance of Rachel Walsh in 1997, in Rachel’s Holiday. Rachel was twenty-seven, and not in a good place. She’d just broken up with her boyfriend, Luke, and had been placed in rehabilitation by her family on account of her substance abuse.
Fast forward to 2021, and Rachel’s world is a better place. In fact, she has come full circle. She now works as a councillor at the facility she was admitted to twenty-five years earlier. Further, she’s in a happy relationship, and is getting along nicely with her mother and siblings. All up, everything seems to be going exceedingly well for Rachel. But her reverie is shattered by an out of the blue call from an old flame, in Again, Rachel (published by Penguin Books Australia, February 2022).
Just when she thought she had everything sorted out, and was settled, Rachel finds her life turned on its head. What is she to do? Follow her heart, and her ex, and venture back into a time and place she thought she’d left behind? Or remain in the predictable now? How fragile, it seems, is the life we believed to be firmly established…
THINGS TO DO
21 February 2022
What would you do if an email intended for another person, made its way to your inbox? Would you delete it forthwith? Or would you, without blinking at it, inform the sender by return, of their error? Or might you feel that’d be tantamount to admitting you’d read the message? Might you think you were therefore exposing yourself to possible retribution, by making yourself known to the sender?
Or might you be like Bee, a London dress maker, who having received, and read, an incorrectly addressed email, decides to send a considered reply to the sender, because she found the contents intriguing? And would you believe for a second that such a response could be the beginning of a friendship, or perhaps something more?
This is exactly what happens in Impossible (published by HarperCollins Publishers, March 2022), by Sarah Lotz, the eighth novel by the British novelist and screenwriter. Nick, who is struggling personally and professionally, is surprised when Bee, a stranger, replies to his misdirected rant, but is delighted as their correspondence becomes regular and more intimate.
After all, who doesn’t like a meeting a new friend? But when Bee and Nick realise there is more to their exchanges than cordial banter, they decide to take the next step. Nick jumps on a train from Leeds, while Bee makes her way to London’s Euston station to meet him. But is it that simple? Can something come of what they have? Could it? Or is there too much they don’t know about each other to make that possible?
THINGS TO DO
16 February 2022
This sounds convenient. Instead of hauling a smartphone around all the time, you could instead have a social media platform injected into the roof of your mouth. The implant would mesh with your brain, eventually taking the place of your phone. Blink twice to take a photo maybe, communicate brain to brain with friends who also have the app implant.
Welcome to The This, the futurist social media app, and novel of the same name, written by British science fiction author Adam Roberts, published by Hachette Australia. The app is popular with many, but there are those who do not like it. They do not want to be part of the so-called hive mind. They’ve seen Twitter, they’ve seen enough. But the storyline has all the hallmarks of a hive mind, a sprawling, surreal, neural network spanning space and time.
Adan is a journalist, sent to profile the CEO of The This. But after Adan’s mother unexpectedly leaves the country, he is forced to join the army as he is left without a home or any money. Adan is battling a robot invasion, in a reality far removed from the one he once knew. In later centuries a diminished humanity is fighting off another hive mind, one intent of the final destruction of humanity. And all because we wanted to try out a new social media app…
THINGS TO DO
12 February 2022
I couldn’t imagine how I’d feel if I were told I only had a certain amount of time left to live. It’s not the sort of situation most of us are used to dealing with. Our time, energy, and thought-output goes into dealing with all those other everyday predicaments. Paying the mortgage, getting the kids into the best school. Meeting the latest deadline. No pun intended.
But this is what happens to Vivian, the titular character of The Very Last List of Vivian Walker (published by Hachette Australia, 9 February 2022), the debut novel of Kalkadoon woman Megan Albany, an Australian author based in the Northern Rivers of NSW.
With her mortality hanging by a thread, Vivian does what any self-possessed control freak whose life is regimented by lists would; she decides to face her demise by organising herself. She prepares to-do lists not only for herself, but husband Clint, and son Ethan. These lists, she hopes, will soften the blow of her terminal diagnosis, and prepare the family for a future without her.
Vivian’s final days are punctuated with a certain dark humour, and one hopes not too many of us will ever find ourselves taking a leaf from the book of Vivian Walker.
THINGS TO DO
11 February 2022
American science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson is among writers who are hopeful fiction featuring climate change, and the consequences of global warming, will play a part in changing the perceptions of people who still don’t take the worldwide environmental crisis seriously.
For instance his latest novel, The Ministry for the Future, paints a bleak picture of a planet in deep trouble, but also presents a pathway through the turmoil, towards a positive future. Ice Crash: Antarctica (published by Amazon, February 15, 2022), by North Carolina based American author Lynda Engler, is another work of fiction taking on the topic of climate change, coupled with a series of devastating natural disasters.
Here, an earthquake in Antarctica pushes the Thwaites glacier, also known as the doomsday glacier into the ocean, bringing about a sudden and catastrophic rise in sea levels. Kathryn, a seismologist working in Antarctica, who has been alarmed by the unusual seismic activity, becomes trapped at McMurdo Station, by a succession of earthquakes.
Her husband and son meanwhile, who are in Boston, and her daughter who is in Florida, need to evacuate as sharply rising sea waters, and a series of tsunamis, bring devastation to the continental United States, and other nations around the globe.
THINGS TO DO
10 February 2022
The first rule of lying is not be caught out. But to lie frequently, or compulsively, means you either need to have a good memory, or hope that no one ever uncovers the truth. And webs of deceit are at the heart of The Truth about Faking It (published by HarperCollins Publishers, May 2022), the third novel by Sydney based Australian author Cassie Hamer.
Lies run through Ellen’s family. Her daughter Natasha, a composed television news reader, and grand-daughter Georgie, the producer of a reality TV show, are accomplished at concealing the truth, and their feelings. Ellen isn’t half bad either. Despite being married to David, she has been seeing the well-off Kenneth, on the side. But when the accident prone David dies in a boating accident in Thailand, having travelled there with his elusive and seldom heard of brother, Ellen, Natasha, and Georgie, smell a rat.
Something is not quite right about the whole affair, and the three women decide to delve further into the circumstances surrounding David’s demise. But in doing so, in exposing the truth of what happened to David, they risk lifting the lid on their own sordid lies and deceptions. Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive…
THINGS TO DO
1 February 2022
It’s a funny old game cricket, some days a player’s skill sees them soar to heights not seen before, other day’s fortune roundly turns on even the best. Then there’s Roy Cooper, a police sergeant who’s been a member of the rural Australian Penguin Hill Cricket Club for years. He’s never scored a century, nor for that matter, gone much passed double figures.
Nor has he ever taken a wicket, let alone a hat-trick, or a ten wicket haul. But as local schoolgirl Cassie Midwinter discovers, Roy has a claim to fame, one seemingly overlooked by the statistics mad doyens of the game: he has not once been dismissed while playing. After decades at the crease, Roy has never been bowled, stumped, caught, nor run-out.
It is a feat Cassie brings to the attention of a renowned cricket writer known as Don Garrett, who thinks the national men’s cricket team could benefit from Roy’s talents. Australia are being trounced by the West Indies in the 1984 summer test series, and Don sets about bringing Roy’s achievement to the notice of the team selectors, in Cooper Not Out (published by Penguin Books Australia, 18 January 2022), by Melbourne based writer and journalist Justin Smith.
Will the unthinkable happen? Will a life-long club player find himself pacing onto the pitch at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, in a bid to reverse the fortunes of the men’s test team? It might seem like a pipe dream, but as they say, it’s a funny old game. But Roy isn’t the only one with unnoticed accomplishments, and there’s much more to Don, the sports writer, than meets the eye.
THINGS TO DO
28 January 2022
The three-year role is intended to “acknowledge the contribution of fiction writers to Irish artistic and cultural life”, as well as to encourage new writers, and engagement with “high quality Irish fiction”.
THINGS TO DO
21 January 2022
Writing that difficult second novel, it might be what many authors consider to be a good problem. Their debut novel has been published, an epic achievement, and now they have the opportunity to write another book. What aspiring novelist wouldn’t want to be in such a situation?
Cali, an author residing in the NSW Blue Mountains may be such a person, in Burnt Out (published by HarperCollins Publishers, January 2022) the debut novel of Australian author Victoria Brookman. Cali’s struggling to write her second novel, in fact she was meant to have turned in the manuscript long ago. In reality she hasn’t even started work on it. But for the moment that’s the least of her worries.
Her home has been destroyed by a bush fire, likewise her possessions, and to top it off her husband has left her. But Cali sees an opportunity amid the turmoil. Speaking to a television news crew, she tells them her manuscript was also incinerated, and goes onto chide politicians and well-off Australians for their inaction in response to the devastating bush fires. Her words immediately strike a chord nationwide.
After seeing her on-air rant, a billionaire offers her a place to stay in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, so she can “re-write” the novel. But will Cali overcome her second book syndrome, or will she find herself overwhelmed by the lies she keep telling everyone, including herself?
THINGS TO DO
14 January 2022
If Case Study (published by Text Publishing, 19 October 2021), the fourth novel of Glasgow based Scottish author Graeme Macrae Burnet, were a movie — and who knows, it might yet be — based upon video or film clips, it would be called a found footage story. The found footage technique is commonly seen in horror films, but it be could argued there’s elements of horror in Burnet’s latest work.
The literary equivalent of found footage is epistolary, where a story is told through a series of letters, or other written works, of which Case Study is an example. Martin Grey, who lives in present day Clacton-on-Sea, contacts the author after finding five diaries written by his cousin some fifty years earlier, under the pen name Rebecca Smyth. The journals detail her dealings with Collins Braithwaite, a therapist, who is remembered for his unconventional practise methods.
Rebecca’s sister Veronica, who had been a patient of Braithwaite’s for two years, killed herself, and Rebecca has no doubt the therapist was responsible. After creating a fictitious identity, and new persona for herself, Rebecca likewise becomes a patient of Braithwaite, in order to find out more about him. As the author reads the journals though, he comes to realise the intrinsically straight-laced journal writer was becoming ever more delusional, as she increasingly wrapped herself up in her free-spirited alter-ego.
THINGS TO DO
7 January 2022
Where are we in time? Where is the motion of the cosmos taking us? Forwards or backwards? Possibly though, you feel you’re stuck in neutral, moving nowhere, yet keenly aware of each passing minute. The strange times we live in have left many of us displaced and confused.
Sea of Tranquility (published by Pan Macmillan Australia, May 2022), the sixth novel of Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel, may well be a microcosm of our pandemic dominated epoch. Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective living in the twenty-fifth century, is asked to investigate a suspected anomaly in time.
But his search for answers is far from straightforward. The detective finds a young man, Edwin St. Andrew, who claims to be the son of a noble British family, who lived in the early twentieth century. And then there is Olive Llewelyn, an author unable to travel home because of a pandemic, who apparently lives in the twenty-third century.
What brings Edwin and Olive to the present day, and how? But is everything as it really seems to be in this usual world? Are Edwin and Olive who they claim to be, or is something else at play? Might the detective have stumbled upon some sort of switch junction in time, explaining the presence of Edwin and Olive?
THINGS TO DO
31 December 2021
The life and times of the Trailhead ant colony, which thrived for some twenty years, in this work of fiction written in 2010 by American biologist and writer E. O. Wilson, who died on 26 December 2021.
But now a second crisis arose. The candidate royals began to quarrel among themselves for control. They converged on the brood chambers and jostled for position there. They struggled to climb on top of their rivals. The winners in these encounters seized their opponents’ legs and antennae and dragged them away.
I don’t know if it’s a childhood fascination I had with ants, but this depiction of the fictitious Trailhead Colony reads like a family drama set in a royal household.
THINGS TO DO
23 December 2021
Tom’s a con artist. He might have been the big-wig at a major Australian financial institution, but he’s still a shyster. He’s fleeced thousands of people of their life savings and other assets. But he’s been found out, caught, and is due to have his day in court. Although not directly victim, two other women are caught up in Tom’s web of deception. His seventy-two year old mother, Lucille, and Quin, a former colleague who played a part in enabling Tom.
Lucille and Quin meet on a train bound for Melbourne. Both are en route to Tom’s trial, but at first neither realises who the other is. Lucille is devastated by Tom’s illicit activities. But that’s not all. She’s lost everything. She has no savings, no home, and on top of that, she feels responsible for everything that has happened. Perhaps if she had been less lenient on her son, not so overprotective, things might have turned out differently?
The Good Child (published by Karadie Publishing, 15 November 2021) is the fourth book from Melbourne based Australian author S.C. Karakaltsas. Told from the perspectives of Lucille and Quin, The Good Child poses the oft asked question, if you could say something to your younger self, warn them, tell them to turn left instead of right, would you try? But fanciful thinking is of little help. Both women need to find a way through this quagmire in the here and now.
THINGS TO DO
22 December 2021
Two people meet in a bar in London. Both are young, both are Black British, and both are artists. She is a dancer, he a photographer. The attraction is instant, and as the two spend ever more time together, their bond only grows. They also connect through shared experiences as people of colour in a place where they are in a minority. Although both were awarded scholarships to private British schools, both felt excluded, and unable to completely fit in.
Despite the passionate love they discover in each other, he hides a trauma, one he struggles to resolve. Partly, perhaps, because he still encounters the violence and fear he previously endured. Every day the two come face to face with racism and vilification on the streets of London. But his struggle, one he cannot articulate even to her, causes him to withdraw, to hide behind silence. She is devastated by the apparent rejection, left reeling and confused.
Open Water (published by Penguin Books Australia, February 2021) is the debut novel of London based British-Ghanaian author and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson. Written in the second person, with prose that is sometimes described as poetic, Open Water is perhaps more of novella, weighing in at about one-hundred and sixty pages. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the word count detracts from the story’s impact.
THINGS TO DO
20 December 2021
Entries are open for the Minds Shine Bright writing competition, until Monday 28 February, 2022. An initiative created by Melbourne based Australian writer and film maker Amanda Scotney, Minds Shine Bright seeks to encourage excellence in writing, particularly fiction. If you’re a writer of fiction, poetry, or script-writing, looking for some recognition, and a financial incentive, this may be the opportunity you’re looking for.
THINGS TO DO
13 December 2021
The year is 2011, and Will, a young Australian, heart-broken after his girlfriend Laura left him, buys a cheap flight to America. His plan is to spend a few months in New York City, partying and meeting people, hoping he can put the break-up behind him. But not long after arriving in the city that never sleeps, an unsettling incident sees Will pack his bags and travel to a small town in Ohio. Here an old school friend introduces him to Wayne, a former soldier, and Vietnam veteran.
Wild Abandon (published by Allen & Unwin, September 2021), the second novel of Melbourne based Australian author Emily Bitto, tells a familiar story. A displaced person, struggling to find direction at home, sets off into the wide blue yonder, on the belief travel to places new and exciting will be a panacea for their ills.
Once he reaches Ohio, Will begins working for Wayne, who owns a private zoo where he keeps exotic animals. What better way to heal, you might ask, than caring for the beasts inhabiting a menagerie. Better, surely, that the drug infused parties of the big city. But Wayne is man with deep problems, and before long Will is lurching towards another calamity.
THINGS TO DO
8 December 2021
Once inseparable, childhood friends Sylvie and Kase haven’t spoken to each other in decades, following a tragedy at the lighthouse one night when they were teenagers. But when out of the blue, Sylvie is invited to Kase’s fortieth birthday party, she begins to yearn for her lost friendship with Kase, and a life she perhaps may have lived differently.
Set between Sydney’s Palm Beach, and an island near Bruny Island, off the coast of Tasmania, The Beautiful Words (published by HarperCollins Publishers, December 2021), is the third novel by Sydney based Australian author Vanessa McCausland. Sylvie learns Kase has enjoyed success as an author in the intervening years, as have the people she surrounds herself with. But despite Kase’s aura of happiness, the now solitary Sylvie, who feels ill at ease among Kase’s ambitious friends, is certain she can detect a discontent simmering below the surface.
But the reunion does more than disturb the slumbering ghosts of their own pasts, and Sylvie and Kase soon discover their mothers, Franny and Eve, had secrets of their own. But in trying to understand happenings that took place before they were born, Sylvie and Kase must confront events that lead to the disintegration of their once close friendship.
THINGS TO DO
3 December 2021
Even though their marriage ended many years ago, Lucy and William have largely remained close. Both remarried, although Lucy’s second husband died, while William, together with two children by Lucy, became father to another daughter, with his third wife. But after learning something he didn’t previously know about his mother, a disturbed William asks for Lucy’s help in finding out more about his mother’s past.
But as they travel away together, it seems it is Lucy who is on the journey of discovery. She finds herself pondering her marriage to William, and what drew them together in the first place, from their time at university. But far from simply being a story about family secrets, Oh William! is a meditation on life, the relationships that come and go, and the connections with the people around us.
Perhaps though it is life that is the mystery, rather than the sometimes unfathomable actions of loved ones. We’re left wondering how well we know those we think we’re close to, when perhaps the more pertinent question is how well we know ourselves. Oh William! (published by Viking/Penguin Books Australia, October 2021), is the ninth book by American author Elizabeth Strout, and the third in a series of novels that centres on Lucy.
THINGS TO DO