Winter 2024 update

I had to flick back through a few of these, since as usual, I drew a bit of a blank, only a month or so since finishing them. It really isn’t the best way of summarising my thoughts on them, but I don’t have the motivation to do a quick review on the fly. Written at the age of 81, Strangers (2009) by Anita Brookner was a short, sharp delight – this time her characteristic internal monologues came from a somewhat lonely, retired Englishman (has she ever done this with a male voice previously?) and yet it was superbly convincing. In his early 70’s he is tossing up an imagined future life with one of two idiosyncratic women, the first adventurous and flighty, the other an-ex lover – familiar and yet weary, a little dismissive of him and with medical issues. Whilst some people find Brookner dreary, repetitive or depressing, I call her wise, thoughtful and very human. I thought this was a cracker. 4.5 stars.

It was time to try a classic from a new (to me) author Henry JamesWashington Square (1880). A beautiful front cover and being less than 200 pages helped its case. I don’t know why the publishers choose to place a spoiler (they call it an Introduction) at the beginning of these classics. Reading it instantly gives away so much of what to come – I’ve stopped reading them now. This was another captivating read for me – the text revolving around the 4 main characters – Catherine, her protective father the Doctor, her suitor Morris and her most interesting widowed aunt (Mrs Penniman). Set in 1840s New York, it details the attempts by Morris to marry Catherine (and her significant future fortune) to the displeasure of her suspicious father, who considers him a “bounder” (!). Mrs Penniman delights in the drama and romance of it all and prolongs the courtship for a good 20-30 years, long after the Doctor has passed. I enjoyed the tense standoffs and restraint of it all, and none of it was a chore to read. 4 stars.

Although deemed an “important” book by Antony Beevor, this prizewinning work of non-fiction East West Street by Philippe Sands is pretty narrow in its scope – at its heart a book about two competing legal minds that influenced the charges brought upon high-ranking Nazis at the Nuremberg trials of 1946. One, pushing for inclusion of a new concept “genocide” and the other for “crimes against humanity”, which was more about impinging on an individual’s rights, as opposed to a whole race or sub-group of people. Much of the drama focused on wartime events in the town of Lviv in modern-day Ukraine, which was the birthplace of the author’s grandfather. Although fairly grippng, the book went on a little long, and some of the minutia of the court procedings was tedious, as was the many behind the scenes international lobbying efforts of Lauterpacht and Lemkin. A very niche topic – 3.5 stars.

Cold Spring Harbour (1986) by Richard Yates is the story of a chance encounter between a young freshly- divorced Evan Shephard and Rachel Drake, living with her mother, the wonderfully unhinged and down at heel Gloria, in 1940’s America. A short novel, the tension comes when, for financial reasons, the couple are forced to move back to Rachel’s family home, where a claustrophobic atmosphere nudges Evan out into philandering, resentment and blame. An easy read which I loved – 4 stars.

Everytime I start a Murakami book, I worry if I will like it, yet I always come away happy I did, despite in this case, the 1960’s student, coming of age theme which was not appealing at all to me. This novel: Norwegian Wood (1987) was apparently a huge hit and made him a global star. Nearly every character in the book seems to be right on the edge of suiciding as most practical alternative to their life not working out, it’s pretty shocking in that sense, and there’s a real bluntness and honesty about the dialogue and relationships that you rarely get in a western novel. It’s very endearing (also long) and serious as a result. Mesmerising and sad, I can see why he has such a cult following – a real original here. 4 stars.

How could I not take a crisp copy of this beautifully covered 1937 novel The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude home from the Op Shop, despite my patchy record with crime. Spoiler alert: there are two murders, both by bow-and-arrow (!) and the limited number of local residents able to have done it reminded me of a game of Cluedo. There were a few moments when the narrative felt over-complicated and a little clunkier than what a modern crime reader would expect, but on the whole it was a solid read for an 85 year old book. 3.5 stars.

I’m really not sure how I hung on and finished this book (Your Band Sucks) by Jon Fine. I have to give him credit because he does paint a transparent picture of his (usually) poor behaviour whilst in late 1980s band Bitch Magnet. When I borrowed this book from the Op Shop, I thought it was more of a general book on the post-punk scene in the U.S, but it was a lot more specific than that, and thank goodness for the writing, which was generally fairly decent. I feel no compulsion whatsoever to listen to a single song by this seemingly loud, angular, math-rock, sometimes guitar-smashing band, and feel sure I would dislike them. I’m glad he got it out of his system, because he sounds more settled, less driven and selfish now – I’m sure he was a nightmare back in the day. 2.5 stars.

How could I not read Lives of the Monster Dogs (1997) by first time novelist Kirsten Bakis, with its preposterous premise of 150 specially bred, upright (2 legged standing), wealthy, formally dressed, long living “monster” dogs which infiltrate New York in the 1990s and seek to become part of society. It’s original, fever dream stuff and yet much of it works pretty well and I quickly accepted the concept. There were parts when I got a bit bored (the Opera devoted to their origin story and uprising, and the never ending sadness and regret of dog-ally Cleo, who is the only human allowed to infiltrate their ranks), but it was short enough to push through. An imaginative, novelty of a novel which is surely a cult book. 3.5 stars.

Eclectic or what

I just have no tolerance once a book becomes religiousy anymore, certainly not if it extends for a chapter or more. And the further back you go with books, the more religious elements form the central themes. I remember getting a bit worried during Patrick White’s Riders in the Chariot, and the same with Life of Pi, or stuff from Umberto Eco. So, Forest Dark (2017) got the heave-ho 100 pages in once Nicole Krauss began moving into a theological direction, citing the Kabbalah, The Tree of Knowledge and Jewish themes. No doubt it’s cerebral, clever and insightful, but I felt tricked into reading a thesis on a topic with no interest to me. 2 stars.

I have a vague recollection I tried another Stanislaw Lem book about 25 years ago, and abandoned it, so I was nervous about this one, his “classic” Solaris (1961). For the most part, I didn’t need to be worried – providing I skimmed the occasional dense section on Solaristics. The planetary exploration elements provided a diversion from the mental challenges and traumas affecting those on the ship. Original, intriguing and pretty hard to make a film of, I would have thought. Not so says Twentieth Century Fox. 3 stars.

The Little Misery (1951) by Francois Mauriac, was indeed mostly misery for all involved, including me. An unloved young French boy, despised by his family, finds hope in a recently-arrived village schoolteacher, who then falters in the face of possible scandal. Utterly depressing, but at least short and sharp. 2 stars.

Good lord this book was long, way longer than needed. Winner of the 2023 Booker Prize, Paul Murray‘s The Bee Sting has plenty of detractors as I found out. Apparently many of them due to the ambiguous ending, something a modern era reader deems unacceptible, needing certainty and THE FULL FACTS in their novels, since they don’t get it in real life. To me, it had the perfect finish – and tons to like along the way; a cast of memorable characters, flawed all, and an open, warm writing style, although it felt Franzen-like and at times I thought it was set in America. A blackmailed Dickie (the closeted second favourite son), seeking escape from a mismatched marriage to his dead-brother’s wife Imelda, becomes involved with a local doomsday prepper and builds a hidden, forrested bunker, with terrible consequences. 4.5 stars.

The shoes on the table and the errant salt shaker are what lured me into buying this mercifully short $30 new book (People who Lunch by Sally Olds) – I’m not totally regretting it, but the term “academically eclectic” comes to mind, and not in a great way. It’s high on analysis and low on entertainment, veering into coldness and self disgust in parts. There’s a great brain at work here and topics like Polyamory, Cryptocurrency and Clickbait headlines promise a lot, but presented so clinically, much of the appeal is lost. 3 stars.

Here’s another book: The Heart of the Matter (1948) by Graeme Greene about a highly moral officer of the English Army, living in West Africa, who is heavily impacted by his religion and what it demands of him. His wife, eternally disappointed by his lack of ambition, is miserable. His pity for her and others allows a brief moment of weakness, which cascades and brings his decline. For someone supposedly so tortured, he is pretty flatly written in most of the novel – perhaps it’s the age though. Engrossing to the end, I enjoyed it a lot. 4 stars.

Reading 2 Sci-Fi books in a calendar year – what is happening to me! A $2 Op Shop internal dare to myself, I swung into it (The Best Australian Science Fiction Writing – 2004 A Fifty Year Collection by Rob Gerrand) with enthusiasm, and then slowly regretted the 600 page odyssey over the next few weeks. I guess I’ve never been a huge fan of the genre besides some early English stuff like Hoyle and Wyndham etc. I only skipped one tedious story from Stephen Dedman, and the best was The Diamond Pit by Jack Dann. David Lake’s Re-Deem the Time was good too. The rest? hmmm. 3 stars.

A major gap in my Australian reading has been Christina Stead, and although I was fearful of the theme, I chose a very foxed 1975 paperback of the 1940 “classic” The Man who Loved Children, which at 480 pages was about 250 more than I recalled from childhood library shelves (not that I read it then). I hadn’t realised that most of her working life, Stead had been in Europe or America until returning to Oz in her 60’s and had assumed it was a “Sydney book” as opposed to one set in Washington and Baltimore. Being a book of this length, the insights into societal life, familial debt / poverty and household economy are extensive and genuinely jaw dropping in parts. It’s a world away from the modern reader and their luxuries. The in-your-face element of the book is the many squabbles between an ill-matched husband and wife and their adaptive gaggle of children who know no different. I increasingly found myself aware of the flaws of both parents, and their characterisation alone by Stead was wonderful. Less tolerable was the tedious baby-talk of the husband to his kiddy widdies and so on – there are many paragraphs that are mildly sickening in that regard, though it does paint a picture of a man who will do anything to have his children on his side (and be his friends), even if it means stifling their personalities and wanting 100 percent conformity. Caught in the middle is his only daughter to a former wife, the sullen Louie (14) who operates as a defacto housekeeper, and who is old enough to see motives the younger children can’t. The decline of the family’s fortunes brings shameful poverty and a wretchedness to wife Henny, who seeks regular escapes to the city for trysts and monetary loans to put food on the table. There were moments reading the book that I questioned I’d finish due to repetition but I’m glad I did. I’m not going to spoil anything here; I find myself thinking about it a lot today and want to read summaries of it tonight. That’s a good sign – 4 stars.

It’s my last few months off work and I’m enjoying it of course

Fancy me reading a cricket book! I’ve struggled to be interested in the sport ever since the rotten, mean-spirited Glenn McGrath days really, but this Peter Roebuck biography Chasing Shadows had enough intrigue, and the legitimacy of Tim Lane helped. I’m glad I read it, though there are plenty of discomforting moments where I was conflicted between the various trains of thought (people took advantage of his generosity and blackmailed him vs. he had made too many enemies and was killed vs. he knew he’d be crucified for his sexual indiscretions). A brilliant, driven and compartmentalised man, whose battlescars eventually got the better of him. Wonderfully done – 4.5 stars.

The Glass Pearls (1966) by Emeric Pressburger was a delight – the German “Karl Braun”, living an anonymous life in post-war London becomes increasingly paranoid about pursuing Nazi-hunting agents. I loved the insights into his co-workers and odd, miserly housemates – especially the business-minded, deal-making Strohmayer. Compelling and enthralling till the end. 5 stars.

The Blazing World (2014) by Siri Hustvedt is a book I would have finished in my 30s when I was more patient (and forgiving), but boy, did those 186 pages before I stopped test me. Reading the Goodreads reviews afterwards, I was very happy I gave in at the half way point. Based on a wonderfully cynical premise about the nature of the art-collecting world, a female artist passes off her maniacal and obsessive art installations as the work of various other suitable male counterparts to prove industry biases. It was dense, cerebral and overly serious, which started to become repetitive and harping at a certain point. Well written, but 3 stars.

It took me a while to warm to the short, farcical, spy thriller Pigeon Pie (1940) by Nancy Mitford, but I eventually got there. A shallow societal madam in London realises almost too late that her husbands’ friends are Nazis and are planning evil deeds. A satire on between-the-wars society with a quirky premise that only just works. Still a fun read – 3 stars.

A third of the way in, the chunky, overspaced and simple novel Clarke (2022) by Holly Throsby had me annoyed by it’s lack of anything much. With chapters that alternated between two damaged neighbours in the small town of Clarke, there was an overplayed hopelessness about them which was tedious. I’m still not convinced it’s a very good book, but gradually the mystery of their investigation of a missing neighbour (based on the real-life story of Lynette Dawson) was uncovered, and the co-detectives were somewhat healed and I conceded I’d been won over. 3.5 stars.

I had a sense of deja-vu when reading The Fraud (2023) by Zadie Smith until I realised that I’d heard her discuss the novel on a podcast not long ago. On the whole, it was an interesting read, and the strong willed but flawed (and trapped) Scottish widow Mrs Touchet (the Targe) was likeable and complex (she bedded her brother in law and fading author William Ainsworth and his wife separately!). There was a mid-section (Volume 6) where I got distracted and a bit lost in the backstory of Bogle in Jamaica, but after that it was pretty much all about the adjacent real-life Tichborne Trial (1873) where a Wapping butcher Arthur Orton (by way of Wagga Wagga) made a claim to the Tichborne baronetcy and estates. Beautifully done – 4.5 stars.

A bit of a mixed bag this Cleveland Anthology (second edition) – put together by Piiparinen and Trubek. I had been putting off reading it since acquisition in 2018 on my sports trip to Ohio, and decided it was now or never. There were some great pieces in here, plus the expected, earnest, I-grew-up-in-Ohio-and-moved-away-but-I’ll-always-think-of-Ohio-as-home ones. What I didn’t expect was that it would make me want to revisit the city, since I thought I’d rid myself of any general U.S related travel-related interest thesedays. I don’t know if “Rust Belt Chic” is still a thing, but I bet there are still plenty of affordable places to buy and rough neighbourhoods to gentrify a little. That city brings out a weird, latent property renovator/speculator version of me – so much history and charm in the housing and neighbourhoods of Cleveland just waiting to be found and loved. 3 stars.

Now for my annual crime novel (courtesy of the Op Shop like most of these) with the awkward title of Blues for Outlaw Hearts and old Whores by Massimo Carlotto. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the hardboiled style, where I get overwhelmed by the complexity (x double-crossed y who was working secretly with z who then had x investigated and tortured. He then revealed he worked with a, whose boss was b who struck a deal with z to get y and a exonerated but meant the end for a and x. It was dizzying at times trying to figure out who was in cahoots with whom, but along the way there was an unlikely Italian/Austrian love story which seemingly motivated an entire gang to kill a bunch of people so the couple could ride off into the sunset, only to have her leave him at a later point because that is just how things go. The author had a weird obsession with lyrics to blues songs, but generally the writing was sound and it left room for future escapades. 3.5 stars.

Jigsaws in 2023

24000 pieces this year, similar to last year, though I seem to have done a bunch of 2k-4k ones this time, which made things tricky. Outside the Star (4k) was definitely the hardest due to all those cobblestone pieces that looked like bits of building. And to top it off, there were 4-5 pieces missing too. Gah. I just let the spinning wheel decide my puzzle (except for the Allegory of Sight ones, which were a DDD theme puzzle), so I was pretty ambivalent about a lot of them really, but like usual I warmed to all of them. The Starry Night in particular was more fun than I thought (and easier). Jigsaws To Do pile is now 124. Yikes.

35 for the year is maybe a record?

Six of these eight are straight out of the Op Shop, two of which would have been binned due to “Library Book” and “condition”. The first by Noah Hawley, The Punch, mostly notable for the comically detestable mother Doris and the misery she inflicts on her sons leading up to a larger family reunion to celebrate/send off her late husband. Never boring, it was an easy addictive read, even if son David and his dual relationships was far fetched. 4 stars.

I’d been wanting to read Beyond the Sea by Paul Lynch for ages, and then next thing I know, he’s up for a Booker nomination and then wins it, shortly after I’d finished this book. I’d say I enjoyed the first third, or maybe half of this, and then it went a little too poetic and feverish – I found myself skimming. Repetitive in a way that Life of Pi was not (both feature characters marooned on a boat that become increasingly desperate and desparing). I can’t give it more than 3 stars.

Did I read Samira Sedira‘s People Like Them in a single session, maybe two? I don’t remember but the font was big enough to make me feel like a pensioner. Fantastic short read really – some great tension between wealthy newcomers to a working class French town, and the modest locals, culminating in a horrific crime of frustration and envy. 4.5 stars!

Middle Engand by Jonathan Coe – a bunch of often funny vignettes showing the moods, enmity and polarisation that led to a successful Brexit vote. I’m not sure that Sofie’s end decision was very convincing or boded well for her future, but the author seems to determined to show a positive outlook for it all. A traditional plot that was thoroughly enjoyable and solid. 4 stars.

Cool title, not so cool stories. The Teeth of a Slow Machine by Andrew Roff made me feel old and impatient. Some of the tales here just made me want to skim and skip, and I’m glad it was short. I don’t think my brain is plastic enough to enjoy radical and inventive departures like this, which I would have enjoyed in my 20s. I’m not the target audience. 3 stars.

I’m been interested in reading works by / about minor writers or critics from a former age – say 1950s and 1960s. The people we read about in popular culture are no less interesting, but their stories have been over-told to death. There is something about the style or writing I enjoy too – its shows experience, perspective and erudite reasoning in an era where the printed word was far more important than it is today. Ian Hamilton (1938-2001) is one such writer – in his The Trouble with Money collection (1998), within about 100 pages I’d learnt about Cyril Connelly, Edmund Wilson, Elizabeth Bishop, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Salmon Rushdie – all excellent shortish pieces mostly reviewing biographies written about them. I just loved this collection even if I’ve forgotten nearly everything about those individuals. 4.5 stars.

The only way I was ever going to read Hermann Hesse was by reading one of his short ones, and it couldn’t be shorter at 139 pages. Peter Camenzind (1904) details a young writers’ passionate musings whilst wandering through Europe (mostly Italy) and then in the second half, reflecting on his decisions and judgements of people, including the poor Boppi, a half crippled hunchback. Interesting enough, but I doubt I’d get through 400 pages of Hesse. 3 stars.

The Terranauts was my annual attempt at pseudo-Sci Fi, and yeah, maybe not that successful really, and certainly not “excrutiatingly funny” as per the Times. It’s my second book by T.C Boyle and it was far too long, and too exaggerated in it’s human failings aspects for me to buy in to this story of the eight “colonists” to enter a bio-dome and the one envious colleague who would do anything to have herself inserted in their place. Not quite “Lord of the Flies meets Hunger Games” either. Just a fairly bitchy expose of the grumpy, tired science workers and their slowly deteriorating bodies. The final twist was not believeable either. I had such high hopes – 3.5 stars.


Houllebecq‘s title Platform was quite the exercise in hedonism, with some dark celebration of globalisation and capitalism thrown in. Some have called it pornographic, and it’s true, it does stray into male fantasy many times, but it was also extremely readable and super sexy. I enjoyed it and I’m giving it 4 stars.

The publishers of Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd have tried to have it both ways – package up a simple, readable, man-in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time premise with a dust jacket that talks “serious fiction” and try to persuade both reader demographics that it’s for them. Only it isn’t that good really. A page turner yes, preposterous and movie plot-worthy yes, but there’s too many daft things going on that are improbable here. The casual killing of a treacherous aquantaince, the seamless romancing of a policewoman, the transformation from white-collar worker to successful street beggar. Just silly stuff and I really wasn’t convinced at all. It almost felt like a young adult novel to me, though it did whiz by quickly. 3 stars.

In a rare moment of vocal enthusiasm about books, Kim recommended Shadowboxing (her Book Club homework) – a memoir by Australian Tony Birch. So much so that she persuaded me to try it in the 6 days she had left before it got returned. I’m glad I did and I managed with several days to spare. These are simple stories of a poor disfunctional family (mostly dad’s drinking) in Fitzroy in the 1960’s. The directness of the prose and the brutality of the behaviour made you wonder how the bloke survived into adulthood. It reminded me of I, Romulus – short, very readable and completely captivating. 4.5 stars.


It’s hard to resist a potentially salacious (and short) Australian anthology of “sexual and relationship debacles”, especially when Kate Langbroek and Molly Meldrum are fans. So, I had no hesitation in plowing through 2 Girls and a Camel by Paul Birman (2001). It was a fun romp that had me turning for the next chapter as soon as I’d finished one story. 4 stars.

Where I’m Reading From by Tim Parks (2014) – Now for something a heck of a lot more thoughtful and dry than anything I’ve looked at lately. A bit like that Robert Forster book about music criticism, I felt like I was in the hands of quite an original thinker; it was a pleasure to see literary norms challenged and debated, even if I disagree with him on e-books. Unfortunately for me, the last third of the book strayed into his professional realm (being an Italian translator) and took on some dry topics, so the book fell away a lot after a brilliant start. The bit on Jonathan Franzen being loved by Europeans was terrific though. Who would have known he’s lived in Italy for over 40 years now? 3 stars.

Even after flicking back through From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan (2018), I can recall little. I remember it being well written and engaging enough, but unlike Jonathan Frazen, the book has not “stayed with me” much at all. There’s a very dramatic and unexpected confluence of the three main characters at the end, which got my pulse racing and which was masterfully done. 4 stars.

After the last two books, something light, maybe a bit bitchy and saucy felt the right fit. The contrast was enormous, and having abandoned Eleanor Catton‘s The Illuminaries only a year or so back, I was worried about it a little. But nope, The Rehearsal (2008) was an entirely different beast; confidently written, intriguing and unpredictable, although having perhaps a bit more drama class content than I’d wanted. The flawed and manipulative teachers entertained and together with a spicy sex-with-a teacher scandal I somehow ended up enjoying this coming-of-age novel, just when I was sure I couldn’t read another. 4 stars.

Although I didn’t really buy the wealthy-middle-aged-woman-becomes-tattoo-fiend premise of Indelible Ink (2010), there were mid-life reflections that I identified with (and certainly wouldn’t have 20 years ago). Fiona McGregor has written a quietly excoriating critique of modern Sydney: it’s real estate and class obsessions, and highlights a families’ compartmental lives, selfishness and dysfunction. Beautifully done. 4.5 stars.

I really didn’t expect to find Old Filth (2004) to be about an esteemed gentleman lawyer (Eddie Feathers) in very late life, falling apart and revisiting past relationships in his final act. Jane Gardham writes a touching and sympathetic novel about a man righting some wrongs and seeking answers before it’s too late. I was never bored and the chapters jumped around in a nice unpredictable way. 4 stars.

There’s a terrific sense of drama, urgency and outright danger in the short Border Crossing by Pat Barker (2001). A psychologist, feeling guilt for an earlier unsympathetic assessment of a boy, is lured into breaking professional boundaries when coincidentally running into him in later life. It would have made a fantastic mini-series or movie I think, since I was on the edge of my seat throughout, however I suspect many modern readers would be disappointed with the open ending, lacking final revenge . It’s hard to believe that the author wrote the Regeneration series about WW1, I must be one of the few people who read and enjoyed both. 3.5 stars.

I’ll agree with a reviewer that Transit by Rachel Cusk (2016) is a page-turner. About half way I thought to myself, is this just going to be about repeat setups where the narrator runs into random people, elicits their story, and adds a touch of psychological insight whilst giving very little of herself away? It’s voyeuristic, compelling and insightful but also removed and clinical. The last section on cousin Lawrence and new wife Eloise (and children) was truly revolting and gripping at the same time. I’m not sure I’m a huge fan of Cusk, but I’d like to give her a third go sometime. 3 stars.


For some reason, I associated The Tortilla Curtain (1995) and T.C.Boyle with crime writing – is it the cover/font? Once I’d read the synopsis, I knew it might be a tense read, but the plaudits encouraged me on, and I’m happy I read it – such a fantastic (and early) expose of white anglo entitlement and the fear and defensiveness accompanying it. A novel about have’s and have-nots in California, with an unforgettable avalanche of an ending. 4.5 stars.

The 1974 short novel The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark is not one I’ll forget in a hurry – what starts as a glimpse into a young woman’s break from her pedestrian working life slowly devolves into a dramatic, what-is-happening 24 hours of madness in France. The unpredictable plot and unhinged behaviour were horrifying to behold and had me gripped. 5 stars.

Kim knew I’d listened to Kirsten Krauth‘s Almost a Mirror podcast about the inner Melbourne music scene of the late 70’s to mid 80’s and found the novel at Sacred Heart Op Shop. The thing I liked best about the podcast was the interviews with people who were there, and not so much the expansive poetic aspects which seems to be a signature of Krauth’s style. It’s too touchy feely for my taste, but others may like it. I can’t say I enjoyed this coming of age novel a lot really. 2 stars.

Everywhere I Look (2016) by Helen Garner is a collection of stories that somehow passed me by. I’ll read anything of hers really, and once again, I loved so much of this. She really is a national treasure. Quite a few of the stories were made of of 10-20 simple 3-4 sentence snips of her observations of people out in public and in my eyes were probably not worthy of being included, but on the whole it was a very satisfying reading experience. 4 stars.

I’d been fearful of Vasily Grossman‘s Stalingrad (written in 1952, published in English in 2019) as I didn’t know how academic it would be, and the size of it was intimidating. A bit like War and Peace, it proved to be fairly readable, though there’s a huge cast of characters. It’s more focused (expecially in the second half) on the individual battles and logistics of the Russian defensive efforts. According to the excellent introduction, the novel is a prelude to his “famous” Life and Fate book. The novel was uneven and felt unfinished. There’s a repetitive element throughout, describing the enduring spirit of the Russian people (and their suffering) that made it mildly annoying and propagandic in parts. I didn’t realise how decisive the Eastern Front battle of Stalingrad towards the end of 1942 was, since the book leaves the battle midway. I guess it’s a novel (and not a history book) – I had to Google the rest. Not sure I’d recommend this one, but at least I know a bunch more about WW2 history. 3 stars.

After Australia (2020) was on my bookshelf and I’m unsure how it got there, since it’s really not my usual fare. Michael Ahmad put this collection together: “after empire, after colony, 12 diverse writers imagine an alternative Australia” and it was interesting to see the range of those who directly addressed the theme (or didn’t). I found it pretty fresh and interesting mostly – provocative and creative. I’m not sure that I’ve read any aboriginal writing since Sally Morgan’s My Place and I’m glad I did. 3 stars.

I went back looking for a prior Kate Grenville book in my history and didn’t find one, which was surprising, since I thought maybe I’d read The Idea of Perfection at least. Everyone and his dog seems to have read The Secret River (2005), so I figured it was my turn to have a go, and was rapidly taken in by the assured touch and confidence of it. The research behind it is subtlely woven in, the opportunity-laden frontier temptations of Australia in the early 1800’s spelled out, and the equal parts fear / wonderment of early aboriginal encounters are beautifully done. There’s a brooding sense of upcoming conflict throughout, and Grenville expertly keeps the reader guessing as to which side the poor English convict settler family will take. The end chapter is like a gut punch – it’s a wonderful novel. 5 stars.