Hi everone. Lisa from ANZ Litlovers has rightly castigated me for not posting something about my absence of late, and along with Sue from Whispering Gums she’s gently been prompting me to post *anything*… So, all’s well, I have just been taking a break and working on other things but reading more than ever. Expect posts to be irregular, though I always reserve the right to post something here (or on Twitter:@johnlboland) from the Sydney Writers’ Festival!
While I’m here (could this be a return in the making?!?), I’d love to share with you a belated best reads from 2016. Call it a top five that may contain more than five (limited to books published in 2016):
Solar bones by Mike McCormack: wow, the Irish really have it going on, don’t they? If Eimear McBride and Lisa McInerney (gritty and prize-winning The glorious heresies) weren’t enough to convince you of this, then Solar bones will. An audacious stream-of-consciousness novel without a single – yes, that’s right: a single! – full stop in sight. A ‘simple’ story about an ordinary family man but in McCormack’s hands it is transcendent. Solar bones won the 2016 Goldsmith’s Prize, which in only its fourth year is proving to be a ripper of a prize, whose purpose is to “celebrate the qualities of creative daring associated with the University and to reward fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form”. Solar bones does just that.
The lesser bohemians by Eimear McBride: another coming-of-age story from the Irish sensation, with wall-to-wall sex, and self sabotaging, so it’s not for everyone, but it’s worth the journey, with a fabulous ending. McBride’s now signature prose style is more accessible here than in her glorious (Goldsmith Prize-winning!) debut A girl is a half-formed thing. And you have to admire a writer who says James Joyce is her major influence. I think he’d be proud of this much-anticipated second novel.
Days without end by Sebastian Barry. Fuses elements of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood meridian, Annie Proulx’s Brokeback mountain, with a dash of Aussie movie Priscilla: queen of the desert. What makes this a standout is Barry’s singular narrative voice that is so of its time and locale (Civil War era America) that it rivals Peter Carey’s similar feat in his Booker winner True history of the Kelly gang. I had serious doubts before I read it given I admire Blood Meridian greatly but DWE stands on its own feet.
Moonglow by Michael Chabon. Simply sublime. Chabon is such a thoughtful writer. Inserting himself into the action, he takes his family history as the starting point for fiction, tracing the story of his grandparents, particularly his grandfather, who was on the hunt for Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Bruan as WWII came to an end. Flits effortlessly between multiple time frames in the twentieth century. Family secrets abound, and the one Chabon discovers about his own bloodline is jaw-dropping.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty. I was ahead of the Booker game last year, reading this before it was even longlisted. What can I say? Daring. Subversive. Funny. A biting satire on race-relations in the US. The narrator, whose nickname is the Sellout, takes on the US government in the Supreme Court in a bid to reinstate slavery. That’s just one strand of this riot of a book. Along the way we see a reworking of Huckleberry Finn, while Dickens’s Great Expectations becomes Measured Expectations. Oh, and the Sellout also credits Tennyson with the start of gangster rap. A wild ride. Often uncomfortable. Not for the fainthearted. Loses a bit of traction in the middle, but it’s not about plot, it’s about making a point. Beatty does that and more.
Autum by Ali Smith, the first in her seasonal tetralogy that explores our experience of time. Ah, Ali Smith, reading her is like the best of hugs (if you’re a hugging person!). She’s so inventive and playful and clever. Some hilarious Kafkaesque moments (passport application in the local post office ring any bells?!), pinned against a very fresh take on Brexit (the first post-vote novel?) and the rise of humanity’s darker side in the UK and the lack of dialogue that has come with it (a global issue to be sure). A hymn to transient life. I think the four novels, once done and taken together, will be really special. (Fab cover art too,, from David Hockney. Can’t wait to see the others!)
Position doubtful by Kim Mahood. A fabulous memoir and a must for anyone seeking to better understand the nexus between white and Indigenous Australia. Mahood writes with the eye of an artist, the mind of a poet, and the soul of someone born of the desert country. An intensely moving personal journey, and a wonderful tribute to the stunning Tanami desert and lake landscape and the many friends loved and lost over decades of inland travels. Assuming it’s eligible this year, if it doesn’t get shortlisted for the Stella Prize (and many others) then there’s something seriously wrong.
There you go, proof that seven into five does go!
Goodness. I intended this to be a short post and now look what I’ve done. Some things don’t change, eh?!