In a new quarterly series, I’m sharing the books that have stood out for me each month (featured in my subscribers’ newsletter), with a bonus fourth book. I usually read a couple of novels a week, and some months I’ve read so many good books that choosing just one is almost an impossibility.
I can’t find any particular connections this time, except that they all come from different parts of the world. I predominantly read Australian writers, but this selection includes a South African (Brink), an Australian (Winton — duh!), an English–Pakistani novellist (Shamsie), and an English–Irish novellist (Kidd). Two men, two women, and four novels that cross four continents. So, here we go!
April: Thanks to a recent post by Lisa Hill, I discovered South African writer André Brink (I am slightly embarrassed that I haven’t read him before). He was twice shortlisted for the Booker and during his lifetime actively opposed apartheid. I’m now reading his memoir, A Fork in the Road, but I first came to The Blue Door. It is a philosophical novella about the different potential lives that we might lead. The prose is beautiful and I gulped this little book down in one sitting. I’m now working my way through Brink’s back catalogue.
May: I resisted making The Shepherd’s Hut my pick because I read several good books this month, and Winton hardly needs the publicity. But in the end I just couldn’t go past it. It is very, very good. I’ve always loved Winton’s prose but his endings are usually hit and miss. This one, however, hits, making it a pleasure from start to finish. The story is told through Jaxie Claxton’s distinct voice — raw, colloquial and yet also poetic. It is a brutal and visceral story of survival, and of love. At the age of just 38, Winton was named a national living treasure; this novel reminds us why.
June: Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire won the Women’s Prize for Fiction just as I was one-third of the way through it. Great timing, or what? Home Fire is billed as a modern reworking of Antigone, which I read decades ago and barely remember. In fact as I went on I was glad of this, because I didn’t want to be constantly comparing it to another work. Having finished it, I’d love to revisit Antigone, and then Home Fire, and see how different an experience it is. All of that aside, this is a work of brilliance. It completely shook me up and turned me inside out. I may have sworn at the ending, and then just sat there, stunned. I have told you nothing of the plot but let me say this: you must read this book.
Bonus book: I’ve long been fascinated by hoarding, which is what drew me to this book, but it turns out that The Hoarder is about so much more. Described as a ‘lyrical gothic detective saga’, it had me absolutely transfixed. My local library only had it as an audiobook and in the end I was glad of this—the narrator, Aoife McMahon, was wonderful. I couldn’t wait to get in my car and listen to the next instalment. The story centres on Maud Drennan who has taken on the care of a mercurial and violent elderly hoarder, Cathal Flood. She begins to uncover unsettling clues to his past, as the tension builds to the book’s final terrifying conclusion. I bloody loved this book. Even the minor characters are complex and nuanced—with Maud’s landlady and friend, Renata, a particular favourite. The book resists categorisation, traversing a number of genres, and I’ve now ordered Kidd’s previous book (her debut, Himself). Highly recommended!
Now it’s your turn. What recent reads would you recommend?