Anti-Christmas reads for Grinches

Christmas is less than a month away, but it’s not the season to be jolly for everyone. Here are our recommendations for those people who’d rather go hide under a rock than crack out the tinsel.


Evil Geniuses by Kurt Andersen

As the social liberation of the 1960s finally ended in the chaos of Vietnam and Watergate, a faction of right-wing economic radicals were waiting, determined to claw back everything they saw as rightfully theirs. Reaching back into the dangerous powers of nostalgia, they emulated the unchecked robber barons of the past – veiling their actions as a return to the good old days, and winning over the people in the name of traditional American values. In Evil Geniuses, Kurt Andersen reveals how on earth America got to where it is now – and what it might do to win its progressive future back.


Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Anna does boring things for terrible people, because even criminals need office help and she needs a job. As a temp, she’s just a cog in the machine. But when she finally gets a promising assignment, everything goes very wrong, and an encounter with the so-called hero leaves her badly injured. And, to her horror, compared to the other bodies strewn about, she’s the lucky one. So, of course, then she gets laid off. With no money and no mobility, with only her anger and internet research acumen, she discovers her suffering at the hands of a hero is far from unique. When people start listening to the story that her data tells, she realises she might not be as powerless as she thinks.


Earthlings by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)

Natsuki isn’t like the other girls. She might be a witch, or an alien from another planet. Together with her cousin Yuu, Natsuki spends her summers in the wild mountains of Nagano, dreaming of other worlds. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the two children forever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what. Years later, Natsuki lives a quiet life with her asexual husband, surviving as best she can by pretending to be normal. But dark shadows from Natsuki’s childhood are pursuing her. Fleeing to the mountains of her childhood, Natsuki prepares herself with a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it?


None Shall Sleep by Ellie Marney

In 1982, the innovative FBI Behavioural Science section is breaking new ground, and two teenagers – Emma Lewis and Travis Bell – are recruited to interview convicted juvenile killers for information on cold cases. When they are drawn into an active case targeting teenagers, everything starts to unravel. Over Travis’s objections, Emma becomes the conduit between the FBI and Simon Gutmunsson – a super-intelligent, nineteen-year-old sociopath. Working against the clock, can Emma and Travis stop a serial killer in their tracks – or will they fall victim themselves?


A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

Jena Lin was once a violin prodigy, and now uses sex to fill the void left by fame. Her professional life comprises rehearsals, concerts, auditions and relentless practice; her personal life is spent managing the demands of her strict family and creative friends, and hooking up. And then she meets Mark – much older and worldly-wise – who consumes her. But at what cost to her dreams? A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing explores desire and the consequences of wanting too much and never getting it.


The Abstainer by Ian McGuire

Manchester, 1867: Stephen Doyle, an Irish-American veteran of the Civil War, arrives from New York with a thirst for blood. He has joined the Fenians, a secret society intent on ending British rule in Ireland by any means necessary. Head Constable James O'Connor has fled grief and drink in Dublin for a sober start in Manchester. His job is to discover and thwart the Fenians' plans whatever they might be. When a long-lost nephew returns from America and arrives on O'Connor’s doorstep looking for work, his and Doyle’s fates will become intertwined. In this propulsive tale of the underground war for Irish independence, master storyteller Ian McGuire once again transports readers to a time when blood begot blood.


The Searcher by Tana French

Retired detective Cal Hooper moves to a remote village in rural Ireland. His plans are to fix up the dilapidated cottage he’s bought, to walk the mountains, to put his old police instincts to bed forever. Then a local boy appeals to him for help. His brother is missing, and no one in the village, least of all the police, seems to care. And once again, Cal feels that restless itch. Something is wrong in this community, and he must find out what, even if it brings trouble to his door. Tana French weaves a masterful tale of breath-taking beauty and suspense, asking what we sacrifice in our search for truth and justice, and what we risk if we don’t.


The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale

London, 1938. Alma Fielding, an ordinary young woman, begins to experience supernatural events in her suburban home. Nandor Fodor – a Jewish-Hungarian refugee and chief ghost hunter for the International Institute for Psychical research - begins to investigate. In doing so he discovers a different and darker type of haunting: trauma, alienation, loss – and the foreshadowing of a nation’s worst fears. As the spectre of Fascism lengthens over Europe, and as Fodor’s obsession with the case deepens, Alma becomes ever more disturbed. With rigour, daring and insight, Kate Summerscale shadows Fodor’s enquiry, delving into long-hidden archives to find the human story behind a very modern haunting.


Rooted: An Australian history of bad language by Amanda Laugesen

Bad language has been used in all sort of ways in Australian history: to defy authority, as a form of liberation and subversion, and as a source of humour and creativity. Bad language has also been used to oppress and punish those who have been denied a claim to using it, notably Indigenous Australians and women. From the defiant curses of the convicts and bullock drivers to the humour of Kath and Kim, Amanda Laugesen, director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre, takes us on a fascinating journey through the history of Australia’s bad language to reveal our preoccupations and our concerns.


Revenge by S.L. Lim

Shan attends university before making his fortune in Australia while his sister Yannie must find menial employment and care for her ageing parents. After her mother’s death, Yannie travels to Sydney to become enmeshed in her psychopathic brother’s new life, which she seeks to undermine from within. S. L. Lim brings to vivid life the frustrations of a talented daughter and vengeful sister in a nuanced and riveting novel that ends in the most unexpected way. It will not be easily forgotten.


Red Pill by Hari Kunzru

When a Brooklyn writer is awarded a three month residency on the shore of Berlin’s Lake Wannsee, he anticipates total artistic absorption. However, rather than study, he opts to spend much of the time watching Blue Lives, an ultraviolent cop show with a bleak and merciless view of the world. One night, while at a glamourous party in the city, he meets the charismatic creator of Blue Lives, and they strike up a conversation that marks the beginning of the writer’s journey into the heart of moral darkness that threatens to destroy everything he holds most dear. Red Pill is the story of the 21st century, told through the prism of the centuries that preceded it, and it shows how the darkest chapters of our past have returned to haunt our present.


A Couple of Things Before the End by Sean O'Beirne

A woman on a passenger ship in 1958 gets involved with a young, wild Barry Humphries. A man looks back to the 1970s, and his time as a member of Australia’s least competent scout troop. In 1988, a teenage boy recalls his sexual initiation, out on the tanbark. In 2015, two sisters text in Kmart about how to manage their irascible, isolated mum. Then, in the near future, a racist demagogue talks to the press the day after his electoral triumph. Bitingly satirical, outstandingly original and written in a remarkable range of voices, these stories are a reflection of where we are now, and where we may be headed.

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The Abstainer

The Abstainer

Ian McGuire

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