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.