This devastating fever of Sophie Cunningham
Silhouette, Ultimo Press, $32.99
In This Devastating Fever—which took Sophie Cunningham 16 years to write—a fictional author named Alice (an alternative in Cunningham) spent 16 years writing a book called…This Devastating Fever. The book is about Leonard, husband of Virginia Woolf, who would be hard to sell anyway – but Alice’s search becomes an obsession, as she interrupts her deadlines with red rabbit holes and international trips to remote archives, where her publisher’s impatience reaches a turning point.
“More sex!” Its publisher claims – and so we’ve got four pages of points about the Bloomsbury group called “Who’s fucking who.” “Less footnotes!” Her publisher announces — but Alice (read: Sophie) doesn’t seem to be killing her dear ones. This is a strange historical fiction about Al Wolfe, yes – but it’s also a subjective fiction and beyond writing the book. He is very funny, very smart and also surprising. – Steve Harmon
Marshmallow from Victoria Hanan
Silhouette, Hachette, $29.99
It’s the stuff of nightmares: After a crowded birthday party for 2-year-old Toby, his young parents and friends gather outside for a beer, joints, and rest. Inside, unsupervised for a moment, the child found a stray marshmallow, choked on it, and died. Nobody is to blame. Everyone is responsible.
Her first book since her acclaimed debut, Kokomo 2020, Victoria Hannan Marshmallow deals with the fallout from each of the five friends, who – in alternating chapters between them – deal with or not deal with trauma, on the first anniversary of Toby’s death. With easy comparisons to be made with Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, it’s an engaging and emotional discussion about how grief and guilt affect everyone differently — and how tragedy can bring us together, or divide us. – u
Harold Holt by Ross Walker
Bio, Black Company, $34.99
While writing this literary and astonishing autobiography, Walker aimed for “the midway point between autobiography and narrative story – history is told as story”. Much of it focuses on who Holt was before he became Prime Minister of Australia in 1966, a year before his infamous disappearance at sea. Although there’s a lot more about that, too: Walker shows how Holt has been drawn to water his whole life—he practiced holding his breath while bored in Parliament, and scared the Biggies of his wife when she found him submerged in the bathtub.
They are small examples of the man whom Walker reveals to be adventurous, sober and kind by nature, remarkable personality traits that are overshadowed by the circumstances of his death. When there are gaps in the first-hand accounts, Walker makes smart observations of how Holt behaves or responds using what is known. It’s a confident, often beautifully written book—unexpectedly for a political autobiography. – sian kane
Wildflowers of Peggy Frio
Fiction by Allen and Unwin, $32.99
All of Peggy Frew’s novels, in one way or another, explore the dynamics between families, looking through a variety of lenses to reveal the complex individuals who struggle in their hearts. wildflowers It is the culmination of Frew’s best qualities – beautifully, deeply noticeable; Full of deeply local tension.
In it, three sisters – Meg, Nina and Amber – drive to a secluded holiday home in far north Queensland in an effort to right the wrongs of the past and reconnect. Frew has shown, once again, her remarkable insight into the conflicting lives of individuals and the traumas that lie beneath the surface of families. – be kavanagh
Here Be Leviathans by Chris Flynn
Short Stories, UQP, $32.99
Mammoth’s latest book by Chris Flynn was narrated by a 13,000-year-old extinct American animal—and so well he was able to capture the ancient bone character that the author ended up with a side job at Museums Victoria. Here Be Leviathans is a group that picks up where that experiment left off, as Flynn gives a voice to the voiceless: an arrogant ape about to be launched into space; a plane chair that has landed in the Siberian forest after an explosion accident; a family of spirited otters with a penchant for the visual arts; And – in a particularly insightful story – a saber-toothed tiger stalks a Jurassic Park-like playground for the awful rich.
The nice premise may be a less intelligent writer, but Flynn works with such humor, voice, and empathy that the stories can only help move you. – u
Boone and Leslie by Sean Prescott
Silhouette, Giramondo, $29.95
Debuting in 2017, Sean Prescott is an exciting and quirky satire of Australian provincial towns – capturing both the illustrious suffocation of being trapped (both geographically and psychologically) and the tendency to disappear. The book has garnered worldwide distribution, critical acclaim, and comparisons to Gerald Mornan’s The Plains — so its follow-up five years later represents a slightly understated global moment.
I haven’t read this yet, but at first glance offers Boone and Leslie as a companion; Again surreal, rigid and dark; Back in a desolate provincial Australian town, Boone’s character finds himself after a forest fire stops a train fleeing the city. The author describes it as his “dark metallic novel…I couldn’t write anything else until I got out of my way.” – u
Against Disappearance, edited by Leah Jing Macintosh and Adolfo Arangues
Articles, Pantera Press, $32.99
This collection of First Nations colorists and writers – the Limal and Pantera Press’s 20th Realist Award longlist – contains incredible writing. Among the contributors is Haseeb Hourani, who made me laugh out loud with reflections that are as funny as they are serious, lonely, and scathing. and Kasumi Borczyk, who innovatively places family novels above and across each other. Lur Alghurabi writes with compassion and intelligence, Brandon K Liew presents a piece of Melbourne history that is also something that could never belong to the city: an intimate account of a specific time and place; Only a family history can bring him back to life.
Buy a copy for yourself, buy a copy for your friends, and prepare to be confused. – Declan Fry.
People Who Eat Lunch by Sally Olds
Articles, Upswell, $29.99
The Melbourne-based critic’s debut runs the gamut from (mostly club-filled) social scenes: secret societies to crypto art galleries. Each piece in the collection—translated as “Essays on Work, Rest, and Living”—asks you to think carefully about the ways we make money, party, and look out for each other. The old man’s writing is calm and direct, driven by a sharp wit and a radiant and unmoved interest in the world around her. With enviable clarity and style, she undoes assumptions about class and gender.
And she’s not afraid to take the scalpel into her own life—she wonders, in an interesting article on polygamy, about the political potential we might seize, or miss, in the ways we build our close relationships. Another old writer once described me as “underestimated” – this book should sort that out. (Plus: Best Cover of the Year? Think so.) – Imogen Dewey