By Cameron Woodhead and Fiona Capp
Books to read this week include Shaun Micallef’s memoir, How Many More Women? and They’re Going to Love You.
Book critics Fiona Capp and Cameron Woodhead cast their eyes over recent fiction and non-fiction releases. Here are their reviews.
Non-fiction pick of the week
How Many More Women?
Jennifer Robinson & Keina Yoshida
Allen & Unwin, $34.99
A man with a history of violence grasps his wife’s throat so tightly he leaves marks on her neck visible to the police two hours later. And yet when she writes about it on social media, he sues her for defamation and wins.
Although a higher court finally finds in the woman’s favour, the case graphically illustrates the hazards of speaking out and seeking justice as a victim of sexual and domestic violence. Society needs to recognise that laws were made by men to protect men, say lawyers Jennifer Robinson and Keina Yoshida.
As long as the argument is framed as a contest between “his right to reputation and privacy, and her right to freedom of speech”, women’s rights to equality and freedom from violence will be ignored. In this topical, urgent book, the authors call for lawmakers to tackle the way the law silences and re-traumatises victims, and how it might be changed.
Eggs For Keeps
Barry Hill, Arcadia, $34.99
“In my experience, it takes years to learn how to write about books without the ego-greed and the bad taste that flouts common decency,” writes Barry Hill in the introduction to this collection of his reviews spanning three decades. Any long-time reviewer will know the truth of this observation. “But as the years passed,” he adds, “I got better at exercising some of the responsibilities that go with being paid to be ‘critical’.”
The reviews arrayed here – mainly of poetry – are a testament to what maturity as a critic looks like. As a poet himself, Hill writes with a quiet authority that takes us into the heart and soul of works by major Australian and international exponents of the art, each review a portal into the space beyond language that poetry gestures towards.
Even when he has reservations, he expresses them with a grace that allows the best in the work to shine.
Tripping Over Myself
Shaun Micallef, Hardie Grant, $29.99
One day, the family were driving to Micallef’s great-grandmother’s funeral, when his mother said, “Why don’t we just pull over here and leave her in that field”. With its deadpan and slightly wacky defiance of convention, this joke seems to encapsulate the tone of Micallef’s mature work.
Much of this self-deprecating memoir is devoted to his rise through the comedy ranks from Full Frontal to Mad As Hell. For this reader, however, the more memorable moments are those when Micallef steps back from it all and reflects on his responsibilities to his family and the need to remember that he is not the centre of the universe.
Brendan Atkins, NewSouth, $34.99
His name has gone down in the annals of science through the Latin term for Murray Cod and two species of dragonfly. But the achievements of Allan McCulloch, one of Australia’s foremost fish biologists, have not received the recognition they deserve, says Brendan Atkins. This biography amply redresses this neglect, capturing McCulloch’s adventurous spirit, talents as a painter, photographer, museum curator and his great ambition to register all varieties of fish found in Australian oceans and rivers.
From the internal politics of the Australian Museum to the intense demands of life in the field in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific islands where he was complicit in the theft of artefacts, his story is both rich and troubled. After years of ill-health and a nervous breakdown, he ended his life at the age of 40, a “bohemian Edwardian eccentric” at odds with the modern world.
Fiction pick of the week
They’re Going to Love You
Meg Howrey, Bloomsbury, $29.99
Los Angeles choreographer Carlisle Martin is living the dream – which is to say, the precarious life of a middle-aged artist – when an unexpected call comes from New York. It’s James, partner to her father Robert, with the message that her dad is dying.
Carlisle has been estranged from the couple for almost two decades, but it will be her only chance to say goodbye. Switching between past and present narrative strands, Carlisle must confront the shocking events that led to the estrangement and recall a childhood deeply immersed in the New York ballet scene, where James and Robert loomed large.
Howrey writes about that world with compelling poise and attention to detail. And she’s no less sharp portraying the intricacies of a queer family, especially one living through the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. It’s a poignant novel that will appeal especially to lovers of dance.
Now Is Not the Time to Panic
Kevin Wilson, Text, $32.99
Now Is Not the Time to Panic seems initially tuned into a ’90s teen movie vibe. We begin with the puppy love of two 16-year-olds from Tennessee: Frances “Frankie” Budge, a budding writer, and Zeke Brown, an aspiring artist, whose excruciated fumblings yield to a more transformative collaboration through art.
Together, they make a provocative series of underground art posters. As the project becomes an obsession, and posters proliferate throughout the city, Frankie and Zeke lose control of an aesthetic phenomenon that spawns numerous copycats, attracting dark rumours and dangerous conspiracy theories.
Twenty years on, Frankie still lives with a secret from those days, and the past risks catching up with her. Kevin Wilson tones down the surrealist flourish of his typical comic novel to deliver a big-hearted nerdy romance (big on pre-internet nostalgia) that evolves into a more ambivalent meditation on the power of art.
My Soul Twin
Nino Haratischvili, Scribe, $32.99
Nino Haratischvili’s My Soul Twin has drawn comparisons to Wuthering Heights, and it certainly goes to town on devouring intensities and destructive passions. Raised as siblings after an extramarital affair between two of their parents, Stella and Ivo become lovers as teens.
Their tumultuous romance abates when Ivo, forging a career as a successful journalist, vanishes from Stella’s life for eight years, and she settles into the routines of marriage and motherhood. When Ivo suddenly returns and asks Stella to accompany him to Eastern Europe, both their morbid attraction, and the shadows of their traumatic past, flicker back to life.
My Soul Twin has a strong premise but succumbs to aimless melodrama for too long, with a narrative resolution that doesn’t feel organic to the set-up. Haratischvili seems to be in her element on a sweeping canvas – as with her bestselling Georgian epic, The Eighth Life – rather than a claustrophobic one.
The Glass House
Brooke Dunnell, Fremantle, $32.99
The Glass House weaves together sensitive reflections on both an adult’s changing view of their own childhood, and turbulent role-reversal in the encounter between an adult child and an elderly parent.
Julia Lambett moves from Melbourne – where she lives with her husband and teenage stepdaughter – to Perth, to help move her ageing father into a nursing home. The house she grew up in looks basically untouched since the 1970s, and the rugged trip down memory lane gets more rugged as her dad, who has ensconced himself with a new dog, refuses to go gently. Her childhood friend Davina could have been a welcome distraction until her carnivorous interest in Julia’s past dredges up memories she would rather forget.
Brooke Dunnell’s novel teases literary domestic drama into a slow-burn psychological mystery; its insights into, and intimate perspective on, family relationships are vivid and unsettlingly drawn.
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