I’m often asked ‘do you read a lot?’, to which I reply ‘well, a reasonable amount… but the real quandary is deciding what to read’. Seldom have I felt quite so conflicted though as by this month’s crop. There were at least half a dozen novels here that I was genuinely excited by (‘A new Emily Perkins! A new Dan Rhodes!’), and so little time...
So it came as something of a relief to have the decision made for me by our editor: ‘Martin, a review has fallen through, would you mind looking at that French debut that is garnering so much praise?’
I was more than happy to, for publisher puffs aside (‘the international sensation’), the much-vaunted power of social media had already put Laurent Binet’s HHhH on my radar. I had noticed Bret Easton Ellis raving on Twitter a month or two back; somewhere Wells Tower had also offered a warm endorsement (the latter a writer with so much talent that I’d read anything he suggested!).
And what a sensational book! And also one of the most humane books you’re likely to read this year (or – big call I know – that you have ever read), and that’s a pretty special thing. Check out my review, and apologies in advance if I gush.
I’d also like to mention Karl Ove Knausgaard’s A Death in the Family because the sentiments of an early review by an English blogger made me feel that this was something very special indeed: ‘Such is the reach of the word masterpiece beyond craft and industry considerations, my instinct was not to review at all but to thrust the book into the hands of friends for whom reading is absolutely central to their lives …’
My kind of book, to be sure, but sadly I have yet to lay my hands on a copy. The first in a multi-volume opus in which Knausgaard, upon becoming a father himself, seeks to come to some understanding of his own recently deceased father, and his other relationships generally. It’s been highly controversial in the author’s native Norway for its unflinching honesty. Hopefully I will report back on this title at a later date.
It was terrific to see in recent days some splendid coverage both in our newspapers and on ABC TV of the announcement of this year’s Vogel winner, Paul D Carter, and his book Eleven Seasons. As recent events in Queensland make clear, we can never take for granted our cultural institutions and awards, so all the more should we celebrate this, Australia’s richest and most prestigious award for an unpublished manuscript by a writer under the age of 35, and the springboard for many a career.
Finally, space doesn’t permit me to wax lyrical about another Oz debut – Ryan O’Neill’s The Weight of a Human Heart – but this is some of the most formally exciting Australian writing I’ve read in a long long while, and often hilarious to boot! How ironic that it’s published in the same month as that master experimentalist, Gerald Murnane – whose A History of Books is yet another one for my teetering pile!
Martin Shaw, Readings’ Books Division Manager, is what they call a ‘career bookseller’, which might be an interesting concept as the world turns ‘E’. Formerly an avid fiction reader, now ‘Jolly Jumper’ supervisor to an adorable 7-month-old. Follow him on twitter - @thebooksdesk